Image is Everything

Andre Agassi is the perfect poster boy for image trumping reality.  He was the rock star of tennis from the moment he set foot on the court in 1986, but he didn't win his first Grand Slam event until 1992.  Anna Kournikova might be example #2 as she did the same thing in 1999, being the #1 searched item on Google, but only reaching #12 as a singles player that year.  These were the faces of tennis, but weren't the champions of the sport. 

There will always be a disconnect between what people perceive and what is the truth.  Sometimes it doesn't really matter as in the above tennis example.  However, it's not always as benign.  The most recent examples are Sara Palin who was portrayed in a not so flattering light on Saturday Night Live or the American car industry fighting its own image

It is image that is holding back horse racing.   First, the exceptions that proves the rule:  What is the image of horse racing at Keeneland, Del Mar, and Saratoga?  For Keeneland horse racing is a way of life.  At Del Mar horse racing is stars and glamour.  At Saratoga racing is history and a backyard setting.  The images of those individual tracks out weigh the negatives associated with our sport on a national level.  Admittedly, those tracks are successful for many reasons, but the foundation for all their success is that beginning  perception.  A quick example would be Keeneland last year when Teuflesberg brok both seasmoids in the Phoenix and Dream of Angels flipped in the paddock and was euthanized.  Both events were on national TV and happened within an hour of each other.  What controversy did it create? Now imagine the outcry had they occurred at Aqueduct or Hawthorne?  What are the images of those tracks?  No, don't answer that. 

Las Vegas is the home of legalized gambling.  If an alien landed and watched TV they'd never know that to be the case.  Las Vegas on TV is sunshine, vacation, excitement, and freedom.  When you arrive in Las Vegas they stop selling that and switch to selling the casinos:  "Loosest slots in Town" "Poker Tourneys every Hour"  "Free Million Dollar Pull."  The NFL publishes enough information to choke a donkey on injuries, and updates them daily even for the third string TE.  However, ask anyone in the NFL to talk about the bad call in the Pitt/SD game when it comes to the spread and they'll look at you like you're the alien; what's a spread? 

When Barbaro and Eight Belles broke down people didn't suddenly realize that horses broke down because of quirky surfaces or because of an overuse of drugs. (Personal note:  I don't believe either were the cause).  That image was already out there in small pockets and when those events occurred those thoughts became mainstream, and "fact."  Going back to the Sara Palin example, some people thought she was "colloquial" only to have SNL hammer that point, negatively, home.  SNL didn't create that idea, it just pushed it, and it became factual.   

The image of horse racing is gambling.  And, gambling doesn't sell in this country.  Thank the Puritans for that.  People will protest a new track or racino coming to their town because gambling is bad.  However, these SAME people will participate in a fantasy football league for $200, will put $100 into a NCAA bracket pool, or go to bingo on Friday night.  Are they hypocrites?  I really don't think so.  The images of all of those sports outweigh their negative aspects.  Those people are just participating in something bigger than gambling. 

Racing should continue with efforts like the Safety and Integrity Alliance, but do more to get the message out that horse racing is NOT gambling.  Horse racing is a sport, business, lifestyle, outdoor activity, safety conscience, livelihood, green spaces and oh yeah you can gamble on it too


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