The image presented by race-track presidents has changed dramatically in recent years. The "sportsman," real or pretended, is being replaced by a corporated executive or chief accountant familiar with a different type of bottom line - that of a profit-and-loss ledger, not of a thoroughbred's extended pedigree.
The late Saul Silberman would be shocked by what is happening. Silberman, for many years the head man at Tropical Park in Coral Gables, Fla., was his own best customer. He had a parimutuel machine near his office, and he kept it humming.
Elaine Roberts, the young woman who, holds the president's chair at Bowie Race Course, is from another generation. Roberts rarely bets on a horse, but she holds the top job, not only at the Prince George's oval but also at Freehold Raceway, a harness plant in New Jersey. Both tracks operate under the banner of Gibralter Pari-Mutuel Inc.
Bowie's new president is 25 years old, and not quite sure in her own mind exactly how she got the position. Women presidents are unusual at a race track. Marje Everett at Hollywood Park is the only other one to be in charge of a major plant.
"I was treasurer here for awhile." Roberts declared. "In facr, I still am treasurer. Then, at a board meeting a couple of months back . . . what can I say?"
They made you president?
"They made me president."
Did you have some help in landing the job?
"Well, my father has been with the Canadian corporation which controls the track for years and years. He is still chairman of the board and chief executive officer."
Gibraltar is just one of the parent corporations of many companies.
"It's Hambro and Foodex, which, in layers, owns Gibraltar," Roberts explained. "My primary responsibility, first off, is the financial end, the accounting phase. The horse aspect takes years and years to learn but I can absorb as quickly as possible."
Abd what have you learned so far?
"That the Maryland winter can be terrible to us, and that the general economy in this area is poor."
"Times are tough. Even for the families that own tracks, families that have the money, it's difficult for everybody . . . we are in a recession right now. The large bettors, I think, are still here. But the mainstay of a track's business, of any track's business, are not those people, that special but small group.
"Your geneal public is the mainstay, and these are the people most affected by the current high enemployment rate, by the general economy. And that is what has happened to the race-track business, not just here but throughout the country. It is not that the entertainment dollar is being spent that much differently. It's just that the people don't have the money to spend."
So why would anyone want to continue to own a race track, the way things are going.