The Internet: Is It Good or Bad for Racing?
There's many positive things online wagering and racing-only TVG and HRTV
programs bring to the fan. There's nothing more convenient and comfortable than
betting from home. The beer's free, the betting lines are non-existent, and the
rest rooms are fit for human occupancy. And with one simple mouse click, a
cancel wager can be made when your selection attempts to take a 500-yard dash
back to the barn after unseating his rider. Why go to the track then? The
answer is simple. The racetrack has so much more to offer than a place to watch
a live race and make a bet. For "bettor" or worse it has shaped my
The new generation of computer-orientated bettors may never experience the smile of a Julie Krone after winning 6 races on a summer afternoon at the Jersey Shore's Monmouth Park. Or the chuckle of Angel Cordero Jr., after your father shouts "Cerveza Fria" from the rail as he gets a leg-up in the Belmont paddock. Or the unpleasant darkness of the Aqueduct grandstand on an early February evening after jockey Ruben Hernandez is disqualified after a 10-minute inquiry for hitting apprentice Wesley Ward's mount in the face with a whip during a spirited $15,000 claiming 9th-race stretch duel.
That's right kids! Ward used to ride horses not train them! Believe me those dq's hurt a lot more when you're standing with you father, mentor and hero in an empty rundown grandstand, and the only visible light is the tote board and the tractor lights rounding the far turn for the evening's final go-around. And the last I recall it wasn't possible from your computer desk dabbling with your Twin Spires account to have a 1977 Cadillac Eldorado burst into flames after overheating on a July afternoon when your old man decides it's a good idea to ignore the red engine light and blow past every toll booth from Elmont to Yonkers.
Then there was the amazing handling and stamina of jockey Chris Antley rallying up the rail at Monmouth Park in the card's last race when looking desperately beaten in deep stretch... to save that year's income tax check. Three hours later my Dad and I were enjoying the finest Italian cuisine at Grotta Azzura in New York City thanks to this young jock's enthusiasm and will to win. These experiences, lifelong memories and their emotional significance simply can't be duplicated from your living room.
My father and I always parked far away from the Belmont Park grandstand entrance. We both enjoyed the 15-minute walk as we glanced through the chain-link fence at the humongous dirt oval, excited about the upcoming day's adventure. Like every horseplayer, we always dreamed of the potential big payday. Most days there was a yapping blackbird perched on the fence usually situated in the same spot, and it was almost like we both were waiting to greet each other before post time. This one particular bird became part of our Belmont routine, and he was missed on the rare days he didn't make his customary appearance. Perhaps it was the sense of freedom we both had that was our equal bond. Are there bad racetrack memories? Of course! Life is full of bad memories, disappointment, loneliness, feelings of helplessness and despair. That's life. And the racetrack has all those things. It also has so many other positive influences. Unfortunately, my father's big score never came. He was taken far too early at the age of 59.
When my small vessel came sailing in on Easter Sunday 2006 with a memorable pick six score at Santa Anita, ironically it occurred online with an account I had opened that very morning! Let's face it, not all good wagering experiences happen on-track. But there's more...
In these changing times you can't but help what effect the whole social media tidal wave has had on the racing wagering environment. The last I looked I had 226 Facebook virtual friends. I call them virtual companions because everyone knows they aren't real friends. Of my 226 online buddies there's probably 50 to 75 that I've never met before. Hold on... let me get an accurate count. I'll take a 3 minute break and take a hard count. Ok. I'm back. I was a little off and aggressive in my tabulation. 31. Of the remaining 95 I've probably spoken to about 30 in the last year and actually seen about half of that remaining amount face-to-face. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not totally anti-social media networks. Facebook has allowed me to interact with some old "friends" and acquaintances from years past. Where else with a click of a mouse can I get a full report and daily update on whose kids are selling girl scout cookies, what old or fairly old boyfriend wronged a female over the weekend, or a 34 second video clip of another "friends" kids 5th-grade Peter Pan Christmas play. Even as an active or pro social media enthusiast, you have to admit it's a little extreme when you Twitter about the cheese steak you had for lunch or the mole your uncle had removed from his chin.
On a more serious note, how does social media help racing and the bettor? The answer is fairly obvious for the seasoned player. Twitter feedback from the paddock by some of the experts in the game can be invaluable information. These inspections provide irreplaceable data on the physical appearance and body language of the entrants. Does a horse have front bandages? Is he or she worked up or nervous and sweating profusely? Is a horse's coat dull and generally lackluster in appearance? Is the coat dappled out and shiny? There's only so much paddock inspection and physical attributes you can catch from your television feed, and in many cases you don't get to see full post parades because of commercials or general commentary. Another positive that on-track social media feeds provide is up-to-date data on any racetrack changes. Are there any late scratches, potential track biases or any other late-developing up-to-the-second idiosyncrasies that may sway your wagering decisions?
But when push comes to shove, if your schedule and routine allows you to, there's nothing better than being on-track yourself. The colorful sights and sounds of the racetrack are an education in life. There's no other place where you can meet such a diversity of people, master social interaction, make "real" friends for life and enjoy tremendous athletes both man and animal in the flesh. My son was 3-months-old when he took his first track trip. He won't remember me holding him in one arm with a Miller Lite in the other. As we stood by the 300-year-old white pine tree in the Belmont paddock, however, I'm sure there was a blackbird perched nearby that was happy to see a father and son keeping an on-track tradition alive and well. I'll never need a video lottery terminal, ridiculous track promotion, or some other harebrained marketing idea to get me out to the live product. But I guess I'm the exception these days. Get out there folks and support your local live racing venue. Your Facebook friends won't miss you for one afternoon. I promise.