Being fortunate enough to know Bill from the Horseplayers Association, I marvel sometimes at just how sharp he is. When constructing the HANA track ratings he wrote several times (he is an engineer, so I guess this is built-in) warning that doing anything to rate tracks in a qualitative way was a hornets nest that should be steered clear of. So he stuck with things like takeout and field size when looking at tracks. I thought about this today reading Brooklyn Backstretch's review of her trip to Gulfstream (check it out, some nice photos). The reaction to her post shows just how far apart horseplayers and fans are in this game. I have read reaction to Gulfstream many times on the net and I am continually amazed at times how one faction considers it a place which is fun and pretty, and another likens to experience to swallowing barbed wire. Opinion is one thing, but it is wild to see the divergence of opinion. (Pocket note - I have never been there, but it looks nice enough to me in pictures).
In my live Ontario harness track ratings last year I rated Georgian Downs highly. I went last night for the races and I stand by those. The fields were good, they have two pick 4's and the driver colony with purse size is excellent. In terms of amenities, it is clean, the staff friendly and the food is not bad at all. The side bar is quite the spot for after the races. It adjoins the paddock, and many of the trainers and drivers head there afterwards for a beer and/or food. It is a very nice atmosphere. The last time I was there was in August, and the place was packed. Last night, in the terrible weather it was not. They were absolutely right to cut dates in January and February there. It is good for them, and good for the fans.
Changing business models can happen quickly. Blockbuster video, with the old model of renting VHS and DVD's has moved into several new ventures. The latest is a partnership with TiVo. This is not at all dissimilar to horse racing moving to the Internet, but when we fight for slices, it all goes to hell. Notice what they are charging for this new service? Less than retail stores have for a long time. This is correct, and the way it should be. The fixed cost of setting something up is expensive, but the variable cost is small. Thus, the price becomes less. This is something we have not learned with ADW, and we are paying for it. Racing can not charge the same takeouts on the internet as they can at a track and maximize revenues.
My last post on opinion is a response from a reader to my Media post below. I don't agree with some of it, but the blog world is pretty ridiculous if it does not share well-thought-out differing opinion. I post it here in its entirety:
It is so easy to attack horse racing from a journalistic perspective. The game is on the decline and nothing will save it or return it back to its glory years.
There are few journalists who truly understand the game from the inside out. They have either never been gamblers, horse owners or racetrack operators. They are, for the most part, merely passive observers, armchair quarterbacks if you will.
Some of the best journalists I have known are ones who didn't need platforms to be seen or heard. They spoke from an understanding grounded in experience. I think of Gary West, who has ruffled many feathers in the industry but has one of the best understandings of the game. Bob Fortus is another.
They understand physiology and can make accurate and intelligent commentary, sometimes which causes friction among the tracks they cover and/or advertisers.
But this happens in all sports. Racing is not exclusive to criticism, it's just it can't help itself.
Traditional journalism has also been replaced by bloggers or, as one person now calls them, sloggers. In the absence of a name or a face, they are people who sit by computers and criticize. Sometimes they have valid commentaries, and sometimes they are merely expressing opinion without fact.
In the end, racing has to take a serious look at itself and where it is heading. The MEC fallout underlined how racing doesn't operate for the good of all but merely as a series of independent operators. Stronach had a vision, perhaps based on individual greed, that would change the game and bring it back to its glory.
That will never happen, so attacking racing is like fishing in a stocked pond.
And you can say writers are being pulled off the beats because they are too critical.
But the bottom line is, racing coverage is shrinking, and journalism as a whole is at stage, similar to racing, from which it will never recover.
You can remove writers and let the bloggers/sloggers talk about all the wrongs of racing, but coming up with a solution is considerably more challenging.
This isn't just about advertisers and they clout they hold. This is about managing editors and/or sports editors who have no passion for horse racing, and when they pull a writer off the beat, be it in a traditional newspaper or a trade publication, it may be because that employer no longer serves a valuable purpose to the bottom line. That could mean bodies are needed for more relevant coverage. If the writer happens to be critical, the paper may simply say, who cares.
I truly doubt the amount of advertising really matters that much.
Having said that, I have seen examples where a writer is pulled off the beat and replaced by someone who isn't nearly as knowledgeable and therefore can't be as critical. In some cases, if it is a one-paper town and the advertiser has clout, it may threaten to pull business if the offensive writer is not pulled.
In summation, take all the shots you want at racing. It will survive in spite of itself, but the weak will not inherent the turf. The strong will, and there will be fewer and fewer people covering racing from a traditional standpoint, and those who choose to blog or slog may not matter anyway.
Nothing short of a miracle plan will make racing relevant.
But be thankful there are at least publications that cover the game.
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