Jockey Club Round Table: Glass Half Full Or Half Empty?

by | 08.09.2015 | 3:43pm
USADA chairman and former Olympian Edwin Moses

The sixty-third annual Jockey Club Round Table conference took place on Sunday at the Gideon Putnam Resort in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Depending upon your perspective, it was either a marker of tremendous positive change for the racing industry, or a reminder of just how slowly things progress in the sport.

(To view a replay of the Round Table, click here. The Jockey Club Round Table press release.)

The conference began with a review of where the industry stands in relation to the report presented at the Round Table by McKinsey and Company in 2011. On some points, racing is looking pretty good; on others, not so much. On one hand, McKinsey had predicted that the annual handle, which was dropping at that time, would be down to $10.1 billion by 2014. In reality, Jason Wilson, president of media ventures at the Jockey Club, reported that total handle was $10.6 billion in 2014. Wilson attributed this relief to racing's increased presence on television.

Part of McKinsey's suggested course of action was for the industry to get proactive about controlling its brand. Penelope Miller, senior manager of digital media for America's Best Racing, presented numbers indicating that in just three years, the initiative has already succeeded in engaging fans both at the racetrack and online. On Saturday, Miller reported that ABR hosted several dozen “influencers” with sizable followings on blogs or social media at Saratoga Race Course for a day of racing that will be recounted to a combined 400,000 people between the influencers' combined audiences. In the first half of 2015, ABR-produced videos have garnered over 700,000 views online as of mid-June, Miller said.

McKinsey also suggested that one easy fix to improve the fan and handicapper experience would be for tracks to work together to prevent running races over the top of each other. Ask any weekend horseplayer whether this problem has been successfully addressed.

More technology is coming to racing—Wilson announced that by 2016, a web system will be in place allowing trainers to send in entries on their smartphones or tablets, streamlining the process and helping centralize data. Bill Squadron, executive vice president of strategic relationships for STATS, outlined a statistical database with predictive algorithms to help horseplayers and casual fans, coming to the industry in 2016. Rick Bailey, registrar at the Jockey Club divulged plans to require all foals to be registered by microchip by 2017, helping streamline the process of identifying horses. Critics would point out that other racing jurisdictions are already using microchips, and that microchip use in pets has been in place for years (New Zealand first required all dogs be microchipped in 2006).

Glass half full, glass half empty.

Dr. Kathleen Anderson

Dr. Kathleen Anderson

In the ‘progress' column, Dr. Kathleen Anderson outlined the American Association of Equine Practitioners' new ten-point plan for cooperative improvement of the racing industry, which included the intent to seek out alternatives to Lasix in hopes of phasing the drug out of competition. Whether you're for Lasix or against it, such a move would help quell public anxiety about the drug.

On the other hand, several of the organization's points could be construed as closing some loopholes from older reform movements—anabolic steroids are recognized as legitimate therapeutic tools in the treatment of some medical conditions, but in 2009 the industry moved to end the use of the drugs in racing based on public outcry. The idea was to put the public's mind at ease that the horses they saw on the track weren't “juiced up,” but the laws that made their way into state statutes did nothing to create penalties for trainers of horses testing positive for anabolic steroids outside of competition…meaning that some of the horses you see at morning workouts could still be getting doses of steroids, depending on how far they are from race day. The AAEP's plan calls for the halt of anabolic steroid use in training as well as racing.

The AAEP plan also seeks a reciprocal status for horses placed on the veterinarian's list for a health issue across state boundaries. While the reciprocity of suspensions and other sanctions for trainers and jockeys has moved more into the public consciousness in recent years, many racing fans probably don't realize that a horse categorized as lame in Maryland can run in New York if he passes the necessary vet checks.

Finally, former Olympic gold medal winner Edwin Moses, chairman of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, spoke at the Round Table to encourage racing to support the Horse Racing Integrity Act that has been introduced in the House of Representatives. The Act would turn over drug testing and regulation to the USADA, a non-profit, in accordance with the federal law.

Moses acknowledged after the meeting that while the USADA has focused on the regulation of human sport, its leadership is aware that any eventual hand-over of equine drug regulation comes with new and unique veterinary challenges. Moses said that the USADA has already been in talks with the Federation Equestre Internationale, which conducts testing for a range of equestrian sports such as dressage, show jumping, and eventing all over the world, all under the same rules.

Moses made reference to a presentation by the USADA's Travis Tygart in 2012—three years ago. It remains to be seen whether this year's legislation will pass through Congress, but even if it does, it's hard not to think that there are those in the industry who will fight control by an outside organization, tooth and nail for many more years to come.

Is the glass half full or half empty? No matter where you sat in the Gideon Putnam ballroom, it's best to keep pouring.

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  • 4Bellwether666

    ‘The Game’ had better start getting rid of the cheating/race fixing/animal abusing criminals that have given IT one BAD RAP when it comes to the entire American public that still Care about Gamble on and Love the sport of Horse Racing…Please…

  • Half-headline or an original headline without the cliché? Isn’t the Jockey Club already encrusted with rust that we have to open a discussion with an expression that was worn out in 1915?

    • David Juffet

      Waste of space. I’m so sick of the “club”. Charade they are.

  • Tinky

    “Bill Squadron, executive vice president of strategic relationships for STATS, outlined a statistical database with predictive algorithms to help horseplayers and casual fans, coming to the industry in 2016.”

    Frankly it’s a joke that the industry continues to charge anything at all, let alone serious money, for related statistics. Any fan of the NFL, NBA, or MLB can access spectacular databases for free, and which offer far better parsing than Equibase or DRF.

    This is a glaring example of the blindness of industry leaders.

    • 4Bellwether666

      A joke top to bottom…A bunch of CLOWNS and self serving JERKS!!!…

    • David Juffet

      You got that right!

  • Thinker

    That particular discussion was half empty. Banning Lasix, or any drug, for public opinion is ridiculous. For equine welfare, yes. Although we humans consume Lasix do we not? A bleeder is just that and I shudder to think what drug they will come up with to replace it. The chip idea has some definite promise.

    • keyne

      “Banning Lasix,or any drug for public opinion is ridiculous”….NOPE,wrong,wrong,wrong. Except for the states that subsidze (steal) their purses from racinos,the public,and their wagering dollars,fuel this entire operation.When public interests aren’t served,they leave racing in droves to play poker,on-line fantasy sports,whatever.Sorry ,but those are the cold hard facts…

      • Ernest Vincent

        You got it right. Regarding public. Not to mention that the general public believes All sports have something to be desired in the cheating area as a perception. Deflated Super Bowl balls. An NBA ref fixs games calling fouls. Baseball players using enhancement meds. The US Fed Govt. Post Office suing its sponsored star bike racer.
        When there is a lot of money on the table; strange things happen.

  • Richard C

    Iggy Pop has a fitting observation about those neat, symmetrical round table confabs…..with “Squarehead” – You can say, “Just do it, everyone is” / You can tell me that it’s just showbiz / You can turn my life from green to red / But I ain’t gonna be no squarehead.

  • Ernest Vincent

    Why stop there. Maybe they can swing some of their clout and powers for free movie theater and concert tiks, water and amusement parks, small golf courses, free pop corn and bar snacks. And start passing out umbrellas and coolers. Let visitors and guests take in their own food and drink including alcoholic bevs. Maybe into diners, fast food and rest’s.

    The Jockey Club already has solutions; get those children and friends of these organizations and horse people and not only have them work the summer fix programs at the tracks, but get em busy during semester breaks; and remote projects and assignments.

    It seems all states (with racing jurisdictions) with elected officials/government bodies and racing commissions, registered State vet programs, and tracks and racinos that are businesses with investors and debt service; say to outside organizations who want power and control – “Sure! Tell us what we want. Yeah, our governor and CEO want your input on how to run things. Come’on down!” .. or up as the case may be. Not to mention jockey, asst starters, teller unions and the list goes on.

    “Tis better to have bet and lost than never to have bet at all”…(d) DogsUp

  • Ernest Vincent

    The man on the street could not identify where the United Nations holds its meetings. Identify USADA in article.

  • Racing Fan

    They should have a panel on how awful equibase is. They are always five years behind a modern site and every enhancement is more cumbersome to use such as looking at full card charts. used to be one click now it’s two and not ipad/tablet friendly to boot !

  • Michael Castellano

    As an example of industry stupidity, and there can be many, is charging for past performances and other statistical info. If I want to know my favorite ball player’s batting average, or a pitcher’s ERA, it’s available in numerous places and for free. Same with most other sports, except for racing. I’m pretty confident that the more statistical data that is readily available and free, the more money would be bet, with folks coming up with all sorts of statistical schemes. And something as simple as free PPs, especially ones written with both sharpies and novices in mind, should have been made available by the tracks years ago, instead of selling you a watered down track version for $3.50 or $5.00 Plus valuable stats of all kinds should be in all track programs. Money saved on such things, will be bet most likely, anyway.

  • Robert

    An Open Letter to the TJC and the Paulick Report:
    Let me throw this out there – the TJC is an unmitigated disaster. They drove the car into the ditch and flew the plane into the side of the mountain. Recognition of the problem is the first step towards solving the problem.
    Once TJC realizes they are the problem – they are the ones that are failing at their jobs -and realize they should let the thoroughbred community takeover – that is when thoroughbred horse racing will take off in the US.
    Horse racing is huge/thriving in the rest of the world – other sporting platforms are exploding. Why hasn’t horse racing in the US “taken off”? Look no further than the old, white, males at TJC. They simply cannot let others play with their toys (registry, data etc.) no matter what the cost to the industry and how much damage is incurred.
    The world is changing, TJC represents a racing industry that is diverse, colorful, a little nutty but awesome – please “give up the ghost” and let industry takeover the use of your toys (registry, data etc).
    DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports), sports gaming and sports analytics are literally the hottest technology sectors in terms of investment, innovation and growth. The LTV (lifetime value) of a DFS player is $1000 – large media companies are killing themselves to catch this wave. Horse racing on the other hand is in a death spiral – a race to zero. Why is DFS exploding and horse racing imploding? Because they (DFS etc) deliver enormous value to the end consumer at a square price – not for free but fair. Rather than pushing a tired, dated, boring, over-priced mess of a product onto consumers, DFS and others provide products and services that consumers can pull – at their choosing. The TJC and Equibase are literally “negative one” times the success of DFS. Push versus pull. Do these guys at TJC read the newspaper? Do they know they are getting their asses kicked? Do they know they could be leading a renaissance in the horse industry if they simply changed their business model?
    On the marketing front – nobody cares about the goofy ABR efforts – its embarrassing. Consumers can see right through the contrived, canned marketing efforts. ABR has no soul, no direction, no value, and is completely irrelevant. The consumer is not as stupid as you think. Please stop – you are embarrassing yourselves. It’s not working. Use the money elsewhere. Please look at the numbers – it’s not pretty. It’s a disaster.
    TJC via the “goons” at Equibase push its overpriced, highly inaccurate, antiquated dogsh!t products onto consumers. Consumers respond by saying “no thanks” after one or two tries and just move on. For evidence, just look at the jaw dropping/freefall metrics across every single horse racing vertical – it’s insane how bad things are in the horse industry.
    Why on earth does the data cost a nickel to the end consumer? Only the TJC can answer that question. The fact that it is not given away or at least “priced to move” is insane and points to how the out-of-touch the folks at the TJC.
    Who is everybody afraid of at the TJC? They are the gang that can’t shoot straight. No one should be afraid to voice their opinion on the sport we love – the current “leadership” at TJC and beyond has failed. Miserably. Sorry but its time to move on to something else or change dramatically.
    The Paulick Report should be all over these guys at TJC and Equibase as one of the only real news organizations left in the industry. Demand answers. Get these guys moving. There is simply no defense in this day and age to Equibase and its glaring failures as an organization.
    I wonder if TJC leadership knows that if someone in racing comes up with a good idea (new company) that Equibase performs its strong arm tactics and monopolistic bs on the “new” organization that is trying to make some $ and help the cause. God forbid, you try help – Equibase let’s “goons” loose on anyone with a good idea for the business. Equibase tries intimidate, stall, price gauge all of its business customers. This is insane. Equibase has the business ethics of a mafia organization and the efficiency of the DMV.

    What should happen?

    Step 1 – Admit you are not good at your job at present. It’s not working. Try something new. Perhaps try something that is consistent with current business practices.

    Step 2- Release the data and allow for an open source industry platform. Something similar to Wikipedia, reddit, WordPress, LinkedIn, FB and so on. You do not have to give everything away – just price it so the entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers and mathematicians can takeover.

    TJC is sitting on a gold mine. If they can get over themselves the industry can benefit.

    Message to TJC – it’s not working – get out of the way – admit failure – change – if you do so you stand to make a lot of money.

    • Sal Carcia

      So when racing decides to do some marketing, the community calls for its end. The same happened when the NTRA was doing its marketing campaign. I am not sure that dropping marketing from the NTRA charter isn’t largely responsible for the demise of this game. At least, they would of have a relationship with Joe Drape.

      If you are going to criticize any marketing that racing does, then why not be more specific. What is wrong with it and what do you suggest?

  • Sal Carcia

    The NYRA.com is about 70,000 and Breeders.com is over 400,000 in U.S. Website rankings. TVG is around 50,000 and HRTV is over 200,000. Paulick report is over 150,000. In that respect, ABR is off to a decent start. I be back later today.

  • Sal Carcia

    Here is the transcript of the ABR presentations at the Round Table.

    http://jockeyclub.com/default.asp?section=RT&year=2015&area=3

    Here is an excerpt on the metrics:

    “In fact, just yesterday our New York based ambassadors hosted 45 high profile influencers right here in Saratoga. The combined digital media reach of these influencers was over 400,000 followers, many of whom were very new to horse racing. The last aspect of our digital strategy that we’ll talk about today is digital video, which has been one of our largest areas of growth in the last year. In the first half of 2015, ABR produced 57 videos that have garnered over 700,000 views through June 19. This excludes replays of races and other videos not created exclusively for America’s Best Racing.”

    This sounds really positive to me. Why would anyone want to stop their marketing momentum? It makes no sense to me. Actually, the JC might want to increase their investment here.

    • Robert

      Sal, Whatever you are taking, I want some. If you can show me how any of these metrics led to actual sales and some sort of ROI I will continue with this non-sensical conversation. The reality is you cannot and they cannot. I really don’t have time to argue with someone who does not have a firm grasp on what “numbers” mean. Why? Because you, ABR and TJC do not know the meaning of a sales funnel, KPIs, CPM, CPI, CPC, performance metrics, goals, tactics, defining success etc. You have no idea what are talking about, but don’t worry. You are not alone. Neither does TJC or ABR.

      • salthebarber

        Robert, you are making an assumption there. Why don’t you just ask them before you make accusations? It seems to me you just are throwing out numbers without any explanations followed by letters with no actual knowledge of what ABR is actually accomplishing.

  • salthebarber

    Robert, your original idea had some merit when I first read it. Now, I even doubt its validity. Nice try with all the numbers and letters. From what I read ABR’s ranking globally is not bad at all. It’s better than Breederscup.net and close to many other more established racing sites.

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