Triple Crown or No Triple Crown–Horse Racing Needs to Step Up in Order to Grow.

Marion Altieri,New York writer

Marion Altieri,New York writer

I’m sick to death of reading and hearing that horse racing in American needs a Triple Crown victory.

Good Lord, the way people talk, one would think that a win by American Pharoah will turn everything around, and suddenly–BOOM!–horse racing will re-claim its place as America’s Sport.  It’ll be 1937 all over again, the world hanging to every word that’s written or spoken about the sport.

From the hopeful, overly-excited posts on Facebook and other social media, it seems that (too) many people think that the horse will cross the finish line first–the sun will come out–angels will descend from Heaven–and the entire world will disintegrate into one big, wet pool of weeping in the streets.

Lepers and the lame will be healed. Children will speak in tongues.  War will cease, and peace will reign on Earth.

And, oh, yes–race tracks will experience a renewal.  Stands will be full; handle will increase 1,000-fold; and millions of people who heretofore didn’t give a tiny rat’s patootie about the sport will become rabid, informed, wagering fans.

Sorry, people:  it won’t happen that way.

One single race–or series of races–has no such power, to grow the sport of horse racing.

People start talking this way–about Triple Crown Salvation–as the Kentucky Derby gears up.  The fact that millions of people watch the Kentucky Derby on TV, and that Churchill Downs crams as many people as possible into their stands–somehow is argument that, WOW, YES, Horse Racing IS Popular, After All!

Ahhhhh, nope.  The Kentucky Derby is a race that cleverly is obscured behind an EVENT.  The event is the celebrities who are flown in and courted for a week.  The event is big hats, fashionable clothing and a PR team that works, 24/7, to be sure that non-fan women watch for the things that they think we women love (fashion), and that non-fan men watch because they can see famous babes in said fashion.

And then of course, there’s the Preakness.  Yes, Pharoah won the Kentucky Derby (barely–if you recall correctly).  So he got to the Preakness amid much excitement , and won resoundingly because, damn, if that boy didn’t love the mud of Baltimore.

BUT–and this but is a legitimate argument–unfortunately too many media gave smug attention to the Preakness infield, which featured a bikini contest; bottomless beer cups and a winking nod to the grand tradition of alcoholism.  Forget the beautiful traditions of the Preakness–too many media intentionally scheduled the infield antics into their programming. And that’s not just a sin–if anything, it’s the anti-growth recipe.

Why?  Because you know as well as I that the only people who may be drawn to Preakness Day because, gosh, they-see-girls’-lady-parts bouncing around–and gee, look at all those drunks!–the only people who will be drawn to that nonsense, to that shameful exhibition, are 15-year-old boys.  And you know that those boys will not watch another horse race until Preakness next year, when they pump the air with their fists and wail, “Yeah!” over Miss Ocean State making her way to the winner’s podium, her feet sticking to the boards because of all that spilled beer.

So do you really think that American Pharoah (or any horse) winning the Triple Crown this–or any–year will have the power, the authority to turn millions of ambivalent hearts into wild-eyed, betting fans?  If people watch the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness for many reasons other than to see gorgeous horses race--why in God’s Name would those same hearts suddenly spring to life as bona fide race fans, simply because one horse won a big race series?

Even a big race series that hasn’t been won in 37 years.  Those 37 years don’t mean a thing to someone who’s not a follower of the sport, it’s important only to current fans.  So breaking the drought means nothing, whatsoever, to potential fans. If they  heard about the 37 years, they probably responded by saying,


Everyone seems to have forgotten that 25 long years came and went between Citation’s Triple Crown victory in 1948, and Secretariat’s in 1973.  And I’m sure that, toward the end of that drought, people got excited every year.

But I don’t recall reading anything from those years, no media pieces, about how a Triple Crown victory would “save” the sport.  Do you?

Unfortunately we live in an era when, thanks to social media–the attention span of most humans is shorter than that of a goldfish.   Eight seconds, as opposed to the goldfish’s nine seconds.   (

SO I attribute this insane rush to judgment–that a Triple Crown victory will save American racing–to two things:

*  The aforementioned abbreviated attention span; and
*  the fact that it’s just-plain lazy for racing to go along with the victory/renewed interest myth, than to deal with the issues that will help the sport to grow.

Those issues? (And we DO all know these, the things that hold American horse racing back.  It’s just so difficult to do The Hard Work than to allow media and fans to hang every hope on the withers of a single horse in a single race.)

1)  American racing has lousy PR, because too many people believe that we are indifferent to
2)  doping and
3)  slaughter/abuse and neglect.

Now, we all know also:  that PETA and other horse racing-hating organizations create myths–generate lousy pseudo-journalism–and make boatloads of money by painting themselves as the heroes, and horse racing as the villains.  PETA sucks more money out of the purses of sweet, well-intentioned, middle-aged women with cats because of the half-truths they spread, and the emotional language with which they spin the lies.  (N.B.: I’m a middle-aged woman with a cat, and a heart for animals.  But because I do know animals so well–I know bull…hockey…when I see it.)

But it IS true, that horse racing needs to deal with doping and the slaughter/abuse/neglect issues, and do it NOW.  Just this week, a ray of hope came to light as WHOA, The Jockey Club and a New York Congressman cast their lots together to create legislation and an NGO that will unify drug rules in all 50 of these United States.  So, hopefully, this will be one area in which horse racing can speak as one voice, for the horses and against those who would harm them.

Regarding the slaughter/abuse/neglect issue:  there are many racing organizations that work with trainers and owners to assure that, once a horse’s racing career is over–that horse either is gently retired or re-trained to take on a new, fun career.  The problem is that those efforts aren’t given enough publicity, and there aren’t enough of those programs for the general (non-racing) media to notice, en masse.

Horse racing organizations that don’t currently have strict rules regarding abuse, neglect and the shipping of horses to slaughter need to put said rules into place, NOW.  Those that do have such rules need to enforce them, strictly and without exception.  Every race track, every racing organization, needs a Horses’ Advocate–a Czar, if you will–whose sole job it is to look out for every horse racing on that track.

4)  Women are the great Underutilized Resource.  If you look at the Boards of Directors of every racing organization, every corporation, in our sport–you will find that MAYBE one female serves on the Board.  MAYBE. And that figure may be one out of 15 or 17 Board members.

This is an unrealistic way to run a Board:  like it or not, females are 51% of the general population–therefore, we are the majority of the potential new fans.*  (*Actually, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association–now, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association–did an extensive survey in 2008, of virtually every sport in the U.S.  One of the conclusions to which they came is that women already are the majority of the fan base of horse racing. Don’t blame me, call them if you don’t like the statistic.)

Even if we womenfolk are only 51% of the potential fan base–isn’t it foolish, to have a sport in which women are not represented on decision-making Boards?  Of course it is:  women, even businesswomen with profoundly-logical, bottom-line brains, have so much emotional content to contribute to Boards.  Women on Boards will represent all of us who currently feel disenfranchised.  So far what we’ve seen is that most racing organizations think that we womenfolk are interested solely in fashion shows.  Too many times, we’re painted with a broad brush, and talked-down-to by the menfolk on those Boards.  The Boards need us–the sport needs us–and if horse racing ever is to grow in the U.S., women have to have full voting (and veto) rights on those Boards.

Believe me, a 51%/49% split on Boards will change not only the face of the organizations, you’ll see what women have to offer.

Hall of Fame Trainer, LeRoy Jolley, said it best in 2006:  he stated emphatically,

They don’t know how to market this sport!  Do you know who they’re supposed to be marketing it to??”

I responded that I thought that I did, but I wanted to hear what he thought.

“Let me ask you:  who loves a horse more than a 13-year-old girl??!!

Exactly, LeRoy. Exactly.

Give us the reins–put us in equal numbers on Boards (on every Board)–give us a vote.  We can do more than model beautiful hats: we can crunch numbers, promote the sport, introduce children to horses, get groups of women to go to the races–the possibilities are endless.

Want to grow the sport of horse racing?  Put women on organizational Boards.  Enforce drug rules, and those regarding slaughter, abuse and neglect.  Don’t run away from the real-live, hard-core needs of the sport, and hide behind the glitter of a possible Triple Crown victory.

Ain’t no way, no how, that one single series of races can have the impact of the real solutions that I presented here.

Hey, someone wins the Super Bowl every year.  Now and then, I attend a Super Bowl party.  I go for the wings.  But 40 years of chicken wings and friends trying to get me excited has failed to make me a fan of football. No horses involved?  I don’t care.

So why would anyone in racing–officials or fans–think that a casual, chicken-wings-kinda-observer, who checks in on the First Saturday in May–will become a hardcore fan of horse racing because of one, two or three successful races by one single horse?

If only the solution were that simple…but it’s not.