The Daily Racing Form website is reporting today that Gulfstream Park is looking to add lights to accommodate nighttime racing starting with the 2011 season. That is all well and good, but according to the same story, Florida law prohibits nighttime Thoroughbred racing. While Gulfstream officials are apparently confident that they can get the law changed in time for the 2011 season (and with the way most governments function, good luck with that), this situation actually begs a different question, "Is nighttime racing the future of the sport?"
My answer to that question would be an almost unqualified yes. If you look at the success that Churchill Downs had with their nighttime racing programs since they have installed lights, it makes you wonder why more tracks don't jump on the bandwagon and try it. I understand that there is a prohibitive cost in putting lights in at a racetrack and the electrical bills will skyrocket, but if you make it a sometimes thing (a la Churchill), I think you will start to see some success with it as well. I called races at a nighttime winter track for twelve years and I can tell you that while the numbers weren't always great, those nights when we were the only game available (as a result of winter cancellations of other nighttime products) were very successful.
Of course, this discussion also came up when the lights went in at Churchill, "What about running the Derby at night?" Well, that might still be some time off, but I can certainly see Churchill and whatever network will have the Derby rights by that time fully endorsing a Kentucky Derby run in prime time. I will also bet the farm that the ratings for such an event would be through the roof. What about a prime time Breeders' Cup? Can you imagine the thought of Zenyatta blazing through not only the field but also the nighttime sky to win that race last year? And, again, I will say that with Her Eminence running in prime time, the TV numbers would have been somewhat higher.
So, I for one am pulling for Gulfstream Park to get the lights going and get the Florida legislature on board. I think it might be the way of all things racing in the not too far distant future.
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!