A Love of the Game

Belmont Park crowd

copyright Agameofskill.com

By Art Parker

When one decides to attach himself to the game of horse racing, where interaction with the sport occurs at least three to four times per week, then one begins to notice the details overlooked by those who do not have a frequent attachment. For example, those that go to the track a couple of times per year, or even as frequently as once per month, usually can’t talk intelligently about the industry because of ignorance, or lack of experience. They probably can’t adequately explain, with detail, the usage of the controversial drug Lasix. And they probably can’t explain the difference between take out and breakage. Those infrequent players can’t begin to name more than a dozen tracks in America and they have no idea how many horses are foaled in this country.

Just like the overwhelming number of casino patrons cannot tell you how a slot machine works, nor do they have any understanding of probability.

Have you ever wondered why some people go to a casino instead of the track? I promise you it is not because pulling a slot machine handle is more intellectually stimulating than trying to select winners every August afternoon at Saratoga.

For years we have seen our attendance and handle diminish and there has been a tendency to blame this on the growth of casino gaming, among other things. And I will be the first to say that the competition from those institutions hasn’t helped racing. Let’s be honest, casino gaming has greatly escalated the demise of interest in greyhound racing. In fact, greyhound racing may have already evaporated if casino dollars had not propped that sport up with coupled institutions known as racinos (race tracks and a casino together on the same property).

The other thing I hear is that we need to improve our product, meaning the quality of racing. Really? How is that? Increase the purse of the  Whitney Handicap or the Travers Stakes? I don’t think so. That just means horses that can run in a Grade One race will be running for more money. What of the claimers, the ones that fill the cards every day? Are we going to increase the purses for those and tell people the quality is better? How many people that have never been to the track can tell you the difference, on paper, of a Grade One runner and a $25,000 claiming horse? How many people that have been to the track, only a few times, can tell you the difference between a graded stakes runner and a claimer if they are looking at both at the same time?

Being one of those truly attached to the sport of horse racing I see, hear and read about all of the problems frequently. I hear all of the arguments explaining what is wrong, and I readily fess up and admit I don’t have the answers. But what I don’t see in racing is what should come first before any analysis or any argument. “What does the customer want?” What can we do to get the customer we don’t have? These are the two questions we must answer first. After all, what could be more important than keeping the customers we have while we attract new customers?

I believe the money is there to find the answer and I believe the marketing people are there. Our sport needs to find the answer to keep customers and attract new ones, and when the answer is found then we need to do everything we can to have the player become a fan, and have them fall in love with the game.

That’s how racing will survive and thrive.

DID YOU MISS THESE AGOS GEMS?

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