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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Some Harsh Words - A Dose of Reality

No doubt some people are wondering why there is little public support for racing these days.  Not only in New Jersey, but in Maryland where the racing commission has refused to give thoroughbred horsemen racing dates as Laurel and Pimlico only applied for a total of 47 dates in 2011.  Ohio's situation is beginning to look bleak again as the new governor is not as committed to slots for the tracks as the previous governor did.  This situation led one woman to ask "Why doesn't anyone care'? 

Obviously, people who make their living on racing still care, but what about the general public?  To give you perspective, I would like to share the words of an individual who used to make his living on racing, writing about racing for a New Jersey paper as well as handicapping the races for the same paper.  His words may surprise you.

 The days of "caring" are over. I helped feed nearly 2,000 people on Turkey Day and they are laying off teachers to boost purses. Fu*k'm. If they can['t]  make it on $8,000 pots than let them rot in Hell.

When this woman came back to this person and asked what he meant about them laying off teachers to increase purses, I offered for all practical purposes we are in a depression and when a depression hits, few people worry about racing, they are more concerned about the core services.

Anyway, the former racing writer followed up talking about the Meadowlands, saying:

 I mean AC and the NJ have paid 100s of millions into purse funds while the track has been run ignorantly by overpaid idiots who watched the attendance go from 16,000 to 1600 - while bottom purses went from $10,000 (1979) to $15,000. NJ is in a crisis financially. Horseman can and will race at YR, Freehold, Pocono, Chester to name a few. A half dozen owners and trainers have taken MOST of the slot money anyway, so no, I'm not crying for the Meadowlands. They have very few employees and everyone of the horsemen will remain employed.

Now, of course there will be casualties if the Meadowlands closes; such as the feed man, and the ancillary businesses, but the fact is 95% of the horsemen will move on to the next track, at least initially.  Will there be some inconvenience?  Sure, homes will be sold, families will be uprooted but they will still be making a living.  However, the individual makes a good point.  What was the Meadowlands and horsemen doing to try to stem the fan base abandoning the Meadowlands?  What was being done in the name of fan development?  Was any of that new found money being spent to improve the product for their customers and make the harness racing game a more attractive proposition?    No, all the supplements were spent on increasing purses with a negligible amount of money being spent on gambler development (hear that Ontario horsemen who are resisting Standardbred Canada's RSDP?)  It is kind of hard to feel sorry for a business which has run itself into the ground.

At this point I mentioned to this gentleman while most of the Meadowlands horsemen will come out of this fine, what about the horsemen racing at Freehold the cheaper stock for which there is no place at Chester, Pocono, Yonkers, or the closed market of Delaware?  To which the former writer responded:

You make a valid point about the bottom always getting pushed down but that is the same in any business. Walmart and Dollar Stores did that to Mom-and-Pop retailers. I hope the M1 stays open. Having said that, I do not think they should get another dollar from taxpayers. If the product is so wonderful and worth saving, certainly it can generate its own purse account. Many tracks bet less per race; most do. Even the ones without slot money. The breeders won't suffer either. I remember when Hanover and Lana Lobell opened up a NJ farm from PA and they will move to PA and NY or race those big races at Monmouth. I put children and essential services above horse racing. Silly me.

At which point the woman chimed in and claimed she had not hear this point made before.  However, she mentioned the people she knows that races have bought homes near where they race and have invested in building training centers.  She also feared the breeders will likely fold up also.  She did acknowledge that Meadowlands has been mismanaged.  Her fear is her friends and family that race horses at the tracks which will survive will likely  be punished when the Meadowlands stock starts racing at these minor tracks.

For this woman not to hear the point about worrying about children and essential services, I would imagine her connections are solely within the racing world.  Yes, those in the racing world have their own agenda to deal with and concerns; to them horse racing is an essential service.  Unfortunately, to the majority of the people, it is a niche form of entertainment and they worry about educating their children.  Yet, the former industry writer responded::

You make good points. But until the 1970s, horsemen traveled from one track to the next. The people that bought homes are one-two hours from more racetracks than one can imagine. I don't need to name them for you. Currently, the M1 races eight or nine races per night, with the worst horses imaginable and can only fill nine races and the days of 10 in every race are over. Your RR example is a good one. That is what happens in horse racing everywhere. Where is Bel Aire, Freestate, Baltimore Raceway, Liberty Bell, Painesville, Brandywine, GSP, ACRC, Hollywood Park Harness, Santa Anita Harness, Pomona, Quad City, Cahokia? Tracks close. Others open. There is plenty of money at Dover and Chester. My point is, that money is won by trainers who win thousands of races a year. Yes, it's been good for 20 trainers and drivers. But most didn't become wealthy because of the M1. As I said in other posts above, breeding farms are like hookers, they go where the action is. If they leave NJ, they'll open 20 minutes away in NY or PA. I'm all in favor of the M1 staying open, but not by welfare money taken out of the mouths of children. Sorry. Let them race at Monmouth, Freehold, YR, Chester, Monticello, Pocono, etc. etc.

Well, while I don't agree with everything this person says, I felt it important to mention his comments as he has a unique view of the situation.  In particular, the idea that breeders are hookers is off-base.  Sure they will relocate where the money is, but I am friends with a major breeder who has been long lamenting what has been going on in racing, far past the simple case of declining attendance; he often complained they are the one manufacturer that has no say how their product is used.  What I will say is horsemen have gotten somewhat soft.  Like the gentleman stated, before the Meadowlands, horsemen were nomads to a degree.  There is too much racing now, yet horsemen want to race at one track all year despite the fact the purses can't support it.  If horsemen were willing to become somewhat nomadic to race in circuits, tracks could put on fewer races with bigger purses and more tracks will survive.  Yet the horsemen seem to remember only the golden years and want to hold on to the good old days.  Well, the good old days are gone and it is time horsemen start thinking outside of their current frame of mind to best resolve the problems the industry has.

In the meanwhile, as the individual spoke, it is not realistic to consider; as things going on as they are now John Q Public is worried about the day to day things involved in living.  Horseracing is fighting a lonely battle.  The sooner the industry recognizes this and begins negotiating accordingly, more success will come their way.

Some definite harsh words.  But something to think about.


Anonymous said...

Both you, the "writer," and the third person make salient points to a very interesting argument. One thing nobody mentioned is the state offered M1 to the horsemen and they didn't accept it. That really is interesting.

vic p said...


Always enjoy reading your column.
Interesting perspectives here for sure.Just hoping for the best.
Whatever that will become.