The love affair between the thoroughbred racing industry and the American Championship Racing Series may soon be over.
The series was started in 1991 as a way to spark media interest in the coverage of racing, and the first year was a huge success.
Nationally televised matchups of star horses like Unbridled, Summer Squall, Festin, Jolie's Halo and Farma Way resulted in record simulcast monies for host tracks.
Pimlico Race Course did $6,209,800 for the simulcast of its Pimlico Special; Gulfstream Park did $3,883,881 in simulcast money for its Donn Handicap; Oaklawn Park, $6,307,211 for the Oaklawn Handicap; Santa Anita, $5,007,629 for the Santa Anita Handicap; Hollywood Park, $5,219,078 for the Hollywood Gold Cup; Rockingham Park, $2,192,685 for the New England Classic; and Belmont Park, $3,360,035 for the Nassau County Handicap. That's a total of $32,180,319 wagered on the simulcast of seven races.
This year, problems began to appear. Last month, Oaklawpulled its Oaklawn Handicap from the series and Rockingham Park shelved the New England Classic.
Santa Anita president Cliff Goodrich resigned last week as ACRS chairman, and there are rumblings that he will remove his race from the series.
David Vance, general manager of Remington Park and vice president in charge of racing for Edward J. DeBartolo, is the new ACRS chairman.
Revenues this year after seven of the nine races are down, and ABC Sports, one of the driving forces behind the series, has dropped two of the races.
The Pimlico Special did the best this year with $5,164,388 followed by the Donn Handicap ($4,609,182), Santa Anita Handicap ($4,458,323), Oakland Handicap ($3,911,368) and Nassau Handicap ($3,827, 376). The total wagered through seven races has been $27,960,739.
The biggest challenge facing Vance will be to bring together the diverse provincial interests among the ACRS tracks into a single group working toward a common goal.
"The ACRS has a few problems but nothing insurmountable. It is important as a vehicle for getting the sport of thoroughbred racing before the public on national TV," said Vance. "The question is whether a track should be willing, for example, to change the time of its race for the good of the sport nationally. We have to take a lesson from NBA commissioner David Stern on how to be able to go in and fix the product for the market. Ten years ago, the NBA was struggling and Stern went in there and did a marvelous job. Now the NBA is one of the top sports enterprises in the world.
"I'm not critical, because I'm part of the problem. But I'd like to be part of the solution also. We have to hitch up our pants and step into the 21st century. I feel strongly about the things we have to do in racing and we have to have the responsibility to see the big picture. We're really at a turning point, and I want to be able to contribute."
Leading money winners
Brilliant Brass, who has earned $339,080, is the leading Maryland-bred money winner this year. Wood So is second with $233,338, followed by Valley Crossing with $152,555, Gala Spinaway with $135,935, Forest Fealty with $125,681, Silver Tango with $119,775, Fighting Notion with $104,154 and Irish Swap with $100,960.
Leading active Maryland-bred lifetime money earner is Gala Spinaway with $514,242. Brilliant Brass is second at $447,051.