At the Track 

What we're missing

Numbers are everywhere. Although we sometimes might not like to, we're always interpreting numbers. Is the number on your favorite stock higher or lower today? What about this year compared to last year? Oh, but what about that other stock? With my measly 2 percent raise, can I even afford that stock? That house? These kids? Those lottery tickets?

Numbers are the lifeblood of any business and the dire concern of a handicapper. The win percentage of the horse. Of the jockey. Of the trainer. Of the horse's grandmother and nieces and nephews. In the minutes or hours before a race, we consider or discount every number we know, and then say things like, "Yeah, but I cashed in a big trifecta one time when her mother won." Sometimes numbers don't win out over dumb luck and school colors. So what? It's fine ... this is racing.

In the coming months, numbers could be a hotter topic in the courts than they've always been at Les Bois Park, because (and you know it already) no one's racing at Les Bois Park this May and probably this June, too. And maybe July. And maybe after that.

Numbers do tell a bit of what we're missing: Ten million dollars to the local economy over the four months from May to August, I've read. That's tax revenue to Idaho, that's track employees' wages, jockeys' fees and earnings, trainer fees, veterinarian fees, farrier fees, farmers' sales of hay, tack-store sales, feed-store sales, all of the money that the jockeys, trainers and horse-owners who don't live here spend on apartments, hotels and food. Not to mention the money that winds up in our local economy through the daily business of buying and selling the horses themselves, which means more tax collections for Idaho when horses are purchased in claiming races. Oh, but not to mention the money that goes to the entrepreneurs who sell food and drink and tip sheets on every one of 47 race-days each year. And the hundreds of winners on those 47 days who go out and spend their winnings. That's just for starters ... I'm sure I'm missing somebody here.

Yes, we're missing a lot. I know that I always put a few hundred dollars into local economies on trips to visit tracks in Washington and Oregon. Hundreds of horse-trainers and horse-owners come from all over the West to train at and to visit Les Bois Park. Extrapolate that. Ah, numbers.

My best count is 16. I think that only 16 recognized racetracks between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Plains conduct racing for more than two months each year. Les Bois Park is one of only six such tracks outside of California that race during the summer months. It's just another thing that makes Boise unique. And it's not only one of Idaho's gems, but is also a jewel of Western horse racing.

Racing in the Northwest is on the upswing. Emerald Downs, Seattle's local track, increased not only the number of racing days in 2005 but also their daily purses. This year, they are even adding bonus money to the purses for races that attract large fields. Their average-daily-handle and horses-per-race numbers are both trending upward. Portland Meadows regularly boasts $400,000-plus handles on Mondays, when their signal reaches a larger audience. According to an ESPN poll, reported by The Blood-Horse Magazine, interest in thoroughbred horse racing continues to grow nationally: Of 29 sports measured in the ESPN Sports Poll, interest in thoroughbred racing has risen from 14th place in 2001, to 11th in 2003, to ninth in the 2004 data.

And what am I missing? Well, it's personal. I miss all of the people who I consider to be friends even though I only see them during racing season (shout out to Dave, Kurt, Norm, Garry, Dennis, Wade, and Abbott, BTW). I miss crunching my own numbers at one a.m. on my old DOS version of Lotus 1-2-3 after a Saturday night of racing so that I'm ready for Sunday's contest. I miss sneaking out of work a tad early on a Wednesday. I miss the hot tips that I ignore that come in-and the ones that I bet that don't. I miss carefully constructing my trifecta wheel but "boxing all" of my picks on the quinella, and being the only guy in the joint who cashed the $692 quinella on Idaho Cup Day. Yeah, I could deal with that happening every race day.

And I'll get that trifecta next time ... I swear.

Robert Cooke Jr., is an associate member of the NTWA (National Turf Writers Association) and a member of the IHBPA (Idaho Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association). He also wrote "At the Track," a weekly column on horse racing during the 2004 season for Boise Weekly.

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