I was as saddened as just about anyone when Pompano Park closed its doors to racing for the final time on April 17. Although I never raced there, I have jogged/trained horses there, and other than Mohawk, Woodbine and Greenwood, Pompano is probably the track I’ve frequented the most as a fan of racing over the years. It was always a great feeling to stand trackside there, feeling the warm breeze on your face, just a few hours after boarding a plane at Pearson on a cold winter morning.
I was, however, a bit confused by the ‘LongLiveThePomp’ hashtag that I saw floating around in the days leading up to the closing of ‘The Winter Capital of Harness Racing’. I think I realize what people were saying - they meant that the track will live on in their hearts and in their memories. I’m sorry, if to me, that’s far from enough.
To me, chanting ‘LongLiveThePomp’ the day it closes forever is like shutting the barn door after the horse has already run out. And in this case, that saying hits home all too hard, because as of May 1st the horses will all have left the barns at Pompano and the doors behind them will close - for the last time.
We lost Greenwood. We lost Woodbine (for Standardbreds). We lost Roosevelt, Windsor, Kingston, Belleville, Woodstock, Blue Bonnets and many more. Now we’ve lost Pompano Park.
Last month Eric Cherry told us that our future should not be about getting people to the racetrack anyway. He argued - and rightly so - that while only 70,000 people might attend an NFL game in-person, millions and millions watch that same game on TV. That is important for racing to remember, and it is important that we use modern technology to the best of our ability to put our product in front of as many eyeballs as possible. But here’s the catch…
If we have fewer and fewer tracks, how the hell are we going to get people interested in the first place?
Why did you - the person reading this right now - first get interested? Was it because you went to a track one day and saw these magnificent animals race live? Or was it because you saw a two minute race on your friend’s phone?
For me, and I’m guessing for a lot of you, I was drawn in by the racetrack experience. Now I’m in - I’m in for life. I never have to attend a track again and I’m still in for life. But we don’t need to attract me - we need to attract the next generation.
Many tell me they first went to the track with their friends while away at school. “I went to university in Windsor and we’d go to the races there on a Friday night,” they’d recall.
Some say things like, “My grandpa and I used to take the streetcar to Greenwood on Sunday afternoons in the winter.”
Well Windsor is gone and so is Greenwood, so I guess that means most kids from Toronto and 20-somethings from Windsor will probably never again have those stories to tell. And that, to me, is worrisome.
This issue of TROT is about two-year-olds however. It’s about the future and not about the past. Two-year-olds are more about dreaming of having that next good horse.
I’ve been lucky enough to be back in the jogger a bit over the past 4 or 5 months, helping a good friend train and jog horses once every 7-10 days when I can find the time. I’ve missed it and I love it, but more than anything, I think that sitting behind a bunch of two-year-olds on certain mornings - even though I don’t own them - has reminded me of that dream, and how powerful it is.
Yes, with two-year-olds each spring come dreams - dreams of what could be. They can take away our tracks but they can’t take away our dreams. Or can they? If we let them, maybe they can. If there are no tracks left one day, there will be no dreams.
After it closed, I read a quote from a young driver in the Pompano drivers’ colony that said he didn’t know any of the details on what led to Pompano’s demise. He basically said that he wished the track wasn’t closing but he hopes another track opens in Florida one day… and if it does, he’ll be there to race.
Wishing and hoping are like sending ‘thoughts and prayers’ after another school shooting. It’s far too little and comes far too late.
I’m sorry, but that thought process is unacceptable moving forward. I realize that you probably work 60 hours/week, and you don’t have a lot of extra time to get involved - a lot of us in this business work long hours. But if we want to thrive, hell, if we even want to exist 50 years from now, we’d better all get a bit more involved in doing what we can to help secure our future. Nobody else is going to do it for us.
Dan Fisher - [email protected]