For the last decade racing has been complaining about all its problems. Make no mistake they are real. Aging fan base, lack of interest in the game, too slow of a sport, eroding physical plants and competition for gaming dollars are on the top of most people's list. After watching the run-up to the Final Four in college basketball and hearing the trouble they are in, it occurred to me that we are not alone in our "woes of demise".
The recent NCAA tournament was nearly sabotaged by the investigation into payola, bribes, deals with shoe companies and other recruiting violations that at times seemed immoral. There was even speculation in advance of the tournament that a few key players on tournament teams under investigation may be disqualified. It is not over, yet. The investigators are preparing to release their findings with recommendations of criminal activity, corruption and rules violations after the tournament concludes on April 2nd
Yet, watching the excitement during these games and the enthusiasm of the fans watching, the FBI's forthcoming actions appeared to be the last thing on anyone's mind. Why?
I suspect there are a number of reasons beginning with denial and ending with school spirit and love of the game and for the kids playing the game. It is clear for the thousands in the stands paying hundreds of dollars for a ticket that few believe the game of college basketball is on its way out. Rather, most are looking forward to next year. Are they delusional or do they have an attribute that racing fans lack?
As we enter MLB's season we must remember that they are recovering from a performance enhancing drug scandal. Millenniums are complaining that the games are too slow. Some have referred to it by using the metaphor of "paint drying". Facing an eroding fan base except in high rivalry games or the World Series, you have to believe that Major League Baseball is working hard to find ways to address all the problems and keep their sport alive and relevant among old and new fans.
With the Professional football draft around the corner we must recognize that they may be in the worst situation. The NFL is struggling with declining broadcasting ratings, ineffective leadership, conflict among owners, players and the league over "taking-a-knee" and most serious-player concussions. Until changes are made in the game of football, these thorns will grow and maybe strangle the sport. As some in the media have reported, "there seems to be a cottage industry in predicting the demise of the sport. Its league is trying everything to stop it and return the sport to its glory days.
This brings us back around to our sport of Thoroughbred horse racing. Demise is an operative word used in describing our sport, as well. Our fan base numbers are dwindling at about 4-5% per year. The sprouting of casinos and racinos provide a strong attack on the sport's main driver --- discretionary gaming money. The complexity of handicapping and wagering on racing coupled with the huge takeout (aka-tax) by tracks frustrates new fans. The internal destruction of the integrity of our sport by illegal drugs and cheating makes many fans wonder if the game is fair. Last, but not least, is the painful realization that our race horses die on the tracks while racing in front of their fans, This is hard to explain away. Surely, death of our sport must not be ignore by fans or the industry. But, what are we doing about it.
Like basketball is showing us in March Madness, racing fans need to focus on the greatness of our sport and our athletes. The excitement of a 1500 pound animal running at over 40 miles per hour gracefully, like a ballerina on stage at Lincoln Center in New York, is all one needs to fall in love with our sport. The inexpensive day of entertainment at the races cannot be matched by our friends in the NFL or MLB where just going to a game can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. And we must not forget that some of us may even leave the track after a day of races with money won on a pari-mutual wager. What's not to like about our great sport.
Sure, we have our problems, but if we give into them for sure we are on a path of demise. If like college basketball we emphasize the good of our game and fix the problems the future of racing may be bright again. In the 1940s when our country was engaged in a horrific war, we found ways to maintain our national pride. It was racings' heyday, too. We celebrated with four Triple Crown winners during the decade of the 1940s ---Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946) and Citation (1948).
At the risk of sounding a little romantic, maybe we need to apply a potion used by greatest generation when they were in hard times. "You have got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative and don't mess with Mr. In-between" were the word John Mercer sang in 1945. Good advice. Let's take it and help our sport prosper and grow. Here, the operative word is we. It will take all in our sport to come together and set aside our personal gains to right the "ship of racing".
I am confident we can do it if we come together. Although many in the sport have different outcome measures we all have the same goal ---"save our sport". As our ThoroFan Advisory Board member, Nick Zito, reminds us,
" First and foremost, we are all fans".