The Kentucky Derby Is A Relic From A Different Age

Once upon a time, the Kentucky Derby was a big deal.

There is a major horse race taking place in Louisville. It is called the Kentucky Derby and it used to be one of the crown jewel sports events on the American sports calendar. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, thoroughbred racing was a forgotten event and after the COVID-19 pandemic is tamed, thoroughbred racing will remain a minor sport in the United States. Six years ago, there was the hope that American Pharoah by winning Thoroughbred Racing’s Triple Crown, would help revive the horse racing industry. It didn’t. Three years ago, there was the hope that Justify by winning Thoroughbred Racing’s Triple Crown, would help revive the horse racing industry. It didn’t. Times have changed and it is no longer 1950 when baseball was the king of American sports with boxing and horse racing a distant second and third. College football had a large following but the National Football League was little more than a semi-pro operation. The National Basketball Association had just been created by a merger, the National Hockey League had six teams and soccer was a fringe sport. Horse racing was an everyday event. People could go to the track and bet legally. Within a generation, horse racing’s importance fell as states began lotteries and betting was made easy. Legalized sports betting could keep some racetracks that have a sportsbook open.

Attendance and revenues at racetracks didn’t suddenly rise because there were Triple Crown winners in 2015 and 2018. The Kentucky Derby offers a throwback day but state lotteries, off track betting and the availability of all forms of gambling online along with casinos sprouting up around the country have taken care of gamblers’ needs. The horse racing industry is hanging on, but just barely.  The horse racing industry knows you cannot turn back the clock to 1950.

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Jockey John Velazquez riding Authentic, right, crosses the finish line to win the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)