Written by Brendan O'Meara

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, January 14, 2013--Ray Paulick wrote a piece sparked by coming across an old issue of Daily Racing Form. As are many relics of time gone by, it spurned a nostalgic reflection and a look at how numbers from 25 years ago—a boon of sorts for horse racing—matched against today’s.

Naturally, the reader comments started to take on the usual tenor banging on casinos, banging on VLTs, banging on Beyer Speed Figures, banging on Daily Racing Form. And, to a certain extent, they had a point. How many columns have we written here about what we would do to “better the sport”? How often do we read these fix-it columns?

Writing about the game I ask myself every week: what would I like to see happen? What can happen? Where does my optimism lie? I just don’t know.

I think it was Jesus who once said, “Pick a man a winner, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to handicap and he becomes a degenerate and starves for life.” True story.

The concern on growth of the sport has grown tiresome. At what point do you look in the mirror and say, ‘No amount of exercise will ever make me look as good as I once was … or good at all.’ There is such a thing—a lost art, mind you—of aging gracefully.

Horses do this better than anyone.

The best thing tracks and betting facilities can do for the game of horse racing is to treat its current customers like Saudi Arabian princes. I’m talking rock star treatment. I’m talking booth ready, beer cold, Racing Form still warm, pencil sharpened kind of treatment.

Think about it. For as much complaining as horse players, horse media, everyone short of the horses do, they still come back and play the early double and take a crack at the Pick 5 or 6. Perhaps that’s the reason horse players don’t get the treatment they deserve: they come back no matter what. It’s like the fruits of Tantalus or a self-esteem starved spouse.

Real growth of the sport will only come from empowering the loyal base. All the talk about new promotion and jazzed up TV coverage, and night racing are nice. Boutique meets remind us that—when it tries—horse racing can still turn a head or two. It’s the “after” picture in “The Biggest Loser.” The rest of the year is the sorry backslide.

Slam dunk customer service is the only way to stand out in today’s climate of automation, Indian phone reps, and consumer disenfranchisement.

It’s very “horse racing” to look to the past to forecast the future. After all, the game’s fundamental tenets rely entirely on what happened so that we may determine the future.

Because horse racing is a sport, marketers study other sports. Makes sense on the surface, but it doesn’t translate. The best models have to be other customer service-driven businesses.

Provide a winning bettor experience and the sport will survive just fine. Southwest Airlines has great service, open seating, and no baggage fees. Specialty running stores fit people properly for footwear. The best restaurants provide a winning experience from the host, to the servers, to the back of the house.

Then, and only then, will its image change and, more importantly, people’s attitude change toward it.

Follow Brendan O'Meara on Twitter @BrendanOMeara.