A chance to see history in horse racing went down the drain with I'll Have Another's retirement due to injury, and so did all of the momentum he helped create for the sport.
Some folks that had no prior intentions on watching the Belmont Stakes would have watched this year, just to possibly witness history.
This is a sad time for the sport and the horse. It leaves an empty feeling as the rest of the field prepares to entertain the sports world. Take a look at I'll Have Another's last race:
Pia Catton of the Wall Street Journal chimes in with this on the impact of I'll Have Another's absence from the Belmont:
Officials at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., had been expecting up to 100,000 fans to Saturday's race.
You can bet that number will decrease significantly, unless patrons have already prepaid. Catton reports further:
The scratch means NBC, which is airing the event, won't get an expected bump in viewers. For the last three years, with no Triple Crown contender, the race has drawn between 4.7 million and 6.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen. By contrast, when the horse Big Brown was running for the Crown in 2008, some 13 million tuned in.
Here we are, four years deeper into the social media age, it isn't crazy to think that more than 13 million would have watched I'll Have Another's attempt at history.
Is this a missed opportunity for the sport?
I'd definitely say so.
According to a survey done by McKinsey and Company, the average age of a horse racing fan is 51 years old. That is substantially older than the average age of almost every other sport. Catton mentions this in her article as well.
Will you still watch the Belmont Stakes?
This race, the attention I'll Have Another received and the coverage NBC was set to give the event would have been great exposure for horse racing. Even more hurtful was that I'll Have Another had an excellent chance to win in my opinion.
This could have endeared the sport to a new generation of fans. The popularity spike could have combatted the attendance concerns, and help reverse the shrinking number of racing diehards.
To further damage the reputation of the sport, I'll Have Another's injury plays right into the hands of animal activist that call for changes in the sport's breeding, and training procedures.
Chuck Konder and Casey Wian of CNN quoted Nancy Perry, from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruetly to Animals, in a recent article on the subject:
"They are literally running for their lives," said Nancy Perry of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA. "If they run too fast they break down on the track and die. And if they don't run fast enough, they are discarded."
As the incidents pile up, especially the high-profile examples, it's hard to combat their claims.
Facing heat like this leaves little room for missed opportunities to bring positives to a sport. While the sport may never fade completely, there is too much money involved for that, as the years go by it becomes less and less significant.
I'll Have Another's injury is just the most recent blow.
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