Commentary

A look at 2010, through a crystal ball

Updated: January 12, 2010, 11:44 AM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

I had a dream last night. Clear as could be. I saw the entire year in horse racing, every big race, every big story and every crazy development. I am sure every bit of it will happen. I have done this before. Dreamt that Avatar would win the 1975 Belmont, the 7 would win the 11th race at Beulah Park on April 6, 1998 (you can look it up) and that The Undertaker would beat Superfly Jimmy Snuka in Wrestlemania VII. Do not doubt my powers.

A look at what will happen in horse racing in 2010:

January: The Eclipse Award ceremonies are marred by a violent demonstration by the American Plastics Council, a trade association for the U.S. plastics industry. Angry protestors hurl profanities and clods of polypropylenes at Jess Jackson.

Zenyatta wins Horse of the Year by a margin of 675-111, with 492 of her votes coming from Californians. Reporters that point out that there are only 34 Eclipse voters residing in California are accused of having an "East Coast bias."

Commenting on Zenyatta's one-mile workout the day before in 1:34, owner Jerry Moss insists that nothing has changed so far as her retirement goes. "We just want to keep her on edge," Moss said. "Those plane rides to Kentucky can be very grueling for a horse and we want to make sure she can handle it."

February: After making $72 billion on their slots operation during the first month of 2010, Philadelphia Park owners announce they will run only one day a week. They will have a 40-race card on Thursday mornings from 3 AM to 9 AM with a maximum of seven minutes between races.

"This running horse racing in the afternoons just wasn't working for us," said a Philadelphia Park official. "We're getting 40 to 50 horse racing fans here a day and that's 40 to 50 fewer parking spaces for our slots customers. I would think the horsemen here would be very happy to get a week's worth of racing concluded in six hours and we will no longer have to worry about horse racing people getting in the way of our slots business."

March: New York Governor David Paterson announces he has formed a committee to form a panel to study all previous committees that have studied the slot machine issue at Aqueduct.

"We don't want to rush into anything," Paterson said. "Picking a slots operator for the Aqueduct racino is serious business and we want to do it right."

Paterson predicts that the panel's work will be done by 2017. Yet, the panel is disbanded later in the month after former State Senate President Joe Bruno escapes from prison and is allowed to resume his old role. The Bruno-led State Senate proposes legislation that Bruno himself be given the franchise to run slots at the Big A.

April: Despite continuing to insist that Zenyatta was retired, Moss enters his 2009 Horse of the Year in the Apple Blossom. Rachel Alexandra is also entered, though Jess Jackson never told anyone he planned to run in the race. The sport is agog over the dream match up, but the race goes up in flames when Jackson believes a false rumor that Oaklawn President Charles Cella made his fortune selling plastic slipcovers. Rachel Alexandra is scratched. Zenyatta defeats a 9-year-old maiden by 114 lengths to up her record to 15-for-15.

May: Pimlico is bought by Philadelphia Park, which moves the Preakness to a Tuesday, 17 days after the Kentucky Derby.

"We discovered that the crowds coming to Pimlico to the Preakness were causing traffic congestion for more than 50 miles surrounding the track," a Philadelphia Park official said. "A lot of our slots customers come from Maryland and Delaware and we did not want them to be inconvenienced. We believe running the Preakness on a Tuesday will keep the crowd down and horse racing fans off the roads."

June: Having run out of money, NYRA indeed cancels the Belmont. The race is instead run at Yonkers Raceway. Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Schoolyard Dreams leads by 10 lengths with a half-mile to go, but is pulled up by jockey Garrett Gomez after crossing the wire for the second time. An embarrassed Gomez explains afterward that he had never before ridden in a six-turn race and simply lost track of how far he had gone.

July: NYRA is able to re-open after Jess Jackson lends the struggling racing organization $50 million in return for them renaming the Travers the Plastic Tracks Suck Stakes. New York racing resumes with opening day at Saratoga.

August: Historic Claiborne Farm relocates to Gary, Indiana. The former home of Secretariat, Danzig, Mr. Prospector and Round Table is now situated on a vacant lot between a Denny's and a Meineke Muffler shop on Route 20.

"It might not be much, but there just wasn't much land left in Indiana with all the farms leaving Kentucky," said a Claiborne official. "We were lucky to get what we got. I'll miss Kentucky, but without slots racing in the state is dead. I knew we had to move when they raised the purse of the Hoosier Derby to $15 million."

September: Rachel Alexandra wins the Woodward, her 21st Grade I win on the season. Though Moss still insists Zenyatta is retired, she wins her second start of the year, a two-horse race at Del Mar. Based on her popularity among California voters, Zenyatta leads Rachel Alexandra in a Horse of the Year poll conducted by the NTRA.

October: Santa Anita is named the permanent site of the Breeders' Cup, including the 2010 edition. Cup officials admit they were worried that the Philadelphia Park-owned Churchill Downs might move the championship races to its new racino in North Dakota as to not concern Louisvillians who might worry that future Breeders' Cups at Churchill could impact their desire to play slots if Kentucky ever got slots.

Jackson immediately announces that he is withdrawing Rachel Alexandra from the Breeders' Cup and will instead point her for a steeplechase campaign in 2011.

"They haven't yet run a jump race over plastic," Jackson said. "Now, that's my kind of sport."

November: With Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta and Schoolyard Dreams among the major U.S. stars passing the Breeders' Cup, nine American horses and 123 from Europe are entered for the championship event. Worried about lagging fan interest in the U.S. and poor ratings, ESPN announces it will televise a Jell-O wrestling competition from Peoria, Illinois between races. The Breeders' Cup gets its biggest ratings ever.

December: Newly elected U.S. Senator Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) announces formation of a committee to study the impact of slot machines at Aqueduct on air traffic patterns at JFK Airport. "Governor Paterson was right," Spitzer said. "We can't rush into something this important." Spitzer names Heidi Fleiss to lead the group.

Zenyatta arrives in Indiana to be bred to A.P. Indy. "She was always retired," Moss said. "There was no need to hurry her off to the farm. She was like a daughter to me and I just couldn't bear for her to leave the nest."

Rachel Alexandra wins her debut over jumps, capturing the Betfair King George Queen Anne Prince Phillip and Princess Grace Royal Chase at Aintree in England with Calvin Borel aboard.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at wnfinley@aol.com.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com