Reconnecting - By Rick Gold

(Originally published in the December 4, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

Rick Gold is CEO of a California high-tech company and a partner in Bourbon Trace Stables

We’re all familiar with the litany of problems facing our sport: declining attendance, wagering, and foal crops—a vicious cycle of key indicators. Recent issues of The Blood-Horse have contained numerous articles analyzing these problems and offering suggestions to fix them. The proposals seem to focus on slots, Instant Racing, higher takeouts, lower takeouts, or national advertising. Most recently, we saw a detailed analysis of regional demographics with implications for targeted advertising to attract new owners.

I respectfully submit that these analyses and proposals completely miss the point. Ultimately, they all treat fans, horseplayers, and owners simply as ATMs to be milked.  The discussions all assume with brighter lights, flashier advertising, and slicker betting options we’ll be able to pull more dollars out of more people.

These are all important topics, but they ignore what sets Thoroughbred horse racing apart from other sports and other gambling options: the beauty of an equine athlete in motion. While our industry snickers at the inaccuracies in the movie “Secretariat,” millions of Americans are coming away with tears in their eyes. While our industry is preoccupied looking down its collective nose at synthetic surfaces, thousands of people who have never watched a horse race before are screaming for Zenyatta.

We will only get this industry moving “upward and to the right” when we begin to help each potential fan, horseplayer, or owner to make that personal connection. The bad news is that we do a horrible job of it today, but there are some relatively simple and inexpensive improvements.
For instance:

• I showed up at Hollywood Park at 8 a.m. on a recent Saturday hoping to see Zenyatta gallop. This was just after her 19th win just as the Breeders’ Cup buzz was starting to build. So what did the guard tell me? “Sorry, sir, I can’t let you in without a (state) license.”
You’ve got to be kidding.

The track has a “railbird” program on Sundays but is otherwise closed to the public in the morning. How much would it cost to open it up? How much Zenyatta swag could they sell? With a little bit of marketing, this could be a great opportunity to get people exposed to the “inside game.” Belmont and Saratoga do a slightly better job than the California tracks, but even there the morning programs are sporadic and poorly promoted.

• Our industry does little to promote our stars: horses, jockeys, trainers. Very few top trainers even have a website or blog with accessible content. Our tracks have lots of online information describing exotic betting options but almost nothing on the sport itself. It is interesting to contrast Thoroughbred racing with sled dog racing, another of my passions. That sport spends a tiny fraction of the dollars, but if you check out the website of the Iditarod Trail Committee, or top mushers Martin Buser or Aliy Zirkle, you’ll see exciting content that puts horse racing to shame. Mike Smith’s “helmet cam” ride on Zenyatta, posted by trainer John Shirreffs, sends a chill down my back every time I see it. I’ve sent a link to this video to friends who have then gone to the track for the first time in their lives.

• Except for big days, the stands at most tracks are all but empty. Yet it is frequently difficult to get a good seat in a box or Turf Club. Baseball and football teams learned several years ago to embrace StubHub! and other resale opportunities to fill unused season-ticket seats in a fan-friendly way. It’s a win-win-win.

• The Iditarod, mentioned above, also makes it easy for fans to sign up as volunteers. In exchange for a VIP pass that lets them get behind the lines, hundreds of people work 4-16 hour days doing everything from security to logistics. Maybe Breeders’ Cup could do something similar on a smaller scale.

I believe the first step is to start treating potential fans and owners not as statistics but as individuals to be welcomed into this amazing game. We have only barely begun to take advantage of the new technology at our disposal to help them make a connection. There is no sport on earth that offers the thrills of Thoroughbred racing. It’s up to us to spread the word.

76 Comments

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milk n honey

All very true and very valid comments. Also want to point out something the Green Bay Packers do; players riding the bikes of kids coming to watch practice in Green Bay. The closer you can be to you fan base and followers, the more loyal they tend to be.Horses have the problem sa far as up close and personal re: biosecurity issues and liability issues. Still much room for thought.

30 Nov 2010 12:25 PM
DBH

Wonderful suggestions !!!  

Morning breakfast at Saratoga is one of favorite summer experiences !

As a woman, I would also like to see the tracks have something that explains the betting process to fans.  

I am also tired of the generally poor writing from sportwriters on racing.  I see the same parallels in the dog show world.  Those that cannot do, write.  There is no day to day on track person I know of that did not notice the greatness of Zenyatta pre 2009....only handicappers and writers had issues.  You cannot let these folks dominate the discussions and the forward direction of the sport.  These people with no clear eye for greatness, allowed a once in a lifetime opportunity to pass at great expense to the sport.  What was lost cannot be recaptured.   The question is, are we going to allow these same people dictate the sport's future ?  We need to attract young, new, equine smart, non betting talent.

30 Nov 2010 12:43 PM
mitziediva

thanks,  you've said what i've thought for a long time as a horse

enthusiast.  instead of putting a cap on what can be seen by the horse lovers of the world open up. I understand the need for privacy and for security but there has tobe more for us.  there are stories there of the courage, dangers and giving of both the horses and the trainer and owners that wouln't invade those area. this would make the sports more for everyone.

30 Nov 2010 1:03 PM
Dona

You hit the nail on the head!

I took up golf late in life because a cousin took me to the Savon-Drug Ladies Golf Tournement in Lincoln California. Following the players during practice rounds, being allowed to freely talk to them, getting autographs, all while respectively allowing them to do their jobs, was life changing for me. I didn't know many players before, maybe one or two but after that I become an avid fan and golf nut. I joined my local club, took lessons, bought the best equiptment I could afford, waited 6 years to get a golf cart space and all because I got to know those golfers personally.

The racing industry could take notice of these other sport ventures and learn something about marketing.

30 Nov 2010 1:11 PM
EQUINE PAPARAZZI

Good points. However, the public will be happy to know that Santa Anita and Del Mar hold PUBLIC workouts. Anyone who gets up early enough can watch morning works at both tracks. Hollywood has inconsistent security, one guy lets you in and the other says go away, so it depends whose watching.

30 Nov 2010 1:16 PM
Ange

I have suggested this sort of thing to the racetrack where I own horses numerous times. I have said get the horses into the paper and onto the website, talk about their personalities, show their baby pictures, whatever. The kids especially (our future fans/bettors) will eat this up and then bring their parents along for the ride. Pick kids names out of the hat to come get their pictures taken with the winners of each race. All sorts of things can be done, fun things.

30 Nov 2010 1:50 PM
Ruthie Roberts

Never more truth was spoken.

The fans have been saying this all

along.

I haven't missed a Breeders Cup in years. But next year I will not be attending another Churchill Downs Breeders Cup. The food was few and far between, I was treated like a second class citizen. Couldn't get to the paddock to see the horses, they closed off the path so they horses could get through and kept it closed. What was the point of being there? The only worthwhile thing was seeing Zenyatta in the morning, and then it was pure luck that we got to see her. Nope not for me!!! Get a clue. Remember the Fans.

30 Nov 2010 2:31 PM
WinngColrz

Curious as to why you aren't licensed if you have a racing stable in CA? Very few racetracks in America, not just CA, are possible to enter onto the backside without state credentials. Obviously it would have been prudent to call in advance to Hollywood Park and ask them about public viewing of training. Santa Anita has Clocker's Corner available free to the public every day. In the same vein that you don't get to tour the locker room at Dodgers Stadium or at an NFL game, it's even more under scrutinized when you add horses in to the mix. I am unsure why there is no Railbird every training day at Hollywood. It could simply be due to the price of having security there for X number of hours. Racing is and has cut back a number of positions in an effort to try to put on a good show. At the 2008 and 2009 BC at Santa Anita, there were indeed volunteers, hundreds of them, en force for BC. I don't know if they were organized by BC or SA officials. Don't just assume it isn't done. But also, don't assume that you're there to socialize and watch races. If you volunteer, you're 'working'. While I agree with the fans being more involved, the racing being more accessible (to a degree), jockeys and trainers having websites, etc, because everyone involved are basically contractors, they neither have the time, knowledge or desire to develop and maintain websites. The DRF, Equibase, and various racetracks do the best that they can do with the resources they have. Please stay a fan, though! We're trying!!

30 Nov 2010 3:28 PM
FourCats

Of course you're right.  And all of your ideas are good.

But horse racing enthusiasts have been suggesting great ideas for years.  They're ignored by track owners/managements that care only about getting slots.  (Didn't Dennis Miller of Magna have a contest soliciting ideas from enthusiasts last summer?  And what came of it?  Mr. Miller was basically fired and you don't hear anything about the thousands of suggestions sent in.  By the way, one of mine was to have webcams positioned around the track so people such as owners, fans and others, could watch the morning workouts on their computers; at a very minimal cost.  Then, lots of people could have watched Zenyatta work.)

And the state legislatures / governments?  They care only about how much money they can milk from the industry.  God forbid that they actually do one thing to work with the industry to help it get back to prosperity.  The incredible incompetence of these governments (particularly in New York, California, Maryland and Kentucky) makes me both sad for horse racing and for everyone living in those states.

The real problem is that the people who care about horse racing are not those with the power to fix it.  I believe that racing could thrive (without any slots revenue or other financial help) if the track owners/management tried to promote the sport with clean, classy facilities and if the state governments stayed out except for collecting taxes on track profits (not revenues) like they do for most other industries.  A perfect example is how Maryland Racing was thriving when Frank deFrancis was in charge.

30 Nov 2010 3:39 PM
Kathy B.

My Churchill Downs BC experience was not pleasant either.  I left KY wondering why I liked horseracing in the first place. It was not until I got to meet Zenyatta at her barn that it all came flooding back....I love the horses and the people who take care of them.  I love reading about the great equine athletes who came before, and look forward to seeing the ones in the future. If the folks in KY laugh at me for "sentimentality" than so be it...I think that is what makes the sport great.  

30 Nov 2010 3:48 PM
Sophie15

Great comments. I also had an idea, that I posted on previous blogs. There should be a new award presented at the eclipse awards that is given to a fan elected horse. This award would go to horses like Barbaro, Lost In The Fog, and Zenyatta, for capturing the hearts of racing fans beyond their performance on the racetrack. This would give fans a vote, and make them feel valued.

30 Nov 2010 3:52 PM
Fran

Good article.  Just a comment though-more owners and trainers should be like Zenyatta's team.  I have never seen owners so thankful for Z's fans.  I think the fact that John and Dottie allow Z to have visitors is just amazing.  Maybe most owners and trainers think that their stars are too valuable to allow the public to have any access to them. Maybe they just don't want to take the time because it does take time.  Thank goodness for people like Ann and Jerry Moss and John and Dottie.  Zenyatta is a "rock star" because of racing ability, her gentleness and her owners and trainer allowing the public to pet and feed Z-they have allowed the public to know and love Queen Z.  A zillion dollar horse and they allow the public to love her!  Simply amazing!  Wonderful people.

30 Nov 2010 4:23 PM
LeeAnne

I couldn't agree with you more.

The gambling angle is over and done with, the horse angle has got to be what is promoted. Far too many stay away from the track because of unsavory rumors (no one there but drunks and doping/fixing etc.) true or false. Horse lovers are not welcomed on blogs and message boards. Instead they are ridiculed and harassed especially (offical and unofficial) Fans of Barbaro and Zenyatta. Market to the horse lovers and they will gamble. All the focus on gambling is a huge turn off for many.

30 Nov 2010 4:54 PM
Merry

One aspect not touched on for turning off potiential fans is something I will coin the "PETA effect" (God forbid).  The reality of animal abuse has gone viral with the advent of such social media like YouTube and Facebook.  There is no denying it ie PETA's undercover videos of Ringlings barbaric treatment of their elephats.  99% of us believe abuse is morally wrong.

The effect of this consciousness is that we want animals taken care of, or to be sure they are not born to suffer in the first place  (especially the 6,400 cats and dogs that are killed in pounds every day in this country alone).  I can't think of anything worse or more frightening than being squished in a van on my way to a Mexican slaughterhouse with the

worst to come.

Therefor it behooves the racing industry to make sure there is not an over supply of babies; and that the horses that do race, those that are not the Zen superstars, are treated well during racing and in retirement ... and not sent to slaughtered houses.

Rescue of former racers should not be happening, but it should not be ignored either.  Fans need to know something is being done to help these horses.  There are many wonderful people scarificing time and money to help them.  

Retirement facilities, not just the famous KY Horse Park, need to be emphasized too so that abuse allegations can be overridden with fact.  Therefore it is also up to the industry to expose what is being done right for these beautiful animals.

30 Nov 2010 4:59 PM
avianatic

Great points, all. Mike Repole has the right idea: treat the horses (and fans. . .not just "bettors") with respect. Is it really surprising that the industry fails to hype the personalities when they still refer to the horses as "head" or "stock"?

During the network broadcast on breeder's cup day, much was made of the fall by Garett Gomez the previous day. They ran tape of the breakdown, but didn't even mention the name of the horse. At all.

I volunteer on the "other end," doing what I can to save thoroughbreds from inhumane deaths, but I still LOVE racing.

30 Nov 2010 5:01 PM
Soldier Course

Those of us who are already fans sometimes need to think twice when talking with potential fans about racing.

I ultimately was disappointed in the movie "Secretariat", and said as much when talking with friends and acquaintances about it. Then I realized this was not helping the sport I love. Now when someone tells me they loved the movie, I tell them how happy I am to hear that and let it go at that.

30 Nov 2010 5:05 PM
Merry

BTW - All the Helpful Hints from the Hannahs here has a new buzz word: crowdsourcing.  The internet is providing for consumer input to

(re)design products.  Crowdsourcing isn't just input as we have been doing here, it is when a company will outsource its problem or design to a crowd/group to get it solved as as a wide eyed collaberation.  

The racing industry would be wise to take note.  As DBH pointed out, the crowd all knew Zenyatta was a superstar long before 60 minutes, while the writers and handicappers stayed myopic.  

30 Nov 2010 5:12 PM
Kurt

interesting observations, most of which i agree with. the one thing that absolutley CANNOT HAPPEN is tracks embracing stub hub!..im a season ticket holder for an mlb team and i HATE stub hub, buyers HATE stub hub, there rip off fees are worse then ticketmaster

that having been said. seems most of racing doesnt get it. like her or not, Zenyatta is the biggest thing in horse racing since secretariat. since the breeders cup, Zenyatta has been available to the fans at hollywood park daily, sometimes twice  a day to anyone who shows up at the gates at the right time. now, john shirriffs DOESNT HAVE to do this, yet he does it. ive been there  3 times now and each time steve willard and mario have been exceptional. (granted Z's attitude makes it ALL possible) they wash her, walk her around, wait for her to relax, then let EVERYONE take there picture with her. Z stands perfectly almost everytime for everyone. when people are done getting there pictures taken, ive seen SEVERAL people in tears(ala the beattles?) there so moved by her.

what ive heard several people on the backstretch(including 1 guard gatesman) say as people leave the area is "i cant wait for her to leave so its quiet again"

are you kidding me?? the tracks need MORE trainers like john shirriffs and the people that work for him. sure, its a pain for them to deal with all of us fans but if this sport is going to continue, there has to be a way to keep the fans they have.

it truly saddened me to hear Z was going to lanes end. granted things may be differant with zenyatta there but L.E has never been a fan friendly farm. I get that they have a business to run, but the positives that can be made simply by makeing Z accesible as much as possible( not while breeding or late  pregnancy, right after foaling etc)  should far outweigh  the effort needed to make her available to fans.

 even in retirement, racing needs  to use zenyatta as a marketing tool however they can. i dont have all the answers but i certainly want to thanks EVERYONE at john sheriffs barn for the amazing way theyve let zenyatta be embraced by her fans

30 Nov 2010 5:40 PM
Savannah

There is no racing dictionary for beginners that I can find.  I asked Blood Horse to make one or put up a link to one because racing has a language all its own.  New fans can't  and won't come into the sport unless there is willingness to communicate with them in a language they can understand.

30 Nov 2010 5:41 PM
Elizabeth

Wonderful ideas, now we need to push this to the tracks, NTRA, and Jockey Club. What Zenyatta has done for the sport is truly amazing. We need to keep the momentum going.

30 Nov 2010 6:43 PM
Jim Davis

This is , of course, very old and sad news.

But you need look no further than the Life At Ten incident to see how little regard the insiders have for the fan and horseplayer.

30 Nov 2010 6:47 PM
Emily27

This is so true. Just a few years ago when I was 14 I was at Arlington for Million day. I was standing by the winner's circle after Robby Albarado won a race and I was wearing my Curlin hat. Robby Albarado was handing out signed goggles like they always do at Arlington and after he was done he saw my hat. This is something I'll always remember. Upon seeing my hat he came up to me and said "You were wearing the right hat", handing me one of the pairs he wore in his race! My hands were shaking it was the most amazing thing to have a moment like that, and I believe that that is what brings people to the track. It made the connection I felt to Curlin so much more special.  My hope is that other people can feel what i did and grow to love this sport.Thank you Mr. Albarado for giving me that memory!

30 Nov 2010 7:44 PM
Bos1098

Great points! One of the things I like best about Keeneland is that anyone can watch morning workouts. For a true horse lover like me it's as much fun as racing.

30 Nov 2010 8:10 PM
SirHenryAwards

Genius!!  

30 Nov 2010 8:34 PM
CMS

Maybe if they didn't retire so many sound racehorses after a 3 or 4 year old season people would be more interested. Just when a horse has a strong campaign and is really popular with the fans, boom they are off to stud for the money(Lookin at Lucky is just one that comes to mind). How can you build fan loyalty to a sport when the main attractions are only around for a minute and a half? It seems there should be a better balance between the fans and what's best for the horse. Or Rachel Alexandra who was retired abruptly (there was no claim she was injured) and taken who knows where in the middle of the night so to speak. She has a legion of fans who would have loved to have said "goodbye" like they are doing for Zenyatta. That's why I admire what John Shirreffs has done for the sport. He lets the fans get close to the horses when possible. He also posts training videos and life at the barn videos regularly on you tube so fans can be a part of what's going on. More in the sport should take a page out of his book as well as the Mosses.

30 Nov 2010 8:57 PM
Stephi S.

You are quite right about racing not taking advantage of their built-in ambassadors, the horses themselves. When I was working on a training farm, we used to give tours and talks to the local pony clubs and other childrens groups who were interested in horses, and in race horses. The pony club kids got a full "care and feeding and exercise of the race horse" morning. They got to follow one horse through his day, until lunch. They got to see him have his stable bandages removed, brushed off before getting tacked up and going to the track. Every bit of tack was explained and the reason for it, and some of the history of its use. While the horse was walking to the track, someone walked with the kids and explained the training regimen and what that horse was doing today and why, and where he was in his training, was he resting up and getting ready to go back to the track or a 2 year old not raced yet, etc. They stood railside to watch him gallop, or work. Then they watched him come back, get his bath, and be cooled out and watered off. If they were "B" Pony Clubbers, or older, then they got to take the horse a turn or two of the shed row during the cooling out. A weekly session like that at the racetrack would do wonders for racing. Especially if its broadcast on the net, or TV.

The track could also set up a "petting paddock" where the horses could come and be safely behind a fence over which people could pat them. Perhaps a drawing for getting into the petting paddock when a well-known horse is going to be coming to visit. You could set one up for mornings and the horses could stop by for a pat after their morning gallops, when they have exercised the ginger out.

The idea about webcams all over the place is a great idea. I really enjoyed popping over to check out Mine that Bird when he had his up. Zenyatta would have required her own server for her webcam, given the number of fans she has. Anything less would have crashed the site daily. In fact, a webcam at her new home would be a good thing for Lane's End to consider. They already have a website.

If you check out the YouTube vids of Zenyatta, you will see that they have thousands of hits. Every one of those is a person going there to watch a great race horse do her thing. Now all racing has to do is get people interested in horses that aren't Zenyatta. To do that, they should let the horses do the talking.

30 Nov 2010 9:09 PM
Mrglassoniongirl

I couldn`t agree more!

30 Nov 2010 9:39 PM
Bob Bright

Mr. Gold, In the seventies I worked on the backstretch at Belomont and on a major breeding farm in Kentucky. In 1983, 85 and 96 I competed in the Iditarod. In 85 a guy from Cleveland rode in my sled at the ceremonial start from Anchorage to Eagle River about 15 miles. He paid the organizers a few thousand dollars for the ride. I dropped him off in Eagle River and started on down the trail and forgot about him. In Ruby about half way though the race on the Yukon River at 4 am and 55 below zero as I arrived at the checkpoint here was this guy and his wife waiting for me. He rented a plane and snowmobile and was dressed in the latest winter fashions. He was also a horse owner and loved horse racing and owned some half/bred relative a Secretariat. He wanted to visit about dog mushing and horse racing but I was suffering from lack of sleep and very cold body parts. A ride in a dog sled and the guy was my friend for life and hooked on sled dogs. I am staggered that horse racing misses every grand promotional opportunity. You don't have to rent a plane and fly to Ruby, Alaska to be involved and you don't need the warmest outfit on the planet The Queen is off to the breeding shed and the sport brain trust just shrugs. The leadership of the TRA should have offered the connections a deal they couldn't refuse to keep her in training for another year while they cultivated a few millon fans. Zenyatta ia a race horse and her contribution to the sport transcends winning the BCC.Promotional opportunity of the century missed. You are so right Mr,Gold

30 Nov 2010 9:56 PM
Carol

I've never heard of a track that would let on before public hours unless it was an event, you were licensed or had a pass from an on-site trainer.  Visitors are not allowed backside or for training hours frontside unless they are credentialed.  There are Good reasons for that security.

30 Nov 2010 10:06 PM
fb0252

while OP makes some valid points the "open stable" thing might have worked in the 1980s, these days people are too busy to bother.  butts in the seats marketing is dead for horse racing. when will anybody figure that out. save the effort.  the future of this sport is the one area that had a 49% increase last year, and that was without any ANY national advertising--Twin Spires "on line" accounts.  There is an unlimited market. how long till horse racing figures?

30 Nov 2010 11:06 PM
markinsac

You say that slots, takeouts and advertising "completely miss the point."  You live in a dream world if you think every horseplayer thinks like you.  First off, Sherriffs has been signing in fans at the Hollywood Park stable gate for a good long time.  And if you  think the takeout rates aren't all that important, think again.  While you bring up some good points, you seem to ignore that this sport is driven by gambling by bettors and owners.  Unfortunatly greed is a big factor in this business.  Zenyatta was a fun ride, but she's now gone and racing will return to its previous state . . . the state of Titanic after meeting the Iceburg.  I don't think the security guard at Hollywood can save it.

01 Dec 2010 12:06 AM
Mike985

As a fan I love to watch these horses run but I want to get as close to them as I can.  I started out as being an animal lover just like millions of other americans.  If you can get the animal lovers to the tracks and close to the horses, attendance goes through the roof.

01 Dec 2010 5:56 AM
Lindsey S

I agree with your comments.  Getting to know the horses is a tremendous part of it for people who aren't huge bettors or handicappers.  As far as morning workouts, that is one thing I love about Keeneland.  You can go and watch the workouts every morning if you want to.  A few years ago, Steve Asmussen was hanging around, watching his horses work.  For me, that's a celebrity sighting!  Also, although I've never done it, you can eat breakfast daily at their track kitchen, which is where many of the jockeys and trainers eat.  I think no matter how many tracks I visit, Keeneland will always be my favorite.

01 Dec 2010 7:18 AM
wildblueroan

You are so right. "Winng Colrz"misses the point by focusing on details. Its not about backstretch access per se, its about focus and attitudes. Race horses have been reduced to just another vehicle for gambling (see Alex W's recent thanksgiving blog stating that horse players are the most important constituency in racing) and now have to adapt to helicopters at the gate and running in the dark to retain tv time. The powers that be made a huge mistake last year in not even allowing Eclipse voters the *option* of choosing a joint HOY-and should have found a way to celebrate both Zenyatta and Rachel. Why? Because of the intangibles-the greatness of both mares. Those values need to be emphasized as well as money won, etc. The industry's failure to grasp the significance of Zenyatta is unfathomable.

I've always fantasized about creating the "Personal Ensign Courage in Racing Award"to honor horses and people who demonstrate strength in adversity. P.E. raced with a metal ankle.  

And perhaps we've reached the point at which NTRA needs to hire a consultant or advocate to advise them how to connect with and respond to people whose interest lies outside of gambling? And they should certainly have advocates for horses-someone who can remind them that it is not a good idea to have helicopters hovering over a starting gate, etc.

I'd also like to see "turf writers" get some real world experience with horses and their care and management. But that is dreaming!  

01 Dec 2010 8:22 AM
Bill Daly

That paragraph about being denied entrance to the track to see Zenyatta work out resonated back some 37 years for me.  I had to literally sneak into Pimlico to see the great Secretariat work out on the Sunday prior to the 1973 Preakness.  Only the press was allowed entrance.  I guess nothing has changed after all these years.  Amazing.

01 Dec 2010 9:25 AM
Dawn in MN

I enjoyed reading this article, and the comments.  I paused to look out my window at the falling snow and thought about the long Minnesota winters.  Each year I endure the cold and snow, and wait for Canterbury Park’s May-August meet.  My access to the sport is limited to the on-line Thoroughbred racing publications for interesting news and articles, and the rare televised coverage available.  

I’ll tell you exactly what holds my attention to this sport...

What keeps me coming back as a fan is the beauty of the equine athlete in motion.  The sport gets my attention because I am fascinated by the horses, and their stories.  They are pure athletes.  They are untainted by greed and debauchery.  Don’t get me wrong, I follow and enjoy human sports too, but the purity of the equine athlete as an individual is unmistakable.  Admittedly there is some greed and debauchery among some of the players in this sport, but the horses are not capable of such nonsense.  

I love the idea of watching morning works.  I have a desk to report to by 7:00 A.M. on weekdays so I don’t think I would get many opportunities to do that.  If I could I would gladly pay an entrance fee for the opportunity.  It would be nice to believe that maybe when I retire, or if I take a vacation to see a Grade I race I would be able to watch morning works.

I would be fascinated by the opportunity to look at a groom, a jockey or a trainer's website.  I would like to hear what they think about the equine individuals in their care.  Publish background on the horses… the “baby pictures” someone mentioned.  Answer the silly questions like does the horse drink Guinness, do they like peppermints, or carrots, are they cranky or friendly.  Tell the stories of the horses.  Those individual stories bring the horses to life for a fan.  For now I have to settle for my DRF trainer watch reports.  Another commenter aptly observed that time; ability and access to technology make such websites a challenge.  Tracks, trainers, jockeys could request and accept techie volunteers to maintain websites.  It would give people an opportunity and bring that access to fans.

The local track here in Minnesota is a lovely place to spend a day at the races, and I encourage people to visit Canterbury Park.  As you pointed out track websites leave much to be desired in the categories you mentioned.  I totally agree with you about the helmet cam, everyone I have shared that with was fascinated.

Your idea about a Stub Hub-type opportunity to get the best seats was awesome.  Last summer my husband and I donated as generously as we could to a jockey fund raffle because it was for a good cause, and for the opportunity to win raffle tickets to the Kentucky Derby.  At this point a raffle ticket to get good seats is the only way people in my tax bracket will ever have the opportunity to get decent seats at a major event.  

I made a trip to see my dad in San Diego in 2009.  I was able to see the Pacific Classic, and would have gladly used a venue like Stub Hub to get better seats.  All I could see from my seats was the video board on the field, part of the stretch and the finish line, and then only if I peeked between people's heads (I'm short).

I have read and submitted comments on similar topics about how to help Thoroughbred horse racing succeed, and have noticed that the ideas fans submit are rarely if ever implemented.

One idea that captured my imagination a while ago was the idea of a true “people’s horse.”  There has to be some way to do this.  Organize the purchase of a good horse by people as a donation for a worthy charity.  Pledge to have that horse’s earnings/winnings donated to the worthy cause.  Paramount to the success of a venture like this would be to make sure the horse receives the top care, training, and a worthy retirement.  

Get tracks, radio stations, corporations, owners, and trainers etc., to sponsor, donate, rev up the interest, and cover some of the costs.  There would be many opportunities for fans and insiders from all walks of life to “contribute.”  I remember reading about something similar that was done at Emerald Downs.  That idea really captured my imagination.  Each contributor would feel a personal stake in that horse.  It would bring people together, and help a charity.

Thanks for the opportunity to think about this and write these comments.  It is often intimidating to post comments on other topics at Blood-Horse.  The regular commenter’s egos are humongous, and they are not kind to one another.  This is a great topic for the little fan, like me.

01 Dec 2010 11:08 AM
adirondacker

I agree we need to be cognizant of the fan... but the problem is getting people to want to come to the track in the first place. If you're not a fan of horse racing, being turned away at Hollywood to view a workout isn’t keeping you from coming to the track in the first place. I think we need to look at the fan from a different perspective.

Think about the sports that get consistently great attendance… especially football and Nascar, because I think there is a correlation for those sports to horse racing.

As an owner, and fan, I’ve been fortunate to attend a few racetracks around the country, and the two that stand out to me are Saratoga and Keeneland. So I ask myself, why do so many people go to these tracks and not to others? I live a few minutes from Saratoga Springs, so I get to talk to lots of people about whether they attend the races or not… and during those conversations, most people don’t realize the high quality of the racing that goes on there. In fact, the only reason they go there is that they get to hang with friends, and have a few drinks, and bet a few races, while sitting on lawn chairs, and watching TV monitors in the back yard. At Keeneland, it is a slightly different experience. Now I don’t know the locals, but when I’ve attended there, they have busloads of people, many of them dressed well, playing lawn games, cooking out and having a few drinks in the back yard, just outside the track.

So why are these people enjoying themselves at a horse race track? The answer to me… tailgating. People like hanging out with friends, cooking, drinking, maybe getting dressed up, and making a day of it. And the nice thing about this is that the races go off at predictable times, so you can handicap in between races, have time to share some laughs in between, play some games, do whatever… but in the end, watch a few races, maybe bet on some of them, and generally take in the atmosphere. Yes, it’s fun.

I’ve been to enough football games to see that this is a similar atmosphere before and  during the game… in football, the tailgating takes place before the game, but it basically continues during the game as might be evidenced by the fact that they shut off selling alcohol after the third quarter in many stadiums. I’ve never been to a NASCAR event, but I’ve been told by enough people that it is a scene. Why else does NASCAR have a web site devoted to selling tailgating items such as chairs, BBQ sets, coolers, and banners? At football games you can see the same, plus hats and t-shirts of favorite players, and teams. These sports take advantage of the large spaces they have in terms of parking lots, or inside the event, just to make a tailgating event of it. The games and race times are fairly predictable in duration, so there is an expectation about when one can leave… so even the reluctant fan has an idea of when they can leave.

So, what’s really different about horseracing? To me, there are more similarities to the sports than there are differences. Horse racing, as evidenced by what I’ve seen at Saratoga and Keeneland, has an appeal for tailgating. Are they serious fans or casual fans? think we know the answer to that. But isn’t it worth taking something from successful playbooks of other sports that we can build on?

As far as many of the arguments about horse treatment, those items are simply excuses why non-fans don’t like racing. Think about NASCAR and football… two sports that have participants constantly risking paralysis or even death… yet people still attend in droves. Horse racing does try to treat its animals well for the most part, and that argument will go away when more people start enjoying the sport the way people at Saratoga and Keeneland do…and they both have some form of tailgating. Think about it.

01 Dec 2010 12:18 PM
Rick Gold

Wow.  Thanks for all the comments.  A few follow-up thoughts:

- EquinePap:  I did make it into HOL (names withheld to protect the innocent) but really....

- WinngColrz:  Our horses are in KY, NY and FL, not CA.  I appreciate the security issues in a stable area, but not the grandstands.  Glad to hear about volunteer opportunities at SA, but I'm a member of TOBA, NTRA and read multiple racing publications, and this is the first I've heard of it; I rest my case.  And as to resource limitations on marketing, my point is not that the industry doesn't spend enough, it's that it's spending it on the wrong media targeting the wrong audience with the wrong message.

- Fran, Kurt, CMS: Re the Shirreffs and Mosses- Amen!

- Bob Bright: My wife was an IditaRider and we've flown to Ruby.  Small world.

- Markinsac:  I'm well aware of the economic realities of our industry, as both a horseplayer and owner.  But to use your Titanic analogy, if we just try to squeeze more dollars out of fewer customers, we're rearranging deck chairs.  A SuperHighMega 9 will not attract a single new fan.  And a cross-subsidy from slots may buy time but is hardly a long-term solution.

- StephiS: Love the webcam suggestion.

Rick

01 Dec 2010 12:32 PM
LaurieK

Not quite as easy to get back to the barn to see Zenyatta as Kurt makes out, I don't think.  Since I've been told "The public is NEVER allowed in the barns", which is obviously not the case.  Whatever the secret password is, I certainly don't have it.  The point being that, yes, allowing the public to get closer to the sports superstars is a good thing, provided the horse has the nature for it, but you also need the tracks themselves to cooperate, and at least have an answer for queries from the public beyond, "Nobody is ever allowed in the barns" or "Sorry, you have to know the right people."  A track atmosphere that is more inviting to the new or casual bettor is key.  

01 Dec 2010 1:10 PM
Sophie15

The main problem I see facing the sport is how to get new fans. Another way horseracing could attract new fans is through promotions such as "Downs After Dark". This June I attended night racing at Churchill Downs and, being from Californa was surprized at the number of people that attended. Downs After Dark was essentially a big party where people came just to have fun with friends. Also where is the marketing side of horseracing? Due to injuries and other things the sport has a really negative image. Let people see the positive side of this industry. The Barbaro Fund that donates money to laminitis research, all of the research that has been done on breakdowns because of horses like Barbaro, and Eight Belles. This research helps not only racehorses but all horses. Horseracing needs to promote itself in a positive way. Advertise great races everywhere, and not just the Triple Crown and the Breeder's Cup. Horseracing is a great sport, now lets sell it that way.

01 Dec 2010 2:15 PM
quarterhossgal

I agree with many of your comments.  The way Zenyatta has been handled by her team is the best way to promote the sport of racing. RA was a star 3 year old and the way she was retired was stupid.  She brought many people to the track and was retired without an opportunity to thank her for her exciting races. Most of the race horses are not going to have the disposition of Zenyatta, especially the young studs but they could be handled by their grooms and have fans be able to watch their works.  Racing needs to allow the fans get to know the stars and not retire them at 3.  Team Zenyatta should get a special Eclipse award ( in addition to HOY)for what they have done for the sport of racing.  Zenyatta is a once in a lifetime horse that had the perfect team!

01 Dec 2010 7:58 PM
Gary Tasich

Bravo...it's a start...Talk about snubs, how about not awarding John Shirreffs Trainer of the Year last year. Here's an incredible trainer who wins both the Ladie's Classic and the Classic and does it with the horses best interests at heart and with class. Team Zenyatta should be the poster child for how connections should act. They are all so very gracious. The people, the horses, the fans are what really matters. Good article....

01 Dec 2010 9:04 PM
KURT

LAURIE K-go to gate 7 at 10am between now and saturday and youll get in..it IS that easy!!  although yesterday they sent us over to the other side. im NOT  a horseman or part of the TOBA or anyone relevant to anyone..other then maybe my mother..and ive been inside 3 times so not sure what your doing wrong..i might go a 4th time on friday as ive got zenyatta fever pretty bad

01 Dec 2010 9:13 PM
kentuckydeb55

TOO TRUE!  Horse racing is missing the boat on a lot of levels.  I have extreem Zenyatta fever and it is so amazing to think that she won't be on or around the track anymore.  I totally understand but I can't believe the "ride is about over".  I hope she won't be lonely without the adoring crowds around.  Just glad I got to see her one magic moment.  She is everything the sport hopes to be.

And then the bickering started after her 20th run...NOT good enough for HOY.  Well.. maybe the industry is not good enough for her.  I get sick of all the bickering.  The sport can't hold together without trying to tear down the greatest thing they've had come along in decades.  

But one thing I do say -- here in Kentucky I've been able to gain access to Keeneland almost any time I want.  It's such an amazingly beautiful, accessable track.  

So we take the good with the bad.  And while we'll miss Zenyatta, we wish her much happiness.  And hope AGAIN HOY is her destiny.  

01 Dec 2010 10:23 PM
kentuckydeb55

What hurts horse racing?  In my opinion-as a casual fan who rides the Tripple Crown and BC wave every year and doesn't have access to TVG, I have an insight of what is hurting the sport.

I don't get as excited as I used to about the TC because there is hardly any televised coverage except for the really big races any more.  No chance to watch the "up and commers" on a Saturday afternoon as the coverage has dissapeared to TVG and other channels a person has to pay extra to receive.

Gone are the days when I could find Saturday races on ESPN or other channels on my cable system.

I miss the old days.

01 Dec 2010 10:27 PM
jlp918

I have been to Churchill Downs a few times and have never had a good experience.  Unfortunatley, it is a track that caters to the rich.  Even the renovations involved more suites to accomodate the wealthy.  I HOPE Churchill Downs does not become the permanent host of the Breeders' Cup.  That would be unfortunate given this year's hosting performance.  I agree, but will not repeat, so not to be redundant with the negative points made about CD/Breeders' Cup in previous comments.  I live in Kentucky, so it was great to have the Breeders' Cup so close to home, but I do not know if I will go back next year since it will be at CD.  

02 Dec 2010 12:38 PM
Bob

You can't let anybody into the stable area of a race track.  First off, the area is filled with racehorses that are worth collectivley millions of dollars and the area back there is tight enough as it is.  But, I don't know of any racetrack in California that doesn't allow patrons on the front side during the morning.

Santa Anita has Clockers Corner which is open to anybody but the stable area is restricted.

I grew up in Arcadia during the 80's and 90's and I saw the decline of racing in my home town as far as on-track crowds.  There will be 50,000 there on December 26th but that is probably the only day they will draw a crowd like that.

I have always thought the decline in racing started with the people in the executive offices.  At one time they were filled with horse owners and men who loved the game and whose families were involved in the game.  Then, people started running the game who really had no interest in it and it was just a job and they thought horse racing was just like the NBA or the NFL and should be marketed the same.  That was a huge mistake. I mean, Greg Avioli had zero experience in horse racing then he became a high level executive.  No other sport is run like that.  The executives start in low level positions and work their way up.  Just check the backgrounds of NFL and NBA executives.

Racing is what it is and that is a sport that has ractracks primarily owned by casino companies that have no interest in racing.  There is not much you can do to create a lot of interest unless the second coming of Zenyatta appears next year.

I love the game but I accept it for what it is now.  The old days are not coming back and interest has gone down too far.  Let's just enjoy the events that are still big deals and that is the Kentucky Derby, Del Mar, Saratoga, and to an extent Santa Anita.  

As far as marketing the trainers, there is a small problem with that when most of them hardly smile.  Todd Pletcher is like a robot who looks like he is having no fun even after winning the Kentucky Derby.  That Time Ice guy who won the Belmost a year ago had the personality of a piece of wood.

As far as jockeys. most of them can hardly speak english well enough to understand them.  Patrick Valenzuela could have been the face of the game but his personal issues make that difficult.

Just enjoy what we have.   Because even with all of the problems, it's still a wonderful sport.    

02 Dec 2010 12:42 PM
adirondacker

Sophie15's comment about Churchill's "Downs After Dark" is exactly what can bring in the casual fan... or the non-fan simply looking for a place to chill. It goes right to my point about tailgating. It seems that most of the people who have been running racing for the past 100 years seem to be so hung up on trying to "fix racing" (whatever that means) and ignore the fact that people like socializing... the betting is secondary for many people at Keeneland and Saratoga... and probably these casual fans partying at Chruchill. But it gets them in the gate, and they throw some money in the pools. This isn't rocket science.

02 Dec 2010 2:04 PM
Serebyani

The first race I have ever attended was the Va. Derby at Colonial Downs in New Kent, Va last summer.  They have a "Fan Education Center" wheere you get one-on-one access to a track employee away from the crazieness of the betting windows. They sat down (!!) with me and my friend and walked us thru the whole betting process... explaining clearly the whole process. They were very knowledgable, and answered all of our questions. My friend placed many exotic bets and did really well!! Me- not so much, but hey- it was all for fun anyway! They didn't rush us (I took FOREVER deciding who to bet on!!) and I would recommend it to anyone!! It was really nice to have that personal attention!  I just wish I lived closer to a track! (NC doesn't allow parimutuel betting) Great article- I agree that the industry doesn't always promote the athletes well.  I think they miss most of the point when it comes to us casual fans that admire the poetry-in-motion that is a horse!

03 Dec 2010 4:32 AM
Julie

Sunny Jim ,William Woodward, Willie S. Eddie A.  and many others ;you all know who I am talking about. They all would take time for the racing fans. I mean by racing fans the ones who love the sport; not just the betting.It is time to love the fan and take time to embrace them. I could write a trainer,jockey, owner' for a picture of a certain race horse, jockey, trainer and you know in my mailbox it would be just because I was a fan. That was in the fifties and even in the twenties Jim Gaffeny would sent you a picture of his favorite race horse for a buck to cover postage. I understand it is hard to get a job and money is tight but a smile for the fans does not cost anything.

03 Dec 2010 9:42 AM
johhhn

God Bless  the thoroughbred.

03 Dec 2010 9:47 AM
breeze10

Savannah!:  Try this: Daily Racing Form: Glossary of Horse Racing Terms (www.drf.com/help/help glossary.  It's a great starter to the terms and familiarization.

I have been saying for years (and to those directly associated with tracks) that the industry needs to start to listen to the "average joe"who goes to the track..bets his well and hard-earned money..and has the philosophy of "a bad day at the track is better than a good day anywhere else".  Unfortunately, as I was once told, "it's about the money..the money crowd". (SAD! VERY SAD!) So,AGAIN,if anyone who has anything to do with racing is listening (REALLY listening !)..ask the "little guy"..you just may learn something! A great way to introduce a novice to the racing world is: throw a race-party, ie.a Kentucky Derby Party for friends, family, newcomers at a track on the specific race day.  This worked so well for us a few years ago when we held a "Party/Picnic" complete with eats, contests, and racing fun on Kentucky Derby Day (at Delaware Park) that we actually recruited, with little effort, a number of new racing fans!  It was fun for all and as an added bonus, the early-birds were able to watch the morning works at Delaware Park!  Additionally, MONMOUTH PARK LISTENS!  They are absolutely great..they welcome feed-back and respond to comments/suggestions...they are just the greatest and our favorite track!  

03 Dec 2010 9:55 AM
AliciaMcQ

I still hope for the day where racing realizes that they can easily promote themselves as a family-friendly, free (or nearly free, depending on the track)entertainment. Prairie Meadows has ostrich and camel races and I went this summer during their Thoroughbred meet.....there were little kids so excited everywhere!! Kids love animals...and most places are kind of expensive in this recession.  And I've heard rumors (while living in central Iowa) that PRM isn't such a fan of having racing, the investment in purses from the casino part cuts down on their income and this was the reason for the QH/Tbred separate seasons and the reduced Standardbred meet in 2010. This shows that we can't rely on racinos and wagering to solve all the problems. You can't make a rock bleed just like you can't make more gamblers and make them spend more money in a tight economy.

And I like the "PETA effect" comment early on. They pick and choose their videos to find the worst (fyi: most made NOT in the US or by US/Euro-owned facilities; which very few people know).....why can't we do the same? Trainers could easily promote their stars with video blogs on YouTube. Just film a workout or if you have a horse with a goofy personality film something usually mundane like hot-walking or bathing.

There are an incredible amount of opportunities out there....people keep talking and talking yet no one reaches out and utilizes them. Any racetrack HR people out there want to give me a job promoting racing, I'd be more than happy haha. But seriously....someone that cares about the racing industry needs to do it.

03 Dec 2010 12:31 PM
Bob Bright

Iditarider, I forgot the term for folks riding in the sled at the start. I'll bet the sled dogs were the star attraction when you travelled to the Iditarod. Alaska is incredible, the mushers are neat and all the colorfull characters are a hoot. But the Iditarod sled dog is something special just like the thoroughbred race horse. Musher or fan the main attraction is the dog. Dogs and horses are our best friends. Even somebody elses dog or horse. I'll bet your iditarider wife noticed the dogs were pulling the sled.

In the last few decades the breeding shed moguls and betting parlor insiders have hijacked the sport. Horse racing is now a support activity for the sole purpuse of enhancing the investment. The racing horse is now pushing the industry{ instead of pulling it.

When the sled dog becomes a support mechanism the Iditarod will fold.. Horse racing is travelling down the same trail.

The Breeders Cup produced some impressive young horses but the chance of the fans seeing them but just a few times is slim. Owners and trainers are now plotting how to get a huge payoff without having to race the horse more then a few times. No fans, no gate, no more Uncle Mo.

If raceing is in front pulling the industry instead of pushing there is a chance all parties can prosper.

This years HOTY debate is an example of the skewed direction. The breeders and betting insiders seem to favor Blame and the fans and hands-on horsemen are over the moon about Zenyatta. If the insiders hold sway all of the future fans Zenyatta brought into the sport will bail.

Without the public support, horse racing will die and the insiders won't have to worry about a weak sales market.

If I recall, Ruby, Alaska isn't exactly Saratoga but you and your wife travelled there to witness some of the best athletes on the planet. Most of them are pretty friendy just like Zenyatta.

03 Dec 2010 1:11 PM
greg s.

One of the best racing related times I have ever had was the entire week of Breeders Cup 2009 at Santa Anita.  As mentioned earlier, the track is open to the public every morning during workouts and one can enjoy an inexpensive breakfast at Clockers Corner rubbing elbows with owners, trainers and jockeys.

Every morning during Breeders Cup week each BC horse wore a saddle cloth bearing its name (which doesn't usually happen unfortunately)  and I took hundreds of photographs over several days which occupied me for months afterward as I became more familiar with the great horses, owners and trainers who were in California that week.

In this relaxed atmosphere, I had the chance to meet and chat with fellow fans as well as nationally recognized media correspondents, photographers and trainers.

It was a week that I'll never forget, and I was crushed when Santa Anita lost the chance earlier this year to host the Breeders Cup in the near future.

Fans from the East Coast, whom I met that week and were there with me every weekday morning, were as enthusiastic as I was... and were subsequently crushed when they travelled to Churchill Downs this year only to find out that they were not welcome at workouts.

I also want to second the praise for the Mosses and the Shirreffs and all of Zenyatta's connections who so obviously went the extra mile for us, her fans.

Thank you.

03 Dec 2010 1:45 PM
CHoffman

I live in the land of PR - that thirty mile zone called Hollywood - and any failure for something to get out and turn into a phenomenal success is a failure to promote.  Owners, tracks and writers need to get the word out to the media that matters:  mainstream media.  It's why Sarah Palin is so big.  She has great PR.  Seabiscuit had a big mouth for an owner and got his little mug in the papers constantly.  Not just the racing papers either.  The animal beat out Hitler for print space.  People across the country hung on his every tail swish.  Racing has been too hush hush.  We have another possible great coming after Zenyatta:  Uncle Mo.  The only publicity he's getting is Facebook and DRF.  The industry can't make the mistake with him that was made with the Queen.  When Zenyatta won the 2009 BC I chided ABC for not even mentioning her on Good Morning America when they actually bring the winner of the Westminster Dog Show on set.  ABC owns ESPN.  Zenyatta wasn't important enough for them to bother with because no one promoted her or her sport.  CBS had to do it finally.  And they did it too late.  Face it, the racing industry has to get it's collective self together, stop being so regional, stop being so local, and hire a good PR firm to nationally promote racing.  Not as an abstraction, but find a horse or two to hang out there and hype hype hype.  Find a rivalry like the RA vs. Z we had going.  Keep the hot shots in the paper.  Keep the big winners up front and personal.  We need to send out a release to Rupert Murdock personally when the animal sneezes.  Market race horses as the only pure and honest athletes left in a world of 'roid enhanced, adulterers.  Listen, PR firms can turn the stuff you find on the stable floor into the latest must have.  I'm certain they can do it with the animal that deposits it if the racing industry gets it's head out from under the horse's tail.

03 Dec 2010 5:01 PM
Denmark

I was one of the fortunate that got to see Zenyatta in her daily activities, walking after excercise, her bath, grazing and had my picture taken while hugging her (she feels like velvet).  It was an eye opener.  While she was bathing - a man next to me got a call, he had cancelled a meeting to be there. He told whoever was calling "I'm in front of greatness" - I looked at him and he was serious.  40 plus people were there including a couple from St. Louis who flew in just to see her and go to Zenyatta day on Sunday.  All her connections were gracious hosts.  I don't see too many trainers opening their barns to such scrutiny.  Santa Anita does have backside tours and they are great tours.  You usually see Bruce Headly on on of his greats and he's very hands on.  Jockeys are very friendly.  We need more trainers to be open to the public.  This would help with the "doping" myth and that they have something to hide.  I, too, hate that she's going to  Lands End.  I just pray that do right by her.

03 Dec 2010 8:15 PM
Lorri S

At last, great ideas. But how to get them into play? That's the question. One sport, one set of rules would be a good start. Too many chiefs and not enough indians in racing at the moment. Santa Anita staged the best BC in years in '09 but this year it all went downhill in KY with jockeys brawling, horses euthanazed, the LAT incident, arguably the best turf horse in the world in Workforce being scratched because the turf was too hard or soft or overwatered, depending on which journalist you listened to. This had the makings of the best year yet with Zenyatta and Goldikova grabbing headlines but didn't turn out like that at all. I've made my living in this sport for the last 15 years but it's frustrated me to the point that I have to seek greener pastures overseas. We have great owners, trainer, jockeys and backstretch essential hands here but the politicians, developers,(who have their eyes on the prime real estate of the tracks) and some business types are not keeping up their end. We seem to be one step behind all the time. Zenyatta's been around for 4 years. Why now, at the 11th hour have the media just discovered her and promoted her? It's too late, the boats sailed. Thousands upon thousands of jobs rely on the racing industry in this country and these days we cannot afford to lose one of them. The powers that be need to wake up before every track in this country resembles a ghost town.

03 Dec 2010 11:17 PM
Mike C

Create a professional website that googles high for words like horse, farm, vet, foal, babies, nature etc??

and link it to a few big farms Adena, Claiborne, Gainesway ? live cam of new foals stalls and their paddocks. Then try to bring as many viewers as possible especially the kids. In twenty plus years I have never grown tired of watching them play, it leaves one with a strong feeling of admiration and contentment!

04 Dec 2010 1:47 AM
Tales Untold

I am a new fan of horseracing and will decide when I hear the outcome of

Life At Ten's Breeder Cup Tragedy.

And to think Lane's End will probably lock Zenyatta down and the people that love her will never see her again, thats a big mistake..your article seems correct to me a new fan...possibly short term fan..

04 Dec 2010 1:51 AM
CRob87

Good ideas in general.

But.....personally I think that the Industry "Could Possibly" build it's new fan base better if it looked at it from the ground up instead of from the top down as it has been doing.

There are more people in the world who "Could" purchase or "Claim" a horse for $5,000 at Beulah Park than who could for $50,000 at Belmont.

Maybe....."IF" the Industry tried to help the Owners of bottom claimers (For A Change), then maybe they could stick around in the business a lot longer.   And or even "Possibly" go up the ladder within it (Eventually) instead of going Bankrupt.

The main idea (For A Start) that I have is to "Re-distribute" the payoff percentages according to the finishing order.

The old standard (I Believe???) was 60-20-10-5-3-2.   Honestly....What is 2-3 or even 5% going to make for that Owner of a bottom claimer ???   Not much.   They are still going to lose money for the day overall with all expenses accounted for within that single day.

Maybe it should be something like 50-20-10-10-10.   At least 10% "Could Possibly" at least pay for that days expenses ???   And with todays smaller field sizes even if you finish 5th your still beating half of the field.

Just trying to think in Reverse or Outside of the box !!!!

04 Dec 2010 9:00 PM
Terry

Horse racing needs to promote itself. Tracks can out pre-written press releases so the info is correct, accompanied by photos and invites to the newspaper to come visit. Decades ago, I remember Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg doing something as simple as a goofy photo of four horses' heads side by side, looking like they were talking to each other. The caption just said "Horse racing starts Wednesday. Pass it along!" It was an eyecatcher & effective.

Many newspapers & TV stations won't bother sending a reporter & photographer to the track every week, but if the track keeps supplying human-interest stories WITH PHOTOS (video for TV), at least some of them will run. (Wayne Gretzky once said, "You miss every shot you don't take." Same here!) They can do stories about the 12-year-old claimer racing in his 100th race that weekend; the 80-year-old who is still training; the odd-coloured horse that is running that week (a fully-marked pinto horse ran at Assiniboia Downs last year); the hard-luck horse; the horse that loves Tootie Rolls; the horse that lives with a goat; and so on and so on. The track is full of stories that will grab the public's interest!

Hard-core gamblers will bet on anything. The track doesn't need to promote itself to attract them, because they will come anyway. The public will come to the track to see the horses. If the track markets itself properly, those first-time visitors will be enthralled, and become fans for life, but you have to let them know you are there and that the track is not just about betting, it's about beautiful horses.

The farms can do much the same thing to promote Thoroughbreds by sending out cute photos to the newspapers, sending stories of interesting events (foal survives near-death experience, retired runner now a champion foxhunter, champion mare has first foal, etc.). People want to know what happened to their old favourites and like to visit. Farms can have "visiting hours" or allow people to make an appointment, but they need to let the media know about it. This can benefit the farms too. Some of those visitors will become fans that will buy a racehorse in the future, or just get hooked on racing as a result of seeing a once-famous horse in person at the farm or watching a bunch of yearlings or broodmares come to the fence for petting.

Getting kids interested is crucial. They grow up to be owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms or fans when they have a good experience at the track or at a farm. They don't care about anything but seeing, meeting and hopefully petting the beautiful horses. And ultimately, isn't it the HORSES that people love most about horse racing?

04 Dec 2010 11:27 PM
L. Howard

I'm a recent fan of horse racing and although my home state (UT) only has very limited QH racing, I take whatever chances I can get to watch races out of state at places like GGF. One thing I've noticed is racing's failure to embrace new forms of technology that it could take advantage of, like twitter and iphone. I work on Saturdays and have to rush home in order to find out who's won major races, and have wished many a time that Equibase could have text-messaging based update system to go alongside their email one.

Blood horse is doing better in this regard than DRF, Equibase and lots of individual tracks, but I still feel like the industry may be missing the boat on this much in the same way they missed it with regard to TV.

05 Dec 2010 12:38 AM
NancyP

Rick,

Thank you for your thoughtful heartfelt article on the state of Thoroughbred racing in this country and it effect on all fans and lovers of the most beautiful being on the planet - The Horse.  

I am first and foremost a lover of animals and horses in particular.  After many years I put aside all other extracurricular activities and made it to Belmont to see the racing thoroughbred.  I'm not a bettor, it doesn't interest me - whether it be Las Vegas, bingo, etc.  On rare occasion I will place a bet (dreamed Big Brown would win the Derby).  Love Zenyatta and placed a bet in BC.  Even though she didn't win, I'll hang on to the ticket for the memories, because she ran a spectacular race against a tough field.  In my opinion every thoroughbred is a winner just by surviving in this most risky of sport.

So, it pains me year after to read the fine thoughtful articles submitted, such as your article above, in the B-H magazine and B-H on-line with no thoughtful, or honest follow-up by the racing powers or industry at large. My viewpoint is that 'industry' is the killing operative.  In today's modern context whether it's horse racing, oil, wall street or banking the only element that matters is the bottom line and Greed for more of whatever it is that turns them and their families on.  That is the momentum killing horse racing.  

Maybe it's time to repeal OTB and other off-track betting avenues, like Sunset legislation?  Look at the OTB fiasco in New York State and NYRA's ills.  It has brought NY racing to its knees. Once it was a racing jewel, now it is in a death spiral.  Look at all the racing jurisdictions around the country-they are incomprehensible.

One final note - to the security guards at SA & HP who are looking forward to Zenyatta leaving - she kept you in a job - you should be grateful to her, because there is most likely someone who loves horses eager to step into your shoes!

05 Dec 2010 1:02 PM
Monika P

This issue is particularly apparent in the network coverage of some of the major races. I personally don't care who wears what hat to the Kentucky Derby. Let's hear more about the horses. I am fortunate enough to have been a Thoroughbred owner for many years (sport horses, not race horses), and these magnificent animals provide enough human interest stories without needing to broadcast meaningless trivia about cookoffs, wardrobe, and betting celebrities.

05 Dec 2010 1:26 PM
Rick Gold

To those who question whether a track or trainer could afford the time or money to put together an interesting web site, I offer this example from Aliy Zirkle, an Iditarod musher with a fraction of the budget: spkenneldoglog.blogspot.com/.../iditarod-2010-aliy-cam-on-happy-river.html

If you liked Mike Smith's helmet cam, check it out.

Rick

05 Dec 2010 10:35 PM
Sunny Farm

This was a really nice article. One of the things that has always surprised me is the lack of information available for the Thoroughbred OUTSIDE of racing and racing media. If you read any general horse magazine, like Horse Illustrated, EQUUS, Western Horsemen , etc,you seldom see even ONE ad for a Thoroughbred , race tracks, Breeders Cup,The Jockey Club, etc. Many readers are young readers and when they read horse magazines, they generally evolve into one specialized sport or breed.

An informational kiosk or brochure located where other advertisers place these things would also help. The new-comers must be invited in. When I first began breeding Thoroughbred racehorses, many in the business told me "The busines is really hard to break into''. (It has been, and is not a very welcoming sport.) I can understand why horse-owners soon go on to other more welcoming venues. There should be an awarness that not every trainer or breeder is an old hand & if you want more people to be involved , help educate them and help get them to the races. If and when there is a real change to drug abuse in the race horse, you will find that many new trainers will emerge. Many won't even try because the first thing they say is "It is very exspensive and why bother when your racing against so many cheaters / druggers of horses''Honestly, this IS the first thing other horse-owners have told me & is therefore thier perception of racing.It is also what I have heard from those in the sport of racing.

We need more welcoming of the public & awareness out -side of the industry, and more FUN.

We need less claiming races, times have changed. With the economy ,more owners are racing thier horses instead of selling them. Not everyone would want to raise, train and then race thier home-bred(Who has also become part of the family )and see there are few choices other than a claiming race where they could lose thier horse! Why not make a few 'beginner races''for new -comers ? Or Ideas similar to this will bring in new trainers and more entries...they will bring thier friends who will become new fans. We must race with integrity, set a good example, have strict anti-drug laws in ALL tracks and invite new owners & trainers,as well as fans. I think the fans are treated better than any new-comer-trainers, who get very little attention or help, yet put on the show.

06 Dec 2010 12:34 AM
wendyg

Good example of the lack of communication and openness is Rachel Alexandra.  Where is she? Did she drop off the face of the planet?  Has she been bred?  Is she well?  Who knows.  

06 Dec 2010 12:04 PM
horselove

Another thing that I thought was wonderful was the show "Jockey's".  I watched it all the time, and I learned so much about the riders, and that they are more than little people on big horses.  They are interesting.  I am a huge fan of Mike Smith and Gary Stevens. Gary wasn't on it, but he has done other things.  Joe Talamo and Chantel Sutherland (spelling?).  Those people are as interesting to me as the horses are.  

06 Dec 2010 12:08 PM
CatJ

My husband and I are long time thoroughbred racing fans.  When I watch the Triple Crown Races on television, there are amazing and beautiful commercials about racing.  Why not run these commercials during programming other than horse racing?  Seems to me you are already preaching to the choir. We attended the Breeders Cup at Churchill.  My gripe was the inability to purchase just 2 seats in the clubhouse section.  You had to purchase 6 (an entire box) to be seated in the clubhouse. Why did it have to be so difficult to purchase a couple of nice seats?  Racing fans don't mind sitting with strangers!  Santa Anita did not handle seating this way.  One last comment, we own a popular wine store.  All of our customers know of our love for horse racing and with our excitement over attending the Breeders Cup and the publicity about Zenyatta, it amazed us how many people told us that they had never watched the  Cup or even heard of it before.  Countless people let us know that they watched and rooted for Zenyatta.  I know interest has been stirred up in these people beyond just the Derby.    

06 Dec 2010 12:22 PM
Gregg

An overdue yet underdone comment about racetrack access. I very firmly believe Keeneland's success with on track attendence can be linked to all hours access to the track AND the stable area.

06 Dec 2010 4:27 PM
swaps

In order to make his point, Mr. Gold disparages efforts like slots, attracting new owners, and lowered takeout.  He is amazingly naive about marketing for a CEO.  These efforts are not treating fans as "ATMs to be milked."  For instance, lowering takeout is very consumer oriented.  As for attracting new owner, this could not be more important and modern marketing techniques like data mining are required.  In order to make his own case, Mr. Gold tries to discredit others.

07 Dec 2010 8:55 AM
Pazzo Pupo

I share in the author's lament about access & exposure to the thoroughbreds & their training--

& I applaud Merry's observation about our evolving attitudes & moral values regarding the rights & welfare of horses--thoroughbreds & otherwise, & other non-human animal species.

The thoroughbred racing industry must do more on behalf of all the horses that are bred to race--whether they ever win a single dollar at the race-track.  

In my humble opinion, the basic moral principle guiding the industry ought to be that every throroughbred life brought into being through breeding ought to be associated with a life-long commitment from that individual or group to ensure that horse's well-being no matter the performance of the horse on or off the race-track.

Should such an enlightened moral commitment ever be made & enacted by the industry & the humans integral to it than I believe we would truly see the dawn of a new & better day for everyone--human & non-human alike, involved in this unique--& even the larger, world.

07 Dec 2010 2:31 PM
ThoroFan

Perfect piece. ThoroFan, a Non-profit, Thoroughbred Racing Fan Association, Inc espouses those very same points. www.thorofan.com Check us out. The more members, the louder our voice. Maybe things will change! We have to try.

11 Dec 2010 10:45 AM
Ryafan

I think one of the largest obstacles in front of racing is that I doubt it will ever be of one mind without public backfighting, mandating an untested surface for the track to get racing dates, denying it even exhisted, then admitting it did by reminding the track holder to submit a darn waiver for it at a Public Meetting, no less. Everyone then involved is now pointing fingers at the other, but I can certainly tell you one place they cannot be pointed at, the breeders in California who get to vote on Broodmare of the Year in California but had no clue as to what type of surface they could or should breed thier horses to! We did not just lose "the small breeder" we lost whole Farms, and major farms at that. It decimated the entire Industry here, and I doubt it will recover. I've seen or known of more horses starving or in need of rescue here then I've ever seen breakdown, and no, I do not ever want to see that either, yet now it is going to be a partial year sythetic, partial dirt so pick a dart. I understand the objections over take out, etc. Yet what I will never understand is how any of these departments get together and say "Hey now, let us do the math, a foal crop of only 1,500, expected, so let us put our heads together and figure out how to fix this now, instead of biting off each others heads, or backs, in most cases.

20 Dec 2010 11:45 AM
Dusty

Let me tell you a little story from a country far, far away.  

When I was in high school, I was racing-mad.  I would buy the daily paper (pre-Internet) and read up on all my favourites.  For a few years, whoever did the sport pages really favoured racing, and there was plenty to read up, plenty of juicy tidbits, plenty of pictures.  I never missed a race on TV if one of my favourites was running.

And then slowly the racing page changed to bland lists of form for the next meeting, heavy blocks of data of interest only to bettors.  And I stopped reading.  

And then my country started a national lottery, and relaxed the gambling laws, so all the bettors switched to that anyway.  And now there are only two annual races that are televised, across the whole country, and of the three nearest tracks, two are left.

I now follow American racing...

06 Jan 2011 3:05 PM

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