Joe Nevills is a journalist covering Thoroughbred racing for the Daily Racing Form, as part of the magazine’s new DRF Breeding publication. He grew up in central Michigan, where he fell in love with racing at the state’s small tracks, particularly Mount Pleasant Meadows and Great Lakes Downs. After graduating from Central Michigan University with a degree in journalism, he migrated to Lexington, where he has worked for Thoroughbred Times and has been a contributor to Business Lexington.
In your view, what are some of the biggest challenges facing the Thoroughbred industry?
One of the big ones would be drawing new people in, both from a fan standpoint and from an owner/breeder standpoint. The fact that the crop sizes are dwindling is a very good indicator of that — if there were new people coming in on a regular basis, they would be a lot closer to being replenished. On the fan side of things, it’s good to see the numbers getting higher and higher.
There’s still a lot of work to be done in educating fans and getting them from watching a couple of races on television to coming to the racetrack on occasion, to coming to the racetrack regularly, to getting them to play regularly, and just get them to feel safe with the sport. A big part of that is feeling comfortable with the safety of the competitors. And that’s another big challenge facing the industry right now: assuring people that what’s happening on the track right now is safe; reminding them that accidents do happen, just as in any other sport; and reminding them that all the measures that can be taken to ensure safety are being taken. I think the sport could do a better job of showing the fans that — especially neophyte fans.
What do you think some of the best practical solutions are to those challenges of getting people involved and getting people to understand the efforts that are put forth?
With the problem of getting them involved, the big thing is exposure. The reason people want to play basketball is because they see Michael Jordan winning championships on television. They see their favorite players on a regular basis, and they don’t have to work to find them. The big thing with getting people involved is making horse racing available, so people don’t have to work to find it. There’s the major venues, which everybody watches on TV, but there’s also the smaller venues … within an hour or two of you. Seeing the sport in person is the thing to do, and it doesn’t even have to be the Kentucky Derby. It could be the $10,000 allowance at River Downs. Getting people exposure to the sport and getting them used to it is the best way to get them into it; it’s how I got into it, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
If you were the racing czar and you had the power to change any one thing about the sport you wanted, what would it be?