ROB WHITELEY SEARCHING FOR MASTER PLAN

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

Breeder and commercial consignor Rob Whiteley, like many of us, is deeply concerned about the current state and future of the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry. Whiteley, formerly longtime adviser to corporate raider Carl Icahn and manager of his Foxfield operation, penned the following commentary, “In Search of a Master Plan, initially published last week in Thoroughbred Daily News. Sue Finley at TDN was kind enough to grant us permission to republish here in its entirety. Please use the comment section following the article to let us know what you think. – Ray Paulick

IN SEARCH OF A MASTER PLAN
By Rob Whiteley
The present.  A friend called me recently to tell me that he will soon be joining the list of industry casualties. A bank is taking control of his farm and horses.

I am deeply sad for my friend and for the many others in every segment of racing and breeding who can no longer “make it” doing what they know and what they love. And I am sad for myself to realize that I became so preoccupied with my own efforts to survive that I did not recognize the seriousness of my friend's difficulties and try to help in some way. We are all connected in the horse world. What diminishes one of us diminishes all of us. John Donne had it right when he wrote the timeless lines, `Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.'

My friend and I are just two people struggling along in Central Kentucky, but on an industry-wide basis and across all groups, we are playing out a similar scenario, only the stakes are higher. We go about our daily business while thinking very narrowly about what directly and personally affects us and our specific group, today and in the moment. This preoccupation with ourselves and what is specifically important to us is a natural response during times of high stress and perceived danger. Human nature in the form of basic survival instincts compels us to become self-absorbed in the interest of self-preservation. My great worry, however, is that as we act solely in our own best interests to sustain ourselves, we lose the motivation to cooperate with one another and fail to grasp and acquire the awareness and perspective necessary to create a master plan that could save all of us.

United we stand…divided we fall. It is clear that we must raise our level of awareness about the importance of working together. Every day that we delay joining collectively into a unified effort to fix our problems adds momentum to our decline and makes reversal of our downward spiral more difficult. Some people contend that our downturn is a function of the recession.  However, it is delusional to think that when the economy bounces back, we will bounce back with it.

Our industry was deteriorating long before the housing bubble and the financial crisis, and the causative fundamentals underlying our predicament have not changed. Reversing the current trend can only be accomplished by sustained cooperative effort and give-and-take, within and across all industry segments. To this point in time, the large majority of our industry decision makers have not grasped this essential principle.

The future.  Because we lack strong, centralized leadership and a common agenda that imposes standardization of industry-wide rules and regulations, our hope for the long-range growth and well-being of horse racing (and therefore breeding) in America steadily slips away for no good reason, other than the short-term gain and longer-term solidification of power for a few.

In the face of this unfortunate circumstance, recent news of a proposed “racing compact” that would forge an alliance among several state racing commissions to standardize some basic rules shows that we have the capability to think and act cooperatively. This initiative is encouraging and very important. If it can make it through the gauntlet of our industry's partisan politics to gain necessary endorsement from competing groups, the “compact” could serve as a model for further cooperation.

However, motivating a critical mass of our decision makers to place the welfare of the industry above their own personal needs for power and control is very difficult. If they do nothing but preserve their own “territory,” they will be just fine at the end of the day, even as the scope and vitality of racing diminishes and many of us disappear. Individuals with position and privilege who command most of the alphabet organizations will still have their primary wealth and their box seats on the finish line of any remaining tracks. As contraction occurs, exiting track executives will draw down their last big salary checks, cash in their stock options and golden parachutes, and move on to new business positions with their 401(k)s and pension funds intact. The largely unqualified and poorly informed political appointees who “oversee” racing in each jurisdiction will simply be recycled into other quasi-governmental positions or be returned to private life. The industry as we know it will be transformed and compressed, and many of the grass-roots workers, horsemen, and other people with “skin in the game” will be gone. Our great sport will change status from that of an increasingly minor sport to a club sport, known less for its daily excitement, grandeur and entertainment value, and increasingly for that one two-minute spectacle on the first Saturday of May.

So what to do?  Those of us who are “little guys” and are generally disenfranchised participants must learn to speak up. As the saying goes, if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. We need to start taking personal responsibility for our collective fate by individually demanding cooperation between industry groups through phone calls, e-mails, letters and faxes to organization leaders, track executives and racing commissioners. One person's voice will not be heard, but a crescendo of voices can make a difference.

The mere act of speaking up, however, cannot in itself be effective. Significantly motivating officials, executives and behind-the-scenes people in power requires that our voices must have more substance than whine, and our words must include more proactive suggestions than finger pointing. The good news is that we are not alone and the landscape is not totally barren. Some bright and well-intentioned decision makers with clout are already in place and interspersed in positions of influence throughout racing. Their ability to act in the interest of the broader industry, however, is rendered useless or muted because they are restricted by constraints within their own organizations and are stymied by the lack of cooperation across groups. We need to give these isolated agents for change something to work with and for, and something to rally around.

Toward that end, therefore, I make the following proposal, which can be discussed, tweaked and modified into a working framework for creating a master plan for the industry. Unless we can develop, endorse, and implement a comprehensive plan for industry governance, our only hope for stabilization and meaningful growth in the foreseeable future would be through carefully crafted federal legislation to establish a national office to create and enforce standardized rules and regulations across all constituencies.

The proposal.  One representative from every key industry faction listed below will be selected to serve on a National Racing Consortium composed of 21 members. Persons lacking a cooperative spirit and genuine interest in building a better tomorrow for the entire industry need not apply.

Horse Players (1):  Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA).
Owners (1):  Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group (THG) or Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders (TOBA).
Race Tracks (4):  Churchill, Keeneland, Magna and NYRA.
Racing Commissions or state oversight agencies (4):  California, Florida, Kentucky and New York.
Special interest groups (3):  American Horse Council (AHC) or NTRA, Breeders' Cup and The Jockey Club.
Trainers (1):  Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA).

In addition, seven at-large members will be chosen for their acumen, industry knowledge, commitment to the welfare of the industry as a whole, and their willingness to speak up with an open mind and a cooperative spirit. These seven members would be identified and selected by majority vote of a panel consisting of one representative from The Blood-Horse, DRF, Paulick Report, TDN and Thoroughbred Times. Members of those five organizations may also be considered as candidates. This panel will also choose between the AHC and the NTRA in order to include an organization with significant lobbying experience and capability, and will choose between the THG and TOBA to be sure that owners are represented.

Once the at-large members are selected, the panel will contact the other organizations to have them identify their representative, and will convene a meeting for the Consortium as a whole.

The mandate.  The Consortium will select a chairperson, establish by-laws, and create a comprehensive master operating plan that establishes standardized rules and regulations for the entire industry. In addition, the Consortium will formulate implementation strategies to monitor and enforce those regulations, and will design a national marketing plan to promote the industry, retain current participants and recruit new participants.

The agenda.  Once consortium members make a necessary commitment to each other to leave their competitive histories and personal issues and antagonisms outside the room when the door closes, many of them will have to change their typical mindsets. To this point, most problem-solving activities have tended to focus piecemeal on difficulties related to specific entities, and have not exhibited much awareness or concern with how local policies or initiatives impact other intertwined racing problems or regions.

In short, a broader perspective is required. In basketball terms, instead of looking down at the ball when dribbling down the floor, this consortium needs to “see the court” in order to create comprehensive strategies aimed at producing success for the whole team. To use another analogy, we need to engineer the synchronized mechanisms of a smooth running national clock, not the simple lever of a one-thrust corkscrew in someone's boardroom. We need policies that can be integrated across all groups, and procedures that can be incrementally implemented over time to foster and guide our overall growth.

We surely don't need the status quo. We don't need band-aids or one-dimensional initiatives that pit one fiefdom against another. Not now, and especially not now at a time when our increasingly anemic American racing is further compromised by a multi-year bloodstock drain to foreign shores. We need solutions that address our domestic problems, but we also need to develop strategies to participate more fully in the world scene. This is very important. We must not drink the Kool-Ad of nationalism. The growing globalization and strength of international racing threatens to minimize our product if we don't get our house in order and get in sync with the rest of the world.

It is obvious that we have many important problems in need of fixing. Several items that have special urgency for the Consortium's national action agenda are as follows:

(1)  We need to establish and effectively enforce uniform drug policies, rules and testing that are in the best interest of horses and in line with the standards of the rest of the world;

(2)  We need to recognize that gamblers (i.e., fans and handicappers who bet significant amounts of money) are the drivers of our business who make our enterprise possible through their wagering. Our “players” should be valued, hosted and rewarded by racetracks in a way that is comparable to the treatment they receive from casinos in major gambling destinations. Like they say on the airplane, ‘We understand that you have a choice of who you fly with,' and we must realize that our most dangerous competitors are not one another, but alternative gambling venues outside our industry.

(3)  When considering issues related to racing surfaces, we need to keep all of our constituencies in mind and make decisions that address our complete set of objectives.  Three especially important considerations need to be examined together when making decisions about which surfaces to install:

 

    • Safer surfaces.  We need to provide safer racing surfaces in order to do right by horses and jockeys, and to improve the way we are perceived by horse-loving fans and would-be fans (i.e., those who follow racing but may not contribute significantly to handle). In short, we need to improve the reality as well as the perception of our efforts to protect horses and jockeys.

 

    • Consistent surfaces.  In addition to installing surfaces that reduce training and racing injuries (especially catastrophic injuries on big days in front of national audiences and prospective fans), we also need our surfaces to be relatively uniform from day to day at the same track, and from track to track. In that regard, track surfaces need to be sufficiently consistent and “formful” for serious handicappers upon whom we depend for our well-being.

 

    • Synthetic tracks.  Furthermore, if we wish to hold significant international events and continue to claim that we host a “World Championship,” we need to install surfaces that can attract the top international stars. Toward that end, we should stop generalizing and talking about “synthetic tracks” as if they are one and the same.

      Tapeta. The thoroughly frustrating and heart-breaking experiences for horsemen (and horseplayers) with regard to Santa Anita's botched efforts are literally a world apart from the relative consistency and kindness of Tapeta across disparate climatic conditions at Golden Gate in California, Presque Isle in Pennsylvania, and Meydan in Dubai. We should not throw a superior synthetic track under the bus because of the failures of one botched effort in one location, no matter how angry or disenchanted we might be. Instead, we need to conduct competent and thorough research to identify the best-performing surface with the most potential to help us achieve all of our objectives simultaneously, and then we need to install that surface at all major circuits.

 

(4)  If we presume to be a major sport (or aspire to be one), we need to act like other major leagues by working together on two fundamental functions that are performed by any properly run sport:

 

    • Centrally coordinated scheduling. Organized baseball does not leave the Red Sox and Yankees to sort out their own annual schedules (the operative word here is organized). They coordinate the schedules of the 32 major league teams, making sure that the teams play one another according to a plan that is designed to boost fan interest and team revenue. We need to develop and coordinate national strategies to do the same.

 

    • Ethical retirement of athletes. Major sports take care of their retired athletes, and so should we. We have a Jockeys' Guild to support our human athletes; however, we also need to fully define our horses as “athletes” and take care of them properly when they can no longer compete for our gain and enjoyment. Full industry participation in a combination of equine social security and some form of mandatory 401(k) plan is essential if we are to do right by our animals and convince the public that we truly care about them.

 

(5) Every item above is of great importance. However, racing's broken business model is the biggest and most fundamental problem that we face. Lacking a master business plan, tracks collectively lose money, owners collectively lose money and breeders collectively lose money.

We urgently need to develop a new business model for racing and revenue sharing that can lower take-out for gamblers, increase purses for horse owners, prevent the pirating or loss of revenue to offshore gambling sites, and achieve profitability for track owners. One would think that our increasing loss of market share to competing gambling venues and the resultant annual decline of national handle, as well as our continuing loss of fans to other sports, would inspire cooperative effort between tracks to stop the bleeding. But, go figure; it hasn't happened yet. Perhaps a forum like the proposed consortium can help our “leaders” escape their entrenched competitiveness and tunnel vision.

(6)  And, finally, once some or all of the above initiatives are accomplished, the Consortium needs to formulate a creative, nation-wide, and effective marketing plan that motivates current fans and gamblers to become more involved, and entices prospective fans to join the fun.

Advertising to one another on TVG or HRTV and in print magazines or internet news sources does not cut it. We need fresh, imaginative minds pushing the envelope to expand our connectivity with Mr. and Mrs. America and their children. For example, why do we not intertwine racing games with state lotteries to the mutual benefit of horse racing and the state?  Why is there not a plethora of video, arcade, and virtual games available with horse racing themes and experiences?  Why do we do such a poor job of showcasing celebrities who already participate in our sport as owners or fans?  During this year's Oaks and Derby coverage, NBC, Bravo, and ESPN did a nice job of presenting enthusiastic and broadly recognizable celebrities who made great promotional comments. We need to do something similar, not two days a year but throughout the year, and in a nationally coordinated way. Furthermore, why do we not send a continuous barrage of promotional materials, such as Seabiscuit books, racing movies, historical documentaries, owner testimonials, and special invitations with comp tickets, to thousands of our nation's wealthiest people? In October, another mega opportunity will be handed to us when Secretariat, the movie, is released. What national body will develop a cleverly orchestrated plan to follow-up and use this timely gift in a way that draws new fans from theaters to an actual racetrack?

And, as the popularity of our sport declines and our aging fan base shrinks, where is our inventive, captivating, and systematic strategy for connecting with young people interactively through technology and current social networking tools?  We need to recognize the fact that today's young people have many entertainment options from which to choose and have shorter attention spans and a lower threshold for boredom than other generations.  We must collectively step up with a modern, cutting-edge set of ideas, tools, and initiatives or we will be spit out.

In short, we need to target innovative and coordinated marketing strategies to each specific group of current and potential participants. This cannot be done effectively in a piecemeal fashion. It needs to be accomplished comprehensively and on a national level. But, who is minding the national store? The answer is no one. And this is where our self-absorption hurts us most. Year after year, we act selfishly, unilaterally, and locally, thereby giving new meaning to the enduring Shakespearean words of Cassius, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

Our options.  OK, so the odds may seem astronomical that the proposed disparate, competitive and self-serving groups can be motivated to organize and work cooperatively together for the common good. However, we need to try. Even if we only accomplish part of this agenda, we will have made things better. And, think about it for a moment. Our options have been reduced to three distinct and mutually exclusive choices:

(1) we can maintain the status quo and continue our steady decline; or

(2) we can work together and take responsibility for fixing our problems and growing our sport; or

(3) we can call in the Feds (or see them intervene uninvited) to mandate a national governing body that will establish oversight and standardized rules and regulations for the entire industry.

Which do you choose?

Rob Whiteley is owner of the commercial breeding operation known as Liberation Farm. He may be contacted through his website, www.liberationfarm.com.

  • All the specifics make sense, but the question remains, how do we really get the various fiefdoms to collaborate and cede their individual authority. Even the proposed national compact is seen by some as a power grab by a few regulators (e.g. John Sabini of the New York Racing and Wagering Board) who don’t necessarily understand enough of the industry to be truly helpful.

    A national governing body, like the commissioner’s office in baseball, football, etc., would be an excellent solution, but I seem to recall that we’ve been there before, with Tim Smith’s NASCAR-like plan for the NTRA. Perhaps this time around, the seriousness of the situation will lead everyone to be willing to give up enough power to make it work.

  • Al

    Wow, keen thinking horse industry folks really do exist! My own scripts have been written for years, often pulled back in fear of retaliation, retribution or some other “push back” from those offended by my “restructure and reposition” the horse industry platform. Taking power away from those that have abused the privilege and failed will require strong and brave fighters backed by a critical mass of forces. I have believed all along that eliminating dysfunction within our sport is possible, now let’s hope Mr. Whiteley is joined by all of us that believe there is a better way .

  • Graeme Beaton

    God speed Rob Whiteley.

    Chalk me up as totally in support of the goals and means to attain those goals in your manifest. I applaud your aims, especially: ‘(1) We need to establish and effectively enforce uniform drug policies, rules and testing that are in the best interest of horses and in line with the standards of the rest of the world; ‘

    Until we can get unified with the rest of the world on this issue, then confidence in our sport and industry will continue to leak away.

    Establishing a true representative industry ‘league office’ has been a goal many have espoused for a long time. Let us hope your initiative garners the support it deserves.

  • AndiDeLong

    Thanks for tweeting this link Ray, missed it the first time around on TDN. On the bright and sarcastic side… the good news is that if nothing changes racing will wither away and we won’t have to go on about trying to fix it anymore. We’ll all be sitting around trying to explain to our kids how there used to be things called VCR’s, roller-skating rinks and horse racing in America.
    I can’t help but wonder what more “industry leaders” need to see before they set aside their immediate interests for the overall good.

  • bob Hope

    While a noble first effort Rob, it appears that you are creating another level of insulation in an already cluttered field of mediocrity!
    Most of the high priced alphabets were formed to do much of your proposed agenda but fell victim to the political and safe selections of the fife dumbs. You conclude that there are wizards buried within the alphabets without the courage to ” taunt Caesar” but don’t explain how they would muster the defiance to act with another new group. Isn’t that how we got here? While reaching into symbolic text you might consider that Jesus chose 12 fairly common folk outside of the power of the temple to create his board of disciples. You start by including “THG” in your first order of business while overlooking the fact that they were found guilty of anti-trust activity and that their principal founder was trying desperately to encroach on territory outside of California in an attempt to cling to power and corruption. Methinks that you should dispense with the niceties of inclusion and concentrate on those few folks who really understand the game. We have a half a century of “humpty dumpties” that we have and continue to make wealthy in coin but not in practical, individual culture! The blind cannot continue to lead the blind!

  • TomHorn

    When horse players get one spot at the table, horsemen get two, racetracks and regulators get four each, and special interest groups get three, the industry is doomed because the players will end up getting screwed yet again.

    The big problem with all of the ‘groups’ out there that were trying to realign the distribution of the takeout is that the horse players (who are generating it to begin with) were left on the outside, and not getting an equal share while everyone else was trying to divide the pie ‘equally’. Why do you think HANA got formed? Players were tired of being treated like they didn’t matter when all of this was going on. And Bob Hope is correct, the THG should never be allowed near this group. They clearly demonstrated that they cared nothing about anyone but themselves during their brief appearance on the scene.

    Don’t get me wrong, this is a great idea. Which of course means it will be DOA due to the powers that be in this industry. Just remember to change the makeup of the Consortium so it equally represents all interests of the industry and you might have something.

  • Hanging On

    The only effective way to act and effect change in this industry is individually as it is rather impossible to pull the disparate factions together to accomplish anything. For example, New Jersey actually did something so proactive and bold that it is rather astounding. Let’s hope it works. They are even paying $1500 to last place which is the most helpful best thing ever invented for the small stable.

    Money is the only thing that talks and exacts change in this business. Tracks should double the purses for races that are Drug free, especially lasix free. Then you’ll hear the lasix apologists drop their insistence for this horrible drug it pretty quickly. Money talks so they will get full fields if the money is there and that might be a first step to a drug free stakes series and drug free racing in this country. Who is brave enough to make the first move?

    90% of even hard core sports fans and football gamblers don’t even know it is legal to wager on horse racing in most states over the internet or telephone! And how many novices would play their birthdays and other lucky numbers in the Kentucky Derby if they know that the average superfecta the last few years was over a quarter of a million dollars??!! Who is marketing that Really over 16 million people watched the derby this year, but how many know they could log on an place a small wager for fun? State lotteries should sell simple Kentucky Derby wagers. they would gross enough in one day to pay for everything racing needs. Once the ADW’s stop ripping off the industry with their unfair portion if the take, and we get rid of weekday $4000 claiming races that are not cost effective or pleasant for owners or horses, there should be plenty of money to go around.

  • Picksburg Phil

    Soviet-style central planning? Yeah, that always works well. De-regulation would be a better solution, allowing each individual investor, be they horse owner, breeder, track owner, OTB owner, ADW owner or bettor, to pursue what is in their own best interests and create dynamic competition. Racing is not a team sport and doesn’t compare well to baseball or football or other team sports. Casinos are more closely aligned with the racing industry. Casinos are individually (or corporately) owned, managed, and financed in a manner that the investors believe would produce the best returns on their investments. They chose individually, not collectively, the mix of games, rules, and amenities. Race tracks should be able to choose the mix of wagering options, including fixed odds and peer-to-peer, and take-out rates, and change them to meet current market demands without going to government or collective committees. That shouldn’t preclude, however, instances where cooperative agreements are necessary and should be persued collectively.

  • Trappeddownontherail

    Phil,

    What would you say to the argument that we already have Soviet-style central planning – times 38 for each State bureaucracy skimming money from bettors, owners and breeders with little given in return, if you discount stupidity at every turn? Don’t we already Government control, just not one Government.

  • Picksburg Phil

    Trapped,
    I agree. We’re all commies now. That’s why I called for deregulation and to bring back a little swash-buckling freedom and capitalism for a change. Tracks, and other related parties, should be able to respond dynamically to the forever changing times and fashions, instead of having to supplicate before a committee of uber-righteous know-it-alls.

  • The only thing missing are the chosen letters for the new alaphabet organization described here. Of course there’s a good chance that they’ve all been used up in prior attempts.

  • Margrethe

    If you think the majority of Northern California horsemen are happy with the Tapeta surface, you are very wrong. It is not consistent. The new and original injuries continue, particularly among young horses. All the California tracks are consistent in that they are failures. Synthetics simply can not handle the volume and temperature fluctuations of our climate. The same seller biased statistics are quoted repeatedly.
    There are many excellent ideas regarding consistent drug policy, oversight, fan and industry in-put, but synthetic surfaces is not among them.

  • Ratherrapid

    Counterpoint to Whitely, racing might consider applying it’s limited resources incrementally. Save one race track at a time.

    horse racing has two problems that are priorities.everything else a distraction:

    revenue (marketing)
    horse ownership.

    We empower NTRA to buy Santa Anita and make necessary changes there. Avoid the specifics. The idea is to stabilize SA, make it profitable, horse friendly, owner friendly, etc., then on to the next track. Bouying SA might include revenue sharing to surrounding small tracks that feed us.

    The horse ownership/breeding operations has an entirely different solution that in a basic sense requires changing the way we train horses. The point being–we permit our trainers to injure all their stock and drive all of our owners out of the game. Intelligent “model rules” can protect the horses, and keep our owners in the game. We may also consider focusing on a different sort of owner than we have–e.g. those interested in athletics instead of money.

    The second of my problems would be easily solved if ever we get anybody that understands protecting horses. The revenue problem is probably on the way to a solution via Twin Spires and internet betting. I am still waiting to see the first add on ESPN featuring Zenyatta.

  • Kerry Fitzpatrick

    As someone who wrote my Senior Economics Thesis in Economics in 1961 on the taxation of racing in New Jersey, I have been a participant and observer of the game for many decades. There is no way that the individual states are going to give up their control of racing in those states. That’s reality.

    When I started betting in the 50s, the takeout was about 12%. I bet often and held my own. Today, with takeout on win betting around 18 or 20%, I rarely bet. The higher the takeout, the faster you tap out players, and the longer it will be before they bet again.

    And don’t overlook that we are a labor intensive industry in a country where the cost of labor has escalated (even when adjusted for inflation) over the years.

    I see no alternative but fewer tracks, fewer horses being bred and/or bought and fewer industry jobs. There will always be racing and breeding— it will just be on a much smaller scale and many current participants will be somewhere else in the job market.

  • rwwupl

    Rob Whiteley…

    Good article, The word is slowly getting out, and you are helping the cause with your plan.Your plan seems a composite of what many have been saying for several years,and economics are the overiding issue, and economics are dictating change. Those driving our bus have an outdated roadmap, and the current course is unsustainable.

    Thanks for showing there is intelligent thought and concern and I think many would like a transfer to your bus.

    Best ….rwwupl

  • Kevin A. Burke

    TO: Mr. Rob Whiteley,

    Thank You on behalf of the horse, the racing, and the history of both, for initiating this proposal. It is the love for the horse, the passion for racing, and the appreciation of the history that joins us all. It is that all three are threatened that makes your outline relative, and makes it imperative that it be acted on.

    I missed the initial publication in the Thoroughbred Daily News. I am grateful it has been republished. With this republication you have accomplished the first step in bringing about cooperation. Additional media outlets need to follow suit and your words must be republished. The ideas you have proposed to find solutions are workable and make sense. They need to be spread.

    The gauntlet has been laid down. It is now the responsibility of all media to bring pressure on the powers that be to cooperate.

    Main Stream media can bring pressure on others by reprinting your outline and participating in the proposal. They can and should editorialize in favor of it.

    Those who blog must spread word of your proposal if not the complete republication of it. Strongly they should lobby for cooperation by all.

    Individuals must contact the pertinent organizations/publications, make them aware of your ideas and strongly request that they participate, help in finding solutions, resolving problems. We must remind those in political control that we vote.

    All past differences, disputes, arguments, must be put aside. There is no place for self interest.
    There has been a “Tea Party Like Movement” brewing in the back round of the Thoroughbred World for quite some time. It is imperative that this spirit be given form and leadership before it stops brewing and starts to stew. Now is the time for everyone in the industry to step up in any way that they can, and contribute in a positive manner. If we fail to do so, it is not only our own peril we face, but we jeopardize that which we proclaim we love, the horse.

    Again, Thank You Mr. Whiteley. I support your proposal and will make my support known whenever, however I can. It may not happen tomorrow, but we can make it come about the day after that.

    Kevin A. Burke

  • Aunt Bea

    Timeworn thoughts, but do keep hammering away. The only distraction from reality was the push for uniform Tapeta surfaces. Have you ever trained a great dirt horse over Tapeta, and then watched it run, Rob? Breeders should think twice before espousing views about “surface” issues.

  • Michael C. Haggerty

    I pick my spots to share my thoughts, and in this case I would have to agree with #17 comment. Hope you’re as sweet my departed aunt B.

  • Aunt Bea

    Heaven holds the dearly departed, MCH.

  • Brit

    I appreciate the earnest effort and thoughtfulness, Rob, but I wonder if it’s really possible to do this.

    I do not doubt that there are many well-intentioned people in the game. The reality is that the NTRA (originally the NTA) started with the best of intentions, but then reality hit it in the head like a baseball bat. Tracks like the ones you suggest should be part of your consortium (Churchill, Magna) chose their own limited, short-term self interest over what the NTRA was selling. The often maligned industry not-for-profits (TJC, Keeneland, Breeders’ Cup and Oak Tree) gave it their best effort until it was apparent it was going nowhere.

    We have a sports product that doesn’t sell well in the modern world in which people are much more concerned about the humane treatment of animals then prior generations and a gambling product that the core fans think is not on the level. They’re reacting by wagering and watching less and less with the exception of our biggest events.

    I fear we are in for a painful contraction that will not be driven truly by market forces due to the artificial influence of revenue from slots that will prop up circuits that would otherwise wither. The truth is that we could cut racing days by a third or half and, while bad news for horsemen and breeders, the game itself would likely benefit long term as the revenue from handle would potentially mean purse levels that would reward those left standing enough to justify their investment. There doesn’t appear to be enough interest to sustain all this product and ADW has not fulfilled its promise — it has just taken handle that was track-based and moved it to a market that benefits ADW operators over tracks and horsemen.

    Meanwhile, Kentucky, California and New York are on the brink and major markets like Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Seattle and Philadelphia have second and third-tier racing facilities that are unlikely to create new fans absent a major change in the way they do business.

    It’s a conundrum. Best wishes riding it out.

  • Bob Baffert

    You lost me at ” Tapeta”

  • Aunt Bea

    BB, thx!

  • D. Masters

    Mr. Whiteley:

    (1) Present a national business plan to Congress with signed on supporters and someone that has the guts to run the new entity.

    (2) Incorporate some change in the business v. hobby paradigm that is the current IRS system.

    (3) Once you get 1 and 2, start praying because the only authority that can trump state law is the Feds; then find some advocates (elected reps) that haven’t been bought by lobbyists that represent many of the owners, breeders and tracks in many other industries that fund their hobby/business of racing interests.

    (4) Good luck (you are going to need it)…the money sucking trolls like it just the way it is, thank you very much. Jocks, fans, horses are expendable as long as they got theirs.

  • Auntie Jo

    Mr. Baffert. I am sorry that you became lost on a single issue, and apparently stopped reading. Two lines later, Mr. Whiteley made the most important point on surfaces:

    “We need to conduct competent and thorough research to identify the best-performing surface with the most potential to help us achieve all of our objectives simultaneously, and then we need to install that surface at all major circuits.”

  • D. Masters

    Auntie Jo:

    Mr Baffert ain’t the burning bush. A great trainer? Yep! The perfect trainer or even perfect human for that matter? NOPE! Is he (if it is BB) someone to listen to? Absolutely.

    Humans by design are imperfect and make mistakes. How do we as a species redeem ourselves? One noble deed at a time through the grace of a life lived long and well

    Surface isn’t the main plight of the US industry. Is it a factor? Certainly. It is, however a symptom of the industry’s overall malaise.

  • Aunt Bea

    I know this piece isn’t supposed to be about surface issues alone, but since I am venting anyway, here goes:

    How the hell is some “competent and thorough research” about surfaces going to identify that:
    1) Some very prominent trainers want their horses to routinely breeze in 47 or 58, or gallop regardless of track conditions
    2) to make the graded earnings list to get into the all important, career defining Derby gate
    3) and the wear and tear resulting requires plenty of corticosteroid, going into any anatomical space, as long as it gets into the horse on any given race week somehow, or else
    4) the horse doesn’t make it into the Derby gate because of a chip, a bow, which requires more cortisone to keep going because some trainers and owners don’t want to put him on the shelf if they can
    5) drop him in for 50K and pick up the check to boot, but
    6) if that doesn’t work, 20K might, but lets inject him again now, or else
    7) for 7.5K at Aqu or Philly, some moron that shouldn’t be allowed to train a horse will take him, so lets inject him again, make sure we cover every base to get the pot, oops, he’s pulling up at the quarter pole, I better head out to make sure somebody took him!

  • ManuelB

    The responses to this blog sum up the current situation perfectly. Everyone has a hobby horse they don’t want to give up.

  • Ratherrapid

    Reading these comments possibly shows how much trouble we’re in. I’d have expected more substantive response. Maybe Paulick will identify one day what particular individuals or organizations would need to get the ball rolling.

    It pains me to keep reading “contract” horse racing before horse racing has tried the most basic internet marketing ideas. What is the point, until you give true marketing a go.

    I’d like to hear something on here about the NTRA and why we continue to tolerate them, if they are going to do “nothing”. And, if they are doing something, what the heck is it and why?

  • Ratherrapid

    I’d have expected more substantive response. Maybe Paulick will identify one day what particular individuals or organizations would need to get the ball rolling.

    It pains me to keep reading “contract” horse racing before horse racing has tried the most basic internet marketing ideas. What is the point, until you give true marketing a go.

    I’d like to hear something on here about the NTRA and why we continue to tolerate them, if they are going to do “nothing”. And, if they are doing something, what the heck is it and why?

  • Ratherrapid

    I’d have hoped for more responses. Maybe Paulick will identify one day what particular individuals or organizations would need to get the ball rolling.

    It pains me to keep reading “contract” horse racing before horse racing has tried the most basic internet marketing ideas. What is the point, until you give true marketing a go.

    I’d like to hear something on here about the NTRA and why we continue to tolerate them, if they are going to do “nothing”. And, if they are doing something, what the heck is it and why?

  • Aunt Bea

    I realize that my statements aren’t very popular, but JC, can’t people debate anymore? Isn’t there somebody willing to step up and talk anymore? Is it all about salesmanship now? Hello, Is anybody out there?

  • Aunt Bea

    I guess not. : (

  • Michael C. Haggerty

    I,m here AB! would you like to go at it with me? I must caution you though, I am not in the habbit of hurting little old ladies with sensitive egos.

    On a more serious note regarding the issue at hand. It’s clear that you are passionate about the welfare of the horse and seem to be well informed about the inner workings of the training game. The points you made are bold! and yes! not very popular.

    I totally agree with the statement of ‘D Masters’: ‘Surface isn’t the main plight of the US industry. Is it a factor? Certainly. It is, however a symptom of the industry’s overall malaise’.

    That being said, the points clearly made by our ‘Aunt B’ is probably one of the biggest factors when considering ‘Surface Issues’. Let’s not kid ourselves here!! it is a dirty little secret that everyone knows about in the training game. No trainer is exempt from these accusations made by the little old lady. Do you think this practise would ever stop? NO! It’s what keeps the wheel movin for all involved in this game.

    Aunty Bea, or who ever you are, KEEP SPEAKING UP !!!!!!!!!!!! Whether you’re off the issue or not. Keep takeing that Ginko.

  • Scott Heider

    Rob, as a 46 year old owner/ breeder (young by our industry standards) that has been in the business now for 24 years, I want to commend you on your most recent observation and recommendation in TDN and The Paulick Report, regarding the state of our thoroughbred industry. As a person who had a front row seat for the demise of the once great Aksarben racetrack, I can tell you that having the government involved (Aksarben was a non-profit entity owned by Douglas County), is certainly not the solution. I know you agree. As an industry comprised of owners, breeders, gamblers and track owners, we absolutely must work together as one. The monopoly racing had in this country is long since over. We simply cannot have “business as usual” anymore. Rob, what I find both encouraging and frustrating, is we are an industry populated by many bright, successful and entrepreneurial minds. Historically, many of our most devoted, passionate owners have come from highly successful business careers, in a variety of industries (including your former client, Carl Icahn). The same is true today. Many individuals on the breeding/ farm end today are also highly successful and motivated people, including John Sikura at Hill N Dale, Kenny Trout & Bill Casner at Winstar and yourself, to name a few. Gamblers are a group that also deserve a seat at the table and I have few reservations they can be properly represented. The racetracks, to me, are the most troubling aspect of a proposed unified consortium representing the industry. With very few exceptions (Charles Cella), this is where the politics runs deep and the fiefdoms exist. The only way I see that we can properly address this critical consortium participant, is by forming a completely unified front, comprised of representatives from the aforementioned stakeholders groups (owners/farms/gamblers). I believe we’ve all had enough of racetrack ownership’s generally short term views, typically consisting of what’s best for each of them, while also clearly at the expense of the long term viability & competitive position of our beloved industry. Being in this wonderful sport in the first place, I am an optimist. I am encouraged by the refreshingly frank dialogue I now see taking place, more & more, coming from owners and breeders (The Paulick Report and TDN are certainly welcomed new industry publications). As you say in your Op Ed, talk at this point, is not nearly enough, however. I am hopeful this is the moment in time when we can create meaningful, healthy change for our sport. If not now, when? Thank you again for sharing and promoting your ideas. Scott C. Heider

  • Aunt Bea

    It ain’t so much Gingko, MCH, it’s Turkey 101

  • Michael Dickinson

    Aunt Bea asks ” Have you ever trained a great dirt horse over Tapeta and then watched it run?”

    The answer is “Yes, may times.

    TAPIT trained on Tapeta and then won the Grade 1 Wood Memorial.
    FLEET RENEE won the Grade 1 Ashland (when it was on dirt)
    A HUEVO won the Grade 1 De Francis Dash after a 4 year lay off.
    FLEET RENEE also won the Grade 1 Mother Goose.
    REGAL RANSOM won the Grade 2 $2 million UAE Derby at Nad al Sheba on the dirt. The same day as TWO STEP SALSA won the $1 million Godolphin Mile GR 2.
    Last year, BULLSBAY won the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga after a whole string of Tapeta works at Fair Hill.

    You will notice none of these races are allowances. They are all valuable Graded stakes. You will also notice they were run over 6 entirely different dirt tracks. Most horses love a Tapeta surface and if they are good dirt horses, they will still perform well on the dirt. If Aunt Bea’s horse failed on the dirt, maybe she should ask herself, was the horse good enough? or was the trainer good enough? Tapeta helps most horses but it still can’t over come poor horses or poor training.

    Most of the trainers and jockeys at Presque Isle Downs think the Tapeta track is better than it has ever been, now in it’s 4th year. At Meydan in 2010, the world class jockeys and trainers gave the Tapeta track a 94% approval rating. ”

    Sincerely,
    Michael Dickinson

  • Aunt Bea

    Please Mr. Dickinson,
    Let’s not get silly here. Tapit, Fleet Renee, A Huevo, and Bullsbay never even RACED on Tapeta; And wtf does Regal Ransom and Two Step Salsa’s accomplishments on Nad dirt last year have to do with Tapeta and what happened on 2010 Tapeta?
    Btw, wtf actually did happen to Regal Ransom, Gayego, Desert Party, Justenuffhumor, Atomic Rain, West Side Bernie, et al over there that none showed up whatsoever?
    Believe me, I’m a great admirer of your training accomplishments and progressive nature, but why don’t you advocate for Tapeta at Cheltenham? Because you know as well as I do, that liberal American drug policies cause the safety issues that you purport your surface prevents! Haha

  • Aunt Bea

    I would like to restate that last comment about Regal Ransom, Gayego, Desert Party, et al, to mean that in no way was their American accomplishments due to American drug policies, but rather the lack of form at Meydan in 2010 was suspiciously due to surface change.

  • Aunt Bea

    MD?

  • Aunt Bea

    It just truly saddens me that in a couple of years, two of the most spectacular days of dirt racing for American racehorses, the Breeders Cup and the Dubai World Cup, have been rendered a complete and utter joke, an exercise in futility.

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