Straight Site Talk - By Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the March 20, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)    

Satish Sanan was publicly admonished by leaders of the Breeders’ Cup last week for his comments on a radio talk show. Sanan, they claimed, went too far with his discussion of a possible single site for future Breeders’ Cup World Championships, and with his criticism of Churchill Downs Inc.

Sanan, a leading owner and breeder, is one of 13 directors of the Breeders’ Cup and thus a man with inside knowledge of current negotiations.

This year’s World Championships will be held at Churchill Downs, but no site has been announced for future years. Breeders’ Cup officials have hinted of a possible permanent home for the event, and Sanan intimated the best location was Santa Anita’s Oak Tree Racing Association meet, which conducted the two days of Breeders’ Cup racing in 2008 and 2009. It was the first time since the Breeders’ Cup began in 1984 that it had been staged in consecutive years at the same locale.

One of the original selling points of the Breeders’ Cup was that it would change locations each year, rewarding racetracks, breeders, horsemen, cities, states, and fans around the country by rotating to different sites.

If the Breeders’ Cup directors choose a permanent site, the event will lose the attractiveness of showcasing a different track each year. Could the Breeders’ Cup become stronger with a permanent home? Maybe, but that is not what’s driving this decision. It is one thing and one thing only: money.

As Sanan correctly pointed out, Oak Tree is a not-for-profit company. Translation: more money returns to Breeders’ Cup when the event is held there.

It doesn’t take inside knowledge to figure out revenue at the Breeders’ Cup is decreasing. Stud fees are down; the size of the foal crop is down; sponsorships are much tougher to secure. The directors of the Breeders’ Cup are sitting around a board table having the same discussions as other companies: How can we trim expenses and raise revenues?

Certainly, reducing staff, and thus salaries, is one way to reduce expenses. Both chief marketing officer Peter Land and senior vice president of racing Pam Blatz-Murff are no longer with the Breeders’ Cup. The departure of Blatz-Murff, an original Breeders’ Cup staffer, did not sit well with many European horsemen, with whom she had developed a close relationship that aided the organization’s recruitment of overseas participants.

Certainly another way to generate revenue is to find the best deal possible for hosting the event.

Sanan said on the radio broadcast that, “Churchill will not deal with you on revenue. Churchill is probably the worst organization from a horse racing standpoint.”\

Breeders’ Cup issued a press release the next day saying the organization is “extremely disappointed with recent statements from (Sanan) with regard to host sites, and those views in no way reflect the official position of Breeders’ Cup.”

Churchill is perceived as the most bottom-line company in racing. Sanan’s comments indicate perception is reality.

Churchill wants what is best for Churchill, meaning what is in the best interests of its shareholders.

Well, Breeders’ Cup does not have stock-issued shareholders. But Breeders’ Cup has shareholders. Its shareholders are every industry participant, and those participants deserve to know what its directors are thinking.

A decision to hold the Breeders’ Cup at a permanent site, any site, will not be met enthusiastically by everyone. East Coast horsemen are already miffed they had to travel to California two straight years. Those who dislike synthetic surfaces will not be happy if a site with a manufactured main track is chosen as a permanent host. Fans who like to attend the event may wish to visit different racetracks, not the same site every year.

Most racing organizations meet behind closed doors and little is known until decisions are announced. In this case, those who support the Breeders’ Cup by nominating stallions and foals have a right to know what the directors are considering.

Sanan did not disclose anything sensitive about negotiations. He merely commented that the organization is considering a permanent site and that Churchill Downs is difficult to deal with.

Good for him. 

14 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Jennie

What this sport needs is more people like Satish Sanan.  

16 Mar 2010 2:05 PM
Rowner

Very BAD MOVE!!!!!!!! To restrict  the Breeders Cup to one sight especially Santa Anita and its on again off again Synthetic surface. They might make the euro's happy but to Piss Off most of the east coast horseman and tracks like Churchill Downs is like eliminating half the american horses. When did this become the Euro Cup??????

16 Mar 2010 6:39 PM
Kevin

I agree with you Jennie. Openness, more truth, could help this sport, this industry. Some believe not, and others fear not.

It is a shame that their fears, their lack of faith in truth, caused/forced Mr. Sanan to issue an explanation/apology. Mr. Sanan, I thank you for your frankness, and the truth as it appears to you. Many in this industry thank you. Please do remember, those who thought otherwise, those who did not support you in your right to express an opinion, bare watching in the future. Those who said privately they agree with you, but hedged and said maybe you should not have been so public, trust even less.

Always, the best to you and yours sir, just keep telling it as you see it, please do.        

16 Mar 2010 8:24 PM
Edward

Breeders Cup at one site will complete the de-legitimization of the entire event as a championship.

16 Mar 2010 10:42 PM
Karen in Indiana

I've been struck lately by the difference in management and how that affects the industry and the fans by the examples set lately by stories about Oaklawn and it's promotion of a race between Zenyatta and Rachel, Monmouth Park and it's scheduling and purse changes, and Mr. Sanan's comments that seem to confirm opinion about Churchill.

Oaklawn is privately owned and therefore has the flexibility to do things that would send shareholders screaming. But look at the publicity it generated, not just for that track but also for the sport! Monmouth is operated by a state affiliated corporation and is thinking outside the box and trying new ideas in order to survive. Churchill Downs is a corporation that has shareholders it has to answer to and I think they have lost something because of that.

I agree with your opinion of Mr. Sanan and why negotiations and decisions should be more public. A lot of the frustrations we face today could be erased if that was more the rule, instead of the exception.

17 Mar 2010 12:01 AM
watcher

Did anyone else watch the recent TV show in which the Churchill CEO went undercover at Calder and Arlington Park? Nice guy, but clearly not a horseman. Barely knew the front end from the business end of a horse. Therein lies a big part of our problem---our "leaders" don't understand the sport.

Churchill president Robert Evans is paid almost $5 million a year. Wouldn't our industry be better served if the CD board shifted $4 million of that sum into PURSES???

17 Mar 2010 12:22 AM
Rachel

They only admonished him because now they can't pretend.

17 Mar 2010 7:32 AM
AGS

I applaud Satish for speaking his mind.

17 Mar 2010 10:10 AM
Slew

I find myself believing that the Breeders Cup is the best way to showcase some of the best tracks in the country.  Since that was its purpose, why the sudden shift?

I think one permanent site, while beneficial to one track only, does little to enhance the sport itself on the national scene.  Rotation is the best way to spread out not only the costs, but also the rewards, and a way to engage even more of a fan base.  

17 Mar 2010 10:41 AM
Zookeeper

The point of this article is not whether Santa Anita should be the permanent site for the Breeders Cup; it is whether or not everything should be kept a secret until a decision is made. At the time that Satish Sanan made some of it public, I commented that "he had let the cat out of the bag" in spite of what BC or Sanan said afterwards. Politics conducted exclusively behind closed doors is as distasteful and unhealthy in racing as it is in government. Mr. Liebman, I completely agree with you (a rare occurence) that the people affected by the BC's decisions should be made aware of what is going on and why.

I expect that this article will open the door to more trashing of synthetic tracks and California in general, but the people who do such bashing will be missing the point of your article.

I live in California, I would be delighted to have the BC conducted here every year, but I'm not so closed-minded that I would not understand the people who are against it. However, the point is: Should the BC's insiders be the only ones in the know? I say NO and I support anybody who attempts to open the door and let some fresh air in. Bravo Mr. Sanan!

17 Mar 2010 12:04 PM
Heidi G

Putting aside this Breeders Cup dilemma what I really want to know in laymens terms is why of all the states in the country Kentucky Legislation can't or wont get on the same page as Kentucky Racing. Are things that corrupt and out of control that one can't benefit from the other in any way? Racing is to Kentucky what apples are to pie for cryin' out loud!

Simply ridiculous. The Thoroughbred industry in Kentucky is huge. It looks like the legislators are biting the hands that feed them.

The whole story is not being told and it ought to be. Does anyone really know the truth behind why there is such turmoil here?

17 Mar 2010 2:04 PM
CRob87

Actually I "Love" the idea of having it at Santa Anita permanently.

No offense to any others, but i've always believed it to be Racing's most beautiful Showplace.

Also on another note...

What would be so wrong with having it there for lets say the next 7 years and then after that going back to a rotation again ???

It's like when a car company stops production on a specific model for a good number of years and then brings it back as the "All New Camaro or Mustang".  

It always seems to be a pretty successful move when they do such things.

It's like it gives their industry a "Shot In The Arm" as we all like to say in this one when something good finally happens......ya know ???

17 Mar 2010 5:10 PM
nmhiplains

Dan Liebman

Just a wild thought but has the powers that be considered the possibility of changing the purse structure (maybe not Stakes races) from the tradition 60/20/10/5--to a 45,40/25,30/15,20/  etc,etc and the benefit this would have on the whole racehorse industry.

The present system is based on steeped tradition where racing was the sport of Kings and the glory of owning the winner was more important then the purse--the structure now puts horses at risk(the purse is more important that the life of the horse) starves the small owner/trainer who's horses are necessary to fill those race cards that generates that huge amount of wagers that funnels through simucasting betting sites.  This 60/20/10 purse encourages those owner /trainers to use what ever means possible(drugs,ignoring lameness,etc) to make the big score.Maybe its time the industry looked at a CHANGE!!!  

17 Mar 2010 10:12 PM
marktoothaker

Well said Dan, I believe the BC should continue to move the sites around. I love getting to see the different tracks and what a boom to the local economy. SA has been great but if permnant spot would be a step backwards.

20 Mar 2010 9:32 PM

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