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.

86 Comments

Leave a Comment:

CD Fan

I couldn't agree more. I've never seen an industry that botches things over and over, and yet the answer to everything is slots. Divisions within the industry 30 years ago are still divided. Not one, not one of them realize that no matter if you're a horseman, owner, trainer, mutuel clerk, groom, hotwalker, management, state racing commission: you're NOT the customer, the folks that come to the track are your treasure and over and over you discard them. Churchill Downs, where I could write a litany of complaints, did 3 nights last year an "experiment." It was awesome. There was energy, excitement, and there wasn't a slot on the premise. Keeneland, Saratoga, Del Mar are wonderful places to go. With a little work, people will show up. LESS is more, a tighter race day, focus on the "average Joe" and you'll see success. Customer Service is the key, and racing has to excel. When is the last time you were "welcomed" at a racetrack? The indgredients are there; the treasure is there. It's just the folks in charge the last 30 years or so have mismanaged that treasure, and it's all about "them," not the average man or woman that attends a day at the races.

28 Apr 2010 1:01 PM
Aleine

Tom, Don't look for Sarah Palin at the track unless there's a book deal. To your point, the "problem" with the racing industry is in the approach. My local track, Colonial Downs, has been down on its luck forever. Since the beginning of that track. Listen to me! Promoters, STOP offering face painting, moon bounces and other "family fun" activities for kids and moms (the ones who are always wandering around the place looking at their watches--go home ladies, you're obvious in your despair). It isn't about bringing the family down to get the kids on the kiddie toys and at least offer the moms some beer or bourbon. I appear to pick on the moms because I see their type every time I go to the track. They're in my way, they're trying to manage the bored children and they're asking their husbands, "Did my horse win?"

STAY HOME if you don't want to be there ladies. Promoters....PLEASE promote the race for the race's sake!! I don't want to see the TV commercial for our annual VA Derby mentioning "fun for the kids, too."  I am a race fan from way back and a mom of 2 kids. My kids don't come to the track with me unless they are willing to have eyes front and watch and learn.

Appreciate the amazing equine athletes or stay home.

Why are the promoters trying to be politically correct? It's neither ladies' day at the track nor a chance for casually interested husbands to smoke their cigars outside and sip bourbon, IT'S A DAY AT THE RACES!!  Buy the day's track program or go there and tune in other tracks and be part of the horse racing action. If you're not there to watch the horses then stay home, get outta my way! People need to know they are not going to show up at the track one day of the year, make a lucky bet and make a fortune. It takes skill to work out which horse may win.

The promoters of these events need to find their focus, they might even find that if they advertise the racing events of the track they might attract the horse race fans. Corporations (including one for which I used to work) will hand out free passes, for employees, to the track like candy, but is this what should happen? How about filling those seats with racing fans. Where did the promoters get the idea for political correctness, from some out-of-touch marketing agency? Maybe they could learn from NASCARr promoters. I abhore NASCAR and anything to do with car racing, no athletes there. But, even the kids learn race car drivers' names and statistics. Guess NASCAR's promoters got it right.

28 Apr 2010 1:18 PM
Rachel

Please please please leave mention of politics from these blogs.

28 Apr 2010 1:19 PM
goodwin

Tea- Party? No, racing needs regulation: centralized regulation, a national governing entity, just like football, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc. Make the playing field even. make the rules the same everywhere, and get rid of the little "kangaroo courts" with their good-ole-boy networks in each state. T-Party my eye!

28 Apr 2010 2:12 PM
Bill Daly

Aleine is on the money. Racing should never be promoted as a "family activity" -- it's about gambling on horses and the people that ride and train them. In my view, to properly promote this sport the owners of the tracks should be emphasizing handicapping. Encourage the prospective customers to learn how to handicap before throwing money at the mutuels. This isn't Disneyland or Sea World entertainment we're talking about here. This is about using analytical skills to make a successful wager.  

28 Apr 2010 2:35 PM
Betsy

I have to disagree with Bill Daly and Aleine about horse racing not being a family activity. I have loved racing since I was little, and I've bet only once - with my family, it was a wonderful day at the track - but I still follow it closely. If there was a track near me I'd go, but I wouldn't bet seriously because I am in it because I love the horses - bottom line. (And because I can't afford betting a lot.) Attracting families with other activities might entice those families to come more often and bet a bit as well. If that's part of what it takes to put more money in the purses and horse welfare then I'm all for it. There more the track does to get people to the track the better - we need the fans, regardless of whether they are serious bettors or not! The times I've been to track I enjoyed it a lot; not because I won money but because it was cool to see the horses with my family. I sincerely hope others can have similar experiences, no matter how much money they bet.

28 Apr 2010 3:43 PM
Jennie

The first few comments to this blog show just how disjointed this sport really is.  

28 Apr 2010 3:52 PM
Aikenite

It can be both. Entertaining for the family, and an exciting gambling exhibition for the horseplayer. Vegas gets it...they've got fun for all, including good value food/beverage, while they separate you from your money. Horse racing does need a central authority but I doubt it will ever happen given that state governments control the show. Fewer racing dates will happen, whether the sport chooses to get in front of it or not.

28 Apr 2010 4:32 PM
Michelle

So, here's my question in response to catering only to handicappers and not so much family...because I don't make a wager (I live in GA....we can't here), does that make me any less important as a fan? If I drive my kids to Kentucky, to New York, etc., because I want them to experience the thrill of the horses, does that make me also nonexistent? Yes, it is important to focus on handicappers as well, but it's people who have a love for the sport that brings the generations back every year. So let me know when there's a rally. Because this racing fan will be front and center, trying to help racing any way she can.

28 Apr 2010 4:32 PM
Pinot66

I as a mom, and a fan of horseracing, find working the numbers, etc., a great fun way to teach problem-solving to my kids. They love the sport, and the challenge.. don't diss moms who bring kids to the track.

28 Apr 2010 4:45 PM
Pinto66

Very well said Betsy.. thank you!

28 Apr 2010 4:46 PM
TJ

great article. I am in agreement with everything you have said EXCEPT for the HANA comment. We need more fans, more bettors, less races......not takeout cuts. HANA doesnt get it. They preach that a lower takeout will somehow increase handle. This isn't ever going to happen. Higher handle will be achieved through increased volume....volume of people that is. The industry needs to get mainstream. Forget HRTV and TVG, we need Saturday and Sunday racing on cable television. Exposure and distribution is the key. This is never going to happen with the current management at NTRA and BC. Nice guys, but no coconuts.

28 Apr 2010 4:47 PM
skipaway2000

Betsy, if you do not bet when you are at the races, you are doing the equivalent of stealing cable. I love the horse, too, but now that I understand how the entire infrastructure is based on the amount bet on-track, I ALWAYS play, if not every race, then at least 6 or 7 of them. If you only want to enjoy the horses, go to a horse show. I agree that handicapping education should be a big part of promoting at the track. However, because of our sport's perceived unscrupulousness, it does take an effort to get people to come out to the track the first time. It may take giving free passes, having a ladies' day, etc., to get a first contact that will become a lifelong fan. The problem is when the potential fans get there, they have a steep learning curve before they can be a successful player. Smart tracks will combine the bait (free admission, T-shirt giveaways, concerts) with player education (handicapping contests). Don't get me wrong, I *love* the horses, I follow the sport ravenously and get no greater pleasure than in watching them run -- but I know that for my sport to survive, I've got to pay for it (and I actually have a chance to win a little, too!).

28 Apr 2010 4:53 PM
GreyK

Wasn't it Kentucky Democrats trying to help the racing industry? Tea baggers only care about themselves and the government benefits they qualify for, like Medicare, to remain untouched, so it's a bad analogy: and Palin is much too selfish to help horsemen. She'd be happy to kill your surplus stock by shooting herds from a helicopter though. Aleine, if those bored moms want to spend a few bucks at the track, is that not good for racing? If those kids have fun around horses, might they not be future fans? But you have it your way, keep it an elitist, white male sport for serious handicappers only (that's what you mean by ending political correctness right?) and see how far that gets you.

28 Apr 2010 4:54 PM
FourCats

I have an opinion about many of horse racing's problems (and there are many). But most of them are solvable (with a lot of work by people who care about racing) except for the one that I think is the biggest problem; interference by state governments. These state governments care little about the success of the sport; only about how much they can milk it (monetarily and politically).

Of course there should be laws and regulations that racing, just like all other industries, should have to follow to ensure integrity and fair dealing between all parties.

However, state governments get a cut of all wagers (how many other industries pay taxes out of gross revenue before expenses?

State governments control when racetracks can race by awarding race dates (how many other companies can operate only when the state says so)?

State governments, if they have budget problems and cut racing commission personnel, can shut down racing entirely in their state as a result (how crazy is that?)

State governments assign commission positions as political plums; half the time these people know nothing about racing.

Look at New York recently. That state government has almost destroyed racing in one of our premier racing states (and may yet do so). Until the industry can control its own fate, there is almost no way that it can prosper.

28 Apr 2010 5:32 PM
JerseyTom

Editor's notes:

1. HANA stands for more than reducing takeout rates.

2. The issue with takeout rates is tracks/jurisdictions that gouge, namely Pennsylvania. Logic suggests there is only one reason why you would extract almost one-third of a trifecta pool: Greed. Maybe two reasons: Short-sightedness.

3. Experienced horseplayers love it when tracks are packed and novice money flows into the pools. See handle on Derby, Oaks, and Breeders' Cup days.

28 Apr 2010 5:33 PM
ponychick

I couldn't agree with you more Tom. One of the greatest issues is that the governing bodies are of the old-school business model. There is not a lot of thinking outside the box here from a marketing, or economically viable business plan perspective. The program grads hired have just been churned through the very machine that has (barely) sustained the industry as it is.

Among (many other) things, horse racing needs fewer dates, to have the perceived seasonality restored, tracks seen as supporting TB retirement, takeout and wagering completely re-examined from top to bottom, marketing programs that address who the fans are, not who the old-timers wish they were...well anyway I could go on and on with my manifesto, but don't want to be shushed by the industry I've worked in and supported for almost 30 years.

28 Apr 2010 5:58 PM
JerseyTom

Ponychick: Interesting observation on the horse racing "academia."

28 Apr 2010 7:43 PM
Kevin A. Burke

To: Mr. Tom LaMarra

My frustrations I feel are equal to your own when it comes to some industry practices on all levels.

I wish I could expand on some thoughts and suggestions, but for personal family reasons at this moment my time is limited.

Just two observations/comments:

I realize your reference to a Tea Party & Sarah Palin was not a political statement of views. This part of your statement I see as meant a guide to a possible course of action to be taken. I wish people would reread what you wrote with that thought in mind. Enemies of thoroughbred racing have great satisfaction in having any organized group divided from the get-go on hair-splitting, diverging, meaningless issues. (They do that to us now).

I found it very interesting that at the Equine Industry Conference the Slot/VLT/Casino/Racino corporations were so adamant in their insistence that racing needs them to survive. As a play on an old saying, I fear they plead their case too much.

Right now who needs who? My fear is the tomorrows, (in some places the today), when they do not need Thoroughbred racing.

Keep the organizing idea alive. I think we should all try in whatever ways we can to spread the idea of it. Something good can come about.

Kevin

28 Apr 2010 8:39 PM
tvnewsbadge

FourCats said State governments control when racetracks can race by awarding race dates

Well, if they did not do that in Virginia, we'd have no live racing at all.

The only reason we have a track at all is because that's the price the State demanded before they let the folks who own Colonial Downs bring in off-track betting.

As far as filling the seats with gamblers instead of families goes, try and do that at Colonial Downs and you'd have nobody in the seats at all because they stuck the track out in the middle of nowhere.

28 Apr 2010 10:52 PM
Bill Daly

I can appreciate those who wish to enjoy horseracing for the sheer beauty of the thoroughbred horse and the pageantry surrounding the sport. However, as has been forcefully stated by skipaway2000 if you go to the races and don't gamble you're not helping this industry. It's money into the mutuel machines that makes the mare run. As we all know, it's politically incorrect for track owners or others in the sport to categorically state this truth, thus perpetuating the notion that the sport will thrive if somehow the multitudes will come to the tracks and start a lifetime love affair with horse racing. That's great. Just don't forget to bet.

28 Apr 2010 10:59 PM
Bellwether

AMEN BROTHER TOM!!!...THE GAME IS A NATIONAL TREASURE; ITS COMING BACK TO THE TOP OF THE SPORTS WORLD WHERE IT BELONGS...LONG LIVE THE KING!!!.

29 Apr 2010 3:23 AM
DELCAPJACK

I love horseracing...I love the only REAL sport left...I don't profess to have any answers...but if you want to see what's RIGHT with horseracing...go to KEENELAND!!!  

29 Apr 2010 10:01 AM
Maury E.

@TJ, the only way you'll get more people is if pricing of the product goes down and winners are created. In Canada, specifically Ontario, horse racing is available everywhere on TV, and Woodbine has a near monopoly on Ontario and even Canadian internet players, yet the track just did only 1.3 million in handle last night, and struggles getting decent handle on most days. Why? They chased away bettors with high takeouts and failed to compete with low takeout games like poker and sports betting. Gambling in Canada continues to rise, but horse race gambling has been stagnant at best.

Price sensitive players have been chased away and now play Betfair or with offshore bookies or rebate companies.

If there are visible winners out there, that will draw in more bettors. Works great when it comes to Betfair or online poker.

Bettors want a chance to make money betting long term (or why even learn the game?), even though the overwhelming majority won't win, just as long as there are a few visible horseplayers who make a living betting horses, a new generation of horse players will be created.

But takeout needs to drop for this to happen, or the game will continue to die a slow death.

29 Apr 2010 10:08 AM
Bayakoa

I agree (as a racetrack employee) that if you love this sport and its athletes, support them the best way you can - BET. Not to say you need to spend $10,000 a day, but horses don't run for love and the words "pretty horsey.

And YES players love it when novices and families are out spending their money! How many mouths are watering at the thought of Garrett Gomez being 3-1 or lower every race on Derby day just because he's the only jock every $2 bettor has heard of?

29 Apr 2010 10:09 AM
The_Knight_Sky racing blog

Mr. LaMarra wrote:

Racing fans and handicappers get fired up all the time, but it’s hard to detect a pulse among the industry hierarchy.

___________________

The problem in the industry heirarchy (save for Dinny Phipps) is that there is no continuity at at the top.  

Racetrack CEOs, and GMs play a game of musical chairs with their careers. Look no further than those at the top in the Midatlantic and NYRA tracks.

From the McKeons to Noes to Meyocks, to Schwartz, to Heyward, to _____.  Well you get the picture.

Mr. CEO and COO where is the long term commitment to your position in racing?  Do you care enough at the moment to make the necessary improvements?

It means standing up to horsemen and the state. You're running a business. Make it work. It's not about collecting a salary without giving something back to the customers.

The same cycle will ensue until the next ad for a "gaming executive" comes along.  

The leaders at the track who have tenures of 10 years or more are a rarity and must be applauded. We need people like that who can carry out projects in an industry that moves along at a snail-in-a-coma's pace.

29 Apr 2010 10:18 AM
parsixfarms

Tom, thanks for your column, but it begs the question: If you think we need a Tea Party, who are the industry leaders that you think need to walk the plank.

29 Apr 2010 10:19 AM
Betsy

Pinto66: thanks for the comments. Very clever using horseracing as an educational tool!

skipaway2000: I understand what you're saying about betting funding horseracing. I personally am not a fan of betting in any form, whether in Vegas, Atlantic City, racetracks, etc. but I know we need its revenue. I see what you mean about "stealing cable" - maybe other money-making activities for those who'd rather not bet. For the record, I have bet - for fun - and my basic point is that there should be room for those who bet for fun not just dedicated handicappers.

Like others, I'm not a fan of bringing in politics/the Tea Party, but I see the point being made. Mr. LaMarra: I appreciate your passionate post. My question is, what can fans, who just love the sport, do? Because we don't run organizations or own powerful racing/breeding organizations (or even a small one) we lack influence. Over the past year or two, I've read a lot of good ideas in these blogs and in editorials. My question to everyone: how can we, if we even can, turn those ideas into action?

29 Apr 2010 11:01 AM
Jason M. Settlemoir

Tom,

Once again you nailed it. Keep up the good work. Thanks, Jason

29 Apr 2010 12:30 PM
wayne

Too many slot track offers too much money, it's great for some horseman but not for the fan, fan don't need 15-16 races a night, too much races mean you will never get a great product night in night out. competition generate excitement, the fans want to see and wager on good quality racing, The product is over exposed!!!

The slot money has change the business, today, you got to have a CHEMISTRY degree to train horses,

Still, I love the game.

I was fortunate enough to see harness racing in its glory days at Yonkesr, Roosevelt and Meadowlands, WHERE ALL the horses in the race completed.

Here a few suggestions, I'm sure it has been discussed in the racing circle many times over, PLEASE take action!

1.Limited races in a race card

2.Limited racing dates, less is more

3. Get the bad apples out out of the business

4. Re-building the image of the sport ,the general public perception of the sports is bad, full of cheaters.

That's how you get good product, once you got the product, people will come, track then can afford to hire more peoples to take care of the customers,

it can be fun again for all of us to go to the racetrack again.

Wayne

29 Apr 2010 1:06 PM
Lady Slew

Aleine:

You have no idea how hard the mothers of 25 years ago fought for this! I know though - I'm one of those mothers  It was rough going teaching the horse racing industry what McDonald's always knew:

WIN THEM OVER AS CHILDREN AND KEEP THEM AS CUSTOMERS FOR LIFE!  

Finally getting that message through to the powers that be at racetracks is the ONLY worthwhile change towards drawing new customers to the track that has happened in my lifetime - and YOU have the NERVE to say they are in your way?!?!?

You better start welcoming and embrassing them because the majority of the sport's fan base is still in the elderly and dying off age bracket. Those fans have to be replaced somehow - and more than replaced, we want to grow the number of fans!

You think NASCAR never had family promotions? Think they never had giveaways for the kids? Or that they never had ladies' day? Well you would be WRONG - they've got all that and more in their marketing strategy.

29 Apr 2010 1:13 PM
Lady Slew

Ponychick:

I submit that YOU are the problem with the industry. 30 years you've worked in the horse racing industry, you see what's wrong, you know what needs to change, but you are afraid to do anything about it!  

If you won't then who will? Somebody on the inside has to be brave enough to step up to the plate.

29 Apr 2010 1:15 PM
Lady Slew

One thing that was left out of the article:

For those same 16 years racing writers have been penning these complaints about how broken the industry is, but those writers never do anything about it either.

16 years? Heck, make that 33 years. That I personally know of.

Everybody wants to complain, nobody wants to take action!  I for one am ready to take action and revolt any time now.  

Remember the movie Brewster's Millions and his cute little vote for none of the above stunt? In the movie the politicians really took notice when people actually voted and the choice "none of the above" won the election. It really does take something THAT drastic for the estabilishment to see you mean business.

You want the horse racing industry to sit up and take notice? The perfect oportunity is at hand. Do not bet on the Kentucky Derby. Not so much as one dime superfecta. Make every wagering pool for the Derby $0 and I guarantee you Churchill Downs Inc. will be listening.  Very, very hard.

Of course, they also might be listening from the steps of the bankruptcy court.

29 Apr 2010 1:23 PM
moodygirl

What a provocative blog. I thought the Tea Party analogy was a good one. Setting aside what you might think of their political positions, the movement is about speaking out about the status quo, the bureaucracy that is governing you. It's about making your voice heard about issues you care about and don't believe are being handled well by those in authority. By the way, I am not a Tea Party member.

I think such a movement fits the bill here in TB racing. For the most part, the governing bodies are not doing a good job. It's time for others to speak up and for new ideas. To keep quiet is to concede that what is going on is OK.

I went to the track a few times when I was a kid because my cousin raced there. Of course I loved it. The problem with children at the track today is because so many children are unruly. Society has changed so the track needs to change too. Find the right activities for the kids so Mom isn't pulling her hair out and pleading to go home and annoying those that came to watch the races.

It's time to think out of the box to keep this noble sport going at least another 100 years.

I don't think their should be a ban against anything "political" on here. Blogs should be freedom to speak your opinion about pertinent issues in racing. Nobody is campaigning here, it's a discussion about the future of TB racing. You got people's attention by mentioning Sarah Palin & the Tea Party bunch. Some just saw red without taking time to read the message. That makes me sad.

29 Apr 2010 3:23 PM
Kiyoko

skipaway2000: It is not the equivalent of stealing cable. I have yet to be arrested or kicked out of a racetrack for not placing a bet.

I have been a life long horse racing fan, and I have been to many tracks and I've only ever bet once - a $2 bet on the Belmont Stakes. I don't believe in wasting money on a chance, I would rather pay for a physical item. There are other ways for tracks to make money besides just from betting. Some tracks charge for admission and for their racing programs. You spend money on food and beverages through the day. Most tracks have stores with souvenirs and other over-priced goods. I am sure tracks get some percentage of all these other things purchased (Especially admission!) that rake in money that makes up for those not placing any bets.

I agree that a racetrack is not a place for a child unless they are well behaved and are there for the sole purpose of to watch and learn about the horses. The racetrack is not a playground. It's bad enough I have to deal with screaming, crying and badly behaved children at places like restaurants, grocery stores and malls. I don't need them at the track.

29 Apr 2010 3:24 PM
Renee Mancino

One issue, as you point out, is everyone thinks slots/casino gaming are the answer. But another issue is those in charge are charter members of the "good 'ole boys club" and don't want things to change. I go to the equine industry meetings and conferences and it looks like an old-age home for the most part. Pretty much resembles the fan base at any racetrack across the country.  

Those in charge are obviously older and wiser, but the same-old, same-old is going to get racing the same old-same old, right to the retirement home.

As a Las Vegas Gaming lawyer with an extensive horse racing background I agree with what you have said in regards to the, "slots as a savior" issue, it isn't a reliable long-term solution.  

And there is currently a backlash uprising gaining momentum in Canada and some state Legislatures. There are several attempts to dial back what most now see as improper subsidies for a private enterprise, which is racing. Now that those in racino/casino states have slots/some form of casino wagering passed, most residents accept and frequent them. However, they wouldn't have gotten them passed but-for the racing locations to host them and make the idea palatable to residents for passage.

Now that most legislators also see how much "subsidy" is going to the racetrack industry they want that back too for the state. Can't blame them, that is their job--why subsidize a private industry at the expense of the state? Especially now when there is no more "opposition" to gaming in most states that currently have it.

As for a Sarah Palin to save the industry, metaphorically speaking the second, "good "ole boys" will make sure that doesn't happen.  

I recently saw a news release on the promulgation of a strategic racing program. The Council of State Governments and Racing Commissioners International are steering the creation of a new interstate compact for racing regulation in the United States.

As an experienced equine legal practitioner with a specialty interest in equine law, racing law, racing association law, and racino legislation on a nationwide basis I am very interested in being involved in this process and ultimately in implementation. Coincidentally, as recently as three months ago via LinkedIn I was participating in a thread concerning liability for equine professionals on a nationwide basis where I set forth a National Compact as the mechanism for unity and cohesiveness for all equine industry professionals and entities, be it racing, pleasure horses, or any other equine discipline.  If you are a member of LinkedIn you can follow the thread here. <">http://tinyurl.com/ydnom9r>

Despite sending out resumes eager to move back into the racing world in some capacity, and despite my knowledge and varied skills, I have been getting doors slammed in my face because I am the Sarah Palin of the racing world akin to your metaphor. I am attempting to cross back into racing from the legal world. I am constantly given the "someone within the industry was hired" party line, I am a woman, too young, progressive, and not going to be accepted into the, "good ole boys" club.  

Bottom line is the industry doesn't want a Sarah Palin to rescue them. They want to wax philosophically, tell the same jokes at the conferences, and pat each other on the back for the foresight to lobby for racinos/casino gaming in those states that have them.  

It was no different with intrastate pari-mutuel wagering and it is going to follow with live racing unless someone progressive (ala, Sarah Palin) forces the changes ignoring the racino/gaming angle and head-butting the establishment.

29 Apr 2010 3:32 PM
Franki

I am a horse racing fan that lives in Western Pennsylvania  I attend the races at both Mountaineer race track and The Meadows. Two years ago slots were legalized in Pennsylvania to "help" the horse racing industry. Since the legalization of slots the purses at The Meadows increased greatly but the fan base has dwindled to almost nothing.

The new facility at The Meadows has no grandstand and about 100 outdoor stadium type seats. I firmly believe that the owners of the racino at The Meadows and the other racinos in Pennsylvania will in the near future convice the state legislators that the money provided for purses is not increasing the fan base and that subsidizing the racing industry is a wasted effort and should be discontinued.

Although those in the gambling (gaming) industry are prevented by law from making political contributions, I am sure they will find a way to polish some palms with payola so that the slots will no longer subsidize racing and horse racing will then cease to exist.

29 Apr 2010 6:25 PM
PTP

Bill Daly, you made my day.

29 Apr 2010 6:28 PM
Del Mar Marty

Two of our industry's biggest lies:

1) I'm from the racing commissioners international and will help your industry improve through more regulation.

2) UA racetrack program grads are the future of our industry.

29 Apr 2010 6:41 PM
pacerh

Was at AC racetrack and it was packed. No promotion or advertising done. Minimal reporting in the local press. Shows that fan base is alive and well.

29 Apr 2010 8:17 PM
Jermon

.......But you have it your way, keep it an elitist, white male sport for serious handicappers only ( that's what you mean by ending political correctness next right?) And see how far that gets you.

GreyK  28 Apr2010 4:54 PM.

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A little background: I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y; in what were then mixed neighborhoods in Bed-Stuy and Brownsville. I've been a racing fan since shortly after World War II.

When Aqueduct was rebuilt and reopened in 1959 as the Big A, it did so with it own subway station. which at first was boon but later became a curse. The subway brought many newcomers to the track from Manhattan, where car ownership then and now is impractical. Among the newcomers were many young and bright dating couples who latter became known as yuppies - you know - white elitists. Because we recognized them as a credit to racing fandom, we adopted and taught them the nuances of handicapping and racing.

Back then, the attendance on Saturday was generally from 60 to 65 thousand. The record attendance of over 70 thousand was on Memorial Day 1961.The handle was a record $6.5 million.

The other big days in terms of attendance and quality of racing were Mondays and Wednesdays. Monday was known as barbers and bartenders day - you know - those other white eliist handicappers.

Because the attendance and handle was greater than that at Saratoga during the month of August, it didn't take long for the upstate politicians to propose shutting it down, claiming it was causing the state to lose money. Only when the white elitist owners of the big, prominent stables threatened to move their operations  out of New York did that nonsense stop.

Now that Saratoga is the premier track in the state, it makes me want to vomit when I hear the upstate pols extol its virtues.

In 1970, I relocated to a western state, where I lived for thirty years, and began losing touch with racing. When on an occassional visit to N.Y. in the early '80s, and I encountered anyone from the old neighborhood and asked if they had been to the track, the answer was always the same, "No, you wouldn't want to bring your wife or girlfriend there anymore."

The demise of racing in New York is attributable to a large degree to the defection of the white elitist handicapper. To win him back, if that is at all possible, the NYRA must exercise a greater degree of crowd  control. Although I have lived within a stones throw of Belmont since I returned to New York. I haven't been to the track in 10 years.

On closing day last fall, Belmont was referred to as the "Big Empty." The attendance was 2315. In the old days, the number of people collectively waiting in line at various deli sandwich counters, would total more than that.

29 Apr 2010 8:59 PM
Don McD

There are so many problems with the horse industry that it is hard to know even where to begin to focus. Politics infects everything, so it cannot reasonably be kept out. Yesterday's (Wednesday's) New York Times had a front-page article about the breeding and auction industry in Kentucky. As might be expected these days with anything related to real estate, it was not a happy piece. It included a photograph of a large "For Sale" sign at a horse farm. A couple weeks ago I finished Jim Squires's book "HEADLESS HORSEMEN". It was very interesting and well-written. It named names and seemed not to pull many punches. It was actually rather frightening. I got the impression that the overall thoroughbred horse industry is an unconscious scheme to fleece newly rich people who love horses. Then I read about Ahmed Zayat, one of the biggest and most successful owners in recent years, and his stable is in bankruptcy and recently announced they would lose only $8 million this year, much less than they lost last year. And he is successful? There's something really wrong here and, in my opinion, correcting it has to begin with getting rid of drugs and with changing the system so an owner has a reasonable chance of breaking even or winning a little. No parasite can last long by killing its host.

29 Apr 2010 9:08 PM
will

90% of racing owners are Republicans, and 100% of the legislators stopping VLTs at the  tracks are Republicans. Talk about irony!

29 Apr 2010 10:03 PM
TouchStone Farms

Tom,

I've spent my entire life in the race/breeding industry and here is what I see is needed.

1) Get rid of all of the politicians (through the election process) who pretend that they represent the industry and the people and families who work within it, then persist in throwing up road blocks at every point when the industry tries to adjust & survive. A lot of these road blocks are based on "proposed legislated morality."

Do the political representatives of the people of Kentucky actually believe that fundamental religious beliefs only apply to the residents of their state.....BS!

2) Organize a committee made up as follows: One management member from each racetrack in Kentucky, one member representing the breeders, jockeys, trainers and one public relations representative from a firm that has had experience in PRr in a racetrack environment.

3) Set an adequate budget for this newly struck committee to attend what is deemed to be the most successful racetracks that exist to be completed within 30 days, after which a report from each committee member breaks down the rationale as to why these tracks are flourishing and how they could apply & improve on these items at Kentucky tracks!

Attend the Big A, Woodbine etc,. etc. and observe the reasons their business models are more successful look to improve on them and restructure & apply the new business model to Kentucky tracks. Leave the politicians and religious zealots out of it at this point until a new business model has been designed. Then proceed to implement with the entire industry behind the newly structured plan.

As long as these politicians are on the banquet circuit via the taxpayers' dollar they can and will meet our industry's desperate situation with stock answers drawn from the "party line" but as soon as they have to start looking to see where their next meal is coming from or have to pull their kids out of the private schools, dance lessons etc. they may have a clearer perspective on how our industry should be represented!  

30 Apr 2010 9:12 AM
Mike

A great artical and hits right to the point! I believe a TEA PARTY IS THE answer.

30 Apr 2010 9:44 AM
JerseyTom

You guys are all right. You've provided some of the more thought-provoking comments that have appeared on blogs. ... And you've also proven that a disconnect exists: You clearly have passion, but I don't recall reading one comment from a member of the industry heirarchy.

30 Apr 2010 10:57 AM
CarrieLLewis

I was born a horse lover. I've been following horse racing since 1973 and the first Marlboro Stakes, which featured Riva Ridge and Secretariat. I don't bet. I never have. I never will.

But I LOVE horses. I got to the track to see horses run, to take pictures and to gather material for future paintings.

I have long thought the idea of 'supporting the racing habit' with casinos, slots and other 'revenue streams' has diluted the business, not strengthened it. Remember when off-track betting was going to save the sport? Now it's casinos and slots.

The problem with horse racing, as I see it, is the same problem a lot of churches have (yes, I did say churches).

A lot of mainstream churches specialize in getting people in the pews. Young people. Old people. Families. New people. It doesn't even matter if it's the same people week to week, just as long as the pews are full.

They abandon the message in order to attract attendees.

Racing has been doing the same thing for decades. Do whatever it takes to draw new people in, fill the stands (even if they never come back and never see a horse again). Forget the faithful who love horses for the sake of horses and who love racing for the sake of racing.

And can we stop expecting the government to fix the problem. Anyone who waits on government for help (federal, state, local), invariably is left at the post forever.

There is no easy solution, but there are tracks out there (mostly small ones) that have found ways to survive without all the hoopla, glitz and glamor. Their examples should be examined and utilized.

I'm not sure a Tea Party is the way to go, but an open town hall probably wouldn't be a bad deal!

30 Apr 2010 3:11 PM
Pablito

Like most large and important industries, horse racing needs to be nationalized and made part of the commonwealth. There should be some consolidation. Retractable domes should be put on all tracks (there should never be any sloppy/off). Handicapping and betting strategy should be taught throughout grammar and high school. Winnings should be tax free. Slots should be outlawed; for morons; unworthy of a supposedly civilized country. Apart from this the industry needs to market itself as a challenging intellectual pursuit. Getting in bed w/the slot machine industry is dumb.

30 Apr 2010 3:13 PM
skipaway2000

@ Del Mar Marty: UA Race Track Industry Program grads run Sunland Park, whose handle was up 5% this season.

30 Apr 2010 3:24 PM
seb

Missing the comprehensible thinking again, at least as far as this sport and regulation go. So long as racing's lifeblood is gambling, it will always, ultimately, need to deal with government. Legal gambling by individuals will always be a regulated activity--when done by banks, evidently this is a different matter.

Why would a revolt against government, a la the Tea Party, be working for the industry again?

We have in racing someone who stands up and says 'all this is ridiculous and I want it changed'. His name is Jess Jackson.  If I'm remembering correctly, he also has almost no friends in the industry. Palin's appeal to Tea Partiers works because she appears to advocate for those who feel dispossessed from America, and yet feel they should possess it. Racing is exactly the opposite, there are all to many people who feel they are in the driver's seat and are happy to tell everyone that it's their way or Doom.

Could racing flourish if its various stakeholders were open to conciliation and coalition-building in a serious rather than superficial NTRA manner. There are lots of rich people here. In my life I've observed that riches tend to make people pretty certain of themselves. Here's an idea, about as serious as yours, Mr. LaMarra, why not just reduce the number of rich people? Yeah, I'm sure that'll work.

30 Apr 2010 5:25 PM
Nancy

The only way anything in racing will change is when the 'gentry' and their means of a lucrative livelihood disappears - i.e. - breeding fees and high prices for the very well bred thoroughbred by foreigners drops off significantly. Foreigners are buying off the most blue-blooded TBs for racing and eventual breeding by themselves. The quality of the TB here will continue to drop, as we have seen it happening before our very eyes for quite a while now. When that happens they, the foreigners, won't need US horses any more, because they have bought the speed genes that they will mate to their classic horses.

There will never be a central directing body for racing, because the entrenched powers of racing and breeding want to maintain their status quo. I have been reading "Letters" in the Blood-Horse for five years. Some written by long-time racing fans, lovers of the horse, bettors and non-bettors, some by very fine owners and breeders who are concerned about the state of the horse and racing - solid horsemen/horsewomen - who present what seems to me good solid advice, or thinking out of the box to ameliorate the situation racing has been facing for quite a few decades.

We have read columns by B-H writers who know the game inside out.  Their ideas and thoughts unfortunately are never given any credence by the racing 'powers' - they are blind to any sound suggestion submitted.

So, we can sit here and debate and expound all we want as to the reasons why racing is in trouble, and how to fix it, but folks it 'ain't' going to change.

Just pray for the horses who put their lives and the jockeys lives on line every time they run!

30 Apr 2010 11:29 PM
Renee Mancino

Fanki, PTP, and DelMar Marty, pretty much everyone--right on with your comments.  

From my current geographical location I frequent the Southern California thoroughbred circuit. They have no slots at CA tracks AND they have somewhat of a patchwork of simulcasting laws that result in a fractured ability to take whole cards from other tracks both in state and out-of-state. So in reality you have the product in front of you when you are in attendance.

And frequently at Santa Anita and Del Mar, they have packed houses. Both tracks are progressive and make the race meet an "event", tie it into other promotions, and bring in a "county fair" type of atmosphere. I see families picnicking in the infield, those in attendance are typically younger in age than at other east-coast tracks, and everyone is having fun. This is the kind of thing I have seen at AC/Monmouth and Saratoga, but few others on the east coast.

The fan base can be increased with a little ingenuity and work.

Slots/gaming are not saviors and the industry cannot rest on its perceived laurels. Someone within the industry needs to be progressive enough to start looking outside the industry for innovation and a think outside the box mentality. There are a few racetracks doing this, mainly in non-slots states and some provinces in Canada, but they are few and far between.

I am not a fan of more regulation. I am not a fan of "big brother" breathing over anyone's shoulder. However, we need unity to accomplish what would be necessary. We will remain fractured and powerless as separate racing interests be it Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, or Standardbred. We will only find strength in numbers as an EQUINE INDUSTRY and in my opinion that will entail inclusion of all racing factions and equine disciplines.  

As correctly pointed out the "good 'ole boy" appointments in racing commissions and other appointed positions with "friends" of governor(s) that know nothing about racing and legislators that promise then don't follow-through need to be reversed. But that won't happen, it is longstanding and deeply engrained in each state’s governing power, so this system needs to be trumped by a power greater than them at the State level.  

From my perspective a National Compact is the way to go. Quasi-federal power but not really completely federally based. As long as it is staffed with those that have a deep knowledge of all racing disciplines and no personal agenda other than the survival of equine disciplines of all shapes and sizes. It is the least-restrictive mechanism I can see as available to effectuate the kind of nationwide change and unity that would be a necessary first-step to change. Whatever is implemented needs to have teeth to succeed and bring the cohesiveness that is necessary.

There is no doubt in my mind that racing can return to the glory days gone by and stand on its own without the need for a subsidy. And racing better figure out how before that subsidy is gone.

01 May 2010 11:30 AM
racefan

Having worked in the racing industry I get that racing needs to make money. However, overlooking the huge market that is interested in the horses is a mistake. Even finding the races live is tough! For those without a tv - scratch that - cable or satellite - that don't drop $100+ bets there's just no room in racing for them! I tried signing up on 2 sites said to be showing the Derby - the first one among the first questions (even before how much) was my social security # - I'm not giving that out! Go to the other site - nothing there either. Our biggest races and it's too difficult to find them to even watch. We wonder why racing is having problems - the same problems - maybe it's time to try some new things. Maybe the fans have been here all along - we're just being ignored.

01 May 2010 3:15 PM
Bill

Moodygirl. Racetracks make a SMALL part of their revenue on concessions.  

01 May 2010 7:57 PM
Ken

As a owner I disagree with alot that is being posted. Trainers fees are up feed is up hay is up and the price of good stock is threw the roof. The only way you are going to keep your existing owners and get new ones is with higher purses. Without owners footing the bill for everything in horse racing, it will surely dry up. Cut back racing days and limit purse money and there will be no need to go to the track because there won't be any races to watch. I dont bet enough to amount to anything but as I understand it the larger the fields the better the chance of hitting big at the ticket booth. Now how can this happen, your cheapier horses (the little man), if you dont keep the purse structure in line with the cost you will only have the elite in the racing business. Then what you have is a 5-7 race card with 4 to 5 entries per race doesn't sound like smart buisness to me. But, I'm a owner just scraping to break even if were lucky, like 85% of other owners, so it is very disturbing to hear race fans and handicappers alike talk about the industry not needing to take better care of the owners via better purses.

02 May 2010 9:40 AM
Aleine

I message for tvnewsbadge: Colonial Downs' location-ever hear of cheap real estate? Also, the track is centrally located in the middle of Richmond/Williamsburg area and VA Beach. That's probably where I would buy cheap land too. Although it would be great to see a hotel there as I have suggested to C.D. in the past.

As far as gamblers versus families in the stands...the first time I threw a fit or whined so loudly as a little tyke with my Dad holding onto my hand would've been my last trip to the track with him as a child. Haven't you ever been hit upside the face by some brat kid waving around a half-eaten popsicle or watched in horror as some casual track visitor (male) with an ego as big as his car forgot to turn his cell phone to vibrate and the ring tone on his phone made a horse flip on his back in the paddock??! Well I have had all that happen.

Forget the face-painting booths and the moonbounces. The clueless families do NOT need to be in my way as I stand at the rail at my local track. I'm sorry, am I not a taxpayer in VA? Have I not logged many hours at that track? As far as race dates at Colonial, we share the jockeys with the Maryland Jockey Club so C.D. races when Laurel and Pimlico can spare the jockeys.

The "owners" of Colonial Downs? Aren't they the ones claiming bankruptcy in recent history?? Aren't they placing the track up for sale? (Won't they unload it in a hot second for a lucrative deal?)

As far as horse racing in Virginia, I wish my Dad could be alive today to visit C.D. with me, but he would be shocked to see the idiots out their trying to appease unruly children, the kids who are making too much noise for the real fans to hear what the announcer is saying. The ones who block MY view.

If C.D. closes, I can get to Laurel and Pimlico in no time. Maybe there are real race fans there. Sure I like to see novices getting drunk at the track (their real agenda) and spending the wad, but when they get in MY way, they've crossed the line. Maybe C.D. will open the track up for a collective ownership of the track. I'll throw in a few bucks.

02 May 2010 12:25 PM
Aleine

To Grey K and Lady Slew....Um...ladies' day at the NASCAR track?? Sorry, not a fan of NASCAR so why would I darken their doorway? Hmmmm....auto racing MUST have been around when I was a kid and somehow I wasn't "won over"  by a bunch or pseudo-athletes getting in cars and using up the country's supply of petroleum distillate/ racing fuel.

So...the kids at the track...you see there IS a difference. Teaching a kid to appreciate the beauty, strength and athleticism of an equine athlete who is at his peak, and teaching them "numbers" or whatever, no contest. There must be a board game for that. Either they can appreciate the horses or they cannot.

Sounds like a breeding issue (a.k.a. good genes vs bad genes). If my 2 kids aren't willing to go to the track and keep eyes front, then their hineys STAY HOME. I will NOT permit my kid to distract people who honestly want to BE AT THE TRACK. As far a bored Moms at the track....hmmm...can they put down their mixed drinks (the reason they don't see the unruly kids) and stop asking their husbands who's on first? Bored Moms at the track? Great, again, eyes front!

Don't wander around bleary eyed and try to convince ME you know what's happening with the race. I an a nurse and have volunteered my time at the track to help with safety and first aid. Do you know how many drunken "fans" (including bored Moms) I have helped scrape off the landscape at C.D.?

Message to kids: eyes front, shut up, turn off your music source, put away your Nintendo game,l eave your skateboard at home and LEARN SOMETHING! Watch that equine athlete do his/her thing as it was meant to be.You can't see much beauty in a testosterone-based "sport" like NASCAR. They just run their little cars around in the oval 'til someone waves a flag.

Gee...and it seems the monied car racing teams win. Imagine that..a superior engine (hence more $$ into the engine) wins the race. Easy math for bettors there.

02 May 2010 12:57 PM
David M

Aleine is right on the money with regard to Colonial Downs. But the big reason that this track, which is a jewel, is that the Charlottesville/Richmond horsey set won the day when VRC was deciding where to locate the track. Now we're stuck with the darn thing in New Kent County, a long way from anywhere and a murderous weekend drive up I-64 from Norfolk/Virginia Beach. Virginia Beach offered an awesome site close to beaches where the tourists could have been enticed to at least visit once during a week's stay. But no, we're slogging up I-64 for my annual Father's Day and VA Derby day visits. And that's the only days we go anymore--traffic is just too painful.

02 May 2010 5:27 PM
Michelle

I recently drove 7 hours to Oaklawn just to see Zenyatta. I met numerous people there who had driven or flown hundreds of miles just to see Zenyatta. It had nothing to do with betting and nothing to do with family activities--Zenyatta is a star.

The sport needs more stars and tracks should do more to draw the stars of racing. My sister-in-law and I spent the early part of the week in Louisville just to watch the morning workouts of the Derby horses. Again, nothing to do with betting. What drives me is a pure and simple love of the horse.

I travel to Kentucky every chance I get and hope to go to Santa Anita, Del Mar, Saratoga, Gulfstream etc before I die. I just hope the tracks survive and are still there to visit. It is not all about gambling.  

02 May 2010 5:37 PM
SJ TRIPPER As

It's hard to promote horse racing when so many things are suspect. Heavily bet favorites standing still, jockeys not really encouraging their mounts to run, and the list goes on. Ask yourself, why horse racing doesn't promote the jockeys like NASCAR promotes their drivers.

If the horse racing industry had a clue they would put a product on Friday night on Channel 12 and you could get your bet on at the supermarket or online. Look, the networks are showing people snorting or eating bugs. Horse racing is a little bit better than that.

As far as Kentucky goes I wish they would get slots so they could still go downhill with no excuse. Turfway Park is Kentucky's main problem. If you've bet that track you know what I mean.

The lady who brought up Colonial Downs makes a good point but the fact that we have a track in Virginia at all is a miracle. It only runs two months a year in the hottest part of the year so as we don't disturb the great racing product in Maryland.

Here's the bottom line. Horse racing wants to remain in the shadows because that's where it belongs.      

02 May 2010 9:27 PM
joeV

TOM,

Amen....Allejuhah!!!!!!!

03 May 2010 8:13 AM
wayne HOWARD

WELL derby day, another sham for the public, keeneland drive thru betting--what rubbish if you wanted to wait 2 hours-plus in your car to make a bet. no police controlling lights. oh well, just lost many more patrons who have a interest.

As long as the sales commission keeps coming in, who cares about the fans? TV coverage A SHAM, where's the passion, to watch a race from a blimp hundreds of feet above, ah, its just the derby, we want people to see the mud flying, hoofs slapping, nostrils blowing. any new public who decided to watch this would not be impressed. After super saver crossed the line the camera goes straight to the guy with the big bet--yes cool story, but gos,h let's watch the race.

well done all, great sham. I am sure you all helped the industry attract new fans.

lol.

03 May 2010 9:30 AM
Aleine

To SJ Tripper: There used to be a tv show on for 1 hour on one of the cable channels...It was the now defunct RichTV. It was a Thursday night broadcast beginning at 9 pm featuring "Derby Bill" and other staff at Colonial Downs. It was a call-in show which was an excellent way to let the staff at CD hear from the fans. I never missed it; it gave great insight to upcoming races as well as some history, mostly recent history about national horse races. It's true that Colonial Downs races in the hot summer and one summer a Nick Zito horse was scratched from the VA Derby line-up to "go up to Saratoga early."  Yeah...the fans knew.....Nick Zito didn't want that superstar horse to get overworked in the hot VA sun in the middle of July. So...with fans knowing that...it was a ho hum VA Derby as other fans and I chatted about the disappointment of not seeing a KY Derby racehorse run at Colonial. I remember the day Pat Day ran at Colonial Downs with Senor Swinger. That horse was the odds-on favorite that day and came in 4th, but hey, the superstar horse packed the house. It was amazing. Thrilled to see Kitten's Joy and Artie Schiller at Colonial as well. The turf course is an outstanding surface.

03 May 2010 11:37 AM
ray c trac

Tom, well said. Aleine, you hit the nail on the head. Weiner dog races?! Stupid gimmicks to get people to the track that don't bet?! We may as well go back to giving away umbrellas.

03 May 2010 12:58 PM
johnnyk

As a bettor for 30 years and an owner for 20+, this has long been my and most other small horsemen's lament. The people who run racing are an incestuous and recycled group. The backward groupthink they display is astounding. The "efforts" to market the sport--member "Go Baby Go"?--are lame. It finally hit me again watching the Derby. What other sport during the coverage of its hallmark event, spends most of the coverage on the B-list celebrities attending? It was sad and pathetic. Evidently TV and racings promoters have decided that the horses and handicapping are not nearly interesting enough to focus on. I won't even get into Bravo's coverage of Oaks day except to note that the hosts had never ever seen a single horse race before. ESPN  to it's credit tries to make handicapping of interest to newcomers, but having Hank Goldberg do it is like featuring Bernie Madoff giving investment advice. I'm discouraged.  

03 May 2010 3:06 PM
NJTrotter

Ever notice every time there's committee or conference on racing, who's sitting on that committee? The same ol', same ol' good ol' boys who have gotten us into this so-called mess in the first place. It's the bigshot breeders, the bigshot stable owners, the bigshot track operators. Are these guys ever in the grandstand making a two dollar wager? We all know the answer is NO!  

Has anyone out there ever had the pleasure of attending the races at Aqueduct? Big, ugly, empty Aqueduct. And the corrupt NY State government had the audacity to grant NYRA the franchise rights! Who do you think turned Aqueduct into this ugly, faceless empty relic? It was NYRA--so let's reward them with the franchise!

As to family days at the track, you can keep 'em. When I was 10 years old I went to races with my uncle who schooled me on reading the Form. I didn't go to get my face painted or wear some ridiculous balloon on my head. I was there to learn and respect the sport and the equine athlete. What's worse than a give-a-way day at Saratoga?  

03 May 2010 4:00 PM
Kevin A. Burke

Kentucky Derby winning Jockeys Jorge Velasquez and Ron Franklin were denied tickets to this years Derby. They were not looking for free tickets, they wished to "buy" tickets for themselves and one guest each.

This sorry, disturbing story is in Bill Chritine's Column "Race Horse Insider." I read it, re-read it, and then found myself reading it again. I came across the story off a link on the Paulick Report.

Everyone should read this column.

I am dumbfounded. If this does not reveal the corporate suits as the self-serving, greedy, uncaring, poor excuses for human beings that they are, then I don't know what would. This uncaring, thoughtless act by the powers that be involved in the decision process of the Kentucky Derby was unconscionable and uncalled for. It shows them for what they truly are--greedy bean counters without knowledge or respect for thoroughbred racing and those who are part of it's history.

These two great jockeys from racing' past were treated in an arrogant and petty manner. What chance has a historical building, or a tradition, in surviving their gluttonous, insatiable appetite? I fear none whatsoever.

This act must be condemned by all, and condemned forcefully with words. Via phone complaints, letters, in blog columns, and (would this not be nice) in the editorial pages of thoroughbred racing publications.

I am angry for what was done to this two men. Personally I am sad. These corporate suits stole the good feelings I had for this years Derby, and that too is not right.            

03 May 2010 6:19 PM
X-DRFMan

While I agree that something needs to be done, I don't care for the invocation of the Tea Party or Sarah Palin. This is not a partisan issue--it's about the survival of the sport.

I don't know what the answer is. I came from a family that knew racing and I learned to read the Form at an early age. The complaints I get from friends when I try to drag them to the track are that the action's too slow and the PPs are too complicated. I agree with the people who say there's too much of the whole face-painting, family days, diaper derby type of thing going on. Families with young kids don't have disposable income, so they're not coming back.

03 May 2010 7:42 PM
nmhiplains

Take the drugs off the track everything from growth hormones to Lasix---these trainers are a handicapper's worst nightmare.

Stand their horses up in their stalls two days a week--one bullet work a week and less than ten miles of galloping a week and tell you they are conditioning racehorses.

Ask a trainer if he knows an exercise rider who would put some more miles (one more clubhouse turn than the usually two) two works a week and use a weight tape on your horse for a percent of the horse and watch him fall all over himself--he'll call in a few days informing you your horse has bowed a tendon.

This is a treadmill; burn two and three year olds up so they can start next year with a new more FASHIONABLE, more EXPENSIVE crop of youngsters!!!!

Good thing they're not training calvary remounts or we would have loss the Indian wars.

BREAKDOWNS: Blame it on the breeders, the bloodlines, the track surface--anything except the fact that there are too many race days, too many race cards to fill, too much offshore betting.

There are not enough exercise riders on the backside to condition these horses like the old trainers of 1930-1960.(Preston Burch, Max Hirsh, etc.)

Change the purse structure from the usual 60/20/10 to a 45/25/15/10---make it more a business where the small owner with fewer than ten horses can afford to break in. Forget tradition and the old elitist attitude encourage ownership of racehorses.

How about some stakes open to only geldings with more than 30 starts. A return to the glory days of FOREGO, JOHN HENRY and KELSO. This would discourage every two and three year old colt that cannot run from being stood at stud.

03 May 2010 9:13 PM
Bob

Look all of you "I love racing but I don't bet" people posting on this blog I have advice for you.......go find another sport! Without betting there is no racing. Those great big buildings that you love to go to watch the horses run would not exist if it weren't for betting. Will you people please get in touch with reality!!!!!

04 May 2010 1:50 AM
Bellwether

HUMANS WILL B GONE LONG BEFORE THE HORSE...PLEASE...SIXTY MILLION YEARS ON THIS EARTH...HUMANS NEED HELP...

04 May 2010 4:08 AM
JerseyTom

For the record: Tea Party doesn't have to have partisan implications. It's an idea, a concept on bringing about change. ... and for those of you that don't care for politics, hate to tell you that your industry is unbelievably political--and that's a big part of its problem.

04 May 2010 8:35 AM
Michael F.

A lot of food for thought here. I don't object to families at the track--kids naturally love horses and that 7-year-old might just turn out to be an Eclipse-award-winning jockey fifteen years later, or, at the very least, a fan for life. (My parents started taking me to the track when I was 10.)  

We have to get rid of the drugs and boot the cheaters. The rest of the world bans raceday medication, period. In fact, Germany forbids any Thoroughbred from being bred in Germany if that horse ever ran on raceday medication anywhere, even once! Those drugs have weakened the breed drastically and serve no useful purpose.

It might be desirable to cut racing days somewhat, but it would not be really necessary if horses ran as frequently as they did in the old days. In the old days, it was common for horses to run back after two weeks or so, sometimes much sooner than that. Do the math--if you have horses racing at two-week intervals on average, you can fill nine-race cards five days a week with about 1,350 horses at the track. The rest of the world often races horses on far shorter rest than has become the norm in the United States.

Last year, in November 2009, they had the Melbourne Cup at Flemington, a two-mile handicap worth something like $5 million, with a crowd of about 150,000 screaming Aussies in attendance. The winner, a horse called Shocking, had just raced and won three days before in a 1 5/8-mile Grade 3 handicap; that's 3 5/8 miles of racing in 4 days! With the exception of one race with a field of 10, nearly all the fields on that huge day were 16 horses or more; the Melbourne Cup had 22 horses.

Along the same lines, fans love distance racing. Why not more races at 1 1/4, 1 3/8, 1 1/2 miles, or longer? We need those races to preserve stamina in the breed.

Another thing we need to get rid of or at least cut down drastically is the overproliferation of state-bred races. Why give stakes-level money to horses who couldn't win an open $40,000 claimer? A couple of years ago, on another racing site, I proposed that the Graded Stakes Committee bar awarding a grade to any stakes run at a race meeting at which any state-bred stakes race worth more than $50,000 is contested. I got jumped on big-time, but look at New York racing to see what has happened with excessive running of lousy state-bred races.

This is a purely American phenomenon; there are no races in England for horses bred in Yorkshire or Buckinghamshire.

All the racing establishment has to do is listen to the fans. When something is worth watching, like the Derby (even with that generally subpar field), the fans will turn out.

04 May 2010 9:39 PM
Katie

Look all of you "I love racing but I don't bet" people posting on this blog I have advice for you.......go find another sport! Without betting there is no racing. Those great big buildings that you love to go to watch the horses run would not exist if it weren't for betting. Will you people please get in touch with reality!!!!!

Wow, what hostility. This is the attitude that really frustrates me with horse racing. I'm not a person who bets a lot, but I'm someone who really enjoys horse racing and who has (in the last 2 years) brought a bunch of others to the sport.

Last year, I brought several friends with me to the track who had never come before. The year before that, my father and I started making it a tradition. This year, we went to the Derby and brought my non-horse-fan brother--who has spent the last 2 months telling all his friends about his upcoming Derby trip (and in the last 3 days, his experience there). This year, I'll bring even more friends with me to the track.

Horse racing isn't about the betting to me. It's about the stories and watching some incredible horses compete. Sure, I bet sometimes, but that's not the main draw for me.

Betting might be YOUR focus--but when you act all self-righteous about bettors being the most important contributers to the sport--you alienate those of us who love the sport and who contribute in other ways.

Remember, there are a lot of ways to gamble and bet in this internet age. Gamblers have choices about where to go, and the racetrack isn't always their destination of choice. That is reality too, btw.

Horse racing lovers are attracted to the horse racetracks only, regardless of whether they bet or not. And it's even better when they bring their friends and expose others to the sport. Not all of them bet, but there will be more bets as more people learn to love the sport. Plus more money from admission to the track, and concessions, and word of mouth buzz (which is valuable as well)!

Both groups are important. So please respect those of us who love the horses. And especially respect people like my dad, who bet their small $2/win bets based on which horse they think looks the prettiest in the paddock--they're contributing to the sport as well and don't deserve to be disparaged by the "real horse racing supporters."

If you want horse racing to succeed, the sport has to be approachable, not condescending and elitist.

05 May 2010 1:18 AM
Bellwether

SIT TIGHT...T-BRED RACING & THE BREEDING OF IN VA ABOUT TO CHANGE BIG TIME!!!...ty...

05 May 2010 3:55 AM
Bob Bright

Sir, You don't solve problems by committee. Horse Racing needs leadership like any other viable sport. The breeding industry, which should be a byproduct of healthy horse racing, is dictating pace. Racing, breeding, track management and training should be separate endeavors but under the current SOP, all are co-mingled. Racing thrived when people were breeding racehorses not high-dollar show ponies who race sometimes. Racing hierarchy is oblivious to what the public wants.We want Willie Mays, Joe Montana, MJ and Seabiscuit. If Super Saver races past his 3 year old season it will be an anomaly.

05 May 2010 10:50 AM
Jeff A

Tom...What racing needs to do more than anything is carefully consider the customer before any decisions are made.

Consider these recent examples of horrible mistakes made by racing that absolutely showed no regard for the customer (aka the bettors):

On Lane's End Stakes Day, Turfway Park absolutely robs its fan base by charging $5 for a program with past performances for Turfway Park races. Don't think you can get around the cost by buying a Racing Form--Turfway is conventiently left out.

At Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day, a friend was standing in line to place a bet when a mutuel clerk announced that the line would be cut off and not everyone waiting to bet would be able to make a wager. The reason? The mutuel clerks had to go on break.

Can you think of worse possible customer service? And this was on Derby Day!

Speaking of Derby Day, who was the genius that decided there should not be a 10 cent superfecta offered on either the Derby or the Oaks? Probably the same rockhead who closed the mutuel window, sending bettors away in an absolute rage.

Those are only three of the more recent examples I can give of how decisions were made by tracks with absolutely no regard to the fans in mind. Hello, racing. Do you remember who pays the bills?  

I've read story after story about how tracks need help and are in danger of closing. You can bet each time I see one of these stories in the future (AKA Turfway Park), I'm going to wonder what is being done to make sure the fans still at those tracks are at least treated fairly.

05 May 2010 11:04 AM
ponychick

Lady Slew - my years in the industry have been spent on the backstretch - working with the horses. It would be naive of anyone to think that frontside and exec-office nabobs pay attention to the folks who actually work with the 'product.'  

Shockingly - it paid my way through college - which gave me a view through both sides of the looking glass if you will.  

I continue to support my favorite sport - by betting, taking friends to the races as much as I can, and yes - taking retired horses and re-training them for new careers.  

All of which is off topic - but when questioned about my bona fides - I'm happy to provide them.

05 May 2010 5:40 PM
Carol

Response to Aleine,

Without mothers and their children attending the racetracks how will future generations be exposed to horseracing? It's probably part of the problem now, many people still do not know and understand about horseracing. They have never been to the track as children.

Face painting, pony rides, etc. are all important to help these families enjoy the day. Is it really so difficult to answer the mother's question as to the winner of the race? It's a shame you feel they get in your way but one day you will be too old to go to the track and hopefully the new generation will take your place.

07 May 2010 7:09 AM
Carol

To Tom,

Do you actually read all these blogs?

07 May 2010 7:10 AM
Aleine

Well put Bob...ya come to the races, be prepared to bet. Do you think the track can survive if the majority of fans show up and pay for their $2 ticket (not exactly enough for a cover charge). Leave the kiddies and brain-deads at home and come to the track to get down to business. There ARE horse shows around for those who like to admire horses...in fact...zoos and other such animal parks offer a variety of horse breeds to admire. You just have to know where to look. But please get that kiddie off Daddy's shoulders at the rail so I can see the horses' post parade. There IS a reason for the post parade. Get a sitter, people. I saw Clydesdales of all ages at Grant's farm in St. Louis and of course there's the KY Horse Park in Lexington.

08 May 2010 2:54 AM
Bellwether

Bellwether4u.com...LOOK IT UP...WE R WAY AHEAD OF THIS CURVE BABY!!!...ty...

10 May 2010 7:35 AM
Aleine

To Carol:  About your "important" things to "help a family enjoy the day." It's a racetrack, not Chuck-E-Cheese.  Save the racetrack gimmicks for Churchill Downs' race week. Now THERE is where the action is. Last time I was at Churchill....not a face-painter in sight. If anyone offered to paint my kid's face...I'll paint THEIR's!

Eyes front...focus on the horses and wager or leave.

10 May 2010 11:13 AM
JerseyTom

From the peanut gallery: Any and all are welcome at a racetrack. To say families with young children should stay away is a sure means to future failure. C'mon.

10 May 2010 11:19 AM
Superfecta

I began going to the track with my father as a small child - I certainly would not be a racing blogger today without that start. I bring my own son to the track now, and I welcome the moon bounce, pony rides, etc. - offering family activities between races hardly prevents me from betting, and it's frankly offensive to suggest that my gender and parenthood somehow negate my involvement in the sport. Baseball does not expect children to become 'good fans' by ignoring them - any decent stadium now provides reasonably good ballpark food and beer for the parents, as well as kids' activities - and that's how they create lifelong fans. It's hard enough finding a drinkable beer and clean bathrooms at your average racetrack - offering a minimum of incentives to bring the kids is really the least they can do. Just because I don't like being surrounded by elderly smokers does not mean I think they should be barred from the track - by the same token, the next generation should be welcomed.

Racing's issues extend well beyond this point, but to want to exclude the only (literally) growing part of your audience is risible - and to assume that 'families with small children have no disposable income' is foolish - we're probably the best-educated, highest-earning segment of the racing public; we just didn't necessarily inherit wealth as many in the racing establishment did. If you want us to come, dispense with the conservative politics and cater to more than one audience.

10 May 2010 4:41 PM
Aleine

To Superfecta and Tlamarra--- apparently I am in the minority and also misquoted. I DO bring my kids (not small, my 10 year old is 140 lbs and can beat up your 12th grader) to the track as he is a horse and animal lover. However, save the moon bouncey thing for Chuck -E- Cheese, you know the place, where kids go to have fun and get sick the next day. (Did they ever hear of hand sanitizer?) How come I'm a lifelong horse race fan of nearly 50 without all the moon bouncey inflatables and no face painters back in the day?

I don't mind any kid at the track who is willing to keep his/her mouth shut and eyes front. I was interested as a child to see what captivated my Dad at a horse track. I used to think there must be something to this if my Dad would tune in to horse races (pre-cable t.v. days) and go to the track when he could. So that sparked my interest. Imagine that...a child having real intellectual prowess and not flashing back to a picnic on the infield or a face painting experience at the track.

When I was coming up,...any disruption to "business" at the track meant I would've been asked to leave...but I guess we've all gone down the toilet of political correctness now. Horse racing is a business and it is fan based due to the business of wagers. I don't see much grey area there. One has to be 18 years of age to wager. Gosh...I haven't seen a kiddie wagering machine at the track. Maybe the face painters won the bid and agreed to share the space with moon bounce vendors. Why are we having THIS conversation?  Like alcohol, voting and taxes, let's include a day at the races right up there with adult stuff and get down to business. Although I think my pit bull could outrun some of the local horses at Colonial Downs. Do ya want me to bring him along sometime?

12 May 2010 10:37 AM

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