It’s Good to Be the King

by Ed Meyer

posted on August 8, 2018 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>





Looking at the competition can be blinding. – Once there was racing, baseball and boxing and the rest of the sports world just watched. If you wanted to get a bet down you had to go to the track. – There were plenty of bookies and guys who would make a bet, but racing was king. – What happened? – Simulcast came and the purses went up. Then fewer racing days became the mantra of “less is more.” – Tracks began expanding dates, and ten years later retracted the decision. What changed?

We’ve heard the story of the squirrel who played all day and didn’t gather any nuts. He enjoyed the summer sun and just watched as the others just worked and toiled preparing for winter. He thought there was plenty of time and he’d get around to it later. – Well, we know what happened to the squirrel when the first frost came. He was out in the cold. – The same thing happened to racing.

Thoroughbred racing was the undisputed king and had no competition. – Then came the lottery, and then a few casinos dotted the nation. – No worries, we’re still the king and we don’t worry. – Racing started growing in the late 80’s early 90’s with the advent of simulcast wagering. – These were the days of tall cotton and race books that had a Vegas feel started growing inside the monstrous old tracks. Fans packed in, and still, the tracks rolled in the summer sun like our friend the squirrel. – The chant of less racing days and bigger purses became the mantra, and we loved the times of doing less and getting more.

There was the talk of a casino starting nearby, and we never worried. – We’re the king, and we don’t flinch. – It seemed a million years away until they started inviting us to join them for the VIP opening. – We all had a great time and relished the Las Vegas-style atmosphere. – We never thought this riverboat on the Ohio River would ever give us a bruise. But like our friend the squirrel, This was the beginning of a long cold winter.

The track went to free parking and admission to give the players a little thank you. – Then came free seating, and the crowds still dwindled. Longtime track staff started bolting for other jobs, and the new mindset was doing the job with fewer people. ” We didn’t need to have all this payroll and we’ll come back.” – As time passed so did the employees. They would stay a few months and left after doing three and four jobs. Once the heavyweight champ was now a chump looking back at the glory days.

More casinos came, and other tracks started being bought out by casino companies. – This was the savior we were waiting for until racing found out the new owners didn’t care about the sport. ” It’s just a necessary evil and we’ll dump when we can down the road.” – Talk about the Trojan Horse. – They came into facilities with a gaming license and just built around them. – Only a handful of tracks really cared about racing and they still put on a good show. The others just tolerate racing until they can cut bait and grow the casino side. Why not? The rake was much higher and much easier than putting together a costly racing operation.

There was an article in the Daily Racing Form years ago. It spoke of ten “super tracks” and the rest would fall by the wayside. – This couldn’t be true because we were once the king. – Tracks like: Beulah, Calder, Great Lakes Downs, Hollywood Park, Pinnacle Race Course, Rockingham, and River Downs just to name a few became memories. – Casinos, racinos, and expanded lottery cut the king into a pauper. All the while we could see it coming and did nothing to stay afloat. – We used to be the king.

Now, fast forward and the tide may be turning. There are some casino owners who see racing as an investment in making the property a destination. – It is taking time, but racing is starting to make a little comeback. – We’re still far from the finish but the outcome could be positive in keeping the sport alive. – There is a new approach, and maybe less is more. More in the sense that we don’t need year-round racing. Maybe smaller tracks need to run on off days away from the big boys. This gives the fans something to watch and wager daily. – There’s a renewed interest in the sport and racing is not the bad child anymore. – So, if you’ve ever been a fan. Get away from wagering on the computer and make a trek or two every month and go back to the races. If we could get two more visits every month from fans who once used to come all the time. The game will start growing again.

I’m seeing giveaways, T-shirt tosses to the crowd, free concerts, and family days. – The game is being revived, and it is up to the fans to keep it going. Pass the torch and bring a new person to the races. That’s how we all learned years ago, and who knows? Maybe we’ll all fall in love all over again. – We fell asleep at the wheel years ago, and racing got the standing eight count racing needed. – Let our friend the squirrel teach us a lesson. Let’s prepare for the future and still enjoy the sun.