The more things change…

“…The sport’s expansion…led to angst among large numbers of its most elite participants. They lamented the passing of previous decades, when, at least as they recalled it, horse racing was dedicated to pure sport and not to crass commercialism. As events had evolved, the sport’s rapid expansion had given rise to a three-headed monster: the number of racetracks proliferated; the tracks felt the pressure of competition and so raised purses to attract the numbers of horses needed to fill their programs; and, consequently, the track increasingly depended on public admission fees and on bookmakers to produce the money for these purses and other operating expenses…by 1890, the sport’s commercial turn had become apparent to everyone.

…People had long debated the pros and cons of seeing the bookmakers…ascend to a position of necessity in racing. ‘The racing code encourages speculation by legalized betting,’ noted Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. ‘And for what? It is safe to say, to gratify the depraved appetites of about one hundred and fifty men of questionable character. Watch at Saratoga, or Jerome Park, where you please, the crowd that gathers around the pool stand. Meeting after meeting the faces are the same. Those who bid in the pools are professional gamblers. A gentleman of respectable business connections does not like to be seen in that wrangling crowd.’”

Maryjean Wall, in her excellent How Kentucky Became Southern, published last year, discussing some of the problems racing faced 120 years ago: the fans vs. gamblers debate is not, it seems, a new one.

Ah, the good old days…which to those observers in 1890 had, apparently, already passed.

One thought on “The more things change…

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