The COVID-19 situation has divided most working Americans into two camps: those who have been fired, furloughed, or shut down and have plenty of time on their hands, or those on the clock who are busier than ever. Those in the Thoroughbred industry fall into the latter category.
Although hard at work, we wouldn’t suggest the money is rolling in. With most racing jurisdictions closed, purse money is non-existent despite horses still needing to be tended, fed, and trained. Two-year-olds that would have gone under the hammer at in-training sales remain unsold. It’s draining.
Terry Finley, founder of the partnership outfit West Point Thoroughbreds, is like many others at the helm of ownership groups in trying to figure out what to do. Instead of wringing his hands, he’s taking a philosophical approach that we all could learn a thing or two from.
“I’ve called people all over the world who are in the horse business and I’ve asked, ‘What’s going on in your mind?’ ” he said. “It’s beautiful to see the wide range of outlooks. There have been a couple of common threads.
“One, don’t downplay that your company might change in the future…because you know your employees are thinking that. I would not have thought about that. I had a retired CEO tell me, ‘If they’re thinking about it, you need to talk about it. And you know they are thinking about it.’ ”
Finley, who has been in sport for nearly 30 years, has also had the next generation on his mind.
“If I were 35 years old 20 years ago and this had happened, what would I want from the people that were in the generation above me?” Finley pondered. “If I could communicate to everyone out there, I’d say our business is going to be OK. It will change, and some of it will change dramatically, but never forget you have the blessing of being part of something you love. If you didn’t love it, you wouldn’t be in the game—very few people on this planet Earth have that. They may make a lot of money; they might have prestige; they might have other things; but they don’t have the passion we have and that drive to get up every morning.”
Finley is also concerned about taking care of the backbone of the industry: the workers on the backstretch. In February, Finley became chairman of the New York Race Track Chaplaincy.
“I have to bring energy to this every day, and it’s a long fight,” he said. “It’s a fight that humanity is going to be tuned into for a long time, but I’m so proud of our racing industry. Of all the problems and all the infighting and all the things that give you a migraine, we have come together, especially in a place like New York.”
New York City has been the epicenter for the virus in the U.S. The backstretch area of Belmont Park has been hit hard. As of April 19 more than 35 residents there have tested positive for the virus, but all of the New York racing groups have banded together to help.
“There is no ego or pride of ownership,” Finley said. “It’s just, ‘How do we take care of these people?’
“We have to put our best practices in writing, and we have to be available for other backstretches across the country. This problem will move, and from what we’ve learned we’ve got a lot to offer other backstretches.”
Finley was like most everybody else that when the COVID-19 pandemic began, he wanted to talk about the virus and the economic impact, but later discovered people and partners could do that anywhere.
“When they engage with us, they want to talk about horses and the future and hopes and dreams,” he said. “It’s helped the partners, and it’s helped us because we have a chance to talk about the horses and the people that care for our horses all day. I offer that we don’t have much of an impact on the virus or the economics in the broad scope of things, but we do have the ability to bring some optimism, some hope, and some anticipation.
“We’ve got to go forward. We can walk and chew gum at the same time—we have to.”