Sunday, June 17, 2018
2012: The Mayan Prophecy and Horse Racing

Did you watch the pilot episode for HBO's highly anticipated new horse racing drama Luck Sunday night? Without an HBO subscription I could not. Somewhere around one million viewers did check it out. Keep that number in mind -- it's an important figure that we'll get to later.

The reviews have me quite interested though as no one, inside or outside racing, seems to quite know what to make of Luck or what direction it will take. I guess if you went in expecting to like it or dislike it, you probably did.

Apparently the pilot episode featured a graphic depiction of a breakdown. This is creator David Milch informing viewers in no uncertain terms that Luck is not Disney's Secretariat, and that there's plenty more where that came from. And slapping them in the face in the process. Sign me up. "Raw and unflinching" always gets my attention. All those viewers and racing fans horrified and put off by the realism have several weeks to compose themselves before the series begins in earnest. They'll be back. And I'll have HBO.

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Amazombie for Horse of the Year

CDC_zombieHave you noticed how popular zombies have become? Have to think that popularity has been fueled by AMC's not-for-the-squeamish hit zombie drama The Walking Dead on Sunday nights. I'm a huge fan of the show. Some say it is the new Lost. We'll see, Lost lost me along the way, but The Walking Dead definitely has me for the long haul. Check it out.

Speaking of popular zombies, I'm going to make a case that the Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Amazombie would make a terrific Horse of the Year. In all honesty, the question of which equine athlete this year-end award goes to ranks somewhere around 837 in the list of the Top 1000 important issues facing Thoroughbred horse racing. Nevertheless it will command a disproportionate amount of debate in the next couple of months since, as in the previous few years, the Horse of the Year is not blatantly obvious.

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I'm Not Dead Yet: Is Thoroughbred Racing's Aging Fan Base an Illusion?

Yet another Monty Python reference? Following our most recent post this makes two consecutive blog article titles with a nod to the influential British comedy group. A coincidence or a trend I cannot say with certainty. Probably a coincidence unless I'm starting to channel John Cleese. Consider yourself warned.

One of the salient themes in McKinsey and Company's study "Driving sustainable growth for Thoroughbred racing and breeding", presented at the annual Jockey Club Round Table in Saratoga Springs last month, centered on the problems with a "mature" fan base. Actually, an aging fan base. Ok, a dying fan base. Evidently the combined mortality rate and defection rate for Thoroughbred racing fans exceeds the rate of new fans discovering the sport. As a researcher, I'm sort of in awe of the requisite data necessary to perform the calculations underlying this claim. An estimated mortality rate specific to Thoroughbred horse racing fans? That's impressive.

McKinsey did not tell us how they did it, so we can't really challenge their methodology. But that won't stop us from offering a different perspective.

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The Program is a Customer Touchpoint Too

It's ten minutes to post and you're putting those critical finishing touches on that Pick 4 ticket you diligently constructed hours earlier. You are slightly aware of the couple next to you as they squint at the infield tote and then stare blankly at their program. They murmur to each other and glance your way. You are now acutely aware of them. You think to yourself, "Is it going to happen again"? It can't, not now, you don't have time. But it does happen. They sidle a bit closer to you. You freeze. You become short of breath. And then like a knife in the back... "Excuse me, but what do all these numbers mean?"

Oriental_Wasp_-_FaceAt this moment, you have three options. 1) Spend the next hour with them explaining how to read past performances and introducing the pari-mutuel betting system. 2) Spend a few minutes quickly describing win odds and win, place, and show wagers. 3) Pretend that you've just been stung by a wasp and run away.

Personally, I have always selected option #2. I want these people to have fun, maybe win a few bucks, and come back again. So I help them out a little with the very basics. Their nods indicate they understand but I have my doubts. They thank me and I walk away smugly thinking I've single-handedly created two lifelong fans. In reality they probably remained confused and intimidated. Hopefully, at least, the mutuel clerk was pleasant and patient. Scratch that last thought.

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Which Numbers Don't Lie?

"Without data, you are just another person with an opinion." ~ Andeas Schleicher

rsz_1img_0016With the premier lifestyle racing meets of Saratoga and Del Mar set to open, it's a good time to be thinking about the casual fans of the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing who will be spinning turnstiles on opposite ends of the country. Few would argue that those two venues, in addition to Keeneland, represent the ultimate live racetrack experiences. If you happen to live anywhere near Albany, NY, Lexington, KY, or in San Diego County, and someone asks "What are you doing today?", "going to the track" is a more than acceptable answer. Going to the track is, in fact, the thing to do during these social race meets, and visitors from near and far flock to these "destination" racetracks. In most other places around the country the reply "going to the track" may trigger quizzical, suspicious, or even incredulous looks.

What about the "big picture"? How popular is horse racing? How big is the fan base? We'll spend some time here trying to flesh out these questions.

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