Editor’s Note: Jake Rome, a California boy who is going into his third year at the University of Wisconsin, was one of four college interns at Del Mar this summer. The journalism and communications arts major was asked to write the classic back-to-school piece about his summer experiences. Here’s what he came up with.
More Than a Mirage
By Jake Rome
Some say that horse racing is not what it used to be. I agree, it’s better.
I was fortunate enough to work an internship of a lifetime this summer at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (DMTC). The six weeks I spent there completely changed how I view the sport and the industry.
To the average person, horse racing may look like a dying industry. The mainstream news covers only the most sensational, controversial stories from tracks across the countries. Animal rights groups like PETA adamantly oppose the sport. Many think it is no more than a dressed-up casino for the old, white and wealthy. Del Mar has and will continue to prove that none of this is true.
To start, Del Mar has become the safest and most transparent track in North America. A number of changes have been made in the past few years which include employing additional veterinarians, increased frequency of check-ups on the horses before, immediately prior to, and after races as well as safer dirt and turf for the horses to run on manned by some of the very best professionals in the business. These changes lay out an impressive standard for sustainable horse care at tracks across the globe. Del Mar has made it clear that they are dedicated to keeping the animals healthy and happy, with this new model of transparency acting as a public trust.
Greater transparency in the sport is a great step, but this alone could not draw more fans. Or new fans, or younger fans. However, the rebranding of the track nearly two decades ago certainly did draw more, newer and younger fans. The slogan “Cool as Ever” along with an updated logo and new color scheme added a refreshing new look, all while maintaining the classiness the track so deserves. Focus was shifted away from the races themselves, and instead to the unique boutique aspects of the property. Instead of selling a day at the races, DMTC was now selling a day away in Del Mar. The grounds are so large with so many restaurants, clubs and places to go that sometimes you forget the horses are technically the main attraction. The grounds also host events like concert series, wine festivals, hat competitions and many more engaging additions for fans. The new activities, with the help of stronger social media outreach, were successful in bringing in a younger, more diverse crowd.
I was enamored with how diverse the crowd had become. When I came to the races as a little boy, I always felt I was the youngest one there by at least three decades. Now, I see big groups of all ages coming to enjoy the track. I’ve seen families, entire corporate offices, high schoolers, large groups of college kids, small friend groups in their thirties coming to get a drink after work, minimum wage workers, millionaires; you name it, they’re probably there. Today, there is something for everyone at the track.
Not only are more people from different demographics enjoying the track, they are getting involved in the business as well. Companies like MyRaceHorse have made it easier and more affordable to get started in horse ownership. Companies like this are breaking the stigma that the sport is a sort of “gentleman’s club,” due to the high price and limited access to professional horse ownership. Through companies like MyRaceHorse, affordable shares of a horse are up for purchase, similar to stock or cryptocurrency trading. This is an incredible tool to have in recruiting younger people and expanding demographics to the business side of racing.
These are the things that got me so excited to work at the track. What kept me excited were all of my incredible co-workers. At least, everyone who works at the track is kind. At the most, they are the nicest people you will ever meet. It is a place where hard work does not go unnoticed or underappreciated. It is a place where warmth and compassion will be met with the same, so long as you bring it. The people are what made me realize how special this place is.
Even on a hot day with the air seemingly as thick as molasses, someone at the front gate, like my friend Paul, will meet me with a bright grin and a cool welcome. I never hear any complaints.
Many of my colleagues have worked here longer than I’ve been alive, and are still enjoying it like it's their first year. I am afraid I will never see as much comradery and care for one another in the workplace as I did here at Del Mar.
No, Del Mar’s marketing appeal is not a mirage. It’s very real and this is all made possible due to the incredible people that run the show. From security to the executive office, everyone does their part in keeping the magic alive at Del Mar. Listen, you don’t have to believe me. I’m just some intern, what could I really know? But when you come to see for yourself that Del Mar really is as cool as ever, you’ll know what and who made that all possible.