Previously I had written a few things about why U.S. thoroughbred racing is struggling, from my own experience in the business. I also linked to an article that I thought summed up the financial side of the problem very well.
But recently another aspect of the problem that has nagged at me for years came to the forefront in my mind. The nagging part started with experiences at Churchill Downs and Gulfstream Park in the last couple years. Both places made me feel uncomfortable about just hanging out at the track for a relaxing day with friends who love horses. Reasons for being uncomfortable range from no place to sit or see horses up close, the same irritating music day after day playing too loud in the paddock, bad food, expensive drinks, I could probably think of some others.
From my point of view from the stable area, I noticed that the Derby Museum backside tour seemed to be very popular, but people are driven around in an enclosed van and not allowed to get too close to horses for liability reasons. People come to Kentucky to see the horses up close and it's a priceless public relations opportunity for the tracks. I feel like the tracks would prefer not to deal with the horses, their caretakers or even the people who come to Kentucky to see horses. This attitude will kill horseracing for good, it can not live by simulcast or casino gambling alone.
It amazes me how many people are there to adopt all the retired racehorses that we place through Second Stride (www.secondstride.org - I maintain the web site). These are people who just love horses, not gambling. These are the people who can help racing thrive and yet it's a group who are ignored by the big racetracks. Perhaps the big tracks should watch closely the progress of Meydan in Dubai (home of the Dubai Racing Carnival and Dubai World Cup) and the next big horse city in the works, Tianjin Horse City, in China. Here is a quote from a Gulf News article about Tianjin Horse City - "the Chinese especially like the Meydan business model because (like Meydan) it does not involve betting on horses."
Handicapping is fun, but gambling is just one aspect of horseracing - the success of horseracing should not completely depend on gambling. I wish the big tracks would remember that part of their potential clientele just wants to be there to watch, learn more about horses, and get close to any horses, not just racing superstars.
I'd like to hear your feedback.