I have loved horse racing for 60 years and have been a thoroughbred horse owner off and on since 1985. It is because I love the industry and want to see it thrive that I must write that while the owners of California Chrome felt they were treated better at Pimlico than at Churchill Downs, the management of Pimlico and Laurel race courses should take a hard look at improving service to their customers if they are to grow and frankly, survive ("The greatness and failings of racing," May 20).
My first concern is how the track treats people with disabilities. Pimlico is happy to provide top-notch personalized service to the VIPs who attend the Preakness every year. The track utilizes a fleet of limos to shepherd them all around. All the big owners and trainers have handlers to assist them. However, if you look closely at the service that the track owners provide the regular customers who support them every other day in the year, the picture is not so pretty on Preakness day.
The closest lot for parking for people with disabilities at Pimlico is the Hayward Lot. On Black-eyed Susan and Preakness days, that lot stopped being designated primarily for people with disabilities and was reserved for VIPs. The cost for parking in the lot was $35. While there were a handful of designated spaces, most were not filled by cars with handicapped tags. The accessible drop-off zone closest to the track entrance doors required a person to purchase a $25 ticket in advance and was only allowed for drop-off, not pick-up. One must wonder then how the person with a disability ever left the track.
Even though the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, Pimlico's accessible restrooms are almost non-existent (especially if you eliminate the freight elevators). Day in and day out it doesn't appear as if the track even has the requisite number of designated handicapped parking spots, period.
Why should the track care about improving services to people with disabilities? Because that (in addition to the purse increases, breeder bonuses, etc.) is also where the future of racing lies — maintaining and growing its biggest customer base. Ten thousand people a day turn 65 in this country. What demographic supports casinos and gambling more than any other? Seniors. Those buses coming and going to Atlantic City and now Maryland Live aren't carrying school children.
A close look at the spectators throughout the year at Maryland (and other) tracks would find most of the everyday patrons are over 50. Yet the track continues to focus on 20- and 30-year-olds in marketing campaigns and designs the biggest day of the Maryland racing year around pop stars like Lorde and the Fray.
Racing needs young people to be interested in racing for sure. As they grow older, they'll have more disposable income and more free time and will grow the sport more. But while we wait for that generation to come on board, let's treat the ones who are the biggest supporters today with more appreciation, recognition and class. And one starting point is to make certain they can get in the door.
Linda Schulte, Westminster
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