Tis the season to read or listen to the words, “good for racing.”
Sometimes those words are ramped up a notch to “great for racing.”
The discussion is about as tired and boring as the racing is dead versus the racing is alive and well debate in the weeks leading up to and including the Triple Crown. Conclusions cannot be made about the game when only looking at the winter months or looking at the nearly 300,000 fans that packed Churchill Downs for two days in May. But we’ll revisit that discussion another day.
So what exactly are people talking about when they say something is good, or great, for racing?
Usually they’re talking about a horse going for the Triple Crown, or at the very least heading to Baltimore with a legitimate shot at adding the second jewel of the series. American Pharoah certainly fits the bill this year as an impressive victor of the Kentucky Derby, not only the winner as the post-time favorite but one with connections proven at the Preakness.
There will be plenty of buzz in the coming days over American Pharoah and his chances at Pimlico, rightfully so, and that certainly is positive. The more people are paying attention, the more interest in the sport. A victory in the Preakness will mean more attention in the three weeks leading up to the Belmont Stakes. More free publicity.
All that attention and publicity has to help, right?
Hard to say.
Think about it this way, was last week’s Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao match “good” for boxing in the same way a Triple Crown winner, or even a horse going for the Triple Crown, is “good” for racing?
Will Mayweather-Pacquiao suddenly be the thing that “creates” more boxing fans?
Will people spend $100 the next time their industry bills something as “the fight of the century?”
Will people spend four, five and even six-figures to attend that same latest, greatest “fight of the century” the next time around?
Hard to say.
Almost as hard to determine if a Triple Crown winner, or even a horse going for the Triple Crown, will be the thing that helps “create” new racing fans.
Did California Chrome do that?
Hard to say.
Many metrics can be used to answer that question and certainly California Chrome’s catchy name, likeable connections and flashy looks resonated with the general public. They became interested in racing and interested in the colt’s chances at sweeping the Triple Crown.
But were they interested after he raced in the Belmont Stakes?
Did that interest translate into a casual fan becoming a serious fan, meaning, did it translate into spending at the pari-mutuel window?
Again, maybe, but more realistically, probably not.
Equibase Co. releases Thoroughbred Racing Economic Indicators every month to show gains and losses in wagering on U.S. races, purses, races, race days and starts. Equibase released those statistics for April Monday and they showed a 5.9 percent increase in wagering on U.S. races compared to April 2014. That has to be seen as a positive, considering the number of races to bet on decreased by less than 1 percent.
However, in the 10 full months since California Chrome went for a sweep of the Triple Crown, gains were only realized in three months compared to the prior year. The decreases – ranging anywhere from 0.4 percent to 10.6 percent – came last July, August, September, November and December and this February and March. The increases were last October and this January and April.
Again, it is unfair to base an entire opinion on only one metric – total handle figures on U.S. races on a month-to-month basis. It is also unfair, possibly disingenuous and definitely suggestive to say something is “good for racing” without real evidence.