Saturday, 4 April 2009

Not On Its Way to the Grave

This morning, a short note on the Handride blog got me thinking. It was a link to a Top 10 list ranking horse racing as #5 of things that will follow daily newspapers on their way to the grave. It also was one more in a long line of predictions of racing’s impending doom, a notion that even many of the sport's fans seem to have accepted as truth. But the newspaper analogy is, in my opinion, a perfect example for the difference between a doomed industry and a mismanaged but potentially viable one.

Despite the grim superficial picture racing may leave (and the frequently dire touch of my own posts), I don't believe for a minute that American horse racing is on it's way to the grave.

The illness of the newspaper industry is, sadly, incurable. The costs of producing a daily local newspaper are higher than the income generated by those willing to buy the whole product for the few features that are better than the alternate, free, online feed. Simply put, few people are willing to pay a few hundred bucks a year to have a paper on their door every morning when almost all of the content is available for free on the net. Newspapers have few opportunities to save on costs without alienating their customers.

The problems of American thoroughbred racing on the other hand are caused by mismanagement and oversupply. A lot could be done to attract new fans to the sport, but even under the current circumstances racing is hardly doomed. Unlike local newspapers, American racing is, for all practical purposes, free to decline in volume without equal negative effects on its quality, up to a certain point quality will in fact increase.

As a thought experiment, racing could easily exist with only one track running per day, which is precisely the system that works fine for Chilean and Argentinian racing. In those countries the takeout rate is even higher, meaning that racing’s health is even more dependent on its attraction as a sport/event, and the lure of handicapping as a strategy game. If nations with 17 and 40 million inhabitants can maintain a viable racing industry, there shouldn't be any problem in the U.S.


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  2. Good point. The market forces are dictating that American racing contracts to a more healthy size. There is no need for 35 tracks to be running on a Saturday. With slots propping up much of the unbettable/unwatchable racing the quality will continue to suffer.

  3. The worst thing about slot-sustained racetracks is probably that they clog up the simulcasting cards, driving potentially viable tracks into bankruptcy.