This was as close to science fiction as anything I have sensed recently: One evening the week before last at the simulcast hall, I was the only person in the place when I hit a $60 Double and stood and said "All right," and listened to the echo.
There was one teller.
There was one man in a room at the back, hooking the satellite signals to the television screens.
There was one waitress.
I must tell you, the service was superb.
That was the extent of the crowd in the non-smoking section.
This simulcast hall is large and well-equipped, big screens over the bar, small screens to the side and back, restaurant in the middle.
Being the only person in a modern gaming facility without a storm raging outside, or without the server saying it was last call, is odd. The first thing you think is you should be home doing something constructive like sharing with a spouse, teaching a child, cleaning behind the refrigerator. But I hadn't been to the races in a week and believe in balance.
When you're alone, you speak quieter.
"I hit that one in California by one inch," I said to the teller, just above a whisper.
"Congratulations," she said about as softly.
Wouldn't want to wake up the ghosts.
There were eight or ten people on the other side of the simulcast building in the smoking section, site of a bad memory. Right over there, third row in, I loaned an attorney a hundred dollars and thought I could always ask for his tie as collateral, a fine variety showing frogs all over. The lawyer lost the $100 faster than I could ask for a side bar. The next two times I saw him in the simulcast venue, he left before I could ask about the hundred, a bad sign. Then he had a heart attack and died, a worse sign. After a respectful period of time I went to the widow's house, and a solid piece of work it was, too, trees and shrubs worth at least a hundred everywhere you looked. I knocked on the door and introduced myself and asked the woman if I could please have my hundred-dollar loan repaid. She said no and instructed me to get off the porch or she would call the cops. The point is, draw up a paper for any race track loan and have the borrower sign it so Judge Judy can get the money back.
The lonely night last week, I coughed up thirty dollars and played and lost one race in the smoking section and then went back to the other side and bet two bucks now and again until somebody else showed up; can't leave a gambling hall without a gambler in it, it's bad luck.
Even though money wagered continues to hold horse racing in good stead and good steed, it's time for track management to think seriously about putting some bodies in some seats, particularly at the live meets. Even great food loses its taste in an empty restaurant.
What might horse racing learn from football, basketball and baseball, sports that draw huge crowds? Since team horse racing is impossible, little can be learned from team sports. Golf is an elitist sport whose number one star, Tiger Woods, has not issued the clarion call that was predicted to have minorities everywhere race to the high-society country club courses. Has the next Tiger Woods been born yet? About all that can be learned from tennis is, sign some Russian women.
Horse racing can learn from the lottery and Publisher's Clearing House: Give away money.
The take-out at the average race track, all bets considered, is probably around 20 percent, as nasty a hill as a climber is apt to try in street shoes. Imagine your stock broker lopping off 20 percent of every transaction before divvying up the profits. Talk about caring for a sport: having to fight through a 20 percent reduction in profits is love. There is no horse racing house in the traditional sense of gambling, no house as there is a casino that fades most wagers. Nobody has a 20 percent edge in horse racing. The horse player simply starts each race behind square one, no news there. On top of the 20-or-so percent siphoning, tracks and horsemen and women in many places are getting shares of slot machine revenue. Plugs are racing for fat purses while horse players are left holding the bag of limp nachos.
If somebody is serious about putting people in the seats, draw a lucky number, learn from the Indians at their casinos where at some places they give away Firebirds as though they grew on trees.
Without horse players there would be no horse racing, how could so many high school graduates have forgotten that.