Horse racing may not seem as important to newspapers today as it did when the sports extras with late race results and special track editions were common in big cities, but ther eis still much print devoted to the sport.
While track attendance has been hurt by a proliferation of tracks competing for the same bettors, the lure of the legal gambling casinos, and the growth of professional football and basketball, horse racing retains a loyal following and is adding to it.
Horse players are not as visible as they once were when you had to go to the track or find an accommodating bookie to take your bets. They can go to legal betting parlors in many states, watch a race at home on cable television in many cities, and make their bets by phone directly to the track.
Newspaper coverage of horse racing varies widely from newspaper to newspaper, but then it always has. Mostly, though, it has become more local as the number of tracks operating at the same time has grown.
Gene Courtney, a retired sportswriter who covered horse racing for the Philadelphia Inquirer until his retirement in 1981 and still handicaps for the Inquirer at a local track, said daily newspapers never really proovided all the information a serious horseplayer needed to bet. For that you had to go to the Daily Racing Form, he explained. The Daily Racing Form today sells for $2.50 an issue.
The Daily Racing Form, which covers horse racing across the country in several regional editions, had direct competition for a while with the Racing Times. The Times, which challenged the older racing paper's virtual monopoly of horse racing facts and figures, also sold for $2.50 an issue, but recently folded.
Andy Byers, a Washington Post columnist who writes about horse racing, said horse racing gets less playing in the sports sections these days because there is so much more sports activity to cover.
"In the old days, there weren't as many sports. The big three were baseball, boxing, and horse racing," said Byers, who started writing about the sport in 1970.
The quality of racing at American tracks has declined, he admitted, but he sees a future with fewer tracks and better racing seen by more people at remote locations through simulcasting with more betting options.
Byers attributes the decline to the increase in the number of races and a shortage of race horses.
"Since the early 1980s, foreign buyers have dominated the major [yearling] sales, syphoning off the cream to run in Europe," he explained.
He is not worried about the preponderance of older horse players you see at the tracks, however. This is to be expected, he said -- they have more leisure. The sport keeps generating new fans -- through off-track betting, simulcasts, and phone betting -- even though you do not always see them, he observed.
"Horse racing is a lot more exciting these days. The main reason opeople go to the track is to gamble and, with today's more exotic betting, it is possible to go to the track with a modest bankroll and make a lot of money," he pointed out.
Many factors affect newspaper coverage of horse racing and one of these could be the publisher's attitude toward it. In California, the Los Angeles Times added six columns a day at an estimated daily cost of $4,000 for its horse race coverage after the demise of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.
The newspaper's publisher, David Laventhol, is nicknamed "Clocker Dave" for his interest in the sport. John Cherwa, associate sports editor who oversees the paper's horse race coverage, said of his boss' nickname, "The Wall Street Journal called him Clocker Dave, we don't call him that."
The Philadelphia Inquirer was once owned by Walter Annenberg's Triangle Publications, which also owned the Daily Racing Form and its now defunct Eastern sister, the Morning Telegraph. Annenberg sold the Inquirer, a morning paper, and the Philadelphia Daily News, an afternoon tabloid, to the Knight chain and years later sold the Racing Form to Ruper Murdoch, who has since sold it again. …