Whatever has become of the Sport of Kings?

June 13, 2006

One of the great accomplishments of my life was running a Kentucky Derby pool at my high school. Despite the fact that no Chicagoan under the age of 18 has ever heard of a horse, I somehow got 20 people to chip in 5 bucks a piece to play. Then, two weeks later, 25 people filled out a bracket for the Preakness. Unfortunately, my underground gambling ring attracted too much attention, and head librarian Mona Khalidi (of Rashid Khalidi fame–note: Rashid is only being mentioned in the hopes that someone does a technorati search for him today, and they are brought to my blog. Nefarious, I know, but my page view numbers are starting to look like my EKGs, and I need a bit more stability in my life. That or a wild surge) shut it down. People were actually disappointed by the lack of a Belmont pool, especially since the race featured superstar in the making Point Given, and flash in the pan Monarchos. It was a good year to be a race fan. Also, one of the hottest girls in my school won the Preakness pool, and there was probably a rumor that the pool was rigged in favor of pretty girls. In reality she was just smart enough to see through the Monarchos hype. I was never smart enough to see through Congaree.

There's no question that the races have fallen upon hard times. This article in today's times touches upon some of the issues in horse racing, and how even the broadcasters are giving it short thrift. The article doesn't even touch upon Horse Racing's biggest problem: its connection to the youth of America. Some thoughts.

1) Dirty Old Man factor. People think Horse Racing is sleazy. This is true for most non-Triple Crown races. Sorry. The track is a lot of fun, but second rate tracks are filled with bit characters from Get Shorty and GTA Vice City. Worst of all, the sleazy guys are old. At least if they were young, people would think of the track like they do night clubs: good for the occasional pull, but not for anything long term. For that it'd be better to check craigslist's casual encounters. What's there to do about this? Global rebranding of the sport.

Everyone who has ever read Hunter S Thompson's "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" can tell you what an amazing party the Derby is. The NTRA should do whatever it takes to get the story onto school reading lists, perhaps making a deal with the clearly corrupt College Board to put it on the AP English Exam. Better yet, make a deal with ETS that they will mark every AP no better than a 3 if it doesn't make a horse racing analogy, or at least reference great literary horses. Barring that, the party element needs to be played up. Nick and Jessica and P. Diddy being there helped get the Derby cred with the young, now expand the number of celebrities brought in. Make it the party of the year for young Hollywood, with deluxe accommodations and endless bottles of Crys. Get E! to hold a special episode of Taradise at the Derby, or Giada to do a Behind the Bash for the derby food. Just make sure the youth see the Derby as a non-stop ELEGANT party; a high end Mardi Gras. Bottom line: girls like to ho it out, they just don't like to look like ho's doing it.

2) No one understands the structure of the sport. As of right now, the only thing people know matters is the Triple Crown. There are a million other races, though. Horse racing needs to have some sort of points system to qualify for big races. It needs to look more like a real league, with huge money going to the annual tour champion.

3) Legal internet gambling through the NTRA website. Obviously a tough one to pull, but if people feel secure gambling online, they'll do it. No one wants to suffer from identity theft.

4) Place your product. Get the track placed in movies as the cool place to go, and not the den of criminals. Make it the Bungalow 8 of tomorrow.

Probably none of these will actually happen, but something needs to.

2 Responses to “Whatever has become of the Sport of Kings?”

  1. […] This marks the first white tie dinner of the Bush Presidency. Clinton held three white tie dinners during his tenure (for Japan in 1994; New Year’s Eve, 1999; and for Spain in 2000) and Reagan held one, for the inauguration in 1981. The White House is clearly going all out for this one; in addition to hosting the Prince and Queen, the Monarchs will be attending today’s Kentucky Derby, proving once again that it is both the sport of Kings and Democrats. […]

  2. […] festivities: the Kentucky Derby. This is hardly our first horse racing post; just check out this article from JUNE 2006. Yet this is our first horse racing article in quite some time, and the first since […]

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