By Art Parker
About the only time I go to a track is when I am on vacation, have a business trip or visit my daughter in the D.C. area. I’m definitely part of the growing Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) legion of horseplayers. Last week I took a few days off and visited my daughter, who lives on the Maryland side of our nation’s capital. She invited me to come since it was around Father’s Day time and, of course, she sweetened the invitation with the one line I love to here, “Dad, we can go to the track one day.”
My daughter, now 32 years old, was taught how to read a Racing Form when she was in the third grade and she is a good handicapper. Even though we are separated by 700 miles we “play the races together” online and in online tournaments. I can say that the love of horse racing is a family affair, so you can imagine the priority we place on going to the track together whenever possible.
When I visit her in the summer we go to Delaware Park (DEL). It is not too far from the D.C. area, and if not for the ridiculous road tolls in Maryland, it would be a delightful trip especially when the weather is nice. We went to DEL on the Saturday before Father’s Day and the weather was picture perfect. It was a great day to be outside and we decided to hang out in the picnic area. DEL is a beautiful track in a beautiful setting.
We shared the track that day with many others. I don’t know if there was a special promotional day or not, but there was a ton of kids there. You could tell it was a day for mom and dad, or grandpa and grandma, to take kids to the track. The track has a great outdoor area with plenty of “climbing” equipment that young kids love, which located next to the picnic area at the clubhouse turn. For those with kids it is a good area to watch the races especially when the race goes around two turns.
One could also tell that many in attendance were “rookies,” not just because of the kids but because of the long lines at the tellers and how slow they moved. It is safe to assume that many in the teller lines were rookies because the self service machines had no waiting lines.
For one race I strolled up to the fence hoping to see my horse win with ease, which didn’t happen. The man standing next to me was in a bad way and said with disgust, “I’ve never seen so many rookies in my life.” I asked him what he meant just to make sure I knew since he directed the line toward me. “All of these damn rookies get in the way, hold up the lines, and they probably brought all of these kids,” he growled. I just nodded primarily to acknowledge the fellow and avoid an argument. I came close to chewing his butt out, but I thought better of it and remained silent.
I thought it was a great day. I was glad to see the rookies and I was glad to see the kids. We need them. We need new enthusiasts. We need kids to come to the track and have fun and then pester their folks about coming back again.
Racing has not been wise when it comes to fan development. Racing missed the original sports television era and then has tried to play ‘catch up’ ever since. It has been forced to fight a massive swell of casino operations that have covered the landscape far beyond the borders of Nevada where all of that started. In addition to those near mindless games found in a casino, horse racing has had to fight the completely mindless games called lotteries. The fight is ongoing and it is a tough one. And the fight will remain tough if we do not open every possible door to potential newcomers. Having tracks open up for families to go to the track and take the kids is necessary for horse racing to continue the fight for its share of, not only the gambling dollar, but the entertainment dollar.
We have many great tracks in America like Delaware Park. And these tracks can be a great place to take the family. Let’s make sure we let all people feel welcome. We need new blood and new enthusiasts. Once they get there then we have to teach them how to play or we will lose them. Remember, our game is a game of skill, not a mindless game of chance.
If you see a rookie at the track be sure and welcome him or her, then offer to help. After all, that person may want to bring his whole family next week. And that’s not a bad thing. I promise.