PariBet Racetrack Industry Student Experience: ‘The Industry Is Changing, Not Dying’

by | 03.20.2019 | 11:58am
Mitch Gerson

Florida native Mitch Gerson has much more experience in the horse racing industry than his 24 years would indicate. He has worked for multiple trainers, including Charles Simon, Todd Pletcher, and Kiaran McLaughlin.

Gerson has also filled many roles during each of his four Rillito Park race meets. Starting as a timing and photo finish official, Gerson moved to on-air handicapper, and finally served as an Equibase chart caller each of the last two seasons.

Complementing his many experiences in the industry, Mitch has a sharp memory of individual horses and races. His studious interest in all facets of the racing industry have led him to a great amount of racing knowledge. From handicapping angles to pedigrees, Mitch has positioned himself well for a career in the horse racing industry.

In his own words

Growing up, what was your involvement and interest in horse racing?
Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida and without having a family member with a career related to horse racing, I did not become a fan of the sport until I was 13 years old. After “catching the bug,” I followed racing as a casual fan/handicapper. I would spend weekends at our local Off Track Betting parlor, exchanging handicapping opinions with my uncle and giving my dad tickets to bet for me.

Upon graduating high school and starting my collegiate career at The University of North Florida, I wanted to explore the possibility of turning my passion into my career. In the summers of 2013 and 2014, I worked as a hotwalker for Thoroughbred trainer Charles Simon at Monmouth Park. Chuck saw that I had a passion for training but knew the hardships that come with that lifestyle. Being a Race Track Industry Program graduate himself, he convinced me to transfer to the University of Arizona in order to discover the different opportunities the sport provides. I ended up transferring in the Fall of 2015.

What kind of work have you done at Rillito Race Track?
This is my 4th year working at Rillito Park. During my first racing season, I operated the Photo Finish for Teletimer and filled in for the track handicapper as needed. I then transitioned to being the track handicapper full-time in my 2nd year (2017) before becoming the Chart Caller for Equibase for the 2018 and 2019 meetings. I feel my previous experience of learning the sport as a handicapper and bettor has greatly helped my charting because I learned how to correctly watch a race and can accurately depict it on paper for other people.

After your class work and hands-on experience at the racetrack, did you change your career focus in any way?
My experience at Rillito Park has completely changed my career path. During my three summers as a Race Track Industry student, I have worked for a few of the top Thoroughbred training stables at Saratoga Race Course. I had the goal of working for a stable upon graduating from the University of Arizona, hoping to eventually become a trainer on my own someday.

But Rillito Park has opened eyes to the other options that I have, as all three jobs that I have done could be careers for me in the future at other race tracks. In fact, multiple organizations that I have worked for at Rillito Park have contacted me about doing the same job at other race tracks. Already understanding the hardships that would come with the training lifestyle, I know I need to explore other facets of the industry, and Rillito Park has opened a wide range of doors for me.  

What's something you've learned about the racing industry that surprised you?
For my senior project, I studied the current trends of North America's Grade 1 races vs the current overall trends of the industry, in hopes to depict the current state of the sport. I concluded, while overall statistics are declining, racing's top level has never been stronger. Especially with the implementation of sports wagering, the future of horse racing is a little bleak. This study suggests that the sky is not falling and the industry isn't going to end due to financial means. I showed the industry is changing, not dying. This study shined a positive light on the current gloomy situation.

Did you have a favorite horse or horse racing moment growing up that has stuck with you?
My favorite horse I followed growing up was Ben's Cat. I admired his gut-wrenching efforts closing in turf sprints and his consistency at the top level of racing, which he performed at for the better part of 7 years. My dad, while not as big of a racing fan as I am, became a fan of his as well, causing us to try to get to the OTB for each of his races.

What do you consider the most important problem facing the racing industry? How would you go about solving it?
I feel racing's biggest problem is uniformity and public perception. After studying the current condition of the sport for my senior project, I concluded there is reason to believe the sport is sustainable financially despite the recent downturns in almost every industry facet (number of races annually is declining, annual foal crop totals are declining, etc.).

The biggest threat to the longevity of the sport is public perception, which goes hand-in-hand with legislation. Multiple animal rights groups lobby for the end of horse racing via legislation in their governments. The dog racing industry is in shambles after groups successfully got it abolished in Florida via an election. Currently, racing is regulated on a state level, not a federal one. This leaves horse racing without a main national voice that works in the best interest nationally for the sport. Horse racing will need to offer a unified front in order to combat the desires of the animal rights groups, who are quickly picking up steam after recent events.

What do you hope to do in the industry after graduation?
I have been in contact with multiple organizations within the industry about positions after college. I don't really have a specific goal in mind. Due to the wide range of jobs and the niche construction of our industry, there are plenty of possibilities that lie ahead for me. I still have the bug for training, but my horizons have expanded as I have found a passion for other facets of the industry during my time at Rillito Park and the Race Track Industry Program.

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