You Can’t Have A Horse Race Without Any Horses

As you watch the Kentucky Derby this weekend, you’ll see all of the pageantry and excitement of the largest horse race in the world taking place in front of hundreds of thousands of screaming fans. But don’t let that fool you: Almost all of those fans are there for the spectacle of race day more than the actual race itself (and also there to get plowed on mint juleps and puke in the infield). In truth, horse racing is in a deep decline that is starting to look like a death spiral more and more every day.

Hollywood Park

Case in point: Hollywood Park in Los Angeles is one of the most famous tracks in the country, and is currently in the middle of its spring 2009 meet. But for the first time in its history, the LOS ANGELES TIMES said it had to cancel racing today because there weren’t enough horses to fill the field. Apparently, Sarah Jessica Parker wasn’t available to help fill out the vacancies either. She probably would have gone off at 12:1 odds for the fifth race.

The LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS says that Hollywood Park has been running extremely light on horses for the entire meet: On opening day last Wednesday, they averaged less than six horses per race. And at times, the “horses” was actually the Pantomime Horse from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” cleverly substituting for the real thing.

But don’t worry, horse racing fans, there’s hope. Hollywood Park general manager Eual Wyatt Jr. says that it’s not time to send the horse racing industry to the glue factory just yet - you’ll still be able to feed your gambling addiction without having to learn the intricacies of poker. But having to cancel a race isn’t great, either:

“This isn’t a bump in the road,” he said. “This is a large pothole.

“It’s also not a catastrophe. The world isn’t coming to an end. We’re not out of business and we’re not asking for a stimulus package.”

I don’t think that the Obama Administration should be giving any “bailout” money to the horse racing industry, either. But I have a hot tip on the fifth race at Aqueduct tomorrow, so if they could just spot me a few billion dollars, I think a nice trifecta bet could get this country back on track.

So, where have all the horses gone? Longtime California trainer and owner Bruce Headley points the finger straight at the rise of online and Off-Track Betting, which is now where people go to place their bets - but is not where owners see any money from.

“It’s like having six blood suckers on you,” he said. “They’re like panning for gold because everybody takes and nobody gives back.

“They have never changed the percentage that the horsemen have gotten from off-track wagering, and if they did change it for ADW, we don’t know how much. Obviously it wasn’t much, because our purses have not gone up.”

So if you happen to head down to Louisville for the Derby this weekend, really make sure you enjoy yourself. At this rate, it might be the last.