A Tale of Two Tracks

by Ed Meyer

posted on May 31, 2014 in General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | 2 Comments >>

“In a land far away where the Thoroughbred grew, was the home of two tracks that racing fans knew. The area was prime, and the days they were great. But time stands not still while the racing world waits. They wished and they tried all the things to do right, but when the changes came forth, they were not delight. Oh the days of the past, and the times filled with glee. For what now is called a racetrack, is no longer for me.”

I have lived 10-15 minutes between two tracks. For so many wonderful years I have seen the glory days, downtimes, and the evolving sport that I fell in love with. In one week I have begun to examine the case a little more closely. Racing may be on the ropes for a standing eight-count, but how did it get there?

Greed. – Plain and simple, greed. I love the players, and they are the best part of the game. But when they want and demand comforts that cannot be delivered, they become disenchanted. Thoroughbred racing has survived polytrack, shorter meets, and shorter fields. But, fans have received free admission, free parking, and free seating in many of the venues. There are a handful of tracks that have to charge on marquee days, and reserve seats for frequent players. But that’s just business. How many times have I come to your place of work and demanded that you give me ten books of stamps for free. Or how about if I come to your restaurant and eat and drink a tab that would fill a giant? I know, the bottom line is that you’ll not be in business very long if you keep giving away your stamps and free grub. Do you see any correlation? Tracks have tried over the years to implement customer service, and players think this word means “give it to me for free or I won’t come back.” Now this doesn’t apply to many, but the great majority of players feel they are owed something for coming. When did this sense of entitlement come into play? When they go to the baseball game, do they let you in for free? How about the free hot dogs and cokes, and allowing every fan in the stadium to come down to the clubhouse and get autographs from players? Nope, this won’t happen if you live to be 100. How many times does Wal-Mart allow you to have a buggy full of groceries and point to the door and say “on the house”? – Nope, that won’t be happening anytime soon either. So why are things different for racing fans?

Over the years, fans would stand in long lines and pay admission to enter. Passes were as hard to come by, and you had to be in the “inner sanctum” to pass by the gate to save the $2. There was a parking cost, valet cost, and preferred parking cost. – They have all gone the way of the dinosaur, and still fans want more. Where did this attitude come from? Was it the increased competition that led them to feel they had the upper hand to exert pressure? I don’t think it’s just one thing, but add them all up and the game takes a toll. ADW betting, or wagering from the office or home has become so easy as we sit in our shorts and watch and wager around the clock. No charges, no gas, no lines, and it’s an easier path to the windows. For what we wished for has arrived, and it’s not the paved streets of gold as once sold.

I made two trips this week. One to Turfway Park to make a simulcast wager, and off to work at Belterra Park. I love chatting with the players, and they had a repeating mantra of what they don’t like. They hated lines, waiting, and how everything should be free. They have been coming for years and they want to be rewarded. Now there is customer service, and there is suicide by giving it all away. Players seem to have the sound of an ungrateful kid at Christmas who wanted that Red Rider BB Gun even though they may shoot out their eye. After hearing the talk, complaints, and threats to not come back. I asked one simple question, “Is there anything you like at the track ?”

The answers were scant and not fully explained.  It was at this time I asked if I could make a suggestion, “Do you hear how professional baseball asks fans to come out and support the teams? Racing is exactly the same. And if you continue to bet from home and stay away, there will be reductions, cutbacks, and things will change to adapt to the fan attendance.” If you love the sport, get out and get behind the game. They will have fuller crowds and they will adapt by putting people back to work to serve your needs, and if this continues. There will be more fan related giveaways, opportunities, and comforts that you miss.

I have never taken a stance against the fans. But you can’t expect to see a full-service staff for an empty building. In the last three months, I have heard of three longtime racing employers  that have “down-sized” as needs have changed. Here is my “free” two-cents worth of  advice. If you’re going to bet three times this week, make one or more ventures out to the track. Support the game, and it may be breath a little easier. I know it’s easy to bet from home, and I’m as guilty as many. This is common sense we need to employ, and our game will make small strides to being there when you want. I would love to see your smiling face and we can talk about the big horse in the feature race versus what’s wrong and what we don’t like. Just think about it, and hopefully you won’t be upset that I am taking this stance. I am one of those employees, and I sure would love to get back to a stronger position. We all started coming to the races long ago and the game is still the most exciting gambling adventure I have ever taken part. Give it a try over the summer, and see if you can feel the winds of change come your way.