Sep 10th 2012 11:50 am |
The horse racing “Twitterati” have an ongoing debate that pits those who insist that racing is dying with those who think there are far too many positives to make such a diagnosis. Few argue that it is thriving, but the doom and gloomers assert that anyone who can’t hear the death rattle of thoroughbred racing must live in some alternative fantasyland. Those who earnestly point to the positive signs in racing tend to get — in the parlance of Twitter — “LOLed” by the doom and gloomers.
If you have read this blog since its founding in 2008 you know that I lean toward the side that sees the glass half full. One reason being that if you look back on the history of the sport, insistence on its terminal state goes back over a century. I have read articles as far back as the 1880s, and in nearly every decade since, with some variation on the “horse racing is a dying sport” theme. At some point, it would seem, the prediction loses its punch. It has been consistently wrong over the course of three different centuries.
My latest find in the ever-expanding obituary of racing strikes a familiar theme. It comes from a copy of the May 6th edition of The Thoroughbred Record from 1972. Here is a selection from Arnold Fitzpatrick’s editorial titled “Laying it on the Line”:
When things are automatically good because they are old and automatically bad when the are new, it is a sure sign of senility — in a person or an industry.
This is, perhaps, [racing’s] most serious problem. Racing used to be a venerable and respected facet of the American Scene. Now it is merely old. We are tenaciously clinging to many, many outdated aspects of the sport. A ‘brilliant young man’ in racing today is 50. Someone who is 40 is a mere child, and anyone less than that is practically classed as an embryo.
Statistics show that the average racegoer these days is approximately 45-50, and it seems to me that the average professional in racing is perhaps ten years older than that. One day soon we are going to look around to discover that most of the racegoers have died, and racing will be left without a public.
The age of the majority of the spectators and executives in our sport is one of the primary factors behind our failure to break the ‘youth market.’ We have discussed it time and again. Our leaders either can’t or won’t think enough like young people to attract them to racing…”
It’s funny that the “racing fans are dying off” argument has now reached middle age. It doesn’t take a math wizard to calculate that this particular argument doesn’t hold up. On top of that, recent technological developments have made a profound impact on racing. The notion that the racing scene is ‘old’ and ‘outdated’ is no longer true. If you look at how racing has tapped into the internet and social media — things that could hardly be conceived of in 1972 — it’s safe to say that racing has made great progress in keeping in step with the so-called ‘youth market.’
For a terminal ‘patient’, racing sure has its fair share of good days: the Triple Crown races, the Breeders Cup, the summer meets in Saratoga and Del Mar, and let’s not forget the two Keeneland meets. If these are the days of a dying “man,” I can think of a few people (including this writer) who would take whatever poison thoroughbred racing has been drinking over these many years.
Arnold Fitzpatrick, “Laying it on the Line,” The Thoroughbred Record, 6 May 1972
Update, 9/10/2012: Dean — of the excellent Pull the Pocket site — wrote the following in response to this post: “Racing is not ‘dead’. It will likely never be ‘dead’. As a business (primarily driven by betting) it’s simply probably about 15% to 25% the size it was 50 or 60 years ago.” The full post at Pull the Pocket is well worth a look!
Thanks for reading!
Filed in thoroughbred racing history