The sport of horse racing in America dates all the way back to colonial times. In fact the first racetrack in America dates back to 1665 and went by the name Newmarket. At times horse racing, dubbed the sport of kings, has been the most popular spectator sport in America, while at others it has all but disappeared. Concerns over gambling and the depression of 1837 crippled the sport. Horse racing, however, rebounded after the Civil War. Its resurgence was led by a heavy rise in gambling, both legally on track and illegally off the track. Horse racing’s prominence as a sport in America has seen its fair share of trials and tribulations, and once again faced major backlash in the early 1900s. This time social reformers and religious protestors led the charge that saw government shut down almost all of the racetracks in the country. In the 1920s state governments did an about face and legalized on track betting as they saw a chance to create a big source of revenue for their states. This era gave us the same base model that we currently operate under today.
By the 1950s horse racing became the most popular sport in America. It remained wildly popular in the 60s, and the 70s brought with it a decade that captured many fans imagination by producing three Triple Crown winners (Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978). However, the last two decades has seen a decline in the sports popularity as they have faced both criticism from animal rights groups and competition from the rise in popularity of other sports. Other forms of gambling ranging from casino games to sports betting that offer a far smaller learning curve than is associated with Horse Racing has also hurt the sports foothold in America. The ebb and flow nature of the sports popularity in the country would lead you to believe that it is only a matter of time before it once again booms. In fact many thought the popularity of superstar mare Zenyatta, and 2016 triple crown winner American Pharoah would push horse racing back in the right direction, but the boost wasn’t as big as many had hoped for.
More recently concerns over high takeout rates led to some players boycotting the Keeneland meet. While takeout rates aren’t something that concerns everyone it is a problem if rates continue to rise unchecked. Think about it along the lines of having your tax rate raised by a percent or two every year. From one year to the next it may seem like a minuscule amount, but add it up over a 5 year period and it would be a major hit. Another issue that has come up recently has been the outrage over horses, most notably at Delta Downs, being sent directly to kill pens. This is a particularly troubling issue because it shows that some people involved in horse racing don’t care about the animals and only view them as property. Once the horses are no longer profitable they discard them. I’ve read prominent people in the horse racing world say things to the extent of ‘the two most important players in the industry are owners and bettors.’ I would counter that with we have nothing without the horses.
One final issue that I have had with the current state of horse racing is its coverage by the media. Far too often it seems like those who cover horse racing, be it locally, nationally or in the social media world; avoid some of these pressing issues. As a fan I understand that people, myself included, would often prefer to read positive stories. I also understand that journalists have to think about their livelihood and do what benefits them the most. However, in order for horse racing to once again thrive we need to confront these issues and not just sweep them under the rug.
We have also seen so many great positive things in the horse racing community as well. Through the tragic fires that affected the San Luis Rey training center and the brutal hurricane that battered Puerto Rico we saw everyday heroes rise up to offer a helping hand. We saw grooms, other track works, and civilians run through fire and smoke to save horses. We got to see the community donate money, food and other supplies to help out the horsemen and horses in need. So while I don’t have all the answers to all the questions, I do believe that there is still enough good left within the confines of the horse racing community to once again make the sport flourish.
The above piece is solely my opinion on thoughts and doesn’t reflect on anyone else. If anyone has any questions or comments feel free to reach out to me @JasonNYM on twitter.