Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Get to Know A Horse, Learn to Love the Game

Blog entries come to me in a variety of ways. One way an entry has never come to me is by way of e-mail. That all changed last week when I received an e-mail from the folks who purchased our very own Fizzy Pop as a two year old. There are a lot of ways that this note could have sent this entry, but the way the ensuing correspondence struck me most was the way that the horse is truly the center of this business and of the racing universe.

The couple was distraught when Fizzy was claimed away for $8,000. They have tracked his career ever since. They remember what a laid back horse he was, even as a colt. His disposition endeared him to them in a way that no other horse had. Their daughter has a toy horse that she named Fizzy. I related to her the story that Bernell Rhone's grand-daughter also has a toy horse that she named Fizzy. Their biggest fear was the care that Fizzy was receiving and they were much relieved to find this blog and be able to follow how Fiz was doing. I told them, much to their relief, that when we claimed Fizzy he came to us obviously very well cared for. Finally there was their offer to take Fizzy in when his career is done.

This is the third offer from someone who has touched Fizzy's life to take him in when his racing career is done. The folks around the barn love our boy. He's a gentle giant who really tries hard when it's time to work. He's won all these folks over with his personality. He has his favorites as well. When my wife and I go visit him, he's very aloof. But when our partner Laura comes to visit him, he becomes very affectionate and loving to her. Conversely, Somerset Sam loves my wife. It wouldn't matter what he was doing, he would stop and come over and visit with her.

These animals are bred to run fast. Most of them race for a price tag. They know their business and have instincts to run that has been bred through generations. But they also have personalities. It may be the speed that grabs us. It could be the stirring stretch run or even cashing a big ticket that draws us in, but it's getting to know these horses that weds us to the game for life. I loved the game before I got involved with Sam, Wish and Fiz, but, for better or worse, I'm married to it now.

So how do we make these stars big enough for the general public to get drawn in? There is a lot of attention nationally on this debate (http://www.ntra.com/creativeservices/content/NTRAOnlineTaskForce_080922.pdf), well at least on how to grow the sport. Fellow TBA bloggers Dana Byerly, Lisa Grimm, Patrick Patten and Kevin Stafford have just met in Vegas with others to help debate and discuss how to spread the word to the masses, but there needs to be more done locally at each and every racing burg around the country. There have been future owner seminars, dollar nights and other successful promotions, but how do we hook folks with our local stars - the equine athletes themselves?

What about standings like we have to the right nationally, but for our local racetracks culminating in championship races? Give the people something to follow. Open up the backside a bit. If you're not willing to open it up completely, conduct scheduled guided tours to fans before the races that showcase these local stars as they develop throughout the course of the meet. Have the trainers open up about the horse's likes and dislikes, quirks and traits. As championship day gets closer, run the profiles on the website, the track video between races and, if possible, on the the local sports segments on television. Minnesota Festival Day is great for the Minnesota breds, but what about all the other horses that compete all summer long? Ditto for the Maryland Millions. State-bred days are important to state breeding programs, but a more all-encompassing day is important to the well being of the industry. The Claiming Crown is a great event nationally. A hybrid of this and the state-bred days on a local level combined with making these equine stars more accessible to the public can help get more folks interested in what is happening at their local tracks and help fuel a resurgence in racing interest from the bottom up rather than the top down.

Wow...how I got from a nice note from a former owner of Fizzy to trying to get racing to appeal to the masses again is beyond me. I'm not one to soapbox outside of trying to call out injustice within my limited sphere of ownership experience. But this is important. It's important nationally, but equally as important - perhaps even more so, locally.


Handride said...

I took a ton of things away from teh meeting, but I feel like i have to do more for my local racetrack. Whether they want me or not :-D. Standings for statebreds or mulitple state breds (like sunshine millions) seemed to grab a few states attetnion, Texas being one of them.

Jessica said...

Great idea, extending something like standings to the local level. Every circuit has its stars and fan favorites and promoting those horses and connections makes so much sense.

wendyu said...

Nice post. I enjoy following your horses. Interestingly, I had recently written my local track to ask if I could help showcase their stars - star trainers, horses, jockeys. I offered to do this for free. Write stories for their website, help get the word out with my local media friends, generally let the community get to know the track and it's community better. I got no response. I'll keep at them. Maybe they will come through.

Ted G said...

Thanks, folks. I'd like to see more states/circuits get in on this, but guarding the backstretch like it's a missile silo is a mistake, I think. Getting folks closer to the stars I think would be a big help.

Unreal, Wendy. You try and do something great - donating it in fact - and no response?! There is no track in the country that should be feeling smug about it's long term prospects. Hang in there and we'll all try and help!

rather rapid said...

nice post Ted! completely agree about opening up the back stretch. that would be the one big attraction for the general public. unfortunatley, there's liability issues there that make it difficult. + you simply are unable to have a bunch of wild kids running around back there during training hours. the solution to me is for an interested track to construct a training barn near where stands and race track coalesce. Make that one stable area open to the public.

I think we all have to get interested in our tracks. this sport is imploding, and the few of us there are need to do something. though I think getting potential fans to the track is unlikely to have any effect--that's been tried for years and simply fails to work. this sport is about betting, and that's what they need to focus on imho.

Ted G said...

RR - Agreed on the liability issues. I'm all for tramming folks on a guided tour of the backstretch at scheduled times just after training hours, but before racing to limit the disruption. If there was a way to do it during training hours, much the better!

Betting is the foundation of the sport, no question. But why wouldn't some folks that jam nickels into slot machines enjoy betting a buck or two on a horse they just saw in person? Or could follow for a few months of the 'season'?

A friend of mine made a great point - we're competing with other gaming venues, but we charge for parking, admission, program and racing form. You're down $20 before you even sit down. We certainly don't make it easy on the patrons, especially when there are other choices readily available.