Shackled Love won the Private Terms, giving Charlie Marquez first stakes win.
A little love for Shackled Love from Charlie Marquez, who who his first stake. Photo by Allison Janezic.

Each year when I attend the races in the late winter or early spring, I feel like what I imagine the old baseball player must feel when he hears the order for pitchers and catchers to report to spring training.  It is great when we can put the winter behind us and take up our warm weather traditions, especially now when it seems we are rounding the curve on the turmoil of the last year caused by the pandemic.

It was in this spirit that I went to Laurel Park for the first time in many months on Saturday, March 13.

The weather was warm, and approximately 400 fans were allowed in to view a card that included five stake races.  Like every spring there were some annual traditions. Jockeys Sheldon Russell and Victor Carrasco each won two of the stakes.  In addition there was some rebirth as one of Victor’s wins came on the tough veteran Cordmaker, who had not won a race since 2019.

Owner Ellen Charles and trainer Rodney Jenkins never lost confidence in Victor, and he rewarded them with a perfect control-the-pace ride. Feargal Lynch was back riding too, continuing his comeback from injury suffered last July. 

There was also something new. Newcomer Alexander Chavez won his very first race in the US, and apprentice Charlie Marquez earned his first stakes victory.

The crowd was a little different from what I usually see at an average day at the track.  There were more than just a few families there. In addition, there seemed to be perhaps more pockets of millennials than I normally see.  My sense was that the spring-like day had drawn them out, and of course they spent the majority of the day on the track apron. 

Some old familiar faces were there as well.  Anyone who attends a track regularly can’t but help to recognize the bettors who are there on an almost-daily basis.

The air was filled with the sounds we all know from the track: the handicapping debates, the stories of each win and bad beat, loud cheering for horses running in races from tracks across the country.

Marketing to the newer fan and converting them to being a bettor is vital if racing is to survive as a significant sport.  At the same time it would be bad business for any track to ignore its most loyal patrons who come to wager weekly. Successful businesses cater to both groups to build and retain customer loyalty.

The card was a little chalky, but unlike the much younger version of myself, on this day it did not matter much.  It was great just to hear the voice of Dave Rodman and to sit in the warm sun drinking a cold beer.

I’m a new voice on this site, but not to racing. I have over 45 years’ experience in betting horses and marketing financial products and am looking forward to contributing occasional columns to The Racing Biz.

My future columns will be editorial pieces that will focus on the concerns of the everyday bettor as well as ideas of how racing might better market itself to the current and new bettors.  In addition to my over four decades of handicapping experience, I handled marketing duties for 25 years at two different financial institutions so I think I am qualified to offer some insight on many different topics along these lines.

I’m looking forward to the conversations ahead.