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A Day at the Races

...But if you go, it'll be without the race info from your Washington Post. As the paper's sports editor, Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, explained to readers last week, you've seen the last of daily horse race stats in the Post:

Beginning Sunday, The Washington Post Sports section will no
longer publish daily statistical horse racing information from
our local tracks. The drop in popularity in the sport and the
need to cover new teams in the area, such as the Washington
Nationals, have forced us to make this difficult decision.
However, we will continue to cover the sport as before with
Andrew Beyer and John Scheinman.

In surveys, our readers have told us that horse racing ranks
at the bottom of sports in which they are interested.
Meantime, other sports and teams have been of growing interest
to readers. Not only have the Nationals arrived, but we have
emerging powers in men's and women's college basketball with
large fan bases that need to be served. We will continue to
try to serve the greatest number of readers possible.

Results and entries for races at Laurel are available at
http://www.laurelpark.com .

-- Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, Sports Editor

This is important for two reasons:

1) For three years, Gov. Bobby Haircut has held Maryland politics hostage to his fruitless quest to legalize slots. He has failed utterly. Odds are he won't go to the wall again in the legislative session that starts this week. Why? Because he's running for election and it's time to show that he can accomplish something that he can tout to voters this fall. But the Maryland horse industry continues to decline and for most of the state, that's a great big yawn. Yes, the horses are lovely and there's plenty of warm emotion wrapped up in the tracks and memories of the grandeur they once reflected. But that was then. Now people who bet prefer to do so online, not at the track, and not necessarily related to horse races.

2) Newspapers are realizing that our great attraction is our ability to report on local events and issues that no one else covers, and our capacity to provide information that our reporters collect and synthesize because we are in places where the average reader has neither time nor resources to go. Providing horse track stats does not fit into that rubric. Nor do stock tables, which are now omnipresent on the web. I'd be amazed if you didn't see stock tables start to vanish en masse from American newspapers this year.

There is much to recommend horse racing as a sport and as a pastime. I miss the rumble of the horses thundering by, the quiet cameraderie of the bettors, the track announcer's rituals, the practiced courtesies of the betting clerks, the mystical process of divining direction from the racing charts. When I lived in Miami, I used to frequent the graceful horse track at Hialeah, and I always came home feeling as if I'd been on vacation. But this is a sport that is in deep decline, and Ehrlich's attempts to save it go against many years of decisive action on the part of Americans and Marylanders--people have, for better or worse, moved on.

I haven't heard any details yet, but I'd be shocked if the Post gets more than a dozen complaints about dropping the horse track stats. Anyone here miss them?

By Marc Fisher |  January 11, 2006; 9:23 AM ET
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Comments

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first of all, I'll miss the results a great deal. they'll never look as good on a web print out as they do on a broadsheet.

Also, Gov. Haircut has no interest in the racing industry. Either of the last two years, he could've passed the kind of limited slots bill that would have allowed MD racing to compete, but that wouldn't have helped all the gambling cronies that fund his campaigns.

It's incredibly sad to watch one of the great sports traditions in Maryland simply expire due to incompetance and greed in Annapolis and in Joe DeFrancis' boardroom when Pimlico and Laurel still controlled their own destiny. Hopefully, the horsemen, Magna, and the state government can come up with a viable plan to save Maryland racing. It won't help to have daily coverage disappear from the Post.

Furthermore, as a fan of many of those "emerging teams" - I expect we'll still be hearing how there's no space to cover them, with or without the half page of agate type.

Posted by: Dave | January 11, 2006 11:06 AM

Actually, I think the Post dropped the race results so they could have more ad space for Madam Kimmy's Oriental Spa, etc.

On a side note, I ran into a woman I know yesterday who is a Maryland horse owner and breeder for the past 30 years. She told me she has cancelled her subscription to the Washington Post over this issue.

When I informed her that most people I know -- including myself -- pull up the complete race result charts for free online, she said that " .. I am not a computer user and want to see the results in print."

Oh well, just another reason why the Post is losing readers.

Posted by: Tom | January 11, 2006 12:53 PM

good decision. i'm positive there are other sources for the race results, and my impression is that no one these days is serious enough about racing to make betting plans or develop systems.

If i want to bet on a horse race, i'll absorb the information that's available at the track, or just go with my gut. i've had fun doing it, and i've made a tiny bit of money.

Posted by: ben | January 11, 2006 2:54 PM

I agree that's it's a sad day when the Post quits covering a great sport, but there are more important things, even to the sports readership, to cover now.
But there are two things that really bother me:
First as to the Post, it's a shame that they claim to be dropping race charts in favor of giving more space to "emerging teams," and yet they continue to include huge coverage of the Orioles and Ravens at the expense of the 'local' teams.
Second, as to Maryland Racing and the Maryland legislature, it's more of a shame that some people have turned the slots issue into a political and supposedly "moral" battle, yet they have no problem with the betting that's already going on at the track and in the lottery.

Posted by: Ted | January 11, 2006 3:39 PM

Have you ever heard the obituaries nicknamed the "Irish racing pages"? Maybe those readers who won't be able to check out how the horses finished can busy themselves by scanning my favorite section.

Posted by: marge | January 12, 2006 11:17 AM

Just heard about your blog or I would have responded sooner to say, yes, I do miss the race entries and charts in the Post. For the Sports editor to tell people they can get them online is an interesting position for someone at the "dead tree" version of the Post -- let's drive more people to relying on the Internet instead of the daily paper. Not to mention, there is a digital divide in this city and I would guess that a lot of railbirds at Laurel and Pimlico are folks without easy access to the Internet. There is something about this decision that smacks a bit of elitism -- not the first time that's been said about the Post, of course.

Posted by: Jeff | January 12, 2006 2:23 PM

I could not possibly care less about horse racing or the results of horse races, and I resent the frequent calls by the horse racing industry to cushion their inexorable decline with my tax dollars. By not pretending that the races matter to any but a few diehards, the Post has taken an important step towards getting my tax money into less obviously wasteful pursuits.

Posted by: Lindemann | January 12, 2006 3:38 PM

The Post will gain readers on net from this move. It's a smart business decision.

Posted by: Timo | January 12, 2006 3:48 PM

Digital divide? Bah. If they're truly railbirds, they're at the track, getting their daily forms or they're at an OTB trying to con the manager into giving them the forms so they don't have to spend the $6.

Either way, this isn't going to affect circulation. The handful of people who drop the paper because they can't get their horseform will be offset by the people who pick up the paper because there's more coverage of their team or sport.

Posted by: db | January 16, 2006 5:24 PM

As follow-up, it appears that the great state of Maryland will once again spend millions of tax payer money for a sport(?) that returns absolutely nothing to the people of maryland....they shoot horses don't they????

Posted by: Russ | January 21, 2006 10:48 AM

Glad to see this blog. I live in Vegas. We get coverage of Southern California and Northern California plus the New York racing in our local paper. Horse racing needs all the coverage it can get. Why doesn't the track just pay for the section of the sports page like an advertisement? This would keep the coverage in the paper.

Posted by: david | September 14, 2006 5:11 AM

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