100 Days

Patrick Patten - Handride

One hundred days.

That is the amount of time we give the President of the United States of America to do something useful. True, the President is elected for a period of four years or 1,460 days, has a budget of a couple of trillion dollars, and whose nickname is “leader of the free world,” but one hundred days, from January 20 until April 29, is all you get to do something memorable. And you wonder why they grey so quickly.

I bring this up, because we are at the hundred-day period in horseracing. Having the good luck to speak with NTRA CEO Alex Waldrop, SVP of Communications Keith Chamblin, Senior Director of Media Relations Eric Wing, and other members of the executive team at the NTRA, I get the feeling that they share the same idea: the NTRA is at a point where they can do something. After eight years of treading water and fits and starts with successes and not-so-successes the NTRA is having a run of success.  The NTRA can point to things such as the Horse PAC, which is leading the front on keeping the carve out for inter-state wagering, pushing ahead with reducing capital gains on wagering, and the Safety & Integrity Alliance, which hopes to reform many aspects of drug use and safety equipment across state lines with the support of many different sections of the community.   And, now after being at the Racing Symposium, I know many people want them to succeed.  They have, what the political pundits might call, a little mo’, maybe even a baby mandate:  People believe in the ideas, but more so in the ability of the group to accomplish them. 

There’s only one thing you do with a mandate of any kind: tackle as many issues at once, push everything to the limit. The momentum feeds on itself. One success builds on another until you either run out of energy or problems, and I doubt racing will run out of problems within three months.

That is the other reason a hundred-day period might be good for racing. Many feel there is just too much to solve and that inertia also feeds off itself. I find it frustrating because I know the people at the very top of this sport want change. I’ve seen it in their eyes, and I’ve heard it in their voices. Where this message gets lost is somewhere below.

Horseracing is a sport that merely survives, and some are quite happy with that status quo: There will always be gamblers, there will always be gamblers who enjoy horseracing, and that revenue is hard to lose.  I mean it appears, for all intents and purposes, we’ve tried!  I don’t think it’s a malevolent status-quo; it is just business with a short-term view.  These status-quo folks see a plan with an initial lay-out of investment as a bad idea with no need to look further.  They point to Gulfstream Park:  Why spend money on gamblers?  If we can’t be successful with VLT’s, beautiful weather, and a new plant there’s no hope. 

The fans of racing see right through this laziness argument.  However, we’re prone to fight this logic with even worse logic.  We can’t fight that business logic with stories of how horseracing is so ingrained in American history; Martha Washington riding her horse upstairs and to her bedroom. We can’t fight it with the emotion on peoples’ faces after they watch Seabiscuit. We can’t fight it with hearsay arguments from people who know little about supply and demand guessing at numbers that look right. There are no firm dollar signs attached to any of these arguments we’re so inclined to use.  We need arguments based upon solid economic truths.  We need those tracks currently taking risks to share their successes and failures.  We need our leaders to invest in more than just ideas, but people able to judge their effectiveness.  We need economic goals and ways to reach them.  We need 100 days to jump start our energy, convictions, and thought processes.

A hundred days, when should we start?  I can’t help but to answer my own question, so, right now.  But, I also don’t wish to fall in the trap of thinking I know the whole problem and can give an all encompassing solution.  The first thing I’d do is hire a moderator.  The next thing I’d do is count out 100 days and let a press release out saying that 100 days from now horse racing will be restructured for the 21st century, every stone will be turned, and solutions will be concrete.  Then I’d get to work.

Start with the easiest thing first.  The horse PAC and Safety & Integrity commission would keep on doing what they are doing, but I’d add the heightened sense of urgency, with specific goals and dates set sooner rather than later.  Goals would be set for breakdowns and non-catastrophic injuries at all tracks 2 years from now.  The carve-out is a touchy subject as it isn’t the most well supported legislation in the Congress, so the case to make that stronger would be a primary initiative. 

The current ADW mess is, just that, a mess, but is also opportune as it brings in most, if not all stakeholders, of the sport.  For the ADW problem I’d focus on the future rather than focus on today’s issues:  What structure, no matter the state rules, would be optimum?  This structure should include lower takeout, better structure for source origination, and a separation of rights between televising and wagering.  As stated, with everyone in the room there are some other things we could accomplish.  The tote companies would be there, so let’s talk about technology and making an interface anyone can use and customize.  These companies also need help figuring out their own revenue structure and being able to reinvest in technology.  I’d want to talk to the totes about past-posting, will pays, information security, and more importantly information format.  Who doesn’t want to know average expected will pays on every type of bet?  The ADW’s are also aligned with our TV distributors. I’d have a little pow-wow on production value.  What should a big day look like?  What can tracks do to make themselves look better on TV?  Speaking of, track ownership is there.  What incentives do you all need to cooperate on a sensible stakes calendar and a 2-3 hour show every Saturday?  Can we come together to create companies that will own a TV production company, maybe an LLC for marketing our Saturday show, or even an LLC for our signals?  Finally, if we’re a sport why can’t we have standings to bring in those new fans we’re always after, and give casual sports fans an easy way to understanding the stars we do have. 

Again though, I’d like to emphasize our need for a period in time where we flush out all the bad news, admit the mistakes, bad revenue, bad ideas, and bad attitude as yesterday’s problems and truly tackle today’s industry with new vigor and timeline.  I trust the people in place can do this, and want to do this; they just need 100 days where everyone pitches in to help. 

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