End of the Innocence

by Ed Meyer

posted on August 5, 2016 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | 1 Comment >>

Years go by, and you see the same faces. Time passes until you see them again, and finally they disappear. New ones take the places of the old, and the game marches on. – Last week I had a day off as we cancelled races  due to excessive rain. I made my way over to a small track to make a few bets. I wanted to get out and see some old faces. – When I arrived, I wondered if I’d made a wrong turn.

There weren’t many cars in the parking lot, and I thought they’d probably get a late crowd. – I remember days when you had to get there early and find a good parking spot. Valet was always open, and you would see the fans walking swiftly to find their favorite seat. As I walked in, I was expecting to hear the sounds of tracks running and people stirring about. There is nothing like the sounds of the track, and you have to be there to feel the energy. – I started thinking about which seat I would find and maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get one near the windows. – I reached and pulled open the door and the sound of deafening silence hit me in the face like a right cross to the chin. – The place that was a hubbub of activity looked like a funeral. There were five older players sitting in seats far away from each other, and as I walked to the carroll seating area, there were no more than twenty people. – As the old saying goes; “there weren’t enough people to start a fight.”

Times change – This is a fact of life that never goes wrong. What I expected to see and what was going on was a tough pill to swallow. – What did we do wrong? – Did we overprice our game or was it just a massive amount of competition from surrounding casinos? – The answer is “D” all of the above. – This massive place was a mecca just ten years ago. – I won’t begin to blame one track’s management, as I’ll assess the damage to all tracks. – There was always a competitive dog fight where there should have been great cooperation. – Why didn’t racing follow successful models of customer retention and growth?

Casinos are buying up race tracks in hopes of expanding gambling. Good idea, but will they know how to handle horse racing, or will they try and sanitize the sport and kill it with stifling rules? – That answer is becoming more evident as tracks fall one by one, and players find out there is little to no interest in keeping racing alive. – There is no real interest to promote or advertise racing. – I have a good friend who is one of the larger players at a casino. They get comps galore and invites to everywhere. – He likes racing and asked a key person who handles larger players how they could get some tickets to a racing event. – The answer knocked me on my bottom. “We’re putting up with the horses until we can get rid of them. We’re working on it, and hopefully it will just die out. But I can set you up with a trip for you and guest to a sister property.”

The tracks of yesteryear are gone for the most part. There may be a day or two where marquee races still draw good crowds. But those masses aren’t like the old days. They resemble a good Saturday that would have taken place anytime during the year. – Racing is getting a 2nd standing eight-count. It is tired and sucking wind while the bigger opponent waits until the ref allows you to come out for your final pummeling. – Sad but true as I sat there enjoying the races from Saratoga. I thought back to the lines of patrons and the whirl of humanity. Promotional giveaways, radio-remotes promoting the big race, and the long time patrons who were happy to be a part of the Sport of Kings. – That has been replaced by banks of slot machines, VLT’s, and games with lightning speed that could be equated to electronic heroin. – No more twenty minutes in between posts where we would chat with fellow players, or enjoy a bite to eat with a friend. Nobody has time as the slot machines move at a breakneck pace. Minutes turn to hours, and your house payment is in the cash box of a penny slot. – The beauty and pageantry of Thoroughbred racing has been replaced by glitzy neon, and machines that promise life-changing wealth. The only time you’ll see a face is when someone is craning their neck to see if you have a winner and received something they didn’t.

If they played “Taps”, it would only be fitting, as it’s a signal to turn out the lights. – I tried to enjoy my day and missed those conversations with fellow players which lead into friendships. – Sometimes what we thought was a savior in the distance turns out to be the fiercest enemy as they get close. – I would like to find out I’m mistaken, and have the complete wrong impression. But I haven’t heard anyone correct my thinking yet. – I’ll keep loving the sport as long as they take to the track. The history, the beauty, and days filled with excitement have been replaced with buy one get one buffet offers and free slot tournaments.