Sounding Off - By Eric Mitchell

 

 (Originally published in the March 26, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell
The Blood-Horse recently cast a wide net into the pool of Thoroughbred industry participants and posed a simple question: What are five things you would do to improve racing?

Among the answers we got back from owners, breeders, veterinarians, trainers, jockeys, gamblers, racetrack executives, and other professionals were some of the usual wishes—increase purses, create uniform rules across all racing jurisdictions, and put more racing on television. But we also got surprised by a lot of specific and innovative suggestions, getting more than 50 unique recommendations from the 29 people who replied. All the responses can be found on pages 804 through 811, and you’re invited to add your own on the “Industry Voices” blog on BloodHorse.com.

Some approached the question philosophically. California trainer John Shirreffs said racing needs to reconnect people to the horse. It has been a long time since we used horses as our primary mode of transportation, so fans need to be “more exposed to the unique and individual beauty of the Thoroughbred. It is something we all share when we pass through the racetrack gate from coast to coast,” Shirreffs said.

Then we got some more precise fixes from Kentucky racing secretary Ben Huffman and Hollywood Park’s vice president of racing Martin Panza. Huffman suggested capping the stakes purses for 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds in order to increase the purses for older horses as an incentive for owners to keep horses racing longer. Panza suggested that the windfalls from casino gaming have skewed the purse landscape by allowing $5,000 claimers to run for $30,000. In order to compete for horses and keep the fields full, tracks have to match these purses, often by pulling money from higher-quality races.

“We should be rewarding horses for running in higher-level races, not rewarding mediocrity,” Panza said.

Another opportunity for people to sound off about the state of the industry is coming. The Jockey Club has commissioned a study from McKinsey & Company to delve into the economic and consumer issues affecting Thoroughbred racing, such as the effect of takeout and exchange wagering, international opportunities for expansion, ways to increase the popularity of the sport, and the importance of improving the health and safety of the sport’s athletes. As part of this analysis, McKinsey & Company analysts are collecting comments submitted through editorials, blogs, and articles. The New York-based consulting firm will also be conducting interviews.

The results of the study are expected to be presented during The Jockey Club Round Table Conference Aug. 14.

While the news of yet another state-of-the-industry study may make many eyes roll and skeptics harrumph, the study is timely. The industry is at a crossroads, and a lot of questions are being asked. For example, what are the real effects of raising takeout? And as the industry continues to move through a state of contraction, it needs some clear landmarks on the horizon to steer by if growth is to return in any meaningful, sustainable way.

McKinsey & Company is a reputable firm that has already provided some valuable research on medication use. Granted, it took a few years for the recommendations in the consultant’s 1991 report to gain some traction, but it is still providing some useful advice today.

We cannot afford to be as casual in responding to this year’s study. The foal crop is shrinking. Purses are down. Handle is down for the third consecutive year. So let’s get all the questions answered, the information analyzed, and the latest report into the hands of the people who have the wherewithal to accomplish meaningful change. Then, after these leaders have digested the report, let’s see an action plan fed by a renewed spirit of cooperation.

Because at that point, all the industry can do is heed the words of the 27-year-daughter of Crystal Springs Farm’s farm manager Tom Goncharoff:

“Quit asking us what to do and do something!”

61 Comments

Leave a Comment:

AGL

I couldn't agree more with Ms. Goncharoff who is quoted at the end of your article.  Indeed, the industry needs to stop talking and implement the many changes that its participants have been suggesting for years.  Just how many round table discussions, surveys, etc. does one industry need?  

22 Mar 2011 1:56 PM
Dan

Eric,

It's simple. Racing needs to pay to have major races televised on regular television stations that the masses do not have to pay for to see. When I was young, that is how I fell in love with the sport. If the product hadn't been right before my eyes, but instead was exclusively on a station my parents had to pay extra for...which they couldn't afford, I never would have had the chance.

The television coverage today is pathetic. Major races like the Woodward, JCGC, HGC, etc. are not on regular t.v. What's worse, networks like TVG focus more on their own commentary than just showing the damn races and post parades. Instead, I get to see everyone's pick 6 selections for Zia Park.... like I care.

Make it so that average folks can just put on ABC or NBC and watch a major stakes race...that would help a lot! Maybe then they could see a Curlin, a Rachel or a Zenyatta race and fall in love.

Furthermore, racetracks and their staff need to treat the customers like royaly...even the $2 bettor. There is a major shortage of polite and friendly staff there. And don't get me started about the price of forms and such...by the time a customer gets to his seat he has spent $20.

22 Mar 2011 2:10 PM
GJU

I agree with Tom Goncharoff's 27 year old daughter...

GET PROACTIVE!

22 Mar 2011 2:36 PM
EUGENE LEVEY

To bring back the wonderful times in the yesteryear with the good & great ones..CLOSE THE "STALLIONS BOOKS TO 40> & NO MORE...Thats Step #1...No one can argue that there were  better crops that we had with better races & better everthing in the yesteryear, but I know that will never happen!!!!!!

22 Mar 2011 2:49 PM
El Cab

Why don't we create some new fans by including them?  Let the promotions dept of a racino frog for a $2 winning ticket on every horse in a certain race - hand these tickets out to patrons of the casino side of the building, take the winner and have his/her photo taken in the winner's circle (and GIVE them the photo).  Maybe you get one or two to visit the OTHER side of the building and start wagering on races...

22 Mar 2011 3:57 PM
El Cab

P.S. Want to clean up some of those positive tests?  Why don't we penalize the horse?  If the horse comes up positive, not only is purse redistributed, trainer fined/banned, but the horse is also banned from competition for a period of time.  If you hit the owners in the pocketbook, maybe they'll make their trainers play fair.

22 Mar 2011 3:58 PM
GIA

I am not connected to the racing industry in any way, nor am I a gambler, since I don't live near a track, I only go to the local fair races a few times per year. I watch the races on TVG because I like to watch racing.  I have been watching racing since I was a child in the 1960's.  If you ask me, you need racing stars (they don't have to be the big race winners either), just race horses people can follow -- horses that have had their story told.  Racing needs to be promoted in a positive way, trainers, owners and jockeys need to take some lessons in public relations from their standouts like the the Zenyatta connections.  I see some of the trainers and jockeys on TVG when the host is trying to interview them and they have these stoic looks on their faces and the "I don't have time for this bull attitude"  I could name some names, but will refrain.  It will not do any good to televise more races and make all the other positve changes, if there is not public relations campaigns to promote the changes and if the trainers, jockeys and owners do not reflect a positve image -- even if they have to fake it.  Race fans follow personalities -- horses, trainers, jockeys, because that's who is out there on the track.  If you want to encourage people to support racing, then talk to them via whatever media is available.  Invite people to the track, meet and greet the fans, talk to them about your horses, yourselves and you will create fans. Bob Baffert and that Irish trainer or owner that won the Dubi last year, get attitude.  Others that do a pretty good job, Joe Talamo, Jon Court, they at least seem happy to talk to the media. There are handful of others, but there are a whole lot that do nothing to promote horse racing or even themselves.  If my company did nothing to promote our services, we would be out of business in no time.

22 Mar 2011 4:01 PM
Denmark

Have to agree with the above answers.  There isn't another industry like horseracing that shoots itself in the foot.  Too many gimmick bets that return very little on your investment.  Too many races per day - keep it at 7 or 8.  People today are used to speed, they don't want to spend a whole day on one thing.  Zenyatta brought many fans - why?  Because we got to know her and fall in love/awe with her.  Read her web page, see the answers from the public.  They want to be involved!  Fix the tracks so there are less break downs, nothing turns off the public like seeing a magnificent animal on the ground.  Be squeeky clean, too many people think racing is crooked.  Don't allow a trainer to put 4 horses in a race to stop 1 that the public is intriqued with. Don't charge 2.50 for a program, $1.00 should pay for the printing, the track will get it back in bets. Think of the FANS - without them you are nothing.

22 Mar 2011 4:03 PM
darrel p

racing forms and programs are one of the biggest problems now. its takes 3 different forms and 4 programs to cover all the races being showed on the simcast net works  no wonder casinos are doing great  it free to walk in there and start playingbeing bigger pures for the better horses doent bring me to the raceas  full fieldsdo . you should up the purse money for the little guys instead of the rich owners. who keep getting richer at the exspent of the litle guy and while we are on the subject of racing why doe it take 30 minutes in between races    20 minutes would be idea  horses do not need to warm up for 10 minutes before the race.they walk over to the saddling area and parada around and then parade out on the track  .plus you hardly get any news in the papers anymore  i could go on and on    thank you

22 Mar 2011 4:15 PM
donkeyhoteeee

While I TOTALLY agree with John Sherriffs to reconnect the public with the Horse, I would also add that this goes hand-in-hand with making the sport SAFER for the horse.  Pass the McKinsey drug recommendations, continue implementing safer surfaces and get REAL on punishing offending (drugging and otherwise abusing) trainers at ALL tracks. Fans may reconnect with the Horse, but they will leave in droves if the traumatic fatality streak continues.

22 Mar 2011 4:56 PM
Big Brown's Buddy

I agree with everything Dan said. I'd be happy if horseracing was on ESPN,nevermind on network TV! Another problem with TVG,rarely do you get the race in "real" time - there's always a delay because another station with the rights to the race (usually HRTV, which even with DISH tv we don't get here) has to air it first. I was at a sports bar during Breeder's Cup weekend, and do you think I could get a single TV turned to a horseracing channel?? Even if it had been for the Classic, Zenyatta's Grand Finale, they wouldn't have shown it.  "No one else here wants to see that," was the response I got. Needless to say, I didn't stay long, and I refused to order anything other than water to drink.

I must also agree with Mr. Shirreffs. Regardless of how one feels about Zenyatta's career, you have to admit she's one of the most popular horses around. Look at the numbers of people she brought to the track. Her trainers and owners made her accessible to her fans. Even in retirement, people are still sending her gifts. She has her own website (written in her voice by the wonderful Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs). One of my favorite videos is on youtube - Mike

Smith wearing a helmet-cam as he breezes Zenyatta on the track. It's like being aboard her yourself,watching the horse in front of you come up,then you pass him.... amazing for anyone who's never had the experience of riding a thoroughbred. Another idea is to place a little more importance on the races of fillies and mares. just look at the numbers of young girls and women that got into racing because of the visibility of Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. So don't forget the girls!!

22 Mar 2011 5:36 PM
nmh

i'm a big fan of horses and racing

but no one else i know is.. they

don't know anything about it...more

news about racing would help..

the austin american statesman almost never covers racing.. only

when zen won the breeders cup...

news coverage in papers,magazines

other that horse mag.  tv.  have a

regular part of sports news cover

racing on a regular basis... if

the public is made aware they will

become fans.

22 Mar 2011 6:07 PM
Horse Mom

Racing on HRTV and TVG is wonderful, of course; but they're preaching to the choir. Most of the world at large has no idea where or when racing even happens. The Boston papers have a "sports on the airways" column which lists every sport - including rodeo - BUT horse racing; and there is never any press coverage except for the Derby - no "race of the week" from Suffolk Downs, or human interest stories, of which there are plenty - not even an interesting photo with a caption.  Most Bostonians don't know Suffolk exists; and that's probably true of the rest of the country as well.  We all know what a fascinating world Thorougbred racing is, but we need to spread the news to the rest of the world.Racing needs to be included!

22 Mar 2011 6:37 PM
Candice

These ideas are all great. I just wish the industry would stop playing the collective game of chicken and make a move to implement some of them. There must be give and take to get things done, but too many have an "I've got mine" attitude and so the entire sport suffers from a lack of action.

22 Mar 2011 6:45 PM
horse lover

Stop the slaughter of these wonderful animals when they do not produce any longer.Stop the Milk Mare program and stop the transportation of all horse to other countries to be slaughtered.Never allow another horse to be slaughter here or sent from here for slaughter.I cannot watch the lower level claiming races at all because I know that each one I see is probally coming to a horrific end when the only thing they ever did was to be born because someone bred a mare and stallion.

22 Mar 2011 7:22 PM
Alex

I agree with most of the comments above. Yes, more women need to be brought into this sport. Like the story above, I was at The Outback having dinner the night of Zenyatta's "60 Minutes" segment. I asked at the bar for them to turn one of the TV's on to the program. They did and everyone was amazed at how magnificent she is! She and racing gained a few fans that evening. On another note, I am still upset about the "Life at Ten" incident at the Breeders Cup. I believe the Trainer is at fault and he should be held responsible. He knew she was not "right"....This

hurts the integrity of racing. No wonder any of my friends watch. Horses break down and they get very upset as I do. I hope Zenyatta's legacy is that all horses will be safer on the track...

22 Mar 2011 8:10 PM
John T

My own local track Woodbine does

not charge an admisssion fee or for car parking and little things like tahat go a long way in bringing fans back.Woodbine is not hurting like most tracks in North America because of slots,a steady diet of attractive races in the stakes,allowance,maiden,and turf

areas.Also a local tv station shows

all the races live on Sunday afternoons and a lot of Wednesday evenings.Racing gets underway for

another year at Woodbine on April 2nd and it should be a good average

handle and good racing as usual.

22 Mar 2011 9:51 PM
Bailey

I'm what would be considered a "young" fan, and

what got me into racing was both better publicity and intriguing characters.  Why do you buy a

book?  Because you heard about it somewhere, right?  Why do you keep reading the book?  The storyline and characters are interesting.  Make the interesting characters more visible.  My favorites are Bob Baffert, Tod Pletcher (his tweets are hilarious), Joe Talamo, Jon Court, and many others.  Make guys like them more visible!  

22 Mar 2011 10:09 PM
Paula Higgins

Every comment above has merit. All good ideas. Just do it.

22 Mar 2011 10:36 PM
LauraJ

Two words: governing body.

There are many ideas out there about how to preserve and grow the sport. Every article, blog, comment thread, and TB forum is chock-full of them. There is even agreement on most of what needs to be done, in general if not in the particulars. But there is no way to implement these ideas industry wide.

Every other sport that I can think of has a governing body. Thoroughbred racing needs one, too. A central authority would be able to establish and enforce uniform rules. It could brand and market the sport in a focused, effective manner. It could fund research and implement best practices, lobby state governments, and negotiate deals with broadcast media. It would allow better tracking of horses throughout their careers so they don't get "lost." Horse welfare and safety could become an official priority and not just something to which lip service is paid. Trainers suspended at one track wouldn't be able to just pick up and move to the next one. Most important, a governing body with authority would help balance the disparate, sometimes competing interests that currently comprise the sport. It would force compromise, which is necessary to any well-functioning system.

22 Mar 2011 10:45 PM
Fuzzy Corgi

Racing needs more positive media coverage. Right now there are only a few sports that get play on national tv; football (college and pro), basketball (college and pro), baseball (spring training included), NASCAR, golf, some hockey, a little soccer, bowling and then a few stakes races a year. The main stream media mentioned Rachel Alexandra when she won the Preakness but none of her other amazing wins that year. Until Zenyatta won her 17th consecutive race to break Citation, Cigar and Mister Frisky's 16 race win streak, she got no mention outside of racing circles. Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, Charlie Sheen, Britney Spears, etc. only needed to step outside of their house to get full coverage. Ugh!

The mainstream media never reports any racing news except for 20 seconds dedicated to the winner of the KY Derby or when a horse breaks down in a high profile race. Then PETA protesters get at least as much airplay, if not more, as the trainer or a veterinarian would. Bubbleheaded newscasters that know or care nothing about the horses or people involved make ridiculous and absurd, blown out of proportion statements that only intensify the negative reaction to how the general public views racing. Talk about an uphill battle.

I truly wish that racings stars had more than one good season on the track. With few exceptions, just when a horse starts to stand out and build fans, then they are whisked off to the breeding shed. I actually am thrilled when a gelding turns into a star since that means I will get to follow him for a while... in the racing publications only of course. John Henry, Kona Gold, Lava Man, Designed For Luck, Chinook Pass, The Tin Man, etc. all had long and exciting careers that were such fun to follow over the years. I wish the general public knew about these spectacular horses as well.

23 Mar 2011 2:34 AM
PomDeTerre

Very little was mentioned about improving the integrity of the sport, both to the participants and the fans.  The backbone of the racing industry is the lower level race at every track- the low allowances and claimers.  I have been adamant in my opinion that huge "drop downs" in class should be banned or scrutinized more heavily, particularly at the claiming level.  Taking a horse who consistently runs in $25k allowance company and dropping it to a $ 10k claimer needs to be stopped- despite the fact that some "trainers" make that their livelihoods.  It's a nasty little tactic that raises these issues:

- a complete snow job to the owners and trainers whose horses legitimately belong at that lower level and are being deprived of their purses

- a snow job to the people we wish to see become fans

-SAFETY OF THE HORSES AND JOCKEYS, the paramount concern.  How do we know this animal is sound and not about to breakdown, exposing all participants to possible injury. Certainly, you can bet that such a trainer is gambling that people will make that assumption and avoid the tag.

The answer to this situation is so simple, but hardly popular, and therefore apt not to be considered:

EVERY horse making a class drop of 3 levels or more into these races should require- 2 days prior to post- a physical exam, paid for by connections, that eliminates obvious defects or questions of soundness. This will ensure as much as possible that the animal is safe- to itself and others.  It will also ensure that the stigma of soundness is addressed to some degree of satisfaction, therefore making the horse more apt to be claimed, possibly causing the owner or trainer to reconsider the drop down.

Not everyone has the means to own a Derby hopeful.  The "little guys" deserve their chance to run their horses SAFELY and with some expectation of success.  This practice needs to be restricted, however unpopular that statement might be.  We all deserve the integrity of knowing that every race is given the equal opportunity of safety.

23 Mar 2011 6:35 AM
Pedigree Ann

More geldings. Honestly, do we need to keep every A.P. Indy or Smart Strike or Distorted Humor colt an entire? The breed didn't suffer for Forego or Kelso or John Henry being geldings.

In Australia, many more colts, and many of them well-bred, are gelded and they keep on racing for years and build followings. The same is true in Britain, viz. Sergeant Cecil and Persian Punch. Not to mention the huge followings that 'chasers like Kauto Star and Denman created in their careers. (Now 11yos, the pair were part of the extraordinary finish to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, chasing's championship event, this year.)

But honestly, until the breeding industry becomes more rational, geldings and 'uncommercial' entires are the only hope we have for horses to have proper careers. The only reason Lookin' at Lucky isn't running this year is that, even if he won the World Cup and BC CLassic, he could make his owners more money as a stallion.

Oh, and could the tracks please stop gutting their stakes programs for older horses? Do you realize that there is not a single G1 race at 10f for the older males east of the Mississippi before the JC Gold Cup in the fall? This is an outrageous situation. If we had a pro-active Pattern committee instead of a re-active grading committee, maybe we could fix the mess that the tracks have made of stakes scheduling.

23 Mar 2011 9:03 AM
GoldenBroom

Get on the local channels if that's all you can afford for now. Fewer foals does not bother me, now we need fewer races to match (the cheap claiming races that only produce future glue prospects anyhow). Many many many charities use "Night at the Races" to raise money so if you can get some local coverage, you have a fan based that's already had a basic intro class. Shorter race days/cards so it's not an all day drawn out deal. There is a reason most movies are 2 - 2 1/2 hours long. I like punishing the horse that tests positive too. No other sport punishes everyone BUT the athlete when they test positive! All horses on the track - entered in a race or not are subject to at least one random drug test a year.

23 Mar 2011 9:34 AM
Bill Daly

Back in the 1960's WOR-TV broadcast a live show called "The Race of The Week" which featured the Saturday feature race from Belmont, Saratoga or Aqueduct. I was mesmerized by the way racing was presented. Knowledgeable on-air personalities such as Win Elliot, Jack Whittaker and Haywood Hale Broun explained the significance of each race in a very enlightening and entertaining way.  Watching the incredible performances of horses like Damascus, Dr. Fager, Shuvee, etc. really piqued my lifelong interest in the sport and since the show was "free" it meant that it was viewed by a wide audience.  I just wonder why local TV stations don't give this idea a try?  How expensive could shows like this be to produce?

23 Mar 2011 9:37 AM
Uzuri

Amen to what Dan said.  I was thrilled to hear that NBC has all three TC races this year, because that's the only station we get (down from 4 stations back when broadcast was analog, and therefor WORKED more than 10 feet from a tower).

But do better than that -- get them ALL on the internet, streaming live.  And get the somewhere that you don't have to enter your SSN to view them.*  Move with the times.

*tried to sign up for youbet.com to view races last year, and as soon as they asked for an SSN, I soured on them.  

23 Mar 2011 10:12 AM
Giddyup

There is a very good reason that those state-of-the-industry studies make eyes roll and skeptics harrumph. The simple fact is that the industry has no univerally recognized leadership...and until it does, even the best ideas for improving the sport are likely to be implemented with a patchwork approach.

23 Mar 2011 10:37 AM
Sal Carcia

The greatest call here is for a central governing body for the game. I believe that this is done and over with. Why bring it up again? The NTRA experiment ultimately proved that the industry is structured in a way that will not support a central governing body. The racetracks are run buy companies that are competing against each other and see no reason to act as one.

There was no mention of the issues that rebates players and robots have brought to this game. IMO, rebate players and robots are implicitly increasing the takeout to the rest of the players. The non-level playing field could very well be the silent killer to the handle and fan base of our game.

This is a big issue and with the NTRA gone as the oversight body in this game, it's rarely talked about anymore.

23 Mar 2011 11:00 AM
sophie15

I have to agree with what a lot of people are saying. There are so many great ideas out there from fans and people in the industry. Racing needs to stop talking about what they are going to do and actually do something. The ideas are out there, now they need to do something to put them into place.

23 Mar 2011 11:36 AM
MikeM

A huge need by the racetrack owners to improve the facilities. One of my pet peeves about Saratoga is the 20 year olds TV's. You can't recognize the horses on the TV's that are outside. Also, I was amazed at the small space allocated to the horse players at GSP. You should be able to watch and bet on the races in any location,including the shopping areas and restaurants.

23 Mar 2011 2:24 PM
Zenyatta John

I had a million dollar idea - I wanted to have an all horse racing channel on Sirius / XM. Most new cars have it, there is nothing like listening to live race calls. Most of us have an account for phone wagers because we work during the week. But to be able to listen live would attract more wagers.

Way too many races being run for under $10,000 claimers, everywhere , at every track. How did our horses become so cheap? Breeding to stallions who really shouldn't be stallions? Is it the Lasix and Bute plus whatever else is involved making all our horses weaker and cheaper?

I'd also like to have a website called "The Paddock Club" - where I would be allowed video access from the major tracks across the country and be able to comment on paddock looks and behavior. For on-line wagerers , that would be a God-send. All on-line wagers at every track they wager on should also be accounted for as attendance. There money is bet there, why not?

Reduce racing to three day weeks. Have tracks work together to juggle post times so races can go off 5-7 minutes apart rather than simultaneously. This would attract the 'poker' crownd who thrive on constant action.

23 Mar 2011 2:49 PM
Denmark

WOW - that's why racing a is thinking fans sport, great insight by all.  The gelding blog was an eye opener.  It's obvious that "clean" racing is all important.  Biancone (cobra venom/ ousted from French racing for life) should not be racing here.  Xrays for dropping horses is correct, remember Blues the Standard and that fiasco.

23 Mar 2011 2:52 PM
mike davis

Very simple to me:

1)way too much time between races at the tracks.

2)even on television it is almost impossible to follow individual horses without a complete running line scroll or information like that. I have seen this done a variety of times so it is not impossible. Even astute horesplayers and race fans have a hard time following their particular horse unless they are on or near the lead. This is only magnified in races like the Kentucky Derby when due to surrounding noise, you may not ever know where your horse is until after the race is over.

3)the cost of going to the races with a family is ridiculous when you consider how many other Saturday events you can take the family to that do not require parking, admission, program and seating fees

23 Mar 2011 3:15 PM
Inthebiz

Some comments on here are spot on. But the one comment about treating someone like a king who is a $2 bettor....well I disagree with.

As a person who as worked in this game since 1998, I run into guests that THINK they deserve the red carpet treatment and treat the track staff like dirt! Those people DO NOT deserve any kind of respect. Ive seen it the last 13+ yrs working in this business.

Those people dont deserve any kind of special treatment and they need to be put in their place when the customer is wrong AND rude. With that being said, the people that bet $2 and want to learn, get the best treatment from my staff and the track I work at.

I dont care if you bet $10k a day at a track, the human race needs to gain a little bit of class when it comes to being polite! If you do encounter a rude track worker, then the management needs to take care of that issue right away.

Ive seen both sides, but the customer isnt always right especially when I hear them say...oh ill never come back, when we will see the same person next week!

Customers make any business survive out there, but we still all pay $3.50 a gallon for gas despite the fact we hate it, we pay $6.50 for a form b/c we like the feel, but we can do the same thing at DRF.COM online, where you get the tracks you want next to nothing if you have a yearly DRF plan. Or get free brisnet PP's online just by betting $2. This is why programs go up, in print forms go up, the works. Cheaper online and the on track business suffers.

Bottom line? Get rid the of cheap tracks like PID with no handle, or limit how many days you race b/c MTH did a great job with what they did last year. This 5 and 6 day a week racing is old at some places. Its overkill and thats not the way it use to be when racing was in it's prime.

Ontrack operations needs more perks and cool promotions like DMR and AP with the weekend kiddie camps while the parents bet. They learn racing, have a blast, and the track makes money by putting on a decent show for the kids.

Lower takeouts would be nice, but that only keeps the current horseplayer happy, the new guy wont know jack about what that means.

This is not a baseball game and the track food prices need to drop too. But when you factor all the cost to get the product, pay the help, etc. you barely make a profit. TUP does 25 cent days and it is a blast to attend and gobble up all the good stuff.

Many ideas, very few will get done, and we can talk the talk but the tracks need to walk the walk

23 Mar 2011 3:27 PM
Convene

Let's get the drugs out - and the trainers who keep getting dinged for them. OK, there's a false positive or two once in a while but how many times will they happen to the same trainers? Let's get out the trainers who give meds without knowing what they do. One who shall go unnamed announced that he gave steroids to his horses because some veterinarian long ago told him to do it! The steroids were bad enough. The really scary part is that this trainer blindly put something into his horses without the vaguest idea (or, apparently, interest in finding out) why they needed it or what it did to the horses! If my vet prescribes something for my dogs or horses, you can bet on it he has to tell me all about it! Basic pharmacology isn't hard and it should be part of what trainers are required to know. Sorry - but this has bothered me mightily since I heard the interview. I'm appalled by it. I'm old enough to remember when horses could not race with dope in 'em - and when you look at the lifetime starts they made and their health and soundness, don't anyone tell me there isn't a correlation! No drugs - none - until they're sound enough to train and race without them!

23 Mar 2011 4:59 PM
Big Brown's Buddy

Horse Mom,I'm in central MA,and agree with the horrendous coverage from the media. Unless it's a "Cinderella Story" about the KD, racing doesn't even get mentioned. And if there's no chance at a Triple Crown run, the other 2 races will be lucky to get a sentence or 2. Coverage up to and including Zenyatta's Grand Finale was a paragraph,if that long,in my local paper. Heck,I'd be happy to just have the Suffolk RESULTS,to say nothing about a story about any of the races. Here we had the great Commentator win the MassCap 2 yrs.in a row,and not a mention in the state medias.

More coverage by local media is a BIG must!!

23 Mar 2011 5:12 PM
turkskid

Everyone that has responded so far has made very astute observations.  I find all the betting yak-yak on HRTV and TVG extremely boring.  I want to know more about the horses, not handicapping.  I would like to see the major networks cover more racing -- not just the satellite stations -- and I also wish that a couple of the TVG commentators would grow up and quit clowning around on the set.  Thank goodness for the pause button and fast forward.  

I know that the industry will never be completely free of breakdowns.  Horses break down out in the pasture and in other venues, not just at the track.  However, when a horse breaks down at the track, it's like pulling teeth to find out what happened to the horse.  Sometimes the race results will mention the horse's fate; most of the time they won't.  A couple of years ago I could e-mail the tracks directly to find out about a horse that had broken down or was pulled up and someone at the track would answer...now, I can't get a response of any kind.  We need to mourn and honor the ones we lose.

You also cannot find out any information about horses that are no longer racing unless they're a big name like Rachel or Zenyatta.  Sweet Catomine had a large fan following but you never hear about her any more.  What's happened to her?  It would be nice if the Bloodhorse website -- or one of the racing networks -- were to have a "where are they now" segment.

Lastly, TV stations, sportcasters and newspapers need to realize that not everyone is interested in football, baseball, basketball, hockey or golf.  Who knows, ratings and readership might increase if they showed more than the last 30 seconds of the Kentucky Derby.

23 Mar 2011 5:44 PM
Pedigree Ann

Sal, the NTRA wasn't instituted to be a governing body, only a public relations outlet. But I agree, it has been a dismal failure.

A central governing body would be able to control medication rules, currently mandated state-by-state decisions. How could NASCAR operate if you had differing engine restrictions in each state? Or the PGA if there were different club restrictions in each state?

A central governing committee would be able to promulgate uniform "rules of racing" so that all stewards everywhere would be working from the same page.

And so on.

23 Mar 2011 6:22 PM
gotigers1948

Denmark, Please tell me about the Blues the Standard item you referred to in your comment.  I would like to know about this incident.

23 Mar 2011 9:52 PM
Kim R

First & foremost...put the "athlete" in the spotlight!  Everyone in the TB Racing industry should take a page out of the play book written by Team Zenyatta.  What they did was create a human interest story that people couldn't get enough of.  Obviously, not every horse is going to achieve what Zenyatta achieved. But, if race tracks everywhere embraced the fact that the horses are the "star" and made them more "local celebrities" by giving the general public more access I think people would hold the sport in higher regard.  Additionaly, provide PROOF that every TB that doesn't have what it takes to make it as a racehorse is provided for and cared for when their work is done.  As someone that volunteers to find homes for TB's when they're done racing, I find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place.  While I love to watch a race and find it exhilirating, it breaks my heart that for every horse I see on TV, in the limelight, there are at least 1,000 others that will meet an uncertain future for no other reason than they may not be fast enough.  What people don't seem to grasp is that for all of these horses that never make it in the "big time", they are begging to find a job that is better suited for them.  Unfortunately, many horses don't get that opportunity.  

23 Mar 2011 10:42 PM
Dawn in MN

 As usual, another what-can-we-do-to-save-racing piece.  

I was a big fan as a kid.  I watched every single televised race I could.  I was 13-years-old when I watched Ruffian's match race live on television.  After my heart was broken, I was away from the sport for over 30 years.  I'd watch the occasional televised race if it happened to be on television when I had time to watch.  Always with my heart in my throat fearing a break-down.  

Just my luck, I happened to be watching the Preakness the day that Barbaro sustained his fatal injury.  I started reading The Bloodhorse, Thoroughbred Times, NTRA, and ESPN sites daily looking for updates on Barbaro's condition.  I was hoping that veterinary medicine had come far enough that he might recover to know the warmth of the sun on his back, and the peace of the pasture.  During that time my interest in the sport was re-kindled.  

I did not become an FOB, they freaked me out a little bit with the comments in baby-talk etc.  Not to take anything away from the FOBs, I have always said; "to each his own."  I bet that a lot of the FOB's were new or returning to the sport, and I believe that every single fan is important.  

I think the comments here that seem the most practical are the ones that agree that a national governing body would help a lot, and the "free-to-the-common-man" television coverage.  

In my opinion the whole point to the Sport of Kings is that the common man can watch the King's horses run.  We can place bets for entertainment and experience that thrill of ownership during the race.  We get to see, and appreciate the most beautiful and refined domestic animal in the world. A recent similar article touched on that concept of "ownership."  

When I was a kid there was plenty of coverage.  What happened?  What needs to be done to get that back?  A national governing body is a good place to start.  A good house cleaning is in order!  

Life At Ten anyone?  How can it possibly take that long to make a decision folks?  A penalty for foul play is handed out in real-time on other televised sports.  By the way, penalize the jockey?  Are you kidding, the jockey and the track official penalized?  Wow, that is hard to stomach.  Nobody but the trainer is to be blamed.  Nobody ever explained what was wrong with her.  What did the veterinarian find?    

Horse slaughter anyone?  How can the sport possibly allow this, how could anyone think this is o.k?  Shut down the pipeline.  Not one single Thoroughbred should ever end up there.  Not one.  Running at-risk horses, on drugs?  That is not sport, it is cruel greed.  Natural causes, or humane euthanasia, by a veterinarian.  Period.

There are always great ideas on this topic in the comments.  In the time since I returned as a fan little to no progress has been made.  My opinion of the NTRA is not very high.  By the very title of the organization I would expect leadership.  I don't see the NTRA doing a very good job of leading or promoting.  Nice logo though...similar to logos used for other more successful sports.    

24 Mar 2011 6:22 AM
Jimmy Z

Can you imagine what the NFL owners would do if they were allowed to have betting at the stadiums! How about NASCAR? Do you know how much money they would make by allowing their fans to bet at the racetrack. We are in a very envious position but can't pull it together.

We need a national league or organization to govern the industry. And it's never going to happen through volunteerism; no one in this industry wants to give up the individual power they have.

24 Mar 2011 11:17 AM
amfcf

Identify who ["...the latest report into the hands of the people who have the wherewithal to accomplish meaningful change..."] these people are so that Ms. Goncharoff's (and all the rest of us) wish can come true.

One quick idea (and I've got many, many more): get tracks to band together to promote 'Racing Across America'. VIP Passes, Prizes, Welcoming Committee, Tours, access to the 'no access' areas, etc for those participating in a Racing Across America series. Highlight key races in the series, promote/get to know the horses/trainers/owners involved in the series. So what if some of the particulars during a specific series change (i.e. horse is sold to new owner or God-forbid gets injured), there's always a story to tell.

24 Mar 2011 1:07 PM
Denmark

Pedigree Ann asked about Bluesthe standard.  Back in April 2006, Blues was entered in a 10,000 claiming race though his previous owner had taken an xray that showed a possible broken sesamoid.  The new trainer entered him anyway.  There was a huge outdry on Thoroughbred Times page that went 22 pages long that caused the new trainer to scratch him though he said it was because of "fever or somesuch thing"  Happy ending - Kristen Mulhall paid the "trainer" $10,000 for Blues and he lives happily with her.  Blues was a grade 2 winner and finished second in the 2003 breeder's cup.  His original owners once stated the Blues was a member of his family.

24 Mar 2011 2:48 PM
Sal Carcia

Ann, the NTRA was a success at many levels. IMO, it was the racetrack owners that ultimately made it ineffective. Its marketing campaigns were brilliant in my estimation. The game was moving up the rankings of popular sports then and not down as it is now. Also, their lobbying effort were quite good and I suspect they still are. And I miss the oversight role they played a few years ago. The question to me is does it make sense for the owners of the racetracks to support such an organization?

24 Mar 2011 3:20 PM
Pedigree Ann

It wasn't me who asked about Blues the Standard, just for the record.

25 Mar 2011 11:50 AM
Truth

I agree with most of the comments above.  One thing that sours many people (especially horse lovers) is how the horses are treated on/at the track AND after they are no longer winning on the track.  many of them end up (here in PA) at New Holland.  The tracks, trainers, owners, jockeys need to get proactive in finding homes/new jobs for these wonderful athletes.  Why can't the tracks have ex-racer day?  Invite owners riders in the area to bring their exracers in and demonstrate what their doing in the after racing lives.  Sponsor competitive shows before a race card.  It would bring in new people to the racetrack and spark interst in adopting an exracer.

25 Mar 2011 1:17 PM
Sam Anderer

A national commission, such as found in the NFL, NBA, hockey league, etc., is needed.  But because of the betting in horseracing, willing to "bet" the states will raise all kinds of disagreement over control.  Also all of the different state commissions and organizations such as the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protection Societies.  Everyone wants  to retain their little fifedoms.

As for Eightbells, yes, he admitted that at the recommendation of a vet, the vet administered Winstrol once a month.  It was evident that Big Brown suffered withdrawal, and that even Curlin had problems later in the year.  As for Da'Tara, it is anyones guess.

Running a horse according to a "mathematical equation", was explained not too long ago on one of these blogs.  This, along with the chemicals explains why stamina, endurance, and depth have disappeared.

My cats don't get any medication without the vet telling me everything I need to know, and then I research it on the net.

TVG is juvenile. Prefer HRTV.

25 Mar 2011 7:54 PM
LauraJ

@Denmark, Bluesthestandard is currently living the good life and enjoying carrots at Old Friends.

25 Mar 2011 10:15 PM
Denmark

After a day at Santa Anita where another horse broke down, I'm beginning to wonder how many more days at the races I have in me.  Last weekend, Always a Princess went down.  The trainers marched on the PTB and insisted on a new dirt track or they would walk.  Well, they got the track and horses are injured or euthanized to a much larger degree.  Is it time to hang up the horse shoes?

26 Mar 2011 10:53 PM
Louis

Lower the Mutual Takeout. Lower parking, admission fees, racing forms, programs.  Lower, or middle class people can't afford to go very often to the track.  Especially with gas at $3.80 a gal. Expenses of going to the track is very expensive.  When takeout was 6%, a person could last a lot longer, before going broke.  Now 18% is taken out every race. 10 races, that's what, about 90% takeout for the total pool of money for the day?  If people had a better chance of making money, they would go to the race track more often.

27 Mar 2011 1:31 AM
Hildegard

Racing has so many problems, there isn't going to be any magic bullet to fix it.

Racing doesn't know who its base is.  Is it the participants (owners, trainers, breeders)?  Is it the players (handicappers, gamblers, degenerate gamblers)?  Is it the fans (those who follow the horses/people)?  It's a bit of all, but the needs of each are totally different.

The participants want to make money on their investment.  The players want a fair shake at making money (or at least losing fairly).  The fans want to see beautiful animals perform and get to know some of the human personalities.

The fact that there is no governing body for North American racing means that reaching out to all sectors of the base is close to impossible.

But, new participants, players and fans are not going to be recruited as long as the sport appears to the layman as a poor investment, corrupt, and abuse-ridden.  And nothing turns a non-race fan off faster than the slaughter issue.  

Further, new participants, players and fans are not going to be recruited as long as the sport doesn't appear anywhere on television or in print media with POSITIVE stories.  Before the Derby last year or the year before, the only story on CNN Headline News about racing was a paddock accident that resulted in a euthanasia.  Really?  They couldn't come up with anything else?  Where are racing's PR people to head these stories off at the pass?  Does racing even have PR people?  

And, the layman is going to have a difficult time connecting when most really good horses stick around for maybe a season or two.  So why not make the jockeys and trainers the stars?  Most probably aren't personalities, but racing is missing opportunities.  Where's the coverage about Chantal Sutherland and Rosie Napravnik becoming the first female jocks to win their big races?  That's an opportunity missed.  

But again, no governing body, no mission, no action.

27 Mar 2011 9:45 AM
Rachel

Reconnect to the horse? There are hundreds of thousands of people connecting with their horses every day...showing, competing, endurance, jumping, dressage, reining, trail riding...why can't racing connect with the people who already are connected?

Race Day Drugs

Lots of Whips

Rescue Mentality

That's how they see racing.

PS Re: Martin Panza's remarks. Yeah, that's it...take away from the bread n' butter horses so a few cream puffs at the top can race 6 or 7 times in their life and get whisked away to the breeding shed...to heck with the 4 year-old filly going in her 71st race ♥ at the $6250 claiming level (who pays out at the window the same as Z) who needs this filly around anyway...let the rescues deal with her "mediocre" career.

27 Mar 2011 3:25 PM
Easy Goer

Repeat after me: It's all about the horses.

Generally, two types of people watch horseracing. The first type are those who wager on the sport, and the second group is women. Obviously, wagering is shrinking due to increased competition from casinos and other gambling opportunities. Because of this, racing needs to target women.

I was one of those horse-obssessed little girls. I loved horseracing and fell madly in love with the Black Stallion and Man O War. I moved on Easy Goer and Open Mind, Criminal Type and Ruhlman. Then I saw the 1990 Breeders Cup at Belmont Park, and my entire view of the sport changed. I watched racing from 1987 to 1990 and I never saw a breakdown. On BC day there were three deaths. To this day I can tell you their names: Mr. Nickerson had a heart attack in the sprint. Shaker Knit fell over him and also had to be euthanized. Then Go for Wand in the Distaff. I left racing until Smarty Jones and Funny Cide.

As an adult who watches the sport, I am extremely conflicted. There is so much cruelty and horror in the sport that I love. I find it difficult to watch races live because there are so many breakdowns. I never watch low-level claiming races because even if the horses make it through the race safely their future is bleak and will probably end in the slaughterhouse.

The world has changed. In the past, racing could hide these ugly realities from fans. Now the information is out there and racing authorities have to deal with these issues before it can attract new fans.

I invited a friend to visit some of the horse farms with me prior to the Breeders Cup. She wasn't a fan, but she had so much fun at the farms. Churchill even opened the track for the morning workouts and she was really excited about the sport. However, I would never be brave enough to invite her to an actual race because she might see something horrible, and then she would blame me for bringing her to see a noble animal flailing on the track before he/she is euthanized.

Racing has to get serious about drugs, breakdowns, and aftercare for the retired athletes. If these things aren't dealt with the fan base will continue to shrink. Women are the future of racing, but they won't come until they can watch the sport and ENJOY it without waiting for the other shoe to drop.  

28 Mar 2011 12:18 AM
EJMitchellKy

While there are much bigger issues to tackle--such as creating a national governing body--it seems there are some changes racing could make that don't require legislative action or sophisticated market analysis.

For one, drop the admission fee at all racetracks. I have to believe tracks will make up the revenue in concessions and wagering.

Second, tracks could do a better job coordinating their stakes schedules and post times to allow more time for fans and bettors.  

28 Mar 2011 7:58 AM
Tales Untold

When I heard that Zenyatta would be at Oaklawn, I spent 4 days at the track in Hot Springs just to gaze upon her beauty and meet her, and it was my 1st time at a race track. Awesome!!

but, I havent been back.

Marketing and promoting horse's can change so many things in racing if people were only willing.  

28 Mar 2011 10:59 AM
Jason

Resurface the worse track in the world! Churchill Downs! I've watched it like a hawk. It has retired more horses than any other track I know. I hate the derby and breeders cup when run there in the rain. Soaked, it's as hard of cement and broke bones in the best 5 horses, leaving a barely grade 3 Giacomo to win. As it drains, it gets so cuppey, it strains tendons and ligaments. Why don't trainers say any thing? SAY SOMETHING!!!

28 Mar 2011 12:30 PM
Kevin Stafford

Having participated in several of these studies over the years - I think they know all the good ideas out there. It's always wise to revisit the "voice of the customer" to see what is trending and/or what has changed, but so much is out there that is common sense or that they've known for years and either will not or can not act upon.

Some of you touched on it previously - tv exposure is sorely needed to grow the sport - which in turn will generate more wagers, interest, relevance, discussion, etc.

- First and foremost, folks need to know about us. They need to know racing exists. Don't laugh - because many out there think racing ended in the 1800's or that the Derby is the only racing day of the year.

- 2nd they need to know where they can find us (i.e., regular tv broadcasts). Right now this would be TVG or HRTV - but let's be honest, only diehard racing fans know about those, and even if they did stumble upon them, think of the experience for someone who didn't know what was going on - lots of numbers, fractions, times, and terminology they aren't used to. There's a lack of familiarity that would probably scare them away quickly.

- 3rd they need to know "why" they should even care to find us (i.e., incorporate standings or find some way of tying each race together so that not just the KY Derby matters.  Think of this as the "why should I watch the Stephen Foster?" question). At least for the upper-echelon graded stakes (which lets face it - would be our best shot at marketing the sport to new fans).

- Lastly, we need to improve the education/experience of those we do get to tune in and care rather than assume they are blue-blooded bettors who want to jump right in and launch a $500 Pick 6 ticket while arguing the fractional splits of the 5th race at Turfway Park. This can be tricky because you want to find the right balance of new fan education while not boring the pants off of the diehards with non-stop "feel good" stories.  Suffice to say though that they aren't going to stick around for long if they feel like the only idiot in the room who doesn't know what a superfecta or "blinkers on" means.  Folks usually get caught up here arguing over how any broadcast of the races should be produced - but it really goes beyond that.  As fans of the game, think of how often you've wanted information that ought to be readily available to you - only to find that you don't have access to it in horse racing.  Now contrast that to sports like Football and Baseball where the public has rampant access to statistical information.  ALL of that is part of the "education" process and needs to be more readily available to the public - and it should be "easy" to find rather than forcing me to browse hundreds of search pages on my phone.

Basically right now our sport is a jumbled mess of inaccesibility (I can't even wager on Oaklawn through my regular betting acct, for example), irrelevance, and tarnished public perception.  

Any fundamental changes incorporated should be evaluated using these factors. Will this improve the accessibility of the sport to a larger fan base?  Will this increase our relevance and help us tell our story to the national media and sports fans so that they will better understand "why" our major races matter?  And will this play out positively or will it reinforce a negative association with "playing the races"?  

I'll end with one other controversial point:  Sometimes addition through subtraction can be a good thing. If we bemoan watered down fields and a certain level of cannibalizing of horses between competing tracks - maybe contractoin would be a wiser option than contraction?  Just something to think about.

28 Mar 2011 12:48 PM
Denmark

Hildegard hit on something.  PR takes an expert and the tracks which are loaded with nepotism, hire from within for this very important job.  There is an art to PR work.  Talk to any non-profit organization and they'll tell you that PR is the most important part of fundraising.  Bob M. is a great handicapper but PR - I think not.  Mike W. talks but doesn't make any friends for racing.  Hire professional PR people!

28 Mar 2011 2:04 PM
Soltero

Many great ideas, but what about developing more jumps racing?  That would be a great outlet for so many of the horses who are not competitive on the flat.  Look at the program they have in England --many horses have a chance at a second career.

28 Mar 2011 8:06 PM
J. DeFelice

I am a former race horse owner and still a handicapper!

There are certain facts to first agree on- a decline in attendance, betting, and quality racing. The public is really not conscious of racing except during the triple crown races, and barely notices the Breeders Cup.

States are financially strapped to meet their budgets and see taxing parimutuel as a sin tax like cigarettes and alcohol taxes. There are still 13 states that don't allow any form of parimutuel ( I happen to live in one) so access even through the internet is impossible. My major suggestion is to get uniform racing , betting,and rules through a national panel made up breeders, owners, track operators and patrons,(etc...) and take the rule making bodies out of the hands of the states. If you legalize betting in those thirteen states you raise revenues and provide a more consistent product for all. Secondly the takeout on betting should be consistent from one locality to the next. I think the  over 20% on "exotic " bets is discouraging. Australia limits its racing calendar to but a few days each week (Monmouth has tried this), lower the takeout and raise the purses will encourage more participation! By the way it will also raise the revenue raised by an international industry that is being lost by the USA.  

03 Apr 2011 6:26 PM

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