Taboo. Dirty. Foreign.
These are words that explain the attitude of most of today's America toward horse racing. What was once regarded as the sport of kings has been relegated to the ranks of the obscure.
Most Americans couldn't tell you at which track the Kentucky Derby is held, let alone which track is closest to their home. No one is interested in watching horses run around in circles, and most are not willing to admit they enjoy a day spent gambling a few dollars.
Horse racing is constantly associated with risk and degeneracy. The horse racing track conjures images of sleazy, fedora-donning bettors walking around with chewed-up cigars hanging off their lips and senior citizens on a weekend trip with their retirement home buddies. This picture fails to inspire most Americans to head to their local track and enjoy a day of racing.
What people need to know is that a day at the track is usually an enjoyable one. Five dollars will usually buy you a ticket and an extra three will buy you a shaded seat near the finish line. A twenty dollar bill can be used to wager small, two-dollar bets that would keep anyone entertained the whole day through. The added bonus: one could walk out with more money than they walked in with.
It is unlike spending a day sitting in front of slot machines or wagering on a playoff basketball game. Horse racing allows fans to enjoy the sunshine and win a few bucks. Fun, right?
It seems as though this old-timey, traditionalistic idea of fun doesn't quite translate in a world of constant stimulation and entertainment. Sports fans want a 24-hour cycle of regurgitated analysis, highlight reels and drama.
Horse racing affords none of that, outside of Triple Crown season. The sport gives fans a minute or two of racing that they can cheer at followed by a half-hour of waiting. Repeat this about ten times and you've got a full day. The time ratio of entertainment to lull is about 1:15—not enough to keep a iPhone-attached American interested.
Keep in mind, horse racing is not the purest institution in the sports world. With medications and supplements like Lasix and Bute being legalized in the '90s, many racing purists feel the sport is thoroughly tainted.
Tainted or not, the racing industry needs a hero in the form of a Triple Crown winner to lure new fans to their local track. It is not enough for racing to sustain its traditions and refuse to innovate. The sport, like all sports, need to continually improve how it attracts fans. For horse racing, the Triple Crown and a lovable winner will provide that motivation.