Can horse racing be saved?

The term horse racing is known by everyone, yet the actual business of horse racing is only really understood by a very small segment of the population.

This lack of knowledge and understanding often results in a great disconnect between the everyday horse racing fan, and those working inside the sport. Moreover, there is a clear bridge between the older generation of fans, many of who seem to follow a horse’s form with great passion – compared to  the younger generations whose avid participation in the sport is dwindling on a yearly basis.[1] 

Why standardbred and thoroughbred racing need to modernise

Thoroughbred racing, by nature, appears to be more engaging, has more national recognition, and has a better relationship with the national media. It has therefore been able to retain its level of popularity much better than standardbred racing. 

The irony of this is that at face value, standardbred racing should be far more popular. It’s more engaging from a participation standpoint, it’s less expensive to participate in, owners can have direct participation and, most importantly, standardbred horses tend to experience far less injury than in thoroughbred racing. 

Yet despite all of these valid points, standardbred racing is almost non-existent from a commercial standpoint. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Standardbred racing is a very traditional practice and has failed to adapt to the ever-growing demands of horse owners. It operates almost exactly as it did 50 years ago – without implementing any of horse racing’s modern technologies.
  • The nature of the racing means that on small tracks the race is often won in the first five seconds. The problem is there’s just not currently the required level of funding in standardbred racing to merit its wide-scale presence on big tracks.

    • Alongside having to compete with far more sports and entertainment than yesteryear, one of the biggest reasons younger generation do not engage with horse racing on the whole as much as older generations is the moral issue. With horses regularly whipped during races alongside further questionable training practices outside of the race itself, the feeling of animal cruelty can be an often visceral, visual experience to the untrained eye.
    • Another major issue is owner participation. Owning a horse has never been cheap, and the average monthly maintenance cost of a racing horse is currently over $2,700 per month.[2]  As well as the cost factor though, for the sport to grow, owners have to feel an emotional bond with their horse. This seems to be distinctly lacking at the moment – which goes some way to explaining the high rate of owner turnover.[3] 

So… how do we expand horse ownership?

If everyone is willing to adapt to the modern way of doing things, then horse racing’s survival may be a lot simpler than it currently seems.

Firstly, we have to apply the available technologies to better protect the horse. This will not only help to attract younger owners, but in turn will give the owner a better chance of seeing a return on their investment.

We then need to maximize the emotional connection between the owner and their horse by providing them with far more access to the horse’s everyday activity. This is easily achievable with modern technology, where a simple camera set up in the horse’s stable means the owner has a 24/7 visual if they wish on exactly what their horse is up to.

Furthermore, there are a number of intricate software platforms that can provide owners with real-time information on their horse’s emotional behaviour and of course when they are next racing. Owners should also be visiting their horse’s barn far more frequently, with barn visits encouraged by trainers. In essence, this level of personal interaction is how you expand an ownership base.

Making the necessary changes to attract more fans

Put simply, horse racing doesn’t exist without fans of the sport driving revenue through wagering. Because horse racing is a parimutuel game, fans are betting against each other and it’s a portion of that betting that is held out for purse money. The larger the handle, the larger the purses. 

Sadly, there are very few Standardbred tracks that can survive on this level.  The betting handle is just too small.

So then, how do we increase betting handle? First of all, we need larger tracks. Instead of the traditional half-mile or 5/8th tracks, larger racetracks that include a single turn and where the entire stretch run would take more than 30 or 35 seconds would result in far more exciting and closer finishes.

Revolutionising the betting process for younger participants

The older generation of racing fans will always prefer the traditional betting platforms. But for the younger generation, we must provide a more simplified variety of wagers that are socially driven. 

For example, bettors should be able to create and offer live, interactive head-to-head wagers with two or more participants via their mobile phone. In conjunction with these types of wagers, users should be provided with simple handicapping tools driven by video or picture content and containing information about the individual horses.

Because these wagers are simple and limited in competition, the win/loss proposition will be substantially improved over traditional bets. Even if a bettor loses money for the day, the entertainment value substantiates the losses. What is even more exciting about platforms like this is that some participants may be watching at the track, whilst others could could watching at home – yet the social interaction between the bettors remains. 

Reevaluating the horse racing track

In the main, horse racing tracks are becoming less and less attractive and beneficial for today’s racing audience. And so it’s time to reassess the existing layouts and consider a complete modernisation.

As controversial as it may seem, the traditional Grandstand no longer has the esteem it once had. With wagering becoming far more interactive, the track should instead be perceived as an entertainment facility, one where horse racing is the main but not only action taking place. Indeed, by strategically placing a wide variety of small bars, food and entertainment venues around the track, the racegoers experience becomes far more fulfilling as they watch the horses race throughout the day or evening. 

From a time standpoint, the typical 20 or 30 minutes between races is no longer viable. Remember, today’s generation has no interest in two-hour movies, instead preferring five minute YouTube or 20-second TikTok videos. This reduced engagement time should inspire a quicker turnaround time between horse races.

The ideas are there, but how do we act on them?

The bottom line is that if horse racing wants to change, there are a thousand ways to reposition the sport. But to do that, the sport has to firstly recognize it needs repositioning.

At the same time, any genuine change should mean that the individuals operating racing venues should have virtually no experience in horse racing. Rather, their expertise should be far more entertainment-focused.

In other words, to attract new generations of owners, fans and general participants to horse racing, it’s time to pass the baton to the very individuals we want to participate in the sport we love so much.

Find out more about the horse racing revolution by contacting us