Horseplayers Haven't Lost Touch, Horse Racing Has

Back in the early 1960's there was a big battle in the National Football League.

Some owners - in large cities, where attendance drove big gate revenues - felt television would hurt their revenues because people would stay home and watch, rather than go to games themselves. In the end, of course, the NFL embraced television (it was made for it, really) and the rest - including multiple billion dollar TV deals - is history.

In Steve Haskin's blog yesterday, he touched on the fact that maybe folks who stay at home have lost "touch with the horse."
  • But what of that special, cathartic connection with the horses themselves? It used to be where the bettors would actually make it a point to see these horses close up in the paddock, post parade, and galloping to the post, and make their final determinations. They would line the walking ring 10-deep to get an intimate look at the horses, even if just to bet on the pretty one. The horses were flesh and blood creatures who they got to know on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. No one is insinuating that racing technology is a bad thing. It is actually pretty remarkable. But why rely only on that and give up the true essence of Thoroughbred racing and what it was meant to be? 
If the TV deal went bad in the NFL, I think much the same would be written.

"But what of the bond with the players themselves? Sitting on the sidelines, water vapor breath in cold Green Bay temperatures, the sound of the hitting, helmet to helmet, the roar of the crowd, binoculars hanging from a neck with a beer and a hot dog in hand, body firmly pressed on steel seating ....... "

We all have bonds with the players - they are on our TV screens, handhelds, tablets and desktops, and in 24 hour cycles on a football network. We hear the sounds, the roar of the crowd on 52 inch TV's with sound systems; systems purchased for the price of what a 14 inch black and white tube was in 1969. We eat hot dogs and wings at home in a recliner.

What we also do is....... go through stats, for free and play fantasy football, lay a few wagers, participate in office pools, use our Xbox to plug in teams and have them updated in real time, participate in online contests, bet in-running, download free apps on our phone with everything we need at the touch of a button. And about a hundred other things.

The NFL has married technology with football, and they win.

Racing, on the other hand, has had a remarkable, glorious, wonderful carve out - the only real "legal" game to gamble on over the net. But they've done little with it.

You need data, and past performances and accounts. You aren't watching on an Xbox, you aren't backing and laying on an exchange (unless you live in NJ). Online contests? Well, the horse racing lobbyists decided in more than one place this is not an asset, but something that should be banned, or even sued.

And despite that, when you decide you want to play, you have to into pools with egregious rakes.

It's fun to talk about the majesty of the horse and the greatness of live racing. No argument here. But to say "horseplayers have lost touch with the horse", I believe is wrong. We have never lost touch with the horse, horse racing has lost touch with us.

If the sport ever gets horseplayers back, there will be no need to even have these conversations, because there will be more people at the track, more people buying horses, and the sport will be in better shape.

When things are good there's less need to grumble, or wish for the way things used to be. When the future is bright we look forward and wonder what we could be, we don't look backward and remember what once was.


Ron said...

When I was a young kid, my team never sold out. So every single home game was blacked out, including the ghost to the post double ot game in the playoffs. I was one pissed off kid.

Anonymous said...

A large underground fan base was made up of working folks who also had obligations on the weekend and could rarely make it to the track. They bet with the neighborhood bookies and followed racing via the newspapers. When print newspapers were floundering, public handicappers and results were among the first casualties. That group lost its major link to racing and overall interest in racing fell at the same time. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Now tracks aren’t going to care about anyone who doesn’t bet through them and pay for parking and admission. But here was the group that would pump up attendance numbers and handle on holidays. More importantly, this was a group that kept horse racing alive in the minds of the general public.


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