This past Saturday, I spent some time at Oak Tree Pleasanton. The folks there invited me to help out with a handicapping seminar, and I had a blast going through the card and offering my thoughts on the day’s races. It apparently went well, as I shook a few hands afterwards and heard from people who enjoyed it.
I’ve always dug doing that kind of stuff, especially when it leads to people potentially making some money (I’m proud to report my top picks went 5 for 10 with a $2.96 ROI, so there was plenty of room for profit). Given how many of us were introduced to the game (being taken to the track by a parent, or a friend, or another family member), I think it’s the responsibility of those in the game to either bring someone to the track or take the time to explain what’s going on.
All of this serves as a preface to the since-deleted tweet that sent the handicapping section of horse racing Twitter into a frenzy Wednesday morning.
I’m going to try to frame this as delicately as possible, for any number of reasons. On a fundamental level, the content of this tweet is as wrong as wrong can be, and pretty much everyone who responded to it said as much. This is as good a time as any to cue the Richard Dreyfuss line from “Let It Ride.”
Racetracks are based on two main sources of income: Owners who buy and race their horses, and gamblers who bet on them. All of this funds the tracks, which put up purse money. Without either part of that one-two punch, tracks are doomed to fail. Saying betting will ruin the sport goes against lots of established logic, because the truth is that large-scale racing could not survive without it.
If people aren’t betting, racing cannot thrive. The question isn’t just, “How do we get racing fans to the track, or to an ADW?” The second question, which is just as important, is, “How do we provide a foundation for new fans to bet with some degree of confidence once they decide to invest their money?”
One of my longtime friends dating back to my two summers in the Saratoga press box is Tom Amello, a longtime handicapper who prides himself on fan education. He did a seminar at the racing Hall of Fame prior to the 2013 meet, and he did a great job of keeping things simple and relatable. His concepts centered around the odds board and four basic types of fields that can assemble in a given race, and it came across as something simple enough for new fans to understand.
Tom knows what he’s talking about, and he’s got a lot of valid points. The problem isn’t that people are betting too much and losing sight of the other stuff. The problem is, in many ways, the exact opposite. It can be intimidating for new fans to come to the races and not have a clue what they’re looking at or how to make money.
One of the things I try to do with my DRF Formulator Angle segments, which more often than not go against likely favorites, is explain why I’m going against the grain. While much of my analysis is grounded in the numbers Formulator provides, a fair part of it deals with various parts of the form that can be spelled out. Every horseplayer has angles they’re partial to. If what I do helps one person find an angle that works for them and the way they’re comfortable wagering, that’s a win. If that person uses that angle to cash a ticket, that’s an even bigger victory.
Racing does a good job of spreading the glamorous reasons to go to the track. Having said that, what are we doing once they get there so that they keep coming back, and not just for Instagram photos? Sorry, folks: Photos in fancy outfits don’t keep the sport going. Cold, hard cash at the betting windows? That’s a different story.
(Important note: If I turn up missing in the next few days, chances are that paragraph is why!)
I attempt to bridge the information gap every day when handling DRF’s social media platforms. My goal is to make the people who see our content more aware of what’s going on so that they can consume it in the most productive way possible. Hopefully, what I’m doing is bringing content to the attention of fans who will be enriched by it. The rule of thumb I’ve always abided by is that smarter fans are better fans. If smarter fans are compelled to do more to be invested in our game (whether that’s gambling on the races or raising awareness of them), then I’ve done my job effectively.
Speaking from that experience, I think there’s more we could be doing to be more welcoming to newer fans with money to burn, and if you’re taking the time to read this, you’re part of the solution. Making new fans that are inclined to gamble is of paramount importance, and that’s something we need to do given the likelihood of legalized sports betting in the near future.
If racing does not put up a fight, the sport stands to lose significant revenue to its organized sports betting cousins that don’t have this problem. Why would a group of people bet on something they don’t understand when they’ve been watching sports their entire lives and can form justifiable opinions on them without much effort?
Contrary to a tweet that went viral Wednesday morning, we DO need gambling money, possibly now more than ever. Sharing the game and knowledge within it with someone who could benefit from it is the single most productive thing one can do.
If you’ve got insight, share it. If you’ve got advice and new players can stand to benefit from it, help them out. You were there once, and someone helped you understand what was going on. It’s your duty to return the favor, so that there’s a game for us to enjoy in the years to come.