Barry Irwin: NTRA viability check

by | 12.06.2010 | 5:55am

I received an e-mail last week from Alex Waldrop, head of the NTRA. In it, Alex briefly described his trip to Japan where he observed top-class international racing first hand. He then went into a narrative about the glories of international racing and how it behooved United States racing interests to concentrate more on what makes international racing such a wonderful thing.

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

I like Alex. I have known him for quite some time and consider him to be an asset to our sport. He is a true gentleman and a first-class face of racing for our sport.

But. . .

It is time for the NTRA to step up to the plate and show some of the leadership qualities we all expected of the organization when it was formed and we all supported it with our cash and invested our faith in it.

Racing has its back against the wall at a time when things are so dire that I—at age 67—have no previous point of reference in my lifetime with which to compare. Racing is in deep doo-doo across the width and breadth of this land. It is not only a reflection of the hard economic times, but of the lack of a cohesive national policy that binds the sport's factions together.

So, in this moment when our very existence could be in jeopardy, I think it is time for the NTRA to exhibit some leadership, in an effort to get all of the major racing venues together and show that they can work for the common good of the racing public—its horseplayers, its horsemen and its fans.

I propose that Alex Waldrop and his organization concentrate right now on one project that should be able to be successfully implemented.  I understand why national initiatives most always fail in racing. Take the RMTC's effort to establish a national drug policy. That has an uphill fight because horsemen, bettors, racing officials and racetracks have different agendas.

What I propose should be a slam dunk because everybody wins and nobody gets hurt. All it takes is some simple coordination. But, if successful, the benefits could potentially be huge, both on a micro and macro level.

I want to see the NTRA coordinate post times at the major racetracks in North America (yes, that includes Canada, too) to insure that when races are shown live, whether on television or over the Internet or at OTBs, that there is no overlap (or as little as possible when unforeseen events conspire to interrupt schedules).

As a horse owner, there is nothing quite as irritating as having to wait for a delayed telecast of a race because of overlapping post times. As a horseplayer, having to wait to see a race on which a wager has been placed is just as frustrating.

I am fully aware that TVG and HRTV have their own agendas, because they have contractual obligations with various racing associations to give them priority in the queue of races.

However, I would be reasonably confident that if the NTRA were able to get the major racetracks to agree to symbiotic scheduling of its races, that a trade off would be that the television channels would find a way to accommodate their clients in a fashion that would make for no overlapping of post times.

Racetracks and television networks have made a light industry of taking their customers for granted, even rubbing their noses in it, based on the old notion that most horseplayers are such degenerate gamblers that they would wade across an alligator-stocked moat in order to get a bet down. But today, there are so many other betting opportunities, it behooves our game to cater to players instead of treating them like horse pucky.

Coordinating post times would send a message loud and clear to our horse-playing and race-watching public that we want to enhance their racing and betting experience.

It is time to make one simple test to ascertain whether the NTRA has the will, the clout and the smarts to get this job done. It is time to find out whether the individual fiefdoms of racing can stop thinking of their freaking shareholders long enough to consider the health of the industry and their neighbors.

If the NTRA can pull this off, it will be a major indication that coordinated efforts in a sport riddled by too many factions can be successful. This would open a door to further efforts that can help bring the stake holders closer to consensus on many key issues that are killing this game.

If it fails, then we are just kidding ourselves about keeping our game alive at a high level.

Like it or not, racing is no longer economically viable as a spectator sport in a live venue. Racetracks cannot make it on generating income from gate receipts, selling programs and food and charging for parking. They need handle and most of it comes from bets made off track.

So the single most important element that keeps racing afloat is gambling dollars wagered by horseplayers.

The least we can do for them is to present the races in an order that allows them to watch one race at a time. If we cannot do this, maybe we don't deserve to be in business.

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