The chatter was joyful as the holiday party settled down. I haven’t seen the old familiar faces in quite awhile. Many have retired, some to other work, and many have since passed. A day of celebration for the season of life as we ate and had drinks together. As the conversation would have a lull every now and again, I looked around the table and realized I was surrounded by six generations of racing. – The history, the stories, and the golden days of racing filled the air among old friends. I listened and chimed in on occasion, and as I was gathering my things to leave a voice from the table asked me a question. “ Don’t you still write about horse racing, Ed ? – Why don’t you let folks know how we dedicated our working life to the sport.” – D, I couldn’t agree more as we hugged and said our goodbyes.
Racing was in the high speed lane and people on board were in for a ride. – The mutuel clerks who sold you tickets as you ventured to the windows knew your name and the days you would attend. – In time they watched as your kids held your hand when you walked in the doors, and in the blink of an eye became the next generation of customers. – There was friendly banter and stories of tips from the big winners. – It was human interaction that melded into friendships. If you remember the old TV show from the 80’s Cheers; how great it was to walk into a place where everyone knew your name. That was the track for everyone at the table.
There were stories of how they would work the matinee card at River Downs, and jump in their cars and head over to Latonia to work the Harness meet. – Sometimes you could grab a quick bite, and other times you would have to wait until later as the traffic filing into the track was 100 cars deep. – You would see some of the same faces from the daytime into the evening, and right back the next day. There was an energy in the air, and at times the crowds would be standing room only. – Many would refer to them as the “good old days” but for the few at the table it was time well spent. I would bet dollars to donuts if they could go back in time they’d do it all over again.
There was an overall feeling of what we used to do wasn’t all bad. – I guess that’s the mindset as the sport is faced with stifling competition and new ownership groups that focus on slot machines and glitzy games. – They’re not all wrong and the faces at the table would be first to tell you they are great additions to the track. – “The track was there long before the new ownership’s invented the idea of having gaming. The race track was the reason they were there in the first place. The place served the needs of gamblers, and the area had a desire to wager.” – From my conversations of the table, that was the overall feeling I took from the day. – Everything that was successful long ago wasn’t all bad, and believe it or not, some of the same ideas could bring breath life back into the game. – The longtime employees had given up the fight long ago to battle the future and embraced the changes to keep the sport alive. We hear about backside employees in many of my stories, but just as important are the dedicated people who were the face of the track. They stood ready and able to serve your wagering needs, and many times they were the first communication you would have as a customer. – They gave directions, where to eat, the best place to watch the races, and did it all quickly with a smile and genuine manner. – That was something you could’t get from sitting at a Keno machine.
I think they would have liked a chance to be heard. Not that their words would have shaped the new vision, but just heeded as things that have worked. As we learned in high school history long ago, we learn the ways of the past to guide our vision for the future. – These people had plenty to offer and maybe a little more conversation would have bridged the gap from the past for the future. -I’ve always felt there is not one department who handles customer related issues. That is the job of every employee as they pull into valet to finding the best seat in the house. Who better would have their finger on the pulse ? They’re not only hourly employees, they are a lifeblood of history that served the needs of the past 60 years.
You’ll have some that still have a bad taste, and others that stand ready to serve and promote. – I guess it all depends on the new vision of ownership, and if they value the ideals from the past five decades. – I believe we can all learn something from the past. Not every voice holds the key, but if you listen deeply you’ll hear the rich tapestry of a dedication to service. – There are some tracks / racinos / casinos that are promoting the sport. They value the history and invest in keeping the game alive and well. They are the face of the next generations while the others will gently dissapear into the mist of time. – But that can be averted if you look at racing as a compliment to the bigger gaming picture. The buffet of gambling is wide and diverse, and the successful models have not looked down on the sport as a necessary evil. The sport of kings can show signs of revitalization, and the facility can benefit from having a unique form of gambling to create an entertainment destination. – Only time will tell as I look forward to the next party down the road. The stories, the people, and their dedication to a sport.