If there is anyone who has worried about the health of our industry more than I have the past 20 years, I feel sorry for that person. Always, it seems, there is bad news: declining attendance, declining handle, offshore wagering issues, drug positives, reduced field size, aging fan base, high-profile breakdowns, diminished soundness of the breed.
Have I missed a few issues? I’m guessing I have. Here’s a feel-good story that maybe offers a sign of hope and cause for optimism.
I recently attended and completed the first year of a three-year program at the Harvard Business School. I am a member of OPM 39. Comprised of 160 businessmen and women from around the world, it was an impressive gathering of successful and astute people attending a rigorous and equally impressive program.
Following the first week of classes, some intense studying, and strong bonding with my fellow participants, I was destined to spend Preakness day amid my newfound friends in academia. Since our arrival at Harvard, I was often greeted upon introduction as, “Oh yeah, you’re the guy in the horse business.” Or, “you do what for a living?” And upon learning that a horse I was connected with was running in the second leg of the Triple Crown, my new friends were mistakenly convinced they were with someone special.
So at the conclusion of classes that morning, my seven hall mates from my “living group” (the group of people you spend a great deal of time with) trucked off to the Harvard Club, past performances in hand and my TVG account loaded.
After a few beers to get us into the mood, we did some serious whooping and hollering when we cashed the trifecta and more importantly watched my clients’ horse, Icabad Crane (Gallagher’s Stud the breeder and Earle Mack the owner), run a good third in the Preakness. Amid the excitement and post-race revelries, my clients’ horse quickly became my horse, his horse, and our horse as we exited the club.
That Monday morning, as I entered our meeting to prepare for the day’s classes, I was greeted with the announcement, “We want you to get us in the horse business.” My mates now want to own a racehorse and have some of the fun and excitement for themselves. Despite my attempts to convince them a horse would quickly separate them, the new fools, from their money, they were not to be discouraged. So after some unsuccessful attempts to throw cold water on their scheme, I relented. Word soon spread, and then more new fools wanted to ante up and get in.
In spite of my misgivings, I figured what was there to lose but a few bucks among a group of people who could afford it? If I could expose them to the beauty and pageantry of the sport and the wonders of the horse as an athlete, who knows what would happen.
So now 22 of my new Harvard friends and I have formed OPM39 Racing Venture, where they will learn about the business, maybe catch the bug, and have some fun. Why people from India, Nigeria, Malaysia, Dubai, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada want to join a few of us from the States and own some racehorses that will race in the U.S. I haven’t quite figured out. Certainly it is not the attraction to make money, because it was presented to them that there was no chance of that. Is it the nostalgia, the chance to bond further, the dream of having a good one? I suppose maybe all of the above. My guess is that there is something about the horse and the intrigue of the sport that kindles the flame of their entrepreneurial spirit.
Where will it lead? I have no idea. But in my new role as their racing manager, I’ll teach them something about the horse, the business, and the industry that has done so much for me.
Am I still worried about the industry? You know I am.
Is there hope and a chance it can survive despite a myriad of problems? The eight Harvard guys who bounded out of the Harvard Club on that sunny Preakness day don’t care about its troubles. Their 14 classmates from around the world who joined them in racehorse ownership don’t know and don’t care. They’re in the game.
It isn’t dead yet from what I can tell.