08 August 2008

Love's Labor ... lost

Last week, a few readers e-mailed me, asking "QQ - What's up? Where's the WV Derby coverage we've come to know and love? Where are those helpful links to past performances for the undercard? Where is that delightful, if rather uninformative, patter that makes us yearn to travel to, of all places, Chester WV, to partake of spiked lemonade and blistering heat for a glimpse of some Kentucky Derby also-ran? Where, oh where, is our muse of Mountaineer?"

OK, I may have rephrased these e-mails a bit, but I'm sure I captured the essence of the inquiries. And now, I'll try to explain my long, long silence here at Turf Luck. But it's difficult for me to talk about, so I'm going to have to try to channel my inner Ohio Valley Girl. Here goes:

So, it's like this: all my friends are dating these real impressive tracks, you know? And they're always, like, "Saratoga this" and "Del Mar that", but me, I, like, I don't really have that option, you know? Out here in the boonies, there's really only one game in town if you like your racing live. So, yeah, I start going steady with Mountaineer. Yeah, I know, Mountaineer's not Mr. Popularity, but you know, all the parts are there: barns, track, windows, and, of course, horses. And you know, he's got a pretty nice simulcast show going, and a really great announcer, and even a turf track, so yeah, what the hey, I'm dating Mountaineer.

We get off to a little rocky start, cause like, I'm used to prettier paddocks, and, like, awnings, and maybe a few more superfectas. But I guess I can't complain, cause, like, admission and parking are always free -- and the sunset is always so beautiful, and I like the way the fog rolls in, and well, it's kinda romantic and all.

And you know, after a while, I forget that Mountaineer's not the big time, 'cause you know, it's like my track. My lil Mountie. Like, I mean, Saratoga is so old and well, Del Mar, that's like so West Coast, you know?

So, anyways, things are going ok, I'm like always blogging about Mountaineer's stake races, and like pointing out when big time jockeys come to call, and you know, like putting a pretty nice spin on everything, 'cause you know, Mountie may be a country bumpkin, but he's got a good heart, right? Every once in a while, I tell him how he could have a better website, but you know, I do it real gentle and all, so as not to offend him.

But get this! Like, every time I e-mail him, you know, there's no reply. And it's not like I'm ranting or anything, I'm just asking simple things, you know. Like, I asked if I could have a media guide. I was real polite and all, cause you know he's like a little bit paranoid, cause he knows he's not really in the same league with the popular tracks. But he never responds.

So I think, like, maybe I should ask something where he doesn't have to give me anything, cause I've noticed, he's kind of cheap with the gifts and all. I mean, I don't even get comp drinks! I kinda learned to accept it, cause really, where am I gonna go if I want the horses?

So anyways, I e-mail him a question about one of the races, like how'd it get that funny name? I thought he'd like that, cause he could look all smart and everything answering it. But --- no response! It's like he can't even send me a note saying "Sorry, don't know that one, but did you know Bernie Blue won it last year?" Nope. Nothing! Like, basically, he's telling me to talk to the hand.

Then, back in May, these tv folks started talking about Mountie. It's even on YouTube. (And there's, like, a second part there too!) And like, everyone's talking about how the horses from Mountaineer end up going to slaughter. And yeah, I'm pretty sure he can't deny it, what with stuff being on film and all. I hear a rumor that maybe behind the scenes, Mountie's working on making things better, so I figure, well, maybe I'll just wait and see what happens.

But you know, it's around this time, I start spending a little more time with the OTB -- and it's never to look at Mountie's races. But it's not really cheating, cause like, there's no rail, you know?

But anyway, we start going downhill. Like, I bring these friends who've been married to Churchill Downs for, like, ever, and they want to bring a cooler in to Mountaineer. On a non-stakes night. And Mountie's all like, no way. Can't do that. He says that there's food for sale at the track. Don't need no stinkin' coolers. Like the food is something to travel from Kentucky for? Get real. I'm beginning to think Mountie's ego's getting a little big.

And of course, you know, there's that whole camera thing -- like my camera will be confiscated if I take pictures of the horses? What's up with that?

Then, Mountie goes and puts in all these poker tables -- and now kids aren't allowed on the ground floor (and of course, with slots upstairs, they can't go there either!) To make up for it, he added a nice new simulcast area, but it's kinda like walled in, so the traffic patterns are all, like, discombobulated and it's harder to get to the windows. And like, I'm thinking, am I really with this guy?

And then, I find out the truth. I send him a little e-mail and I don't mention the track. I kind of imply that I'm interested in those 2-penny slots. And can you believe it -- Mountie replies! Apparently my e-mails aren't going directly to spam, because in less than a day, I've got mail. Oh, yeah, now he's willing to talk. Now that he thinks I'm some slot-feeding granny with Social Security checks to burn. Two-timing scum!

And like, the worst thing is, I should have known! I kept cutting him some slack, always making excuses for him, and it's like, get a clue, girl: He's just not that into you!
Yes. I've been scorned. It hurts a bit, but as the recent rise of the Self Appointed Fan Committee and the Horseplayers Association of North America attests, I'm not the only one. What hurt the most, I think, is that Mountaineer doesn't seem to have a handle on this whole Internet tubes thing, and could benefit from a little positive, unsolicited PR.

But hey, Mountie scorned me and my little labor of love, so in return: No pre-race cheerleading before WV Derby Day, no linking to those hidden past performances for the undercard, no mention of those lovely articles Bill Mooney wrote leading up to the Big Day, no highlighting the visits from big name trainers and jockeys as a reason to maybe visit the track or place a wager.

For a librarian, it was hard to see all of the web visitors that arrived here looking for "West Virginia Derby past performances" only to find my Derby post from last year, which as of this writing, is still comes up first in a Google search. Mountaineer may not be looking for a girlfriend, but golly, I think they could learn a few things about customer service from a librarian. Think I'm wrong? Send an e-mail to your library tomorrow, and see how long it takes them to reply.

What's sad is the impact that tracks like Mountaineer may have on racing in general. While longtime fans may see differences between NYRA, MEC, CDI, etc., for those new to the sport, the brand of "horse racing" generally equates to "the track I visit" and (of course) the Kentucky Derby. If I had visited Mountaineer before going to Belmont, well, it's quite possible I wouldn't have gone on to visit Keeneland, Saratoga, Pimlico, Presque Isle, Penn National, Meadowlands, Philadelphia Park or even Belmont. It seems to me, that in many ways, the brand of "thoroughbred racing" is only as strong as the nearest track -- and sadly, I think I've been dating the weakest link.


Jessica said...

QQ, this post should be emailed to every racetrack marketing executive, printed and posted in racetrack office suites across the land. Responsibility for creating new racing fans and nurturing existing ones doesn't fall only to the NTRA, it's the obligation of every track ou there. Well said.

QQ said...

Jess - I must admit that I don't really understand what all those racetrack execs are up to with a business model that seems to disrespect the whales and the minnows. Who's left to pay the bills?

Winston...not really said...

When your business focuses on the slots, it's easy to neglect margin. It explains why they are willing to look the other way on the slaughter issue.

I agree with Jessica, this post needs to be standard issue to every track exec.

Well done.

Valerie said...

Like, totally!

Brooklyn Backstretch said...

OK, so loving Saratoga might make me a status-seeking groupie, but it too has its costs...it will never, alas, be more than a summer fling...

This is brilliant, QQ...

Frank said...

Nicely done, QQ.

Like, I know it's far away and everything, but Laurel is totally a swinger, you know? I totally bet Laurel would be into you, like just the way Mountie was ;-)

QQ said...

@winston...not really: I suspect you're right about the racinos margin. As for the track execs, the nice folks at the Paulick Report are doing their part to help share my little message.

@Brooklyn Backstretch: Yeah, sometimes those summer flings kinda wash out. But didn't I hear that Belmont guy say he'd see you in September?

@Frank: That Laurel's kinda cute, like, pure, you know, without all that slots bling hanging around.

Kevin said...

This is great! It is amazing what a few responses to emails would do. And amen to learning customer service from librarians....and with a fraction of the budgets too!

Steve said...

I saw a link to your Blog on Equidaily:"Today's funny -- with a serious under-pinning: Blogger laments the end of her love affair with Montaineer Park." The humor aspect is lost in the tragedy she points out.
Greed is the culprit, plain and simple. Handles everywhere are going down and the states and tracks are not addressing the overwhelming cause: Bettors are not getting a fair shake. Polytracks, drug use make it intelligent handicapping a crap shoot. Then coporate bullying over ADW splits allow CD and Magna,to run roughshod over the horse people. I have lost interest as well. They are redefining Pyrrhic victory and don't even see it.

Cangamble said...

I had to link your post on my blog.
Funny stuff. Very creative.

Anonymous said...

There is a very simple explanation to all of this.

Racetracks that operate with casino (a.k.a: racinos) do so only because state laws mandate they must hold a live racing license and conduct a live racing meet in order to operate a casino.

Period. End of sentence.

Do you think for one milli-second that these corporate concerns would bother running a racetrack if they could get away without it? Of course they wouldn't.

But, since state legislators wrote the laws to protect racing and open space (in most cases), the casino operators must live with it.

Their answer is to inconvenience the racing patrons as much as possible until we go away -- and maybe then they'll get some legislative relief.

Some examples:

--In Pa., the Meadows, Pocono and Harrah's Chester run daytime racing cards. Day harness racing used to be unheard of. But, it gets the lowly horseplayers off the property by 5 p.m., so the slot players have the run of the joint at night.

--Delaware Park's live product continues to deteriorate as its slots casino (and electronic table games) thrive.

--No grandstand exists at Hollywood Casino at Penn National. You can either sit trackside at picnic tables (OK in temperate weather, you'll freeze in the winter), inhale second-hand cigarette smoke in the Paddock Lounge or pay up to have dinner in the Terrace Room. Those are the only vantage points to watch the races.

--I can't attest to conditions at WVa. tracks, but Mountaineer's simulcast signal boasts of $3 blackjack on weeknights and by God "We'll Keep The Slots on For Ya!"

-- I can't wait to see what happens when the slots land at Aqueduct and/or Belmont. You think these NY racing folks and bloggers piss and moan about conditions now? Just wait. Just wait.

The slots and table games rule.

In 10 years, my guess is racing will have consolidated by 30% with the tracks you see now open in Calif., Md. N.J., and Florida closed.

John said...

Now listen GIRL, that's what you get for settling for a geographically desirable hookup with a cheater like Mountie.

In this day and age honey, true love can only be found on Twin Spires.

If you are looking for a romantic sunset, open the window, open a box of wine and log on to Twin Spires.

Tough talk, I know, but GIRL I know what I am talking about!!

Mike "Murph" Powers said...

ANON'S comments are spot on. Hoosier Park began marginalizing the racing product from their opening harness meeting this year.

I have tried to get their attention with some constructive criticisms but am ignored much as you have been. Their lastest antic is to move the Fri. Sat. and Sun. post time from 7pm to 12:45pm !! We will go from the most desirable evening signal to one of the least desirable daytime signals.

This is just one of several moves that are clearly designed to marginalize the racing and divert every dime they can from horse betting into the casino.

The most frustrating part for me is the ones who have lied to me for so many years about how they care for horse racing in Indiana. I have to go to their office and track them down to speak to them today. They do not care for anything except their precious casino jobs. In addition, the state racing commission refuses to reply as well.

I feel your pain QQ.


dana said...

Omigod, those like "city slickers" are so totally bogus too. They're all like "We're cool, we don't have to try"... gag me with a spoon! It would be so totally bitchin' if they would just realize that we're like customers, ya know? It's like they're saying "bag yer face" but really they're just totally double baggers, fer sure!

Seriously, best post of the summer so far and so RIGHT ON! You've also inspired me to revisit one of the best pieces in my personal archive... "The Valley Girl Handbook" circa 1982.

Anonymous said...

I have no experience with Mountaineer, but can tell you that down in the panhandle, the folks that run Charles Town do seem to care about the race fan and there are actually people in the management that seem to view things from a "horses first, slots second" point of view.

Over the last 2 years, race cards have gotten significantly better. A better stakes program, more shippers, and this year's "Spring Festival" featuring some very nice fields and big paydays. They have also invested in a new toteboard and "jumbotron" and moved more races into the winter season to take capture more simulcast dollars during that normally down time in the sport.

I am not naive. I know that slots pay the bills. I also know that the number 1 priority of PNG and Charles Town right now is getting another vote on table games. However, given the realities of the world we now live in, Charles Town is doing about as much as it can to make the horse players feel welcome.

Oh yeah, and you are more than welcome to take pictures (I do it all the time) provided you don't use a flash near the paddock.

ljk said...

I now officially have a man crush on Halsey Minor. Listen to his on-line interview (link at Colin's Ghost) and you'll have a crush too.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff everyone. But I agree most of all with the Charles Town post. CT is much better than Mountaineer. Coming from a guy that has frequented both tracks for many years. If you are in the WV, PA, Md, area. Charles Town and Laurel are your best bets for a good time, without all the restrictions. Give the Charles Town Races its due!

QQ said...

I'm glad to hear some good news about Charles Town, and I hope I'll be able to respond to all of you soon -- after a few bottles of wine (or whine?) maybe.

Anonymous said...

QQ, sounds like you need a road trip! Presque Isle, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

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It is a place where thousands of active and unrestrained horse people meet, date, become friends and more in the pursuit of the same dream as you have.

Keith - Triple Dead Heat said...

Pefectly written! I love the sneaky slots email...brilliant!

Hopefully there will be more success stories than heartbreak as racing sludges its way into the marketing game.