As much as I hate the fact horse racing uses slots as welfare to keep the business going while failing to take advantage of the time it provides to innovate. I get irked when people pass judgement on the industry without getting educated about it. Now, certainly when it comes to the taxpayer, they certainly are entitled to their opinions as often the decision to provide subsidies impacts them either directly or indirectly.
I came across the following comment in a letter to an editor:
On the other hand the owners of Canadian racehorses and tracks are tycoons, especially billionaire Frank Stronach, and that’s why so many others are opposed to giving them government handouts.
From this quote, it is obvious that racing is not doing a good job educating the general public.
The problem is when racing goes on television, be it the Breeders Cup, Breeders Crown, Hambletonian, or the thoroughbred triple crown, we are highlighting the super rich; especially when it comes to thoroughbred racing where you have the $500,000+ yearlings and Sheiks owning horses. Of course you get the idea that owners of the horses are tycoons. We glorify the so called rich and beautiful.
What the public is not seeing is the person or group of people who own the $5,000 or $10,000 claimer or the low to mid-level conditioned or allowance horse which comprises the vast majority of races at your local track. Those are owned by the one or two guys who operate a gas station or work regular jobs. We don't highlight the guy who works the graveyard shift at some manufacturing plant who then heads to the track to train the horses they own.
As for horsemen, we see trainers like the Burkes, Colemans, and Takters of the industry being interviewed. We don't see the trainers of one to eight horses struggling to make ends meet, often racing at the bottom levels at the racetrack or racing on the fair circuits for purses of $800 or less. We see the drivers like John Campbell, Brian Sears, and Dave Palone being interviewed; not the driver who is lucky if they get two or three drives a week. Of course it is hard to be sympathetic for these people. When was the last time you saw a profile of the middle class owner, or the small time trainer or driver being profiled?
The problem is not just on regular television or cable. When was the last time you saw an interview at the racetrack of the owners of a $10,000 claimer, the trainer who has a stable of one horse, or even the driver who races his own $5,000 claimer which is his only drive of the week? We can't even take the time to educate our own fan base that the vast majority of people who own horses or race them are struggling just like them to make a living? If we can't educate our own fan base, how do we expect the general public to be informed?
The racing industry needs to get away from just bringing attention to the well off owner and horsemen. We need to bring attention to the everyday person involved with horse racing. How can we do this? With regards to harness racing, we need to interview the 'little' person at the track instead of exclusively the high power owners and horsemen. To educate the regular public, we need print ads in newspapers and magazines perhaps under the banner of "I am Harness Racing" and give a mini biography of the person in the advertisement, using the small time owner, trainer, driver, small breeder, and groom. If possible, have a commercial run on cable channels, even on a night like the Breeders Crown or during the Hambletonian telecast highlighting the fact of who makes up the vast majority of harness racing; perhaps under the same banner as "I am Harness Racing". Funding? You know where it is going to have to come from, the people who have the most to lose. Your local horsemen group(s) and ideally with contributions from the tracks. Want to work with the thoroughbreds to fund such a program? Then call it "I am Horse Racing" and have individuals from both breeds involved.
Of course, in some states or provinces, such a campaign is late and would be done in a crisis mode. Ideally, such a campaign would begin earlier and on-going. Then when you try to get slots or maintain your slot subsidy, you will have more traction with the general public as they will be able to relate to those in the industry as being like them.
If racing continues to focus on the owners of the stakes winners and the super trainers and drivers, don't expect any sympathy or support from the general public. Show them the vast majority of people in the industry are just like them and watch people have more empathy for the industry on the whole if and when racing needs to campaign against the government.