Monday, July 20, 2015

Racing Has Fans. It's Never a Bad Thing. Even if They're Nuts

I remember being on a chat board many years ago now. A fan was voicing his opinion on a harness race, talking about what he thought was a bad drive. An insider (I think it was a trainer) came on, admonished the new fan with, "have you ever sat behind a horse? No? Then shut up."

Silly, yes, because that same trainer might be going to a sports bar that night to watch a hockey game. When a player missed an open net, he might say "what a goof. How did he miss that? It was an easy bury.". Unless the trainer was a high draft pick with NHL hockey experience, he should admonish himself.

Racing, heavily insider based, has a lot of trouble with fans. And it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

California Chrome will hopefully be racing next year, and we all think that's great. There are many fans who hope he doesn't do a Dubai-Ascot double next year, there are some who want him in dirt classics, not turf. There are some who want turf, or Dubai, or hell, maybe even the Melbourne Cup. Maybe someone on facebook (those folks are a little crazy, mind you) wants him to race on Pluto.

The response from some quarters: "Stop trying to manage this horse. He's not yours." Or, "if you want to manage a horse, go buy one."


Sure, some criticism of rides, or trainer moves, or a hundred other things might be wrong. The facebook stuff regarding Chrome is borderline delusional. Fans might not know a certain horse was sick last race, or has a sore suspensory, or whatever; this is an insular sport, where keeping things a secret is a method of operation. But who cares? If it's a sport, it's a part of sports. 

Sports radio, fantasy sports, calling [insert name here] a "choker", are all about fans "managing" their teams. It's all about being a fan. It's an intrinsic element of all sports around the globe. The manager of the Yankees would never say "go buy your own team if you want to manage it." There would be a revolt.

If you want to be big league, embrace it, educate, discuss and be a part of it. But for goodness sakes, don't tell them to put a sock in it. Horse racing needs more fans, not fewer.


Sal Carcia said...

Calling customers "idiots" is probably not a good idea for business.

Also, many in racing claim that, because the game is skills-based, it requires a lot of education before one really becomes a serious player. Putting these types of qualifications on customers is dangerous in my opinion. Why can't the game just be recreational? It is easy enough to have opinion for whatever the reason. Matter of fact, it is difficult to not have one.

Fran Jurga said...

Thanks so much for bringing this up! This is one of those "be careful what you wish for" situations. In other words, people probably shouldn't complain. It's so much worse in other sports. Look how tangled up people get in the lives of NASCAR personalities!

What's sad is that everyone forgets that, in reality, there is a large universe of "normal" racing fans out there who follow the horses and trainers and understand the sport. We need to grow that part of the base.

I think of the hero horses as having come in three waves of fans: the Barbaro faithful, the Zenyatta lovers, and now the Chromies. Each horse or situation has been different, but it's interesting that Zenyatta and Chrome were both California-based horses. And all three of those horses were trained by not-household-name trainers, as well. I wonder what's next, but I don't think you will likely see a Godolphin, Coolmore or Pletcher horse go cult.

The recent death of Kauto Star in England is an example of racehorse fandom gone really crazy. Interesting article about mob mentality, race fan style:

It makes you wonder about some of the controversial events in the past in racing and how differently they might play out on social media if they happened today.


Pull the Pocket said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

I could not agree more Fran. I think there's something magical about Zenyatta and Chrome, in particular, and across the pond with a charismatic horse (rest in peace) like Kauto Star. It's more than being a fan of a human athlete. People don't get "attached" to a Tiger Woods like they do with some equines. We don't tweet out a picture of LeBron James playfully playing with a carrot given to him from a 4 year old fan.

I understand the criticism at times, but people love horses. Nothing will change that, and frankly, thank God they do.


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