Doing the quick math, Somebeachsomewhere probably competed before an average crowd of 8,000 people. That means approximately 168,000 fans and potential fans will have seen him on the track – many of them repeats.
For a little perspective, Wayne Gretzky played in 1487 games over 20 seasons in the National Hockey League. If each game was attended by 15,000 people, he was watched in person by 22.3 million hockey fans, and billions more on television.
If 168,000 people saw Gretzky play, would his name mean anything today? Would the sport be the same?
In his first two years as a professional golfer, Tiger Woods captured the PGA Rookie of the Year title and a win at The Masters. After only 42 weeks on the Tour, Woods became the number one golfer in the world, and in his second season was named PGA Player of the Year.
Imagine if Woods, following that 1997 sophomore campaign, would have decided to call it quits, opting for retirement at the age of 22. Where would golf be today? I have a feeling it'd still be struggling with an aging and fading demographic. Sound familiar?
The North America Cup, Canada’s $1.5 million signature event, was harness racing as live theatre. At the track, around the country and throughout the continent, tens of thousands of fans watched the sport to see a star rising – to witness a champion. They rose to their feet to cheer, to applaud and to marvel at the Monster from the Maritimes They felt chills as he pulled away from his rivals. Major news outlets dedicated unprecedented time and space to the event.
Two days before the Cup, I spoke to co-owner and trainer Brent McGrath. It was no secret that the ownership team were at the time being wooed by North America's top breeders, whom for obvious reasons, had little desire to see Beach race beyond 2008.
I asked McGrath, "With a deal likely imminent that would have Somebeachsomewhere retiring at three, how many track, horsemen or industry groups have approached you to negotiate what it would take to keep this horse racing next year?"
Brent paused and responded, "You're the first one to mention it."
There is $240 million in purse money available to standardbred horses in Canada, yet there’s no way to free up a few million to keep the best horse in the world racing. On the thoroughbred side, the same debate rages annually.
A movement is finally afoot to place restrictions on the foals of standardbred stallions who fail to race as four-year-olds. Hopefully harness racing can lead and thoroughbred racing can follow.
Names like Dan Patch, Northern Dancer, Phar Lap, Seabiscuit and Secretariat are the reason horse racing is still considered the Sport of Kings. It would be a true shame if their predecessors were retired before you’ve learned their names.
Racing may need a star, but for now, it should settle for a plan.
By Darryl Kaplan, editor of Trot Magazine