To give you a perspective of how new I am to the game, the first horse I remember having a shot at the Triple Crown is Smarty Jones. I remember knowing something big could happen with this horse but not knowing the implications it would do for the industry. This is the first memory I have of horse racing. Because Smarty is a local horse, racing his first two starts at Philadelphia Park, the local media swarmed on this horse. But, it was more than the local media that made this horse important to not only the people of Philadelphia – from a personal note this horse struck many people’s hearts. My 90-year-old uncle was never a fan of horse racing until Smarty Jones came along with a shot at the Triple Crown. The day after the Preakness, he found a stray dog roaming around his farm and named him Smarty. From then on I always had a soft spot in my heart when Smarty Jones almost got to the wire in time to win the Triple Crown. I never went to the track until I turned 18 and the day I went to Philadelphia Park (now Parx Racing) for the first time, the first jockey I wanted to see was Stewart Elliot. I remember I bet $2 to show on five of his mounts that day.
Many ask what will happen to the industry if I’ll Have Another can win the final jewel in horse racing’s Triple Crown? However, even if I’ll Have Another didn’t race in a couple of weekends at Belmont, he has already won the hearts of new fans to the sport. For two races we saw crowds of well over 280,000 watch the first two races of the Triple Crown. Add that number on to the hundreds of thousands that were watching live on television, watching on the Internet, or listening on the radio. I met a man at Churchill Downs yesterday named Michael who said it was his first time even attending a race. This is very rare for someone who is a native of Louisville to never attend a race at Churchill Downs before. I asked Michael why it took him so long to come out to the racetrack. His response: “I never thought horse racing was a big sport, until I saw what happened the other weekend out here.” He was at the track with about five or six friends, sipping on mint juleps and playing the races until he went inside to watch The Preakness.
Along with Michael, my phone was ringing non-stop yesterday with some people I haven’t heard from in over five years saying how exciting this moment is for horse racing. Some of these people I had no idea they even liked horse racing – some of them never did before! A friend of mine who is involved heavily in the auto-racing industry put a status on Facebook saying, “I’ve never been so excited about a horse race. I bet Kevin is going CRAZY wishing the 2012 Belmont Stakes were tomorrow!”
For an industry people think is dying and won’t survive, meet the new fans that I’ll Have Another is bringing to the track, like Michael. Meet the new fans that I was talking with all day on my phone about the race. Meet the hundreds of thousands of supporting fans of the first two races in horse racing’s Triple Crown who either watched, attended, wagered on the first two races. Meet a fan that started his passion about horse racing in 2004 after a horse won the first two jewels of the Triple Crown.