FUTURE OF LIVE RACING--FACT OF FICTION
Empty stands, small fields and larger take-out seem to be the apocalyptic predictions for our sport. Depressing for sure, but recently while looking for replays of Gulfstream Park races a deeper depression set in. The replays from Trackus show animated horse races without vocals. Since watching for trips and traps is an important handicapping tool, the sight of avatars racing seemed acceptable. Until, that is the future of actual live racing came to mind.
Could the future of horse racing include virtual races without real horses? Maybe, if you objectively look at the trends in racing today. Or maybe not?
Attending racing on weekends or "non-big-days" exposes fans to grandstands that resemble empty warehouses. One must wonder do we need all this space for a few hundred or thousand people to watch the races live? The space is so cold and unwelcoming that the thought of coming back for another day of racing seems ludicrous. With limited finances racetracks are unlikely to remodel and/or raze and rebuild new like Gulfstream Park did a few years ago. Virtual racing would eliminate the need to do anything to declining physical plants.
With fan base of our sport eroding and challenges with handle in the forefront races are being run with small fields. In 1950 the average field size per race according to the Jockey Club Data was 9.07. Sixty-five years later the average is 7.82. The change is 1.15 of approximately 13%. More troubling is the pattern in the decreasing data curve.
Since field size correlates directly with wagering, revenue or handle decreases will follow. The larger the field the great number of betting combinations and hence handle. If this trend continues the drain on track revenue will be disastrous. With virtual racing the number of animated horses enter is constant.
The replays at Gulfstream Park caused curiosity. With Trackus will it be possible to eliminate racetracks and horses from racing, substituting equine avatars and compact venues for fans to watch and wager on "horse" racing. Could an algorithm be constructed that perfectly simulated a real race? Could past performance be produced on this model and handicappers continue the challenge of finding the winner? Clearly wagers could be placed on these events. Need evidence? Walk into any casino where there are "table games" being dealt by an avatars or hosted on a machine and the answer will be clear.
Is this the future of our sport that we want or are willing to accept? For the gambler who uses our sport for "action only" the answer may be yes. For fans who enjoy the live event and the smell of the hay the answer will likely be no.
The fans' challenge is to assure that our industry and the regulators of it stay strong on the need for live racing. Succumbing to revenue enhancement through a singular focus on gambling which is prevalent at many tracks may lead us to where we do not want to go. However, a healthy balance between the joy of the sport and excitement of the bet will keep us on the right track.