Racing Grows in Popularity, 1945

Aug 26th 2008 12:44 am |

A handful of my colleagues from the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance will be participating in the NTRA Marketing Summit in September. Many have written about it and a few have asked for ideas about how to sell the sport to the next generation (Dana from Green But Game and Kevin from the Aspiring Horseplayer). I encourage everyone to submit ideas.

I had been thinking about how I would go about generating new fans for the sport when I came across something interesting in a book published by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations in 1945. Written just three years after Alfred G. Vanderbilt founded the organization, I found the sections of the book that focused on racing’s popularity particularly compelling.

With all the talk about increasing the fan base for racing, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at how an organization like the TRA interpreted racing’s success as it approached the height of its popularity. Author Tom Underwood wrote the following under a chapter heading “Racing Grows in Popularity” in 1945:

“Everybody likes a race. Into it are packed the elements that create entertainment and enjoyment. The suspense, which makes the mystery story popular, is there. The element of uncertainty dominates, despite the prodigious efforts of the handicappers to reduce selections to a science. The crowd adds to the excitement. The speed at which grueling tests are staged, the fun of ‘picking a winner,’ the teamwork required of jockey and mount and the long preparation and planning by a trainer and owner all combine to enliven the pastime

“John Hervey, dean of American turf writers, says that the phase of racing which remains supreme is that which deals with the class and character of the best horse of the season and the performances they recorded. Mr. Hervey has written of racing for 50 years, often under the pen name of Salvator. Referring to how the best horses claim the interest he writes:

‘In Time’s long audit nothing else connected with the Turf has much chance of enduring. It matters not how colossal a season may have been from any other standpoint, in the end it will all be consigned to oblivion except its performers and performances of lasting merit and distinction. Nobody today pays any attention to the number of people who attended, the amount of money they wagered or anything similar, let us say, during the season of 1920. What will forever make it memorable is the fact that it was Man O’ War’s year. In that sense it stands out with letters of fire ‘in the dreary chronicle of forgotten time.’

“In horse country folks have a way of counting time by horse and races as in some other sections events are marked by the year of heavy freeze or intense drought. There they will say: “That was in the year Exterminator won the Derby” or, perhaps, “It happened in Gallant Fox’s year.”

I am certainly no marketing expert and I understand the pitfalls of promoting individual horses in the era of early retirements and overly cautious trainers. However, what was true in 1945 is true today. And as simple as it may seem, the great horses (male and female) should be the primary focus for selling the sport to a new generation.

Proud Spell, Colonel John, Big Brown, Curlin, Ginger Punch, or Zenyatta are all potential historic markers representing the 2008 racing season for future race fans.

UPDATE 8/27: No sooner had I posted this that NYRA put together a Curlin page on their website. Three cheers to NYRA and all those coordinating promotions surrounding Curlin’s appearance at Saratoga this weekend. Well done!


The above quote is taken from Tom Undewood’s Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding: The Story of the Sport and Background of the Horse Industry originally published in 1945 by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of the United States. It is almost available in full at Google Books (portions are missing because of copyright limits).

Image of Man O’ War in 1939 from the Kentuckiana Digital Library

Check out the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America website for more info on their history and current role in the industry

Dana from Green But Game and Kevin from the Aspiring Horseplayer are collecting ideas for the NTRA Marketing Task Force. And don’t forget about the Self Appointed Fan Committee. Be sure to add your two-cents!

It was a great weekend of racing. I was on the wrong end of the photo in the Travers but stopped feeling sorry for myself when I thought about Neil Howard and the Farish family just missing in the Travers for the 2nd year in a row. (I also overheard a bettor say that he missed hitting the pick 4 by “that f—ing horse’s nosehair”…needless to say he was a bit disappointed)

Looking forward to another great weekend of racing. I am curious to see if Divine Park can run with the mighty Curlin. In my neck of the woods, Delaware Park has the Kent Breeders Stakes for three-year-olds on Saturday (won by No Biz Like Showbiz last year) and Philly Park will run the Pennsylvania Derby on Labor Day. I will be attending both and will be making my first appearance at Philly Park since they have added the slot machines. I know what a spirit-sucker the one armed bandits can be so I am interested to see what they have done to an already lifeless facility. I am looking forward to seeing Smooth Air (one of my Derby Trail faves) who is scheduled to run on Monday.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in horse racing's popularity,Man O' War

2 Responses to “Racing Grows in Popularity, 1945”

  1. Winston...not really says:

    That was Man O’ War in 1939? He looks like he could still run GI’s.

    Get a shot of Smooth Air please, he was my Derby horse before getting that cough. He was training up at Arlington for the Ohio Derby but I guess the poly didn’t agree with him.

  2. Valerie says:

    Ditto on Smooth Air. I love that gutsy horse 🙂