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Phaneuf On The Live Racing Experience

Published: September 16, 2010 4:38 pm ET

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Would more of the mainstream public gravitate to horse racing if notable celebrities said they loved the game? Would more people follow the sport, show up and wager? Would the enticement of the unknown bring more people out?

This afternoon, Dion Phaneuf, captain of the National Hockey League's Toronto Maple Leafs, was present at Woodbine Racetrack in suburban Toronto as he served as the special celebrity drawmaster for the track's $1 million Woodbine Mile for thoroughbreds.

While discussing the event -- which is to be raced Sunday, September 19 -- Phaneuf was asked by veteran race caller Dan Loiselle about his experiences in horse racing, both as a fan and owner.

In a somewhat ironic moment, as he helped promote one of the continent's top thoroughbred races, Phaneuf explained that a great deal of his horseracing experience is in relation to standardbred end of the industry -- particularly on the harness racing hotbed of Prince Edward Island.

"I did own a horse a few years ago with my grandfather," Phaneuf explained. "He's been in the horse racing business for a long time, 30 some years, down in the (United) States. He's raced here before. My experience wasn't that good. My horse never raced. It got hurt training. But I've been involved and been around horses for a long time, so it's exciting to be here. "

As many in the industry can relate to the emotional roller coaster ride which often accompanies racehorse ownership, the large majority of people outside the industry cannot. What people can relate to is an experience at their local raceway. If cultural icons and heroes publicly endorse the experience of live racing, would 'newbies' then come out to see what the hubbub is all about?

Phaneuf went on to say that he spends a good deal of his offseason on PEI, and that means time at some of the harness racing industry's most historic locations.

"I go to the races quite a bit actually there (PEI) with my grandfather when he's back on the island," explained Phaneuf, who also stated that he has attended the heralded Gold Cup and Saucer.

"It's a fun night out to see them (the horses) race. I go to both tracks there, Summerside and Charlottetown. I've been to the big races there, too. They do a great job down there. They have a good track in Charlottetown. There's good racing down there."

Phaneuf has played over 400 NHL games and has represented his country on some of the largest international sporting stages. Based on Phaneuf's resume and words, one must then deduce that the experience of live horse racing is a bona fide option for those looking for major league entertainment.

An attempt to gauge whether celebrity endorsement of a day/night at the track actually translates to increased raceway attendance would be a tough variable to quantify, but a good shot in the arm never hurts the cause.

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