by Frank Vespe

Hollywood Park closed yesterday.  The Track of the Lakes and Flowers will, starting soon, be, presumably, the “Mixed use development of the Lakes and Flowers,” or something like that.

This morning, amidst a gray and scroungy day, Parx Racing canceled for the eighth consecutive day, and one imagines that a lot of people whose pay depends on being busy — jockeys, for example — are “bah humbuging”

For mid-Atlantic fans, there's plenty under the racing tree this year.

For mid-Atlantic fans, there’s plenty under the racing tree this year.

rather more than is seasonally appropriate.

Many of Maryland’s horsemen are belatedly angry that medication rules are slated to change on January 1.  Plus, Penn National Gaming didn’t win the cutthroat bidding for the newest casino license in Maryland, and that means that the harness track, Rosecroft Raceway, may have a future measured only in months.

Speaking of Penn National, the track announced its 2014 racing schedule which includes, in 200 days of live racing, all of six stakes races not restricted to state-breds.

It’s easy enough for racing people to concoct a lengthy parade of horribles: takeout’s too high and drug rules too lax, too few people attend the races except on those rare days when there are too many, too many cheats win too many races, and bad riders, don’t even get started on bad riders.

And yet, at this festive time of the year, there’s something to be said for cataloging what is right in lieu of, or at least in addition to, what is wrong.  Counting, as they say, our blessings.  In fact, let’s do just that, let’s count ’em, or at least 10 of ’em.  We are blessed that…

  1. Cheap claimers don’t know that they’re cheap claimers.  They run just as hard as if they were Grade 1 champs and can put on a show just as compelling (if slower).
  2. Maryland racing pulled itself back from the precipice on which it’s lived these last years, hammered out a long-term agreement among the stakeholders, and is trying to rebuild.  There’s a long way to go yet, but at least the ship is moving in the right direction.
  3. Good horses can come from anywhere.  You can spend $16 million at auction and end up with a lifetime maiden or $5,000 and get a 25-time stake winner like Xtra Heat.  That’s what keeps the dreamers dreaming.
  4. Speaking of the dreamers, that there are so many of them, so many people willing to watch so much money float away in the hopes that, on occasion, they can stand in the winner’s circle.
  5. “Racetrack people take care of each other.  It’s what we do.”  A racetracker said that to me several years ago, and as Teresa Genaro recounts (here), it remains true.
  6. Geldings are, well, geldings, and that means they get the chance to do what they were bred to do: run.   Here’s to the Ben’s Cats and Wise Dans of the world.
  7. People like the fine folks at Thoroughbred Placement Resources and the James River chapter of Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and many, many others are taking retired racehorses and finding second careers for them, benefiting not only the horses but also the sport as a whole and the humans involved in it.
  8. Here in the mid-Atlantic, there’s a lot of racing.  It’s unfashionable to say, since industry growth, many believe, requires shrinkage, but it’s nice to know there’s a nearby track with live racing just about any day of the year.
  9. Riders are willing to risk life and limb, day after day for the uncertain and most often insufficient rewards of being a jockey.
  10. Finally, we are blessed that on Christmas morning — and every other morning — someone will get up when it’s still dark and cold to pamper the horses so that they can perform to their very best.  These folks are largely invisible, but racing wouldn’t survive without them.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!

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