Friday, March 25, 2011

What's wrong with big U.S. horseracing revisited

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 ( - 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.


Bob said...

I don't see how racing can survive in the USA without the people betting. Where would the purse money come from ? I have been writing for years about how the business can survive and hope to have my work done in the near future. I'll be glad to share some of my thoughts with you. I think I'm a visonary when it comes to what my ideas are.

amy4hsales said...

I agree with you, but I would bet a lot more if I could actually see the horses up close when I go to the track and if I could then have a comfortable place to sit and order a beer at a reasonable price while I wait to see if I won or not - and I don't want to hear some executive's idea of cool piped in music in the paddock or anywhere else please. What if I could walk around the track all the way to the backside (for the short races) and see the horses coming to the paddock and up close at the starting gate - how hard could that be for the tracks? So the tracks have a big casino on site, that's ok, I love casinos too.

Bob said...

Have you ever been to Saratoga in New york ? There you can watch the horses come right up through the crowd into the paddock. The walking area is also through a wooded area and you can almost reach out and touch the horses. That same area is full of pinic tables and you can bring your own beer and food. Also many people bring their own folding chairs. It is unbelieveable.
I live in Salem NH but I always make a few trips to Saratoga every summer.
I agree with you about better food and lower prices. That is one of the things I address in the book I'm writing.

Bob said...

Saratoga is LOSING MONEY TOO< all of the New York Tracks are.. Bob Burnitt Ellis County Texas, Former Race Horse Trainer.