Whither Racing? - By Bob Heleringer

(Originally published in the June 5, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)    

One week after the Preakness, Andrew Beyer wrote a column in the Daily Racing Form that all but said horse racing in America is on life support.

Extremely pessimistic, even by Beyer’s usual standards, he allowed that ”the sport’s day-to-day product has never been worse.”

Seconding the motion, the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan lamented, on an edition of ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters,” that racing in the United States is at a nadir, with racetracks closing and most of those still in operation having deserted grandstands. The few fans who do show up are generally old enough “to have voted for Ike.” Alternative gaming is all that stands between some tracks and the bulldozer.

As Beyer noted in his column, total handle at America’s racetracks “plunged from $14.7 billion...to $12.3 billion” in just the last two years, as droves of our one-time loyal patrons seek alternative entertainment—of which there is an abundance. Even with allowances for a recession that seems to be recovery-resistant, racing is not currently flourishing anywhere. It survives as a popular, semi-profitable enterprise only at the so-called “boutique” meets at Keeneland, Saratoga, and Del Mar. (Perhaps Monmouth Park’s “less is more“ experiment this summer will add that track to this exclusive company.) As the Globe’s Ryan sadly noted, racing today has nothing but questions and no answers.

In law school I studied the legal philosophy of one of the most brilliant intellects in American law—Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. But my favorite quote from Justice Holmes isn’t derived from any of his erudite pronouncements on law, philosophy, or political science—fields he continues to influence 75 years after his death. At a speech he gave in 1890 to a group of Union Army veterans, Holmes—who had served the Union cause with great distinction as a thrice-wounded infantry captain—told his aging comrades: “I believe a man must be involved in the action and passion of his time, at the peril of being judged never to have lived.”

Most people reading this are not board members of The Jockey Club, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Breeders’ Cup, the Jockeys’ Guild, the national Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, or the American Horse Council. Not to disparage their efforts in any way (far from it), but racing’s devoted fans ultimately will determine whether the sport disappears from the fabric of American life. True lovers of Thoroughbred racing must become more knowledgeable about the game and lend their time and talents to grassroots organizations that aggressively promote racing in state legislatures, communities-at-large, and other such venues. If there isn’t such an entity in your state, start one.

Do your state representative and state senator know your name...and your passion for racing? If every serious racing fan became a vociferous advocate for the cause, think what an impact that would have.

I am gently hustled from time to time for contributions to this or that charitable event. My donation is always the same: a day at the races including a clubhouse box for six at Churchill Downs, six free programs, and dinner for six at a nice restaurant in town. (Alas, they have to pick their own winners.)

When is the last time you considered doing something such as this, or just going out to the track with some of your uninitiated friends to introduce them to the sport’s excitement (and possible profits)? How about joining a partnership (some for as little as $500) and actually experience owning a share of a Thoroughbred? My four sisters and I have immensely enjoyed the highs and lows of the one- and sometimes two-horse stable we inherited from our sainted mother.

In the final furlong, whether racing in the U.S. survives is not up to the elite board members of racing’s numerous interest groups, however dedicated they are. Racing’s future, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, will be determined by the “action and passion” of its most committed fans.

Bob Heleringer is an attorney, former racing official, and former Kentucky state legislator. He teaches Equine Regulatory Law at the University of Louisville’s Equine Studies Program.

33 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Rachel

This will sound VERY "girly" and "naive" but Racing doesn't seem to be able to hold the kind of fan I try to bring to the table...fellow horse owners who spend thousands on their horses but who won't cough up a lousy $2 bet for a race because they think the jocks use too much whip, the horses aren't loved and too many go to slaughter.

I've tried and tried...I'm down to NO ONE who will go with me...

Create a world for the Horse Lover and they will bet...♥

02 Jun 2010 3:35 PM
FourCats

"As the Globe’s Ryan sadly noted, racing today has nothing but questions and no answers."

There are lots of answers.  Many, many people have made lots of suggestions for improvement.  Not all will help but some may.  But no one in charge is looking for them.  I live in Virginia and sometimes go to the Maryland tracks.  The facilities, to put it kindly, are run-down and have been for decades.  Why?  Because the owners won't do anything to improve them unless they get slots.  Their view is that they need to see improvement in their finances first.  Well, that's not the way a successful business works.  The business needs to invest and market first before the customers come.  With run-down facilities and zero promotions, is it any surprise that few people go there?  Or that few people return?

When Frank deFrancis owned those tracks, the parking lots were full all the time (even at Freestate which was harness racing). Why? Because he understood that a business needs to be marketed and promoted.  And he cared enough about horse racing to work at it.

Many people couldn't care less about horse racing.  And that's fine.  But there are still potential new fans out there.  Yet most track owners do nothing to reach out to them.

02 Jun 2010 3:42 PM
Paula Weglarz

Bob, very good editorial & I do believe so many people are passive in politics. Too many people fail to call their legislators to give them an opinion, a suggestion, or even a complaints. Then, everyone throws up their hands & complains out loud when the legislature, yet again, fails to act on any racing related legislation.

Don't be a silent fan....speak out!

(and p.s....for the people who think horses are whipped too much...they don't understand that the whip is now a safe padded whip & that jockeys often have to use the whip strictly for corrective action, to keep from avoiding a collision. Those people who think racing is animal cruelty won't ever be horse racing fans.)

02 Jun 2010 5:22 PM
Betsy

I like the sentiment, I'm just wondering what a serious fan with little money and power can do, because, of course, racing is run by power and money. Certainly, grassroots/community efforts would have more power and money b/c of sheer numbers, and it's clear that such groups can have a lot of influence. I see two major road blocks, though: first, like I said, money/power is concentrated in a few groups and individuals; and two, there is so little organization nationally and even regionally between tracks, trainers, interest groups, etc. How can we get this to happen??

FourCats: I agree that not enough is done to reach out to fans; the question is, how can those who care about this issue convince them that more needs to be done?(Initial thoughts: a benevolent dictator/track owner wtih lots of money; petitions and pressure from fans and backstretch workers???)

02 Jun 2010 5:32 PM
Ken woodall

I have made many low-cost yet high general public profile suggestions and they were rarely acknowledged and rarely implemented. The public is not interested in a sport that has few "fans" but mostly bettors; whose do little to allay the myths that racing spews about frequency of horse abuse and deaths. Racing knows nothing about what draws fans to other sports. They know but refuse to adjust to the bettors who do need simplified handicapping methods. They want contact sports. Young people want to socialize on  I-phone, I-pad, cellphones.

Newbies need the following+

entertainment besides jst racing; easy way to pick a winner and special bet for picking longshots; free admit and parking; decent priced food and logoed merchandise; PR and promtion that includes following local connections and prize drawings;

More interesting human and horse stories; more promotion (chatter aand racing media PR) lead-ins to more races than just TC and BC races, as they only cover May1-June5 and 2 days in Nov.

Racing needs a nationa PR office for media and promotion coordination, and to counter the myths of racing.

Myths perpetuated by racing:

1) Overage of illegal drugs (last survey many years ago).

2) Horse run 30MPH (8'-1/5 second), not 40+MPH.

3) Unsafe for horses (Real info not getting to the public).

4) Too hard to learn to pick winners (I often pick both of top 2 tote choices at 2 min to post in turf and sprints with success!).

5) Public does not think about racing (not enough positive in-your-face news articles). No racehorses in parades, at public events, no track Career Day or racing high school textbooks to connect with young)

6) According to AQHA, Quarterhorse racing is gaining overall with handle and fans. Check out the AQHA website for promotions and Glossary for definition of Length. Speed rating often on program.

02 Jun 2010 6:07 PM
Leon

Track owners do very little to attract customers these days; at Camarero racetrack in Puerto Rico, the take-out is an abusive 46%, and the ownership "prides" itself in holding auctions in which left-overs from Finger Lakes, Suffolk & Turfway Park, purchased for $1000 -$2000 at the end of their meets, are sold as if they were the next coming of Secretariat.

The racing quality has never been top-notch, but it has gotten so bad that, Dreaming of Victory & Boowoogemalia, a pair of $4,000 claimers from Finger Lakes, have won stakes races here recently.

Additionally, they requested the support of all the segments that comprise the local horseracing industry, in order to get government approval for slots; once they got'em, they lowered purses, and the income derived from them is being kept by track & horse owners, with no participation for jockeys, trainers & breeders. Nice payback for their support!

There you have some of the reasons why the PR horseracing industry has seen total handle drop from 280 million in the mid-90's, to a projected 190 million in 2010; the sad thing is, if you were to ask track ownership of the reason for the decline, they will blame "the economy" and the "government".

02 Jun 2010 7:56 PM
tvnewsbadge

Paula Weglarz said

"for the people who think horses are whipped too much...they don't understand that the whip is now a safe padded whip & that jockeys often have to use the whip strictly for corrective action, to keep from avoiding a collision. Those people who think racing is animal cruelty won't ever be horse racing fans.)"

Even if that statement regarding whips is true, it does illustrate the major problem facing horse racing today.

Rightly or wrongly, there is the perception of animal cruelty in the general public and there is the perception that far too many people in the horse racing community turn a blind eye to it.

How do you overcome THAT?

At my local track this weekend, a jockey was injured and is out for the season on Saturday, a horse broke down and was dispatched on the  track on Sunday, and ANOTHER horse died of a heart attack in full view of little children in the paddock on Monday.

Maybe whipping looks worse than it is, but when you combine what looks like a jockey beating hell out of a horse  with images like these, it makes the sport a hard sell.

02 Jun 2010 9:30 PM
JerseyBoy

Bob:

I am a lifetime fan of horse racing but I have not visited a racetrack in nearly 20 years. Why should I when I can pick the race or two worth betting on and place my bets online? The money I will spend getting to the racetrack is money I could use to bet. Going to Belmont Park from where I live in NJ will cost $15 round-trip. That is $15 I could place on a horse online.

I have visited Saratoga twice. My  view of the place is that it has become an elegant anachronism, like most racetracks. Why does Saratoga racetrack still exist? Why not close Saratoga and Aqueduct and concentrate all NY racing at Belmont Park?.

Have you noticed that the decline in betting seems to parallel the rise of online wagering? This should be studied.You might find that online wagering reduces impulse betting and this leads to reduced wagering.

After you have studied it ask yourself this question: would you recommend gambling on horses to your loved ones, including your children?

Gambling is not a virtue and

it is rather weird reading people complaining that the public is spending less money gambling on horses. It is similar to complaining that people are acting prudently. Remember some people feel great comsuming grass but no one would encourage that.

But I digress. What is needed is for the indudtry to ask itself- how many racetracks should there really be in light of the availability on online wagering?

I would like to bet this weekend on the Belmont Stakes and the Epsom Derby right from my computer but Epsom is not available

so I shall have to make do with horses running around that oval in Elmont. It is the best America has to offer.

02 Jun 2010 11:11 PM
nmhiplains

Promote the RACEHORSE not the ownership of future SIRES of racehorses ---STAKE RACES open only to GELDINGS and then maybe you would see some of these horse stick around long enough to form a fan base.  A rivalry  of two horses that stick around for more than the prospect of being the next Triple Crown Winner--runners that don't retire after their three year but race until there 7 or 8 years old with more than six starts a year.

Change the purse structure from the rich mans 60/20/10 spit where you can throw money after money to capture the glory--- to a business mans game 45/25/15/10 encourage the racehorse dream owner to inner the game with the hope of making a profit.  But to do this you have to cleanup the drug issue including LASSIX!!!

 Send every TRAINER, HANDICAPPER and SPORTs WRITER in the business a copy of Tom Iver's "The Fit Racehorse II" and Preston Burch's "Training Thoroughbred Horses".

Clear up the issue that STAMINA is not only a result of breeding but also of proper CONDITIONING.

This business needs racehorses like KELSO, FOREGO and JOHN HENRY

Route races for horses conditioned to go the distance or you can kiss the bloodhorse goodbye and all that will be around is QUARTER HORSE RACING.

03 Jun 2010 12:35 AM
TBOwner

little kids have no business at the race track. It's a business rooted in gambling.

We need to attract new gamblers not people who spend thousands on their dressage, event or whatever horse and won't bet.

As far as kids at the race track? It's basically like taking your child to a casino.

Some kids can deal with the realities of racing and some can't. Heck some adults who post on these blogs can't deal with the realities. Most of you want some 'Dreamer' movie....

Rachel there is NO horse that can go its whole life without some sort of discipline.

As far a whipping a horse? The new sticks the jocks use are humane. Have you ever seen a 'popper' or a flexible stick?

I think people focus on the negative. Fans seem to be bound and determined to try and run not only racing but any sport out there. I'm trying to figure out when fans took ownership of the various sports. THAT along with the me, me generation, instant gratification and the joy of staring at video games is what has happened to all live sports, especially racing.  Look at the stands in NON championship games, college, MLB, even NFL and NBA games. They all have empty seats.

On whipping? 80% of jocks never whip more than a couple of times.

If whipping is keeping people away then why is European racing suffering from the same issues we are?

It's the economy. Even the casinos are suffering. I have a relative who runs a big hotel in Vegas and he is saying that things are really tough.

We can market it if we get someone who knows what they're doing. But the expendable income just isn't there and unless we can get the tracks to share the wealth? Then huge crowds even like those at Churchill on Oaks and Derby days, do nothing for the horseman.

Andy Beyer is the most negative human on the planet and Bob Ryan lost interest in racing long ago. He's too busy on TV now days.

03 Jun 2010 4:52 AM
EMD

. . . and then there's our Calder, chewed up and spit out by the suits at Churchill.  The worst racing I've ever seen there persists as normal now.  Even the formerly big stakes days don't see big horses shippin in.  I've heard the rumblings from staff (some former jocks, and, clearly, they're trying to make it into a third rate track.  My track buddies and I sit in our box and watch the demised every weekend -- like some extended wake where you don't want to bury the body.

03 Jun 2010 7:39 AM
nyfalcon

okay I have had it!! we need  a movement.  a ralling  cry!!

let it be heard  that racing is  alive  and we will not let it die!! let  the new secretariat movie  be our stump  take  a mother, a dad , a kid,  a friend  heck a baby  to  this film, try to remember the electricity of  that moment . the feelings do not just go away,  they must be kindiled  the way  a dieing flame of a watch fire is brought back.   the way a phionex  is  reborn.  we must be stedfast let it be  heard  from every corner of  the USA  we want  horse racing. wright  your congressperson your legistlators your  goveners  let  them know we need  this and will not  stand down and go away !! its  time we as fans act!!!

03 Jun 2010 12:03 PM
Displaced Kentuckian

Over ten years ago, I served on a focus group with 15 horsemen and two other women. We were given the charge of looking at ways to keep Kentucky, specifically Lexington, as the horse capitol of the world.

After the first session, it was clear that the horse world (T-bred racing world) and the rest of the city and state, were not on the same page. It was recommended that the horse industry seriously needed good PR. It took, however, many weeks later for the same conclusion to rise from folks who thought (or didn't think) that PR stuff didn't matter. The ubiquious notion was that PR on the racing industry wasn't important, especially in KY. Guess what? "Those in the know" are not those who will take racing into the next generation; the horse industry desperately needs a joint effort to even generate interest and acknowledgment in KY! Most of the rest of the state sees Lexington and the horse industry as a bunch of rich so-in-sos. It shows in ways the KY legislature has treated racing and breeding. KY has yet to offer some serious tax relief for the biz.

Whoever said "there is no leadership" in the industry is dead-on; groups all have their fifedoms and lack an extensive campaign and consistant message. At the very least in this part of the world, the horse is major  business, a livlihood for many and an important cultural asset. It should to be treated as such, or sadly, it all goes away.

03 Jun 2010 5:58 PM
RachelSatterfield

I'd like to point out another track that's been doing great because it is a short meet...Oaklawn.  This is the second article this week that has failed to mention Oaklawn as a track that is doing well.  

04 Jun 2010 11:09 AM
tvnewsbadge

TBOwner says

"Some kids can deal with the realities of racing and some can't. Heck some adults who post on these blogs can't deal with the realities."

And it's exactly that point of view by too many in the horse racing community that is killing the sport in so far as the general public goes.

You say the sport should limited only to hard core gamblers, that it's no place for families or the casual fan.

What you fail to understand is that when you limit the sport to a very small subset of society, you give up of any hope of expanding the fan base.

You also give up the political clout necessary to influence politicians when issues that affect the industry come up.

04 Jun 2010 5:45 PM
My Juliet

   I have heard for a while that horseracing is on the decline. Maybe overall, but in some areas it appears stronger than ever. The Ky Derby is more popular than ever, also Preakness, Belmont-esp if horse is trying for Triple Crown, and Breeders Cup races. I live near a lg city and you can't find a Racing Program those days. Slots and now tables are being added to our local track, a sea of cars daily since.

    I think to keep up with the popularity of other sports horseracing must have a cable channel, equivalent to MLB, NFL, on nat'l level, not only for local tracks. I know sports 'junkies' who channel surf when no major- league sport has a game, settling on college or even HS level games. If 24hr HR channel existed, they'd become fans.

   Re: debate on whip usage, more people today do care @ welfare of animals, there are people even counting amt of times a horse gets whipped in a race. Most people do not know a diff whip is being used. Like others on here, I have met people who like horses but wont watch horseracing because of misperceptions.

04 Jun 2010 8:32 PM
John T

Many in their ignorance have spoken of an horse racing revival,

but,horse racing was never dead,and is in fact undying.

04 Jun 2010 9:39 PM
Tony

It's not only not attracting new fans, but there are lots of hardcore horseplayers out there who are not betting near as much as they use to, and dont go to the track as much as they did in the past either. Handicapping horses has become a nightmare. From synthetic tracks, to cheating trainers. Some trainers have in the money percentages that are off the charts. Trainers are claiming horses at bottom level claiming prices, and turning them into allowance horses overnight. Sure there is lots of work to be done, but in addition to to attracting new fans, let's not forget about the integrity of the sport. I long so much for the good ole days of horseracing. Currently, at least for me anyway, horseracing is a crying shame!

05 Jun 2010 8:27 AM
Sue

Our family bred and raced numerous horses over the years.  The plan was to manage the horses in a humane way in order to provide them the opportunity for another career when their racing days were over.  Subsequently we came face to face with the reality that both the public and sport horse owners' perceptions of racing were all about horse cruelty and abuse.  We invited many to spend a day on the backstretch and at the races with us.  All were shocked at how well the horses were treated and cared for.  Every person said how much fun they had and more importantly asked if they could come back with their families and friends.  Thus attracting fans is not that hard; keeping them is when they regularly see the carnage of horses breaking down in races.

I have dedicated a great deal of time to the industry.  My focus has been horse welfare:  standardized prerace exams, OTTB retirement and rescue and horse antislaughter legislation.  These issues are of concern to all racetracks.  Some including NYRA are attempting to find solutions.  There are quite a number of indivduals and groups who are racing participants and fans .  Sadly on mmay racing blog comments, they are categorized as "anti-racing"--the enemy.  If racing can alienate these dedicated people, there is no hope for survival.  There are just too many people concerned with animal welfare and cruelty today.  

05 Jun 2010 2:02 PM
TBOwner

My comment about children was in reference to someone saying that children were watching this. Well, horse racing isn't for the faint of heart. It doesn't always go the way the horse lovers want it to. It's dangerous and can have distasteful things occur. The negative amongst the fans will always look for the worst. They specificall watch and count how many times a jock whips a horse. When frankly half of those 'whips' are just waving the stick.

I think you'll see that I said we need to attract fans who will become bettors. Fans for the sheer sake of viewers, while nice, doesn't do anything to keep the game going with the tracks profiting from that in the current format.

My Juliet there are two cable channels dedicated to racing. Once again the track owners are the ones responsible for limiting access to one of those channels of some race tracks due to some debate between them. Who loses out? Guess, it's the horseman. Most cable/satellite channels limit all sports to premium channels.

It seems to me that a lot of people proclaiming to be fans of racing, lurking on these blogs have other agendas.  They aren't addressing the issues that need to be in place to HELP racing, they're addressing issues that fall into that activist mentality which is almost NEVER pro racing.

05 Jun 2010 3:37 PM
s lee

Somebody, I think maybe Henry David Thoreau, once said

"It takes two people to execute a truth -

one to speak it

and one to listen."

The above writers are correct - the answers to many of racing's questions are out there.  We, the fans, and we, the bettors, and we, the partial share owners ARE speaking.  And so are many breeders, owners, trainers and jockeys.

So listen already!

If you did a poll of several thousand people within 50 miles of Elmont, NY, how many would know when the Belmont spring meet begins and ends?

How many commercials have you seen for the Belmont on ABC...........during prime time?  ESPN?

People cannot buy a product they don't know exists.

There are SO many fan bases out there that racing could cultivate if The Suits just tried.  Horse lovers.  Gamblers.  People looking for something to do on a weekend or weeknight.  The Suits have to get over themselves and their egos and address the solution, not just moan about the problem.

Why knew that poker would draw so many people to watch it on tv?

Who knew 20 years ago that NASCAR would be swimming in fans?

Why spend $15 to go to Belmont when you can watch and bet from home?  Good question.  Baseball asks that question too.  Why are there so many empty seats for so many games in so many baseball stadia around the country.  And yet St. Louis, a mid-size market, consistently draws 3,000,000 to the stadium every year?

Recognize what the smaller tracks, like Oaklawn, are doing right, and build on it.

The fans are there, including the casual ones who "visit" on Derby Day and for the Breeders' Cup.  Welcome them, educate them, entice them to stay.

Reward the dedicated fans.

The market can be cultivated.

The sport can be saved.  It involves work.  It involves education.  It involves reasonable expectations and changes on all sides.  It involves agreement across states (!).  It involves creativity.  It will involve time.  And if we don't do it soon, it will all be memories.

And speaking of memories, keep Saratoga.  If you can't fall in love with horse racing on an August morning as the fleet shadows burst out of the fog on the backstretch, thundering past you and into the dawn as the sun rises and the colors on the Travers canoe in the midfield become visible, well, I feel sorry for you.  Next to the Curragh in Ireland, for me anyway, there is no better place to watch the horses than Saratoga.  I can hear the sound of my shoes on Union now, and smell the rough coffee brewed in the dark.  Saratoga............

05 Jun 2010 3:58 PM
tvnewsbadge

My Juliet says  

   "I think to keep up with the popularity of other sports horseracing must have a cable channel, equivalent to MLB, NFL, on nat'l level, not only for local tracks. "

That hits the nail on the head. The sport is simply not accessible to most potential American sports fans.

In my area, the limited 40 days "live racing" season takes place at a track 2 hours round trip from the major population centers.

Otherwise, unless you sign up for HRTV on lien as I did, you're only option is to watch with the not exactly fan friendly (by a long shot) OTB types on soundless fuzzy video monitors from the last century.

Radio,TV, and newspaper reportage is non-existent.

Local sportscasters couldn't even find time to run any more than 30 seconds of today's Belmont for example.

Add to that inaccessibly, the unsavory reputation the sport has in the minds of most Americans, and it's no wonder that it's days in this country are numbered.

What the industry SHOULD do for a start put their greed aside for a year and work on providing "free" access to the untapped markets.

05 Jun 2010 9:51 PM
skipaway2000

My Juliet, there are TWO 24-hour horse racing channels, TVG & HRTV. They have been around at least 10 years (TVG for sure). I think the industry should do a better job promoting the sport & the wagering side especially. Poker is also a gambling exercise but it gets more TV time than racing, it has lost the taboo. Then we need to promote the FACTS about horse care & the way the sport is governed, ie stewards' decisions. Right now we let the opponents define the terms & set the tone and racing ends up having to defend itself.  Next we should stop the racino madness and figure out a better revenue model for racing. There fans and funds out there, but it will take some effort to attract both.

06 Jun 2010 2:51 AM
annie

Have to agree with TBOwner....Calder is the pits. Everything about the place is unpleasant. Go there once, you'll never want to return.

06 Jun 2010 10:49 PM
Louis

Fans want to make money when they bet.  Mutual take 18% to 25%.  They lose all their money quickly.  Give the fan a chance to win by dropping the mutual takeout to 7%, on all wagers.  They'll bet when they experience that they have a better chance to make money.  Say a person goes out to the track with $1,000.  Track takes $250 from the $1,000.  $750 left.  Take 25% of next bet.  $187.50.  $562.50 left after 2nd race.  So on, and so forth.  Drop takeout to 7%.  Give the fan a fighting chance.

07 Jun 2010 1:59 AM
wista

The sport is on life-support! i have been a fan and an owner so I can see the difference between the present and 45 years ago.

Forty five years ago trainers who cheated with drugs were suspended for 6 months . If there were more violations, they were ruled off . . . forever!

We used to think that the real cheaters were at the bush tracks and in the hinterlands. Today the cheaters have the favorites in the Derby. Nowadays they have huge stables at Belmont, Hollywood, and Santa Anita.

They they get caught , hire a lawyer, get slapped on the wrist and then . .  they attract more owners!

We don't owners like Mellon, King Ranch, Guggenheim, Calumet, Greentree,, Brookemeade,etc. We have a different crew with a different agenda.  , and it is not about improving the breed.

07 Jun 2010 12:48 PM
tom m

what is wrong with the racing game,is the racing game.look in the mirror gents.they are trying to make horse racing a spectator sport.they go out of their way to promote rachel alexandra or zenyatta.i get it you want exposure.but wake up and smell the coffee,this is a gamblers game.without the gambler you are nothing.these rich blue bloods can race for peanuts without the gamblers.the money from the betting pools fuels this game.not the casual fan who will come to 1 big race day and not bet,yet call themselves part of history watching

a filly beat the boys.if the game used the same energy to go out and promote this game as a betting game ,which it is. then they might have a shot.this past weekend on ABC, these morons did not show the manhattan stakes on the turf.thank god i live in ny and was able to watch it on the local feed.in it's place they were doing a feature on m.garcia and a comedy skit.are you kidding me.yet they have the nerve to wonder what is wrong.like i said earlier.

look in the mirror boys

tom m

07 Jun 2010 7:56 PM
Kate H

I really think less is going to be more in the future.  Which is going to be very hard to accomplish. Because of how many people are in the sport. America's racing is a different beast from Japan, England, and other smaller countries. But do we actually NEED 5 tracks per state? If you take the revenues from those 5 and apply it to one or two tracks it probably isn't that bad. The money is spread too thin and so are the horses, 4 and 5 horse fields are not interesting! Racing just hasn't allowed itself to adapt to a changed world. Back in the 30~60s you could have tracks everywhere. But those days are long gone. Maybe one day we can build back up to it, but we have go small before we can have the funds to go big again.

And for the love of God and all that is Holy can we get a centralized governing body for the sport? I thought the NTRA was going to be the savior but it hasn't done ANYTHING!

People keep complaining but no one is doing anything. THAT is what is destroying the sport. If I ever come back from Japan, I don't plan on complaining. I plan on acting. Racing has so many things going for it, if it would just TRY.

07 Jun 2010 8:44 PM
GIOPONTI

The fate of racing may rely less on the more committed fans than the less committed ones.  That is, not whether I go to the track 21 times a year instead of 20 but whether a new fan goes once a year or comes back after going once a year.  Track management never listens to its core fans, but maybe they'll listen to their new ones.

08 Jun 2010 12:51 PM
Michael

Bob

A very thoughtful and thought provoking piece. Racing can be many things to many people, but for sure is a form of entertainment. Measuring the enjoyment of a day at the track by how much you won is reasonable but precarious. We are all fans first, articluated by Nick Zito, Advisory Board memebr of ThoroFan. ThoroFan is a not-for-profit, Thoroughbred Racing Fan Association, Inc. Its mission is to bring together fans across the country, aligned with local chapters and racing venues to promote Thoroughbred racing and to give the fan a voice. www.thorofan.com. Bob,ThoroFan is the grassroot organization you referenced run exclusively by volunteer fans. Check us out. Thanks

Michael

08 Jun 2010 1:31 PM
Badriya

"Seconding the motion, the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan lamented, on an edition of ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters,” that racing in the United States is at a nadir, with racetracks closing and most of those still in operation having deserted grandstands."

This angers me, because if local papers (like the Boston Globe) gave more coverage to horse racing, more people would go to the tracks.  The Boston Globe covers the Triple Crown and the Breeders Cup and that's about it, despite a full season of racing right here in the city.  When they do run an article on Suffolk Downs, it's usually to bemoan the sad state of affairs there.  I always write and accuse them of shedding crocodile tears, because it's in the paper's power to change that situation.

08 Jun 2010 2:34 PM
My Juliet

   As others have mentioned, re the empty Grandstands, I think this is where horseracing also needs to change. Other sports have night games during the week, day games on wknds, with an occasional 'business-person special' day game during the week.

I don't know who filled stands during the week at tracks years ago, or were they ever filled during the week? but it's understandable they are empty now. Most people work during the week day, so even fans can't go at that time. The local track here just started 'twilight Fridays' starting @4pm. Maybe this or night racing is needed, at least during most weekdays.

09 Jun 2010 10:13 PM
Emily

I agree that this business needs a major PR overhaul! To get young people like myself (which is what this business is currently lacking based on the revelations in the article) ,the best attempt so far  for TB racing was the reality TV show on Animal Planet "jockeys". Showing the public the behind the scenes, so they get to know the jockeys, is what got me into going to races and to paying attention. Before the show I didn't know who the jockeys were at all. I love the races now and actually get involved because I can root for my fave jockey: "hey, Mike Smith"s on that one, or "it's Joe Talimo, I"m betting on that one!, etc.. Reality TV is so huge and the racing world should get whoever will listen to get some reality TV going to get people exited to come out and see these TB racing "celebrities" perform. Maybe even have a "Track Wives" type of show that follow some of the owners and their families, or an "In To Win" type of show that follows some of the best TB training farms so that the public will really get to know the up and coming horses BEFORE they hit the big time, while also seeing how WELL the horses are cared for. The viewers will be able to watch the progress, then will be more likely than ever before to bet because they "know" that horse, or "know" that farm. That's the type of exposure that this sport needs. It would reach new spenders, broader audiences,  and I believe would replace the whole "cruelty, inhumane" dogma with a fresh, fun, and totally new view of the sport.

12 Jun 2010 1:44 AM

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