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Thursday, November 10, 2011

This is Why This Business May Never Get Its House in Order

One day in some business class, harness racing may become a text case on how not to run a business.  As much as everyone seems to do thing for their own benefit, they really all are partners.  Their ultimate success and failure are tied to each other.

Case 1 - The Meadowlands is close to becoming one of the world's largest parking lots and Jeff Gural and others put money together to keep the sport from eventually spirling out of existance.  Most people are happy (at least those West of the Hudson River) and tickled pink.  AllGural asks is that you try to race there and if you are so blessed with a really good horse, you wait a year before putting him in stallion duty.  You grumble a little, but you tell him no problem.  Then all of a sudden you come up with a champion horse and no sooner than you can, you send your horse off to stud duty.  What about waiting a year, you're asked by some reporter?  You answer with your middle finger.

So Jeff Gural hears about your answer and he gets annoyed and why shouldn't he.  Because he got involved and saved the Meadowlands, you are going to be able to make a lot of money at stud.  If he didn't get involved and let the Meadowlands collapse, you would have been luck to make 20% of what you are planning on charging for stud, at best.  He must be wondering now why he got involved.  He formed a partnership to save the one flagship the industry has (at least south of the border) from extinction which the whole industry ultimately depends on and all he asked for was everyone else to sacrifice a little, like waiting a year to send your star stallion to stud and you can't do that.  Other owners will go race at tracks that offer more purse money, a lot of drivers have headed off to other tracks which are more lucrative.  What was his one mistake?  He thought everyone who had some skin in the game could work together when in reality everyone is looking out for number one.  If he wasn't a man of his word, he must be wishing he never got involved and deep down subconsciously hoping the tellers union wins their lawsuit so he can walk away from the lease and basially say screw the #$%#^$^@.

The first lesson they will teach in this class, is if everyone is not going to work together, don't even get involved.

Well, like the earlier announcement of Manofmanymissions heading to stud, Broad Bahn is now heading off to the breeding shed.  This one hurts.  Well, Gural will be able to ban the off-spring of a four year stud from racing in stakes at his three tracks, including his million dollar Meadowlands Pace, except for the Hambletonian (hope you like prepping on 5/8 and 1/2 mile tracks), he has no control over that; for now.  Mental note number 1 - If the Hambletonian Society wants the Meadowlands to host the Hambletonian, they are going to have to change the race conditions so the off-spring of four year old stallions are ineligbile come renewal time.    

The second lesson they will learn is everyone can play nice in the sand box until someone hits the lottery.

If this sport ever has any hope for success long term, there needs to be three levels of regulatory power.  Let's use Soccer as an example.  There is FIFA who regulates soccer on an international level.  There is United States Soccer Federation (USSF) which regulates the game on a national level.  Then there is MLS which regulates the sport on a league level.  Any rule USSF has can't violate a rule of FIFA and and rule of the MLS can't go against a policy set by USSF.  On each level, the regulatory bodies set the rules for the sport and there is no if and or but.  The players can negotiate some things with the league, but they can't violate the rules of the USSF in the process.  If there is a problem, USSF rules on the problem.  That fails, it goes to FIFA and they are the final arbiter.

Maybe if we had such a format, we can have everyone on the same page instead of doing their own thing.  Until then, this business may never get its house in order.


Anonymous said...

I commend Jeff Gural in his efforts to keep the greatest harness track alive but have serious doubts on his stud views. First off, Jeff Gural has contributed to the game greatly by building Tioga and saving Vernon Downs. However, his ownership of these two tracks have had little impact on getting more people involved in the sport. The pools at these tracks are almost always pathetically small. The harness aspect of his tracks have to lose money. Without the casino these tracks wouldn't exist. What makes you think that his new idea will have any impact on the game? How can anyone tell me when to retire my horse? Why would an owner who routinely loses money every year pass up an opportunity to profit by retiring a horse to stud? There is too much at risk in a monetary sense to risk a year more on the track.

By racing these horses hard at two and three it seems likely that they would have to regress as they age. One more note, Jeff gural hasn't bucked any trends in the harness game so why should we trust him?

Pacingguy said...

Anon, you raise some valid points.

First of all Tioga and Vernon are small time markets that don't get the play they deserve. Unfortunately, for most tracks, it is the off-track handle which makes the money but there are too many tracks competiting at the same time.

I personally see some opportunity for their handles to go up next year working with the Meadowlands.

You can't deny the star power of horses like Zenyatta who, while a female, brought them to the track. When you go back to YR's golden era with their FFA handicaps, there were monsters racing week-in, week-out who could have been at stud but they wont.

Ideally, I think the Europeans have the best idea, breed and race at the same time. Most horses improve as time goes on.

What we need to do is cut purses on two year old events and add them to aged events to make it worthwhile to keep racing, and I believe he will do his part to make that a reality.

Unfortunately, the only thing which will change this is if the Hambo Society changes the rules for the Hambo and stallion owners see the yearlings of their first crop go for a pittance of what they should due to limited earning power.

Why should people trust Gural? He is the only one who is try to save the game? I think that is worth something but apparently others don't.