The following post is a counter-response to this article, which appeared on Yahoo! sports and appeared on Twitter on Tuesday Feb. 27. The full article is available here.
The Author lays out six points to explain why horse racing is experiencing a decline among those under the age of 40. Two of those points will be explained, and then countered.
Disclaimer: The Author is under the age of 40.
1. Horse racing is dangerous for horses
The Yahoo! author makes a lot of reference to an interview with a taxi driver in Louisville Kentucky (where Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby, and last year's Breeders Cup were held) and how said driver was upset after the breakdown of Eight Belles in the 2008 Kentucky Derby.
I've attended races at various tracks, seen live television events, and to be quite honest I've never seen a breakdown live. I've been a fan for almost a decade, and attending Arlington and Hawthorne since 2008. I guess I lead a charmed life.
While it is true that yes, racing can be dangerous and yes, an ambulance does follow all the participants around. However, breakdowns are a statistically rare occurrence. According to Bloodhorse/Jockey Club Statistics, you see about two fatal injuries in one thousand starts.
Given the current racing calendar in Illinois, it means you probably see one at Hawthorne and one at Arlington each year.
According to Arlington Park Director of Communications Dave Zenner, it translates to one breakdown per 100 to 150 races, depending on the size of the field. Since 8 horse fields are an average, we use the statistic of one breakdown per 125 races.
Given the current racing calendar in Illinois, it means you probably see three or four at Hawthorne during the winter/spring meet, about five at Arlington each year, and another three or four at Hawthorne during the fall. On average, about once a month. It of course should be noted we are taking averages of averages, so our statistics will lose their precision.
Sometimes, well, shit happens. Horses, as much as the humans, can be athletes. They have their aches and pains.
The goal is not to present a callous attitude. But instead, given the statistical infrequency, you're not likely to see a breakdown when you're at the track. The Eight Belles incident gets so much attention because it occurred during the Kentucky Derby, which is nationally televised on NBC and seen by millions. Everyone is going to remember something on TV or from the Derby; not everyone is going to remember some drab Wednesday $5000 claiming race at Hawthorne.
2. Racing horses are turned into food
Or the glue factory.
There is a whole segment of the industry devoted to the care and welfare of horses after their careers end. On a national level they include (but certainly not limited to) After the Finish Line and Old Friends. On a more local level, there are Galloping Out and Illinois Equine Humane Center. The organizations are not-for-profit and use the donations to set up homes or second careers tomorrow for today's horses. To fail to mention a facet of the industry devoted to this cause when talking about saving horses is an epic fail.
It's one thing to point out that there's not a lot of young blood at the race track. I get it, I understand. But if you're going to improve the sport, don't go attacking and pointing out the negative. Point out the positives.
--The presence of HBO's "Luck", a dramatic TV series devoted to racing.
--Mobile apps designed to inform people at racing. Hawthorne is set to debut one this meet.
--Presence of tracks on Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare.
--Increased handle at tracks. According to a recent Hawthorne press release, handle, handle is up over ten percent for the first eight days of racing. More money spent on racing allows for better quality, aiding the marketing.
I admit racing isn't what it was twenty or thirty years ago. But I wasn't around to see it twenty or thirty years ago. But we can get back there instead of bemoaning the bad things. Let's not wallow in crapulence.
Update, 6:29 PM. In speaking to D. Zenner as above, I received some helpful statistics and clarification. His contributions are noted in the italicized text above.