Horse Racing Still Going? Is That Okay?

There are bigger issues in the country, but it is okay to miss sports. Could horse racing provide some relief?

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

These are unprecedented times. We have had other times where sports were on hiatus, but this many?  At once? In such quick and short order?

The date will live in infamy—Wed. March 11, 2020. Shortly after 9 pm ET, President Trump delivered an address from the Oval Office about how the government will respond to COVID-19. As his speech was ending, the NBA stunned us all by announcing that it was suspending its season as Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobare had tested positive for the virus.

That triggered a tidal wave. Within two days, just about everything sports-related had been postponed or canceled. The NCAA tournament. The Masters. The NHL, MLB as well as college sports—and seasons.

If you love sports, this is a weird time. I am one who sort of lives through sports. Like most, I have a job, kids, bills to pay and things to do, but for me, sports is my hobby, my outlet, my escape.

My routine is like most. I get up early, go to work, come home, make dinner, tend to the family and then for a few hours, sit on the recliner and watch sports until I decide to go to bed or fall asleep either on that recliner or the couch.

We know that in the grand scheme of things, sports are trivial. We may debate for hours, days and weeks where Tom Brady will play in 2020, but in reality, it’s not that important.  But for millions, sports are important; it’s how we spend our free time.

I always felt kind of sorry for people that don’t follow sports or don’t know anything about them. Think about where you work—just about every day, sports is brought up. Every office has fans, some you like, and some you loathe. Some know what they’re talking; most do not. But what about the person who doesn’t have any idea what you’re talking about?  Don’t you feel sorry for them just a little bit?

My Mom is the classic example. She knows enough about sports to not be totally bored when conversations are brought up, but at least 500 times, I have heard her tell me on Saturday that “we have all these TV channels and there is nothing on.”

Think about that from a sports perspective. She said that there was nothing on TV on a Saturday. If you love sports, you’re laughing, because with sports, there is always something on. Even Christmas Eve, the Hawaii Bowl is on and for years served as a nice backdrop so a guy like me could wrap presents for his young, Santa Claus believing children.

Now, I feel like my Mom; there really is nothing on.  Sports fans follow their own calendar and March is a crazy time of the year.  In addition to March Madness, many winter sports are concluding.

At the high school level, the state championships being played are dizzying—basketball, swimming and driving, ice hockey, track and field, bowling, wrestling and volleyball. Sports wise, March comes in like a lion and goes out like one, too.

One sport is trying to keep going and that’s horse racing. Many tracks have barred spectators, but have not canceled. Some tracks have postponed of course. In New York, both Monticello and Yonkers have canceled cards; Yonkers says through March 18 and Monticello won’t race through March 29.

But many tracks are racing. They’re not allowing fans, but as we all know, most that bet on horse racing are doing so at home or miles away from a racetrack. Some even joke that banning fans from racetracks has already occurred. And, with nothing else going one, handle is up at many of the tracks. Aqueduct handled over $6 million with no fans there and Rideau Carlton saw a huge increase from $117,197 on March 8 to $266,400  on March 15.

Is this the time for horse racing to gain some new fans? With nothing else going on, could horse racing provide a little solace, that outlet that sports has always done? The sport has garnered attention for the wrong reasons in the last year—racing deaths, the disqualification of Maximum Security at the 2019 Kentucky Derby and just last week, a major drug and doping scandal that to date, has seen 29 arrests and indictments.

The sport carries on and over this past weekend, several tracks were racing. I have to think that ESPN, a 24-hour sports network has to be wondering what they’re going to do over the next month or two. March is their time with the NCAA tournament, the NBA, MLB and NFL free agency. Now, they have nothing. Could they be interested in broadcasting some horse and harness racing?

If you’re a fan of horse and harness racing this could be “our,” chance; the chance to gain some new fans with very little else is going on. The harness racing lover is thinking about “Live from The Meadows in Washington, PA, ESPN presents Harness Racing Today.”

What about Wednesday night? Could “Live Harness Racing from Buffalo Raceway,” make its way on to one of the ESPN or Fox networks?

Could this work?  Would a network as big as ESPN or Fox be even the slightest bit interested? Probably not, but why not call them, and have them tell you no rather than just assume.

I may live in a dream world, but when I wake up and see that no team sports are scheduled, I feel like I’m living a nightmare. We all want to wish the Coronavirus away, but we know that can’t happen we know that it will take time and we hope that the damage is minimal.

Sports has always helped us cope through tough times. In 1980, a group of college kids lifted the nation by winning the Gold medal at the Winter Olympics at a time when the country was struggling politically, economically and socially.

After Sept. 11, 2001, sports helped us heal and the 2001 World Series was emotional as it was riveting.

During World War II, it was President Franklin Roosevelt who encouraged baseball to keep playing and even though many stars were in the service, the seasons continued.

This is different as this pandemic has taken team sports away from us, which is contradictory to those above-mentioned moments.

Could horse racing provide a little relief?  I think so, but I’m probably a one-man gang here.

But I’ll always be a dreamer.




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