“It's hard to get half the people in this industry to agree on what day it is,” a Central Kentucky breeder said to me a couple of weeks ago, shortly after the Breeders' Cup announced suspension of the stakes supplement program for 2009. “I can't believe 83% of the people voting in your poll agreed that the Breeders' Cup board made the wrong decision.”
The day after the results of the Daily Paulick Poll were reported (83% opposed the decision by the board of directors not to use cash reserves to fund the program, 10% supported it and 7% were unsure), the Breeders' Cup reversed field, reinstating the stakes supplements – at least for 2009. Breeders' Cup president Greg Avioli said he did not “anticipate the fervor of the response” to the original decision to suspend the program. Apparently, the poll results reflected the response Avioli and board members received in the way of telephone calls and emails from nominators to the Breeders' Cup from around the country.
This wasn't the first time judgments ran strong on an issue on which readers of the Paulick Report were asked to vote. The polls are not scientific, but the results are quite interesting and we are flattered by the daily response. This much we've learned: You've got opinions.
The most recent results, in fact, represent the strongest sentiment of any of the 40 polls we have conducted since just before the Breeders' Cup World Championships in late October. (Click
In some ways, the question about the NTRA mirrored the results of earlier polls regarding the state of the industry and thoughts about some of the organizations that lead it. In mid-November, we asked, “In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the Thoroughbred industry in the United States at this time.” The question was parallel to the right track/wrong track question the Gallup organization periodically asks of American citizens about the state of the nation.
According to our poll, 91% answered “dissatisfied,” suggesting the industry is currently on the wrong track. Of the remainder, 4% said they were satisfied and 5% were unsure. One e-mailer suggested that the 4% who said they were satisfied must not have understood the question.
Along those same lines, in early December we asked, “Are you confident the individuals in charge of the most prominent racing and breeding organizations in the United States are adequately addressing the problems the industry is currently facing?” That resulted in an 85% no confidence vote, with 10% saying they are confident in our industry leaders and 5% unsure.
Poll responses to questions about how to improve the economics of racing were less conclusive. For example, we asked which of three areas of growth were most important to the future success of racing: reinvigorating on-track business, expanding account wagering through TV or on-line video streaming, or getting subsidies from slot machines or other forms of gaming. Reinvigorating on-track business got the most votes, 45% of respondents, barely ahead of the 41% who believe account wagering is the industry's best hope. Only 14% believe growth from slots/alternative gaming is the answer. A more specific question about slot machines ended with a four-way dead heat, with each of the following answers getting 25% of the votes: 1) slots are a short-term fix to boost revenue; 2) they are a long-term necessity for racing to be competitive; 3) they are a necessary evil; and 4) I oppose slot machines at tracks.
On the issue of simulcast revenue, the poll run in conjunction with an article by Fred Pope on what he calls “
The level of takeout has been hotly debated in the comment sections of Pope's article and several other related pieces. Our only poll question on the subject came after the
We've touched on many other areas in our polls. For example, 55% of voters opposed Breeders' Cup putting all of the filly and mare races on the Friday program of the two-day championships, with 18% in support and 27% taking a “wait and see” approach; 49% opposed having the Breeders' Cup dirt races run on a synthetic track, while 39% supported it and 12% unsure. In the breeding world, in mid-December, 65% of voters said stud fees had not been reduced enough, 31% said the reductions were “about right,” and 4% felt they had been lowered too much. A comparison of the three highest-priced new stallions of 2009 found that Henrythenavigator offered greater value and opportunity for success to breeders than Curlin and Big Brown. The votes were 52% for Henrythenavigator, 44% for Curlin and 4% for Big Brown.
Finally, in light of the depressed bloodstock markets and a downward trend in pari-mutuel handle in 2008, a year-end poll asked readers if they believe 2009 will be a better year. Only 24% said they feel 2009 will be improved from 2008, with 52% saying it will be worse and 24% believing it will be the same.
Naturally, we hope our readers will be proven wrong and that 2009 will be a year that the industry addresses some of its biggest issues: organizational structure, leadership and a new business model that reflects the reality that roughly 10% of wagers are taken on-track where a race is being run. It's clear there is a high level of discontent currently running throughout the industry, but it's just as obvious that the passion to have racing stage a comeback is equally strong.
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