Written by Brendan O'Meara

Instead of playing dodge car with drunk drivers last night, I stayed in and gave this little game some thought, maybe even conjure some New Year’s Resolutions. Be more organized and less flabby!

Horse racing made one resolution clear: it plans to try and make the Road to the Kentucky Derby more interesting and competitive. The implementation of a points system polarized fans and writers back when it was more abstract. Now it’s on.

I can’t wait to see how trainers approach the next five months. I like that Shanghai Bobby hasn’t been guaranteed a spot in the gate. I like that he’ll have to earn his way to Saturday. He’ll likely take the Florida path to Kentucky, but who knows? Maybe a bobble or a gaff means he’ll have to run in the Blue Grass three weeks out.

The planning must be more fluid. Perhaps this was always the case with the lesser-known horses, the ones less precocious. The fields in the preps should be more competitive as trainers jockey their horses to scarf up points. In a few words, this can be a tremendous boost or a tremendous flop. More likely, Year 1 will be somewhere in between, but for the first time in a while, I’m excited to pay attention to Derby Preps and where horses go and why.

More pressing, though, is the treatment of the horse players. In my last column I put out a call to see what you wanted from the tracks. My one response (I blame Christmas Day for the low voter turnout.) had a wealth of ideas that I know I’d appreciate on the days I play the ponies. Here are some of Tabasco Cat’s ideas:

1-Free parking. I paid the gas and tolls to get there.
2- Free admission. Casinos don’t charge admission.
3- Free program or DRF. You can put advertising in them to get publishing costs back.
4- Free hot dog and a beer. At least I’ll eat and be happy going home after a losing day.
5- Give me a rebate on every dollar I bet.
6- Lower takeout to a reasonable 10%. It will give me a better chance to turn a profit and make me happy. Besides I can stay in the game longer(maybe stay for the entire card) and you will get it back from my increased handle anyway.
7- Card less turf sprints.
8- Card more long distance races. This way my entertainment value is lengthened.
9- Have all horses run without Lasix or any medication. Only run healthy horses. Get rid of cheaters.
10- Give me a star horse like Zenyatta or Seabiscuit. Better yet give me a horse that can compete in all the Triple Crown races. Better yet one that can win the TC. A horse that will bring the buzz back in the crowd. A horse not trained by Pletcher/Baffert/Asmussen. A horse not owned by a famous chef, sheik, prince or vitamin water salesman. The peoples horse, you know what I mean.

I love every idea he mentions, especially 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.
Free parking is a no-brainer. That’s $5-10 wasted that would otherwise go to handle. Free PPs for the host track’s races; buy off-track’s at a reduced price. This would conceivably drive more people to the actual track to play. Free brew and dog? How much does it cost to put a dirty work boot, raccoon tails, and the lower half of a pig’s small intestine onto a warm bun? Throw in a Bud Light in an 8 oz cup (if you’re cheap, which, let’s face it tracks, you are). As TC says, “At least I’ll eat and be happy going home after a losing day.” (Great partnership opportunities with Taco Bell here. Speaking from experience, of course.)

All of the above costs horse players between $20 and $30. Give them that and they bet that money. Give them that and they bet that money again, again, and again.

Try this: Imagine a scenario where you pay $50 a year to be a “member”. You walk up to the track or betting parlor and you’re greeted by a hostess. Waiting for you every time you decide to show is that day’s betting program, a parking validation stamp, and a small meal/drink voucher good for that day, maybe a betting voucher for a guest.

Mug Clubs at bad restaurants do this to give you an extra 4 oz of beer with every serving and a t-shirt at the end of the year. Tell me this wouldn’t be the best thing a track could do for its loyalists and, let’s hope, it’s future loyalists.

Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems like tracks could be a little less penny wise in this case.