The Alameda County Fair recently completed its 2018 run and with it, the Oak Tree at Pleasanton horse racing meet.
It was another successful meet, bringing new people out to the sport. As the racing publicist for the fair, I see first-hand the number of people that come to the races for the first time -- most of the time bringing their kids out to the races.
Spend one day watching the races at the fair in Pleasanton and you see families enjoying the races together. It puts a smile on my face.
The fairs have always been the perfect vehicle to introduce new people and families to the sport, and this is what the entire industry needs to embrace.
The problem: There are too many people involved in horse racing that feel the key to the sport is infiltrating the "millennial" generation, all the while ignoring the families. This is the sad belief for many in horse racing, and I saw it all too much over the last month in Pleasanton.
Appealing to the millennial base is important, as they certainly have become the disposable income base at this point, but not as much as building the future fan base. Keeping horse racing viable is not in need of a short-term fix, but rather a long-term plan.
Just about every horse racing fan I know was exposed to the industry by their father -- or parents -- taking them to the track. I recall as young as fourth grade developing an understanding for horse racing, and from that point on I was a fan.
Appealing to the family aspect of the sport is something the industry should be focusing, more so than throwing their collective eggs into the millennial basket. There needs to be a balance and as of now, it's not being achieved.
Honestly, I am getting a bit tired of hearing, "purses, purses, purses," as the savior of keeping horse racing strong. Get more money into the sport and the horsemen will stay.
While there is truth to that argument, it's not the end all. Increase all the purse money all you want, but if you don't have a fan base, it doesn't matter how much money the horses run for -- no one will be there to enjoy the races.
There needs to be a balance, but that's lost on many inside the sport.
Building the base needs to be the key.
Take my 3-year-old granddaughter for instance. I have her watching horse racing on TV when it's "Grandpa time," and she has already picked up the chant of "Go horsey, go." If she stays interested in it as she gets older -- and trust me, I will do my part to make sure that happens -- when she gets of wagering age, she will more than likely be a fan of racing and perhaps will be able to pass it on to her friend base.
The number of kids I saw sitting on their dad's shoulders watching a race was incredible. I want to know that as those kids get to be parents, they will be doing the same thing with their kids.
An example from the Alameda County Fair that embraces appealing to the next generation of potential fans are the Hippity-hop races.
The Hippity-hop races each day feature younger kids racing against kids their own age on inflatable balls on the track, competing to win ribbons. Seeing the excitement of the kids along with their parents is exactly what we should be focusing on.
As a horse player, I was initially opposed to many of these promotions as they seemed to get in the way of the races. In the last couple of years, my thoughts have turned 180 degrees.
If we fail to bring in new and future fans, the industry will shrivel up and die.
I have been going to the races at the Alameda County Fair since the early 1970s and I will always cherish those memories.
To me, it would be a shame for future generations not to have a chance to build those same memories.