By Tim Capps
It is hard to pick up a publication or listen to a news or commentary show without hearing talk about sustainability, which in current vernacular is code for sustaining the environment. We are in the “green” era, when the people of the planet are seriously thinking about how to maintain the habitability of the planet for future generations, as well as our own.
In the American horse racing community, sustainability sounds more like survivability, where the “green” we are talking about is not greenspace but greenbacks. Specifically, where to find more of them in order to sustain the nation’s oldest spectator sport.
There is much ado about the meet at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, where the track operator, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the local Thoroughbred horsemen, and their breeder counterparts agreed after a lengthy debate to slash race dates in half (71 days from 141), which would lead to large purses and, hopefully, bigger fields, higher attendance, and increased pari-mutuel handle.
One can only applaud the efforts of Monmouth general manager Bob Kulina, trainer John Forbes, New Jersey Racing Commission chairman Dennis Drazin, and others for leading the difficult charge to make this happen. However, we’re confident each of them would tell you it wasn’t done out of a sudden flash of inspiration but from a recognition that not changing meant further decay and eventual collapse of racing in the state.
Crisis forces gut-check reality and a divergence of opinion that can lead to denial, then paralysis, and finally action that is either “too little too late” or game-changing in a positive and uplifting manner.
A steady decline in race days started during a time when other industry aggregate numbers (handle and purses) were on the increase. In recent years, both handle and purses have declined. There is a price to pay when an industry is going through great change that is marked by consolidation, including job loss and survival of the fittest or luckiest.
Ben Franklin once remarked that New Jersey was “a valley of modesty between two mountains of conceit (New York and Philadelphia).” It looks to us as if that valley has developed a blueprint America’s racing industry needs to embrace.
Tim Capps is executive-in-residence at the University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program.