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Racing Future is determined to inspire a new generation of fans to enjoy the sport of horse racing.

Isn’t horse racing just for rich people?

Often called, "the sport of kings," horse racing has been tagged as a sport for royalty and thus is also perceived in the minds of many as a sport only for the rich. While there are indeed some extremely wealthy industry participants the vast majority of those involved be they owners or fans are far from rich.

Race Horse Ownership Takes Many Forms

“The experience of walking onto the infield of Churchill Downs and 170,000 people are cheering and looking at the winner’s circle and you’re sitting in it—it’s a surreal feeling,” 

Many race horse owners are involved with only one or two horses and enter into group purchase agreements or syndicates in which each owner contributes a specified amount to purchase and maintain their horse. A recent study has concluded that up to 60% of all US-owned racing Thoroughbreds are owned by partnerships like this. 

One Canadian example is Ray Bouchard who's passionate about what he sells for a living - tractors - and what he enjoys as his sport - horse racing. Ray used to go to the track as a kid to join in the excitement. As an adult, he became interested in fractional ownership where he could put a small amount of money into a group partnership and participate in racing through part ownership. After making the decision to become a part-owner through a company called Team Valor, Ray had the biggest racing thrill of his life when one of his horses, Animal Kingdom, won the Kentucky Derby in 2011. As a part owner, Ray took home part of US$2.1-million prize. 

Like other sports whose participants have historically been from all walks of life, horse racing is replete with great stories. Many of these relate how a particular, sometimes free, or as-good-as-free, horse came into someone's ownership and the truly awe-inspiring outcome. In Ontario's harness racing world, one of these stories is currently playing out. It is the story of San Pail who was bred and owned by Glen Van Camp of Port Perry. 

Kicked as a weanling, San Pail had a baseball-sized blemish on one of his hind legs. It was cosmetic only but unsightly and it made the horse difficult to sell. When the family was hoping to downsize the number of horses they owned, there were no buyers for San Pail. Then, one day, a struggling trainer named Rod Hughes heard the story and agreed to take a ¾ ownership in the horse in return for training him for free. On the day Rod became the majority owner, no money exchanged hands. The end result of that ownership arrangement is one of the finest harness horses who ever raced: San Pail has won 51 races, earned over $3 million in prize money, and in 2011 was Canada’s Horse of the Year. 

These owners are not "kings" nor will their ownership of race horses enrich them in terms of money. They take part in ownership to be a part of racing, to be a part of another Animal Kingdom or San Pail – few milestones can top standing in the winner’s circle with your very own champion.

Horse Racing has a Broad Fan Base

The second foundational support of horse racing is the fans. While there are wealthy fans, of course, many fans are just "regular" people who know that it's a great day out where they can enjoy the races and maybe win some money after placing a $2 bet.

Historically, horse racing was sport enjoyed by ordinary people at a time when there were few other forms of accessible, exciting sporting entertainment. In some ways racing hasn't changed much during its long history.  Today, as 100 years ago, fans go to the races, wager small amounts and enjoy an exciting day out with inexpensive food and drink.  Today, spectators can get "up close and personal" with their sport in ways that many other spectator sports don't allow. Indeed,  fans can enjoy the horses, their jockeys, trainers and grooms in a more immediate way by watching the paddock parade and tacking up areas. This is a great time to enjoy the majesty of race horses but also to select personal favourites for the races.

Talk to many race goers and they will tell you they're at the track to enjoy the exciting atmosphere, eat at a concession stand, and place a few $2 bets. There are few sports  today which are so accessible, where fans can park their cars and watch their sport for free - a surprising fact in this age of $20 (or more) parking fees and event ticket prices of a hundred dollars or more. Even to attend the top events in the sport of horse racing, such as Canada's oldest Thoroughbred race, the Queen's Plate, there is no fee to park nor do fans have to buy a ticket to watch. Indeed, fans can attend races like this with little more than $20 in their pockets and still enjoy a quick bite, a drink, and place a few bets. And, where else do sports fans get the chance to have a great time out and go home with more money than they walked through the gates with?

The so-called  "sport of kings” has a much wider base of participants and supporters than this label suggests. It is a sport with a long and rich history that truly isn't just for rich people.

Photo: San Pail with Trainer Owner Rod Hughes and Son. Courtesy of David Landry.