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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nero Fiddles While Rome Burns

At today's USTA General Session, Phil Langley defended the USTA against claims that the Board of Directors are 'old foogeys who are disconnected from racing'.  I will agree with Phil that complaints like this are unfounded, the problem is the lack of any cohesiveness and the apparent malaise that there is nothing we can really do it address the problems of racing.  I don't know if it these directors have subconsciously given up on the sport; the fact each state horsemen's group goes their own way; everyone has their self interest and the hell with conceding one inch.  My feeling is everyone has their self interest and to hell with everyone else.  This was apparent with the first veiled discussion of Jeff Gurals proposal regarding whether horsemen should contribute to drug testing and/or marketing the sport..

From the discussion at the general meeting, it appears the Board of Directors is divided with regards to whether horsemen should dedicate a portion of their purse account towards marketing and drug testing.  Not that they discussed the issue, but they spent time debating who should send out surveys.  It is also clear this Faraldo-Gural feud has become toxic; the SOA getting upset with the Gural survey that they decided they needed to send out a counter survey.  People got bent out of shape about a related question which was asked on the USTA website, with individuals demanding the question be taken down.  What the answer to this feud is, I don't know, but the industry needs to get past the personalities and look at the issue at hand logically.  As for Mr. Faraldo, I say there is nothing wrong with a healthy debate on the issues, but when one starts to make it personal by filling the debate with petty little swipes at the other opinion, it needs to stop.  We all know you don't like Jeff Gural and probably the feeling is mutual.  At least Mr. Gural doesn't go for cheap shots.  I suggest the trade magazine take any letter by these two which contain petty swipes at individuals and do what should be done with such letters; circular file them or 'hit the delete' key. 

Otherwise, tomorrow has streaming video of the Communications meeting where this issue is scheduled to come up.  Let's see how dug in each group is.  Sadly, don't be surprised if nothing comes of the discussion.  It reminds me of the story abour Rome burning while Nero fiddled.

During any real debate on this issue, horsemen should ask themselves this.  If Penn National Gaming (or any other gaming company that owns a racino) isn't going to spend money advertising or on furthering drug testing, should we just do nothing as a matter of principle and watch the industry sink towards its destruction or should we do something to try to stay afloat?  That pretty much sums up the issue.  You can kick, scream, and complain about the track operator not investing money, but that isn't going to change things.  Your future is in your own hands; decide what you want to do.  I am sure most racinos will be ready to kick you out at the first chance they can.

Meanwhile, read today's Get it Write column in HRU and read Bob Pandalfo's thoughts on racing. He is right in almost everything he says in the column. The sport is boring; the game has too many favorites; the outside posts are an even greater death sentence which it once was.

Where, I think he is wrong is his request to go back to the conventional sulky. I am not saying he is wrong in what he says; it just isn't going to happen. The USTA would be hit with so many anti-trust suits like the infamous Cheetah lawsuit which almost bankrupted the USTA out of existence. To tell these companies that they can no longer sell their product just because we feel it's best this way is clearly anti-competitive. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no way to push him/her back into the bottle.

That being said, the USTA may be able to stop the bleeding by passing a rule saying no new sulky models will be accepted but there to, it would require careful treading so not to run into anti-competitive grounds. This way, all existing companies will be able to sell the models they have created and let the market decide which model is the best. If there is too much demand for a particular model, the original manufacturer can always license the design to other sulky makers and collect royalties.

The key to making the game exciting is to change what we can control, that being the distance of races; adopt a rule giving 'junior drivers' an allowance of one class; adding more horses to each field; racing under saddle; handicap races by distance as done in Europe. All things which may minimize the advantage a particular sulky may have over another. Racing should be about the horse; not the person who can buy the latest in technology.


Anonymous said...

The USTA fiddles as harness racing crashes and burns? Doubtful. The USTA directors could never agree on which fiddle to use and who would be the fiddler.

I watched Sunday's session and came away with little hope the USTA will be any part of the solution, much less lead the way.

One need only to have watched the debate over USTA involvement in surveys on racing issues. True leaders want to know what those in their industry and their customers think.

By the vote, it's clear the majority of USTA directors don't.

Pacingguy said...

Let me just state, the staff of the USTA does a good job. Unfortunately, they can only do what the Board of Directors tells them they can do.

As for the vote on surveys, let me say this. What the USTA did with regards to the survey was wrong. While the ballot indicated the survey was paid for by Jeff Gural, when the USTA found out they needed to send the survey out with a USTA return address on the envelope, they should have included an insert indicating:

"This survey was paid for by Jeff Gural and was mailed by the USTA at his request. Other than mailing the survey out, the USTA has no connection to the survey and does not endorse any particular position on this topic. All costs involved with mailing this survey was reimbursed by Mr. Gural".

And please, someone got upset with a question on the USTA website that they pulled it down?

I said it before, and I say it again. Sixty-two directors is too much.

I won't even go into the other issue of debate. All I will say is has anyone ever heard of good publicity?