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Why Do Fewer People Follow Horse Racing
 By Saferaphus   •   24th Jan 2017   •   518 views   •   0 comments


Last summer, American Pharoah won the American Triple Crown of horse racing. In doing so, he was the first horse to win the title of a Triple Crown winner since 1978. But, as laudable a feat that was, probably fewer people know American Pharaoh's name than they did the name of the 1978 winner, Affirmed, or any of the previous winners such as Seattle Slew, Secretariat or Citation. And that may be because the popularity of the sport overall has declined in recent years.

An optimistic story from the U.K.ís Racing Post announced that racing regained its position as Britain's second-most popular sport. A few things factor into racingís return to Britain's top two. There was no other sporting event such as the Olympics, or any world cup football tournaments, football (soccer to those of us in North America) being the sport that brings in the most spectators there. But, in other countries, especially in North America, horse racingís hold seems to be slipping.

Despite the downward slide, horse racing is still within the top 25 sports worldwide, and according to an ESPN and a number other online polls. Several polls place it after the top six team sports which include North American football, football, rugby, and baseball. The number one sport overall, however, is NASCAR racing.

In a Harris Poll report, 21% of respondents said they followed horse racing in 1985, but in 1998 13% responded that they followed horse racing. A 2001 Harris poll showed that 1% of respondents said they followed horse racing. So why the decline? Is horse racing just too old fashioned?

In many areas of North America, small tracks would not be able to survive if other betting options such as casinos and off-track betting were not available. Go to any race night at harness tracks and youíll have your pick of prime seats. In fact, many seats seem to be taken up by friends and families of drivers and owners. Thereís no doubt that gambling, betting on horses was part of the lure. With so many other places to play, it could be that thereís just a lot more choices of where you can go to place bets, and in a way that feels much more interactive than just watching. The popularity of racing also seems to have begun its decline about the same time as lotteries became more common.

Part of the problem too might be that fans canít really identify with the players - the jockeys and horses they see out on the track. If youíre a baseball, hockey, football or any other team sports fan, chances are you have a favorite city or hometown player that you like to cheer on. Thatís a little harder with horse racing that rarely has the rags-to-riches stories or hometown hero stories that capture the imagination. Quite often the owners of horses are wealthy and may not be easy to identify with - or sympathize with.

And, there has been a seedy side of horse racing that is off-putting to many, especially as animal welfare awareness has increased. Of course, things like illegal drugging and flat out cheating happen in any sport, but it could be a bit harder to swallow when an unknowing horse is in the middle of it.

Another issue thatís being discussed is that there isnít an effective group of leaders within the sport that can guide the sport both on a national and international level as other sports have, such as the National Hockey League Commissioner. Yet others argue the really big races that garner national attention arenít the ones suffering. Itís the smaller tracks that are struggling to survive. And, maybe itís the sports stars themselves. American Pharoah had his run in the sun, but already heís gone from the scene because he can make more money for his owners as a breeding stallion than a race horse. Between our short attention spans, and their short careers, the heroes arenít much more than a name on a Facebook feed for a few minutes.
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