America became enraptured by one of the country’s oldest and most thrilling sports as California Chrome’s quest to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 elevated horse racing into mainstream discussion. Coverage spanned from morning news programs to sports talk radio and into late-night television talk shows and from traditional outlets to digital platforms and social media channels.
Horse racing, and in particular the quest for the Triple Crown, was discussed and debated and positioned and re-positioned and, most importantly, celebrated and embraced. New and casual fans were introduced to the drama, personalities and excitement found at the racetrack.
Chromie became your homie, and the races became an eye-opener and a game-changer. As TIME magazine’s Joel Stein came to witness firsthand:
“Here’s what I came to love about horse racing: The pace. It’s two minutes of real excitement, with people literally jockeying for position and the eventual winners confusingly in the middle until the very end. But even better are the expanses of time between the races. People have the opportunity to talk about the horses and patiently explain complicated math to me that they think will help me with my betting because I keep nodding ‘yes’ as if I understand. Also, it leaves plenty of time to get to the concessions. Sure, people chat during other sports, but when you do, you risk missing action. A day at the races is just that: a long, social event punctuated by sports. It’s civilized. People wear hats. And have cocktails. And allow children to place small wagers they feel very strongly about. I can see why people have been doing this for a while.”
A day at the races offers compelling touch points. It’s affordable, a bargain compared with other sports and entertainment options. It’s exciting and fun.
Racing is a social event
It’s also social and communal, and offers the experience junkie a complete and comprehensive must-share participatory event, whether with friends, family or fellow racing fans. You gamble. You jump, scream and celebrate. You win some. You lose some. You dress up or dress down and are welcomed either way. Your drink cocktails, fine wine, water or champagne and can grab a bite or take time to dine. You aren’t restricted to your seat for the entire experience like at other sporting events, but rather move around the racetrack and meet people. You share tips, hunches and opinions – whether on the horses, jockeys, food or politics.
Whether you stand at the rail, sit at the apron, glide through the grandstand or lean over the paddock, you can get up close with the star athletes – the Thoroughbreds. You can hear them neigh and see the sweat form on their coats. You occasionally rub elbows with a star athlete or an actor or a musician mingling in the crowd. If you’re really lucky, you will be the beneficiary of their success at the betting window.
The 2014 Triple Crown attendance defied an old-and-misguided stereotype that the sport of horse racing is dying.
When we take a close look at the numbers, we realize that a sleeping giant among sports and entertainment options has awakened. A younger, tech-savvy, hopeful and lifestyle-focused generation has discovered that horse racing is fun and engaging.
People flocked to horse racing’s biggest days this Triple Crown season. A crowd of 164,906 attended the Kentucky Derby, 123,469 showed up at the Preakness and 102,199 jammed Belmont on June 7. Many other sports would kill for crowds like that at big events. Did you know that combined, the 2014 Triple Crown events produced a TV audience of 45.5 million viewers?
And other big-event race days that preceded the Triple Crown also attracted big audiences. The April 5 Santa Anita Derby drew 35,241 fans to Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. One week later, iconic Keeneland, Ky., welcomed 39,722 fans for its signature Triple Crown prep race, the Blue Grass Stakes. Big race-day events attract big crowds in California, Illinois, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland and New York.
Big racing and big crowds go hand-in-hand
So now the nation and the sport turn the focus from 3-year-old Thoroughbreds and the Triple Crown to horse racing’s “second season”. The quest now becomes the Road to the Breeders’ Cup, the most lucrative sporting event held in the U.S. You didn’t realize there was a second season of horse racing? Well, let us explain.
The second season schedule offers an array of big-event days spanning from summer into fall and from coast to coast. Major races and events are conducted at travel-destination racetracks and cities. Racehorses you’ve grown to know and love – California Chrome, Tonalist, Commanding Curve, Wicked Strong and Danza, as well as champions such as Palace Malice, Will Take Charge, Shared Belief, Wise Dan and more – will be featured during racing’s second season.
Del Mar, Calif., affectionately known as the “playground to the stars” since being founded by Bing Crosby in 1937 in a quaint beach town north of San Diego, offers a unique summer racing experience as well as fall racing this year for the first time in its storied history.
Likewise, from late July through Labor Day, many of the sport’s top owners, trainers, jockeys and horses gather in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., along with hundreds of thousands of passionate fans for the East Coast’s premier Thoroughbred race meet. Saratoga Race Course, named one of the world’s top 10 venues of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, hosts the 40-day meet featuring top-class racing and a unique atmosphere. As legendary sports and turf writer Joe Palmer once noted:
“Saratoga represents a reaffirmation of racing as enjoyment, of the original forces which first called it into being. You come away feeling that, well, there is going to be a good deal of concrete and gravel in your horoscope for a goodish while, but afterward there will be Saratoga again, with its shaded paddocks. . . . I rather think that the charm of Saratoga is that it represents to those to whom racing is a way of life, something to which they may at need return. It is, of course, the oldest track in America, and its ways are old-fashioned ways. After 11 months of new-fashioned ways, it is as restful as old slippers, as quiet as real joy.”
Summer racing also thrives on the shores of New Jersey at Monmouth Park and in the heartland of America at Arlington (Ill.) International Racecourse, where many of the world’s finest horses descend in mid-August for an unparalleled Festival of Racing. Many of these big racing events will be televised by mainstream outlets NBC Sports, NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports 1.
Many call the October 31-November 1 Breeders’ Cup the Super Bowl of Thoroughbred racing. GearPatrol.com produced a video (above) that captures the essence of the two-day, $26-million extravaganza that attracts the best horses, trainers and jockeys from across the globe. It has also become the unofficial culmination of the Thoroughbred racing season, often with the Breeders’ Cup Classic being the deciding factor in the voting for Horse of the Year.