Archives for January 2013

REMEMBERING MILES PARK AND LOUISVILLE DOWNS

Many racetracks have come and gone over the history of the United States. Two from my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, come to mind. The first was a Thoroughbred track called Miles Park and the second was a Standardbred track named Louisville Downs.

In 1956, the then-new and relocated Kentucky State Fairgrounds was opened at its current site near Louisville International Airport (Standiford Field). It replaced the old Kentucky State Fairgrounds in Louisville’s West End. In June 1956, Fairgrounds Speedway opened at the old State Fairgrounds as a short-lived venue for harness racing. Then, in June 1958, the racetrack was renamed Miles Park and became a place for Thoroughbred racing.

Miles Park always operated in the shadow of Louisville-based Churchill Downs, with its Kentucky Derby. Miles Park was nothing more than a claiming-race specialist, but nonetheless attracted some well-known jockeys, either on their way up or down.

In May 1964, tragedy struck when a barn fire took the lives of 26 horses. Miles Park had a name change to Commonwealth Race Course in June of 1974, but the end of Thoroughbred racing was near, in February 1975. The racetrack was dormant until September of 1977, when quarter horse racing was tried. In June 1978, the grandstand was destroyed by another fire and that was the end of racing at the old Kentucky State Fairgrounds.

My memories of Miles Park are somewhat vague after all this time, but I do recall traveling to the racetrack with the state veterinarian, Dr. Lawrence J. Scanlan, who was a friend, and betting on races according to the vet’s assessment of how the horses looked in the paddock and warming up. This was a wholly unsatisfactory method and a monetary loser. More adept handicapping could have been done by selecting horses to bet on using random numbers.

I recall being able to talk, up close and personal, with many of the people who worked at Miles Park, most notably trainers and jockeys, such as jockeys Lonnie Abshire and Earlie Fires and trainers Gilbert Phillips and E. B. Turner. One of the Miles Park officials, Edwin Davis, was the brother of a prominent television actor of the day, Roger Davis.

At Miles Park, someone was always willing to provide you with a tip on a “sure winner” that usually did not turn out that way.

Louisville Downs was opened in 1966 by William King, who had few peers as a promoter. The late Stan Bergstein of Harness Tracks of America told me he vividly recalled being at the track’s opening night of racing and how spectacular it was.

Louisville Downs presented harness racing until 1991, when it closed. Today, the Louisville Downs site is owned by Churchill Downs and is used as a training center and occasionally as a simulcasting facility.

William King’s half-mile harness track was an inviting place to spend a warm summer night, with some decent harness racing and a clean physical environment. The Louisville area (and Kentucky) is Thoroughbred-oriented and harness racing at Louisville Downs was always a stepsister to the runners at Churchill Downs, only five miles away.

Miles Park and Louisville Downs were minor league racetracks that nonetheless have a special place in my memory bank. What can you say about a racetrack like Miles Park, where in 1974 the stewards certified the wrong horse as a winner of a race? Some might charge that the fix was in, but if you knew Miles Park, you would be just as likely to attribute the mistake to bumbling at a sleepy haven for low-level racing and unforgettable characters from a time long gone by.

Copyright © 2013 Horse Racing Business

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER, BUILDING A FAN BASE

Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2012 had paid attendance in the United States of nearly 6.1 million. This represented an increase of 21.5% over 2011 and plus 51.8% compared to 2010. The 19 MLS teams combined had an average 2012 per-game attendance of 18,801.

Don Garber, commissioner of MLS, told CNBC-TV that his league is growing along with the immigrant population in the United States, and in particular among immigrants of Hispanic origin. MLS actively seeks to attract Hispanics through initiatives like Socio MLS–“a … program to connect with and serve independent Hispanic soccer leagues”–and the MLS website incorporates a link to its Spanish-language version.

MLS is astutely pursuing a strategy that seizes on the predominant demographic trend in the United States. As the recent presidential election demonstrated, Hispanics are increasingly influential, and not just in states like Arizona and Texas, where they have traditionally settled.

The U. S. Census Bureau projects that the Hispanic population will expand from 16.03 % of the total population in 2010 to 21.2% in 2025 and 24.84% in 2035. By 2050, Hispanics should comprise 30.25% of the people residing in the United States.

Just as Hispanics have shown an affinity for soccer, many of them come from countries where Thoroughbred horse racing is very familiar to the culture. Brazil-based TNT Stud, for instance, was a leading buyer at the Keeneland breeding stock sale in November. Many of the jockeys and backside employees at U. S. racetracks are from Latin American nations.

As the Hispanic populace flourishes and continues to spread out across the United States, more and more racetracks have the opportunity to cultivate fans hailing from countries that are horse-racing friendly. Santa Anita, in Los Angeles, long ago demonstrated the wisdom of catering to Hispanics.

NTRA, the Jockey Club, Breeders’ Cup and other organizations involved with boosting racing’s popularity might consider, like MLS, providing a link on their websites to Spanish-language renderings of relevant topics and also to adapting social-media initiatives. A similar approach could, given sufficient time, bring an influx of new players to advance-deposit wagering companies.

Targeted outreach efforts intended to develop Hispanic horse-racing fans need to commence now because successive generations of immigrant families will acquire tastes, consumption habits, and language preferences more like the prevailing American ethos and less like the cultures their ancestors originally came from.

Copyright © 2012 The Blood-Horse. Used with permission.