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The California Horse Racing Board's decision to allow advertising on jockey attire and horse saddlecloths will probably ultimately lead to all other state racing boards in the United States also allowing advertising in similar ways at racetracks.
The results of the first three days of the informal and truly unscientific poll here on sclanse.com, asking whether or not you approve of the concept, indicated a fairly even split among those fans who are opposed to the idea and those who are for it. [The poll will stay up for another 2 or 3 days, so you can still cast your vote; access it from the link on the home page .]
This past weekend, while broadcasting liveon regional ESPN radio at Horsemen's Park in Omaha during their 3-day 2001 live race meet, I had the opportunity to ask a lot of players, both regulars and once-a-yearers, what they thought, and the majority of these usually conservative Midwesterners replied that if the practice contributed to the upkeep of the sport to ensure its continuing, it was fine with them.
To me, that's a mighty big "if." My first reaction, cynical as it may sound, is that those advertising monies will probably wind up in the pockets of the riders and in accounts which the "suits" of racetrack management and horsemens' management will oversee and determine how to spend.
In other words, continuing the management philosophy of:
* using ways that repeatedly prove to be worthless to attract new players to the sport
* on-track promotions that consist mainly of non-racing related giveaways which, if they actually do increase a day's attendance, attract people who come for the freebies and who will leave long before the call to the post of the feature race
* essentially ignoring the eroding fan base by not asking them what they want and need, a marketing concept that seems to be strangely absent from this game.
So am I against it?
Part of me envisions trying to watch a race, either on a simulcast monitor or through my binoculars at the track, and having problems trying to figure out where my horse is and what is happening during the race, because of increased visual garbage to have to contend with. But maybe I'm just overreacting. Maybe the purist in me is saying that if it really ain't broke, then it really doesn't need to be fixed.
Maybe it's a transference of my local anger at seeing acres and acres and ACRES of what used to be peaceful, relaxing open areas (forests, farmland, fields) being turned into literally mile upon mile of overpriced housing, changing once-enjoyable recreational areas into areas where the sunset over the lake doesn't highlight trees and water, but instead shines on countless SUVs and backyard building efforts of one yuppie scum family to outdo another.
Maybe it's frustration at going to the movies or watching a rented video and instead of being given what I want and thought I paid for up front, being forced to wade through advertising for stuff in which I have no interest. Or maybe "on track racing advertising" is one more "crap factor" that will be added to my life, like the others I mention, taking away, rather than adding to, the experience.
More to the point, aside from my projections about management outlined above, I'm annoyed at the hypocrisy of the decision. The ruling says this specialized advertising "...cannot promote tobacco, weapons, pornography, or products that are detrimental to the best interest of horse racing."
You can't advertise beer on the back of a jockey or on the saddlecloth, but it's OK for the track to put up a banner with a special promotion for the beer distributor at the track? Don't give me any lame excuse about separation of track management and the CHRB; if the CHRB really wanted to protect racing fans from the evils of beer, they could just as easily make a ruling which would force beer off a track Guess it's OK to drink it at the track but by all means, let's not advertise it out there on the race course.
Does this mean that if Budwieser or Miller Lite says "We'll pop $100 grand to sponsor a stakes race" that the race will carry the name of the company, but the saddlecloth won't? If it was my company, I'd be taking my money elsewhere real fast.
At its extreme, I can picture the riders at Small Time Downs returning to the jockeys' locker room, as the winner, "Al's Body Shop," trots to catch up to the also-rans, led by "Mike's Finer Meats," "Herbert Mortuary," and "Rothchild Plumbing." Funny, for sure, but doesn't racing, wherever it is conducted, deserve better than this?
Pornography notwithstanding, the ability to say who gets to advertise on a jockey's back and who doesn't is totally discriminatory. The industry is not in a position to say one firm can advertise and another cannot if the products are legal and being advertised in other media.
Just what IS "a product that is detrimental to horse racing?" The casino across the state line with a couple thousand slot machines that competes with a track for gambling business? A greyhound track?
And what about dog food? Given the ultimate fate of some money-burning plodders who were never meant to race, would it be detrimental for a jockey to race under the sponsorship of a firm that actively transforms racing's partcipants into meals for mutts?
We may see the new category of "horse racing advertising" in the near future, but I'll take a future bet right now that it'll be far less than many will make it out to be; that it won't enhance the game or help to keep it going in any appreciable way; and that the "Alpo Handicap" will never see the light of day.