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HRN Original Blog:
Hoosier State of Mind

The Voices Of Our Sport: Let's Improve Horse Racing!

 
The glory days of sports are gone. 
I know that statement might make people jump in their seats. But, let’s face it, the futility of sports, and the people who run them, is running rampant.
Why is this? Money. Cash. Green-backs, moo-lah, dough, you get the picture. We’re living in an era where all that matters is money. Whether it be the owners, the players, the media, or the vendors, all that matters is making as much of it as possible.
Just take a look at two of the major sports in this country, football and basketball.
The NFL is just coming out of a fairly lengthy lock-out, over what you might ask? Well, money of course. Players and Owners fought over BILLIONS, yes I said BILLIONS of dollars. In the end, who got screwed?  The fans, of course. The cost of taking a family to an NFL game is outlandish and quite frankly, an almost impossible burden for those in the working class to bear. As successful as the NFL has been in the past, I see this coming to an end. The average Joe just can’t afford it anymore.  Let me paraphrase a comment my good friend and HRN colleague Joe DePaolo made, “ They’re squeezing the lemon dry. If [the NFL] think[s] we’re going to [continue to] pay tens of thousands of dollars for PSL'S, (Personal Seat Licenses) 30 dollars to park, and 8 dollars for a hot dog, they have another thing coming.”   
Why is it so expensive to attend an NFL game? Well, we have to pay for these multi-million dollar contracts for these ungrateful players. We also have to pay for these lavish stadiums. And when you think about it, we pay for them over and over again, with some tax dollars going to keep these teams in our local cities. Add that to the cost of tickets, and it’s just plain ridiculous. 
The NBA is just a joke. They’ve totally hit the denial stage. We’re sitting here talking about a lock-out, and again over money, when 22 teams lost money last year.
Over 300 million dollars was lost by NBA teams in the 2010-2011 season. Just think how much would have been lost if LeBron James would have stayed in Cleveland. People wanted to go and root against the Heat because they disliked James so much. Those seats wouldn’t have been sold otherwise.   
Bottom line is fans are leaving these major sports because of cost, and the prima donna attitude of our players. 
How does this affect horse racing? Unfortunately, long gone are the days when Belmont Park out drew the Yankees in attendance, as they often did in the 40’s. But, do I think our sport is dying? No, we have a great product. We just do an awful job of marketing our product. Now is great time to lure these fans into the “Sport Of Kings,” where the average fan can spend a day at the track without spending a fortune, and sometimes, if educated, can leave the track with more money than he or she came with.
I’ve asked a few friends of mine to comment on this subject. I wanted ideas on how we can better our sport and lure these great sport fans into horse racing. We’ll be looking for ideas through the eyes of a trainer, an avid gambler/writer, two amazing turf writers, and a true fan (Fan of the year, in fact.)
Derek Simon works for Twinspires.com. Derek writes a weekly column for the website and also does a weekly podcast.  He is well known as a handicapping guru, and is highly respected in our sport.
Derek’s thoughts:
 
To me, racing absolutely, positively must reach out to sports bettors. The lesson from poker should be that gambling, when packaged the proper way, sells. Yet racing has always catered to sports fans. I say rather than market the Sport of Kings as a sport — as has always been the case — market it as a game.
Contrary to popular opinion, I think it's the bettors that have left horse racing, not sports fans. In any event, I think the sporting side of the game is a harder sell. 
Brian Zipse is an incredible writer, and a true fan. He writes his Zipse At The Track blog for this very site.  Brian is also respected in the horse racing industry. He’s a true ambassador of the sport.
Brian’s Thoughts:
I would like to see racing improve in four areas: 1) Racing information needs to be more accessible to the consumer. This would make it more attractive to the gambler, as well as, the fan who wants to find out as much about their favorites as possible. 2) As the world becomes a better place though greater interest in animal welfare, racing needs to take every single step in the improvement of the safety and well-being of the horses, both during their racing career and after. 3) Contraction - There are simply too many races, and too many tracks today to standardize a high level of quality for the consumer. 4) Television - racing can never compete with other sports without a strong presence on the boob tube. Obviously, I am encouraged by the recent deals between NBC/Versus with Saratoga and Keeneland. 
Don Chatlos has been a prominent trainer in California for years now. Don is an avid sports fan. His love for the Chicago Bulls, Blackhawks, and Bears is evident to anyone who has seen Don’s Facebook page. He is well-known for his training of Singletary, named, of course, after former Bears great Mike Singletary. Singletary, the horse, won the Breeders’ Cup Mile in epic fashion.  
Don’s Thoughts:  
Reach out to college campuses and get the fraternities and sororities to compete in some kind of gambling contest, giveaway free passes on their website with some kind of ticket to print out, advertising a raffle and the winning number gets a free lunch or any kind of give-away .I’m thinking in LA terms because we have USC and UCLA literally 5 miles from Hollywood Park and 15 or 20 minutes from Santa Anita. Tracks here in California should be sending their marketing people to Las Vegas during the off season to see what they can pick up from the gambling capital of the US. It seems like, at times, they are not even trying. The old guard needs to be moved out.
Tim Reynolds is a dear friend of mind, and one of the biggest horse racing fans I’ve ever met. His love for the horse, and the horse alone, is the reason Tim participates in this sport. Gambling is secondary to him.
Tim’s thoughts:
Tracks around the country need to offer either free admission or a very cheap price for general admission. The die-hard fans don’t care if they are in a box, or in luxury suites. They want to be around the paddock and the apron so free/cheap admission is an easy draw for them. What about the everyday family, or the group of friends looking for something to do on a weekend? This is where some tracks fail miserably. Offer special days with free admission, free programs, $1 food or drink specials. Don’t make them break the bank before they even get to the betting window.
I remember several years ago Churchill offering family type days with bands in the infield, games for kids, and other family friendly activities. Some tracks do ok in this department, but it should be a given at ANY track to get on track attendance up. Look at the recent success with night racing at Churchill Downs. These nights consistently have beaten on track attendance for big days at CD like Foster and Clark day. If you offer a good product, even if they aren’t “horse fans” they will show up…and spend money. Guaranteed money for alcohol and food sales, but they will also bet money that the track would have never seen in on track handle.
For sports fans in general, who do like luxury, offer more competitive rewards similar to what casinos are offering. Don’t keep this just to the high rollers or die hard gamblers. Give reason to entice the moderate gamblers who regularly visit casinos. Comps work wonders! Here in Louisville, you can go to the casino across the bridge any time and it’s packed. Find offers and incentives to draw some of that crowd away from time to time.
More fan giveaways. Most of the diehards love the horse first, bobble-heads!!! Posters!!!! T shirts!!!! Give people a reason to show up at the track!!! 
Joe DePaolo, as mentioned earlier, is part of the HRN Fraternity. He writes an incredible blog on New York racing, He also writes and records podcasts for the Breeders' Cup, which can be found at thebreederscupclassic.comJoe also serves as a twice-weekly correspondent on "The Fast Track with Steve Bortstein," which airs on Fox Sports afilliate KCQL, AM 1340 New Mexico.
Joe’s thoughts:  
A lot of racing's problems can be tied to really poor marketing. I've never been able to figure out why the sport isn't more popular than it is. People love animals. People love puzzles. People love to spend time outdoors. And people love to gamble, especially on games that involve skill, like poker. The marketers of this sport absolutely must do a better job of reminding people that racing is the only game that offers all of these things. 
I will conclude with a few of my thoughts, I feel we need to take a little bit from everyone’s ideas and incorporate them into horse-racing. Poker has exploded on a national level, mostly because of all the poker shows on television. Our sport needs to evaluate what has worked for poker. Let’s have a reality show on the lives of a group of handicappers, maybe even some competing in our national tournaments. Let's show the fun these guys have at the track, winning or losing. The time spent with friends or family at the track is something you’ll have forever. This is marketable, we can sell this to any sports fan, or fan of the animal.
These are the voices of our sport. We need to listen to all of them, the fan, the gambler/handicapper, the men who write about the sport they love every day, and the trainers who condition our stars. Let’s improve as an industry, and expand the sport in a way that hasn’t been done.  Embrace the fan and the handicapper. We have to recognize the failures of other sports, and build on our successes. The people who put money into this sport, through gambling, or purchasing merchandise or just attending the track can’t be forgotten, but embraced.

 

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Older Comments about The Voices Of Our Sport: Let's Improve Horse Racing!...

Suppose one day you awoke and found they closed all horse racing wagering of any kind, which under the act they used to close on line poker can happen. What then and why shouldn't they as racing can't stand on it's own as opposed to poker.
Winplacsho : all they did by shutting down on line poker here was to increase the revenue and population of Canada and Costa Rica
Agreed, compared to the NFL, admission, parking and a form are much cheaper than a ticket to the Packers game. But wait a minute, you don't buy $100 vouchers at the Packers game. Racing is in direct competition with other forms of gambling. Casinos don't charge admission or parking. And you don't have to spend $6 on a paper that would make you a better blackjack or slot player. To the not-so-serious player, racing is a difficult thing to grasp. The first question asked to me by novices: "How do you pick a winner?" That question could be answered a 100 different ways. ALMOST EVERYBODY I'VE TAKEN TO THE TRACK HAS POLITELY REFUSED WHEN ASKED TO GO AGAIN. When they don't understand how to play, it's no fun. A slot machine is much easier.
Bobbleheads! Only Ernie would say that :)
Many good ideas here, fellas. We need to hear more from players like Tiz - small bettors who love to bet and love watching them in person. I'm big on mega matchups of our games biggest stars - keeping horses in training beyond their sophomore years, letting them reach their peaks, is essential. We also need bobbleheads of the HRN crew
Agree wholeheartedly with Derek Simon - and add - DON'T treat your customers like degenerates - learn how to make them feel like valued CUSTOMERS - give them free admission, programs, soft drinks, coffee - they'll bet the money anyway if you can keep them inside. CLEAN the damn place up! There should never EVER be bird shit on seats in the granstand but I see it all the time at Woodbine. Consider the Australian model FLEXI wagering whereby you select a TOTAL that you would like to wager opn any given exotic wager, then punch your horses in and are paid on a percantage of the total wager. Gives smaller players a chance. Promote a wager or wagers that can be made in the corner store even a daily PICK 3 with 3 10-horse fields that plays out like the daily pick 3 numbers game. Youès be surprised how many people would play it - it could create interest. Decrease takeout and have more guaranteed pools at smaller tracks - they have been successful especially at harness tracks. NEVER forget that wagering is what drives this sport or game and without wagering this would all collapse like a house of cards in a hurry. GB
  • Winplacsho · Couldn't agree more! Could you imagine if casinoes looked like some of the race tracks?! Also, I'm not saying all...but how many times have you gone to place a bet & the teller acts like its the last place they want to be & you're the last person they want to see. Do you ever see a blackjack dealer or craps stick man act like that. NO! They want you to have a good time, what a shocker! The only track I've been to that remotely resembles the customer service you'd receive at a casino is Arlington Park. · 1111 days ago
You've nailed it Scott. Wonderful article, and I appreciate everyone's opinion on what's wrong. NOW, let's start talking to the marketing people at each and every track, see if they are planning for new ways to attract new players. I've seen many good ideas in responses, and I sure hope my home track is reading.
Scott, this is a great article. I spend quite a lot of time in Hong Kong for work, and have truly learn to appreciate their approach on the sport. There are advertisements all over downtown (more for sponsors, but hey, what ever puts a horse on a billboard) and they choose to only race 1 time a week at each of the respective tracks for a 6-8 month period. The culture at the track is fantastic, and they even have a horse mascot roaming the stands. Of my entire friend base, I'm the only one who has recognized the potential in this sport, and am slowly bring my friends over the line. Dollar days (dollar parking, beers, hot dogs, admission, sodas) at Golden Gate Fields helps too :)
Great piece Scott. One thing that racing really has going for it at this moment is that IT IS THE ONLY LEGAL FORM OF ONLINE GAMBLING! Think of all the online poker players (and we all know at least 1) who've been shut out, that we could have a shot of tunring into racing fans. Both games are very intellectual, and we have the only outlet where smart gamblers can flex their brain muscles. Its great to showcase racing as a beautiful game, with majestic athletes, but the truth is without new gamblers the sport will continue to decline. I do agree with less race days to increase field sizes over all, which in turn will increase handle. I also agree with cheap beer, free progams, etc. as far as trying to get new, young fans to the sport. These folks may start out as $2 bettors, but over time as their income earning potential grew, so may their personal handle. In conclusion, try to poach the online poker players right now!!!!!!!! The window of opportunity may be small if the federal government regulates online poker and reopens the flood gates.
Scott, this is perfect. There are a lot of elements that need to be enhanced, starting with the marketing of the sport, followed by fan incentives such as price of admission and food, etc. Then expanded TV coverage is a must. Very well written and I hope industry insiders heed our call.
And i can't believe i left off one of my biggest points, that thankfully Zipse threw out there. Cut down on racing days!!!! Too much of a good thing can be bad!!
Mary brought up something churchill used to do but doesn't anymore. During the fall meet they literally used to have a chili cookoff. These events draw people even if it was held at a knitting contest. Kind of ironic that all of us contributing to the article pretty much hit on the same major points. It's not rocket science, but does need to be an applied science to get results. And thanks for the gambling shout out Scott!!! lol, gambling is secondary, but as you pointed out if we can draw people and educate them, they can leave with more money than they came with. I'm a prime example, as i did't gamble routinely until about 3 years ago after realizing i was learning and able to pick winners like i just texted you about with the first two at Woodbine today paying $15.20 and $12.60 respectively!! you have to pick up the slack of Tiz shoutouts with Rudulph leaving. haha!
Very well done, Scott and contributors. I think Brian makes a very important point that the sport can't grow without attention to the animals' welfare.
I post on my fb page about racing and have a few new fans and am connecting with some like minded fans. I agree with all of the above. The tracks need to step up and offer some fun things....most women love big hats, but don't know how to bet. So how about having beginner bet groups at the tracks. How about a get to know the horses group at the tracks? More charity. Ask the charity groups to get involved . How about a chili cook off showcased at a track? Who are the people doing the promotions....and what can we as fans do? Whew....great and thought provoking article.

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Meet Scott Dick 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My journey into the sport of kings has been different than most. I do not boast a royal pedigree, and in fact, before my interest in horse racing, my family thought the Kentucky Derby was the only race of the year! I'm the son of a minor league baseball player and a homemaker, which doesn't exactly scream grade I winner.


My passion for the sport started about 8 years ago.I was watching as Funny Cide was making his triple crown run. The “Gutsy Gelding” had my eyes glued to the television with each of his triple crown races. After watching Funny Cide on TV. I decided to make a trip down to our local track, Indiana Downs.This would be an experience that would change my life.

I looked over the program, while having no idea what I was doing,I decided to put my 5 dollars on a horse named Apollonea. As the gates broke and the announcer began his race call, I heard the words Apollonea to the lead. My excitement grew as I watched my horse lead all the way around the track, eventually drawing to win by an easy five lengths. Apollonea paid 58.00 to win, I was hooked from that point on.

For the past 8 years my life has been horse racing.  I've tried to educate myself on every aspect of the sport and learn about it's past. The incredible run of the Super Filly Rachel Alexandra would also change my life. It was my intense passion and love for Rachel that would bring me to meet some of the greatest  people in the world. I owe a lot to Rachel and this sport for introducing me to such wonderful people.


I want this blog to show that Indiana Racing stacks up with any track, anywhere! It will also show what great value can be found in Indiana for the bettors, and not to mention, the incredible purses for the owners and trainers.