New Zealand’s racing minister was preaching to the converted this week, addressing the annual general meeting of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Association, writes George McDonald.
Now, some of you might think I’m about to bag racing or its participants. That’s not the case at all, but the sad reality is that racing has one major problem that it may ultimately never truly overcome.
I thought the minister, John Carter, made a lot of sense in a wide-ranging speech about the future of the sport.
It was this part that got me thinking: “Maybe I’m the eternal optimist, but what I see is all good. People won’t go to the races if the racetracks don’t offer facilities as good, and preferably better, than other entertainment venues. They won’t even know about the races if the excitement of seeing and being part of the action on the track isn’t marketed to them.
“They won’t go into a TAB if they don’t feel welcome or don’t understand how the systems work. They won’t want to race or buy or breed horses if they have no idea about the magic of this sport. They won’t have a bar of the industry if they don’t see it as being run with integrity.”
The biggest problem faced by racing is that the sport never lost people like me – it never attracted them in the first place.
I’m at the younger end of the baby-boomer generation, one of four kids. Dad used to enjoy a flutter and belonged to workplace betting syndicates.
We’d listen to the radio as children to learn whether Dad’s picks were good enough to earn him the right to have another bet the following weekend.
But that’s about it. I cannot recall in my 30 years of adulthood even one play that the racing industry has made to get me along to the track or into the TAB.
I couldn’t tell you where my nearest TAB is. I know what a double, treble and quinella are, but wouldn’t have a clue how to place a bet.
I’ve had about two bets in my life – both placed by someone else.
I have no idea how comfortable or otherwise I would find facilities at racetracks should I turn up as an ordinary member of the public. Perhaps some readers might like to enlighten me.
Should I own a racehorse? Maybe that would be fun, but I hear it’s pretty costly. I must confess I’d be a little concerned about what fate befell my horse after its racing career. What about the remaining 20 years of its life?
I look at my siblings and they, too, are lost to the industry. They have their social and sporting interests and none of them relate to racing.
Now the racing fraternity might read this and think “silly townies. Why should we be surprised?” That’s not the case at all. As I write this, I can look out across pastures where five of our sporthorses graze.
I’m not entirely sure why racing has lost so many people over the course of my adulthood. Needless to say, it wasn’t a matter that concerned me because, put in the simplest terms, racing wasn’t on my radar.
Perhaps it would have been nice to make some money betting, but I always figured there were thousands of punters out there who knew a hell of a lot more about it than me.
Yes, racing can still turn on some glittering occasions – I’ve seen them on television. Perhaps they’re very profitable and maybe they even lure people into following the sport.
Most, I suspect, treat it as a special occasion and a special day out. A majority are clearly not there for the next meeting.
People, of course, are busier now and there are so many other things available to do.
Perhaps the industry will find strategies to lure “the lost generations” back. I suspect it will be very hard. The people I know of my age live full lives and it is hard to imagine any of them finding the time for another pastime.
The cruel reality is that racing dropped the ball long before the current generation of administrators took the reins.
And they should never underestimate the fickleness of the public.
As a youngster, I really enjoyed my rugby. As an adult I got pay-television and watched games.
One day, the All Blacks coach Graham Henry pulled the top players from Super Rugby to prepare his side for what would prove to be a Rugby World Cup debacle.
I watched a few games of Super rugby without these players but didn’t much like what I saw. I stopped watching and found something else to do. I got rid of pay-TV as a consequence, and the opportunity to watch rugby was pretty much gone.
I’ve seen only a handful of games since.
It didn’t much work as a strategy to win the World Cup, and it didn’t work with me, either.
C’est la vie.