For those who gamble on the sport of kings there was a road you took to making your first wager. Was is Uncle Ted or Grandpa that gave you that first glimpse of the Daily Racing Form? Or, was it something you picked up on your own? I guess it could be a case of nature versus nurture, or what came first the chicken or the egg. Either way, racing is sure glad you came.
For me it was a family thing. My dad, my grandpa, and the picnics under the maple tree at old River Downs. I started off playing ball in the parking lot as a youngster with other track kids. It was a safe place where we could stay out of dad’s hair. As the racing meets passed, the ball games ended. You started going down to the paddock as they saddled the majestic beasts. For what was no concern yesterday, was now catching your eyes for the first time. You started asking who your dad liked in the next race, and then you rooted as hard he did. Then came that magical time when your interest was rewarded with a $2 place ticket on your own selection. This was the beginning. The crossroads where you hangout until you’re old enough to be someplace else, or you become intoxicated with the idea of going every-time dad heads to the races. For me, the choice was simple.
I started going with dad, and I can remember the first time he let me take the car and go out to the races. Many of my friends wanted to swill warm beer in a basement, and I wanted to go the track. They saved their money for concert tickets and cassette tapes, and I cut lawns to build my bankroll. I hung out with the same fellas my old man had known for years. Over time, the education that took them a lifetime to accumulate was rubbing off on me. I think many came along this way, and only a few will share the truth. Playing the races has been a great part of my life. My bills get paid, I haven’t missed a meal, and my clothes are not torn or tattered. Thoroughbred racing was my first love, and as the old saying goes, “You never forget your first.”
Then there is the guy or gal who stumbles on the sport. They’re attracted by a free concert, or dollar beer night. When there is a big race that becomes an event, they want to be in the whirl of humanity. Sharing the energy, the new player takes on the look of every track brochure that shows a group of happy people cheering together. They fall in love slowly using the venue as a place to meet friends and swig $1 beers. Eventually they stop using the track as a meeting place, and find themselves learning the ropes. As with any sport, gaming, or gambling. The “old-timers” frown down on this new player. They don’t have that common thread, and they start off being as close as apples and bowling balls. I have found many cases where the old guard takes a liking to the new player. Some become friends, and I see many sitting together talking about the game. The fans come in many forms, and eventually they all become the same or move onto something else. Think about the ball park, and the guy with the team jersey keeping score in his program as his dad showed him years ago. Or, there is the fan who enjoys a few libations and keeps track of the game by what the scoreboard is flashing. Either way, they are both there for the same reason. The differences become hard to see after awhile, and you see them talking and enjoying the game together. It just takes time.
So what’s your story? Were you shown the pageantry long ago, or did you discover the beauty on your own? Either way, the sport of kings is glad you’re there. Long ago the grandstands were filled with thousands of fans, and now the hard-core bettors can be found betting on-line. No more standing in lines, and you can play when the mood strikes. The game now depends on “newbies” to keep the track alive. It may be a free concert, a car show, or the wiener dog races that get more coverage. Times have changed and the game will adapt. You either bend with the wind, or get blown over by the breeze. The future is uncertain at times, and the competition is closing on the ponies like Silky Sullivan. Racing will survive, but it may not look like the same game your grandpa introduced you to. If you’re the type that was introduced the traditional way, take some time and get to know the new player. You’re there for the same reason, and who knows, maybe we’ll both enjoy what the future holds.