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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