The sport or gambling vehicle debate was not dormant long, it appears. Again, it bubbles to the surface, as it has for years.

Truth is racing is both though the gambling aspect is probably more important in the grand scheme than the sporting aspect.

Few of those who define themselves as fans refrain from wagering and few of those who are the everyday-horseplayer backbone of the business do not appreciate a competition on the highest level even without having taken a wagering position.

Claiming horses do not provide “sport.” There is no consequence to the outcome of such races beyond the gambling level to anyone not in position to benefit financially, including owners, who are gambling on more than one level. Do we not inspect fields of 2-year-olds beginning their careers looking for the potentially good horses; spend time examining pedigree all the while with no intention of making a bet. Some of these horses will become claimers, some champions.

If racing were pure sport there would no need of betting. Huge crowds would pay admission but there would be no more than a few dozen race cards held during the year. It would again be a sport only for the elite wealthy with the means to breed and race a handful of horses, like present day steeplechase and the show horse circuit. The breeding business would all but disappear. Everyone would wear tweed.

But it doesn’t work that way.

Racing cannot survive a day without wagering. Betting receipts pay the bills and provide purses for $10,000 claimers. There is a large group of people of every stripe who enjoy the challenge that handicapping a field of horses poses and they play against one another, not the house. Some people prefer slot machines, roulette, the lottery. But this game appeals to another distinct type.

Some horseplayers deny that the class of horse or importance of a race matters. They are either liars, in denial or soulless. There is nothing like a big race day. I seldom bet on the Kentucky Derby. I have never made a future-book bet on the Derby and passed an entire Breeders’ Cup run on a synthetic track. But I also found these races exciting displays of top-class thoroughbreds under extreme pressure, some quite memorable, a few unforgettable.

But to get to the days when racing means more than cashing a bet there are countless nine-race afternoons when nothing matters expect the betting and the most important question involves the pick-six carryover.

These are the days when the people who do the most for racing are involved.--PM