Print and Go Back ESPN.com: HorseRacing [Print without images]

Monday, August 1, 2011
Mature Moments

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

All sports, except for football, college and pro, could stand an infusion of new fans.

Bad baseball draws flies. Bad NBA draws friends, relatives and groupies. Bad WNBA barely draws ushers. Golf without Tiger draws bowling numbers.

Horse racing handle is down some. Look around, what isn't.

Each year, horse racing loses a number of fans and supporters to natural causes, to people who can't handicap and can't afford to keep losing. These people move on to the nearest casinos, where they can lose less with more action, and far better service.

Here's the prototype for a horse race fan just waiting to be invited.

  • Somebody who is smart. Horse race smarts feature common sense and intuitiveness. In a great majority of instances, memory has little relationship with intelligence. Memory without common sense is trivia. But at the race track, recalling can equal money.
  • Somebody who is comfortable being alone with his or her thoughts. There's more action at the bingo hall. The best horse players aren't social unless they need something, and seldom take dates to the races.
  • Somebody who is patient and would rather save money than save time.
  • Somebody who has money.
  • Somebody who doesn't want to fight.
  • Somebody who can stop after two beers.
  • Somebody who has time.
  • Somebody with a great imagination.
  • Somebody who rather doubts it.

    Meet the average 70-year old. Seventy is the new 30 when it comes to having time and money.

    Horse race marketing is wasted on the young and the stupid. The average 30 year-old is either obsessed and possessed by a career, or is laying back and thinking it over with a six pack. Either way, they're internet junkies bent on saving ten seconds with the smart phone that can enable a person to start his car from the banks of the Zambezi, or break up with a partner in four ways simultaneously. Excess insignificance, that's the way of much of what passes for innovation. The alleged new young horse player works at a place where there are 1,000 applications for his or her job. Take a relaxing afternoon off for some horse races? Maybe later; like in 40 years.

    I took a 70-year old to the races over the weekend. This person had been through all the mindless human phases detrimental to picking a winner. He had been to the horse races maybe a dozen times for fund-raisers and social events, and out of curiosity, never seriously.

    It's hard to say who learned the most.

    Some things probably worth more than I had been giving them credit were: How many races seemed unpickable, which is not a word but should be, how many races seemed even, five or six horses deep; how infrequently horses you liked about the same were boxed; how quick handicappers were to listen to somebody who knew the same, or less; how many people lost; how much interest was paid to Horse of the Year awards even though the winners would react about the same as Car of the Year champs.

    The 70-year old put $100 in play and cleared $20 after expenses. He could have won more but didn't quite believe it when I said that a rotten trainer could turn Seabiscuit into Dogbiscuit.

    Possibly the best lesson to be learned all around was that losers play the next race like it's their last race. Good handicappers approach the next one as a race like any other.

    Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.