The Friday Show Presented By Woodbine’s Twilight Racing Series: Challenge Accepted?

by | 07.14.2017 | 8:04am
Short fields lead to unattractive gambling propositions

As we like to say at the Paulick Report, we've reached the “Dog Days” of the Thoroughbred racing season. Since it's somewhat of a quiet time and the middle of the year, perhaps it's a good time to reflect on the current state of the horse racing industry.

So, in this episode of The Friday Show, Scott Jagow and Ray Paulick make a list of the top five challenges the Thoroughbred racing business faces at the moment, ranging from the ongoing infighting and lack of cooperation among tracks and industry stakeholders to the difficult task of converting casual fans into serious horseplayers.

Feel free to add to, disagree on the choices or alter the list and take our poll to let us know how you see our summary of the industry's biggest challenges.

Of the following issues, what do you see as racing's greatest challenge?
  • Michael Castellano

    All the items mentioned are spot on, but if I had to put one at the top I would put racing integrity and putting a stop to cheating, which appears to be rampant. The cheating that is going on effects all the other items, and might be the easiest to unite the various track interests around. Plus without racing integrity you have nothing to build on. It’s like trying to sell fake wrestling as a sport and asking people to bet on it. With so much “juicing” apparently going on, who the heck wants to throw big or even small money down the drain on a sport that can’t be trusted? The cheating that’s going on contaminates the sport and every trainer, whether they are on the level or not. This, in my opinion, has to happen first before you can better sell racing.

  • Hamish

    Scott, Ray, great show. Personally, I think one of your best and perhaps the most relevant to addressing horse racing’s ills and its search for solutions. Abusive therapeutics, illegal undetectable drugs and substances and the culture of acceptable cheating has engulfed the entire industry. Until these behaviors are eliminated, there is no sport, just an activity looked upon as “questionable” at best.

  • R.P.

    Ray

    Good show. You missed a few little things. Like, how do you get young people involved when, by the time they get into the track, they’re out about $25 and haven’t even made a wager. They can go to a casino, park and enter for free, and get a cold beer for $2.00. Last time I was at Del Mar a margarita was $15. Enough to make me quit drinking.

    New owners? Better find some millionaires. Gone are the days when an average guy could run a horse.

    4- horse fields in California. Make a trip to the track for that?

    It’s not just 1 thing, it’s a myriad of everything. Add to it, there’s tons of other forms of entertainment out there. Oh yeah, when I was a kid, racing forms were 35 cents. When they raised them to 50 cents I said I’m not buying anymore. Just saying…

    R.P.
    Prescott, Arizona

  • Rene Lawand

    All the suggestions are important considerations. You have to start somewhere and until the owners of the tracks standardize nothing great will happen. Then with all minds agreeing to a set of standards the industry will start growing. Horse Racing is an old sport. It was available long before current competitive professional activities. The Queens Plate started in 1860 and horse racing dates back to ancient times yet there is no consensus among track owners. I am a very proud Canadian and this is not a knock but unless there is centralization and agreements, it just is all over the place. When I received my Political Science degree, we were shown that both the US and Canada got it wrong. You are decentralized while we are centralized. It should be reversed. This must happen or disarray will continue to hamper the industry and that is a shame.

  • Marlaine Meeker

    How is it, this sport can be the most beautiful and the same time the ugliest.Solving the drug issue,cheaters should be the top priority. Forget pp’s just bet on who has the most drug violations.If the industry would just work on correcting some of your list, the rest just might fall into place. In all fairness name me another sport with so many different aspects to deal with it’s problems. And name one that has more beautiful athletes or courageous ones. Thank PR for continuing to address the good, the bad and the ugly.

    • Michael Castellano

      Betting on the cheaters and high percentage trainers is replacing handicapping. Form means less and less, it’s will the juicing work today. It’s been quite a while since I handicapped the old fashioned way I used to.

  • To convert casual fans and get new fans there has to be visible winners. This is the major reason why online poker caught on and why daily fantasy sports is something every young gambler knows about. The game needs to be perceived as beatable if one becomes good enough at it. Sorry, but a 21% collective takeout average makes getting substantial new blood in the game an impossibility. Solving the meds problem won’t attract new horseplayers, but as pointed out, may stop owners from quitting or cutting back. Horse owners like horseplayers need to perceive the game as beatable in the long term if you are good and lucky enough.

  • kelso

    In Pa, the worst experience I ever had at a track supported by a casino is Parx. They treat the horse player like dirt. bad food, bad digital experience with tiny tims, and service in the race book/track.
    I drive to Del Park for a more pleasant experience in the paddock, restaurant and track. Takes twice as long to get to Del Park, but worth the drive.

    • frank graziano

      Don’t forget PA’s HIGH takeout rate. I agree with your Del Park statement.

    • David Juffet

      Agree 100%.

    • Michael Castellano

      Crooks and wise guys have taken over PA racing.

  • Ed Plesa

    First of all the Industry does a poor job of promoting itself.
    There is no coordination,for example medication,post times conflict with each other and equally important why don’t race tracks work with each other.
    Wouldn’t it be nice if the Mid Atlantic could get together and have a circuit in which they supported meets that ran.Use the horses stabled at each track to support one track at a time instead of 3or4 running against each other.
    Full fields for gamblers instead of 5 or 6 horse fields.I think it’s not so much less horses as it is to much racing.
    This is a great sport sorry to see the direction it’s going.

  • just an observer

    Not that it would help much, but I live in CA and can’t remember the last time I saw a horse racing commercial on TV that was sponsored by and promoted a CA racetrack. However the Indian Casinos run commercials all day long on every major channel telling people to go to their casinos and I’ve also seen quite a few commercials from the Las Vegas Casinos on local TV

  • Bryan Langlois

    The racing fan needs to not only cash a ticket now and then, but enjoy the overall experience at the track. They need to make it fun to go to the track routinely (especially if they are going to paying what they are for a hot dog or beer). There has to be more interactive things for fans to do inbetween races that keep them engaged and educated. It is not hard to do in todays world. When talking with someone once about this, he informed me that his conversations with a higher up at one of the big tracks told him they would like to do more of this, but have to cater to the big “whales” that wager tons of money on their races instead of the little guy. I cannot believe how flawed that logic sounds at times since you actually can do both, and not sacrifice the care or service you give to these whales. Yes, they are the ones that are not going to want the other aspects of the track experience, and that is fine. In todays digital age they can easily just watch a computer screen with all the data they want on it.
    Tracks also just need to come out and admit there are issues with cheating in their sport (just like any other sport) and show the public what they are doing to clean it up. Progress has been made in some areas, but it just seems like no one ever wants to talk about that. If you are honest with the public they will respect you more.
    I am still surprised not one track has tried to jump on the Fantasy Sports bandwagon with their product. Like it has been said, it is perfect for something like this and in promoting the jockeys of our sport as well. I remember when Belmont used to do ( I am not sure if they still do) a pick the pros and ponies contest during the football season. We need more things like that but on the Fantasy Sport level and make the law worded such that a cut of it goes to the racetracks just like regular takeout does. I think it is a complete missed opportunity that for the life of me I can’t figure out why no one has grabbed onto.
    Finally, from a fans standpoint, I think the time is going to come where year round racing is just not going to be appealing to the casual fan anymore at one track. I know the horseman would never support it, but if you had actual seasons where the horses could get some rest, and fans could recharge, then come back to full feeds with big purses, the attendance would grow. Everyone talks about how great KY Downs or the Royal Ascot Meets are. Well…yeah…any track can do that for a few weeks. Penn National could have the best racing around if they ran 2 or 3 short few week meets with huge purses and low takeout. It is the sustainability that everyone seems to ignore. With todays horse population you cannot sustain that level of racing and quality over a 3-4 month meet. Look at Saratoga as an example. They have expanded their meet so much that you now see races carded at levels you ever saw even 10 years ago. A racing “circuit” of sorts that rotates among tracks might alleviate this issue a little, but would require cooperation from the tracks.

  • David Worley

    Good show, very enjoyable. I think all five of these issues are intertwined in complicated ways. Racing at the best tracks is quite entertaining, but the sport needs coordination and cooperation.

  • Kevin Callinan

    Ray, Monmouth pays workmans comp, board, water and offers a workout facility from mid- April- Suffolk’s facility is closed except when they race for inflated purses. Monmouth is just trying to survive not bully.

  • SalvatoreM

    Every issue that you guys talked about needs to be addressed, but the cheating has to be the highest priority. Bet the trainer with the highest win percentage is always a safe bet in this day and age. Next is the takeout ratio. Even the casino slot machines take out 10% and usually a lot less than that in Vegas and other places, and even less with 1% table games. Horse racing at 17% takeout is almost as bad as keno.

    Horse players consider themselves smart. Smart people know when the game is so rigged that they have no chance of winning and they will move on to any of the other gaming venues where they think they will have a good shot at least breaking even.

  • copperhead

    People still watch football after Michael Vick. FIFA is a cruddy, corrupt organization but soccer thrives. Maybe there is a population of Americans abstaining from watching racing out of moral obligation, but generally most people aren’t casual racing fans because they are unaware that it exists. It occupies the same place in their consciousness as curling at the Olympics. Racing never made the transition to TV like Monday night Football. It still doesn’t promote or make it easy to watch good coverage online. How many jockeys are Spanish speaking, but does racing try to get coverage on Univision or Telemundo networks? (Props to PR for starting Spanish coverage.)

    In other sports, part of the fan base is about creating and reinforcing a feeling of belonging through hometown/regional loyalties (baseball teams are great at this) and free swag/buying merchandise to display these loyalties. In my town, pro football car decals, shirts, baseball caps, etc. are everywhere. Not only can the merchandise and licensing be revenue (that isn’t vulnerable to competition from other forms of gambling,) but it’s automatic advertising when someone wears the team shirt. There are a few farms that sell things, but generally not a lot available. As far as I know, I can’t get a Pizza Man or Lady Eli t-shirt.

    Chrome’s connection with California only increased his popularity. People like to have a
    home state or home town horse to root for. If you just do East Coast/West Coast rivalries you’ve lost Florida, Illinois, Texas, and all of the South. But you need a national organization that facilitates competition between regions so this can happen.

    One more thing: if you play basketball or soccer or boxing as a kid, you acquire an appreciation for the skills involved and want to watch pros compete at a higher level. If a sport is played at a collegiate level at a big university (and there is college rodeo with bull riding, so it’s not like there aren’t dangerous sports at the college level), going to the competition becomes a community activity. Most kids in the US don’t have the opportunity to be involved with horses and if they do, it’s more likely to be in a discipline like barrel racing, jumping etc. We don’t have gentleman jockeys or Shetland pony races like in Europe. Increased connection with other horse sports like eventing helps, but if you want to grow the sport then create a lower level competition that people can participate in and get more people involved with horses in general.

  • Ward Brookfield

    There are plenty of horses ! They need to be spread around to more trainers to fill races. But owners are sheep , and follow each other to the big barn trainers who are allowed , by the racetrack owners and their racing secretary’s , to control the racing game by being overabundent. I liken it to a football team being allowed to have all the best players , thus dominating the competition and ruining the sport. All successful sports put rules in place , salary caps, # of Players on a team etc. to insure fair competition for the sake of the sport. Horse racing doesn’t , they used to , but starting with D.Wayne Lukas they have failed to control a stabling balance to insure that horseracing is a viable competative sport. These large uncontrolled trainers are also responsible for the majority of injury’s and horse deaths on the backside , yes they have more horses , but take it from a lifetime veteran of the sport they are the butchers that are allowed to hide thier shameful abuses by the inept powers that be and should be held accountable . I understand that the competition for the gambling dollar has changed our sport and I believe we must work hard at being inclusive , entertaining , and have fair , honest , transparent racing to find our patrons. I also understand that animal care overhead and racetrack land value are other issues that are making the sport struggle. But their is know other animal on the planet that is more incredible than a racehorse and I also believe that with care the sport of them racing can be rejuvinated.
    Yes we need National coordination
    Yes we need stall caps
    Yes we need strict medication sentencing
    Yes we need accountability for break downs
    Yes we need to be more inclusive to patrons
    Yes if I’m elected I will make horseracing great again. lol

  • Michael Castellano

    I thought this paragraph from NYRA was a good example of a terrible promotion/explanaton of one of their bets. Only a regular horse player might be able to figure out the bet. They provide no insight on how this bet might potentially pay off relatively big, it reads like they have no interest in receiving any bets of this kind, which could even be true.

    It reads “In the first three legs of the wager, equal weight is awarded to winning
    selections. In the fourth and final leg, the selection must be the
    official race winner. The payoff is posted as one price based solely on
    whether the bettor has correctly selected at least one winning selection
    in each of the four legs of the Grand Slam. Place or show
    wagering must be available in any of the first three legs of the wager
    for a horse to qualify as a winning selection finishing second or
    third. For example, a horse that finishes third in a race with no show wagering is not a winning selection.

  • Joe Longo

    The Monmouth example is not a good one. It was already mentioned here, but they offer free stalls as well as pay for ALL of workmen’s comp which they have to by state law. Most jurisdictions trainers are responsible for at least a portion, but in NJ they are not. Adding to that, Suffolk targets the same type of horses based on race conditions that Monmouth offers, but do not have a stable area. All the horses are shipping in from somewhere to run for bigger purses. They space their “meet” of two days in July, followed by two in August and two in September. In essence, if horse from Monmouth runs there they could target all three weekends with the usual 4 weeks in between races taking them away from the Monmouth season for the rest of the year. I agree that there needs to be cooperation, but given how hard it has been at Monmouth this year can you really blame them?

  • horsepower

    Deal with cheating and you resolve most of your other issues. 24 HR Retention Barn and horses on grounds for 72 HRS prior to post is a start. Thank with Ray & Scott for covering the iossues and giving us hope.

  • FourCats

    All of the topics mentioned are important. But while they contribute to it, they skate around the real issue. The sport needs more customers whether you define that as fans or bettors or both. No industry can have a bright future if the number of customers is continually declining. Economically, the sport makes no sense. Bettors as a group, by necessity, will lose money. The sport needs to be viewed as entertainment (like going to the movies; no one expects to make a profit going to the movies). And horse owners as a group will also lose money because the costs of owning a horse outweigh the purses received. That can only be changed by increasing the number of fans/bettors/customers.

  • Jack Frazier

    Although drug abuse is one of the big issues, the most compromising of the things listed is that the big barns get all the good horses. There is no way one trainer can accommodate more than 30 horses even with a good crew. With the mega-stables I doubt the trainer of record even knows all the horses by sight or name. For every ten horses a big outfit has one small operator is put out of business. I know the argument is the it is just capitalism but big outfits could do as they used to, train at auxiliary facilities and van the horses in and out.

    A horse that is not read to run or is recovering from an injury should not be allowed a stall on the grounds of any track. The racing secretary should know the name of each horse assigned to a stall and if that horse has not started in at least forty-five days the trainer should be questioned as to why. The way it works now is trainers get an allotment of stalls and can put any horse in any stall. It should be that a horse get a stall and records should be kept that would show how many starts that particular stall and horse have. It used to be the way it was but the big boys don’t want to change the status quo, the racing secretaries go along with them and thus they run of or put out of business the small operations.

    Limit stalls. Keep records on horses and stalls and make sure the horse is in the corresponding stall it is given. That is not a lot to ask but it is work. Perhaps they are just too lazy and in the end, the races will all be between eight or ten big stables. At that point racing is dead.

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