Making sense out of a confusing weekend

April, 22, 2013
04/22/13
2:59
PM ET
On Saturday night, Game On Dude looked like a million bucks.

That was his payday for a victory in the Charles Town Classic, a race that played a starring role in a weekend that rather vividly illustrated how racing can march to its own beat -- at the expense of mainstream America.

Game On Dude came into the Classic a heavy favorite off a victory in the Santa Anita Handicap. He also sits atop this week's NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll as the nation's No. 1 horse.

He's clearly not the type of horse that you expect to see in a starting gate at 10:33 p.m. Eastern time in Ranson, West Virginia. Yet there he was, for no other reason than trying to take home the lion's share of a huge $1.5 million purse -- a reason that's pretty hard to ignore.

Of course, at that time and in that locale, how many people were watching?

Meanwhile, at a much more reasonable hour, 6:19 p.m. ET, fourteen 3-year-olds battled it out for $750,000 in purse money in the Illinois Derby. The winner -- Departing -- drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths in an effort that stamped him as a promising contender for the Kentucky Derby.

Except he will not be running in the Kentucky Derby.

It seems the Illinois Derby was not included in the Road to the Kentucky Derby point series which determines starting spots in the Run for the Roses. In response, it was shifted from the first weekend in April to the third weekend of the month, converting it into a rather wealthy prep for Preakness hopefuls.

Even in a digital world, fans opt for the simplistic over the complex. The Triple Crown best illustrates that.

Meanwhile, about more than an hour before the Illinois Derby, the $200,000 Lexington was contested at Keeneland over a synthetic Polytrack surface that's far different than the dirt course found at Churchill Downs and Illinois' Hawthorne. Yet the victorious Winning Cause earned 20 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series and is on the bubble for starting in the race  even though he's never won on dirt.

Point of the story: The richer and perhaps more revealing prep was the one that was not featured on the Derby Trail.

In some way, shape or form there's logic to someone in all this, but clearly an outsider looking in must be scratching their head over all of it.

Racing surely has its fair share of problems, and in terms of reaching the masses one thing it can sorely use is a better and more unified approach to its races, series and, yes, medications.

If there's something the modern day sports fan of 2013 does not want it's a 100-page guidebook to a sport that's unfamiliar to them. How racing operates might make sense to a fan of the game, but to someone versed in baseball or football it's a riddle that may not be worth the time and effort that goes into solving it.

Even in a digital world, fans opt for the simplistic over the complex. The Triple Crown best illustrates that. Why is it the most popular part of racing? Because it's the easiest to understand.

Here's the deal: You win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes and you capture the Triple Crown, no ifs ands or buts. It's just like being the first team to win four games in the World Series, NBA Finals or Stanley Cup Finals. Do it and you're the champ. Fall short and, well, there's always next year.

See, simple.

In racing, though, whoever wins the Breeders' Cup Classic might be named Horse of the Year, but then again someone who finished behind him or hasn't raced in six months might receive the award.

Clearly some facets of racing will always be ajar, but that doesn't mean shrugged shoulders should be par for the course, either. The onset of a general understanding that what's good for one might not be good for all would be a nice start, and maybe that might lead to a day when an intriguing concept like a $1.5 million race in West Virginia gets better exposure and the Illinois Derby concludes the Road to the Kentucky Derby rather than kicks off the preps for the Preakness.

It does make sense, even if you're not a racing fan.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.

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