Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Physical Attracktion"

In today’s horse racing, it is increasingly important that tracks put in an extra effort to entice new fans to come and old fans to leave the comfort of betting from home to attend live racing. Tracks which are aesthetically pleasing have a significant advantage in gaining and retaining patrons. The attractions are not only exciting races with powerful equine athletes, but also magnificent surroundings. Such features have the power to impress newcomers and reinvigorate lifelong fans.

My personal favorite sight is morning workouts. Training open to the public is a great way to attract new fans. Here there is constantly a horse to look at. They travel at different speeds, from a walk to an all-out drive, and you can really pick out the good and bad movers. Their sheer strength is evident in their popped-out veins, arched necks, and the muscled arms of their exercise riders. I am always amazed by the body heat the horses work up. Steam shoots out of their nostrils like a steam engine, and gently wafts from their skin on cooler mornings. It is even more amazing with an orange glow from a sunrise. As the morning progresses, the aura moves from the cool colors of the night to the warm colors of the day.

Not many sunrises are more beautiful than those viewed from Clockers’ Corner at Santa Anita Park, where the undulations of the San Gabriel Mountains are gradually lit as the sun rises higher into the sky. The litter of losing tickets and other discarded items has yet to populate the ground. The cement is clean except for the stray clumps of Pro-Ride fiber. The occasional parrot flies over the track, and peacocks call from the arboretum across the street. The famous teal-colored grandstand looks amazing when it is lit up in the dark, and later when the panels of the box seats shine golden reflections in your eye.

Santa Anita is my heaven on earth. There, attention is paid to almost every visual detail, and even the rougher parts are endearing. Silver patterned wallpaper, golden metal lamps with celestial cutouts, and English statuary are among the little details that together make a big impact. This is in stark contrast to a warehouse atmosphere where it feels like the track only cares about taking your money at the betting window.

Good aesthetics are certainly not limited to Santa Anita. Two other tracks that I have visited, Hollywood Park and Del Mar, also have physical features that create a pleasing ambiance. Hollywood, “The Track of Lakes and Flowers,” has an infield with ponds, waterfalls, flora, and fauna to draw your gaze. A flock of pink flamingos is the highlight. Behind the grandstand is a tree-filled paddock and a secluded gazebo built over a creek. At Del Mar, beautiful paddock flowers share the spotlight with beautiful people.

A track that pays attention to visual details is a more pleasant place to be and is more likely to attract more patrons, who in return are more likely to bet more races!

Marcie Heacox is an avid racing fan and self-taught photographer and artist. She is a full time student at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, with a major in Communications with an emphasis in journalism. Her career goal is to work for a top Thoroughbred racing publication. To view samples of her stunning photography please visit her website here .


El Entrenador said...

Blah blah blah. Aesthetics are great, but horse racing is and always has been about betting and making money. A track could be a palace, but if you create WINNERS by lowering takeout SIGNIFICANTLY, racing will survive; if you don't, it will eventually fail. Poker has mowed right over horse racing in the last decade because there are people that win consistently and win BIG. Name one person that bets horses and has a national spotlight. That's right, you can't. But, I'll bet you know the names of a dozen pro poker players.

Morning workouts are great. Winning MONEY IS NIRVANA. Let's not forget the real reason with like the game.

El Entrenador said...

P.S. Marcie's photos are PHENOMENAL. Well done.

HANA said...

hey ATQP,

We have so many posts and opines on hard numbers, and takeout and all the rest which plagues the game I thought it was great to have a well written post from a passionate fan about the racetrack setting. It is something many of us hard core players seem to forget now and again I think.

Anyway, thanks for the comments, and yes I agree wholeheartedly, her photography (and writing skills) are awesome!


QQ said...

My friends and I are small fry bettors compared to many HANA members, but still, in my little part of the world -- everyone who is passionate about playing the ponies started by watching a live race. So maybe there is something about aesthetics that matters to the *creation* of new fans. After that, well, I suppose it could all be about the takeout. I for one can't remember caring about the take out when I cashed my first ticket -- but I do remember noticing how beautiful Belmont was!

Anonymous said...

Well done Marcie !! You echo the forum that was held in Saratoga last night...from a gentlemen who designed the 'spruce up' at Ascot. Article here:

Consultant: Race track in need of upgrades
Published: Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Saratogian

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga has the nation’s premier race meet, but the aging facility needs significant investment to stay competitive globally, a racetrack consultant said Wednesday.

At the same time, New York Racing Association and the state, which now owns Saratoga Race Course, must do more to preserve and promote its historic qualities.

Paul Roberts of London-based Turnberry Consulting outlined general track needs during a presentation at Saratoga Springs Public Library with about 50 people on hand. NYRA has retained Turnberry to develop a master plan for each of its venues, starting with Saratoga. Roberts is expected to make specific recommendations later this year.

"There are owners worldwide who do not come to Saratoga because it doesn’t have the facilities they’re used to," he said. "A lot of owners self-insure their horses. They don’t like putting horses in wooden barns."

NYRA got a record 3,000 applications for its 1,800 stalls this year. However, some barns are more than a century old. Roberts believes the property has room for new, concrete-block barns that could still have wooden exteriors to complement the track’s historic ambience.

High-quality horses, premier owners and generous prize money (purses) are key ingredients of any successful racing equation, he said. "You’ve got to attack everything," he said. "It’s a virtual circle. I’m trying to improve the racetrack experience."

Robert said attendance at tracks outside the U.S. is growing because of major investments at places such as Dubai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Tom Frost of Frost Architecture in Saratoga Springs did historic research for Roberts’ presentation. Old photos depicted the original grandstand, dating to the 1860s, and the iconic structure — built in 1892 — that fans recognize today.

The track’s three-most historically important structures are the clubhouse, original grandstand and former saddling shed, where jockeys mounted horses, behind the clubhouse, he said. The shed, formerly an open-air building, was converted to pari-mutuel use in the 1960s. Roberts said it should be reverted to its original architectural style.

"These are the buildings that define Saratoga," he said. "Get these buildings back to where they should be. Saratoga doesn’t do history well."

He criticized the grandstand’s rooftop press box, and interior infrastructure such as exposed pipes, ducts and electrical apparatus.

"There hasn’t been sufficient attention paid to the original integrity of the building," he said.

However, upgrades and improvements won’t be possible until NYRA gets the funds needed for such work. It’s slated to receive 7 percent of gaming revenue from a proposed Aqueduct Race Track racino. Of this, 4 percent will be dedicated to capital projects, more than $20 million per year.

Six firms have submitted bids, but a decision can’t be made until the state Senate irons out its difficulties. Selection of a gaming operator requires three-party approval by Gov. David Paterson and leaders of both the Assembly and Senate.

Cangamble said...

I agree that newbies start off by going to the track first before they even think of becoming a regular player.
But when it comes to making tracks beautiful, Stronach drove Magna bankrupt buying expensive flowers when he had an opportunity to reduce takeouts on all his tracks at the same time, and he actually would have been remembered as the person who saved horse racing.

ITP said...

Stronach spending $200 million tearing down and rebuilding Gulfstream for the worse or would racing have been much better off if he would have spent that $200 million on a new tote system?