(Originally published in the May 26, 2012 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
Daniel Fuchs is a former Montana legislator and managing partner of Magic City Thoroughbreds.
By Daniel Fuchs
My memory of standing on concrete stairs at the Billings, Mont., fairgrounds watching the post parade with the sun on my face is still clear even after 40 years. I recall staring in awe at the beautiful athletic Thoroughbreds prancing by, and while I really didn’t fully realize what the Kentucky Derby was at the time, I dreamed of winning it one day. My hometown’s fairgrounds was called Yellowstone Exhibition back then and is most recently known as Yellowstone Downs. Last year may have been the final year for live horse races in Montana. You see, our legislature dropped the ball.
Hopefully, it is not too late for Kentucky. As a former legislator, regional director of government affairs, and now managing member of Magic City Thoroughbred Partners, I am offering the Bluegrass a perspective based on experience, and I hope my thoughts are received in the positive spirit with which they are intended. I was raised around horses and have owned, bred, raced, and trained them. Private Verdict was the first Thoroughbred I bought back in 1988.
In 2011 my partners and I purchased, and have been pleased with, a pair of 2-year-olds bought out of the Keeneland April sale. For various reasons, including the uncertainty facing Kentucky, we chose to pass this year. I’ve been following the legislative endeavors to provide a level playing field for Kentucky horsemen regarding purses, and I have asked many questions. During my several trips to the Bluegrass, I have talked to everyone and anyone who would listen or had an opinion on the issue. There are many.
Like many other critical, important legislative issues, however, the proposals to help racing have become political footballs, falling victim to tomfoolery and partisan paybacks. But the time has run out for pointing fingers and placing blame: Kentucky needs a game-changer, someone who doesn’t care who gets the credit. Kentucky’s equine economy is at stake. My old Kentucky home is under assault.
Everything is in place for the constitutional amendment to pass, but horsemen now must take the lead. They must push for an amendment that is narrow, clear, and concise; one authorizing the legislature to statutorily provide for purse enhancement from slot machine revenues. Forget about the racetracks and trying to bring everyone on board to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” While the racetracks may have the most to gain, it is the horse people and the taxpayers in general that have the most to lose because of inaction. The racetracks will get on board.
As a successful government relations manager, I learned how to focus on the driver. When you peel the onion back, we all know racetracks don’t drive racing. Purses do. Horsemen run for the money. The big farms and big breeders need to think big coalition and broad consensus. While your instincts, following the latest setback, may say run, it is time to put your money down and take the bit. It’s time to act corporate with a fresh campaign. A new CEO who will concentrate on shareholders first may be needed. If the horsemen do not do this, no one else will or can.
To the racetrack and casino interests I say stand by your horsemen. One hundred percent of nothing is nothing, and that is exactly what you will get if you don’t support them.
To the downtown hotel interests I suggest hosting and taking the lead on preparing the legislation that can be passed immediately after the constitutional amendment. I have seen this done by other groups. Begin the meetings immediately. It can be crafted to allow Churchill Downs to proceed with its grand plans while providing revenue sharing and protection for local downtown interests. Everybody gives a little, and Kentucky wins. Who is it going to be? Who in the Kentucky legislature will be the game-changers? I am confident they will emerge, and the equine economy in Kentucky not only will survive but in just a few short years be thriving like never before.