Last year I wondered aloud when Belmont Park moved from "Sidewalks of New York" to "New York, New York". Turns out it was 1997. I wasn't thrilled, but it was one classic for another. But now, at the risk of sounding like an old fogey, what the hell is going on with now a change to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind"??
According to NYRA marketing director Neema Ghazi the song "has become a “quintessential 21st century theme song for New York City." Good God. I have to guess that this is a lame attempt to try and be relevant and hip to a new generation of horse players. We can't lower take-outs or provide free parking and admissions, but changing the signature tune of the oldest of the Triple Crown races is what's really going to capture the younger demographics imagination.
Tears well in the eyes - of old AND young - every year as the strains of "My Old Kentucky Home" take flight as the contenders move onto the racetrack and meet the roaring and singing croud. Granted, "Maryland, My Maryland" is the same tune as "O Christmas Tree", but there is a certain amount of local pride and tradition associated with the official state song. After only thirteen years of "New York, New York" - hardly long enough to become a tradition - it's being ditched in favor of a new song that, I'm willing to wager, horsemen have never heard before.
Should we never change in racing? Of course not. We need to evolve and continue to try and cultivate a new fan base - especially that younger demographic. However my thoughts are start with what's really important to this group and go from there. These folks have grown up with casino action that offers free parking, easy wagering, a better price point, no admission charges and excitement in the air. The boom of these Gen Xers in the poker arena shows that they will take the time to learn strategy and intricacies of a new game if it can be packaged right. We need to make the product more accessible, understandable and exciting while maintaining some semblance of the traditions that have built this sport. The latest and greatest video slot machines still share the casino floor with the old classic spinning reel games and video poker. The classics still earn and have appeal and it's NOT just the blue hairs.
And another thing, the Gen Xers that I know (and help raise!) love what's new and hip - but once they discover the joy in whatever endeavor they pursue, they also appreciate the history and mystique that came before them. Racing needs to recognize what's important and update that and still maintain the traditions that add to the lore and enjoyment of the game. That's the ticket to the future, not changing a Classic race's theme song which smacks more of desperation than of a well balanced plan.