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When it comes to horse racing, it gets personal
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 5/4/2008 12:03 AM

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Arlington Park's opening weekend received considerable attention from this newspaper.

You might wonder why, considering horse racing isn't as popular a sport as, say, baseball or politics.

This is only a guess, but it could be as simple as, we like Arlington. We think it's important to the suburbs, provides international publicity during the Arlington Million and stimulates the economy by generating jobs.

Or it could be that we like the track because horse racing and newspapers are trying to figure out how to survive changing times in a changing world.

That sport has to contend with casinos that altered gaming, and this medium has to contend with an Internet that is altering communications.

Horse racing and newspapers are trying to cope with being underdogs -- maybe even longshots -- instead of favorites. Both are trying to hold off noisier, splashier competitors more attractive to younger customers.

So let's just say the two industries can commiserate.

Now, I'm too biased for you to buy my pitch about newspapers. I'll just give you 15 reasons why sports are better if thoroughbred racing remains relevant.

1. If you're lucky you can win enough money at the betting windows to head out west and start a new life for yourself, which beats relocating under the witness protection program.

2. Brent Musberger said on the radio Friday that this is how one sportsman explained why he sold a baseball team but kept a stable of horses: "I know where the horses are at night."

3. Speaking of Roger Clemens, no thoroughbred has ever been suspected of inappropriate intimacy with an underage filly.

4. Unlike at NBA and NHL games, the music is soft enough to hear yourself think. Yet it's loud enough that others can't hear what you think of them.

5. If racetracks get the slot machines they're campaigning for, maybe newspaper offices will get them next.

6. Arlington Park is a better facility for racing than Soldier Field is for football, the United Center is for basketball and hockey, and Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park are for baseball.

7. The closer you get to other sports, the less you like the athletes. The closer you get to horse racing, the more you want to feed them cubes of sugar.

8. Danica Patrick is no Julie Krone.

9. Arlington Park doesn't need a retractable roof like some baseball and football stadiums have. If weather turns bad, fans move inside and athletes earn their huge salaries by competing in rain, snow or sleet.

10. Many of the sports writers I grew up reading drank hard, smoked heavily and gambled routinely at the racetrack.

11. Once retired, Secretariat never hinted at a comeback. Of course, Brett Favre might not either if he were put out to stud.

12. No losing horse ever blamed the media.

13. Over the years, horse players with names like Hawk and Slippo Sam were Arlington's real royalty when racing was referred to as the Sport of Kings.

14. While thoroughbreds can be temperamental, not a single one ever renegotiated a contract, claimed to be quoted out of context, or alleged he missed practice because the front desk failed to execute a wake-up call.

15. And finally, the No. 1 reason to like the racetrack: They're giving money away out there!

Er, no, don't expect newspapers to try that.