About 4 years ago, my “adopted big brother” Kirk told me about a fantasy racing game in which he’d become involved. It was simple. Real horses are presented for “auction” and with our pretend money we bid in $10k increments after a $50k base with the balance of of the $5 million dollars with which we start each January 1st. After winning a horse in a bid, it was yours until you sold it, dropped it from your stable, it retired, or sadly, worse. You also had the option to partner with someone, with whom you would go 50-50 on any earnings. I was busy and didn’t have time for tracking horses, but Kirk insisted on how easy it was to participate, and how much more fun it made watching or following the races when “your” horse was involved. Your job was that you had to track your horse and update its earnings in spreadsheets. All your stables’ earnings became what you had to spend on future auctions, as you ate through your $5 million seed money. Equibase and the Daily Racing Form are invaluable tools in this game.
After repeated urgings, finally, in 2011, I took the plunge and joined the game. I had pretty decent luck the first year, and had the good fortune and thrill to “own” horses like Nehro and Tizway. I also was dumfounded to be the only bidder on Birdrun that January, and he’s been an awfully wonderful horse for me – repaying me many times over, as has Hymn Book ($60,000!), who I positively stole five months later. Another near and dear to my heart has been Caxia Electronica, who, for his very reasonable $180.000 purchase price, has rewarded me with thrilling victory, after thrilling victory since I acquired him in May, 2011. Many of the horses in my stable are east coast based, but a few are out my way – here in the great wide west of the United States. One in particular has particularly brought me great joy.
As the game got underway in 2012, I was the under bidder for one of my favorite warriors – Game On Dude! Exercising my right to blow a lot of pretend money, I contacted the winning bidder and practically begged her to partner with me. To my shock, she agreed! My account balance immediately got a $1,255,000 deduction, but I didn’t care! I was captured by this horse and now he was “mine”! I was happy to share the thrill of “owning” him with my far away partner. So what if I had to split his earnings in half with her?! I knew the risk was the he wouldn’t repeat his incredible run from the year before, but I didn’t care! As “real” horse owners know, it’s not about the money – it’s about the horse!
And this is the point! This silly little game fosters a deeper connection with the real thing; I’m guessing in much the same way that Fantasy Football leagues do. Not only did I start paying attention to national racing in a way I hadn’t for quite some time (not counting my local attention to my real life gelding’s attempts to break his maiden ), I found myself excited about races I normally do not follow. I began paying attention to trainers with whom I wasn’t familiar, and I started spending more time at racing web sites. Most of all, I thought it would be a thrill to someday actually stand at the rail and root my horse home, at the top of my lungs.
My opportunity unexpectedly came on the heels of two heartbreaking events: in May, Betfair Hollywood Park announced it would close for good this coming December, and in June, my mother died three weeks shy of her 84th birthday. Most people wouldn’t equate the two, but Hollywood Park is the track I first went to when I came back to racing after the heartbreak of watching Ruffian breakdown, and I had several significant events happen to me there. My mom was supportive and encouraging for me to pursue my dream of being a part of racing, not just someone who watched three times a year. The timing of my mother’s death opened up a rather weird, but wonderful opportunity. First, my mom’s birthday was July 3rd and my significant other and I decided spreading Mom’s ashes on one of her favorite beaches in Southern California was something she would have appreciated, since she hadn’t been on a beach in over 20 years. Second, my mom knew how much the news of Hollywood Park closing would break my heart, and would have encouraged me to go to my last Hollywood Gold Cup which was occurring the weekend after her birthday. So plans were made to combine my bereavement leave and the following weekend, to honor my mother and witness something special for the last time. To make it an even stronger pull, Game On Dude was going to be there! At last! My chance to watch one of my very favorite FRG horses!
So we drove the 7 hours to California, on my mother’s birthday, and were lucky enough to camp at one of her favorite beaches, spread her ashes in the surf at sunset. That night, we were pleasantly surprised by fireworks up the beach (she would have loved it!). Three days later we picked up Kirk (who lives within walking distance of Santa Anita), and the three of us headed across the L. A. Basin to watch something special one last time. To make the trip even more worthwhile, one of Kirk’s horses was running in one of the under card stakes races (and won!).
We had an amazing day and we brought dollars into the local economy in a number of ways.
1. Breakfast at “Mickey D’s”
2. General Admission (WAAAAAY too expensive at Hollywood, but that’s a discussion of another time.)
3. One copy of Jack: From Grit to Glory [http://jackfromgrittoglory.com], signed by Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg himself.
4. One copy of ex-jockey and very talented songstress Liza G. Fly’s [http://www.reverbnation.com/lizagfly] new CD “Zenyatta” [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pz2kvJf22gs&feature=youtu.be] featuring the title song.
5. Two trips to the Winning Colors gift shop where I scored the LAST Zenyatta bobble head doll that will ever be sold at Hollywood Park, as well as assorted other memorabilia to the tune of $70. I also used the no name ATM, so someone made an extra $3 from me, because Zenyatta and couple of other items had to be paid for in cash.
6. The local Costco picked up about $100 for the gas we purchased for the long ride home.
7. “Mickey D’s” on the way home.
Most of the money spent on the trip (not counting gas) was spent in one day, because of a trip to see one of my favorite horses and game horses run one last time at the race track that set me on a path to participate directly in a sport that I can’t imagine living without.
Imagine what Racing could do for itself, as a whole, if we spent time making our sport accessible and easy for others to follow and participate, in much the same way this fantasy game does? Imagine the impact that could have for people who make their living on racetracks across the United States, and the people at NBC Sports who have poured resources into broadcasting racing to people who might not otherwise see any other race besides the Kentucky Derby. I like to call this the “It’s A Wonderful Life” factor—One life touches so many. In this case, fostering participation in simple games like this one, or the online versions like the Fantasy Racing Game that the Blood Horse magazine has on their site [http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/fantasy-game], or the cool arcade ones you can find at some truck stops, may be the catalyst for a lifelong interest in our sport. It’s something to think about.
I gotta go. I’m a week behind updating my earnings on my game spreadsheet. I want to be ready for the next auction and see if I have enough cash to maybe buy next year’s Kentucky Derby winner, or one of the winner’s of this year’s Breeders’ Cup races!
p.s. My partner left the game a few weeks ago due to personal reasons. Per the rules of the game, that now makes me the the proud and sole owner of Game On Dude. Maybe it is only a game…but Hey! DUDE!