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One Step Forward, One Step Back

The View

Over the course of the summer I’ve been able to visit a couple of Ontario racetracks that I hadn’t been to in many years, and am happy to say that the experience was a positive one in both cases.

A mid-July sojourn to Ottawa’s Rideau Carleton included a taste of their dining room buffet that I had only heard rumours about - and the rumours were all true. Not only was the food fantastic, and the price more than reasonable at just $24.99, but it was nice to see that the place was PACKED - and they were still lined up down the hall trying to get in. Some ask how we’re supposed to draw new fans to the races in 2019, and the folks at Rideau seem to have figured out that one way is to offer one of the finest buffets in the city. Not only that, but once the races started, every TV in the place was focused on the horses, and the audio feed of their in-house show was definitely turned up loud enough to be certain that all of the patrons, whether regular race-goers or not, knew that the races were the main feature on this night. Bravo, Rideau Carleton.

In late July and early August I made two trips to Hanover Raceway for their Saturday night card. The atmosphere, the first night, was great. Lots of people both inside and out, loud cheers from patrons as each race unfolded and eventually hit the wire - just an all-around festive atmosphere. But that was nothing compared to what followed a week later, on Dream Of Glory night. Wow. Apparently the population of Hanover is 6,813, and I believe that at least half of them, if not more, were at the races that night. Thousands of people jammed the place. Kids running everywhere. Teens hanging out in big groups. Adults of all ages drinking beer and enjoying the band on the tarmac and the races alike. I’ve been to the Jug many times, and I’ve only missed one North America Cup ever (for a wedding - not mine). I love both of those events and look forward to them every year, and I have to say that the racetrack atmosphere on Dream Of Glory night in Hanover is just as good. If you’ve never been, you should go. Bravo, Hanover Raceway.

Were there things about each experience that I might change? Sure there are. Not many, if any, entertainment experiences out there are perfect, but it was plain to see, in these cases, that the people in charge cared about racing, and were making a big effort to give their customers a pleasurable experience in regard to horse racing on that night, and also to make sure that the customer would want to return.

I was speaking recently, with some peers, and we were discussing the catch-22 when it comes to technology and the racetrack. Many of us have racing in our blood because we grew up enjoying vibrant racetrack experiences. Whether it was at Greenwood in a packed grandstand on a Saturday afternoon in January, or sitting outside in a big crowd at Western Fair, we got hooked, at least in-part, because we were lucky enough to grow up, experiencing this on a regular basis.

Now, with streaming and online wagering, teletheatres and the like, our product is exposed to many more people - and that’s a great thing. But people don’t need to go to the track anymore, and there’s no doubt that this has taken away from the racetrack atmosphere that’s needed to attract a new generation of fans.

Personally, I grew up running around grandstands all over Ontario. It was just part of the natural progression of things. Too young to get a groom’s license and be in the paddock? Well until then you watch the races from the grandstand with all of the other kids. All of the other young people who, one day, will make up the next generation of bettors, owners and fans.

I actually remember being in Florida with my parents when I was around 10-years-old, and my sister and I weren’t allowed in at Pompano Park. Kids couldn’t go to the track. It was beyond ludicrous. We were on our way back from supper and my dad wanted to stop and bet a horse. Before we pulled up to pay for parking (yes, fans gladly paid to park at the track then) my mom made us lie down on the floor in the back seat and she threw a blanket over us - just so my dad could bet on a horse race. I didn’t care - it was an adventure. But it made no sense to me, as I had been going to the track forever. That was in the late ‘70’s though and eventually common sense prevailed. How could you ever develop future fans and participants if you restrict access to kids, and in essence, families? You can’t!

On August 20, Flamboro Downs posted the following on their Facebook page:

“We have made a significant investment in our gaming and entertainment facilities… In order to accommodate these new enhancements, Flamboro Downs will become a 19+ entertainment destination on Tuesday, September 3, 2019. All ages are still welcome to enjoy live racing on the tarmac and will have access to washroom facilities.”

How can you ever develop future fans and participants if you restrict access to kids, and in essence, families? You can’t!

Note: 24 hours after making the post, Flamboro stated that all constructive feedback is being shared with management. Let’s hope that common sense prevails here too.

***On Friday, September 6 it was announced by the Central Ontario Standardbred Association (COSA) that Flamboro Downs will make arrangements to accommodate patrons not of legal age to enter a casino by building a new structure at the edge of the tarmac, overlooking the racetrack at the south end of the grandstand.

Dan Fisher
[email protected]

1 Comment

September 28, 2019 - 10:24 pmExcellent article.

Excellent article.

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