The everyday reporting of the “Soup of the Day” from Pimlico or Laurel Park was a staple of my morning wake up with WBAL radio for many years. They also announced the scratches for that day’s racing card. In the Baltimore Sun they printed the entries and morning lines (predicted betting odds) for the day, had the complete race charts from the day before and had a regular column by Chick Lang, a horse racing legend here in Maryland. They regularly reported on important races across the country. Now, nothing except a few articles about the Triple Crown races (The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes) and the Breeders Cup in November. They are tough, happy to report on the deteriorating state of horse racing in Maryland and the many controversies surrounding slots.
This column will mostly be about food and food related topics, but I’m drifting in this rant today. To the food end, the Soup of the Day at the track was, and still is, good. They also have a pretty good brunch on special Sundays in the Clubhouse, Mother’s Day for example. Take your Mom to the track to bet the ponies and buy her brunch, or at least the Soup of the Day. Or just go yourself or with your friends. It’s fun and exciting.
You would think that you could market fun and exciting. Tell that to the Maryland Jockey Club (Magna Entertainment) – a group of brain dead bumbler stumblers if there ever was one. You would think they were the “Maryland Slots Club”. Or maybe the “Slots for Us (and no one else) Club”. With the multi-million dollar battle Magna fought (and lost) to try to keep David Cordish from getting slots in Anne Arundel County (after they put in a flawed bid for the slots license themselves and were rejected), it became clear that they don’t care about horse racing – they only care about slots. If they cared about racing they would put their time, energy, and money into the tracks and into horses, and be happy to accept the millions in revenue generated by the slots operators rather than fighting them. Invest in, and sell, your sport.
Most, or at least many of us, like sports. They are fun and exciting. We watch, we cheer, we get “invested” in our teams, we sometimes scream and yell and jump up and down. When is it MOST exciting? Usually when the game is close and comes down to the wire (a horse racing term). Walk off home runs, last second field goals or touchdowns, basketball games where the teams trade baskets until the last shot, upset victories (another horse racing term by the way – Man o’ War, a champion horse around 1920, lost only one race in his career – to a horse named “Upset”). We remember those moments, but they don’t happen all the time. Some games are blowouts, some are slow and sloppy.
BUT, with horse racing, after you learn how to place a bet on a horse, you have an exciting finish EVERY SINGLE RACE. The entire crowd at the track is absolutely focused, screaming, cheering, at the end of every race. AND DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME……… This is good stuff – fun and exciting. Go to the track on a regular day, though, and there is no one there – 3,000 people on a good day. What’s up?
In my opinion, “what’s up” is too many races, especially on weekdays in the afternoon (I have to work – how about you?), TV monitors and jumbo screens that you can’t see and have terrible resolution, a sound system that you can’t hear, a betting system that is as unfriendly to a novice as it could possibly be, tracks that are dumps, no “star” system for the horses, little TV coverage and even less newspaper coverage. The game is only accessible to the “junkies”.
Can it be different? Is it different elsewhere? Yes and yes. Close to home Delaware Park and Penn National are nice, newly renovated facilities. They followed the new model that we sort of, kind of, pretended that we sort of, kind, of, wanted to do, but politics and greed got in the way. DE and PA passed slots, gave a portion of the proceeds to horse racing, built casinos at the tracks, renovated the tracks to make them nice, and raised the purses to attract better horses. It works for them, and the horse industries in Delaware and Pennsylvania, but we couldn’t pull it off. Shame on us.
Nationally, there are great examples at Lone Star Park in Dallas, a newer facility built with quality and smaller daily attendance in mind (like maybe we should or could have done down near M&T Bank Stadium), Santa Anita in Southern California, a gem, Keeneland in Kentucky, another gem, and Saratoga in New York with its “boutique” meet that you almost can’t get a ticket to – fabulous races and horses. There are others as well.
What sets these places apart is that they treat racing, and horsemen, with respect. They see the quality of the product and the significant economic development contribution that horse breeding, training, and racing make to the community. Big money, lots of jobs, and really good entertainment for a quality clientele.
Before I close, you need to know that I’m not talking through my hat – I am committed and “invested” in racing. I am not an “armchair quarterback”. I have been, and still am, involved in groups that own racehorses that run in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia. We are certainly at the blue collar level, but it’s real racing. The financial investment is significant to me and so is the emotional investment. We have had some modest success (seven winners in the past 2 years), some near misses, and some flops. But, it is fun and exciting, and a dream-come-true to be involved at an owner’s level in a sport that I love. Hopefully we can get our act together here in Maryland and bring the “Sport of Kings” back to the level that it deserves.
I promise that I will stick more to food in future columns. I also love cooking and eating.
Until next time keep your ear out for the “Soup of the Day”.