Tired of all the bad news? So were we. So, in our new series, we focus on the positive, asking people from non-horse racing families two questions: how they get hooked, and how they’ll hook someone else on horse racing this year.
What was the experience that made you fall in love with horse racing?
My way to horse racing was fairly unconventional. I grew up Washington DC in the pre-cable television era. Cable didn’t come to DC until the late 1980s, so my access to sports was fairly limited. We only got a handful of stations at my house, and so I read the newspaper. In the Washington Post they listed entries for the harness parks and Thoroughbred tracks in Maryland, and Andy Beyer would write a weekly column on the big races for that week.
I was a kid who was into numbers, and most kids that are into numbers often get into baseball. But I found the numbers for horse racing to be fascinating and so I wanted to learn all about it. I bought Andy Beyer’s books and any other books I could find on racing. When the Kentucky Derby would come around, I would follow it and I started to watch the races once they came on cable.
None of my family had any background or interest in racing. They thought it was a bizarre hobby and that over time it would disappear.
Once I got my driver’s license, my brother and I drove to Baltimore to go to Pimlico. I remember we bet a horse named Quail Ridge Swaps. I think we bet him to show, but I remember that he ran well enough for us to make a little bit of money for the day.
Would you commit to creating one new fan this year and, if so, what would be the experience you use to introduce them to the sport?
If I were to bring a potential new fan into racing, I would want to introduce them to rudimentary handicapping. Once you show them all the information that there is, if they get the bug, they will want to find out more on their own. I would definitely take them to the track, go through the Form with them, and teach them some basic handicapping angles.
If there’s one area we need to be concerned about in our sport, it’s the fact that purses have grown, but wagering handle is falling substantially over the past decade. Even more alarming, purses represent about 10.6% of handle, which is not sustainable without actual fans. We need to do more to grow our betting population. We need to figure out how to turn small bettors into bigger betters, and non-betters into horseplayers.
I teach at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee as an economist. Last spring, I taught a class called the Economics of Race Track Wagering Markets. I had 40 students in the class. These college students are interested in gambling, and I think it’s because it has become more socially acceptable. They want something that isn’t lottery or slot pullers, but something that is intellectually challenging. So I think we need to do everything we can to make our game more appealing to this type of audience.