Voice of Concern - by Dan Liebman

They say actions speak louder than words. The public is taking action by wagering less on horse racing. And those actions are speaking loudly.

Data released for the third quarter of 2008 reveals that handle in the United States and Canada dropped sharply, 9.85%, during July, August, and September, and for the calendar year, is off 5.75% compared with 2007.

During the three-month period, total wagering was $3,489,171,872, compared to $3,870,348,046 during the third quarter of 2007. For the first nine months of the year, patrons wagered $10,754,907,211 on races in North America, down from $11,411,642,388 during the first three-quarters of last year.

Officials are quick to blame the economy, and why not? Global financial markets are in turmoil, while closer to home, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted during the week of Oct. 6.

As Bob Evans, president of Churchill Downs Inc., pointed out, gambling involves discretionary income. People have to buy gas and groceries, but they do not have to wager on horse racing.

“People don’t have to go to the track,” Evans said.

True, but is it that people don’t “have” to go, or that fewer people “want” to go?

Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, indicated more than the economy is at work.

“Our industry’s difficult year continued during the summer as a harsh economy and other factors continued to negatively impact business,” Waldrop said.

Consider that the third quarter comes after the Triple Crown, which this year featured a Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) in which the winner, Big Brown, was admittedly on steroids and the second-place finisher, Eight Belles, tragically broke down and was euthanized.

Make no mistake, the struggling economy is a big factor, but our customers have told us they are wagering less, or not at all, because of such issues as the use of medications, wagering integrity, and safety concerns.

So it is the perfect storm for the fourth quarter of the year. First, people are upset with us as an industry. Second, they have watched Congress deal with a bailout package for Wall Street, seen the Dow Jones Industrial Average shrink 2,000 points in a week’s time, and are nervously and anxiously awaiting the outcome of a history-making presidential election.

The industry can work together to alleviate the public’s concerns over a myriad of issues, but dealing with a battered economy is much more difficult to address. All the promotions a racetrack’s marketing minds can come up with will not work when people are worried about the cost of living and the wild daily market fluctuations that determine their retirement funds.

A sign of the times is occurring now at Keeneland, the premier meeting of the North American racing calendar in the fourth quarter of the year. If any track was immune to the economy, one would have guessed it was Keeneland. One would have been wrong.

A local television weatherman said the weather in Central Kentucky Oct. 4-6 was the best it had been for an opening weekend of the Keeneland fall meeting in 30 years. So, when Saturday’s attendance dropped from 24,480 to 19,535, it was evident the economy and “other factors” were at play at Keeneland just as they had been during the summer at Del Mar and Saratoga (total handle down 7% and 10.3%, respectively).

For the first seven days of the Keeneland meeting, which included two weekends, attendance was down 2.5%, on-track handle dipped nearly 11%, and total handle dropped 17.4%. Per-capita wagering on-track this year was $81.23, compared to $88.97 in 2007.

Keeneland’s rich purses attract top horses, so when total wagering on Keeneland for a week—a week that included 11 stakes, six of them grade I—declines from $62.2 million to $51.4 million, it is time to take note.

Actions speak louder than words. Our customers are speaking.

44 Comments

Leave a Comment:

JordanA

Dan,

I agree with Mr. Evans (probably the first and last time). Most everyone I know is holding on to their discretionary income. Cutting back on doing stuff for the fun of it. I just have myself to be responsible for and make good money but I'm even thinking twice before I go to the track and not gambling as much as I normally would. At least until things calm down a bit. I think if you look at it, movie revenues are down, vacations were way down and that was before the stock market totally spun out of control. I have a friend in Vegas and she said that their bookings were good, then the cancellations started coming in. I also read that gambling revenues were down 100 million dollars from last year. I'd say the situation at the races, the sales and handles are a reflection of what's going on in the stock market, banks etc. Not just the U.S. but worldwide and that is especially nerve wracking.

14 Oct 2008 11:13 AM
STEVE STONE

Hello Dan..Another insightful and compelling op-ed piece..It shouldn't be any surpirse to all that we are living in challenging and uncertain times and thoroughbred racing is certainly not exempt from this equation..Wagering..be it at the racetrack or in the racinos..casinos.. represents nothing more than discretionary..disposal income and in todays environment..this expenditure becomes an moot point in households and families..who are on the cusp of losing everything...The once impervious NYC OTB's are in an declining mode...The 11 Atlantic City casinos are suffering for the very first time since their inception 26 years ago..they even delayed the non-smoking ban for another year as they feared that folks would not visit the casinos if smoking was entirely prohibited..They felt that their bottom line vis-a-vis that the health and welfare of their employees was far more paramount..Far to much competition from nearby Philadelphia and Delaware Parks racinos...What does that tell you? Incredible thinking..Look at the recently conducted Kentucky sales..They struggled and never made their numbers...I believe that your middle paragraph in this piece was most prophetic when you asked whether people don't have to go or that fewer people want to go..That reaches the aorta..Believe me..Its time for the sport to finally get its act together and take control of it or there will not be any sport left.Sure the fans have been soured on racings ills as of late..and rightfully so.Your pieces Dan and THE BLOOD-HORSE address this vexing problem here daily for fans to weigh-in on...The sad problem is nothing ever gets done about it..so in essence we are really talking to ourselves...Whats the point if nothing ever gets remediated? If only racing could comprehend and define what the word attrition means..then perhaps we wouldn't be having these discussions..simply put..the key to succesful business is NEW business..otherwise we will be out of business...Thank you always for your kind window and best very wishes..Steve Stone..East Hanover..New Jersey

14 Oct 2008 5:00 PM
Jada Pens

I will not bet because of horsemen prohibiting the wagering signal to ADW's

14 Oct 2008 5:33 PM
Bradgm

Dan, I'm a handicapper who goes to any number of tracks as my vacation. I've been to several this year but I'm not gambling anywhere near as much as I used to. The economy is just too volatile right now and whereas I own my own home and business, things can turn in an instant, witness the last two weeks.

The sales have always been reflective of the economy and my guess is the majority of buyers, like pinhookers etc aren't insulated from the downturns in the economy.

I have an interesting story to relate about negativity on blogs. We think as bloggers and posters that we're just expressing an opinion. Interestingly enough I recently read that a basketball recruit decided against a school he had been quite high on, due to all the negativity on the boards.

Just food for thought about how all this negative, hate the industry, how crummy everything is might be affecting the fan base. Personally if I was a new fan, like a lot on these blogs have said they are, I would think there is way to much fighting, controversy and general dissatisfaction going on.  The electronic age and the blogs are a powerful influence.

14 Oct 2008 7:11 PM
Bradgm

p.s. Jada, do you even know why the horsemen are blocking the ADW's?

The guys providing the product are getting stiffed on the percentage. Let's see how much the tracks get if the horsemen pull the product and go to the tracks that treat them fairly.

14 Oct 2008 7:13 PM
John

No opinion on who's getting stiffed.Someone wants more money than they used to get, so the "union metality" is to try put pressure on the other guy by withholding something.  My friends and I are unable to bet FG, CRC, CD, KEE, SA, EVD,  just to name a few, in accts where we might bet $5000/mo per person,  instead we bet zero.  When we do go to the track we bet less cause we haven't been following the horses there.  Sound familiar - Well multiply the $5000/mo times the number of folks who are ticked off about it and you get a few percentage points of what you're missing.  Get the deals done! That's why executives are paid salaries, to make tough decisions.  Instead let's lament about the economy - BS Purses will be cut and ?profits? will drop.

14 Oct 2008 8:07 PM
Chris

Dan,

It's no suprise that racetrack handles are down at Keeneland, Saratoga, Del Mar and soon to be Belmont.  And, handle will be down significantly on the Breeders Cup this year.  While the economy is the main driver, there is another factor - time.  I don't have it anymore, so getting to the racetrack has become a very rare event.  Like most everyone else, I work long hours during the week and use Saturday to re-connect with my family.  Though I live very close to the Meadowlands, their simulcast facility has waned and it's simply not as appealing to me anymore.  My preference is driving to either Saratoga or Belmont, but that is reserved for a vacation or a long weekend.  The days of weekly, or even bi-weekly treks to the track are over.  That's due to the economy in-part, but really is a result of simply working longer to get my job done.  I'm not sure how the racing industry fixes the time problem. My suggestion would be to greatly improve the race track experience. Lower the cost and improve the quality of the food offered, offer more family oriented events, improve customer service, but most important of all, lower the takeout as an inducement to go. I took the family to Monmouth to see Big Brown race on the turf.  It was a great day, a long day for sure, but it would have been worthwhile if Big Brown would have paid $4.00 to win as opposed to $3.40, since the takeout is way too high.  I probably would have played him at even money, but 3-5, that's another story.  The industry needs to give the horseplayers a bailout...before it's too late.

14 Oct 2008 9:12 PM
Bradgm

John,

Right I agree, get it done. But why should the horsemen give in and take less. They provide the product. The tracks don't do a huge amount to make things nice for the fans.

CDI wanted to give the horsemen I think 7%, they wanted like 15%, that's not greedy if you ask me when they provide 100% of the product and are making it as independent contractors, not union. Maybe they've always needed a bargaining chip.

I guarantee you the 5,000 a month bettor is few and far between unless you do it for a living or you are talking about a combined amount from all of you. If you bet that much individually you can go to the tracks, like I do. If you're a 5g a month bettor you know how to read the form and a true gambler, handicapper doesn't need to 'follow the horses'. Even if you can't bet you can still get HRTV and TVG if you somehow feel the need to 'watch' the horses. That just doesn't add up.

Also what state do you live in that you can't do internet, TVG etc?

If you don't think the economy is at issue then you are 1 in a million. If you are someone who makes so much money you don't have to be concerned then you should fly your private jet to the tracks.

Sorry to be a skeptic but a 5 g a month bettor making 250g's or more a year doesn't sweat it like that. I think that's a sure bet. I'm concerned about the economy not because of myself so much but because of my clients and what it's doing to them. The bigger clients, no big deal, the smaller ones will cut back. Eventually it will affect my bottom line just like it does everyone. I'm optimistic though that it'll turn around. I just know for a fact that the ecomomy hasn't been in this situation for a really long time. Not in my lifetime anyway.

14 Oct 2008 9:27 PM
normajean81258

Great writing as always. I do think the ecomomics are effecting what people are doing or NOT doing. It has effected our family as well. And Chris, you're absolutely correct in what you've written as well. You wrote:

"My suggestion would be to greatly improve the race track experience. Lower the cost and improve the quality of the food offered, offer more family oriented events, improve customer service, but most important of all, lower the takeout as an inducement to go. I took the family to Monmouth to see Big Brown race on the turf.  It was a great day...."

This is what many Fans have been saying, and I agree, and believe it or not, we've been heard!! Now we will wait and see what the "powers that be" will do for the fans. Here's hoping it won't be a long wait!

14 Oct 2008 11:19 PM
Bellwether

Our "National Treasure" is comming BACK to the TOP of the sports world come HELL or HIGH WATER!!!Book It...Long Live The King!!!

15 Oct 2008 2:02 AM
HP

Internet poker vs horse racing(at the track or internet) who wins?

15 Oct 2008 3:02 AM
UCLinden

Holy Mackerel Andy ...... did you see what someone said  " ....... look at what's written on the first line ...... " They say actions speak louder than words ...... the public IS TAKING ACTION " ..... well golly gee whiz !!!

Sounds like America is fighting back .... " if they can't fix it , guess we'll have to take matters into our own hands "

Folks, let me explain something here. Maybe you won't like , and it seems to me , no one likes anything anymore .... we're regimented !! You know what I see .... a lot of finger pointing .... it's their fault, not mine. Guess what ... we're ALL part of the problem and NO ONE wants to find a solution ...... we just think the " kinks " will work themselves out all by themselves. Well, it ain't gonna happen !!!  It's a new day dawning. Either you change or you'll fall by the wayside.

You know the newest news on the street ...... alternative fuel ..... better gas mileage, etc. Well, we ALL have to find alternative ways to change what's happening in our industry ...... we're the engine and we need a new way to operate , get better results from our product. We want attendance , we want wagering .... we want a lot of things .... but we have a dirty carburetor, a clogged air filter and we're choking on emissions !!! Sometimes, you need to change the oil, put in new spark plugs,  replace the muffler to run more efficiently.

I've given a myriad of ideas in these columns ..... they fall upon deaf ears ...... I get this ...... " you want change , you got to be kiddin , we've done this for years and now you want change ".  Well, I've said it ... but again , going back to that opening line ...... " the public is taking action " , doesn't that say it all ??  

There's an addage, " if it ain't broke , don't fix it " ... well everyone ...... we got a spoke missing ...... you gonna fix it or run with a bent wheel ?

Let me give you something very simple.  When you have a product to sell ..... you need someone to buy it. But that someone won't buy your product unless you get them to come in your door.  Here in this column it was discussed how wagering is down. Watch this scenario ..... someone wants to come to the track ..... but they know first they'll have to pay for parking ...... then it's pay for admission ...then it's pay for a program ... then maybe they want something to eat / drink, which we all know cost a few bucks. So, before this patron got to his seat , it cost them a sum of money. If that same patron did NOT have to pay to park, pay for a seat , pay for a program and the cost of concessions was down ...... that person might say ... " hey, now that's a deal, I have extra money to bet with " ..... pretty simple isn't it ???

You can stay the way you are, continue to moan and groan , grope around all you want ...... but, till the day comes , you TRULY want change and decide to do something about it ....... things will remain the same, and we'll still have these columns discussing  how bad things are.

15 Oct 2008 11:36 AM
C Bea

It's interesting to see how intelligent the leadership of our sport is. At a time when the cost of travel is high. A time when people are staying closer to home with limited access to other gaming options, we're too stupid, stubborn or both to even know how to capitalize on this opportunity.

I don't doubt that we would still see some challenges as a result of the economy. But, we're certainly not helping ourselves any with the current collusionist environment in our Industry.

15 Oct 2008 1:52 PM
Whatever

Its the economy.

15 Oct 2008 2:16 PM
marc w

Yes, the economy is a factor, but as almost a 45 year gambler I just won't bet polytrack or artificial tracks. I think myself a good handicapper but it is just too hard to guess on them. I will bet turf races, but I like to win and I just see horses come from out of the sky in the fake dirt races.

Trust me I am not alone in passing on these tracks. Keeneland actually was down after the famous Blue Grass walkathon of last year before the economy went in the tank.

15 Oct 2008 2:54 PM
gh

I agree with Chris about time. I just saw the Breeders Cup Schedule, and I'm a horse racing fan, but 1pm-7pm: that's a 6 hour day at the track.  I went to the first Breeders Cup at Hollywood and first race post was 1105am, and the Classic went off at 250pm.  It was a fast 4 hour day. I attend Churchill frequently, and their spring meet, 1st post is 1:15pm, and the "feature" is at 5:45pm.  It's run before 1/4 of the fans that were there earlier.  NASCAR is being hurt by the same thing: the race is too long.  Consessions at race tracks are reasonable for the most part, but a 5 hour day, that can get expensive.  Add most tracks aren't very accomodating to fans (reserved seats, run down facilities, no tables, etc.)

15 Oct 2008 3:24 PM
Whatamidoing

UC Linden,

Maam I don't think anyone on any blog has ever said leave things status quo. I think what those of us in the industry have been saying is change for the sake of change is even worse than being stagnant. These wild hairs that some people get and relay show very little thought to the whole process and just how we would accomplish that. Of course when we figure that you all go back to your own worlds after telling us how to run ours, we get a little testy. Most of you are fans, great wonderful we love you. But just as we don't tell you how to run your lives, we don't expect you to tell us how to run ours. When you guys find something else that you want to do, like spend 50 bucks at the movies or whatever a round of golf costs these days, we'll still be dealing with it.

NO we don't want to keep it status quo, we offer up a lot of our own suggestions and get ignored. Don't you all want to be the captain of your own ship?

We aren't salaried employees of the tracks or the powers that be, yet they tell us everything to do from the ground up. They don't step up and help us pay our feed bills or wages if we are in a slump and I don't see any of you all doing that either. Yes we appreciate our fans. You are fans of the horses, fans of the gambling and maybe even fans of the people in racing but just like I wouldn't try to tell you how to run your office just because I'm a client there we don't appreciate that either.

Constructive criticism, good viable workable ideas are excellent. Trashing us, sarcasm and all of the rest of it is not appreciated by us, just like the same wouldn't be appreciated by you all.

15 Oct 2008 9:25 PM
rwwupl

The customers are not "speaking", they are "shouting".The problem is not the economy,as racetracks do well in bad economic times. When people are out of work they go to the track to try and get a few extra dollars to patch a hole in their budget.

All the customers see is one segment of the game trying to get more money from another segment from a shrinking pie instead of putting in programs to grow the fan base,that would raise all boats.

The emphasis on exotics (carryovers) is a band aid for a hole in the bottom line and creates a perception that the mandates for synthetic tracks and race managers can no longer say we do not care who wins,as they prefer longshots.

In Ca.the racing Board is run with a majority of Horsemen, for the benefit of horsemen,no other State will stand for that conflict of interest.

Lower the take out,write races for the customers,not the five horse fields for horsemen that become jockey races,put races in the pick six that can be handicapped with horses with records.

It comes down to a perception of an integrity problem and an unlevel playing field.The customers have said "enough of this".

Respect the customers, give them a voice,level the playing field and racing will find the people still love racing,and the fan base will grow,solving the problem.    

16 Oct 2008 10:00 AM
Sara

How about some consistency?  Monday Night Football is 8:30 on Monday night for 16 weeks.  Racing's biggest races are...when? Sunday night a 9 this week, Saturday at 4:00 last week, except February which has 28.  When racing fans have to chase down a Grade I, (is there a Grade I this week?) many times without the help of the sports section of the local newspaper, it becomes taxing to the casual fan, the biggest source of avid fans. Can we get a racing "primetime"?  Stop asking the fan to do so much.

16 Oct 2008 10:01 AM
Ken Woodall

"The industry can work together"  Are you serious? Also, the total wagering has been stagnant since 1991(Jockey Club stats).

16 Oct 2008 11:41 AM
C Bea

$35,000 +/- wagered on Beulah yesterday. If nothing else in this down market we'll be able to thank the THG for putting Ohio out of the TB business.

Many have said we need some tracks to go out of business in order for field sizes to go up else-where. I hear the fat lady of Ohio starting to clear her throat.

Now if we can just get the THG to put racing out of business in 3-4 more States our collective futures will be assured! lol!!

16 Oct 2008 12:06 PM
Richard R

"The industry can work together to alleviate the public’s concerns over a myriad of issues..."

Give me a break!  The industry is not interested in alleviating the public's concerns over much of anything.  The industry (Read:  Raceracks and Horse Owners) wants more, more and more.  And, is willing to provide less, less and less.  

Let's look no further than the BC:  We will have horses coming in to race, that, due to increased testing, will have to forgo their steroid treatments for whatever period needed to avoid a positive.  As a horseplayer, I would like to know which horses have been getting steroid treatments; and, for the BC races will not be getting them because it will likely impact their performances.  

As a horseplayer, I would like to know which horses will be able to transfer their "dirt" form to the synthetic surface at Santa Anita; and, if horses haven't raced over a synthetic surface then it's a big guessing game.

As a horseplayer, I would like to know which turf performers have raced over surfaces similar to the Santa Anita "putting green", but aside from knowing that the surfaces at Hollywood and Del Mar are similar, I have no idea what other turf courses around the world are like and so once again it's a big guessing game as to which turfers will take to the Santa Anita surface and which ones won't.  

The industry wants me to support their big show but treats me and my money like we're some kind of entitlement.  Tell you what: Handle will be down (Read: Zero) at this year's BC from this boy, and it will have nothing to do with the economy.  I'll watch the BC on TV because there will be a nice collection of good racehorses performing.  But me and my money are staying home.

16 Oct 2008 1:30 PM
John Manley

It could get worse than this.

There's a referendum in Massachusetts next month to outlaw dog racing there. If that passes, you can rest assured that horse racing will be the next target -- and not just there, but in many other states where the animal rights crowd has the money to force the issue. (They certainly don't need the motivation -- they seem to have that in spades.)

I'd also like to address the issue of the cost of attending the races. Another writer suggested that racing needs to "lower the cost" of attending. I'm not certain if that is directed specifically at the takeout, but I just returned from an evening at the Meadowlands, where the parking is free, admission is $1 for ages 12 and over (free if under $12), and the price of a hot dog, popcorn and soda is far less than what a nearby multiplex would charge for comparable items. At a time when everybody is watching their dimes, racing -- or at least this New Jersey venue -- needs to impress upon people that a family of 4 can be entertained and fed (let's say a dog and a Coke for each) for under $30. And they have the opportunity, should they desire, to try and win that $30 back. If that same family goes to the movies, admission alone will run $30 before they consume any food items. Some people don't even care about the gambling -- they just want to get out of the house and be entertained. The message needs to get out that race tracks offer this for a price that is extremely reasonable. This could be the sport's last chance to make a positive impression on a generation that hardly recognizes the sport as a viable use of their time.

16 Oct 2008 11:53 PM
normajean81258

Whatamidoing? HI there. I'd like to know what you think of the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance and if you have signed on. I have respect for what you've written in the blogs and would like your opinion.

17 Oct 2008 12:27 AM
hp

C Bea

Presque Isle horsemen and Beulah horsemen are partners in this. PI has got slots and Beulah has nothing. I'm thinking that the Ohio horsemen are making a mistake.

17 Oct 2008 9:42 AM
ballyfager

Lower the takeout.  Period.

But just in passing, I have no more regard for the horsemen than they have for horseplayers.  WE, and not YOU, are the sine qua non of the game.

17 Oct 2008 11:05 AM
Whatamidoing

Norma,

Actually I think most of the ideas are right on. I'm all for safety, a level playing field and honesty.

The one thing that kind of bothers me, as an honest person, is the increased security. Sort of like saying we know they're going to cheat so we have to watch them like criminals. Yes you'll always have those that thumb their nose at authority but that's where the uniform penalties will be pivotal.

Me, I say take it further and make sure NO TRAINER who has a serious positive, multiple positives, is allowed to benefit economically from ANY horse under his stewardship at the time of the positive. A certain trainer got a 6 month vacation while the barn kept raking in the dough. Yep, that really had to hurt.

Uniform medication rules, believe it or not most horsemen want that, it's too confusing to keep up with it if you ship horses in and out of places if you do medicate. I'm sure some of these guys with positives did actually make a mistake, the repeat offenders and/or regular shippers or big stable guys, they've been doing it long enough to know better. But contamination can happen and even the shopping mall security guards wouldn't be able to figure that one out.

Steroids, agree. The only time I think they should be used is when a horse is off the track and needs the kind that help them heal an injury, like the kind given to people with injuries, Not anabolic.

We'll have to figure out something else to do with mares who come in season, which does affect some mares behavior to an extreme. Winstrol increases appetite etc, if you have a happy healthy horse, it's eating well and looks good without that stuff.

The one thing that sort of bothers me about it is Waldrop's call to horseplayers to in effect, boycott whoever doesn't agree with this plan. I happen to agree with it but as much as everyone is saying this is a free country it sure doesn't sound free when you hear that statement. Just like I don't completely agree with having security (we saw what that did to Big Brown and there's been others), plus who's gonna guard the guards? They don't have near as much to lose as the horsemen. I just think the boycott comment should have been omitted and an invitation for opinions issued (which most don't need an invitation anyway). Pretty much all I saw on the responses was about horse slaughter. Most responsible caring horseman are already opposed to that and are very pro horse rescue. Those guys who have breakdowns on the upper echelon are sure not trying to get rid of their horses, some of them have been very valuable winning animals.

This won't be popular on here, but it's not a new tune for me. What other sport in the world or business for that matter allows the fans to tell them how to run the business? Don't say it's because they're betting on the horses. People bet on all these games all the time. Yes we know of their injuries and horse racing should have that reporting system, with the discretion of the track what actual injuries to make known. You don't hear that a ballplayer having a pimple same with some ridiculously minor little thing that happen. 'X was nodding his head and bumped his nose on the hay bag" I'm being extreme I know.

Anyway fans don't tell ball teams who to draft etc. Another thing is if you go to a dr do you really know everything that has gone on in that guys life the days leading up to your surgery? Hey you're betting on him in a big way, but you don't tell him how he should be running his business.

There isn't enoubh room on here for me to say everything and I've got to get ready for the card. But in conclusion as much as I agree with the majority of the NTRA proposal, and have been doing most of it myself anyway (can't install the safety rails which I think is Long overdue), I just have a problem with what Waldrop said about boycotting those who don't support it. What are they going to do, make everybody sign and then publish the names of those who are in agreement? Change the industry by hurting the bottom line and wiping out the good guys? Because trust me, it'll be the honest hardworking little guys that get hurt right along with the bad guys maybe even more so because they don't deserve to be hurt and it'll be hard to get those gambling dollars back. Boycott the tracks that don't agree? Again hurt the little guy who doesn't have the option to train at a Saratoga, Keeneland, Del Mar but is in agreement and trying to be honest and compliant. I've read enough on these blogs to know that we all get lumped in together. Just like the comment on here about the owners, well guys they aren't all moneygrubbing, callous SOB's either. What about the jockeys that don't always know what's going on in these barns?  Don't bet on them?

My question is where will Alex be after all is said and done? Where is Greg Smith? They move on and get a job as a CEO in some other field.

Between the economy reducing the handle already and his call for boycotting those who don't endorse his plan FULLY and reducing the handle that way, racing may not survive even if we do radically change it. THAT is the only problem I have with the proposal.

Maybe it's my distrust of CEO's in general. The guys who get rich, big bonuses, then walk away leaving things in a mess. Not saying that's what he'll do but I've already said enough.

17 Oct 2008 1:17 PM
Whatamidoing

Also Norma, the pledge and membership, right now is apparently for Tracks and Horsemen's groups only.  "Individual owners, trainers, and jockeys will be eligible for membership and certification in the future"

Back to the handle issue I found it really interesting to call for a boycott (they have 40 tracks signed up, expect 20 top tier tracks to be able to stay in compliance). When "The initial reform plan does not include provisions related to wagering integrity, but Waldrop said that would likely be an issue the Alliance would take up in the future." This after the debacle of the incorrect payouts the complaints about excessive takeout, the scandals on some Pick sixes etc.

17 Oct 2008 1:36 PM
JordanA

Those of you who are saying the economy has nothing to do with the decline in handle and sales are losing your credibility in an attempt to support your dissatisfaction. Unless you live on a different planet you can't help but worry about the economy.

Everything that is being tried doesn't seem to be working. The stock market and banks are in a volatile situation WORLDWIDE. The outlook for unemployment just got everyone even more worried. Decreased spending by Western consumers has the Asian market in a panic. Oh no the economy has nothing to do with it at all.

That makes your arguments real credible.

17 Oct 2008 1:44 PM
Kitman

Ballyfager I'm a handicapper, gambler. I really don't agree that the horsemen have no regard for us. I've met any number of them and they are always friendly and polite. All of them on here have expressed their appreciation of fans but like so many of us and anybody with an independent spirit, they don't like to be told what to do by people who really have no vested interest in what happens in their lives. I don't know what you do/did as your real job but I dam* sure don't want a client telling me how to do my job, who to hire, how to run the company, if they want to do that, then they should do it themselves.

As far as us being the 'without which there is nothing' you are so wrong. Without the horses and the horsemen who own, train and ride them what the he** would you be betting on? I would say one can't exist without the other but even that's not totally true. Horsemen have been running their horses against each other since the Roman Chariot races. Sure maybe it wouldn't be on the same magnitude it is now, the economy is seeing to that, but in some form or another I think it will always be around. Heck if the richest people in the world that are a part of it would just put a good size chunk of their money into it, they wouldn't even need horseplayers, but my guess is we'll always be around. Not because we expect to be treated like we're the end all and be all (with the exception of you and a few others)but because we enjoy the sport and the challenge of handicapping a race.

Some of these complaining gamblers sound to me like they're spending the rent money.

The one thing that even I forget on occasion is that, when the races are over I go home to my REAL life. My REAL job. I don't HAVE to play the horses to put food on my table. If I bet my extra money on the races, I don't HAVE to win to pay the salaries of my employees. If I do any of that then I better stay away because I'd have a gambling addiction if I was doing so. Not the case of the horsemen. It's their vocation. They like many people, teachers, nurses, Dr's have had a 'calling' so to speak to do the job. Many of them are 3rd and 4th generation racetrackers.

Just tell me one thing, if you suddenly find yourself unable to play the horses or if you find something else to occupy your leisure time, will you ever give even more than a passing thought to the horsemen and what's happening in their lives?

17 Oct 2008 7:10 PM
BIGHORSEFAN

bally,

puhleeeze, don't make all of us horseplayers sound as arrogant and egocentric as you just sounded. There's no product without US? Hey I'll meet you at Hialeah, Longacres or better yet Bay Meadows. Without the horses and horsemen there ain't nothing for us to bet on. Most of us that like to gamble will go elsewhere like NBA, NFL or college sports. Even the casino's blackjack or craps. We'll find something to do I've no doubt of that.

If what you proclaim is true, why did the gentry match their horses with each other, then they made a wager with each other on their own horses. Okay maybe it won't be racing like we know it, but they'll still be doing it. Match races in Cajun country, bush tracks in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The rich folks will still be racing against each others and us betting fools will be betting on other foolish things a lot of which we have even less input and control of. You think human horsemen are smarmy, what the heck is going on in sports with the human smarms, drugging, cheating refs, players sitting down refusing to practice or play doing god only knows what the day before a game. My thinking is there's a heck of a lot more smarmies in the human sports because they still get paid their salary when the rest of us don't know what they've been doing that'll affect the outcome and they don't test each and every one of them or monitor everything they do in their lives.

On the greyhound thing. The activists have been on that even longer and harder than they have horse racing. I've been to the greyhound kennels, once was all it took for me. At least most horsemen treat their horses well, feed them well and make sure they're taken care of at the track, they have to or the horses won't run. I think those poor dogs are treated terrible and that's even when they're at the dog track. Sure they may teach em to run but I've always thought they chase that bunny so hard because they think it's food.

17 Oct 2008 7:34 PM
Alex JH

How in the world can we think that the decline in handle has little or nothing to do with the economy. Another department store is calling it quits, GM is shutting down a plant, and the most unbelievable thing, UBS had to be bailed out by the government. This is one of those Swiss banks "As the investment banking and securities business of UBS, we are part of one of the world's most stable and secure financial institutions. ..." Right, the government had to give them Billions, Banks and worldwide markets are in a world of hurt. Credit card companies have or are starting to crack down on credit. Yet people can write that the economy isn't affecting the bottom line? That kind of living in the clouds will get you into the unemployment or soup line.

17 Oct 2008 10:25 PM
kevin morris

As a racing fan and handicapper I have no direct "dog in this fight"

when it comes to sharing money from signals, but it is not accurate to say the horsemen provide the product. The product-what I consume and pay for-is the whole package; the track, the windows, the jockies, the announcers, the food, the horses, the parking lot, everything. I respect the fact that both tracks and horsemen are suffering financially and deserve a bigger piece of the off-track take, but a comprehensive, long-term national resolution must be reached soon, and not by increasing the take-out.    

18 Oct 2008 7:14 AM
Ed Zepplin

The key to the survival of the racing industry is Return On Investment potential by all stake holders. Track Owners need to make a reasonable return on their investment, Owners Breeders and Trainers want a reasonable opportunity for return on theirs. Handicappers want full fields and superior customer service. Under the conventional parimutuel model, non of the aforementioned has happened in 95% of the tracks in North America. The only senario for Success currently are tracks that have alternative forms of gaming with reasonable tax rates. Racing cannot and will not survive without alternative forms of gaming at the tracks with reasonable taxes. Its a fact.

18 Oct 2008 3:28 PM
Elaine in Henrico

Whoa Hold it Here!!

I do not appreciate alleged horse race fans who are asking for more "family friendly activites at the track."  I say no way, no how!

I despise the face painting and moonbouncing kiddie fare that I see at my local track. And the blond trophy wives who buzz around the track aprons on their endless cell phone calls that do nothing but distract the hard core race fan like myself. I am a woman in my late 40's that was raised on horse racing for horse racing's sake. My 2 kids have come to the track with me...perpetuating the love of the sport. If anyone would've asked them to have their faces painted I would've upset their table on the ground!   The sport is what it is. And for those of you, myself included, who want to spend a day at the track to get away from the real world (screwed up as it is) then don't add extra kiddies to the place.  My kids know we are there to watch the horses and enjoy the fine art of choosing a horse-perhaps in the post parade- that is a little perkier than the rest that day, that may win a race.  So don't dilute OUR experience by coming to the track with your trophy wife, your cell phone glued to your ear and your kids running amok! Go to the horse race to LOOK AT THE HORSES and perhaps place a few bets. Otherwise stay home and well outta my way.

Elaine in Virginia

19 Oct 2008 10:50 AM
wista

It is the economy . . . to an extent, but that is a convenient excuse to blame the demise of horse racing on the economy. Historically speaking, horse racing became truly national during the depression. Racing in New England, New Jersey, and, to an extent, California all began during the depression! So let's not get carried away with "it's the economy,stupid" mentality.

How about this: The core fans have had their faith in the sport shaken. All most all the leading trainers in today's world have at least one thing in common   - they all have a record of drug violations. This has to be addressed.

The sport needs a czar. And we need to get rid of people who are habitual violators of drug policies.Some trainers today have multiple violations stretching back over eight to ten years. And,yet, they are still in business with a barnfull of horses! Would we put up with a banker with a long record of embezzlement of funds?

19 Oct 2008 10:53 AM
babs

good job Dan, however the print gets smaller and includes the artificial surface at Keeneland and the increased number claiming races, two major contributors to less handle.  Europe doesn't run graded stakes on artificial surfaces; don't have also eligibles and they don't card mdn claiming and claiming races.  quality counts in all aspects of life!

20 Oct 2008 10:47 AM
Heather

Can someone please tell me why main stream media completely brushes racing under the table and reports Baseball, football and basketball only?  Does the NTRA or all tracks combined need to shell out some money to buy news time for everyday local news?  In New Jersey the advertising is just not there, people that are new to the state don't even know it exists.  It's very sad to watch my local news and never hear anything about racing except when something bad happens yet if some baseball player gets a divorce we need to hear about it for weeks.

20 Oct 2008 8:31 PM
roger

keeneland has a fake track now ( poly ) . handicappers do not bet on such tracks. handle is down because one can not get a fair deal when you have to guess. handicappers do not guess. handicapping is a art , when you change something that has been the norm forever you destroy it. every track that has gone from dirt to a wax fiber is off limits to a handicapper. also if you keep raising the take out and continue to add silly gimmick wagers to horse racing you will not have to worry about handle being down.

20 Oct 2008 10:00 PM
William

The economy is not as much of a factor as racing leaders are saying. That's just a built in excuse that they are running with. I think a lot of bettors are turned off by artificial surfaces. Sure, we all want to see the jockeys and animals safer, but the bottom line is that bettors want to bet on a product that they have a chance to beat. Most can't beat it, but they need to THINK they can beat it and with polytrack, a lot of bettors feel they can't win. There are too many horses who win that don't show anything on paper. Once in a while bettors understand that a hopeless bomber will win, but there are too many unexplained occurrences on polytrack, including the track bias.

21 Oct 2008 6:00 AM
da3hoss

I don't think you can lower much of the costs...you have to have the producer of the product happy, you have to offer a decent facility, decent food, etc. & wagering has to be profitable on all ends.

Besides, if you want to go you will spend the money...just look at concerts, baseball games, etc.

I think people just don't want to go to a horse race. I have to beg and plead for someone to come with me...this year I could not talk one member of my family and friends into going. Even my hubby who always supports my love for horse racing would not even go to the Mass Cap.

I'm a broken record on the simplistic observations of my personal experience: my family and friends hate watching or wondering if the horses are going to die in front of them, watching a losing horse still get vigorously whipped, wondering why all the drugs & other worse things are used on the animals by trainers/owners who "love" them and knowing many horses go to slaughter at the end of their usefulness.

None of my family or friends are PETA, etc. but they all are pet and/or horse owners.

Again, this is my own limited observation. I can't speak to betting, etc. I am not a major player, and its been 20+ years since I exercised, hot-walked or rubbed a race horse. So, probably my opinion means nothing.

21 Oct 2008 8:05 AM
Whatamidoing

Sorry I got a little wound up and combined former NTRA head Tim Smith with BC/NTRA guy Greg Avioli.

21 Oct 2008 11:14 AM
Alex JH

wista, They need a czar? The caliber of which are the ones that are mandated the synthetic changes, the Breeders Cup changes.

And YES, obviously we have let questionable people run the banks, the big companies like AIG, Merrill Lynch etc. They were all still taking their big salaries and bonuses when the places were falling down around their ears.

William,

I'm not an industry leader etc, I'm a gambler. If you have a way to insulate yourself from the economy then I'd sure like to hear it. The average bettor is the average guy on the street. You know what? Those guys are scared to death about the economy.The stock market is proving that. The closure of department stores, fast food joints,etc is proving that. Banks are closing, now grocery stores are in trouble. People aren't buying material goods yet they're going to keep gambling? If they don't have a source of money that is pretty stable (if that exists) they aren't going to be betting. The big time gamblers that don't like synthetic (me included) are gamblers and we're always going to try to find a way to beat it. If not we'll bet on the dirt tracks. The little guy is what's affecting the bottom line and most of them care less about the track surface than the do the economic forecast and man it's dismal.

21 Oct 2008 11:41 AM
JordanA

kevin morris, I too am a gambler. Do you think the track, parking lot, concessions, horses, windows would exist if there weren't horsemen to train the horses, own the horses and fella the jocks are also horsemen, so are the grooms, the hotwalkers, the exercise riders etc. None of what you and I like would exist without all of them. The tracks are already getting the lions share of the proceeds. WE pay for the taxes and upkeep of the plant with the takeout. I don't mind paying the takeout so the purses increase, it benefits me because the fields are fuller and the horses better.

Elaine, pretty true. Sadly though there aren't enough people who want to just go gamble or watch the horses. Also as a younger guy I can tell you that there also aren't a whole lot of well behaved kids in the world who'll go and just enjoy the simple things in life, but that's a whole other subject. I was handicapping when I was 5 and able to read the form. I'd have died before I'd let someone paint my face unless it was with scars and blood for Halloween.

Sheesh, just go to a restaurant or gawd forbid the giant discount store and watch kids running rampant, screaming and causing havoc. Between the lousy economy and the future of the country running amok the situations in horse racing look rosy in comparison.

I can't help but feel that all of the people who constantly bring up all the bad things, no matter what steps the industry takes to try and fix them, are just crepe hangers who have an agenda or just like to complain.

21 Oct 2008 12:06 PM

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