There is a reality of horse racing as a sport that is often ignored by those involved in the industry: it is confusing and complex to newcomers.
The terminology used in the world of racing is obtuse and out of date, meaning that many need to head online to sites like this one just to understand how to follow the events that they’re spending time and money watching. It is a deliberate choice by horse racing, which is an industry that has decided to stick to its old fashioned principles rather than update enough to welcome a new crowd.
There is something remarkably snobbish about horse racing. Whether it be the use of arcane measurements such as furlong and yards or the choice to have any number of different names for races, there is an extent to which an outsider is always likely to struggle to understand what on earth is going on at a meeting.
To those in the know, it is a point of pride that only those dedicated to the sport know what’s going on, but it means that, as a sport, it is limiting its ability to develop and grow, which could be damaging in the long run.
Stuck In The Past
There is an extent to which horse racing is a sport that is married to its past. Races take place over furlongs, which came from the Old English term furlang, from ‘furh’, meaning furrow, and ‘lang’, meaning long.
That, in a microcosm, is everything that is wrong with racing as an industry. Rather than realising that newcomers to the sport might not have much of a sense of how long a furlong is, to say nothing of the fact that ‘yard’ isn’t used in most places any more, the sport sticks to its old fashioned terminology and does so with pride.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with tradition. Indeed, the entire British Empire is built on the very notion of stick to what has always been the case. Would the monarchy be formed in a modern society, for example? It is unlikely, which is why those that love it are keen to avoid any suggestions of modernisation.
There is a reason many Royals love horse racing, with its ancient traditions and refusal to modernise. It is odd to remain so glued to the past, but when becoming more modern might threaten your existence, of course that’s what you’re going to do.
It Is A Cruel Sport
One of the things that is so often ignored about horse racing is that it is, in reality, quite a cruel sport. Hundreds of horse die each year for no reason other than being used in the entertainment of others.
Modernising would require the world of horse racing to acknowledge that fact, rather than burying its head in the sand and talking of ‘tradition’ and ‘age old values’. Most young people are not overly keen on horse racing because of its innate cruelty, so it isn’t really all that surprising that the industry doesn’t want to welcome them.
The more the industry modernises, the more it is likely to have to face up to its own problems and issues. The more it makes itself accessible as a sport, the more likely it is that the newcomers to the sport are going to hold a mirror up to its inadequacies and ask it to do more to be better.
There are many within the world of horse racing that are much happier ignoring what’s going on and carrying on as if there aren’t any problems, which is only possible thanks to the ability to ignore any and all desires to become more accessible.
Is It Part Of The Allure?
There is no question that people enjoy a challenge. Perhaps it is part of horse racing’s mystique and allure that it is seemingly impenetrable to someone that doesn’t have a guide to talk them through what is happening.
Whilst this is true of some things like understanding what a Weight For Age race is or why a bay gelding can’t take part in a Mare’s Hurdle, it is also true of understanding something like a race card. There are countless websites dedicated to understanding just that, such is the extent to which an explainer is necessary.
Why isn’t it easy to understand the race card, which is supposed to guide racegoers to the action that is taking place in front of them? Why is it that horse racing feels the need to make it so impenetrable that even figuring out a horse’s form can feel as though you need a degree before being confident in the bet that you’re looking to place?
There is certainly an argument that this might well be part of the sport’s allure, causing those that wish to enjoy it to take the time to learn about it, immersing themselves in the experience in order to enjoy it.
Will It Ever Change?
There are some within the world of horse racing that realise that the industry is shooting itself in the foot. For the time being, horse racing as an industry is propped up by the likes of the Horse Racing Levy Board, which demands money from bookmakers on bets it has taken to pump finance back into the sport.
There are some that are acutely aware that that might not last forever and that at some point there might be a refusal to continue to prop up an industry that isn’t doing anything to ensure its own future with an audience.
The problem is, the traditionalists remain in the most powerful positions. As with something like the Royal Family, change is a slow and gradual process. There is no very desire to rush to ‘fix’ something that many don’t think is broken. As a result, the ability to keep modern and to stop itself from disappearing altogether is something that may never happen. Horse racing is an industry that is built on tradition, but if it isn’t careful then that desire to remain traditional might well see it consigned to the past forever.