(SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – December 23, 2010) Horse racing could use a healthy dose of self-respect. Racetrack owners and operators stop at nothing to challenge state governments for legislation they want. In the process of begging, the sport gets dragged through the mud as if it’s a field plow. Threats of closure and discontinuance are publicly shared with no concern about what such a message sends.

One racetrack official last summer told members of the press who believed that the fans had had enough that they’d come to his track anyway. He passed off the possibility that the damaging headlines would harm attendance like a toddler blowing bubbles through the round end of a soap wand. Other leaders of the sport were less arrogant. They admitted the acrimony would result in come-uppance but they justified their demonstrated despair by saying that without it they’d be history.

It’s pretty clear now that horse racing, as it is currently presented in the USA, can no longer survive on its own. Eventually, there’ll be someone to admit it and reduce purses accordingly, cut the racing days back, reduce staff and expenses and begin the serious work of re-building the sport from scratch. There will be a rough patch of road en route to the Promised Land, but that’s how it goes when you’ve neglected the infrastructure. In the meantime, telling people you’re broke, on the brink of extinction and unable to pay bills without public assistance doesn’t help to make matters better.

Even the sport’s glorious moments – those rare triumphs that stir people outside of the game – have become compromised by the fallout from impolitic messages. Every sportswriter makes certain he tempers the readers’ enthusiasm with reminders that horse racing’s best times have passed. The next step in the downward spiral will come when the faithful lose hope. Continue telling a person that he’s on a losing team and, eventually, he’ll turn in his jersey.

Wishing that horse racing regains its self-dignity shouldn’t be a Christmas wish. The sport should never have gotten to the point of inconsequence that made prostituting its value for money and attention a practice. Preventing further deterioration of its reputation should be a New Year’s resolution.

There will be one more item in the 12 Days of Christmas series. Vic Zast's regular Monday morning TrackWords columns resume Monday, December 27.