Where should Curlin go next? That was the $5-million question the colt's majority owner, Jess Jackson, is asking the racing public in an online poll at www.stonestreetfarms.com.
Should the 2007 Horse of the Year take the next step on turf in an experiment that began with a second-place finish in the Man o' War at Belmont Park July 12 and could end in Paris, France, with the Oct. 5 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe?
Should the son of Smart Strike return to the dirt, where he was so dominating last year in the United States and earlier this year in the United Arab Emirates, where he won the Dubai World Cup by a record margin?
Should trainer Steve Asmussen prepare Curlin for a synthetic surface campaign, culminating with a repeat attempt in the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic, which will be run for the first time on an all-weather track when it is contested over Santa Anita Park's newly installed Pro-Ride surface?
Should Jackson be happy with what Curlin already has accomplished and retire him now?
The last question is absurd to most racing fans, who would love to see Curlin race through the end of this year and even embark on a 2009 campaign at the age of 5. I assume most of the 7% who answered "yes" to retiring Curlin now are concerned that something go could wrong with the colt physically in his future races. Either that, or they didn't understand the question or need a good therapist.
The fact that more than 10,000 people responded to the non-binding survey in less than 72 hours after the poll was launched July 15 suggests that the public appreciated Jackson asking them for their opinions. After all, racing is all about expressing opinions: usually it's done in the form of a pari-mutuel wager.
I love the idea of public-opinion polls and can see their use in other aspects of the game. For example, why not let the fans vote on whether jockeys should send their horses to the lead or take back when the gates open. I'm sure the technology is there to have a "go" or "no go" vote for every starter in a race. A computer monitor or digital sign could be placed inside each stall of the starting gate to provide results to the riders.
Another great use of a poll would be inquiries. Everybody has an opinion on whether or not a horse's number should be taken down when the stewards call for an inquiry or a jockey or trainer claims foul in a race. Run the same tapes the stewards look at and let the public decide.
Legal shows have become very popular on television to settle disputes. But if we want to give the boot to racing officials altogether and don't trust Judge Judy to understand the nuances of threshold levels, split samples, and contamination from lip balm or poppy-seed bagels, let's allow the fans to decide. Racing can Web cast the hearings on medication positives or other alleged violations, let the public send in questions via computer for the defendants to answer, and ultimately vote innocent or guilty and also determine penalties.
Of course, if that was the case, something tells me Rick Dutrow might be on a slow boat to Guantanamo, Cuba, instead of at the racetrack preparing Big Brown for his next engagement in the wake of the positive test for clenbuterol in one of Dutrow's horse at Churchill Downs the day before Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby.
If successful, the concept might even put racing commissions out of business. Anything that comes up at meetings of these regulators can easily be given a quick, online thumbs up/thumbs down vote. When the fans ultimately complain about racing commission decisions, they'd have no one to blame but themselves.
This idea could be applied to sales or the breeding shed, too. Let's get the fans engaged in helping Sheikh Mohammed decide whether or not to make another bid on a yearling with a simple green or red light in his seat at Keeneland. Owners of black-type fillies could have a multiple choice poll for potential stallions to be used in matings.
Jess Jackson has stood for reform in many aspects of Thoroughbred racing and breeding. His innovation to bring the people into the decision-making process across a wide spectrum of the industry might be his most significant contribution yet.
Ray Paulick is a Lexington, Ky.-based journalist who publishes the Paulick Report. (www.PaulickReport.com). Paulick served as editor-in-chief of The Blood-Horse from 1992 to 2007, and over the past 25 years has covered thoroughbred racing, breeding and sales on six continents and more than a dozen countries. He has appeared on numerous television and radio news programs offering his expertise on the industry. Contact Ray at firstname.lastname@example.org.