The Jockey Club held its 65th annual Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing on Sunday at the Gideon Putnam Resort in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Speakers presented on a variety of topics, including data, marketing, and equine aftercare/welfare. You can find the official Jockey Club press release on the event here, or watch a replay of the event here.
If you're not looking to spend two hours reliving the event's program, here are a few quick takeaways on the event's highlights:
- Scheduling technology from the NFL could help horse racing with post times. Ben Vonwiller, partner in McKinsey & Company, presented data showing the use of an algorithm to generate potential schedules for the NFL's 32 teams. This same technology can help avoid running simultaneous races on big weekends – an issue long identified by horseplayers and McKinsey as a detractor for serious bettors. Vonwiller estimated, based on computer models, that handle could grow by $400 million if the industry could de-duplicate races. Admittedly, he said, there are limits; racetracks are trying to run two races per hour and would also prefer three to four minutes in between post times of consecutive races on the national schedule – on most weekends, there are too many tracks running at one time to keep everybody from overlapping. In the winter, there are also limited daylight hours. Still, Vonwiller reasoned, it would be possible to coordinate post times for at least the top five operating racetracks. For those five tracks, he estimated there would be a handle increase of approximately $150 million as a result.
- Using such an algorithm does require tracks to work together, however. When Vonwiller took this information to racetracks, they presented him with reasons the idea wouldn't work. The biggest issue was post dragging, which tracks told Vonwiller was often due to unforeseeable issues like a loose horse or weather delay. Upon further research, Vonwiller found this wasn't necessarily the case – rather, tracks very often had patterns about their post time/off time discrepancies; Vonwiller studied the top 25 tracks by handle and ranked their ability to start races at the post times printed. The five least-punctual tracks started their races five or more minutes behind schedule 50 to 70 percent of the time. The five most-punctual tracks started races within five minutes of schedule 93 to 97 percent of the time. He did not identify which tracks fell into which groups.
- Bettors will soon be given the option of donating a portion of their winnings to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. Stacie Clark, operations consultant for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, announced a new partnership with AmTote which would allow bettors to donate a portion of their winnings to TAA automatically. Machines will dispense donation receipts for tax deduction purposes along with balance tickets. Clark said the idea was originally presented to her by Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of PETA.
- The differences in racing officiating between the U.S. and Britain/Australia/others are due to official designations for disqualification requirements. (Though actually, many other countries refer to the process of removing a horse from his position and placing him differently in a race as a “demotion” rather than “disqualification,” which implies complete stripping of placing and forfeiture of purse in other parts of the world.) North America, South America, France and Germany are referred to as Category 2 countries. In these places, a horse may be disqualified or demoted if he is judged to have caused interference and if that interference influenced the outcome of the race regardless of intent. The rest of the world's racing countries are Category 1, and will only remove a horse from his placing if he caused interference and benefitted from that interference in his placing.
- Racing may have an untapped revenue steam in sponsorships. Although many of us remember the days when Visa sponsored the Triple Crown, and individual stakes races like the Kentucky Derby still sometimes bear sponsors' names, racing could be thinking bigger. Rachel Jacobson, former senior vice president of Global Partnerships at the National Basketball Association, suggested racing has an advantage over the NBA because it is not seasonal, its human athletes are highly accessible, and Thoroughbred owners are often involved in other businesses with marketing dollars to spend. Her suggestions for sectors to target include apparel, spirits, technology, restaurants, and service industries.
- To make sponsorships work, racing needs to work together. Jacobson believes sponsorship pitches to major companies will be most appealing if they reach beyond one racetrack and one state. This means racetracks, normally competitors for the wagering dollar, would need to coordinate with each other. Another area of logistics: it needs to be made clear to a potential sponsor without a lot of racing knowledge who they should speak to regarding sponsorships at the national level. Right now, that chair is empty.
- Major racing events become cultural events when every detail is orchestrated with great intent. Amanda Elliott, chairman of Victoria Racing Club presented a lot of interesting numbers behind the Melbourne Cup, “the race that stops a nation.” (Did you know in addition to being well-attended, thoroughly marketed, and financially successful, VRC has made an effort to make the event environmentally friendly? Recycling on track has increased in recent years, Flemington now has a desalination plant to water its tracks and gardens, and some 4,000 kilos of leftover concessions were made into 7,500 meals for people in need last year.) What was impressive about this was not only the success the numbers suggested, but the fact VRC is clearly so acutely aware of every facet of its image. Royal Ascot's Commercial Director Juliet Slot gave a similar presentation at the Pan American Conference earlier this year, detailing changes made in everything from facility to marketing plan to menus to advance the meet's profile.
- Critics of the Horseracing Integrity Act? Shawn Smeallie has an answer for you. Smeallie is the executive director of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, and used his time at the podium to address criticism from the legislation's detractors. One of the arguments he hears most often is that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is not a sufficient third-party testing organization because it has no experience with veterinary medicine. This is of no consequence, according to Smeallie, who believes it is more important that USADA be an independent and high-quality testing agency. “That's like saying Ernst and Young shouldn't be Nike's accountants because they don't know anything about sneakers,” said Smeallie. Smeallie reminded the audience the board of an anti-doping agency would be comprised partly of people with significant experience in racing with no active financial interests in the sport.
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