Town Hall Meeting: Can Horse Racing Solve Its Biggest Problems?

by | 02.24.2016 | 4:53pm

I attended Monday's “town hall” meeting at Gulfstream Park –- organized by the Association of Racing Commissioners International –- with a fair degree of skepticism.

Racing commissioners, after all, are the reason this industry is in such a mess, right? We have different rules in different states, dysfunction, and diseconomies of scale in regulating the sport.

But let's be fair: The current racing commissioners in various states didn't create this state-by-state regulatory structure, nor did the ARCI. They are simply trying manage through a system developed long before interstate simulcasting, modern medicine or sensitive drug screening.

Ed Martin, president of the ARCI, began the proceedings by comparing racing regulators to referees in sport. “People hate referees,” he said.

Can't disagree.

Martin then went around the room to the 20 people who attended this public event and asked what racing's biggest problem is.

I'm not going to identify anybody but Martin by name, not because I made any promises or deals but because it doesn't really add to the substance of what was discussed. There was someone there from the ranks of trainers (Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse), owners, jockeys, regulators, a few of racing's “alphabet soup” organizations, veterinarians, plus two racetracks (the host, Gulfstream Park, and a Standardbred track).

No one in attendance identified him or herself as a horseplayer or fan.

A general consensus was that medication was racing's biggest problem, or at minimum the public perception that medication is a problem. Trainers cited the fact that rules still are not uniform across state lines. Horsemen's organizations' reps and state regulators said public education was lacking, that too many people (including media) don't understand the difference between a Class 4 therapeutic drug and a Class 1 performance enhancer used to gain an edge.

“We have become our own internal enemy,” said one regulator. Another horsemen's organization representative said, “We are an industry famous for shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Yet another attendee asserted that education cannot start until national uniformity is achieved in both medication rules and enforcement of those rules.

One national organization's top executive said polling of industry insiders concluded integrity is the sport's biggest problem but that the general public is far more concerned about safety and welfare. “They don't even know about integrity,” he said, “but the general public will not tolerate athletes dying in competition.”

Getting racetracks to recognize safety and welfare issues has been a stumbling block, this individual said.

A jockey in attendance said whip reform has come a long way, particularly the riding crop being used today. “We aren't doing anything to educate the public about that,” the rider said, adding that tracks should have a display showing how whips have evolved from the old-fashioned crops to the current cushioned “poppers.”

The absence of structure – to regulate, coordinate and market the sport on a national basis – was another problem raised. That led to Ed Martin's second question: How do you create structure?

No one in the room said they thought federal oversight was the answer to that question (as opposed to the federal government appointing an agency, like the United States Anti-Doping Agency, to regulate medication rules).

There was support for the concept of a multi-state compact to create a regulatory structure, but that has been on ARCI's drawing board for years with little to no progress to show.

One suggestion floated was a “major league” formed by the racing associations in the largest markets: Churchill Downs Inc., Del Mar, Keeneland, New York Racing Association, The Stronach Group, and Woodbine. The league would develop its own set of rules, scheduling and marketing programs and work with the various state agencies when necessary for approval.

An attorney in the room, however, said the “major league” concept had anti-trust ramifications.

Another idea was to have state racing commissions use the Interstate Horseracing Act as a “hammer,” forcing non-compliant states to adopt uniform rules and programs or run the risk of having their outgoing simulcast signals cut off. Example: If a racing commission in State XYZ has not approved “model rules,” and it is the consensus of commissioners in State ABC that the “model rules” are vital, the latter commissioners may elect to block State XYZ's simulcast signal from entering State ABC by not approving the contract for simulcast wagering. Other states could join in, without fear of anti-trust lawsuits, the proponent for this idea said.

Of course, such action would not take horse racing's customers into consideration.

This was the second in a series of ARCI-organized town hall meetings, the first taking place at Santa Anita in January.

I left the meeting feeling less skeptical than before, at least as far as the intent or sincerity of purpose of this gathering. Unfortunately, I also came closer to concluding that horse racing in the United States may – to use a term I learned from the late William T. Young of Overbrook Farm – have an unsolvable problem.

  • CDFan

    Age old, How can we get everyone on the same page? How can we make the racing experience excellent no matter if you’re a trainer, owner, or fan? Some places do this well. How can we get folks excited about horses and racing?

    • Bein

      Get them through the door first with excellent, inexpensive food and drink and the expectation of a entertaining experience. The horses will take care of the rest.

      That is, the horses will take care of the rest if they are not under the influence of pain control medications. There is no better way to turn off a potential new fan forever than witnessing a horse breakdown. Period.

      • Joan and Fred

        How very true! Witnessing many breakdowns is a turn off to any enthusiast of horses. As a result we ourselves have turned towards marketing our horses for non-racing sports.Get rid of the sore horses running in races which are in jeopardy of breaking down in front of the public.Give them time off to heal. Don`t race therm on pain deadening medication/ shock wave therapy which we have seen with our own eyes being used on a horse everyday up to and including the day she broke both legs at the 3/8 pole.

  • Hamish

    if these sessions are intended to truly be all inclusive “think tanks,” then they must be held when folks interested in being there in person can attend. A Monday morning, on a dark day, will get you 20 attendees, most of whom have been trying to solve the same problems, or deny they exist, for years. Sincerity is a good vibe sensed by the author, but without a real mandate to lead a new way forward given to one board or chief executive, unsolvable may unfortunately be the undesired conclusion.

    • Concerned Observer

      If his mother was dying he would get off work. If his job is dying… he can quit using that lame excuse too. Go to a local HBPA meeting….no attendance. Go to a track meeting for trainers…no attendance. Where are the owners? Too busy (substitute lazy) to go to the meetings.

      It is easy to complain, but few ever make any effort to get involved. They dump it on someone else, then complain all afternoon in the track kitchen.

      20 people at an open “public” meeting at Gulfstream…..that tells you the depth of the problem. Most just don’t give a damn.

      • Hamish

        Using a vacation day to attend a horse racing “gritch” session, an exercise that repeats the same things over and over that we’ve all heard for decades, makes no sense whatsoever. Particularly, when the group organizing the event has a clear agenda, protecting turf, without having any real power or influence to lead or effectuate progressive changes. Many folks do give a damn, but until industry participants are convinced that there is a mechanism to accomplish something, and that if they do speak out they are not shunned, or worse, by the status quo mongers running the show, then attendance at these organized opinion molding events will be minimal, and their usefulness questionable. Perhaps horse racing should combine all the alphabets into one group, weed out some orgs with duplicate function, and create a horse nation board with absolute authority to act? Then, people would know with whom to speak.

        • Northern Dancer

          The people in power (that can change things) are reaping huge financial rewards from the status quo.
          There is no incentive for them to change things.
          The wagering public, the small racing stables should stop supporting it. When the stands are empty (they are now) when the casinos are sick of supporting them then they cry like babies.

      • Northern Dancer

        At one time the meetings were well attended.
        It was all the same issues being discussed today that were being discussed then. People were involved, but after years of attending meetings, and NOTHING ever changes people get fed up.They see it as a waste of their time.
        I can’t say I blame them.

  • Tinky

    How on earth can these people hope to identify, let alone begin to fix racing’s “biggest” problems if they aren’t even interesting in including representatives of their customers at a “town hall” meeting?

    Yes, of course trainers and owners are also crucial, but please.

    • tony a

      They held it on a Monday, when everyone’s at work. Here’s an idea, have it at night or Saturday before the races, they know you the real players are and who has an idea what’s going on, go around and invite them beforehand with sufficient notice. That’s the problem, they don’t even think about these things.

      • Jack Frazier

        Hillary must have been in charge and the emails are on her server. Ridiculous. Racing doesn’t even take care of those who are involved in the actual racing. They stiff those who come to the tracks for food and beverages and make a big deal out of $1 days for beer, sodas and hot dogs. Those should be every day things. They have to give people a reason to attend live racing and pull them away from television racing. I mean, if you can sit at home, gamble on multiple tracks, eat out of your own refrigerator, tell me what the draw of live racing is other than to fill the coffers of those in the front office and the executives.

        • Concerned Observer

          Jack, the problem is not live at the track audience vs home audience… is big audience vs. tiny or no audience. and…Big handle like 40 years ago vs. tiny handle today by inflation standards.
          As for holding the meeting on a week day…so what? Most of our audience has been retired for years. We should be so lucky that some of our bettors were still young enough to have a job!

          As for trainers….they did not have time to attend….it was coffee time in the track kitchen.

          • Jack Frazier

            I don’t differ with you in some respects but it is a bigger problem because those who could affect change won’t.

          • Northern Dancer

            They won’t affect change because they are reaping the financial rewards of the status quo.

        • bobjonestwo

          A large simulcast facility in my state changed management recently, the response so far has been to raise all food prices, all drink prices, change happy hour from 3 days a week to 1 day a week, eliminate free live racing [now up to a whopping 5 days a year] and institute a $5 admission for the first time, harass senior citizens who have been supporting racing for 50 years or more for bringing in a cup of coffee or bottle of water, nothing allowed to be brought in, no computers allowed in the building because of fear of online wagering, and their new big promotion is giving out a free Penn National program on Thursdays, talk about bringing them in from coast to coast. All about the bottom line, as usual treating racing fans with utter contempt. New management has been anything but fan friendly, they don’t ever seem to understand who pays their bills, kind of like our corrupt politicians who currently have a 92% disapproval rating. They need to treat their customers with respect, make them feel wanted and appreciated and not harassed and abused.

          • Jack Frazier

            This is the problem and it is at all racing facilities. They need to look at how Las Vegas attracted people in the 50’s until recently when entertainment began to bring in as many people as the gambling. Gamblers were comped on food, drinks and sometimes rooms. People have got to feel appreciated and wanted. I very seldom go to the races anymore, even when a promotion is going on because it always costs a couple of hundred dollars. When I go, I just treat it as an entertainment expense an nothing more. I don’t like the exotics and only wager WPS tickets. The other ones are fools games much like the lottery, which you can’t win. Average racing fan loses much more than they ever win, even the big guys. Read the story about David Milch who squandered over $25 million dollars gambling. A very good example of how racing devours its own, and he won two Breeders Cup races. It is a no win game so it needs to be made affordable so when the grifters pick the fans pockets, they like it. You are right though, the bottom line is all they think about.

        • horseplayer

          Congrats Jack, you hit that one the head. My partner and I go to a local track during their season…every year…just about everyday. Weekends we have to pay to get in and everyday we go we each buy a $3 program (which went up this year), so we are in the hole before we even loose the first race. Then, if you stay all day, you buy a couple drinks ($5.50 mixed drink / $3.75 beer, on the weekends) and lunch. I realize the track didn’t take us “to raise”, but if they want to encourage people to attend regularly, management could make it a bunch more feasible and reasonable. We are considering discontinuing our weekend visits to the track.

          • Jack Frazier

            I view the racing experience the same way I do any other entertainment venue. I don’t know about other places but in California the fans get their pockets picked before ever placing a wager. It is not fan friendly or family either. A family of four cannot afford to attend because they would be out a lot of money just to get in, buy programs and food, so influencing the kids and showing them how great racing is, loses the potential to harvest new fans. I amazed that tracks can’t see this, but then they are myopic. I wonder if they realize that more people on track equal more money for the track? Tracks are going to have to figure out how to market racing to folks in an affordable manner. But they are only interested in the bottom line. This is what happens when front office people are pencil necked geeks and pencil pushers instead of horsemen and women. I would say that not all horse folks are capable of running the show nor are all front office people incapable, but at least they would have an idea of how to attract people.

      • Concerned Observer

        The problem is not the people that are at the track before the races , the problem is the people that will never go to the races at all. How do we attract them?

        We do planning like asking the guy that runs a roller skating rink why no one comes roller skates anymore? How the hell does he know? He just knows that they don’t.

        • tony a

          Wasn’t that what the meeting for? You have people that post on here that don’t , can’t or won’t spend a dollar on a race, they think wishing horses good luck is enough support.

        • Jack Frazier

          There are some small changes that could be made immediately if it weren’t for the tracks gouging every dime patrons have. They could make parking, programs, admission free to everyone; they could make food prices reasonable, I mean where is a hot dog worth five bucks and a coke the same? Only in the movie theaters and race track. They could hire good turf writers to supply stories to all the major papers in their area to highlight horses, trainers, owners and riders and make it a priority to promote their product. Most of what is done is nothing more than band aids on an open wound. They also treat anyone who is not a “name” trainer or owner with disrespect and disdain.

          • Joan and Fred

            Our local track already has free admission/ parking! The problem is hardly anybody wants to watch horses live in the winter cold/ rain. Most people we know want to actually see the horses physically before they wager. Big difference in seeing horses live and only on a tv/ pc screen. Also the food at our local track is actually fairly good as they have to compete with literally hundreds of eating establishments in our area.

        • superjan

          I think racetracks competing with casinos should advertise High 5 etc. payouts. This should entice a slot player. I am a small wager horseplayer and am quite versed in all aspects of horseracing (front side experience almost 30 years.) I bet 20 cent quick picks for the full race card.

    • bobjonestwo

      The fans have always been left out and ignored, still are, even though racing is crumbling.

    • John d. Rasberry

      Very true! Any bussines has to recognize & define it’s customers. Horse racing is entertainment like football,baseball etc. Racing has to figure out how get and keep customers. How to provide entertainment to whole family.
      Until racing gets of high-horse they will continue to suffer at box office.

    • Guest

      Because there aren’t very many customers?

  • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

    Concerning not one fan or handicapper there. Likely because of when it was held…but other question is maybe they just don’t want to try to speak up anymore because they feel it just gets ignored.
    Bigger issue really is someone has to be the leader and make the sacrifice of change for the good of the sport. No one is that brave right now.
    Everyone knows the big issues out there…no need to have forums again to state the obvious. These think tanks should be all about solutions.
    Try something…give it a real honest chance to work…then try something else if it doesn’t work.
    Stand up against the naysayers as one group with one voice. Don’t roll over submissively every time you are questioned or attacked by any group.

  • Ron

    Easy answer. No. Racing can’t solve it’s biggest problems.

    • Bellwether

      NO is right on and that’s because they don’t have a damn clue!!!…ty…

  • morethanready

    They have a meeting scheduled up my way on March 16th but it’s by invite only. This sounds a little like a Board of Education meeting in close session- you can control the narrative and the way it is delivered. Your skepticism was merited.

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  • Robert

    Sorry Ray but all of these regurgitated “ideas” are cheap. Blah, blah, blah. All that matters is if you can execute a consumer-centric business plan. The biggest problems are the economics – not the red herrings discussed at this conference. I might add – amongst a room chuck-full of a bunch of dull, boring, old white dudes. Sorry – no one gives a rat’s [email protected]@ about medication. Why because there are barely any customers left to care. It’s pretty simple – quit picking everyones pocket (Equibase, CHDN, takeout etc.), give customers a fair price and make the product better. It’s about execution and making a great experience for the customers not this nonsense. So f#489ng frustrating. See KY Downs for first couple pages of the execution playbook.

    • tony a

      Would tend to agree with most of your comment but I find it disturbing and disgusting, while not offended with the old white guys statement. Are you trying to be the cool, young progressive white guy? Or just throw out racist comments?

      • gus stewart

        Tony, i understand that does sound racist, and as i wrote on this topic, im one of them. But unfortunatly its the truth. In my above statement give me some demographics of that meeting. And as we look at this in our biz, look and our upcomong election. Do u or anyone else think the hispanic cruz or rubio, or dr carson are the parties first choice . but being bought and payed for, they will do or say anything to defeat trump, because they want checks to keep coming for years. We live in a very fearful time as power and wealth change, so our racing leaders would sacrafice the biz in favor of diversity and looking at changing future marketing just my thoughts

    • El Nino Guillermo

      I’m an ol” white guy and yes the problems that exist in the state of “Billy the Kid’, AKA New Mexico, is the establishment of old white guys running the tracks, racing commission, and trainers making decisions in the NMHHA (New Mexico Horsemen or Hilarious Association). The old white fans have left the circus tent and the only fans they have left are Hispanics, when they aren’t kicking them out of the track. Perhaps they should look at the casino and they will see that the only people putting money into the slot machines, where 90% of purse money for racing is generated, is by low income people who happen to be Hispanic. Perhaps they should quit hating this race and change their attitude towards the ever-changing world. Racism is in abundance in the State of New Mexico.

    • Your comments reflect merely your own opinion and are not backed up by recent polls conducted of horseplayers and fans. You are typical of the one-trick ponies on this subject. I, for one, sympathize with your position re takeout and costs, but for you to discount others’ positions re drugs is unfair and shortsighted.

      • Robert

        Please walk me through – empirically – the economic model, where by, if you eliminate race day medication (can substitute uniform nationwide medication rules etc) like lasix you will see a corresponding uptick in handle. Handle is a quantitative proxy for the health of the game – a game driven by betting dollars. Simplistically, if you do “x” (eliminate lasix – example) you will see “y” (annual growth in handle as a positive % relative to the year beforehand benchmark). If you cannot – you are providing YOUR opinion – a purely qualitative exercise on your part. Unlike your opinion, I can provide you with meaningful data and sensitivity analytics that suggest “ripping the customers face off” by charging them 4-5x of what other, competing “wagers” cost is not helpful. In fact, it it is the #1 reason for the disintegration of a great game. If you would like to prove that medication reform is the path to the promise land – prove it – with things like statistics and real world examples, else try an argument that is realistic, useful and – most importantly – actionable.

        • You make a lot of assumptions. Here is the issue: the game is riddled by the illegal use of performance enhancing drugs and has been since the EPO came into common usage in the early 1990s and got worse in the early 2000s, when leading trainers from coast to coast began cheating at an alarming rate. Big and medium bettors, as well as owners, recognized what what taking place. Owners began to leave the game in droves, causing short fields, and gamblers left game because a) they realized it was rigged and b) there is little incentive to betting on 5-horse fields. The push to have USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) get involved in racing is to have an independent body oversee drug usage (both legal and illegal). There needs to be uniform rules for the legal stuff and a zero tolerance policy against the illegal stuff. Once this becomes a reality and the integrity of the game is restored, it stands to reason that betting on racing will become a more attractive proposition than it currently is. Does that make sense to you?

          • Robert

            Qualitatively your argument seems reasonable – there’s just is no way to prove it. You do not, and cannot, substantiate your argument with data. “Big owners left in droves” – thats a little squishy – just your opinion. How many? Of that population that left how many left specifically because of EPO/drugs – my guess would be somewhere close to zero. Perhaps they left because they were sold a horse that was marked up with out their knowledge? Perhaps most of their horses did not make it to the race track? Perhaps they were paying monthly bills that were a little – shall we say – “padded.” You, in fact, are making the assumptions not me. There are plenty of horses, plenty of owners and plenty of races at the upper-tier. The lifeblood of this sport (product) is betting – and the product/experience stinks – no one likes being the sucker in a mis-priced value proposition. Understand, I agree with your stance on medication – we are closely aligned. And I agree it is important – but probably closer to priority #50 versus #1. Medication reform is the right thing to do from a moral and qualitative perspective – while improving the economics for the biggest part of the industry (betting) will have positive, $ quantitative ramifications.

          • Currently there is only one racing venue in North America where any type of appetite exists to run the game on a level playing field. That’s The Meadowlands, where Jeff Gural runs a harness racing operation. According to stats supplied by his staff, they show that handle has increased under their strict guidelines for meds and PEDs.

          • Robert

            Here is how Jeff Gural explains the increase in handle – (notice the metrics + rationale he uses as proof):

            “Full fields remain the key to The Meadowlands success. “We have the bigger track with 10 horses across. That is where we have an edge and we have to capitalize on that. We had 254 betting interests in 26 races, that’s nearly 9.8 horses per race, which is where we need to be.”

            Gural added that coordinating post times has become a focal point of the meet as well. “We hired a consultant who coordinates with other racetracks, thoroughbred and standardbred alike so that our races are not going off at the same time as races that could negatively impact our handle. There are so many tracks out there to keep track of and to have one person being able to focus on just that task throughout the night is a big help to us. We have also developed a schedule with Woodbine where our races are essentially ten minutes apart from one another. We haven’t had a single race this meet go off close to Woodbine.”

          • There probably is some validity to these comments, but I receive from Jeff Gural on a regular basis a bunch of stats that give the credit to his policies. He thinks that his cleaner product is what is driving the batting. I have a lot of first-hand knowledge from big gamblers and other owners that support the conclusions I referenced in an earlier posting on this thread that the PEDS have driven them out of the game. You can choose to believe it not. I remain convinced of it. I am a big Track & Field fan and I know what PEDs have done to the fan base and clean athletes in that sport. Same goes for cycling.

        • larry

          You should ask yourself the same question you asked Barry. Prove it.

          • Robert

            No doubt, Larry. Agree. See the post below. In summary – Big fields. (Meadowlands, GP, KY Downs) Coordinated post-times – creating more betting opportunities through efficiencies. (Meadowlands, Woodbine) Lower takeout (while still not optimal – Ky Downs + 15% P5s). Exchange Wagering (Not in the US – Brings in institutional $ – Betfair). All combine to make an awesome, exciting, scalable, instant value proposition/product – for the neophyte up to the professional/quant driven gamblers/funds. So Big Fields + Coordinated Post-times + Lower takeout + Exchange wagering = A great “betable”, scaleable engaging product that creates its own gravity. I would argue that the $cale and $ize demands a cleaner sport (unfortunately there will always be folks looking to get an unfair edge) – would be the by-product/benefit of a more relevant product.

          • larry

            Your Hired Robert ! But only if you agree owners should not get the right to appeal the stewards decisions. In a day and age when the betting public is playing for more money on a pick six than the owners are racing for over an entire card there can only be one outcome for all. l became aware of this nonsense of owners appealing decisions of the stewards back in 2005 when the Sam Son Farm appealed a race that involved a horse called Dances With Ravens, appeals have become so common place at Woodbine they have become an extension to the process . At best this is an unethical process run by ethical people. Drugs may be cheating but the corruption is in the tote. Creating an outcome for the betting that is fixed for the betting public through an inquiry and then putting it back the way it ran on the racetrack for the owners through an appeal three months later is not integrity.

        • Northern Dancer

          If they remove the Lasix needle on race day I bet some Trainers will have much lower win rates.

          • we’re watching

            Ha, lasix needle? Surely you are submitting a euphemism for more than just lasix coming through that needle.
            These high percentage trainers, all of them, must surely be utilizing more than lasix.
            Start with the highest percentage, work down , and weed them out.
            I doubt it would be that hard.

          • Northern Dancer

            I don’t trust the secretive non-transparent drug testing process especially when it’s managed by people who have horses or investments of horses in the race.

    • morethanready

      Really… Robert, they could give me a steak dinner with my Racing Form and have Billy Joel playing the piano between races but if every other horse in the race is juiced to the point you can’t handicap it and a half dozen of these warriors breakdown each day because they’ve been illegally injected, the experience is pretty s####y.

  • David Worley

    Although I truly hope American horse racing can figure things out, I’ve grown more skeptical the more deeply I understand the problems. Ray, you implicitly nailed one really key issue: the sport (largely) ignores its customers which are its economic engine. Therefore, I think there will need to be a near death experience in the industry before things really change.

    With customers in mind, the sport also needs to figure out how to gain significant revenue beyond betting handle.

    • Plumcreek

      Besides the obvious problems outlined above, tracks need to abandon the 1950’s-based gambling vision, and make going to the track a FUN experience for potential players and families. People pay reasonable money for family fun at other venues. Innumerable interviews of owners and players disclose that their interest in going to the track was formed when accompanying their parents or grandparents while children. What interaction with live horses do people get on the average track? Most are several generations away from horses as part of their life, but would go to the track if meeting horses and horse people (in a safe manor) were possible. Also, what innovative ways are used to help a first timer understand how to wager? I am a breeder, a multi-venue equestrian designer, and have a background in hotel hospitality venues, and to my eyes the experience at a race track as an attendee is so far behind what other hospitality venues are doing to be relevant and appealing to their customers. I am not talking beer festivals, just an enjoyable experience.

      • gus stewart

        You are spot on, no one takes the time to cultivate those types of relationships. It has to be known as a day and better a night of entertaiment with many options while there.

      • This is what I have been saying. Are you familiar with Top Golf? They have made a booming business out of DRIVING RANGES. How? Because they have made it a fun place to go. Food, drinks, competitions. It is kid, adult friendly and everything. Plus it is expensive – and people go anyway! It is definitely a model the racetracks could follow. But they are too obsessed with their casinos and still think a daily double or whatever is some kind of awesome promotion.

      • Bellwether

        “PLAYERS and FAMILIES” and please don’t leave out plain old FANS!!!…Colonial Downs leased the track for a “Camp Town” type event one Sat. and drew 35’000 people when the Va. Derby in 16 years only drew a little over 10,000 one year before the track went dark…Those people running that track had no clue what so ever how to promote that beautiful venue…Period…Great post Plumcreek…ty…

  • FourCats

    Racing’s biggest problem is that its customer base is declining. The issues listed in the article have contributed to that problem, but the real culprit is that racing’s leaders do not believe that racing can come back and don’t care (and some would actually like to see racing die). Consequently, those leaders do nothing to appeal to new customers or keep existing customers. Don’t know how many here remember Frank de Francis. He worked hard to reinvigorate Maryland racing and was dramatically successful. It can be done.

  • Lehane

    The Rules of Racing must be made national with the welfare of the horse being the highest priority. As quoted in the article “the general public will not tolerate athletes dying in competition”.
    Each and every horse should be racing under the one set of Rules no matter what State they’re racing in. The individual States having their own different rules is absolutely ridiculous and indicates that the industry is having difficulty in governing itself and the public see this. Also the USADA should be appointed to regulate the medication rules nationally.

    • Northern Dancer

      100% agree.

  • gus stewart

    Just an question since we have all gone over numerous problems racing has. What i would like to know, how many in attedance were under 55,,, how many women and how many asian Hispanic or African americans were in attendance just a percentage would be good enough. So if im correct in my assumption and not making a u know what by assuming,, i would say thats this biz biggest problem.. and im in that group of that majority, but i have always thought way out of box and thinking ahead to keep pace,, not our good old boys..

    • Too many people play this game like they have 5 minutes to live. They don’t play long ball.

  • nucky thompson

    I would have gone but another racing “town hall ” meeting went off at exactly the same time.

  • Bellwether

    It’s 2016 and very little has changed to bring ‘The Game’ back to even a speck of what it once was and the powers that are suppose to be still don’t have a clue and never will…Please bring in somebody(s) that can and stop screwing around with the same old DA’s…The one thing that has changed big time is the DISPOSAL of the MYSTICAL CREATURES that make it all happen like a piece of GARBAGE Thank Goodness!!!…Now why the Hell can’t the same happen for ‘The Game’ itself???…

  • Racing commissions by and large are political appointees. For them to stake out a position that the government should stay out of racing is laughable. This is a states’ right issue for them. These folks have had plenty of time to work out a solution and they have failed miserably. There is a solution and it may be for the entire mess to be halted and begun again with a new framework. Or those entrenched forces representing the status quo can drop their hardline positions and come together to agree on mutually acceptable positions. But the RCI, which is striving for relevancy in the face of being relegated to a lower position on the totem pole because of the prospect of USADA being placed in charge of drugs in American racing; the HBPA (and others groups like them), which is completely tone deaf to the concerns of owners and horseplayers; and racetracks, which are scrambling as fast as mice on a sinking ship to line up deals with alternative forms of gambling and cornering the ADW market, all are working at cross purposes. Until these factions become more tractable, nothing is likely to change. Oh, except one thing, which is that horse racing as we know it and once knew it will no longer be around for the next generation.

    • Northern Dancer

      Very succinct, and well said. 100% agree.

    • gus stewart

      So being an owner as you have been and are still i imagine, as we were 15 years ago., why cant all or most owners come together to demand a leadership change. Why would you and your partners as owners continue to tolerate management of your investment, which not only depreciates its value, but also makes it more expensive to run. We got out15 years ago, love the sport but could no longer have any fun even when we lost money year after year, thinking we were paying for a horribly managed sport/business.

      • Hamish

        Horse racing today is more of an “activity” than a sport or business or even a gambling option. Dysfunction runs amuck and a huge divergence of position on what should be done is driven by whether one is a have or have not (casino subsidized racing venue or strictly pari-mutuel funded). I believe purses are now more than 50% subsidized by alternative forms of gaming, so the rush to get things right and retake our market share as a sport/biz/gamble has slowed to a snail’s pace. We had better upgrade our stature from “activity” soon, as our numbers show us circling the drain.

      • Geez Gus, you have missed a lot in the last 15 years! In answer to your main question as to why owners have not managed to effect any meaningful change, my response is that the majority of owners are passive and are involved in racing as a hobby, so they defer to their trainers, who are involved in the trenches on a daily basis. By abdicating their responsibility, they have allowed racing to fall into this current mess. I do not hold owners blameless. Owners are the last people that should complain because as a group we do have the power to change virtually everything that matters, but most owners lack the will to move the ball.

        • gus stewart

          Thats a good point i agree, most big owner’s consider owning a race horse a hobby. Thats why guys like me and my partners could of continued to spend the money if the crowds were there and it was a day and night of entertainment. But it turned out to be running races at 12 or one clock during the day. People work now not like 30 years ago when it was easier to take off. We had others things we could do with the money enjoy ourselfs and not go to see our horse run with 2000 people in entire track and look at each other and say,,, really this is fun… you have to change with times day racing at majority of track except sun wont work.. you have to make being at the races an event, hapoening and it can be done, just not with the ancient bodies running it

  • gibsoncarothers

    If the biggest problem facing racing today is integrity, or more specifically medication, does that mean when racing was American’s #1 spectator sport, it was, or was perceived to be, clean? Does it mean that fans will return to the game if the drug problems or safety problems are eliminated?

  • Ian Howard

    Racing’s biggest problem is that the current level of interest in wagering products cannot provide a reasonable rate of return on investment. As slot money disappears and racing days are concentrated at venues with an affinity for the product the size of the industry may approach a rational economic model. There is no magic fix only attrition can eliminate those operations that neither understand or care for racing. Racing as currently constituted is neither a business or a sport, it is just the red headed step child of the gaming industry, barely tolerated with the expectation that it will soon be forced to survive on it’s own.

  • David Stevenson

    Horse racing has grown approximately 200 alphabet groups over a 30+ year period to deal with horse racing’s problems and with many accompanying large paychecks that are funded by purse proceeds (handle). Meetings in the warm south and west are wonderful if you win the local lottery of being selected to attend. But 20? It is interesting that the word “sport” still comes into play. There is no depth in that connotation anymore unless you include “slots, gimmicks and slots.” Any education of the sport part was lost on the alter through an insidious encroachment many years ago. We have become just a larger losing slot parlor with limited public identity, left in the dust by the “real” public perception of a sport and all its stringencies!

  • Andrew A.

    It is not all that hard to grow the sport and sell it as a gambling game of skill. I’ve recommended taking a first step with 16% take exactas and eliminating breakage on WPS ad nauseam. What would probably happen is that handle would start to go up and level off eventually. Revenue is what’s most important and if you ask some of these racing execs if they would take handle being up 30% and revenue being up 5% .. would they take that deal. They would not IMO. IF handle goes up 30% they want revenue to go up 30%. They are absolutely determined to continue to try to trick gamblers into playing high take (and effective takeout) hard to hit exotics. That’s short term thinking that creates the long term misery that we have now.

    All the other problems that were discussed become much easier to solve with more handle/revenue and happier Customers.

    The Stronach Group has all the assets to make this happen but chooses not to. That’s what makes fixing the game ALMOST impossible.

    • Northern Dancer

      When a particular group or individuals are reaping the financial windfall of the status quo the motivation to change is greatly reduced.
      Appearance to change is not enough because, in the end, everything always remains the same.

  • David Stevenson

    you have solve one part of the equation Andrew but as most “bookmakers” have learned over a hundred years; quality, rules and consistency are prerequisites if you are going to grow a sport on which to wager! don’t sell the intellect of the “good” gambler and the spectator short!

  • kcbca1

    After all is said and done, there is more said than done.

    • Northern Dancer

      All said, and nothing done is more like it.

  • Once again, instead of trying to come up with new ideas to try to help the industry, why not try to fix the known problems we have had for decades? Quit being stubborn, admit what the problems are and concentrate on fixing them. Until then, this industry will continue to decline.

  • Northern Dancer

    Take away the monopolization of the industry such as the Interstate Horse Racing Act, open it up to Free Enterprise, lots will change.
    There are a small percentage of people reaping huge financial rewards from the IHRA, and that must change.
    When this changes the HBPA will be rendered powerless (thank goodness) and so will a few people. Most of the corporate barns will be gone, and the industry will open itself up to a much better wagering product one that the wagering public will bet on.

  • David Stevenson

    Jon, it is designated as shortsightedness; the inability to identify a problem due to a lack of depth involving the subject matter; the refusal to anticipate the longevity of production necessary for long term appreciation and qualitative competition on behalf of an audience with many choices. True sports producers do not (publicly) anticipate wagering/gambling handle thereby avoiding a negative public perspective.

  • Turf Paradise Tommy

    It’s the takeout, stupid. And no one at this meeting realized that that is by far racing’s biggest issue? Customers don’t care about anything other than getting a fair deal and with the takeout on a horse racing bet so much higher than virtually any other gambling activity except for the lottery the sport continue to fade into oblivion. Sure, I want clean racing. Doesn’t everyone? But as a gambler I know who is cheating and who isn’t and can adjust my bets accordingly. When trainer John J. Juicer claims a horse I know it’s going to move up 5 lengths in its next start. So does everyone else. What I can’t take is going up against a 25% rake that can only break me in the long run. That’s why the sport has lost me as a regular customer and I now only bet on big days like the Derby and Breeders’ Cup. It’s sad that no one in the sport realizes this is by far the game’s biggest problem.

  • Bob Cook

    My research tells me that racehorses die on the track from asphyxia. Obstruction of the upper airway causes waterlogging of the lungs (pulmonary edema) and this, in turn,
    causes heart failure and sudden death. It is the non-fatal episodes of
    pulmonary edema that cause ‘bleeding.’ Recurring episodes of ‘bleeding’ cause low-grade pneumonia and poor performance. Racehorses suffocate because of airway
    obstruction at the level of the throat. The obstruction occurs in two ways and
    both are caused by the bit. First, the bit breaks what should be an air-tight lip-seal
    at the gallop. This disperses what should be a vacuum in the throat which, in a
    horse at liberty, ‘glues’ the soft palate to the root of the tongue and
    prevents it from ‘floating’ up and blocking the airway. Secondly, the throat is obstructed by bit-induced poll flexion.

    All these problems are preventable. The horse’s welfare can be vastly improved by
    an update in the rules of racing. Bits cause a book-full of problems apart from
    ‘bleeding’ and sudden death. Use of a bit should not be mandatory. Racehorses
    can be trained to respond to rein aids that are painless and do not interfere
    with their breathing, balance or stride. Jockeys and exercise riders will be
    safer; the incidence of ‘bleeding,’ catastrophic breakdowns and sudden death
    will be dramatically reduced; Lasix usage will fade in the face of much better
    ways to enhance performance; and racing could once again become a sport that
    the public will support.

  • crystal

    Solving the problems between the federalists and antifederalists to ratify the constitution seemed nearly impossible, but the founding fathers STAYED at it for month, and the bill of rights was written- which seems so common sense now. We need leaders who are determined to not quit until its done!

  • John d. Rasberry

    As fan main thing is to know that all horses are running under same rules.
    I find it hard play tracks I do not know. Or trainers or owners etc.

  • morethanready

    I think the one consensus we can take from most of these comments is that the people charged with fixing the problems are actually the main problem.

  • larry

    The last people l want making the rules are those running Woodbine and Gulfstream Park.

  • Steve DeCaspers

    So nobody mentioned the price of the product? Fascinating.

    • Jocke Muth

      No bettors could be bother to attend.

  • RingForFrodo

    Don’t know about Florida or New York, but in California the owners are not the solution to racing’s problems, they and the TOC /CHRB (more owners) ARE the problem. Their clueless business model (sky high exotic takeout rates and way too many unplayable short fields) is the perfect recipe for disaster. Until leadership solves those two problems, all the marketing, medication reform or $1 hot dogs in the world won’t bring their best customers back.

  • Elle D

    Sounds like Gulfstream in Atlanta.

  • Dr. Robert Cook

    My research tells me that racehorses die on the track from asphyxia. Obstruction of the upper airway causes waterlogging of the lungs (pulmonary edema) and this, in turn, causes heart failure and sudden death. It is the non-fatal episodes of pulmonary edema that cause ‘bleeding.’ Recurring episodes of ‘bleeding’ cause low-grade pneumonia and poor performance. Racehorses suffocate because of airway obstruction at the level of the throat. The obstruction occurs in two ways and both are caused by the bit. First, the bit breaks what should be an air-tight lip-seal at the gallop. This disperses what should be a vacuum in the throat which, in a horse at liberty, ‘glues’ the soft palate to the root of the tongue and prevents it from ‘floating’ up and throttling the horse. Secondly, the throat airway is crimped by bit-induced poll flexion.

    All these problems are preventable. The horse’s welfare can be vastly improved by an update in the rules of racing. Bits cause a book-full of problems apart from ‘bleeding’ and sudden death. Use of a bit should not be mandatory. Racehorses will respond willingly to bitless rein signals that are painless and do not interfere with their breathing, balance, stride or eagerness to run. Jockeys and exercise riders will be safer; the incidence of ‘bleeding,’ catastrophic breakdowns and sudden death will be dramatically reduced; Lasix usage will fade in the face of a more effective way to enhance performance; and racing could once again become a sport that the public will support.

    • Jocke Muth

      Is advertising allowed here in the comment section now?

  • Jocke Muth

    New venues are not the solution to racings problems, unless there is uniform rules and uniform enforcement of rules across the USA.

  • Dave Astar


    The pity of Town Hall Meetings is that they almost always involve asking the wrong questions of the wrong people and generate answers based on opinions with no data. No one, I repeat no one, who has ever legitimately fixed a business, an organization, an industry or an operation, does this. Politicians who don’t have a clue do!

    In fact, what “remediation experts” do is analyze the data “properly”, determine what the right questions are, isolate the right people who are “qualified” to answer the questions, put smart people together to design strategies and solutions, and then implement post haste!

    The REAL “main” problem in racing is that consumers do not select racing as a sport or attraction (gambling is part of the attraction) over other competitive sports and attractions. Everything people talked about, from medication to marketing to integrity to structure, are mere symptoms of the underlying “main” problem! That’s also why everything discussed during this meeting was a mere regurgitation of known symptoms which have been noted for YEARS!

    Revenue and profitability, up and downstream, entirely relate to consumer acceptance in any industry. If you think Town Halls are meaningful, when the wrong questions are asked of all the wrong people, you know nothing my friends. This simply epitomizes the delusional depth of racing powers when consumers are not even represented!

    If you want to solve this problem in Minnesota “for example only”, go to the Marcus Oakdale on a summer Saturday and properly research why people are there but not at the racetrack. Pick a section at a Viking exhibition game, where everybody spends a small fortune, and find out why they are there but didn’t stop by Canterbury at all during the summer. Go to the marina and ask why they love boating and the huge expenses associated with it, but hate horse racing. Try the big roller slots and ask the players the same questions. You will be shocked at what you hear!!!!! Why? Because you have never have asked the right people the right questions!

    These Town Halls……..Wrong questions, wrong people, wrong forum, wrong answers……equals……a perpetuated pity!

  • Bellwether

    TVG SUCKS!!!…

  • We need a 5 race 5 track for older horses program. Bonus to top winner of 5 races. Bonus for 2nd and 3rd. This will help follow the horses through the summer. Emphasize longevity in the breed. Next we need the jockeys to have their agents just not get them mounts, but sponsors. Let them have advertisements on their pants. Sponsors means publicity. Next time a trainer wins a race, pick a patron out,(hopefully he or she bet on your horse that just one.) and bring them in the winners circle and send them a picture. Especially kids, this will get a long time fan, hopefully. We need more stories on the front page of Sports Illustrated. Find a way to get this done. It’s not one thing, it’s the little things added together that gets it done. I could go on. Each part of horse racing can do just a little bit and everyone benefits.

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