- Jeremy Plonk, Horse
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OK, here you go. Do something with it while you can.
Two of the drums most often beaten in horse racing circles are that there's too much emphasis on the Triple Crown preps and races and none of the sport's most important stars stick around later to race. If that's the case, I ask you this: What more could you possibly want than the current racing roster?
The 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is on the brink of his comeback, entered in a race Saturday at Churchill Downs that failed to get enough starters to "fill" and subsequently will return to battle another day sometime soon.
The 2009 Preakness winner, none other than princess Rachel Alexandra, appears to be back to a glimmer of her dominant, old self while winning the Fleur de Lis Handicap last month by her customary city block.
Don't forget we now have the 2009 darlings of the Triple Crown trail back, the two horses whose absence from the Kentucky Derby because of injury last year made everyone talk about it as such a weak crop. There's nothing weak about today's presence of Quality Road, a front-runner in the Horse of the Year discussion for 2010. And on Saturday we get I Want Revenge back to the races in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont.
And, of course, there's always Zenyatta to bolster the active marquee, though her mainstream stardom has been stunted by the fact she never had the Triple Crown as a public launching pad.
The ducks, or horses, are in a row now, folks. Do something with it.
New York figures to have the bulk of these superstars boosting its racing programs. Quality Road, Rachel Alexandra and I Want Revenge already are in the Empire State and working toward local dates. Mine That Bird is stabled at Churchill Downs but ships to Saratoga in mere days.
You begin to wonder: If horse racing can't make it work with this group of horses, does the argument about star power of horses really mean anything to the business model moving forward? What more do you want than the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Kentucky Oaks, Florida Derby and Wood Memorial winners all active as 4-year-olds at the highest levels of racing?
Also consider the fact that I Want Revenge made his hay on the west coast before coming to New York and is ridden by Joe Talamo, one of California's most popular young riders. There's major coverage in terms of interest across the national map with this current crop of 4-year-old stars. Zenyatta carries the west's star power on her broad shoulders as well, helping canvass the map. Throw in the Breeders' Cup Classic champ of a year ago and all the wonderful "girls vs. boys" banter that has inflated the discussions to fascinating levels.
There's also a great amount of drama around the people involved with these superstar horses. Combined, we have enough "good vs. evil" brewing to script out a Wrestlemania promotion for the WWE.
There's also a great amount of drama around the people involved with these superstar horses. Combined, we have enough "good vs. evil" brewing to script out a Wrestlemania promotion for the WWE. What more do you want than names like Todd Pletcher, Rick Dutrow, Jess Jackson, Steve Asmussen, Calvin Borel, Mike Iavarone, Talamo, D. Wayne Lukas, Mike Smith and Jerry Moss to stir the pot of likable and unlikable characters? Take your pick what you think of each, it's your choice; but we sure do have the personalities to percolate next to superstar racehorses.
I have become increasingly skeptical that a superstar horse can "save" the sport. When I was younger and brighter-eyed, there was more optimism that such a scenario might be true. But time has shown over and over that there's not a horse that is going to put the racing industry on its back and make mainstream America offer up squeezy-hugs to the sport on a long-term basis.
Racing has it all on the current roster. Heck, two 2010 Triple Crown races were won by Pletcher and Bob Baffert trainees, keeping the sport's premier names on the east and west coasts in the forefront. Bill Mott trained the Belmont winner, and the last I knew, he still was a Hall of Famer with a reputation that once made him a household name alongside the sport's last older racing star, the mid-1990s superhorse Cigar.
Hollywood's box office also gives horse racing one last chance with this fall's release of the Disney movie "Secretariat." The trailers are pounding hoof beats throughout theaters coast to coast in anticipation of its release in October. Combine Diane Lane with the one horse everyone still knows by name and it's a leap forward even from the acclaimed "Seabiscuit" flick, with all due respect to Tobey Maguire.
I could be wrong, but this sure feels like "last call" for the folks who desperately want to see a racing resurgence with superstar horses leading the parade. Few scenarios come to mind that could create any better storm than we currently have in front of us. It's all there: Triple Crown-produced stars with wildly charismatic or accomplished humans surrounding them, and some mainstream help from the folks at Disney.
If this doesn't work, perhaps it's time we admit that the big draw of horse racing is the challenge of handicapping and horseplaying on a daily basis for a few and the mega-event for the rest of the public. I'm willing to at least give this current group of horses and horsemen a shot, on the track and big screen, because it doesn't get any better than this.
Jeremy Plonk has been an ESPN.com contributor since 2000 and is the owner of the handicapping-based website HorseplayerNOW.com. You can e-mail Jeremy your Top 20 contenders list or any questions about the 3-year-old or national racing scene to Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.
If horse racing can't make it work with this group of horses, does the argument about star power of horses really mean anything to the business model moving forward?