All of us who love the game, revere the sport and spirit of the horse, or just love a nail-biting stretch run have been watching in dismay and disgust as one political or management failure in racing piles on another.
These are not incidental errors or misjudgments; they are fundamental indicators of misdirection or misunderstanding of the problems that plague our beloved sport. Nor is one sector of sport in jeopardy. All are in great hardship and are in peril of falling into a worse state.
In a response to Friday’s post on the frayed state of the bloodstock (and racing) business, “Trapped Down on the Rail” made the following comments that I thought deserved greater visibility:
I wrote: ‘That said, I don’t know that there is any over-supply of racehorses, judging by what I hear from from racing secretaries trying to fill races.’
There is the problem in a nutshell, Frank. Racing is a lousy business, and this is now being felt all the way down to farm level:
1. Its high takeout puts it at a competitive disadvantage with other forms of gaming. Solution: Slash takeout (and best of luck in that endeavor too!)
2. The high cost of horse ownership, especially with sky high (and often unnecessary) vet bills, is trimming fields and offering few exciting betting opportunities. (Partial solution: Ban race-day medication by bringing the US into line with international standards and save owners a bundle.) Good night and good luck!
3. Racetracks, as a business, are failing. Hence more tracks will close, and there will be even less demand for horses. Magna’s bankruptcy is an example of that, although (mis)management of that company bears a large burden. Tracks with alternative gaming will survive – as long as pols don’t decide that they want more of the pie currently going to purses and breeding. Nowhere to go but down….
4. On a breeding level we are witnessing the retreat of the two main players of the past 30 years – Dubai and Ireland, now among the world’s most troubled economies. The impact those high-priced purchases had on the breeding industry in this country cannot be underestimated. Those fevered bidding battles allowed breeders to do well, dream …. and borrow against next year’s crop. Nothing is likely to change for the better there soon….these players probably will never be back as big as they were before.
5. We may call this a recession, but in some industries it is a depression and one that has only just begun. I place racing in that category. Racing is at 1928, not 1933. Unfortunately, I see more of the same.
Without a central managing force, this industry will continue to wallow in disunity, disharmony and growing irrelevancy.
There’s no good news in that stark evaluation of the situation. And even if it is pessimistic, we all know “Trapped” can’t be far off the mark … and more’s the pity for that.
We can see the situation; we can evaluate the troubles; we can pose some very sensible (and even some fairly practical) remedies. All we need is the power to move forward.
Since the authorities who actually possess such power seem fundamentally unwilling to use it, what can we breeders, advisers, gamblers, administrators, jockeys, trainers, hotwalkers, feed men, farriers, accountants, fans, mutuel clerks, groundskeepers, bankers, and horse lovers think of those in power? If the answers, or at least some of them, are so patently obvious to so many of us, how can we condone inaction from the powerful?
Their unwillingness to act — and some believe it is inability to understand — means that we must. And the only means that we, the individually powerless, have at our disposal is the power of corporate action … working as a body of citizens. In the form of federal legislation, the millions of people associated with horse racing — from California to New York, Michigan to Florida — have the strength to push reforms that will give a national structure and coherence to our sport and put it on a moral and ethical ground to succeed and prosper in the century to come.