Giving the kids a chance

Updated: July 22, 2005, 7:01 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Here's a common story: People who love horse racing used to hang around the track as youths.

To a young person, a horse race should be a bigger-than-life puzzle, animals playing games, who could resist that?

Horse racing has not changed that much; but the world around it has. The average age of a race fan for a routine Thursday card anywhere is probably closer to triple figures than the legal age.

The only things wrong with horse racing are the usual, the occasional mindless ride and the heartless take-out percentages.

A lot is wrong with the neighborhood.

Where can a kid hang around the way we used to at the horse races? If a front yard in the suburbs is considered risky turf, forget the rail. If you see a high school student on a bicycle, you look behind him, figuring somebody to be in pursuit.

How is the next generation of horse players going to get to the races?

Soccer Mom is at Starbucks.

Duffer Dad is on the back nine.

I took a friend's son, and one of his friends, to the live horse races for their first time. You would have thought I was taking the boys camping with hobos. Before departing on this wild-sounding adventure, I was given a list of instructions beginning with don't let them father away than arm's length and ending with no eating or drinking anything. It was a wonder the kid's teeth weren't chattering by the time we got into the car.

I explained to the boy's mother that race track bums were some of the finest bums in the world, honest as the race card was long. With a track bum there was no twisted tale of woe aimed at plying cash. There was a need to bet two bucks on a race, period. Unless the boys were looking around the bottom of a trash can full of old tickets, the average track bum would pay their presence no mind.

On the way to the track, I explained the fundamentals of the sport to the two boys, one of whom played a Game Boy, the other of whom had two iPods on his person, both sets of ear pieces around his neck.

I explained that at the horse races, losers paid the winners.

One of them said: Like the stock market.

The other one said: Only it was much, much hotter here.

Once at the track, we went right to the paddock where one young person in my party asked who cleaned up after the horses and the other asked why so many quarter horse fans had big bellies.

One of them sneezed, allergies.

Before the first race, we went over every line item in the Form and I explained several handicapping angles, Fluke Handicapping, for one, which says that freakish wins or losses seldom if ever repeat themselves. I asked each potential horse player what they would do with five bucks each and then went to the windows and put through a wager based on their suggestions.

This horse race produced a photo finish that I found to be exciting; but then, I don't have the Grand Theft Auto video game series where you can pick up prostitutes and take shots at Johnny law.

We made a small profit and split it up and went home early so they could see Real World on MTV.

Don't panic just yet, earth is reinventing itself, 35 is now considered youthful.