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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, as people debate the aftermath of the decisions of the Hambletonian Society and WEG in addition to the response by Jeff Gural which resulted in the new policy at the Gural tracks regarding the off-spring of four year old sires which will apply starting in 2019 (as it would apply to those three year olds going to stud in 2016 without a medical exemption), the question to be asked is "Where Do We Go From Here?".

First, let's look at the reasoning for Gural's edict of going it alone.  As one of many people who have grown frustrated at the seemingly continuous state of inertia in the industry, I get extremely frustrated and feel at times like I want to hit my head against the wall arguing, "Don't these people get it?"; this a response from someone who at this time only has emotional skin in the game.  If I feel this way, could you imagine what a person who has invested million in this game feels like?  In fact, thanks to the excellent work of Gordon Waterstone at The Horseman and Fair World, you can get a good idea as to how Gural feels right now.  Couple his arguments presented in the article with the lack of support he receives by many horsemen at the Meadowlands, one can imagine he rues the day he acquired the lease to the New Jersey oval.  Life would have been much more simple for him had he let the Meadowlands go the way of Roosevelt Raceway.  I doubt few couldn't sympathize with his feelings right now.

As for me, I totally understand where Jeff Gural is coming from.  I also realize from past experience, he shoots from the hip initially and after some time passes, he often moderates his views so at this point I wouldn't be surprised if his total ban on the off-spring of four year old sires is modified.  Time will tell.  As I mentioned earlier, the million dollar question is where do we go from here?

Well, with the industry rejecting the stick approach, perhaps it is time to try the carrot approach which WEG is apparently going to do by offering races restricted to four year olds in an effort to keep the three year old sires racing the following year,  How can American tracks offer the carrot?

Each track, should break open the piggy bank (purse account) to offer a virtual pot of gold for at least one stake race each for four year old pacers and trotters to develop a circuit of races which would offer a potential fortune to tempt three year olds to remain on the track for at least one more year.  Tracks in non-slot states 'pot of gold' stakes may be relatively small but there is no excuse for slot tracks not to open their wallets to finance these races.

 There is no reason why we can't have horses stand stud and race; it's been done in Europe for years.   We should encourage the best of both worlds by allowing three year old to stand stud and race at the same time by offering at reduced stake payments for the off-spring of three year old sires who do double duty.  By offering the prospect of reduced stake payments to some stake races, the first crop of yearlings by such sires should command more at auction, thus providing financial incentives to breeders who would have reduced books while allowing horses to continue racing.

Lastly, and likely the hardest if not most impossible in the current environment would be changing the way we view stakes racing.  Instead of offering huge stakes races for two year olds, the majority of stakes money for age-specific events should be used towards three year old and four year old stakes races.  I am not saying there shouldn't be stakes races for two year olds, but two year old seasons should primarily be geared towards racing to learn as well as keeping more horses racing longer with less horses falling victim in the rush to cash out.  Instead of $600,000+ stakes, aren't $200,000 stake races sufficient for two year olds?

Maybe the approach Jeff Gural proposed wasn't good for breeders.  The challenge is now for breeders and racetracks to come up with an alternative which accomplishes what the Gural rule intended to accomplish.


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