Friday, June 14, 2019

With Horses, We Can't Play Horse

Last evening the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championship. This run has amazed me like no other, because the entire country has had basketball fever. Last night there were 59 "Jurassic Park" viewing parties from the tip of Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. This included one in my small northern hometown, where my high school roundball team could muster but 9 players, and we'd have to juggle hockey and basketball in the winter (and you know what came in second place).

When Vince Carter came to the Big Smoke it was a seminal moment for basketball. With his (and the teams') success, kids started playing more, and a dozen or so years later more and more NBA players were being drafted from Canada. This win feels similar. More and more kids will take up the sport, it will be marketable, and it's a real sea change. It's how a sport grows.

We saw this in a similar way with Mike Weir. There are four or five Canadians on tour, and most of those kids picked up a club because of his Masters' win. In fact, in today's U.S. Open, probably the entire rest of the field under the age of 25 picked up the game because of Tiger Woods.

This is what, I feel, many believed might happen if 'horse racing had a Triple Crown winner.' The column inches around such an event would be the catalyst for the sport to be more watched, expand, and grow.

We all know now that didn't happen.

When we're dealing with horses, sports marketing is different. They're animals, and the public is smart enough to know animals are winning the races, not the Kawhi Leonard or Kyle Lowery, doing the training or riding. We can't speak to horses, we can't be horses, and the sport can not resonate in any stretch the same way.

This game is a different, pardon the pun, animal. As much pushback we get for saying it - it's not really a sport. Racing is, as my friend Erik Poteck calls it, gambletainment.

Horse racing should not try to be like other human sports and hope for some sort of renaissance moment - a moment when an entire country stands up to take notice, changing it forever. It simply needs to try and improve incrementally, like a business does.

It needs to increase attendance by being a good business; improve the bet by doing things that increase the bet, not lower it, as is so prevalent the last dozen or so years. It needs to pay attention to the changing public view of animal welfare. It needs to dot its i's and cross its t's when it comes to governments.

Horse racing focusing on itself as an entertainment business first should always be the priority. There's simply no other way to exist.

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