Out of the Infield and Back on Track
By Patrick Hornberger
Maryland racing officials never seem to get it until it's too late.
This year they decided to eliminate the drunken infield party properly labeled the "Freakness" ["Race Officials Stand By Beer Restrictions for Pimlico Infield," May 19]. This should have been done years ago. Horse racing never needed that crowd.
But the larger point is that Maryland officials still fail to recognize that horse racing is made up of the horse people, the gamblers and those who see the race as one more reason to party, and that the three could not care less about one another.
When I visited Maryland's racetracks, I was stunned to learn that the horse people behind the scenes in the stables -- the exercisers, the grooms, even the stall muckers -- genuinely loved and cared for the horses but rarely visited the paddock.
If you wanted to bet your life savings, you either bet at the window or looked at a video screen in a room full of sad-looking dreamers. The dreamers hardly noticed the track outside of their electronic race. One told me he didn't care about the horses -- only winning. Will video screens in shopping malls bring the horses any closer?
Then there is the infield, which seemed to have more testosterone on display than the colts on the track had. Most of Pimlico's infield participants couldn't even see the horses running -- if they cared at all.
Letting people bring their own alcohol to the track was a guaranteed way to attract the wrong audience and to dumb down the elegance of horse racing.
Until Maryland sees that horse racing is not all about money and slots, it won't revive the horse industry; it will only revive slot-machine gambling. The focus has to be on what horse racing has always been -- an exciting form of entertainment highlighting the talent of these beautiful animals.
Maryland has to find a way to bring that excitement back. Eliminating the infield party at Pimlico's racetrack is a good start.
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