Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

The Sport of Kings

Posted by Brian Appleton on July 6, 2010

So many things can incite passion in people, politics, music, relationships, money and power are just a few small examples but one thing in particular can many times get a person more riled than anything else in the whole wide world. Sports. It’s the engine that drives almost every single American weekend. Whether it be Football, Baseball, Basketball or Soccer one thing is clear, Americans, and in fact a large population of the entire planet thrive off of the thrill that comes with a winning moment. Sometimes it doesn’t even take a victory to create a thrill and a defeat can provoke more passion than a win.

Thoroughbred Horse Racing is all about the passion people infuse into the industry, passion of the race, the horse, the jockey, passion of the game. By the mid to late 1970’s Thoroughbred Horse Racing began to slide from its position as the leading sport in the nation, losing its status as the most popular and watched sport in the nation. Today racing is considered a minor sport by most casual sports fans and completely ignored by others. Aside from the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and, to a lesser degree, the Breeders’ Cup, horse racing is well hidden from the public’s eye. In contrast almost the entire first half of the century was dominated by Thoroughbred Horse Racing with the only real threats coming from Boxing and later Baseball. With three Triple Crown winners in the 1970’s the sport was veritably assured a spot in the public’s eye but entering the early 80’s things changed quickly. The 80’s were headlined mostly by Basketball thanks in many respects to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls and the 90’s-to-present have been completely ruled by Football.

Somewhere along the line racing dropped the ball and managed not to acclimate with the times. There is however always hope for a sport if the fans have passion. Ever since I could read I have digested all the reading material I could ever find in relation to racing and while I have only been following live racing since 2006 there is one thing I know beyond a doubt: we have some of the most passionate and loyal fans in the sports industry. The list of things that are wrong in the industry is certainly a long one and quite discouraging at times but I believe there is just as much reason for concern as there is for hope.

If there is one thing above all else that provides success for racing it is events. I recently read an article online that discussed the reasons for some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster movie successes in history. In every single case the featured movie was not just presented as a movie, it was marketed as “the” movie to see. If you are anybody you’ve seen “that” movie. A perfect recent example of this is James Cameron’s Avatar. It wasn’t the great reviews that made this movie such a winner at the box-office, it wasn’t the special effects or the actors or the music, it was the story and nearly perfect marketing campaign that for weeks put Avatar trailers and images foremost in everyone’s minds. Although it had a big opening weekend, it was the incredible longevity of the movie that made it the highest grossing film in history and the “must have-must see” aura that made it the fastest selling DVD in history. This was an event film, something everyone could talk about and marvel at.

In 2009 Thoroughbred Horse Racing created a plethora of stunning events and gave a much needed, if only temporary, shot-in-the-arm to the industry. First it was Rachel Alexandra’s record smashing Kentucky Oaks win, then Mine that Bird’s Kentucky Derby, then back to Rachel Alexandra for the Preakness, Mother Goose, Haskell and Woodward. Summer Bird helped as well, becoming the first horse since Easy Goer to win the Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup while Zenyatta put the exclamation point at the end of the season with a brilliant victory over an international group of males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Churchill Downs nighttime racing has been met with great success so far and has also succeeded in bringing in a new and younger audience. I believe the key to their success is that they created an event, something that was hyped up for months in advance and effectively integrated the old ways with the new. Fans were able to attend and watch the horse races while also having the choice to listen to music, hang out with friends, wager a few dollars and buy cheap drinks and snacks. In two words: fan friendly.

While 2010 seems to be lacking the incredible “kick” given by the 2009 racing year so far, there is great potential. I am still hoping for that “event” this year and believe that it will come, that wow moment when more than just the casual racing fan will stop what they are doing for just a few minutes to witness history in the making. We can still be The Sport of Kings.


2 Responses to “The Sport of Kings”

  1. I think it’s been a great year so far.
    For me and for the local thoroughbred season.

    The future success of the thoroughbred racing industry will not be determined by whether we have a Triple Crown race winner or whether Rachel and Zenyatta go head to head.

    But Churchill’s Friday night cards are promising.
    But I always say you can lead a horse to water by you can’t make him drink. And that is something I’d like to cover in the future. 😉

    • It has been a great year so far, I’m really excited about how developed the older horse division is looking this year. It’s also nice to have such a close race in the 3-year-old male division for the championship lead.

      A Triple Crown winner would not as you say secure the future success of the sport, but it would be an incredible boost as would be a meeting of Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra.

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