Horse Racing: Alive or Dead Needs a Fix

Patrick Patten, Handride

I thought about expanding the title ala Dr Strangelove… to Horse Racing: Alive or Dead Needs a Fix or: Numbers Don’t Lie but Statisticians don’t Tell the Truth.

It seems that every year between the Breeders’ Cup of early October and the Derby trail beginning in late January the writers, media, bloggers, anyone with a soap box gets up and points out the ills of racing.  It’s griping season.  However, this year it was a bit backwards.  To start we had the industry griping about future prospects and the media defending it.  Peter Carlino of Penn National Gaming said, “There aren’t sufficient numbers of racing customers anymore because they died.”  Meanwhile, Paul Moran writes, “Racing's enthusiastic presence on the Internet and social networking sites suggests convincingly that the game is far from dead. 

One can argue both of the above statements are anecdotal at best, and both have their points.  What caught my interest was Alex Waldrop’s NTRA, post.  Unsurprisingly, Mr. Waldrop, CEO of the NTRA, came out in full support of Moran, noting the many fans racing has in a post called “Fact vs. Fiction”:  50,600,000 fans.  That’s a huge number, and everyone reading it should feel comforted by the millions of supporters our sport has.   However, as a blogger the post made me cringe.  Bloggers are regularly cut down for cherry picking arguments, and facts, and here is a prime example:  50,600,000 fans

It doesn’t take much work to see what these fans are worth, how much of a “fan” they really are.  $11,420,000,000 wagered divided by 50,600,000 fans means each fan is wagering $226 per year, $18 per month, let's say $4.50 per weekend.  Is this our fanbase?

What’s worse is touting this as a “good” number.  It shows that the people in charge of the industry are of the attitude “Nothing to see here, nothing to fix.”  And, what I consider dangerous is to come out with yet another article debating the validity of the numbers.  As the leader of the NTRA, a job which entails, “bridging the gap between perception and reality,” to come out and obfuscate the perception is grounds for removal.  Here we have a leader bickering with blog commentators on the exact number of fans for 7 paragraphs only to find his point in the final paragraph:

“After 10 years of effort, we still have a long way to go”

You don’t say?  Well, for close to 4 years of it, Mr. Waldrop has been in charge, and here's what we have to show for it:  A fan worth $4.50 a weekend,   A Safety and Integrity Alliance that has no teeth, an association that lost the Breeders’ Cup and Churchill Downs.  We all hope those in charge are hard at work looking to make improvements, and not just going along for the ride.   But, how can I think otherwise now that time is being spent squabbling over a meaningless headcount?  Two and half years ago a group of fans put together what we’d like to see from horse racing.  I still feel it’s the best thing I have ever seen come from any of the alphabet soups of the industry.   

I feel that the best product is not being put on the track.  I feel that the structure of our industry is not up to today’s business standards.  I feel that those in charge aren’t working as hard as they should.  I feel a very large change is needed.

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