Is It Time for a Horse Racing Tea Party?

Sarah Palin, where are you?

Two weeks ago: Spent a couple of days at Atlantic City Race Course. No promotion, no advertising, but crowds so big there were lines outside the restrooms.

This week: Covered part of an equine industry conference with the typical pronouncements—can’t fix the betting model; can’t agree on how to approach this or that; racing is dead without slot machines.

If the Republican Party is the party of “No,” horse racing is the industry of “Woe.”

Funny thing is, the public kind of likes horse racing, so much so that thousands will show up at a decaying racetrack that was supposed to be demolished 12 years ago. So much so that Keeneland, despite the economy, was only down 1% in attendance during its spring meet. So much so that Churchill Downs figures to attract close to 300,000 for the Oaks and Derby.

After 16 years of covering this industry—and writing about the same sick, unresolved issues during that period—it seems to me there is a major disconnect between the fan base and the people charged with running the business. Racing fans and handicappers get fired up all the time, but it’s hard to detect a pulse among the industry hierarchy.

Conference after conference, it’s the same old thing: No answers and no hope for solutions, topped with the usual political correctness and lame jokes. During the recent equine conference, a moderator asked audience members to watch their language.

In reality, what this industry needs is for people to stand up and tell other people where to go. They wouldn’t admit it, but some folks like it when Satish Sanan gets fired up and drops F-bombs. Heaven forbid we should offend anyone while the industry spirals out of control.

Is it time for a horse racing Tea Party? I know there are plenty of people out there who see great value in horse racing and, despite serious, legitimate financial issues, believe it’s not only worth saving, but fostering. This goes for everyone from the gambler to the operator of a Thoroughbred breeding farm.

People do care. But they’re not making their voices heard loud enough, and various organizations in the business aren’t taking a stand. Sure, things are tough, but are you willing to show some fight? At this point, we’d settle on you showing some life.

Racing supporters don’t buy the harping negativity, and they don’t believe horse racing’s sole hope is the handle of a slot machine. There’s nothing wrong with racetrack slots; what’s wrong is that rather than being used as intended—as a purse supplement and means to augment racing—they’ve taken over the industry, and no one stands up and calls that what it is: BS.

Horsemen are to blame as much as racetracks. They want days, days, and more days, and are perfectly content to race for less money to get them. Earlier this week, a $5,000 claiming race at River Downs filled with four horses. Horsemen love that, but fail to realize they’re killing their product in the marketplace.

It’s disturbing that an industry predicated on exciting competition—horses racing horses—has no competitive fire and willingness to put self on the shelf for the greater good. Do you believe in racing’s future or not? If the answer is no, get out and let others pick up the ball.

It’s time for groups like HANA to take things to the next level. It’s time for some organization or organizations in this business to start having local or regional meetings—sorry guys, they can’t be held behind closed doors, a common industry practice—to meet face to face with the lifeblood of the industry and really find out what's going on.

It’s time for people to start putting money where their mouth is. It’s time for action.

It’s time for a Tea Party. But please bring bourbon. After 16 years, I can assure that you will need it.

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