A day at the races

    The Del Mar Racetrack offers students a bargain summer escape: Pay the $3 student admission fee to the racetrack and get a free concert. On ‘4 o’clock Fridays,’ a free music concert after the races will bring bands like Sonic Youth and The Violent Femmes to the track. Punk rock and the sport of kings have not historically gone together, but this attempt to go after a younger market has the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club pleased and animal activists angered.

    “”The 4 o’clock Fridays are a gimmick designed to bring in new people and new revenue to make up for lagging attendance,”” said Amy Rhodes, the animals and entertainment specialist at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

    Rhodes claims that over the past five years, racetracks having been closing across the country at a dramatic rate.

    “”People have become aware of the rampant abuse and callous treatment of the racehorses and have stopped frequenting the racetracks,”” Rhodes said. “”So the racetracks have had to resort to underhanded tactics to bring in people and revenue.””

    Josh Rubenstein, director of sponsorship and broadcasting of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said that the Friday shows were created five years ago to address the problem of low attendance.

    “”Attendance was very low,”” he said. “”We wanted to draw people to the races, especially young adults between the ages of 18 and 35,”” Rubenstein said. “”And music was a good fit to target that young adult demographic group.””

    Rubenstein said that for the past two years, the DMTC has aggressively gone after national bands, such as Lit and Jack Johnson, to draw young adults to the Friday races.

    The campaign to raise attendance and draw in a younger market has proved successful.

    “”There has been an increase of 15,000 to 20,000 for the races on Friday,”” Rubenstein said. “”We are very happy.””

    Rhodes said that the 4 o’clock Friday racing and concerts hooks an entire generation that would never have attended what she claims is an inhumane sport.

    “”It’s sad to have to trick the young people to come to the races they would never before have frequented, if not for the free concert,”” Rhodes said.

    Felix Neves, a new transfer student to Thurgood Marshall College, said he comes to the racetrack solely for the ‘4 o’clock Fridays’ concerts.

    “”The free concert is the reason I come,”” Neves said. “”I come and catch a few races and make a couple bets before the concert begins. I always lose, but I have a good time.””

    Rhodes cautioned college students to be aware about the environment they are in at the races.

    “”There is more than meets the eye with these so-called free concerts,”” Rhodes said. “”And just because you don’t see the accidents or injuries to the horses during the races doesn’t mean it’s not happening.””

    Mesa College sophomore Tim Brown said he never considered the treatment of horses he bets on.

    “”I’ve never really thought about it much,”” Brown said as he watched the results of the race he placed a bet on.

    Rhodes said that one of the biggest secret in horse racing is the rampant drug usage.

    “”Horse trainers and veterinarians will use legal drugs to mask the illegal drugs they give the horses in order to keep them racing even when they are seriously injured,”” Rhodes said. “”Racehorses are forced to race with hairline fractures that would, without drugs, be too painful to run on. As a result, injuries, chronic lameness and fatalities are common.””

    Rhodes cited a 1993 University of Minnesota study that found that 840 horses were fatally injured on U.S. tracks, and 3,566 horses — or one horse in every 22 races — were so severely injured that they could not finish the race.

    Martha Gillson, a DMTC customer service manager, said she couldn’t release information on whether there were any injuries to the horses on the Aug. 9, races.

    The racetrack allows anyone 18 years or older to bet on the races, so many students place bets before the concerts start.

    UC Berkeley junior Yaniv Alfasy, a DMTC customer service representative, said that gambling at the racetrack is attractive for many reasons.

    “”Many students gamble because it’s risky and fun,”” Alfasy said. “”And unlike at casinos, where you spend all your money in five minutes, at a racetrack you have four or five hours to spend your money.””

    Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said that college students are particularly vulnerable to gambling addiction.

    “”The problem with adolescents and young adults is that they don’t have fully-evolved rational decision-making skills,”” Whyte said. “”As a result, the highest rate of gambling problems, such as addiction, is found in the age group between 18 to 21.””

    Whyte said that if the racetracks are actively targeting the young adult age group through free music concerts, they should also provide gambling addiction prevention services.

    “”Our organization remains neutral on gambling; however, to be responsible, the racetracks must have a prevention program targeted at the very age group they’ve targeted,”” Whyte said.

    Nevertheless, college students have been coming out to where “”the surf meets the turf”” at old Del Mar. Sonic Youth, The Vines and The Violent Femmes are just some of the bands that will have played Del Mar this racing season, proving that horseracing makes strange bedfellows.

    Common Sense played on Aug. 9. The Vines play on Aug., 16.

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