The Breeders’ Cup Forum: Positive Vibes

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I used to attend the University of Arizona’s Symposium on Racing and Gaming on a regular basis back in the 1990s (then it was just the Symposium on Racing). I always left Tucson with a bit of optimism about our business, because the symposium attracted smart people and it also afforded industry leaders an opportunity to network and “talk shop” away from the hustle and bustle of the racetrack.

I wondered if the symposium still had that same effect on people so asked several attendees the following question:

What, if anything, gives you optimism about our industry right now?
Lonny Powell, Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association: I remain optimistic about the industry because it continues to demonstrate its ability to change with the times, and I think the greater emphasis on finance, technology, legal, and government relations, it’s absolutely where the business is at. As long as people in racing know that, I think we’ve got things to be optimistic about. It’s not easy, there are a lot of challenges, but I’m excited about it.

Lou Raffetto, Thoroughbred Owners of California: Realistically, I believe at some point we’ll clear the final hurdle. I think we just have to recognize what the future of the business is. As much as I love live racing, I think we really do have to realize that racing – the way we’ve conducted it over the years with excessive days and meets – that’s not the future. If we are realistic about the way racing should be conducted going forward, I can be optimistic, but the growth is going to be off-track and we have to embrace that, and make sure we have the right business model to grow the business off-track. And I’m optimistic from that standpoint.

Tom Pedulla, writer for America’s Best Racing and longtime USA Today sports writer: The Thoroughbred itself. It’s such a magnificent animal. It’s captivating just to look at Thoroughbreds. That alone – not the wagering element – will always draw me to the track to look at these beautiful animals. I think that’s the pull for many, many people, and the source for hope. One of the keys obviously is to find a way to keep horses running. Make it financially appealing enough that owners will want to keep their horses running. It is terrible that just when a horse develops a following we have these rather abrupt career-ending injuries. I think if we can find ways to keep them going, keep them sound, it’s how much the owners are really willing to make that commitment. Are they really sporting people or not? If you’re a sporting person and the animal is sound enough, you keep it racing.

Penelope Miller, America’s Best Racing:
Just the racing itself. When I go to all these great big events, I see young people really getting involved in the game, having a good time with their friends, sharing all the sights, sounds and fun of horse racing with their friends socially and in person. I think we can potentially see in the next couple of years the development of this sport to a national platform that’s fun and much more cost effective than football, basketball, baseball and those sports.

Brian Pettigrew, National Thoroughbred Racing Association: Spending this week with colleagues and starting to talk about how we can all work together more. We’ve had some tough years where we don’t work together and we’ve all realized that we make more money and bring in more fans when we do work together.

Josh Rubinstein, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club: We are a very resilient bunch, from horseplayers to racing associations and owners and breeders. Times are obviously tough right now, but I think that resiliency will see us come together and make for a better day.

Pat Cummings, Trakus: They run 45,000 races in the United States on an annual basis. Every one of them is an opportunity. There are people that I have encountered in this industry that I think are positive, optimistic, willing to try new things, but they are not the majority. They are the minority. But they are growing in position, stature and importance. Those are the people who need to be here, who need to be talking, who need to be presenting. It’s often cited at events like this, “Well, it seems like we’ve been talking about takeout for years, or we’ve been talking about X and Y for years.” There’s a reason for that: whatever you tried before isn’t working, and it’s still not working. It’s time to go outside the box, and I think there is a growing youth movement, maybe it’s the 40 under 40 somewhere that does have ideas, and we can’t abandon them. So I cling to those people, those ideas. I think the future is brighter than a lot of the people who are naysayers, who have more power and influence, would suggest.

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  • Terri

    Pat Cummings with Trakkus bottom-lined the problem. Tom Meeker once said something like, “I look around and see all these gray hairs – same old ideas.”

    Therefore use these conferences to bring in the young and energized who know how to use technology like Facebook, Twitter, and the other platforms to excite the masses of young people who would love this game if only it worked for their generation.

  • Cgriff

    Only one really touched on the true future of live racing (if it is to survive as an on-site spectator sport) – fewer race dates and meets – weed out the non starter tracks and boutique meets at the best, most historic tracks.  The industry is a lot like the government, if it’s going to survive, it has to shrink a good bit and streamline its best assets into pretty, boutique packages of top venue, races and competitors.

  • Bob Hope

    horse racing needs to insulate itself from the growing classlessness and seedy operations; attempt to gain and retain class of pedigree, distance and quality!

  • Nucky Thompson

    I’ll have whatever Penelope Miller is smoking.

  • Babunina

    I happen to be an animal rights activist so perhaps you should not send me anything about horse racing.  I know many truths about the racing industry which are hidden from the public such as what happens to horses who don’t run fact enough, and how horses are ovten trained at twoo young an age where they break their legs and are put down such as happened here in Oregon at Grants Pass Downs.   I am completely against horse racing,  humans need to remember what the horse did for humans and how they died in stupid human wars.  No sire,  racing is all the adrenaline rushes of humans,  and I am against races totally.  Too many horses die,  can even experience internal bleeding during races which are forced to do.  Too many slaughtered for horse meat for dog food and meat for France, Belgium and Japan.  This all makes me sick and I do all I can to stop all the breeding and save the horses that we have such as the wild ones, and all the ones who need to be rescued from abuses, neglectful humans.   Lets stop all the cruelty mostly due to GREED> 

  • SteveG

    Horse Racing has two potentially great strengths, IMO - the thoroughbreds themselves engaging in what can be an electrifying sport & a gambling game predicated on that sport which ideally rewards skill over the long-term.

    If the horses were handled in an impeccably ethical fashion, without exception, the current trend to homogenize racing abandoned & the gambling end reconfigured & repriced to attract, engage & retain horseplayers long-term – I’d be far less inclined to the disenchantment I often entertain about the future of the sport.

    With those fundamental factors – the horses & gambling – squared away, heck, I’d be as optimistic as the next guy.

  • Josh

    You have to remain optimistic about a sport that can change your life at any moment. Those who live and die by the last race they ran. My owners days hinge on the results of a race or an update on their horse, not their business, not their 401-k, not the partner meeting they just left. Horse racing puts people from all walks of life on the same level for a brief amount of time. Whether you own the winner or you put your last $20 on the winner, you get that rush and it’s addicting. Racing has something no other sport has, we just need to capitalize on that feeling that can’t be reproduced in any other sport. Let’s focus on new ideas for once like Pat Cummings said. Let’s get more people involved in the experience of ownership, winning races, and taking pictures. There is something special about racing that grips people of any age, ethnicity, culture, or class level. Let’s work on getting rid of our black eyes so we can focus on what makes this sport great, the connection with the animals and the thrill of winning. 

  • wallyhorse

    The biggest (and easiest) change to make is to make sure our top horses race longer.  This is where the rules now in place for Harness Racing by Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural for his tracks and followed by Woodbine Entertainment Group need to be followed and expanded on by the Thoroughbred tracks.  

    In Harness Racing, beginning with the foals of 2014, horses by sires who were four year old or younger when conceived will no longer be eligible for major races (except The Hambletonian, run by the Hambletonian Society) at any track Mr. Gural owns as well as those of WEG.  The Triple Crown track operators and Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. need to follow suit and expand on it to where horses by sires who were FIVE or younger when conceived are not eligible for Graded stakes events or the Breeders’ Cup. This would not only keep our stars around longer, but also force fundamental changes in the way horses are bred so they are bred for durabilty, stamina and distance as opposed to speed and precociousness.  

  • Lou Baranello Former Steward

    The site was showing seven comments at the time of this response.  I’m sorry to say that none of these comments even suggests a way out of the current dilemma.  One would be hard pressed to sell shares in any of them. 

  • Kate W

    Dale Romans did an interesting thing at his barn…he stuck masking tape next to his horse’s stalls and wrote in that particular horses name. Easy for fans and media to id. Shack became the Dale Earnhart of the racing fan world…his fan group made it personal and Dale made his barn fan friendly. Practical magic.

  • FourCats

    I am not at all optimistic about the future of racing.

    Many people including myself have proposed many ways to bring the industry back to prosperity.  Some of these ideas may be pie-in-the-sky and unrealistic.  But not all.  And the people proposing them really want to see racing prosper.

    However, these ideas have almost universally been ignored by those with the ability to change racing (namely the track owners/managements and the state governments).  State governments care nothing for racing except as an easy source of money.  And most track managements are either completely incompetent about how to run and promote a successful business or care only about using racing as a means to get casino operations.

    Until (and unless) those in charge start caring and working towards having racing prosper, racing will continue to decline (and not necessarily slowly).

  • AJ

    The question was “what gives you optimism” – not “how do you solve racing’s woes?”  

  • Stanley inman

    Ray,
    Let’s make a wager;
    I’ll give you the “insider” field above
    And Take the “outsider”,
    Tom Pedulla (to forecast our future)

    Whatayasay?

  • nu-fan

    Wallyhorse:  You always have good answers for me.  One thing that I wonder about, sometimes, is why some racehorses run so long or, even, live so long?  Is it genetics or the way that they were cared for during their lives?  Is it the age of the sires/mares?  That is what I took from your comments, above.

  • nu-fan

    Josh:  Yesssss!  So much in the way of comments about how to save horseracing centers around the wagering.  But, I agree with you:  It is about being in the crowd and cheering on your horse while others cheer on theirs.  I rarely hear any animosity if someone’s horse doesn’t win while another person’s does.  At a recent race, there was a dead heat with my horse (that I wagered on) being one of them.  The guy next to me wagered on the other horse but told me that he thought my horse won by a nose.  How nice–and civil–are the crowds at horseraces?!  Much better than some at the NBA, NFL or MLB games.  But, I do also agree that the crowd needs to be going to horseracing, first, to see the horses run.  And, second, if they make a few bucks on wagering, that’s great.  It keeps interest certainly alive.  But, if motivated primarily motivated by wagering, hey, the animals don’t matter.  They could just as well be wagering on goat races.  And, by the way, yes, the crowd–outdoors–is mixed in gender, age, ethnicity, single, families w/kids, and so on.  Indoors, however, where those who are wagering and watching simulcasts, look like zombies and a large percentage of them are old men.  And, you rarely see them smile or cheer.  They really are not experiencing horseracing.  So many don’t even venture out into the grandstands to watch real races and in peson!

  • wallyhorse

    I think it’s a combination of factors, some of which simply can’t be explained.  Training is a big part of it of course, and in my view that would also wind up changing some if Mr. Gural’s rules were implemented the way I would do it, as it would make horses stronger and more robust than we currently have because it would force changes in the way horses are bred.

  • Pretense

     Tape with the names on stall doors is a common practice at the track, we did it at the Phipps stable. Names on the water buckets too. Done for the stable hands as well as to limit the spread of disease by accidentally using the wrong water bucket.
    The fans are NOT usually allowed on the backside without proper escort, at least in New York.

  • Dcurtis78

    Give it a rest, we have problems but are not the monsters you think we are.
    You keep on trying to stop the breeding etc and in the end there won’t be any horses left.

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