Monday, May 9, 2011

WEEP NO MORE, MY LADY:  If you'll go back through this blog's archives you know how much coverage we devoted to thoroughbred racing back in the day -- that "express your love for Affirmed or Alydar in haiku form" post generated a record for comments at the time -- but as this RealClearSports slideshow of Most Diminished Sports reminds us, the Kentucky Derby ain't what it once was for most of America, nor are the Penn Relays, America's Cup, the PBA Tour, Indianapolis 500 or prize fights anywhere close to where they once were in popular consciousness. Is this an irretrievable decline? Or does Barbaro-mania suggest that any of them could come back at any time -- it just takes the right star?

I did watch the Derby with the girls on Saturday; as my father did for me and Todd, we each drew slips of paper with numbers 1-20 on them to have a rooting interest for The Fastest Two Minutes In All Of Sports. But I cannot imagine taking them to a track to actually watch horse racing in person as I did several times as a kid -- the word "unsavory" comes to mind.


  1. I think the increased ease (if not legality) of other sports betting has really contributed to the downfall of horse racing's popularity.  It used to be that if you wanted to bet with ease on a sport, in almost every state, the ponies were the only legal option.  Now, it's easy to go online and make a quasi-legal bet on a sport you might otherwise care about/follow.

    That said, I do still admire the pomp and pageantry of horse racing, and if there was a good horse with the right story and a chance at a Triple Crown, I think people would start caring again quite quickly.

  2. The Pathetic Earthling9:52 AM

    There's a pretty good horse track not far from me (Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley) and it's actually a fun place to take the kids.  It is indeed unsavory, but all of the unsavory elements stay inside to bet on all the other horse races going on elsewhere and pretty much no one is outside actually watching the live horse race.  

  3. Watchman11:14 AM

    News reported a record crowd in excess of 150,000 in attendance at the track.  I guess it's the viewership/off site interest that they're saying has decreased?

  4. Tony H.12:16 PM

    I agree with The Pathetic Earthling.  I don't have experience at other tracks, but my local one is an extremely family friendly place.  Kids love being able to get so close to the horses in the paddock and at the post parade.  And yeah, all the serious horseplayers stay inside in cordoned off areas or at home betting online.

  5. Anonymous12:52 PM


    The Miss America Pageant. Yeah, I know. It's technically not an athletic event. Still, somehow, I expected it a one of the items.


  6. Michael Kennedy12:57 PM

    The America's Cup has lost a lot of allure for sailors because it has become an all professional event with constant changes to the boat type. In other words, a spending contest. The 12 meters are still very popular. They should go back to them but won't.

  7. Tony H.1:35 PM

    Online betting hasn't helped, particularly with the casual fan.  The poker boom, too, has not helped.  But unfortunately horse racing's downfall has been largely self-inflicted.  I could make a list as long as my arm of mistakes that have been made.  

    Part of the problem is that there are simply too many tracks and too many races on any given day, and not enough horses.  No one wants to bet on a five-horse race. 

    The one change I would make is simple: freeing the statistics.  Frankly, in this day in age it is flat-out ridiculous that I can't log onto the internet and look up the past performances of any particular horse for free.  There is no horse racing equivalent of  If I want to see the statistics of a horse or a jockey or a trainer, I have to pay for it.  I am a huge fan of the sport, but that is a major turnoff to me and it does keep me from betting on races I might otherwise do so.  It's also a real barrier to new people to the sport.  

    It still has it's place in American culture -- more money is bet on horse racing every year than is spent at the box office at the movie theaters -- but I doubt it will ever return to it's glory years.

  8. Ken Strumpf3:03 PM

    I'd add the Olympics to this list. Too big, too overblown and too professional. I sensed very little excitement where I am during the past Olympics, a real change from not so long ago.

  9. Prize fighting is extremely popular worldwide, as long as you count fighters who use their feet. 

  10. Joseph J. Finn8:49 PM

    Would I be the fly in the ointment in pointing out that there are far more people these days who have a moral problem with the entire idea of horse racing?  Maybe not on the level of, say, dog fighting or cock fights, but it's there.

  11. 40 years ago the American sports fan only consumed what was readily available in the media - mainy TV but radio was still viable.  Boxing was still on network TV, as was bowling.  Wide world of sports was close to appointment television.  There was no espn or cable TV providing many other options.  I see it as now consumers have more options and they are using that power.  No more good ole days where a few TV producers decide what the american public should demand.