Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An Audience With The Boss - Part 1

Racing needs reform, it becomes more evident every day. There seems to be a ton of pressure on racing to change it's ways in many areas. Unfortunately catastrophic injuries seem to be the only catalyst that motivates the current powers that be. After the injury to Barbaro there was a major push toward synthetic surfaces now after the death of Eight Belles there seems to be a focus on eliminating steroids and banning the jockey's whip.

I think that both movements of reform are inadequate. They're just a piecemeal attempt at reform. Just enough to convince the media that someone is trying but the solutions are far from well thought out as we've seen with the surface problems at Santa Anita. In my opinion what racing really needs is a federally appointed racing commissioner with the power to control all aspects of racing.

Perhaps a congressional inquiry into racing is the only way to bring that about. I'm not really sure how we would get a commissioner installed but I am convinced it's necessary for racing. I am positive that if racing did ever get a commissioner it wouldn't be me but what I would dream of one day is to be able to present my views or my case for reforms in many different areas of racing.

Over the next few days I'm going to be sharing some of my ideas on how racing could be reformed for the better. They are not all fully formed ideas nor are all the repercussions of these changes fully explored or explained. But remember I'm not imagining that I'll ever be in a position to implement these changes. These are just ideas I'd love to present to someone who had the power to take these ideas, form them fully then hopefully change the game for the better.

Proposal To The Racing Commissioner

Outline of Issues To be Addressed
Coordinated Racing Calender
Breeders' Cup
Year End Awards
Drug Policies and Rule Enforcement
Wagering And Customer Service
Daily Irregularities
Coordinated Racing Calender

Reduce Total Number Of Racing Dates – As a result many tracks would be eliminated as well, or at least unsanctioned. One of racing’s biggest problems is that it is far too common. It seems to be always going on. Create demand by restricting supply. A reduction in racing dates would mean that fewer races are carded and therefore produce larger fields, which in turn are more attractive betting options. The president of Churchill Downs is already on record in support of this idea.

Eliminate Majority of Mid Week Racing – Most of the races run in North America every week are run while the general populace is at work. Not many people watch or bet on Thursday afternoon cards. Except for special circumstances, like Saratoga and Del Mar, the majority of mid-week racing would be eliminated. If we want people to be interested in racing and ultimately support it financially it needs to be primarily conducted at times that are convenient for the the public at large.

Logically Structure Graded Stakes Calendar – This would require an immense amount of organization but at present each track decides for itself when stakes races are to be run. I would like to coordinate all of them into a logical streamlined sequence so we have minimal overlap.

A host of stakes races would also be downgraded to more accurately reflect the quality of those races. Most likely this would also involve the elimination of certain stakes races with an eye towards attracting fuller fields for the remaining Graded Stakes. Many Graded Stakes races for 2yo’s or 3yo’s in the spring would be eliminated because there is currently an imbalance in that area. This would also be a great time to reduce the total number of Graded Stakes offered to 2yo's in a bid to shift the focus away from pushing young horses.

Allow Restricted Stakes Graded Status – The intent behind Grading Stakes races is to easily identify races of quality and compare them. I think that allowing Grading within races within gender restricted stakes but not allow it for state-bred restricted stakes is inconsistent. A state-bred restriction does not make a race inherently weaker than a restriction that only allows 2yo fillies to compete. A race like the Sunshine Millions Classic is at least deserving of G-3 status. The failure to Grade these and many other Restricted Stakes gives a false impression of the quality of the race.

Institute a Winter Break – The off-season in sports was not created just because weather makes playing year round difficult. One reason for having an off-season is a chance for the athletes to recharge and recover. Another great reason for an off-season is that it builds anticipation for the fans. I would love to see a winter break created that begins the moment the Breeders Cup Classic has finished and ends with the Sunshine Millions. Perhaps as part of the restructuring of the stakes schedule I would look to make the opening weekend a big gala with much more than just the Sunshine Millions.

By removing three months of the racing year I know that many trainers and jockeys would find times to be very hard. But European trainers and jockeys have always survived with an off-season so it certainly can be done. The purse money saved from not racing for three months would help boost the financial incentives during the rest of the year and hopefully create fuller fields. It might also have a big positive impact on reducing injuries because many horses would get more time off than they currently enjoy.

Overview - Essentially what is being asked here is that racing drastically reduce the amount of product it makes available. This may require closing several smaller tracks but often a consolidation is necessary for further growth. Right now racing is overstretched and all the branches are suffering. By pruning back the gross number of races being offered I think we'd see much greater strength in those remaining. While pruning back racing dates I'd love to see the racing season structured in a way that fans can easily follow. The PGA just went through a complete schedule overhaul and reorganization. Racing would benefit from a similar exercise.
Breeders' Cup

Reformat the Breeders’ Cup as the year-end championships – If this is supposed to be the championship day then the races run should each correspond to a divisional championship. The notion of a Ladies day is offensive to some is going to be a hard sell to the general populace. Put all the Divisional Championship races on Saturday and make Friday’s card an evening affair. The general populace IS at work on Friday. Start the card at 5 or 6pm and go until 10pm. That gives you an event that people can actually watch and once again strengthens Saturday’s card into a true championship event. The actual lineup of Breeders’ Cup races as per my suggestion is listed below. If any more races needed to be added to balance Friday’s card add a Juvenile Sprint and Juvenile Fillies Sprint.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf
Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint
Breeders’ Cup Marathon
Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile
Breeders’ Cup Mile

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint
Breeders’ Cup Sprint
Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf
Breeders’ Cup Ladies' Classic (Filly and Mare Classic)
Breeders’ Cup Turf
Breeders’ Cup Classic

Refurbish Hialeah as the home of the Breeders’ Cup – An alternative would be to build a brand new home specifically for the Breeders' Cup. If this were ever to become a reality it would need the financial backing of a very rich person who is not all that interested in getting the money back soon. Or perhaps money generated from the sale and closure of defunct racetracks around the country could be funneled into this project. Both these ideas for financing are hopeless longshots at best but consider the advantages of this idea.

A permanent home for the Breeders’ Cup in a warm climate that is close to a major airport. They could run it on the same weekend every year. While they’re refurbishing the track they could create an outer Turf track like the one at Woodbine. This would attract Europeans. They could have a main track of dirt and an inner track with an All Weather surface.

If the Breeders’ Cup had it’s own racetrack that hosted a brief boutique meet each year it would even give some relevance to the current BC expansion.

Market the Breeders’ Cup more aggressively in foreign markets - The Europeans are basically on board with the BC but Japan, Hong Kong, South Africa and Australia aren’t. I know that in some cases there are major conflicts because their own seasons are in full swing but the BC must recognize that the Dubai World Cup has done a far better job of attracting foreign participation in a much shorter time. I’m not sure if there is one magic bullet for attracting more foreign horses but I’d certainly spend a great deal of time looking at and trying out ways to attract them. Not only does it create better racing and a true World Championship it would also increase handle dramatically.

These other cultures have no problem betting heavily while in North America society is still somewhat reserved about gambling. If you could attract the fans here or get the horses here and open the pools to them back home I think we’d see an immense increase in handle. Instead of the current plan that involves diluting the quality to increase handle this would be adding to the quality while increasing handle.

More to follow in the days to come...................

1 comment:

peeptoad said...

Interesting thoughts...extreme change is not something that I'm sure the sport can deal with, but hopefully some critical changes can be made so the sport can continue to exist because, frankly, the way thing are going right now, the sport will not live indefinitely.
I generally agree with most of what you posted. Limiting the product is, I think, essential. It basically comes down to quality vs. quantity and I think increasing the overall quality while reducing the quantity could potentially have a profound, positive impact on the sport both directly and indirectly (e.g. by impacting the breeding industry and the breed itself in a favorbale way). Eliminating mid-week races could work, but the one thing that comes to mind is media coverage of the sport. With the exception of people who work in the industry or the select few who are capable of visiting a track on the weekdays, then how do most other people follow the sport? For me, it's largely via the internet and television. However, I am unable to watch most races on the internet. Where does an absence of weekday races put TVG and HRTV? Probably out of business...and then I couldn't even watch on the weekends. So there would have to be some other reasonable/accessible outlet for people to watch the races...

...just a brief though while I'm on my lunchbreak. :)