CRAWFORD: Boxing, horse racing both took it on the chin Saturday
LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- There was a time, back when a live broadcast usually meant radio and newspapers were the dominant sports medium, when horse racing and boxing occupied the front row of American sports.
A day with a prizefight and the Belmont Stakes would've left the Red Smiths of the sportswriting profession on literary overload and the fans and front pages screaming.
Yesterday was that kind of day. But in 2012, with horse racing listing and boxing losing its punch, the results only served as a reminder of the struggles besetting these sports, and why they are often as likely to leave the mass of fans frustrated as fulfilled.
I'll Have Another, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, scratched from the Belmont the day before the race, with his connections claiming a sudden tendon inflammation. Not that there's anything mysterious about a tendon injury with a thoroughbred, but its circumstance leads to cynicism.
I'll Have Another hadn't had an official work since before the Preakness. He galloped at 5:30 a.m. the morning he was scratched. Horses injure tendons in a number of ways. They can be overworked, or simply worked when too fatigued. The chance of this being the case with I'll Have Another would seem slim. There can be a problem with a shoe. Not likely. They can suffer some kind of direct trauma to the leg. Some have speculated that I'll Have Another might've been disoriented once moved to a new stall in a hastily arranged "detention barn," set up to monitor Belmont horses. Or, horses can simply take a bad step, causing rupture and, eventually, swelling.
So it's entirely possible that I'll Have Another simply had bad luck, a bad step or some similar issue.
But nobody is completely convinced. Certainly some of the people my WDRB colleague, Rick Bozich, talked to in New York were skeptical of the story being presented.
"An injury like that should have been noticed at least a week before the race," Michael Desano, a former trainer who works with the Race Track Chaplaincy of America at tracks in New York, told Rick. "I just don't like the setup of the whole thing."
Many question whether moving I'll Have Another to a tightly monitored barn might've been a factor for a trainer already facing suspension in California. Was the horse unable to get something he had been getting? It's not an off-the-wall question considering the last colt to run for a Triple Crown, Big Brown, won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness using a legal steroid that his trainer said was no factor, but failed to even finish the Belmont when taken off of it.
The memory of that leads to questions over whether the colt's value as a future stallion might've led owner J. Paul Reddam to make a bet of his own on protecting the colt's future earnings rather than risking running him in a compromised condition, whether health- or medicine-related.
On its face, trainer Doug O'Neill and Reddam deserve a lot of credit for protecting their horse while giving up a shot at horse racing's ultimate prize.
The problem is that many aren't sure whether to accept all this on its face. In many sports, the presumption of even talking about such possibilities would be considered insult by implication. In horse racing, only the sport's hard-core defenders take such possibilities off the table.
Either way, the Belmont result felt a bit hollow. Even the feel-good story of Union Rags winning for owner Phyllis Wyeth is missing something, because he didn't get to face I'll Have Another to earn it. In the 10th-slowest Belmont in 12 years, it's hard not to ask, "What if?"
In boxing, meanwhile, people are asking "What the #*$%?" after Manny Pacquiao lost his WBO Welterweight title by split decision to Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas Saturday night.
The result was a shocker. HBO's ringside scorer Howard Lederman scored it 119-110 for Pacquiao. The Associated Press scored it for Pacquiao 117-111. Not even close.
Compubox statistics showed that Pacquiao landed 253 punches to 159 for Bradley. On power punches, Pacquiao had a 190-108 edge.
The announcement that two ringside judges, however, ruled the fight a 115-113 win for Bradley brought strong response -- from around the world.
"Blame here has to fall on Pacquaio's strategy of punching Bradley more often and harder," Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel wrote.
Filipino president Benigo Aquino had to issue a statement to try to calm Pacquiao's countrymen.
ESPN quoted fight promoter Don Arum as saying, "Something like this is so outlandish, it's a death knell for the sport. This is (expletive) nuts. I have both guys, and I'll make a lot of money in the rematch, but it's ridiculous. You have these old (expletive) who don't know what the hell they're looking at. It's incompetence. Nobody who knows anything about boxing could have Bradley ahead in the fight."
With the odds on a Pacquiao win having dropped all week, the conspiracy theories were in full voice on Saturday night, even finding a sympathetic ear in ESPN columnist Bill Simmons.
Leave it to rapper to sum it all up, via Twitter, 50 Cent (a fierce critic of Pacquiao) wrote, "Man boxing is a mess right now. . . . Do not watch the rematch its (sic) fixed. Both fighters are with the same promoters. There (sic) just trying to get paid twice."
We watch sports because they give us high drama with the satisfaction of a payoff with a clear winner and loser. Real life doesn't always give us that. It's why non-sports media are often at pains to declare winners and losers from events and stories when there can be none. It's what we want, particularly as American sports fans. We could never live like the rest of the world with soccer ties, or at least not happily.
Results like the ones in these two once-dominant sports awaken a skepticism that many would prefer not to have about sports. They leave us with doubts not only about the result, but the process.
Controversy happens, of course. But once a sport loses the trust of the mass of fans, or at least, once skepticism takes the lead on the scorecard, every high-profile controversy becomes another blow in a countdown to knockout.
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