PAULICK REPORT FORUM brought to you Breeders’ Cup: SYNTHETIC TRACKS? NO MOSS

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

By Ray Paulick Jerry Moss has been living a dream since moving to California from his native New York in 1960. In 1962, with trumpeter and band leader Herb Alpert, he formed A&M Records and over the next quarter century produced music for a diverse group of recording artists ranging from The Carpenters, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, and Cheech & Chong to Joe Cocker, Janet Jackson, Oingo Boingo, The Tubes and The Police—and that's only a very small list. He and Alpert were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. His life as a Thoroughbred owner has been pretty groovy, too, especially in recent years. Moss and his wife Ann won the Kentucky Derby with Giacomo in 2005, and Zenyatta has carried them to consecutive Eclipse Awards as champion older mare during an unbeaten career that hit a high note at Santa Anita last November when she became the first distaffer to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. She is currently preparing for an April 9 showdown against Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in the $5-million Apple Blossom Invitational at Oaklawn Park. Moss also serves on the California Horse Racing Board, having been appointed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004. He was the only member of that panel not to vote in favor of the synthetic track mandate when it was proposed in 2006. Moss abstained, believing more research and study was needed before such a significant change was enacted. He, along with Zenyatta's trainer, John Shirreffs, have become critics of the synthetic surfaces. Moss spoke with the Paulick Report about the synthetic track controversy and a variety of other subjects. Let's go back to 2006 when the push was made for synthetic tracks. What was your position? I frankly wasn't prepared for the speed at which this was enacted. I thought we needed more data and felt we shouldn't be rushing off to do this, causing tracks to spend $40 million based on one season at Turfway Park. Yet if you were in the room that day–and the truth is every vendor, Polytrack, Cushion Track, Tapeta, they all had people show up and do demonstrations—that meeting was hell bent on doing this.  There were only five commissioners present, and the overall support from TOC and CTT (Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers), and particularly from two trainers, Richard Mandella and Howard Zucker, was rampant. The room was rocking to do this. First I made a statement that we should all study it enough to pick one surface and be consistent and no one took that seriously. We could have managed it better with maintenance. We took this vote, and I was hoping someone would stand up and say, 'You can't do this.' I said, 'I abstain, I think we need more time.' We had been fortunate enough to win the Kentucky Derby the previous year with Giacomo, and I felt these tracks would make it so much more difficult for the owner of a California horse to achieve the dream, to win the Derby. Sometimes you can train on Polytrack and do well, but it's hard to race on it and transfer the same form to dirt. The nature of the tracks changes every day. We run on three different synthetic tracks in Southern California and a fourth, quite different track, is at Golden Gate (near San Francisco), and every one of them changes every day. It's been very hard for trainers to build up the strength of horses on these tracks. With John Sadler now president of CTT, an open poll of trainers came up with a 70% vote to reinstall dirt. I hope we live up to that. I think it's a big, divisive thing that's happened. We have enough divisiveness. If Santa Anita takes the lead and installs a dirt track, it would become the center of racing again in the U.S. People will still complain about the track. Everybody complains about the condition of the track, every trainer. At least with a dirt track you've got people with years of experience in maintaining it. With this stuff, nobody knows anything. We were told we wouldn't need water and that couldn't be further from the truth. We were told there would be lower maintenance costs. Our horse Tiago had a huge piece of rubber in his nose. It took us weeks and months to get this gook out of his mouth. The fibers melted from the heat. What are some of the other challenges the industry faces in California? Getting our product across to the consumer. I'm pleased that the CHRB is really concentrating on the mini-satellites. We've had a bill put forth in the state legislature that seemed to allow a greater number of them to commence operations, but there's a restriction they had to be 20 miles away from an existing track or wagering site. In all this time, only one mini-satellite got set up—at a card club in Gardena, and they're doing really well. It showed people still have an appetite for our game. A friend of mine owns movie theaters and wants to incorporate bet facilities in movie theaters. I think it's a great idea, yet nobody seems to be jumping up and down about it. The thing that really gets me down about our game is we have so many wise men who are so negative. I feel that's what's plaguing our industry. Not enough guys who want to put their money up and take a shot. The dream keeps getting dimmer. There are some new thoughts blossoming. Our new CHRB chairman (Keith Brackpool) has some good ideas, some practical ideas. He's thinking positively. What needs to happen to reverse the trend? Leadership. Are there national solutions to racing's challenges? I firmly believe you need a national presence. We need to figure a way to do this. We've got these little fiefdoms, powerful in their regions. There's no national medication policy; it's like the Cincinnati Reds playing on different drugs than the New York Mets. It's just not right. Different rules apply to different places. There's got to be some national policy. It's been tried. Business has to operate with one negotiator. It's also gotten to be too hard for the public to get to see these races, like the Derby preps last weekend. These were some big races, but they weren't on ESPN and were hardly reported in the papers. The Kentucky Derby still gets a good (television) rating, and the Breeders' Cup is a big event.  People do tune in on big days. But look at something like NASCAR. They are all over the place. Your expertise is in entertainment, and you've seen a lot of changes in the music business in terms of distribution and technology. What has the music industry done differently in the face of those changes, as opposed to how the racing industry has reacted? The internet has taken its toll on the sale of records. A large segment of the population started exchanging files and getting music for free. But artists are still making music and the emphasis for making money for these artists is through new sources—personal appearances. Artists in this for the long haul have to keep performing, attach themselves to an audience, people who show up for them, and buy their products. It is possible to be a success in the music industry. Television is more important than before. If you're talented you've got to get your message to the people—and promote it. What are the chances state government can help in California? California breeding has gone way down. California homebreds used to make up a much bigger percentage of the races. State government has done very little in the time I've been on the CHRB. It's very disappointing what the legislature or governor have done for the industry–so far it's been dismal. But the state is in trouble. I understand where Arnold (Gov. Schwarzenegger) is having to reduce money for breast cancer diagnosis. How can he do something for a rich man's game like horse racing while reducing the number of teachers in our schools. Clearly, we need some help. But positive thinking and a unified approach to the legislature and governor would certainly benefit. We've got to think more positively. People have to let go of some things. We have to move on. We gave up the stage coach a long time–and we moved on. You mentioned how musicians are now emphasizing personal appearances more today. Can racing ever recapture some of the on-track business it lost to simulcasting and advance-depoisit wagering? My belief is that people's habits have changed. I don't know if people have that much leisure time these days. In the 1980s when on-track business was strong, you still had the same number of sports–basketball, baseball, NFL, lots of different stuff. Today everybody has to work harder, our economy is still in trouble. To come out and hang out for the whole afternoon is hard for people, their attention spans have changed. That's why you've got to make TV a little easier for them. Are we better off with ADW, even though it's had a negative effect on on-track business? Yes I'd have to say so. At least it's brought in the opportunity of a new generation that understands the internet effectively enough to place a wager. I bet on TVG now and then. I think it's a handy tool. And I'm happy that BetFair owns TVG. Gaming professionals understand racing. They understand gaming. I think they do a pretty good job on TVG—they try to be entertaining. It would have been very easy to send Zenyatta off to Kentucky to be bred after her second Eclipse Award. What factors went into your decision to keep her in training? The initial decision to retire her was purely mine. After the Breeders' Cup Classic I said what else can I ask her to do? I didn't talk to my wife, to anybody on the team, I just said I think we've got to retire her. We went to visit her at the barn and this was a horse that obviously was liking her job. She's been there four years now, and we were, what, going to send her to Kentucky? Before the Eclipse Awards, my wife and I said if John thinks she can go another year and she's happy, let's do it. She loves the show, she loves the people. The Classic didn't take that much out of her. John and Dottie (racing manager Dottie Ingordo, Shirreffs' wife) said, 'Yeah, she can be pretty good next year.'  The decision to retire her was an emotional one on my part and the decision to keep her in training was more of a reasonable one. She's a star. How can racing seize the opportunity to promote the Apple Blossom and any other races involving Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra? I believe Mr. (Charles) Cella is a great showman. He's almost in a class by himself. Back in 1927, someone said, 'Mr. O'Brien the most amazing thing has happened; a man has flown across the Atlantic Ocean all by himself.' O'Brien says, 'That's fantastic, but let me know when a committee does it. That would be amazing.' The point is an individual can accomplish anything. Charlie was able to pull this off and you've got to give him credit for it. Whatever devise he wants to promote this race is absolutely fine, and I believe he'll come out of it making money.

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