Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Feb. 1, 2024

February 1st, 2024

A good Thursday morning! Hope everyone’s week is going well as we cruise into February. Not going to lie, January kind of sucked, so I’m personally happy to see the calendar turn. Since everyone in racing seems to be blogging and discussing influencers and racing marketing, I thought I’d stay completely away from those topics this week. I always say when it comes to marketing, everyone thinks what they think is the right way to do it. I’m convinced most don’t really know anything about it, me included.

But today, I wanted to write about domination and huge performances. I wrote last Thursday about how the Pegasus World Cup (G1) had never really been an exciting race since it was introduced in 2017. It’s always been open-length winners who were obvious winners at the top of the lane. Well, in 2024, Senor Buscador at least made it a race, as he fell a neck short to National Treasure, and we saw a memorable stretch run with at least some doubt cast in midstretch.

I’ve often remarked that racing is a game where dominance is a bad thing. I know when Tiger Woods used to run away with major championships that the ratings would stay high. People do love to witness greatness. Greatness and domination can be separated a little bit, but they often run hand in hand in racing. Because horse racing is a gambling game, I think it actually deteriorates our real business when races or divisions feature one horse that stands far above the rest. Of course it’s fun to watch Flightline run and beat solid competition, but does it actually make the race interesting? To me, not at all. Another thing with greatness is that it needs to be rare to be special. If lots of horses ran 120 speed figures every month or two, it would make it feel less special, less important, and less great. To me, it’s always absurd when two or three track records fall in a day at a track because the track is souped up and hosting the fastest horses on the circuit. Of course they smash the track records on those occasions. That’s not greatness, it’s just circumstances.

In the last two weeks in the NBA, there have been two 70-point scoring performances by individuals and another two 60-plus point efforts. Four of the top scoring performances in the history of the NBA happened in the last two weeks. If you look at the list of top single-game performances, of course a ton of them are Wilt Chamberlain, as he dominated back in the early 1960s. But a bunch of them are from the last two years. 

It’s the sporadic effort during the '90s and 2000s from Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan that really jump off the page. Scoring in the NBA is way up, but to me it just shows how much something “great” happening too often can spoil the accomplishment. I’ve seen a whole pile of articles talking about whether it’s a bad thing for the NBA or maybe just a random coincidence. Normally someone having a great game or performance is a great thing. But when it becomes the norm or just too regular, it weakens it. When we see the same trainers have a new horse run off the screen every couple of weeks, it completely loses its luster. These same horses go off at 1-5 in their next starts and dominate and are a free square for some in their Pick 5s, but they just make for uninteresting races.

I feel like the ideal race at any level is one where you can make a case for every horse in the race. Now, of course, there are always going to be favorites and given how the current game is played, there are going to be short-priced favorites regularly. And I know that even the heaviest favorites can go down. But, man, is it discouraging watching huge favorites just jog around the track. I don’t know who it’s fun for other than the connections of that horse. I’m sure it’s great for them. But too much of it I think leads to very uninteresting betting options for our customers, the gamblers.