Santa Anita Park Gets Major Upgrades to Attract New & Old Fans

View of the track from Eddie Logan Suite. (Photo by Shawmut)

View of the track from Eddie Logan Suite. Photo Credit: Shawmut

There is no sport that’s fallen as far as fast as horse racing. In 1960, America’s three most popular sports, arguably, were baseball, boxing and horse racing. Baseball is still popular, if not No. 1 anymore; boxing has been eclipsed by MMA and is no longer dining table conversation.

But horse racing has dropped out of view altogether. There’s still a tiny bit of hoopla about the Kentucky Derby, but it wouldn’t be hard to miss it completely, even if you were an avid sports fan.

Just a few miles from Goldstar HQ, there’s a horse racing track called Santa Anita, and it’s been through a lot in the last few decades. To fight what they understand to be trends running badly against them, the track just completed a $30-million renovation. Tom Ludt, of the group that owns and operates Santa Anita, said this: “The NFL is trying to figure out how to keep fans coming back to the actual live event. If the greatest sporting product in the country is dealing with that, you can imagine an event like horse racing. We’re trying to create the pageantry, the climate, the atmosphere and the enthusiasm for people to be at the event versus on television or elsewhere.”

True, but even that is wishful thinking for horse racing because no one watches it on television either. Bear in mind that the live experience of horse racing includes the ability to gamble, which is a major draw and has been increasingly popular during the generation in which horse racing has lost its overall popularity.

That’s why I think that Mr. Ludt is right to think there’s a formula for success in there, and I think it’s simple: Get consumers to believe that the horse racing experience is more like going to Las Vegas than visiting Skid Row. Much of the gambling that happens at race tracks is the desperate, scary kind, at least in the eyes of the consumers that Santa Anita and other tracks would like to attract.

Can that happen? I don’t think it’s impossible. Las Vegas reached a point in the ’80s and early ’90s when it was stodgy and outdated too, but now it’s quite the opposite. Will horse racing be a top 3 sport in the country again? Not a chance. Could it be a viable, thriving form of leisure for young and youngish people with decent incomes and the ability to change cultural perceptions?

Yes, it could.

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