By Mike Farrell
Pegasus Day produced a rousing start to the new racing season. Or was it the final chapter of 2021, a clash of last year’s Breeders’ Cup winners in the $3 million World Cup (G1)?
Either way, the stakes-filled day was worth the wait.
In the end, it came down to the Life Is Good vs Knicks Go showdown in the World Cup. It never developed into the all-out brawl many fans anticipated. Life Is Good grabbed the early lead and dictated an aggressive pace. Knicks Go was a step slow at the start, and paid the price. Knicks Go spent the entire race chasing the leader, and never drew close enough to make it a contest.
In beating Knicks Go, the presumptive 2021 Horse of the Year, Life Is Good stepped up to the top of the handicap ranks. Knicks Go used last year’s Pegasus as a springboard to a championship season. Life Is Good, if he stays healthy, could be on the same path.
There won’t be a rematch. Knicks Go concluded his brilliant career Saturday and is now headed off to stud duty in Kentucky. The Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner closed the book with 10 victories in 25 starts and over $9 million in career earnings.
Meanwhile, the sky’s the limit for Life Is Good, who just turned 4 and demonstrated in the World Cup that he is more than a miler. Not that there’s anything wrong with dominating that distance, as he did so brilliantly in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
The World Cup was his first try at 1 1-8 miles and he handled the challenge brilliantly. That opens a range of possibilities for the sport’s brightest star following initial reports he came out of the race in good order.
His next stop could be another World Cup (G1), the one in Dubai for a cool $12 million on March 26.
Domestically, Life Is Good could be on target for a marquee showdown in the Met Mile (G1) on the Belmont Stakes (G1) undercard if Flightline makes the journey from California. The undefeated 4-year-old is set to make his season debut in the San Carlos Stakes (G2) on March 5 at Santa Anita.
“It would be a terrific race, very exciting” Flightline’s trainer John Sadler said of a potential Met Mile clash with Life Is Good.
Sadler will get no disagreement from this corner.
Handicappers always lament missed opportunities. You know, the old “woulda, coulda, shoulda”, to quote the late legendary Chicago turf writer Dave Feldman.
Horseracing, as an industry and a business, is blowing one of it’s best, and perhaps last opportunities, to remain relevant in a world awash with increased gambling.
The rapid rollout of legal sports betting across the nation is a golden chance for racing to reach an untapped segment: bettors who prefer to wager on humans rather than horses. In many states, wagering on racing or sports is now as easy as a simple tap on an app on your phone.
Racing needs to deliver sports bettors the message that we have a game that is just as challenging, and equally rewarding. One of the best ways to convey that is through television. You would never tell that from watching NBC’s Pegasus coverage.
Instead of in-depth coverage of handicapping strategy, viewers were bored to tears by endless clips of celebrities who don’t know one end of a horse from the other offering their vapid opinions. Pretty people in sharp suits and fancy dresses don’t drum up business ,or create new racing fans. Racing has been using that formula far too long, with continually diminishing results.
It was even worse in the New York area, which was hit by a snowstorm that started Friday and extended into Saturday. By the time the Pegasus broadcast started at 4:30, the weather event was largely over except for portions of Long Island.
That didn’t prevent the local NBC affiliate from cutting away for a special storm update just as the horses were heading to the gate for the World Cup Turf (G1). Instead of the race, viewers were treated to the usual stale package of video clips of some poor soul shoveling out his car and puppies romping in the snow in Central Park.
The next bit of racing we saw was Colonel Liam already in the winner’s circle following his comeback victory.
It’s hard to imagine any program director cutting away from a Buccaneers’ game when Tom Brady is marching toward a potential game-winning score. And certainly not for a spent snowstorm. But hey, it’s only horseracing, and who really cares?
The racing industry should care. The sport is an exciting and challenging handicapping puzzle that can produce lucrative rewards. That’s the story that must be told in this increasingly competitive wagering environment.
Can the fluff, while you still can.