Millennials the target for Breeders' Cup

Millennials the target for Breeders' Cup

November 02, 2018 3:00 AM


Where has the time gone? 

The Breeders’ Cup turns 35 this weekend and it figures to be a glorious couple of days of horse racing at venerable Churchill Downs. It’s a golden opportunity for racing to show what a great sport it can be and display the grand spectacle the Breeders’ has been since its inception in 1984 at the old Hollywood Park.

Here in Las Vegas, the Breeders’ Cup has been well-received over the decades. Some race books have giveaways. Others have seminars to help the betting public handicap the races. You see people at the betting windows who don’t know a fetlock from a furlong trying to decipher the Daily Racing Form and pick a winner. It’s essentially Kentucky Derby Day, Part II.

I think it’s wonderful to see folks take a remote interest in horse racing, even if it’s only for a day. The big challenge, of course, has been, how do the tracks and race books get these people to return?

To their credit, the tracks have tried everything. Free concerts. Promotional giveaways. Reduced concession prices. Free admission. But other than the boutique summer meets at Saratoga, Del Mar, and, to a lesser extent Monmouth Park and Arlington, it’s tough to get a younger audience to come to the track.

Somehow, racing has to grow its fan base and get younger in the process. When I sit in the race book at Red Rock Resort, I’m the youngest person in my row, and I’m 62. How is that good for the sport? Who replaces us when we’re gone?

Maybe the answer is to think like a millennial or a Gen X-er. Maybe it’s communicating and reaching them through social media platforms. Maybe racing can tap in to those means and get people in their 20s to at least take a look.

I recall during the Triple Crown drought how people were saying that nobody cared about horse racing because there were no so-called “superstars.” But look what’s happened in the last five years. We’ve had two Triple Crown champions – American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify this year. California Chrome almost won the Triple Crown in 2014. Each time, there was great excitement that transcended the sport.

Over the years, there have been stars from Affirmed to Zenyatta. But racing struggles to retain a foothold with the mainstream American sporting public. But maybe racing needs to sell its stars better. There are superstar jockeys around the country. Ditto for trainers. Market them. Get people outside racing to know them.

The Breeders’ Cup tried to do it with its seven-part docuseries for the $6 million Classic which is being streamed on its Facebook page and its YouTube channel. You can watch it on your phone or your tablet. It captures the color and excitement of thoroughbred racing,

Most tracks have Twitter accounts, Facebook and Instagram pages to help promote themselves. They’re trying. But more can be done.

Shorten the time between races. Make sure the races are run on time. Lower the takeouts on bets. Don’t gouge people when they come to the track with parking fees, admissions and concession prices. Make it reasonable. 

Racing needs to focus on today, and, more important, the future. Let us cultivate the next generation of horse players, not make them feel unwanted.