Not long after I began working in the Los Angeles office of Daily Racing Form in the early 1980s I paid a visit to my parents, who at the time were living near Seattle. They weren't horse racing fans but became interested because of my job, which they didn't understand since they'd never seen a copy of the paper that, at the time, was the only source of past performance information at American racetracks. We went to now-defunct Longacres one weekend afternoon and grabbed some unreserved seats in the grandstand. I got programs and copies of the Form, which my parents were stunned to learn cost $1.50 each. It was time for a session of Handicapping 101, and I explained that each horse's past performances were very much like the statistics on the back of a baseball card, and that Daily Racing Form had a monopoly on those statistics. If you wanted to make an informed wager, you needed to buy the Form.
“It's a very profitable business,” I assured them, and it was. Walter Annenberg owned the Form, along with the essential TV Guide and Seventeen magazine for adolescent girls. They were all part of what was known as Triangle Publications, a privately held company that helped make Annenberg a billionaire.
My father was very analytical and a no-nonsense kind of guy. “Okay, I get it,” he said. “But what do you do for the paper?”
I explained that I edited the stories that appeared on the front and other editorial pages, wrote the headlines and captions, and did some of the handicapping that appeared under the Sweep, Hermis, Handicap, or Analyst pseudonyms.
As I was puffing out my chest in great pride, a group of horseplayers sat down in front us, each of them with a Daily Racing Form. They pulled off the first several pages, folded them into the slats of their seats and sat down. All of my hard work turned out to be nothing more than a seat saver!
“Useful,” my dad said with a smile, pointing to other seats in the area that were saved by the front pages of the paper.
Truth is, all of us who worked at the Form knew the “guts” of the paper – the past performances – were the reason people bought this most expensive daily newspaper in America.
I thought of that Longacres experience yesterday when a mini-storm erupted on Twitter and some social networking sites because Daily Racing Form started charging $10 per month for much of the online editorial content that goes into the printed daily product.
Times have changed.
First of all, the Daily Racing Form charges a bit more than $1.50. It's been so long since I've purchased one (I get past performances online now), I have no idea what their current cover price is. I did read in one online forum that, along with charging for its editorial content, Daily Racing Form has downsized its paper product to a smaller size (without downsizing the price). I don't think it's quite as profitable as it was during its monopolistic era.
Racetracks are mostly empty these days. There's no need to slip a newspaper into the slats of a grandstand seat to save it.
If my dad were still around, he'd probably just bring his iPad to the track.
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