by Tom Carley
Horse Racing is known as “The Sport of Kings”. While this phrase brings to mind large rolling pastures on historic bluegrass farms to the well dressed fans attending the Derby to the Yuppies who flock to Saratoga instead of the Hamptons each late Summer weekend, a Wednesday stop at a local OTB today reminded me of a gem I discovered last year.
Located just north of the Kentucky-Tennessee state line lies Franklin, Kentucky. Known as the home of Professional Golfer Kenny Perry, the town also is home to Kentucky Downs.
Kentucky Downs is different from any other racetrack I have visited (this totals over 25). First of all it has only a turf course. Not a regular turf course, but rather one in which it looks like it was formed in your backyard. The circuit is shaped more like a pear than the traditional round oval. The racetrack is not level, more rolling and the horses climb an incline as they race toward the wire.
Those are physical differences from a traditional North American racetrack.
This racetrack also has a unique spirit.
No where are gates seen to exclude visitors. There are no well dressed men taking money for admission. Rather, patrons there are encouraged to bring their lawn chairs and place them on the rail, back up their truck to view the track and enjoy the action sitting on a tailgate in a way seen by those watching weanlings running in the pasture of a large farm. Fans do not purchase mint juleps and other high priced drinks from vendor’s carts. Instead they enjoy the drinks and sandwiches out of the coolers they packed at home.
People flock from miles around to take in the action. Not only do they cross state lines, but they cross the lines of socieo-economic differences as well as equine experience. A walk through the crowd saw everything from little kids enjoying watching the “horsies” to the hardened gambler constructing a multi-race wager.
For a sport that is losing fans as older fans pass on without an army of young fans to replace them, this racetrack is a refreshing break. It opens its arms and welcomes all, even those that that are just curious to see what all the hoopla is about. This is exactly what this sport needs, the removal of all barriers for future fans.
You have obviously come to this website because you are a fan of the sport. What sport combines the beauty of man & equine working in perfect harmony to reach a goal. There is no judge who arbitrarily selects who wins. The winner is determined simply by who reaches the wire first. However, if we do not introduce new people to the sport, then how will they ever become fans?
The sport needs to grow in order to thrive and survive. I challenge all of those reading this column to create your own version of Kentucky Downs. No, I am not asking you to spend the weekend installing rails and a finish line in your backyard. What I am asking each of you to do is to remove the barrier for one potential fan. Call a friend who has never experienced our sport and take them to the track. Drive them to the track, pay their way in, and show them how to read a form and make a wager. To paraphrase an old Lay’s potato chip commercial, “you can’t only attend once”. Just think what benefits this sport would enjoy if each of us created one new fan a year.