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Post Decline of the Sports of Kings and Commoners
Created by John Eipper on 05/20/19 4:52 AM

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Decline of the Sports of Kings and Commoners (David Duggan, USA, 05/20/19 4:52 am)

Though there were two sporting events over the weekend which in years past might have registered on the cosmic Richter scale, both the Preakness Stakes and the P[rofessional] G[olfers'] A[ssociation] tournament present the athletic equivalent of the tree falling in the deserted forest: did the events really happen?  That these events were part of "Grand Slams" or "Triple Crowns" adds to the sadness of the demise of these sports.

The 144th running of the Preakness (the name comes from a now-forgotten 19th-century horse), held Saturday at Pimlico Park outside Baltimore featured neither the winner-at-the-wire of the Kentucky Derby (Maximum Security) two weeks ago, nor the horse declared the winner after the stewards' review (Country House). And since Maximum Security's jockey, Luis Saez, was disqualified for 15 days for "careless riding," he didn't have a mount. That doesn't explain Country House's no-show, nor that of his jock, Flavien Prat, so far as I can tell the first French-born jockey to win a Triple-Crown race. Country House's trainer claimed a "virus," but so far as I can tell, trainers aren't vets. The more likely story is that the horse, more a distance thoroughbred than a tight-turns sprinter, wouldn't run well at the 1-3/16 mile Preakness, 1/16 of a mile less than the Derby.

The race was meh, which may be a metaphor for the state of American thoroughbred racing. Twenty-two horses were put down at Santa Anita earlier in the year because of injuries (horses don't recover well), but how many in WAISdom were even aware of it? Out of the gate Bodexpress reared up and threw his jockey, but still continued running around the track (that's what thoroughbreds know how to do), finishing ahead of some of the horses, but behind War of Will which was the horse that Maximum Security hindered in the Derby. The talking heads were waxing about War of Will's "redemption" by winning the Preakness, but earth to horse-racing "experts": horses are incapable of seeking redemption. The real story was whether Pimlico's owner is going to close down and move the race to Laurel Park, nearer Washington DC. Baltimore is threatening to "condemn" the track through eminent domain, but with thousands in unpaid police-brutality judgments, good luck with that.

On Sunday, Brooks Koepka, the best golfer you've never heard of, won his 2nd straight PGA championship, beating Dustin Johnson (son-in-law of the Great One, Wayne Gretzky) by two strokes with a 72nd hole par after dumping his drive next to a gnarly fairway bunker. Koepka started the day with a seven-stroke lead, which he almost squandered on the back-nine, carding four straight bogeys (that's one over par, and not bad guys flying MIGs). He managed to get his act together to win his 4th major tournament in the last eight (two US Opens and two PGAs), and will defend his US Open title next month at the venerable Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula.

The real story here was that the New York Post began serializing last year's tell-all book on Tiger Woods' fateful 2009 Thanksgiving weekend contretemps in time for Tiger to miss the cut at the PGA. The excerpts here...


...show how out-of-control Tiger was before his early morning Escalade v. fire hydrant contest (the hydrant won), and how his then wife's golf-club bashing window escapade was a reasoned response to the trail of deception which Tiger had blazed. The golf powers-that-be had moved the PGA from mid-August to mid May to kindle interest in the sport after April's Masters, but with no-names in the hunt, golf needs to do better than recycle 10-year-old scandals to get people interested in the game. Golf has shown year-after-year declines in rounds played and numbers playing for at least the last 10 years (Donald Trump, are you listening?), but nobody seems to be listening to what Jack Nicklaus said decades ago: the game costs too much, takes too long and is too difficult. Why waste your time seeking technical excellence when you can play computer games?

And in a week the French [tennis] Open starts at Roland Garros, and by the time it's over we will likely have NBA and NHL champions. Will anybody notice?

JE comments:  Are we witnessing a "paradigm shift" in the popularity of these sports, or is it a question of a dearth of bankable stars?  Even the patrician (and as David Duggan shows above, cruel) sport of thoroughbred racing was reinvigorated four years ago with the phenomenal American Pharoah.

Still, David is onto something:  were it not for these excellent reports, neither the Preakness nor the PGA would have registered on my radar.

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