Racing Fathers gather; pray for daily bread

Dec 6, 2000 4:50 AM

OUR FATHERS WHO ART IN TUCSON . . . H-E-L-P! Listen to the prayer that should be going up this week as horse and greyhound racing executives gather for the 27th Annual Symposium of Racing at the University of Arizona.

I know. You're going to tell me the prayer has been said many times in the past. You're right. But, in my opinion, the betting sport -- the one all of us know and love -- has never been as close to death as it is now. We needed a miracle drug to keep the old game alive.

Along came the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA). Would it be a kiss to build a dream on? Romance was in the air. Young studs were led into the barn to help the good ole boys, who were floundering. A drastic change from the past was needed for the future. The good doctor warned that unless there was a miracle drug on the horizon, the change would not be easy.

Right on! Resistance sprang up almost at the outset. When the old guard discovered that 21st century marketers needed to be paid Year 2000 fees, the patient turned for the worse. It probably was too big an order to expect management of old to come to grips with paying much more than $300 per week to do publicity. The newcomers -- some rather skilled in marketing techniques -- wanted big bucks to save a big game. It didn't take a lot of persuading for the good ole boys to convince the middle-of-the-roaders they were being asked to pay too much money. That's an easy sell. And the costs soared when the newcomers told the troops it was going to cost serious money to get their sport on television, where everything in the world is sold these days. Nitpickers picked a little here and picked a little there. Hands began to unfold.

The death rattle continued.

New entrepreneurs from within the game emerged. Frank Stronach had plans of his own. His Magna Entertainment Group went on a shopping spree. They bought Santa Anita, Golden Gate, Bay Meadows, Gulf Stream Park, Remington, Great Lakes Downs and Thistle Downs.

Another entrepreneur emerged. Churchill Downs gobbled up Hollywood Park, Arlington, Calder, Hoosier and Ellis Park.

NTRA? Who needs them!

The shoppers have agendas of their own. Their target is not necessarily to put fans at the track, but rather fill up inexpensive OTB parlors here and there with live bettors betting “live” simulcast signals.

Cure illness with betting bucks. Forget saving the patient as a whole. Some only want an arm and a leg. Others are content with the head and chest. Only the good ole boys still think they can have the whole thing.

I don't think they can.

Stronach ran a double truck ad last week in the Daily Racing Form. Finally -- after all these years -- someone came along and recognized the versatility of Las Vegas. And, as I have written so many times in the past, the cleverness of McDonalds, who saw change coming long before anyone else, switched from hamburgers to other good things to eat.

Stronach wrote: “We should learn from the casinos in Las Vegas. If Las Vegas had only stayed with gambling, Las Vegas would not be what it is today.”

I don't necessarily think highly of Stronach. But here he's right on. Had the tracks of yesteryear only embraced other gambling games, what a difference it would have made! Just look at the ones smart enough to sell something other than pari-mutuel betting. With the advent of simulcasting -- truly the game's only miracle drug to date -- the two new shoppers are on to something. They're buying up “film rights” to a television game that can be brought in exclusively from their own farm system.

Unfortunately, there are still ills to overcome if any part of the patient is to survive.

The two King Kongs subscribe to the survival of the fittest theory. Let everyone run dates as they see fit! Will it work? Certainly not as we knew the game in the past. But in a free market, it has a shot. I used to worry about the neighborhood butcher. How could he survive against the supermarkets? He did.

. . . Give us this day our daily bettors. Amen!