A race where everyone wins

Updated: November 22, 2002, 2:25 PM ET
By Kenny Rice | Special to ESPN.com

For most people, a racetrack education is learning the ins and outs of the sport of horse racing -- that, for example, an "overlay" is a horse whose odds exceed its probable chances of winning, or that to "wheel" a betting combination involves the bettor's prime selection with every other horse in a race.

If aggressive, marketing conscious WinStar Farm has their way, the Race for Education will take on a new meaning. The primary aim is to establish a scholarship fund for kids of farm and racetrack workers. But there is the hope that the effort will bring young fans to the sport, some who may be currently enthralled with the offerings of NASCAR over those of the NTRA.

The program was drawn up in a neatly packaged nine-page proposal that was released just prior to the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Chmapionships, but was lost in the shuffle of activity that leads up to North American racing's richest day..

Using an American Horse Council Foundation study that is six years old, there are approximately 475,000 full-time jobs in the horse racing industry in the U.S. The target of the Race for Education effort is to reach the offspring of these workers to assure they will find horse racing, if not an occupational choice, at least a sport to follow either in person or on television.

There is no across-the-board organized system for catering to the collegiate desires of young people whose parent or parents work at the track or on the farm. Reading between the lines of the objectives of the program, this is a chance to break down another barrier that rich people own horses and send their kids to college while the middle to low income send their kids to work.

While it is too general to say all people who own horses are rich, it is doubtful any kid has ever said they couldn't go to college because daddy's horse lost a major stakes at Saratoga. It is fair to say there are several benevolent owners who take on individual projects. However, this would be one of the first times that such a group has been brought together for a unified endeavor of charity.

The program hopes to get its message across with "a spokesperson for the program recognized by Gen X (through) music or sports."

The press kit also proclaims a "very edgy and sports driven" campaign. But before anyone hires Eminem to sing the lyrics "Momma I didn't mean to hurt you, but I went to the track for my education," establishing the program comes before the selling of it. Besides, if actress Lori Petty frightened the establishment with the NTRA's initial "Go Baby Go" commercials, the controversial rapper would send it into convulsions.

To begin the race for education and other issues, WinStar is nominating all its horses to an earnings program. A portion of money won by a horse on the track goes to the scholarship fund. Other owners are being solicited to designate their entire stable or just a few horses as contributors. And the program has already received an early boost with Team Valor pledging a portion of all of its earnings at the track.

Racetracks are asked to donate between $25,000 and $50,000 each year and they can designate a student from their region for a piece of the scholarship money. This money can be used to expand the parameter as well to allow kids from families not employed in the Thoroughbred industry.

And of course the necessary corporate sponsor is being sought along with endowment gifts. Churchill Downs, Inc. has agreed to support a portion of the program, certainly a strong endorsement for the fledgling operation.

A unique aspect of this program though is that it offers a potential scholarship recipient a rooting interest. Say a percentage of Orientate's winnings was earmarked for the scholarship fund and you are a teenager knowing the more that comes into that fund the better chance of going to college, you just might make it a point to watch the Breeders' Cup Sprint on Saturday afternoon. And the theory goes, that teen that follows racing will become an adult who continues to do so, just like almost any other sport in America today.

So in racing's perfect future, we might hopefully see a TV commercial featuring Britney Spears at the track, singing her new hit and showing kids the sport of horse racing and telling them about the educational opportunities it can provide to those who need it. Sure it might be a stretch, but if something like that could happen, then who knows what might happen for horse racing in the years to come.