While at the Breeders’ Cup races on Friday at Churchill Downs, I had a splendid time, along with some associates, who likewise were frittering away the hours of a cold but pleasant afternoon and evening with a good show of quality racing.
Racing is, after all, the “great triviality,” or so said Phil Bull, founder of the famous Timeform organization. I would also say that the sport we love is a great eraser of the vexations of the world.
So why don’t more people find racing and ease the aggravations of “getting and having” in a “world that is too much with us,” in the words of English poet Willie Wordsworth?
I suspect the problem is that racing is a sport rooted in the 19th century (or is it the 18th?) and that most of our institutions quit innovating about that time also.
Consider for a moment what racing’s primary competitors do for (or to) their valued and valuable customers. Casinos and lotteries operate very differently but very successfully in the field of legal gambling that not too many decades ago was solely the province of racing. That is also when racing began the slow spin round the bowl that has brought us perilously close to the vortex of drowning, isn’t it?
Well, lotteries are nothing if not convenient. Operated by agents of the states, they are available on every street corner, cheap as dirt to play, and hold out the (highly improbable) hope of a life-changing strike. Winning a couple of races, even at 100-1, won’t do that. Nor should they. Only special betting concoctions, especially the Pick 6, hold out somewhat similar hope of a truly major score. The difference is that a Pick 6 is a highly cerebral confection of skill and luck that is appreciated by few, but such as Daily Racing Form‘s Steve Crist have shown how playable and winnable they can be.
Casinos are not convenient, are more like racetracks in their layout and regulations. They are the sport’s great antagonist for the gambling dollar. And unfortunately, racing ain’t much of a competitor with the sleek casino crowd.
Consider that for a fairish seat in a box at the Breeders’ Cup, folks paid $75 and up. For a table in the high-rent district with buffet, they paid a large multiple of that. What would a casino have charged to get in? Well … nothing.
They know how to treat their clientele. And racing doesn’t.
Admittedly, the Breeders’ Cup price orgy is an annual charitable contribution to the Breeders’ Cup organization, everything five times the normal expense. But still ….
The people coming to the show, paying the tab, and pushing millions through the windows are customers. They are the life and blood and energy of racing. And the powers at the BC (and at Churchill Downs and all other tracks) are shockingly disconnected from that reality.
They don’t seem to recognize that it’s their job to make sure those bettors and fans have a great time. The casino operators are under no such delusions, whatever their other shortcomings may be.
Whereas I could have a fun on an outing to watch Thoroughbred races almost anywhere and anytime, most normal people cannot. They need more. And if the high minions of racing meet them at these marquee events, greet them with warmth and interest but not condescension, and show them how to have a good time, they will come back. In droves.
It’s not brain surgery, or we’d all be dead.