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TrackNotes: The End of Horse Racing Is Near

There's a war on here. Did you hear about it?

It's between the financial/legal/political/religious establishment and the little guy - you hesitate to say middle class anymore.

In the Land of Lincoln, they're not only going after the rank-and-file types (pretty easy for a well-backed soldier of fortune such as Jean-Claude Brizard, right?), but they've just given up in any effort to improve the way of life or society in Illinois. They've given up. America is just so over, so let's get ours now, hell if we contribute to the decay.

You know who they are, but how must these people feel to be utterly bereft of any single moral, social, charitable or intellectual instinct or asset, choosing instead to plunder their very own people? Trouble is, they don't feel it and if you believe in hell, these people will land in its worst corner.

Another salvo on the Illinois front, meant purely to separate people from money they need, is the passage of a gambling bill, put together by a middle- and older-aged group of mean chimps.

They're talking about four more casinos and slots at Midwayland and O'HareWorld (huh?) and horse tracks.

Mainstream media coverage has been so bad, you might not realize that the bill has not gone to the governor's desk. It gives the evil scientists more time to perfect their poison after floating the trial balloon of a casino in downtown world-class-city Chicago.

Gambling revenue is down across the board and throwing more banana peels at it is not going to help.

But we talk about horse racing here. Despite the groundswell of pleading to sway Illinois legislators into installing slots at the tracks, there are a few things about this movement, specifically, that just don't feel right; that just gnaw inside.

The first feeling is that racing in Illinois is sprinting headlong into the spaceship of purse subsidies and profits without thinking of the consequences of bridling a beast they can't control and that doesn't like them.

The most heinous aspect of this whole sad story is that Thoroughbred horse racing, nationally and in Illinois, has done little to nothing to solve its own problems. It's as if racing, too, has given up. Rather than turn inward to address its own issues and build its own unity, it goes looking for a handout.

As Stan Bergstein reported in the Daily Racing Form, "Peter Carlino, whose Penn National Gaming is the biggest success story of the racing and gambling year, told investors and analysts last week that supporting cheap horses with inflated purses, as slots at tracks have been doing, is not his business plan and that he is not running a public charity."

On the one side, racing does not effectively address problems including oppressive wager takeouts (California, in addressing lower revenues, raised takeouts on many wagers, tipping the pendulum so against the horseplayer as to make them a nearly guaranteed losing proposition); horse medication (although some small progress is being made here); too many racing dates across the board; bad breeding (don't hold your breath for a Triple Crown winner, you'll burst); disjointed and paltry marketing efforts; poor customer service at some tracks and most off-track betting facilities; childish internecine simulcasting disputes that hurt only the fans; and jockeys being allowed to whip the shit out of these horses in the stretch.

On the other, even if you do get some sort of short- or mid-term benefit from having slots, are you going to believe that a faceless corporation like Churchill Downs Inc. is going to let the Arlington Park racing operations significantly drag down its bottom line? Do you believe the politicians are going to have any empathy with the racing industry when they'll see even more casino lobbying dollars available through letting the tracks close? Be assured this encompasses the darkest cynicism of the money trail.

Just this one assault on the racino business model reveals much: "Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is proposing to cut the purses at the state's two tracks by more than half, which would have a huge impact on the countless horsemen who have flocked to Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs (both slots-supported) as the new Shangri-Las of racing," Bergstein reports. Why? To pay back the casinos? Of course!

Besides addressing some of the pure racing issues, don't ask me for a solution. The attention-deficit disease seems born into an entire generation and is spreading to the oldsters who must stay hip. Wait more than the 1.5 seconds it takes for the reels to spin to settle another wager? Seems unlikely. Handicap a race? Why, that takes reading!

It's hard to believe in any addled soul when it cannot see itself for itself. And not help itself. Racing will have to help itself, before, not when, it hits bottom.

I just hope my gut feeling - that racing has given up - is wrong.


Thomas Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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