earlier column, I mentioned that we have been running a
handicappers survey on DesertSea.Com. The survey covers a
of topics, but one that piqued my interest enough so that I recently
modified the survey questions, was the ageing of horse racing
have been gloomy predictions that this is a dying sport
because up-and-coming younger players are not replenishing it and, as
we geezers punch off the time clock, eventually there will be no one
left to turn out the lights.
predictions coincided withcausedthe formation of the
National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) with a mandate to
promote the sport. As soon as there was an organization in
with some loose change to promote horse racing, everyone who loved the
sport had an opinion on how it should be spent. The diversity
opinions has not let up.
virtually every one else on this horseracing planet, I
had strong opinions about the NTRAs original Go Baby Go! TV ads, and
that was specifically what prompted the changes in the handicappers
poll. I couldnt find anyoneover or under
relate to the androgynous psycho-chick in the ads, so the campaign
seemed to stumble out of the gates. Moreover, I wasnt at all
sure that entering into head-to-head competition with every other sport
and leisure activity for Generation-X was such a hot use of rare
past decade or so, Ive come in contact with players
a few years older than me who seem to be having the most fun and, in
some cases, showing excellent profit in their retirement
There seemed to be a pattern among players of getting introduced to the
game early, paying less attention to it during their major career
years, then returning to it full-force later, when there was the time
and funds to do so.
pattern were real, then the demographics of
horseracing would naturally show a large 55 to 75+ age groupbut it
wouldnt necessarily mean that the prognosis was terminal. It
could simply mean that the age of in-coming serious players would be
55not 25. And, it would call for a more complex strategy for
promoting horse racing than simply trying to get 25-year-olds in the
gate for an afternoon of suds with their buds.
scenario, the trick for constantly replenishing the
fan-base would be to introduce a love for horse racing early, seek to
retain casual interest during career years, and then come back like
gang-busters for mature players. It seems mighty weird, but
you tripped to Jimmy Hendrixand he was alive at the
are now in the latter group.
following is tallied from the survey responses so
far. The results are not scientific because, as I also
in an earlier column, people who make it to the site are probably more
committed players, more attuned to the Internet, and so forth.
of noteto me, at least, because I anticipated the reverseis that 64%
say they never left the game, while 36% left for some significant time
and then returned. My sense on this is that it is a function
the nature of the players who make it to the Web sitebeing a more
committed bunch. If you could somehow poll the more general
racing public, my guess is that the percentage that leave because of
career and family to return later in life would be much
Even so, 36% is bigcertainly not a number the sport
afford to lose forever, so bringing them back alive is important.
players, 55% say
they were introduced to the sport prior to their 21st
birthday, and 67% were introduced to the sport by
Only 5% say they were introduced to the sport by watching it on
TV! Make what you wish of that.
introduction to the sport include: 10% had an interest in or
association with horses (which was my own introduction), and 4% cited
Other. A common note with Other is wanted to make money,
which is consistent with other findings below that, although
love this sport, profit motivation is a very strong factor.
(My favorite note on introduction to the sport is, Through a grocery
store game called Lets Go To The Races. I happen to know that
the guy who sent this response is a first-rate handicapper, so maybe we
should find that game and revive it.)
prominently in how people first attended the track (as opposed to
simply learning or hearing about horse racing). 55% indicate
parents or older relatives took them to the track. 25% first
attended with friends of the same age, and get this:
attended for the first time on their own.
25% may be a very significant figure, because it supports the notion
that horseracing is a much more profit-oriented sports activity than
others. While I have no comparable figures, it is likely that
is vastly more than would have attended their first
baseball, or hockey game by themselves. (It may
something about one type of personality drawn to horse race betting.)
doesnt quite fit my
preconceived idea, but it is interesting that among the respondents, in
addition to the 55% who say they were introduced to horseracing before
age 21; another 32% were under age 35; and by age 45, 100% were already
here. Correspondingly, 63% were under 35 when they
seriously handicapping with a profit motive.
figure for this entire subject is this: 72%
respondents say they are currently involved in horseracing with a
strong profit motive. This includes the categories
professional players, retired with strong profit motive, and
part-time player (otherwise employed) with strong profit
seriousness of the industrys need to preserve and
improve players ability to make a profit through reforms in take-out,
miscellaneous charges, and fundamental customer service cannot be
overemphasized, but for now, thats a separate topic.
the profit motive (as most of us have always guessed)
is so high among horseracing fans, my inclination has always been to
wish the industry would loosen up and actively promote one simple fact:
good horse players can develop a positive edge.
retrospect, the whole Go Baby Go! thing is probably
about as close to being on-target as they can get (without promising
something it takes work and personal skill on the part of the fan to
deliver). The phrase itself does imply a
motive. It is aimed at the under-35 age group, where our
shows serious profit motive handicapping begins. And
retrospect nowthe psycho-chick was more interesting
other horse racing promotion campaign that has driven me
bonkers over the yearsbecause I love the sport and have a great love
for the horses themselvesis that of the American Quarter Horse
Association. You probably havent heard much about it,
becausewell, thats sort of a self-answering statement.
Horse racing is a potentially profitable sideline or,
in some rare cases, a specialty for handicappers, and I truly enjoy the
mixed Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse meets here in New Mexico.
folks trademarked the word American into the name of their breed a
few years ago so Ill be careful when I say that if I could own only
one horse to ride, it would be an American Quarter Horse (), hands
their advertising campaign! Lantic-goshen!
(I think thats how they talk.) Their flag-waving, wholesome,
family-oriented, owner-oriented commercials for this profit-oriented,
cigar-chompingbetting gamehave always made my eyes
into my head.
wait! While writing this, I had a chilling
thought: our survey shows that parents are the
conduit for 67% of all horseplayers. Do you suppose
totally missed the subliminal angle of the AQHAs ad campaign?
Could their portrayal of horseracing as an after-church activity for
young parents pushing strollers actually be a cunning and
ploy to develop legions of future handicappers?