Commentary

Horse race media rank

Updated: October 25, 2010, 6:44 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Breeder's Cup week is bias week, eastern racing versus western racing, with heartland racing giving both coasts the business when it comes to exciting full-field competition.

A typical high-grade stakes race, east or west, has six horses going to the post and running single file on around, pretty exciting if you own one of them.

Heartland racing is slot machine racing, field horses running for allowance purses of $30,000, field horses in this reference standing for horses that would be grazing in a field were it not for fat purses caused by Aunty cashing her Social Security check at the $5 machine out at the casino.

The once fine art of sports writing has fallen victim to the headline attractions of the media circus: bias and lip.

Some of the greatest writers ever, Ring Lardner through Jim Murray and beyond, started or stayed in sports because of the emotion and freedom of the spectacles to be covered and uncovered. If somebody on the field stinks, you can say it without fear of suit and counter-suit. The unpredictability of sports puts raw emotion in the open paragraphs of most stories. But with 24-hour attention cycles governing sports as well as news, and all the hack bloggers pretending they deserve to have their opinions read, and all pip-squeak anonymous responders demanding somebody's job, too much of the sports writing trade has gone the way of the loudmouth. To get noticed, you have to pop off. Use the language beautifully, and you might get a small check for an article from Literary Bi-Annual. Shoot your mouth off, call Zenyatta a fake, and you'll get thousands of responses from sorry advertisers, deadbeats who still owe on their cheap computers and haven't bought a single thing online, or ever will.

Somehow, a spirited controversy has come into being over the greatness of Zenyatta, with many demanding that this "greatness" be preceded by "alleged," as though there had been something fishy about her winning 19 of 19 races, as though a homer wasn't a real homer unless it reached the upper deck; as though Zenyatta should have won by more, or should have finished some of them off on only her hind legs.

Going into Breeder's Cup week, the Z states appear to be all those west, and most of the heartland, and the O states (for overrated), are in the east, where pockets of horse players think Zenyatta has been beating glorified pets and parade stock.

I have actually seen people rise to grapple over the called or so-called greatness of Zenyatta, one fellow grabbing another's shirt collar, the both of them falling onto a table and knocking over the hundreds of empty beer bottles, or so it seemed. It's true that the world could use a horse hero because horses don't talk back. But why argue when you can go bet?

The chief complaint against Zenyatta, made by people who could be reputable, is that she has spent too much time in the SoCal phoniness, the racing surfaces and the lightweight competition. But once at a track in Nebraska, which is Ak-Sar-Ben spelled backward, my uncle and I watched a race during which an undefeated inexpensive claimer went up against a proven stakes horse. The rap against the undefeated horse was that he hadn't beaten much, by much. But he won this one and paid a small fortune. After redeeming a ticket, my uncle said that you can never blame anybody or anything for winning, words to cash by.

Anybody can pick against Zenyatta.

But to keep from being just another media mouth in search of an audience, any audience, you have to also pick the winner.

Write to Jay Cronley at jaycronley@yahoo.com.