Racing has an identity crisis.
It’s a gambling game; no, it’s about the animal; it’s a live sporting event; it’s the sport of kings; $2 bettors; Zenyatta.
Of course, racing is all these things and more, but first and foremost from where I sit (which is an office at TwinSpires.com’s Lexington location), it’s a gambling game.
Racing has a near monopoly on online gambling, yet some want to battle as an entertainment venue. It makes no sense to me.— Pullthepocket (@Pullthepocket) December 5, 2016
And make no mistake: people gamble on horse racing. They gamble on it by the tens of thousands daily. Even Monday, December 5, in the waning days of autumn, more than 30,000 people placed a bet on horse racing.
How many Americans do you think placed a bet on horse racing today (Monday, December 5)— Ed DeRosa (@EJXD2) December 6, 2016
As you can see from the results of the poll above, that number is likely to come as a surprise to people. I received several private messages from people in the industry who were certain it’s less than 10,000. If people who participate in the game on a daily basis don’t realize how expansive our customer base is then how can the media?
It’s a topic I hope is addressed at the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program Symposium on Racing this week.
The first panel closely matches the thesis of this blog post: “Racing’s Identity Crisis: Who And What Are We?” Later, the Turf Publicists of America present a discussion with Sports Illustrated’s award-winning writers Tim Layden and Bill Nack.
Racing has done a great job cultivating its biggest events. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, Breeders’ Cup, Travers Stakes, and Arlington Million are some of the most celebrated days in all of sport (on local, regional, and national levels), but mainstream coverage of these events often includes screeds of how they are aberrations of an otherwise dying sport and merely an oasis for an industry lost in the desert, thirsty for attention.
But do these writers know what goes into other days at the races? The woman and man power involved to get the horses and facilities ready 364 days/year? Do they know that even on racing’s slowest days more than 20,000 unique customers will place a bet on a horse race?
They don’t, and part of the reason why is racing has actively resisted telling this story. The story of it being a sport that offers legal online wagering nearly 24/7. That’s not to say the other stories aren’t important. They are. The tradition and pageantry of the sport’s biggest races is as much a part of why I fell in love with it as is the thrill of cheering a horse home regardless of the level of race.
These stories need to co-exist and that they don’t is why neither the Louisville Courier-Journal nor the Lexington Herald-Leader staff full-time Turf writers anymore. The daily papers in the homes of the Kentucky Derby and racing’s largest company and in the Thoroughbred capital of the world with billions of dollars in transactions related to the breeding and sale of bloodstock do not think it’s an industry worthy of coverage.
That’s a problem, and it’s a problem that’s manifest because racing has told the media that the big events are what define us. That needs to change.