July 2, 2010

Appearance Fees in Racing?

Money, money, money.

It happens in tennis, it happens in golf. In fact it happens wherever a person of celebrity desires to pocket a buck at the expense of an event organizer who is more than happy to make the expensive hand out in order to glamorize their show. Now we can add one miss Rachel Alexandra to the list of celebrity cash grabbers.

Is it right, or is it wrong for the Rachel Alexandra ownership to run their star at a track, and at a race, only when the purse is significantly raised ?

It seems to me the idea of appearance fees is Capitalism 101. If the celebrity, or in this case, the owners of the celebrity, are willing to decide where they will appear based on cash, and the event organizers, in this case, a racetrack, are grinning ear-to-ear with their agreement, who are we to say the agreement, rooted in American capitalism, is wrong?

OK, so it is acceptable for a celeb to make some dough by availing themselves to their fans in our chosen form of economics, but what about on the athletic landscape? Doesn’t this smack of forgetting the competition just to assure the attendance of one of the competitors? Doesn’t this lessen the importance of the actual competition? Well, yes and no. In golf, when Tiger Woods is paid $2 million to play in a tournament, while the winner of the tournament gets a measly $650,000, then yes, I apply pressure with my thumb and index finger directly to both nostrils. When the appearance fee is paid regardless of performance, it belittles the event. Does Tiger Woods have as much to play for as Joe in-the-field Golfer? Of course not, he already got his.

Is this a worry in racing? No. Two big reasons why it is different. First off, Rachel does not know of cash. She will run just the same regardless of her owner’s bankbook. Secondly, this appearance fee is the good kind in sports. Jess Jackson is not being paid only to show up, he is being paid when Rachel wins. Many would say, knowing her brilliance, that these two things are the same. Maybe so, but the truth is the extra purse money is out there for all.

Who are the losers as a result of this deal? Not team Rachel. Not Monmouth Park. Not the fans of the sport. We now get to see Rachel, and know ahead of time where we can see her. Also with the purse hike, it should attract at least as good a field as we would have seen in the Ruffian Stakes. Perhaps the losers are NYRA and their elite meet of Saratoga. To them I say, check your Econ textbooks. Monmouth won, fair and square. Besides, Saratoga should still host another Rachel race before their meet is done. Perhaps the American Graded Stakes system is a loser. Monmouth’s Lady’s Secret is ungraded, now rich, but still ungraded. Saratoga’s Ruffian is a grade 1. This may actually only hurt Rachel’s resume, while benefiting the Ruffian winner.

In the end, I am not against this devilish deal between the good people at Monmouth Park and Rachel’s owner, Jess Jackson. It takes nothing away from our sport, even if somewhere Gordon Gekko is smiling.

This matter is the topic du jour for the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance http://www.tbablogs.com/, please check out their main page to find numerous other points-of-view. Some not nearly so kind to JJ as I am.


The_Knight_Sky said...

Mr. Zipse wrote:

Perhaps the American Graded Stakes system is a loser. Monmouth’s Lady’s Secret is ungraded, now rich, but still ungraded. Saratoga’s Ruffian is a grade 1. This may actually only hurt Rachel’s resume, while benefiting the Ruffian winner.


Rachel's camp is behind in the HOY race. But we know that she at her best is a proven Grade 1 competitor.

The HOY race is not a race of how many Grade 1's a racehorse can accumulate. But the idea is to work backwards from the Breeders Cup and be at your best on that very day.

As for the bumping up of the purse.
An addition $250 grand added to the pot of The Lady's Secret stakes is akin to rolling out the red carpet for the eastern queen of racing.

But equally important is the fact that it serves as an incentive for rival fillies and mares to make their own "appearance" in the stakes race a worthwhile effort by picking up a significant sum by racing against the champ.

A win - win situation for all the participants.

Brian Zipse said...


I agree with your reasoning. I was thinking in the ultimate recapping of Rachel's career, say maybe 50 years from now, will less grade 1's on the resume mean anything? Maybe, maybe not.

Nick said...

The HOY race is not a race of how many Grade 1's a racehorse can accumulate. But the idea is to work backwards from the Breeders Cup and be at your best on that very day.

Last year's HoY vote seems to contradict this.

Brian Zipse said...

Nick, last year was not normal. In most years, Zenyatta's season of 2009 would have been good enough. So, yes, last year's total grade 1's did matter, and yes, your comment to TKS may hold water again this year with the likes of Quality Road and Zenyatta out there.

Abitaamber said...

I don't see what the problem is at all. This isn't even an appearance fee. If Monmouth wre handing JJ a check just for running in the race, that's a big problem.

To examine your golf and tennis analogies...the PGA doesn't engage in such chicanery, and thank goodness for it. The unofficial cash grab events are a joke.

Tennis is by far the biggest perpetrator of this crime...and it's the main reason why tennis is a joke outside of the Grand Slam events.

Brian Zipse said...

I think we are in general agreeance here Abitaamber, but as far as your 2nd sentence...golfers are paid to appear all year long, believe it!

ja.raymond said...

There's one thing I just cant get past in all this: Since Jackson/Asmussen have chosen an ungraded stakes race over a Gr I for a girl that kicked ass in the Preakness & Haskell, then it just screams volumes to me that they dont have enough faith in the trainer/training or Rachel as a Gr I winner this time!
As for raising purses for Rachel's appearance, it's not necessary right now - she's been beaten by "lesser" girls this yr. I really like Rachel, we've all seen who she can be but something's getting missed and she's not the same horse. So for her connections to want purse raises or "appearance fees" is quite pretentious; to me, it's just "blowin' smoke" that it will be the "Haskell Rachel" to show up when we all know that that girl is MIA.
What I've said may be harsh, but I do like Rachel. I want to see her keep her winning heart. She deserves it!

LDP said...

Personally I do not see a problem with this race. Monmouth has been drawing nice sized fields with good horses, and IMO the purse raise will ensure at least as good as a field as the Ruffian, so we agree Brian.

I also have to wonder if Zen may come. I know it's a longshot, despite the waffling by Zen's connections about Del Mar. However, if they are worried about the surface and don't want to go to the Gold Cup the logical thing to do next is travel, which leaves this race or the Ruffian.

Brian Zipse said...

Jane, What does it matter if she is 1-5 in the grade 1 Ruffian, or 1-5 in the Lady's Secret. Trust me, this decision has nothing to do with fearing that the competition in the grade 1 Ruffian would be too tough.

joani said...

The problem for me isn't the added purse. That's a sure fire strategy to get the best horses. I'm ambivalent about graded vs. non-graded stakes, although it doesn't FEEL quite right. What really does bother me is that it was SAID, Rachel would be running either in the Ruffian or the Personal Ensign. Well, we know the Ruffian is out. It's nice to know more than a week out.

LDP said...


Jackson never said RA would run in the Ruffian or PE, it was widely speculated by the press that was where she would make her next couple starts, but Jackson never said anything about racing in the Ruffian.

william said...

well i agree with the capitalism part, i disagree with the ideas of jj doing this....he always claims he wants to show the world how great his horse is but always takes the easier way out, for all the negative press zenyatta receives for picking and choosing her battles i believe that jj does it more...if there is any person out there who would dare say that they would not be screaming if any cali track offered zenyatta a fee to stay there intstead of coming east to face stiffer competition, i believe would not have the same opinion as i am hearing now

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