There has not been a Triple Crown winner in racing since Affirmed in 1978. As Andrew Cohen pointed out in The Atlantic last month, that's a whole generation of sports fans who've never seen that trifecta. And with I'll Have Another pulling out of the Belmont Stakes tomorrow that drought will continue.
This isn't the death of horse racing in North America, but it's pretty darn close.
At one time the ponies were the only legalized form of gambling in the US. Then, in 1931, Nevada hitched its star to legalized gaming. It would be 46 years before Atlantic City broke that monopoly.
Today, politicians are the real gambling addicts. Twenty states and two territories allow casinos. (There are now over 1,500 casinos nationwide.) Forty-three states and three territories have state-run lotteries. All have cut action at the nation's tracks to the bone.
Like boxing, racing has suffered because of a lack of a comprehensive national authority. Yes, we conservatives love Federalism. But 50 racing authorities and 5o boxing commissions do little to prevent corruption in their sports. Tracks will never lure the consumer back if they think they have no chance to pick a winner without knowing what pharmacological edge one horse is enjoying over another.
One could argue that this is the creative destruction of the marketplace. Maybe we've just found more ways to amuse ourselves and throw away our money. It's hard to say because of the interference of the state. But the great races that people still follow will not survive if the sport is not healthy year 'round from coast to coast. With 138 Kentucky Derbies under our belts, we're a lot closer to the last and final Derby than we are to the first.