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Monday, September 16, 2013

Why I Wax Nostalgic About Racing the Way I Remembered It (Before Slots)?

Things change, there's no getting around it.  However, Dave Hackenberg writes in the Toldeo Blade why he sheds no tears for the end of racing at Raceway Park.  Quite honestly, it is a must read commentary, I encourage you to read it.   From his column:

Look, I enjoy a trip down memory lane as much as the next guy. When a business staggers and closes its doors, it’s Auld-Lang-Syne time.

But when a business is perhaps allowed to fail so that some corporation can stoke an argument that it must protect its own competing enterprise, not to mention make more money elsewhere, well, that’s a hard thing to swallow.

Hackenberg goes on to describe the Raceway Park he remembers, certainly not the one which closed its doors last night.  The shame is, you can replace the name Raceway Park with almost any other track and the same thing could be said. 

Make no mistake, horse racing in general needed to respond to the challenge when the lottery and casinos began sprouting up.  Instead of coming up with horse racing 2.0, they made a deal with the devil to get slots, a deal which may eventually be the undoing of horse racing. 

Even today, racing doesn't get it.  One of the biggest complaints you hear about horse racing is the dead time between races, how today's generation has the attention span of a flea; needing constant action.  What does racing do to solve this problem?  Post time is a fraud.  With the exception to the isolated track, post time means anywhere from four to ten minutes plus until the race goes off.  Instead of speeding up racing, we make the time between races even longer.

Establish set post times?  Have people look at you like you are crazy.  They will tell you waiting until every last dollar is wagered is good for everyone, and it may be in the short term; that is unless you consider the horseplayer who finally exits racing because there is too much dead time between racing.  The obvious solution which would solve the problem is setting fixed post times for each track.  You would think this would be easy to pull off.  Of course, you would be wrong.  Finding all the chemical weapons in Syria will probably be a less daunting task to getting everyone to work together for a common good.

What is one of the first things racing did once competition from the lottery came, they got rid of recalls for the purpose of speeding up races and to avoid penalizing the good acting horses.  Of course, that came with a cost to the gambler, no refund for the horse which doesn't make the gate, even if they are a football field away from the field when they reach the starting line.  The rationale, tracks and horsemen didn't want to give up the commission they would lose if there were refunds.  Racing of old would never have done that, even with their monopoly.

I remain nostalgic about racing pre-1976, those were the good old days for me.  Quite honestly, as much as I love the sport, I am not sure there is a track of any breed I would shed a tear for if the wrecking ball came in.  I was sad when Yonkers Raceway took the old grandstand down.  I certainly was sad after the Freehold fire took down the old grandstand, replacing a grandstand with character with something which lost all personality. 

I welcome the day that behemoth grandstand at the Meadowlands finally comes tumbling down.  When filled to the gills and with that neon glow, it wasn't a grandstand; it was a factory of steel and glass lacking personality.  I am cautiously optimistic the new grandstand will bring back a taste of the old-style grandstand.

Things change, I get it.  But don't tell me all change is for the good.  That is a load of crock.  I am convinced racing the way I knew and loved it was doomed the day Quick Baron crossed the Meadowlands finish line on September 1, 1976 in the first wagering event. That was the day harness racing lost its Canadian and Mid-Western roots and those city slickers from Wall Street got their hands in the cookie jar.  It was the day the complete horsemen died in favor of specialization.  Don't get me wrong, some good came with the Meadowlands, it raised the profile of harness racing to levels it never achieved for a long time, but with it came those trainers we could have done with out. 

I can only hope racing gets to the point where once again, I will shed a tear if and when one of these racing monuments meet the fate Hollywood Park will meet this year.

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