Michael Amo, Chairman of the Thoroughbred Racing Fan Association (also known as ThoroFan), is on a mission. As the leader of the nascent fan organization and longtime horse racing fan himself, he wants to preserve and enhance an industry he loves. Fan education is one of the key challenges he sees for the industry. We interviewed him to learn more about his mission.
Case the Race: How did Thoro-Fan come into being?
Michael Amo: There was a series of New York State hearings. During the hearings, I observed that a fan was never asked to testify at any of the hearings. It just seemed so obvious. No one representing fans was asked what they thought was the best franchisee. Until 2008, I could not find an organization of racing fans to provide for them and give them a voice. [When I began developing an organization] I realized that what we needed for a fan organization is not one big one, but local entities aligned with our favorite tracks. The model was one of creating local chapters organized around local tracks.
Case the Race: What are the biggest challenges in fan education?
Michael Amo: The biggest challenges are to get people interested in committing the time and energy to be able to handicap and to help new fans feel comfortable rather than intimidated. The biggest problem we are up against is an immediate gratification culture. It takes commitment to be able to analyze a thoroughbred race. Another challenge is trying to convince race tracks that education is an important endeavor…. It’s a low priority for most tracks. [We need to] convince racing venues to do education and to do it well. I was teaching one of our fan education seminars and I remember one woman asking, “What are the numbers on the starting gate?” It’s such a basic question, but it can be really difficult to enjoy the race if you don’t know.
Case the Race: How long does it take to get a new fan comfortable?
Michael Amo: For me it took years. You can probably get someone up to speed in two or three hours to where they can begin to enjoy themselves. At a track like Saratoga for example, where it is a resort town, fan education is really important… We’re offering a class at the community college, a three hour program on handicapping on the Thursday before the Kentucky Derby.
Case the Race: Tell me about some of your recent successes.
Michael Amo: We were kind of surprised… We set up at Saratoga last summer, but what really spun off of it was the publicity we got. We started to get a lot of attention. After all the media we got, people started joining. We now have people in 30 states. We have about 400 members. We’re seeing that people are contacting us, asking if we are going to have a chapter in their areas. It’s not what you would expect from horseplayers. They can be a pretty private bunch – secretive about their picks and such. But we are seeing a lot of interest in spite of that.
Case the Race: How did you first get interested in thoroughbred racing?
Michael Amo: I’ve been into horse racing about 30 years now. A graduate school friend suggested that we go to Belmont Park in 1978 for the Triple Crown. I probably saw one of the best races of my life! Seeing Alydar and Affirmed run down the track… that did it for me. After that, I had a relative in Saratoga Springs, so from there I went to Saratoga for the races. Since 1978, I’ve been going to Saratoga every summer, going to the races. I haven’t missed a Belmont Stakes since 1978. When I’m traveling I try to go to the track. I’d rather be at a race track than a golf course.
Case the Race: How do you see the industry changing and evolving?
Michael Amo: First, I think we will find that the slot-machine-partnering which has been touted as the savior of the racing industry will not turn out to be. What we are finding is that there isn’t transference between the slot machine players and the horse players. Also, horse health is important… In addition, the integrity of the game needs to be shored up. People need to think it is a fair game… If the sport has a hope of having a future, we need to look at the horse and the race and not just the gambling… I would guesstimate that the track only pays attention to about 20% of its fans – the season ticket holders and the high rollers… People need to see that we’re really about puzzle solving. That’s what makes us different [from other gamblers]. Finally, we have to dedicate ourselves to the fan.
Case the Race: What are your association’s future plans in California?
Michael Amo: We’re interested. We’ve talked to people at Santa Anita. I think some of the smaller tracks are more interested. They take the challenges seriously. But for now, we’re really putting our energies into the Saratoga and New England chapters to work things out as a sort of prototype. In the future, we envision trips to other race tracks. We envision trips to international tracks. We envision hosting other chapters that want to come to Saratoga.
Case the Race: What role can Case the Race play to help you in your mission?
Michael Amo: With both organizations, we are new and can help each other grow. The logical thing is that if enough people wanted to start a chapter in California, we would do it. All of us who want this industry to survive and grow because we love it so much need to work together. For Thorofan our mission is to preserve the sport we love. We’re a not for profit organization.
Michael Amo is the founder and Chairman of the Board of The Thoroughbred Racing Fan Association.
The Thoroughbred Racing Fan Association is a non-profit, membership-based corporation designed to foster growth of the Thoroughbred racing industry by providing racing fans with an organization to actively support their interests.
The goal of the Thoroughbred Racing Fan Association is to enhance fan enjoyment, increase knowledge of all aspects of thoroughbred racing and enhance skills in handicapping. The goal of Thorofan is to cooperate with other organizations in the thoroughbred community. We seek to retain existing fans and strive to develop new ones through education and membership benefits.