Last Tuesday the Daily Racing Form criticized the tactics of trainer Woody Stephens in the Preakness. SI's William Nack responds:
As it justifiably proclaims on its masthead, the Form is "America's Turf Authority." Horseplayers around the nation daily consult its past-performance charts like so many historians studying the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Form, impartial chronicler of racing, rarely takes a strong editorial stance.
So the horse racing world was struck with a sense of dismay and disbelief when the Form, in a front-page editorial entitled "The Spoiler," accused Stephens of "dishonorable tactics," "unsportinglike[sic] conduct," and "contemptuous action" for his part in bringing about the defeat in the Preakness of Winning Colors, the filly who had won the Kentucky Derby.
Stephens did no more than instruct jockey Pat Day to send his colt, Forty Niner, to the lead against the front-running filly rather than allow her to steal off alone, as she had in winning both the Kentucky and Santa Anita derbies. The two horses brushed a few times, and no doubt the duel for the lead ultimately hurt Winning Colors—she finished third—but as Clinton Pitts Jr., the chief steward at Pimlico, said, "There was never any bumping hard enough to be construed as a bump."
Yet the editorial claimed that Stephens "set out to insure the defeat of Winning Colors...rather than concentrate on how he would plan to win the race with his own horse." The diatribe reached a crescendo with: "The puzzlement is why Stephens...would stoop to such dishonorable tactics."
The real puzzlement is why the Form took such a wrongheaded stance. To make matters worse, on the day after the editorial appeared. Gene Klein, the owner of Winning Colors, said that Stephens was a "despicable, jealous old man" who should be "ruled off the track." Both the Form and Klein owe Stephens a big apology.
Work in sports doesn't seem to rate, at least not very highly, according to the recently published Jobs Rated Almanac. Of the 250 kinds of employment listed, the highest ranked sports-related job—way down at No. 135—is that of sports instructor. Other rankings: major league baseball umpire (153), NCAA basketball coach (159), race car driver (204), jockey (209), NBA player (214), major league baseball player (222) and NFL player (241).
The ratings system is complex—it's based on analyzing jobs in 96 different ways—but the determining factors can be boiled down to these six: salary, stress, work environment, growth potential, security and physical demands. While professional athletes are paid very well, their salaries are offset by their lack of job security and the rigorous physical and psychological demands of their calling.