Can Santa Anita Bring Fans Back to the Track?

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When I drove into Santa Anita Park Thursday morning to get a glimpse of the extensive renovations the track has undergone for the autumn meet that begins today, I flashed back nearly 35 years to my first visit to the Great Race Place. It was then, and is now, not only one of the finest racing facilities anywhere, it is one of the most spectacular sports venues in America.

But filling it up with people has been a challenge.

That winter of 1979 when I first set foot inside Santa Anita, daily average attendance exceeded 27,000. Arriving for my inaugural visit with a couple of fellow refugees from the worst winter in Chicago history, I parked in the lot north of the track, paid the admission charge, then walked through a tunnel into the infield. When we emerged into the warmth of the Southern California sunlight, the 360-degree view from the Santa Anita infield nearly took my breath away.


Horse racing was a major league sport in Los Angeles then. Hollywood celebrities populated the turf club and box seat section. Anyone who wanted to make a legal wager on a horse race had to do it on-track.

Just about everything the industry has done since then, purposefully or not, has led to a reduced emphasis on bringing people to the racetrack. Simulcasting, advance-deposit wagering via telephone or computerized device, and horse racing TV networks – all of them make it easier to avoid going to the place that made us racing fans to begin with. Even our wagering menus – littered with multi-race bets – and a reliance on speed figures for handicapping have discouraged the need to be at the track to study the equine athletes in the flesh to try and determine if today is going to be their day.

Is it any wonder attendance figures at all but a handful of race meets and major events have plummeted in the last 25 years?

The transformation of live racing at many tracks has been driven by another factor: multi-use buildings that highlight other forms of gambling – mostly slot machines – at the expense of racing. At many of these tracks, horse racing has become a necessary evil.

There are only a few tracks that have much upside in this new landscape, and two of them – Santa Anita and Belmont Park – are magnificent facilities near enormous population centers where racing was, in the not so distant past, a very big deal.

Both Santa Anita and Belmont Park were built for another era, however, in terms of crowd-size expectations and on-site amenities. Both have been in desperate need of a facelift to have any chance of bringing back the sport’s glory days.

Santa Anita moved first, investing upwards of $15 million and making stunning improvements to several areas of the track that now can offer the type of on-site experience 21st century sports fans and gamblers expect. Improved dining, seating and audio-visual technology has given Santa Anita something to market to a population accustomed to upscale sports and entertainment facilities.

I’ve heard the argument that the only way to grow the sport is to make the gambling side of the business a better bet for the consumer, and I won’t argue the fact that lower takeout is going to increase the churn of existing horseplayers. But I’ve not been convinced that strategy will create new fans on whom the future of horse racing depends.

This isn’t an either/or situation. It will take an all-of-the-above solution to ensure a healthy future. Provide a first-class experience that will attract people to racing and encourage them to come back. Offer a wagering menu that gives horseplayers an honest chance to win, then market the unique qualities of that sports/gambling experience that has no parallel.

I got excited when I had the opportunity to see the new-look Santa Anita on Thursday. It was the same feeling I had when I first laid eyes on the place those many years ago. It is one of the last great hopes for this sport.

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  • AndrewA

    It comes down to pricing. On track takeout needs to be low enough to get people withing a 100 mile radius to go to Santa Anita. They need to target the guy in San Diego with a few thousand who would go up to Arcadia for the weekend if the pricing was right. That is the ONLY way.

  • betterthannothing

    Certain horses can bring thousands of fans to the track but the story has to be interesting and sweet, the people involved have to be clean and the horses have to be as happy, safe and sound as possible to keep fans around.

  • Rider717

    Teach people how to handicap. NOT bet, handicap. Ever notice how baseball/football fans can recite stats about their fave team? There’s beauty in PPs. Teach people about pedigrees; about distances; about how to see the difference between the action of a turf runner and dirt specialist. Teach about stamina and training and the heart of a Thoroughbred. This helps new fans really SEE races, not just some brown horses running in a circle.

    • Fred A. Pope

      I agree with you, but first the racing product must deliver on the promise of handicapping. The horses in the race, all the horses in the race, must be capable of running to their past performances. That’s not the case in more than 70% of the races in America.

      So, how do you provide novice handicappers with a race card they can handicap? You package the 10% that should run to their past performances on the same day, preferably the day most people have off, Saturday.

      • Sal Carcia

        Why do you say 70% of horses don’t run to their PP’s?

        • Fred A. Pope

          I’m saying 70% of the races are claiming, with one or many horses who may be too infirm/slow to contend. Claiming races serve a need for owners, but like YMCA athletes few people will pay to see them perform.

          Yes, I understand a full field claiming race may be a better wager than a five horse G1, but few will come out and pay to see the claimers.

          Today, NYRA will have a really good race card with six major graded stakes. Lots of stars. But, they will also present five claiming or $70k maiden races on the same card. There will be racing family interest in those races, but if NYRA had instead packaged five more $100k stakes, they would have spent very little more from the purse account but instead of a good card, they would have presented a great card. They would have presented a card close to the Breeders’ Cup AND importantly, they might have won every single race time in the off-track market today.

          That would be the kind of day novice handicappers would remember.

          • betterthannothing

            “Can Santa Anita Bring Fans Back to the Track?”

            Fred Pope said: “with one or many horses who may be too infirm/slow to contend.”

            To help bring fans back to the track (and for many other reasons), the industry could start with preventing infirm horses from racing.

          • Sal Carcia

            I understand and mostly agree. The crowd at yetserday’s big day at Belmont was 10k. I have not paid attention to this in previous years. I was surprised at how small the crowd was with a card full of superstars on a beautiful day in a really nice place.

      • kyle

        That’s not an accurate assessment. By and large, horses run back to past performances. The form of better horses is more linear. That is : cheaper horses are less consistent. But few horses do what they have never done before save the very lightly raced and absent significant “karmic” change(s).

        • kyle

          Last line should read “But few horses do what they have never done before, save the very lightly raced, absent significant “karmic” changes.”

      • kyle

        I wonder. Was Cross Traffic, JCGC morning line favorite, capable of running to his past performances? Did Ron The Greek run to his past performances? How about Little Mike? It’s all a matter of perspective…and probabilities…in other words – horse racing and gambling. It’s one thing to say we should run the top 25% of races on the weekends. That is a legitimate opinion. Spare us the idea that the vast majority of the other 75% are crap shoots of cripples. If that was the case handicapping would indeed be a futile endeavor.

  • GregS

    Most casual fans to do not go because they view the sport as dirty and the care of the horses to be suspect, leading to breakdowns. Most casual fans don’t even know what the takeout is. Yet all the horseplayers obsess with is takeout and the terrible, terrible new claiming rule that has probably saved several horses lives.

    The new look facilities look great and will liven the place up, but ultimately if you want big crowds again, the sport needs to be cleaned up.

  • Carl

    Before I set foot in to the facility, I have to spend a minimum of $18 (parking, entrance, program, racing form, etc.) Then there’s the take out issue and not to mention the bad apples in the trainers colony.

  • Beckron

    No one goes to the track for lower takeouts much less 27,000 people. It is like some people have an illness and that is all they can say, lower the takeout, lower the takeout. Like a parrot.

    • AndrewA

      Lowering on track takeout will get people to the track. They would be foolish not to go for significantly higher payoffs.

      • RayPaulick

        As I wrote I don’t disagree that lowering takeout will improve business with existing customers, but you’re not going to make new fans (who become horseplayers) that way. That’s where an enhanced experience comes into play. It’s not either/or….it’s both.

        • J_W_C_NM

          A lower takeout won’t bring in new fans, but will bring in existing gamblers that won’t bet on horses because of the exorbitant rake. If poker rooms raked 20 points from each pot, they’d be empty also.

          • PTP

            True dat. When Rounders came out in 1998 I am pretty sure if poker tables in Pennsylvania had 31% takeouts, newbies would learn pretty quickly that real life ain’t Rounders.

            ESPN would likely be showing the World Series of Bowling on late night TV.

            PTP

        • AndrewA

          It’s a combination of getting newbies to play easier to hit, higher churn wagers. They should stick to WPS, DD’s and Exactas. For a newbie it’s all about cashing while you’re learning. Offering existing Gamblers a better bet will bring some old Customers back and create new ones.

          Educating new players on WPS, DD’s, and Exactas will help bring them back. When I started there was 1 DD and three Exactas per day. We were forced to play higher churn wagers and that’s how we made it through the learning curve.

          • LongTimeEconomist

            Well said about newbies and low takeout bets. When they cash a few tickets, even if not for big bucks, that will get them really interested in our game. I’ve been pointing that out for 25 years, but most tracks are too focused on the “degenerate gambler” element.

          • kyle

            I understand your point about newbies. However, the churn clogging emphasis on exotic and super-exotic wagering is a problem down the line. The way to get the game healthy from a pair-mutuel standpoint is to pare wagering menus, cut takeout sharply in the straight pools including the elimination of breakage, and drop the marketing and publicity fetish on huge super-exotic payouts.

  • FourCats

    From the article: “I’ve heard the argument that the only way to grow the sport is to make the gambling side of the business a better bet for the consumer, and I won’t argue the fact that lower takeout is going to increase the churn of existing horseplayers. But I’ve not been convinced that strategy will create new fans on whom the future of horse racing depends.”

    I agree with you that this is not a convincing argument. I don’t know if the current average takeout is too high or not. Everyone has their own opinion about this. However, racing will never be able to offer a takeout that is competitive with other types of gambling because the costs of running races (purses, horse training/ownership, jockeys, track upkeep and maintenance, etc.) will always be much greater than a slot machine or a roulette wheel or whatever.

    However, racing offers two things that few other types of gambling offer.
    First is the majesty and excitement of a horse race. You simply cannot get that from watching a race on TV at home. That majesty and excitement is what creates lifelong horse racing fans who then spend their own time, effort and money to be a part of it. It is for this reason that it is critical to horse racing’s future prosperity (or even survival) that many more potential fans be encouraged to actually come to the races. (Of course, getting people to come is a waste of time if, when they get there, they don’t find a top class facility where they are treated fairly, with tip-top customer service and exciting races. And if they find few other people in attendance, that in itself can be depressing and counterproductive.)
    The second thing that horse racing offers is that horse racing is a thinking person’s game. People can use their intelligence to change the odds more in their faver. You can’t do that with most other forms of gambling.

    • Sal Carcia

      I read somewhere that Santa Anita doesn’t treat their customers well. I don’t know if this is true, but it is a critical issue.

  • Jerry

    WITH THE TOC AND CHRB IN CHARGE OF CA HORSERACING – THERE IS NO HOPE WHATSOEVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Don Reed

      Good ‘Ol Jerry Jam. The West Coast’s Indian Charlie.

  • Roger

    What the f- does Stronach want…more on track customers or increased mutuel handle? The biggest decline at CA racetracks the last 13 years have been GRANDSTAND fans yet they just spent $15 million
    on the facelift and not even a ham sandwich to improve or encourage more GRANDSTAND customers. Last week, SA announced the $50,000 P-6 Bonus on Sunday’s but that statistically benefits only big bettors and P-6 syndicates.
    In any successful business the WORD OF MOUTH positive recommendation is key component yet HPark and SA have struggled the last decade getting more customers in the GRANDSTANDS…..that should tell Stronach something since he arrived in CA over a decade ago.Geez….Frank why not spend 3 months in CA to figure this out.
    If you want more GRANDSTAND customers….lower your admission prices,DRF and Program prices, improve food and lower prices. I would then go to the City of Arcadia to get approval to allow customers that come in from the “infield side” to bring in coolers and beer providing they meet age requirements like it use to be back in the 70′s/80′s. The INFIELD should be OPEN every race day and have some entertainment out there on weekends. This costs money in service, entertainment fees and hiring more personnel but hey…you just spent $15 million ABOVE the grandstand and this would cost less than 2% of that figure IF increasing on track attendance is Stronach’s primary goal.

    • RayPaulick

      Roger,

      You’re a smart guy but I’m not sure your recipe is a roadmap to success. Let’s give new management more than one day to see what they can do. How about two days, or two weeks, or two months. The declines you cite have occurred over 20 years; they aren’t going to reverse in 20 hours.

      • Roger

        I answered the question. The declines are not 20 years …..examine HPark from 1990 thru 1999 vs SA. Also, this short “time span” reference is your comment not mine….
        The question you raised relates to ON TRACK ATTENDANCE and in my racetrack experience (inside the track and not in the press box) you must begin with the majority customer (bets $250 or less) that resides in the grandstand.
        Ray – how about a survey and ask how many of your members STARTED playing the horses with a low bankroll and thru the grandstand turnstiles. Just seems that current management focus is more geared to skip that process and go after older customers for Clubhouse/Turf club.
        As far as my roadmap…..my tenure for 9 years at HPark speaks for itself from 1990-99……just ask Rick Baedeker,RD Hubbard,Mike Willman about my departments,creations and pulse with customers at ALL LEVELS….grandstand,clubhouse and Turf Club.

        • Convene

          Not just older customers. I would say WEALTHIER customers instead. I’m an oldie but I still don’t have the bankroll for either whopping big bets OR the prices in those ritzier places! But then I go to the races for the horses. I actually enjoy being out on the apron yelling my head off for either a favorite superstar or just a horse who, for whatever reason, has endeared itself to me. I guess I’m not so much a horseplayer as a racing fan.

          Maybe one way to get people out to the track is to publicize the horses and get them into people’s hearts again – which might be a tough call in this era where so many people don’t seem to know whether even they (people) are people or machines! Even in our racing publications, so much more ink is used to introduce PEOPLE than HORSES – but most of us don’t follow racing for the people. We fall in love with horses in general and one or two in particular and those are what draws us. If we can make that happen for other potential fans/players, we just might be able to get ‘em to come out to the track!

        • cal gal

          maybe why hubbard is selling Ruidoso?

        • Tonto

          Local State Fair meet- had the biggest crowd in years- families, seniors lots of people and increased handle.. Reason:: no charge to park, no admission charge, bring you own cooler and chair if you want. Result- real people watching real horses in real races.that came every night.

    • Sal Carcia

      These all sound like wonderful ideas. I am of the opinion that tracks have to find their own unique way to connect to their community. Coolers and the picnic area were two major catalysts in the sucess of Saratoga. I laugh when I see people talk about succesful racetracks with the assumption that their success came without planning or effort. The same is true for successful sports franchises.

  • Indulto

    I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt fancying up the place by itself will do much for attendance on other than the two Breeders’ Cup days. Nor will extending the number of racing days in Arcadia help the situation.

    Players will not return to the track to bet on a REGULAR basis until they can get a BETTER DEAL and EXPERIENCE than by staying home. Assuming the animal abuse issues (medication and aftercare) can be resolved, then

    1) EVERYBODY betting on-track MUST enjoy the lowest effective takeout rate possible.

    2) Grandstand admission, regular parking, and DRF new Program PPs (or the equivalent) should be FREE

    3) The ability to watch a race live and view a replay on demand with isolated cameras on each individual horse should be available as well as the ability to hear race calls above the
    crowd noise (bluetooth earpiece?).

    4) Expanded mass transit to reduce travel-time and provide access other than by personal vehicles.
    1. Make the trip to and from the track part of a better racing experience.

    5) Convenient concessions that offer value should exist as well as those serving sensitive palates.

    Takeout affects newbies because the higher it is, the less visible winners become, and thus the fewer people that are attracted to the game. Today’s youth have too many diversions
    to choose from and — connected as they are to a wider world — are too savvy to ignore the indications that the game has become too hard to beat, even for informed/experienced players.

    What were the takeout rates when Santa Anita’s daily attendance was 27,000?

    What percentage of total attendance for a meet was made up by unique individuals?

    At what rate did new players replace veterans then as compared with today?

    How often was the racegoer subjected to the sight of a breakdown compared with today?

    How often was the racegoer confronted with racing news stories about cheating, animal abuse, and how greedy, uncooperative, and incompetent racetrack operators can be?

    How do today’s costs associated with an individual’s attending the track versus the amount he/she bets compare with those back then?

    • fb0252

      good post–do u think racing has the resources to solve all these problems right now?
      which is first–resolving all this, or marketing the sport on the internet, where most of the betting will shortly be done?

      • Indulto

        Interesting questions, fb.

        I wouldn’t expect everything to be solved all at once, but every issue could be recognized as requiring resources and priorities established for transparent follow-up. Marketing on the internet could include promotions for a voucher-enhanced first visit to a racetrack. New on-line accounts will come from people who have already been to the track at least once.

    • Sal Carcia

      Nicely done! I have often wondered how motivated racetracks are about bringing fans back to the tracks. I keep thinking that when all is said and done, they make more money with the remote bettors. It could be its easier to hide from the horsepeople or maybe the horsepeople’s cut is lower. I don’t know, but their behavior leads me to believe this. Tracks let rebate shops raid their big players ontrack without resistance.

    • Sal Carcia

      Indulto, your list is very fundamental oriented. Don’t you think the tracks do this already? :)

      • Indulto

        If they do, SG, these issues don’t seem to have a high priority.

    • kyle

      You have to be very careful about having different takeout rates for different players. Rebates are one thing. Those are extra-pari mutuel. What I think tracks could do is something akin to local currencies. Such as: buy a voucher with $100 get 105 “Santa Anita Samolians.” You’d have to have wagering requirements, but something like that could work.

      • Indulto

        Good idea, Kyle. Just as long as it doesn’t give any on-track player an
        advantage at the expense of any other on-track player in the same
        pari-mutuel pool, i.e., rate for additional credits should be the same
        for a $50 purchase as a $5,000 one.

        Unlike rebates, only
        ticket-cashers would benefit. Seems like a better deal for the tracks as
        well. Do you believe they should become a substitute for lowering
        direct takeout?

        • kyle

          The short, emphatic answer to that is no. Above all else, what I want to see is a sharp reduction in straight pool takeout and the elimination of breakage. I think that’s what is needed to reinvigorate the game pari-mutuelly; that and a de-emphasis on super-exotics. Just dreaming, I would like to see takeout become a function of field size. But that would require a 21st century tote-system, imagination and courage. As the discussion here is about getting people out to the track, I was focused narrowly on that. Let me say, while I see the obvious inclination to see that as a good, I think the industry places way too much emphasis on it to the detriment of efforts to tap into or expand a much greater audience. But back to the original idea. I see this as a discount or up-front rebate for on-track patrons. Taking the local currency aspect to its logical end, in this case, $A$ could be used to purchase anything at the track from wagers to food to souvenirs. In order that the system not be gamed you wouldn’t be able to exchange them for dollars (although any winning wagers of course would pay back in dollars) and they would have a life limited to the date of purchase.
          ..

    • Birdy2

      Well said.

    • Tonto

      Tonto

      Roger

      2 minutes ago

      Local State Fair meet- had the
      biggest crowd in years- families, seniors lots of people and increased
      handle.. Reason:: no charge to park, no admission charge, bring you own
      cooler and chair if you want. Result- real people watching real horses
      in real races.that came every night.

  • Numbered account

    Most of these tracks are for another era when racing was king. Look at Gural and the a Meadowlands. The track is built for a smaller crowd with better food etc. Facilities which create a better fan experience. He has also been proactive in creating new incentives, like a drawing for a one percent interest in Captain Treacherous’s racing career.

    The problem is you need to get fans who come because they love the horses into the track, but many view the treatment and care of the horses as problematic. The excessive drug use and lack of disciplinary action for violators of the rules hurt the sport. Too many stories of nice horses winding up in kill buyers pens and abusive situations hurts even more.

    To get the gamblers back you need to deal with the take out issue and the expensive pps, programs, etc.

  • Nancy Taylor

    The player with a $50-$100 bankroll isn’t going to the track if he has to pay $20-$30 for admission, parking, form, etc, when he can get into a casino for free. The whales aren’t going to play against a 24% rake on the popular exotics when they can get rebates elsewhere. Nobody can go to the track live without taking way too much the worst of it. Letting the grandstand players in for free or giving the whales more 14% exotic wagers like the P-5 might help some.

    • fb0252

      enough already with the whales, please.

      • Don Reed

        Go Whalers!

      • Nancy Taylor

        Why would any business not listen to the needs of its best customers ?

  • AndrewA

    If day 1 is any indication they’re in big trouble. Maybe it’s time to listen to people that know better.?

    • AndrewA

      One report has them being up a little despite having some bad early numbers. ????

  • HogHater

    In my opinion, not a chance!!
    Santa Anita is in a position to have maybe 10-12 great racing days a year. Patrons looking for an “enhanced experience” aren’t the daily core customers of 4000-7000. ADW’s, very popular mini-satellite facilities, declining fan base, HD television and competition from other sports are among the reasons. The restrictions put in place by the City of Arcadia don’t help either.
    BTW, what’s happened to EXCHANGE WAGERING? The salvation of the sport!!

    • fb0252

      days of butts in seats over?

  • 15percenttakeoutMonmouthpick4

    .

    I left when they raised the takeout.

  • Jay

    Posters of Mizdirection and Beholder will be available for the remainder of the meet

  • Michael J. Arndt

    Hollywood closing will help some. The reality is neither track was drawing the same crowd, there was the Hollywood crowd and the Santa Anita crowd, and neither was benefitting from that. Now with Santa Anita being the only live racing in LA for the vast majority of the year, they will draw some of the folks who went to Hollypark on track who didnt go to SA usually. From there, its up to the marketing folks to bring in new blood and the on-track staff to make them want to come back. The Frontrunner is a great room, alot of fun, great food etc. Go after high end folks and start them off there.

  • Tonto

    Bill Kayne- the father of racing in Northern California- didn’t want to charge for admission to the grandstand or parking until forced to by the ‘businessmen’ stockholders. Get ‘um to the races- the handle will take care of itself. People still like to see beautiful racehorses horses and the work horses move the gate and the coach and team that took the patrol judges.

    • Jay

      Bill Kyne.

  • FadedGlory

    I used to go to the track everyday, but with the “Super-trainers” dominating the game I couldn’t continue to play without feeling like a fool. I no longer make any bets. If you clean up the game, people will come(and come back).

  • steve

    I get so sick of businesses worrying about new customers.Your best customers are the ones you already have take care of them and they will bring your new customers.Inlated concession and entrance fees don’t help 100% profit on a draft beer or sandwich sould be enough.

    • Sal Carcia

      Agree! Satisfying your core base is critical to growing it. The core base is passionate and outspoken. Imagine if racing had them on its side.

  • HogHater

    Per Bill Dwyre’s article in the LA Times, attendance of 4,537 on Day 1 (down from last year’s 5,775). No word on any official handle figures.

    • Sal Carcia

      Handle was $8.3M.

  • Fred A. Pope

    Ten years ago, Frank Stronach was in position to change racing in America. His corporation tracks held more than a 40% market share of all handle. His tracks were strategically placed for a national program with strong representation in the major markets. It was a great opportunity and him and the sport.

    Frank made a gut decision that they had a facilities problem, instead of research showing a marketing problem. The poster child was Gulfstream Park, where the facility was rebuilt to offer a casino experience and provide little service to live racing customers. The heavy debt incurred to solve a facilities objective forced the corporation into bankruptcy. Alternatively, he could have addressed the marketing problems without increasing debt.

    Like all good executives, Frank has learned from getting his nose blooded. Gulfstream Park is going to become more committed to live racing customers, however, I’m not sure his people understand the elements of marketing.

    The question here is Santa Anita. How do you address the marketing problem now that the facility has been upgraded? There are probably fifty things to talk about but lets start with the racing product.

    Santa Anita packages and presents the very same racing product as all other tracks. Right now that is not good enough to get enough people to the track, nor to make attendance a valued experience for racing customers.

    On Breeders’s Cup day, Santa Anita will be host to a valued experience. The people who attend will pay normal sporting event prices and if those monies flowed to Santa Anita, it would have a healthy future. But the week after BC, Santa Anita will go back to the 4-5,000 people who regularly attend.

    In my opinion, those 5,000 are similar to the number of people who would show up to watch the LA Lakers train. The additional 15,000 who pay for the valued experience of seeing live NBA makes everything work.

    Santa Anita is now positioned to provide the best racing in the West and occasionally the nation, at least 30 days a year. That’s enough to make SA profitable and start to regrow racing in that market. The claiming and restricted races must be retained, however, they can be packaged and presented during the week and SA can staff accordingly for 4-5,000 attendance. Then on Saturdays, additional big event staffing can make for a valued experience to watch and wager on the best race card in the West.

    The leap from the best race card in the West, and perhaps the nation, is not too far from the Breeders’ Cup. The leap from the racing product offered now at SA versus the BC is way too far.

  • Don Reed

    Judging by the number of responses, boy, this hit a nerve. A good one – what a wonderful alternative to the Cibelli Skunk Works scandal.

    Ray, did they polish up & otherwise enhance the Art Deco decorative fixtures?

  • Don Reed

    Speaking of Santa Anita… from H. Allen Smith’s “Smith’s London Journal (1952):

    “Thursday October 4… The McGowrans picked us up at the London hotel & while we drove out… I chattered away about the World Series & how excited I was & how certain I felt that the Giants would beat the Yankees.

    “Mr. McGowran is an [English] sports editor, but this talk irritated him…’The game’s no bloody
    good… no action. Chap just stands there with the bat & lets the ball sail right past him. Should be compelled to bash it every time. Very boring.’

    “At the stadium, we entered a foyer where stewards in full dress greeted us, bowing & taking
    our great coats… here, at a dog track, we stepped into an atmosphere that made me think of the elegant restaurant at Santa Anita.

    “We sat at a table with fine napery & silver… Mr. McGowran said that there were about twenty dog tracks operating around London… [&] that a hundred thousand Londoners flock to [these] tracks every night.

    “One reason why the sport is so popular, he said, is that there is no question about its honesty.

    “Surrounded by this opulence, with champagne in silver buckets & reall passable food being
    served in the finest style, I still couldn’t get my mind off the fact that at this very hour, the Durochers [Brooklyn Dodgers] & the Stengels [speaking of HONESTY, the pre-Alex Rodriguez N.Y. Yankees] were [going] at it…. I went about the business of… observing the
    scene… but [not being able to listen to the World Series game], my heart wasn’t in it.

    “Mr. McGowan instructed me… [that] one bets on his selection to win… then there is the
    ‘forecast.’ This requires naming the dogs that finish first & second. I decided to specialize in forecast bets [exactas].

    “I would sit there glancing at my watch, [wondering] what inning they were playing back home, & then go to the betting windows & buy some forecast tickets, scarcely knowing which dogs I had picked, & I couldn’t lose.

    “I increased the size of my forecast bets as I went along, & by the third race they were paying me off in… five-pound notes [adjusted for inflation, each worth @ $100 in 2012], & Mr. McGowran couldn’t seem to win a farden.

    “The entire British monetary system undergoes a distinct change the moment one arrives at a race track…A shilling is a bob… five shillings are a dollar, or an oxford… A pound is a quid… Pounds, collectively, are called nicker…

    “My stack of nicker was mounting steadily & Mr. McGowran was doing his proper best to conceal his disgust… finally, he got up… & when he came back he was excited, for he had a blazing tip on a dog in the next race… & I said, ‘they must be in the ninth inning by now…’

    “Mr. McGowran’s hot tip turned out to be a dog & my forecast won again, & he said that in his opinion baseball is the stupidest game ever devised by man.”

    • Sal Carcia

      Oh, where did we go wrong? Unless you are a baseball fanatic, it is boring. Most baseball games, the stands are filled with people who are not fanatics. They enjoy the food, the park, the beers, the blairing music, the jumbotron and some of the game.

      • Don Reed

        And filling out the 2nd mortgage loan in order to pay for the tickets.

        • Sal Carcia

          So many of the tickets are owned by corporations. The tickets hold a lot of prestige for their customers and employees. For corporations it is a small expense.

          • Don Reed

            And a marvelous, legal means of currying favor. We’re actually fortunate that we’ve been priced out of a market where Anna Wintourism (Vogue magazine; not to be confuse with “tourism”) has poisoned the well.

  • HogHater

    No USC or UCLA home football games, a Dodger home night game and perfect weather in the Arcadia area, a whopping crowd of 12,216 showed up for a great day of racing.

  • GodsFavor

    That’s a start! Race tracks need to improve their facilities.
    The tracks lost many patrons when online betting came into play ( Betting has increase a 1000%) and tracks did not get there fair share for providing the racing. Tracks should lower their payouts and raise their takeout from ADW!

  • confused

    I think it is folly to believe that horse racing will ever again regain the crowds of past years.With the ability to wager at home getting free or discounted PP’s, excellent quality video, probable exotic payouts with a mouse click. You dont have to wait in line to make your bet or fight traffic to and from the track..Racetracks need to downsize like MLB. The old ball parks use to hold 50-70 K now the new ones average around 40. Stronach had the right idea when he redid GP but he overdid it on downsizing the seating. Seating for 8-10 K would have been perfect.
    Belmont should be blown up and replaced with comfortable seating for 15K and a plethora of private suites.
    Parking,admission and PP’s should be free at the track. Patrons (to borrow from Augusta National aka The Masters) should get a break on food and beverage like at Augusta and the food should have quality to it like at Augusta.
    All take out should be lower on track.
    3 years ago i was at an NFL game and I was given a handheld device to enhance the NFL experience.It basically was the TV video but you also could hit a button on the device and it would isolate on your choice of wide receivers, quarterback, running back etc. I thought to myself that something like this would be fantastic for patrons at the track if you could use it not only as a video device to watch the race but take it one step further and be able to have it isolate on the horse that you bet because the hardest thing to do at the track is watch the race when you watch it live without binoculars.Take it one step further as use it also as a hand held personal betting terminal.Put so much down on your credit card and get refunded when you return it after leaving the track.
    Racing will never have the crowds of yesteryear but whats wrong with 10,000 people live having fun,feeling good that they are getting a financial break (not a t shirt or a calendar)and being catered to in a state of the art physical plant not an echo chamber.

    • Indulto

      Too much clarity from such a pseudonym!

      Thanks for sharing the info re: NFL portable video.

  • Kris

    If Santa Anita can’t bring the fans then no one else can. Did anyone bother to take a head-count at Belmont either yesterday or today? I think there were more patrons at Stockton than at Belmont. What is being done at Santa Anita looks very promising and I hope the renovations continue into the general admission side.

  • GodsFavor

    Many tracks can use major upgrades to joint the 21 century and join other major sports facilities that have made upgrades or completly rebuilt.
    Online betting has grown 1000% since ADW was put into effect and attendance dropped. Simply put, Players can stay at home watch many races at one time and bet all over the world!
    Tracks need to lower on track wagering and charge a higher percentage from ADW for providing the product.

  • Michael Dempsey

    For many horseplayers, tracks “forced” us to play at home by offering crappy food, lousy service, dumpy facilities, rude tellers, ridiculous admission and parking charges, no Daily Racing Forms, no incentive to play on track, no sound on TVs in simulcast areas, the list can go on and on and on. And of course some horseplayers just prefer to bet wearing just their underwear.

    • Chris Lowe

      Or wearing less…

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