Things That Make You Go Hmmm (4)

Kentucky horsemen, under difficult circumstances, have been largely supportive of shorter racing weeks to preserve purses and field size. However, there are growing concerns by some who say they can’t get their better stock into races. The situation is exacerbated by the slim pickings on the stakes calendar between the close of the Churchill spring meet and opening of the Keeneland fall meet. … Full fields of lower-level horses are fine, but we could live with a few smaller fields to accommodate the needs of those who have committed to stay in state to race rather than go elsewhere.

On the subject of racing, is there a reason 3-year-old-only races are almost impossible to find after the first four or five months of each year? Is it time for condition books to be revisited? Wouldn’t such opportunities for allowance, claiming, and stakes horses in late-summer and fall produce decent fields? I’m not a racing secretary, just curious.

A few months ago Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear called the bourbon industry the state’s signature industry. On Aug. 11, during a press conference announcing the first Sprint Cup at Kentucky Speedway, he said: “It will obviously be the biggest multiday sporting event that Kentucky has each year.” Well, we’d argue that title goes to the combined Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby days, as evidenced by the crowd counts and economic impact. … Enter Rodney Daingerfield.

Saw my first harness race in 1978 at Liberty Bell Park (now a strategically located shopping mall), learned how to handicap the races and have been a fan since. Living in Kentucky, however, one doesn’t see much live harness racing anymore. On Aug. 14-15, the United States Trotting Association is holding something called “Back to the Track,” whereby participating tracks offer various promotions and giveaways to entice people to attend, be they horsemen and their families or those who spend too much time in front of computer screens watching and wagering on races. … The Red Mile in Lexington is supposed to participate. Problem is, it hasn’t been advertised—nor has the actual opening of the meet this coming weekend. … A Thoroughbred guy asked me last year why promotion, or at least letting the public know you’re open, isn’t a required part of the regulatory licensing process. That’s a good question for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. ... Perhaps the bigger question is this: If you want to hide your core product under a rock, why do you deserve alternative gaming?

Don’t mean to pick on Kentucky, but haven’t heard a peep from KEEP in quite some time. The Kentucky Equine Education Project launched amid much fanfare early in the 2000s and did quite a bit to raise the profile of the state’s horse industry. … So what gives? Such efforts are needed as much now as they were then. … Early on KEEP officials called the organization transparent, but to this day it still doesn’t let the public know when it holds its board meetings. Not sure what that’s all about.

A recent visit to Monmouth Park was busy but a lot of fun, with only one complaint, which is pretty good as racetracks go. As a New Jersey native I know the state’s propensity to gouge, but $6.25 for a 12-ounce bottle of Yuengling? The alternative was a slightly larger bottle of Bud Light for $6. I took the Yuengling(s) and hoped to cash some tickets. … That same week a 14-ounce Yuengling draft cost me $3.75 at Delaware Park. Yeah, I know. Slots.

Sometimes you just can’t figure out racetracks. River Downs near Cincinnati has a really cool tiki bar adjacent the paddock; it’s open for live racing and into the early evening on Fridays. … Last Sunday, with a decent group hanging around for full-card simulcasts after the last live race, the bar shut down. The indoor clubhouse bar was still open, but geez, why not take advantage of such a nice spot for a few more hours? … I have the number of a downtown Cincinnati bar owner who would know exactly what to do with it, and make money doing it.

We’re still waiting for an upgrade to the Daily Racing Program used by tracks as their primary simulcast program. It must be really hard to get return winners italicized in the past performances and consistently run jockey and trainer stats for each track. … So don’t the tracks care about the product they’re selling to their patrons? Maybe track officials don’t know what they’re selling to their patrons? … I’ve complained for years about the way simulcasting is handled in Lexington but have to give credit where it’s due: Keeneland still sells a full past-performance program with up to 11 tracks for only $2.50.

Always remember this: The product—horses competing on the track—isn’t the problem. We are.



Leave a Comment:

Ken Woodall

"entice people to attend, be they horsemen and their families or those who spend too much time in front of computer screens watching and wagering on races. … The Red Mile in Lexington is supposed to participate. Problem is, it hasn’t been advertised—nor has the actual opening of the meet this coming weekend. … A Thoroughbred guy asked me a last year why promotion, or at least letting the public you’re open, isn’t part of the regulatory licensing process."

Simple. Equine racing is afraid of the general public, and there is no national equine or TBred public relations and promotions clearinghouse office.

Racing is a closed society, perpetuates untrue myths, hides useful and positive info, and keeps TBred handicapping too hard. Virtually no one in place in racing knows how to reach the general public.

Speaking of hidden info, who wrote this article?

11 Aug 2010 1:18 PM

Yikes, I can buy a six pack of Yuengling in TN for $6.25.

As for racing, the product is definitely good.

11 Aug 2010 1:20 PM

Please pick on Kentucky. I live here and I'm constantly amazed at the lack of concern over this industry. Everything is backward and NO forward thinking. One day I hope it gets better.

11 Aug 2010 1:56 PM

On the Red Mile’s non-participation in the harness revival-type day(s), racetrack operations have gone full circle. From the early 50s through the late 70s “marketing” was simply not in anyone’s vocabulary. When business started slowing in the early 80s, tracks began to resemble other businesses - cost centers for g&a and such but also varying degrees of sales, advertising, community/media relations, you know, the marketing stuff. Not so long ago, however, the game changed again to an exercise of identifying those individuals not absolutely critical to operations and core racing product. Today there is no research and development effort, no pilot programs or testing of new products, no affiliation with area corporations, really nothing except the bare bones of what it takes to open the doors. What you have on the other side is an industry simply taking orders from those who will come anyway. The unfortunate difference now is far fewer come now than those glory days of old.

11 Aug 2010 2:14 PM

Three cheers for Yuengling!

11 Aug 2010 2:47 PM
Bill Daly

While we're kvetching let me add my couple of cents: Why can't track simulcast signals do a better job of keeping the customer informed of changes; i.e., races off the turf, jockey changes, etc. It kills me that so many track signals rely on a closed captioned streamer that slowly, oh so slowly, creeps across the screen detailing every change involving jockeys, weight carried, owner changes, trainer changes, etc. Just give me the changes for the race at hand so I don't have to wait and wait and wait while precious minutes elapse so I don't get shut out trying to get a bet in! If that little could be accomplished it would make me happier, perhaps saner at those frenzied moments and bring more money into the coffers of the tracks.

11 Aug 2010 3:20 PM
Ken Woodall

Jon-Early 80s business slowed -- From 1970-1979, 7 of the 10 KY Derby winners were the favorites!

11 Aug 2010 3:26 PM

Woodbine has a nice bar on the 3rd level. Last year on Breeders Cup Friday, they shut the bar down once live racing ended, even though half the BC card was still to come.

The crowds--and I use the term crowd loosely--are getting smaller every year at Woodbine. I don't think they realize they are also in the hospitality industry.

11 Aug 2010 3:40 PM

I disagree about keeping the 3YOs in their own division in maiden and allowance races. As you mentioned, it's hard enough to fill these types of races; splitting into age groups would make it even worse. And 3YOs do not seem to have any kind of competitive disadvantage, at least in my experience.

11 Aug 2010 3:52 PM

Yuengling is great ... from what I understand it has very limited distribution. I had no idea it was available in TN - I thought it was just east coast.

11 Aug 2010 5:00 PM

Yuengling is available in more states now, including West Virginia. I've been told the beer distributors and their lobbyists that troll Frankfort keep it out of Kentucky.

11 Aug 2010 5:17 PM
Aaron J Young

Tom, you bring up some good points in this blog about horsemen, government and racetrack responsibilities. As a harness horse owner and trainer, I am very upset with the handling of our product, especially at The Red Mile, which begins live racing this Sunday, Aug. 15, post time 6:30, with some non-betting KY Fair Finals beginning about 5:30. For the years I have been involved in horse racing, it is the same ol' thing, races being filled just to be full with disregard to competitiveness, nonexistent advertising and a horseman's association that just goes along for the ride. In a recent article on, the writer referred to racetracks as a Field of Dreams-- "if you build it, they will come" mentality. Good points in that, too--check it out at

11 Aug 2010 5:25 PM

I'm from southern California and I went to the derby in 2005. I was also lucky enough to see a few of the farms in central Kentucky and I was really taken by the horse industry in Kentucky and how big it is back there. But then when I read that the governor doesn't seem to pay much attention to it I'm really confused. It would be like our governor out here dissing to the movie industry.

11 Aug 2010 6:22 PM

Trivia questions related to just how (un) distinguished the past 10 Derby winners (Monarchos in ’91 through Super Saver) really are . . . 1) how many collective races have been won by those horses since the first Saturday in May and, 2) aside from best 3-year-old male, how many Eclipse awards have been garnered by this group? When you have horses making 4-5 lifetime starts going into the Derby trained to run sprint and middle distances, I’d say the TC is pretty safe until a system that has been failed by breeders, owners and trainers is altered to meet the mediocrity we’ve seen over the past decade.

11 Aug 2010 6:38 PM
steve Viuker

OK--Beer is still cheaper than @ Yankee Stadium and the coffee @ MP is only $2.75 for a cup of Dunkin w/ a lid finally.

11 Aug 2010 9:44 PM

Canterbury Park's bar remains open til most bars close on days of live racing. Thursday and Friday are night racing nights and I know its open til I believe 1 or 2 a.m. both nights.

11 Aug 2010 9:57 PM
anita b

I remember as a kid, watching horse races every Sat. afternoon. I LIVED for it! And also listening to a race on the radio. Now there is nothing--not even good articles in the newspaper. Bummer. How do we the public get the news/sports industry to get more involved? Good article, Tom

11 Aug 2010 10:59 PM
Bill L

I can relate to all of Tom's comments...but he missed one....Why aren't Ellis Park's races on TVG or HRTV......might help handle?

12 Aug 2010 9:39 AM

Eight dollars for a warm Heineken at Fenway.

12 Aug 2010 9:42 AM

The Red Mile claims to be in the entertainment industry. They sealed the tunnel to the infield that previously hosted Chili Cook-Offs, Concerts and more drawing thousands of customers. They once had a great wooden deck serving food and drinks with wagering terminals overlooking the paddock - gone now. Haven't seen anything in the newspaper, haven't seen any ads on TV or heard any radio spots. Real fans already know they are opening this weekend. But the uninformed will remain uninformed. As a partner in a pacer (I live in Lexington), why would I run at the Red Mile for one-fourth of what we run for in Indiana?? How and why does the Red Mile remain open?

12 Aug 2010 10:07 AM


If you really want to see price-gouging, check out Turfway Park on Lane's End Stakes day.

Each time I read the comments from the Turfway GM about how his track is in trouble, I keep wondering how much better things could be if he made racing affordable on his track's best day of racing. It's a prime time to introduce newcomers to the sport who are being turned away by ridiculously high prices that start with a $10 general admission cost.

And the programs..surely Turfway can't still be not including their races in either edition of the Daily Racing Form...are they? The one and only time I tried to buy a DRF on Lane's End Stakes Day that is what I was told. Hope this situation has been changed.

12 Aug 2010 12:10 PM

Liberty Bell Park... I remember it well. RIP

12 Aug 2010 12:31 PM
Kentucky Bucky

Tom has made several valid points, especially about the River closing down the Tiki Bar.

Race patrons will be happy with a clean facility, reasonably priced food and friendly staffers.

Monmouth probably has a much higher labor cost so the beer may be a bit more expensive but what about Keeneland?

$5.00 for a crappy draft and $3.50 for a Hot Dog that's usually burnt?

Racetrack executives need to take a good look around and ask this:

Would I bring my family here and can we afford it?

Supply the clean facility, a friendly staff and make it fun and yes, they will come.

12 Aug 2010 4:04 PM
claude coyotebait

"Come into my parlor," said the spider to the fly, "and bring your money."  

... What a unique marketing plan!

13 Aug 2010 8:46 AM

$5.00 for cold french fries and $4.50 for a warm beer at Colonial Downs with a $600,000 race on the card. Not to mention $2.50 for a program and charges for parking. All these inducements to get the public to bet and lose money... what's wrong here?

13 Aug 2010 3:17 PM

If everyone contributed an idea for Things That Make You Go Hmmm .... who would you submit the suggestions to???

Mr. Lamarra, you answered your own question .... Wouldn’t such opportunities for allowance, claiming, and stakes horses in late-summer and fall produce decent fields? Decent fields you say , maybe thats the reason you don't see any.

You want 3 yr olds to run after May ??? Perhaps the problem there is a number of horses ran as TWO yr olds ; same problem as qualifying for the Triple Crown. How many horses come up with injuries/problems and have to withdraw and at times have to retire early ??

14 Aug 2010 7:35 AM
Bob Hope

Well done Tom! I like this instant, reactive type of journalism for this kind of sport. You will never run out of content!

14 Aug 2010 8:38 AM

The industry all over the continent needs to start making some significant changes with management at racetracks, which is where all of these problems stem from and I can say this with hands-on experience. I can tell you the number one issue at a certain track near me is that those in charge usually have their positions simply due to family ties and typically have zero experience or passion for the industry at all (except maybe in some cases as an owner).

Some enjoy owning their own horses and most think that's all there is to the industry and could care less about what the general public thinks. If anyone comes in offering ideas of things that the general public feel would help draw them out to the races more, they will immediately oust that individual making suggestions so they don't rock the archaic boat that they seem to be floating on. That's even regardless of any data the person can show to prove that these things would work.

The politics involved are so ridiculous and petty it is no wonder the racing industry is about 50 years behind that of nearly every other industry. Those in the positions with the ability to make positive changes are too busy sipping from a $500 bottle of wine - that will likely be a company expense - to care that $9 is too much money for a regular, every day person to purchase a single beer (which is about the going rate at this track).

It is really no surprise that the industry is where it is and that there is no sighting of a light at the end of the tunnel with things working this way. Those who want to make a difference and improve the industry lose their job faster than anything and have to walk on eggshells to try and get into a position to voice their opinion (hence why my post is Anonymous). Even then, good luck trying to convince a group of old traditionalists how change can be a positive thing, especially if that means they may have to actually work for once.

I could go on for days with the things I have witnessed myself but there really is no point. Unless we can completely overhaul the entire management we see in racetracks we will never be able to make the desperately needed changes to steer this industry in the direction it needs to go.

14 Aug 2010 3:07 PM

To answer the question, all suggestions for topics are welcome. E-mail them to Thanks.

15 Aug 2010 7:57 AM

Attending Saratoga for the first time on Travers day. How much are the beers at Saratoga?

15 Aug 2010 8:43 AM

Saratoga beers are $6-plus, if I remember correctly, with some $4 happy hours.

15 Aug 2010 9:20 PM

Jersey Tom: Don't know what kind of player you are or your MO but coolers are still allowed at the Spa so pack one (or several!) of those 6-pack-type coolers with the shoulder strap and you'll save yourself a buch of time, $$ and aggravation! Go back to the races on Sunday because to be perfectly honest with you you'll start to enjoy the nation's best racing venue and NY's nicest town more when the place isn't such a zoo! Anyone who's ever liked racing just a little bit gets hooked up there! Enjoy!!! There's no place better!!

15 Aug 2010 9:38 PM

Ron Mitchell rocks!

16 Aug 2010 8:35 PM
The_Knight_Sky racing

I did a bit of investigative journalism on Sunday. Mr. LaMarra is correct on the price of a Yuengling. It goes for $6.25 a bottle. The imported (Heineken, etc.) goes for $6.50 at that same stand near the finish line.

I asked the lovely Jersey girl to model a bottle of Yuengling for my camera. I was politely denied !

A new feeling of rejection I hadn't felt in years. Please stay away from those gals who attend Centenary college. Heartbreakers all of them. ;;-)

17 Aug 2010 1:22 PM

Knight Sky went all out. I'm impressed. ... Despite the diss and the beer prices, ain't it a great track?

18 Aug 2010 8:53 AM
The_Knight_Sky racing blog

Yes. Mr. LaMarra -

I have adopted Monmouth Park as my new "home track" this summer, since the Meadowlands will not be hosting a thoroughbred racing meet this autumn.

The employees and the management have been great.  Monmouth Park is historic (don't want to call it ancient) and deserves to be a major hub on the American racing calendar.

This summer I am documenting the people, places and things on my photostream. As a result I have met lots of interesting horsemen and employees posing for my camera.

But it won't be complete until I get a shot of the elusive Yuengling girl at the finish line. ;-)

19 Aug 2010 11:48 AM

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