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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Harsh Words from Snobelen

In todays London Free Press, John Snobelen from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and a member of the gang of three who made up the OMAFRA panel which came out with the transition report.  According to Standrdbred Canada, his views have changed quite a bit for the worse when it comes to horse racing in Ontario. 

Make no mistake, with the exception of a few racetracks, racing has put itself in this position.  That being said, the question to be asked is if the government has decided to disengage itself from an industry (which it cannibalized), how does one do it?  Do you do it slow to minimize the pain, or do you go cold turkey?  It appears for all practical purposes, cold turkey it is.

From the comments, it would seem racing's full court press is starting to hit a nerve.  It also appears that the OMAFRA panel was somewhat disingenuous when it came to dealing with the horsemen, making it seem like they were playing nice when they were planning to stab racing in the back all along. 

Reports have it that there is roughly $10 million in assistance for all racetracks (except Mohawk and Woodbine who have a separate deal) combined to cover their operating losses.  However, horsemen will have to race for what they earn wagering-wise.  Barring something unforeseen happening, it would appear the industry is going to get hurt big time.

I encourage you to read the entire opinion piece, but here are some excerpts along with my comments.

That much money distorted the industry. Instead of horses competing for purses funded from wagered on races, Ontario was the host of hundreds of races funded by slot machines. Owners, breeders and trainers were disconnected from horseplayers and racing fans. It simply didn’t matter that most of the races attracted few fans and little wagering- Guilty as charged; I've been saying that for years.  However, the for-profit tracks also adopted the same attitude.

All that mattered was the ping-ping sound from slot machines. - True.  With that much money going to racing from the slots, the wagering didn't matter.  If you raced at a track where purses used to be $2,700 and it became $9,000 because of slot revenue, did you really care that without wagering, the purse would ahve been only $8,500?

But we also found that without some form of public support the racing industry would die. Around the world successful racing programs receive some form of additional revenue from government.
To improve the industry we recommended tying purses directly to the revenue generated from wagering. With purses consuming all of the gambling revenue, the government would need to help with the operating costs of racetracks and support for Ontario horse breeders. -  Okay, truth is government can do pretty much what they want but to make racing go cold turkey when it comes to purse enhancements is not a transition, it is blood letting.  A fairer transition would be to put racing on a purse enhancement 'diet'; lose 33% of the enhancement this year, another third in year two, and 'you're on your own' in the third year.  Painful for sure, but it gives horsemen the opportunity to try some things to rebuild the industry  

None of this is easy work and the task of adjusting to the right size for their customer base will be even harder for some in the racing industry. In the lower ranks of standardbred racing — races that attract minimal wagering — the required decline in racing opportunities will be difficult. - As if racing for a $600 purse won't be hard enough in itself.

Change is never easy. A more competitive horse racing industry will leave some behind. But, as in any sport, the best will rise to the top. They always do. - What is your definition of some, 80% of those involved?  Also, it would be nice if you gave horsemen a chance to get out of the business in an orderly manner, maybe enough time to find out what they will do with the rest of their lives .

The offer of tax dollars to support the racing industry isn’t enough for some people. To those who feel entitled to billions in slot revenues, millions will never be enough. - Oh, I think horsemen realize those gravy days are long gone.  I think the biggest objection horsemen have is they are going from 'billions' to zero overnight with no time to prepare. 

Truth be told, that may be just fine. Just like any other industry, the future of racing belongs to those with the courage to face reality.  - Hard to face reality when you are busy sending your horses to slaughter and losing your livelihood and homes.

In summary, to paraphrase a famous headline here in the States: "Snobelen to Racing: Drop Dead".

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