Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts today covering a little bit of everything: the Breeder's Cup, synthetic surfaces, partnerships and the economy. With both I Am Woman and Fizzy Pop both on R & R, my mind is beginning to roam...

- While I think the Breeder's Cup was a success when viewed as individual performances (Zenyatta, Goldikova, Conduit - among others), I have to agree with Brooklyn Backstretch that there may need to be a move from the current format to maybe three days of racing over several weekends showcasing turf, synthetic and dirt races. According to ESPN, a disappointed Steve Asmussen said, when asked about Curlin's fourth place finish in the Classic, "It was a turf race". If you accept that assessment, then traditional 'dirt' horses are at a decided disadvantage. Anecdotal evidence based upon the success of the turf horses over the Santa Anita surface tends to bear this out. A dearth of America's best 'dirt' horses next year will solidify my viewpoint on this one.

- Just because there were no breakdowns over the weekend does not automatically 'prove' that synthetic is the way to go. As any number of individuals have pointed out, there have been 4 or 5 breakdowns on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride surface and more breakdowns during the summer meet on the Del Mar synthetic than the Saratoga dirt. Yes, there may be advantages to synthetics, but can we avoid jumping to conclusions based upon a two day sample? If one of the Santa Anita breakdowns occurred during the Breeder's Cup, would that 'prove' that synthetic had no impact? Hardly. I'm not sold on synthetics but neither am I against them. I'd like to see a few more years of data analyzed before we move to 100% synthetic surfaces.

- What will it take to get Frankie Detorri to ride in America? What a character and a half he is. He genuinely enjoys what he's doing and his exuberance is a delight to watch. Check out The Race is Not to the Swift for some classic Frankie video. Love them or hate them, sports or teams that have a 'character' draw a lot of attention: Jerry Jones, George Steinbrenner & Mohammad Ali all brought excess attention to their teams or sports. By excess I mean more than their 'fair share'. Racing could use more than it's fair share of attention for a while.

- I don't know if we're going to see any rebound in the economy any time soon which, while never at a good time, hits at a particularly bad time for mid-level racing. Canterbury Park, and many other racetracks, are trying to spearhead initiatives to draw more owners into the sport. I know from my own experience that the group of potential horse owners has dwindled considerably in the past eight to ten months. I had a long list of folks that were ready and able to join in a partnership a year ago that now need to hold off now for the foreseeable future due to the uncertainty in the economy and of their own employment futures. The upper crust will always be fine, but at a time when the sport is in desperate need of an infusion of new ownership blood to keep our local tracks fresh and healthy, those very race fans ready to make the leap no longer can. The longer this goes on, the progress made by mid-market racetracks like Canterbury and Suffolk will be rolled back.

- There seems to be a proliferation of the "one time fee" partnerships being offered. I looked into offering this option, but I can't bring myself to do it. For one, I would have to mark-up the shares so much to insulate against loss that I would feel like I'm ripping folks off. Even if I wanted to keep the share price fair, to do so would expose myself to total loss. As I try to remind everyone that gets involved in this business - one bad step and it's all over and I'm smart enough to know a bad deal when I see it. Both cases, excessive mark-up or myself taking a risk, are potential no win solutions. I'd prefer to give both sides a win if I can.

How's that for a bunch of thoughts all slapped together?


Troy Racki said...

Selling shares of race horses is just more than an economy issue. Much like Wall Street there is a loss of investor confidence going on. I have spoken with people across the spectrum of the industry. From members of Oak Tree Racing Association, members of the NTRA Online Task Force, bloggers, and turf writers everyone has a similar story, that partnerships are taking people for a ride. So far only one trainer, Allen Zucker said that he had never had a bad situation with partnerships.

It seems like joining online partnerships is just asking to be abused. Of all of the partnerships I have been in to date, only one -private- partnership fulfills its obligations. So far all my online experiences have been negative. None are able to accomplish business in a timely manner, communication is poor or nonexistant, and in the case of one group, accounts remain unpayable even after 10 months. Others I have spoken to report the same greviances.

Size has no corrolation to whether a group takes advantage of others. Whether they are partnerships running claimers, or partnerships with horses in graded events groups of all sizes seem to disrespect partners equally. Without naming names two of the most expensive commerical partnerships are among the worst. As reported by speaking to their partners financials are poorly documented, communications are lacking, or mark ups are excessive. For example one group sold a $150,000 horse for $250,000 and this did not include the day rate. Partners continue to make monthly payments even after the horse has won stakes and purse monies are not being paid out. This information comes from the Oak Tree Racing Association so its clear that the industry leaders know what's going on.

Attempts to contact the TOC and CHRB, two regulatory authorities in California were either unreturned or their replies showed no interest in changing the status quo. My best guess is that these groups see commerical partnerships as a small segment of the industry and therefore should not receive their attention. I see it another way however. People are smart. Do you expect them to buy fully into a horse without test driving it first? Commerical operations are able to sell shares at a smaller price. My assumption is that many major owners are first cutting their teeth at this level. If groups give owners a negative taste of the sport they will leave the game. The best way to explain this as if every first time vistor to the track had their winning ticket taken from them and torn up in front of their eyes. You think they would ever come back? Sure these groups make plenty of money up front but neither they nor the sport have return customers. Commerical partnerships need to be either regulated or an entity such as the NTRA needs to vet, certify, and promote the good stables for the future of the game.

Troy Racki
NTRA Ambassador Program Director

Ted G said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Troy. As you know, you and I have been 'victimized' by the same partnership group (for lack of a better term). It was indeed frustrating to complain to the CHRB as well as the Stewards and get no response.

My other experience, with Star of the North, however, was excellent. I think that there is good and bad in every industry and I like to think that I've taken what I learned from SOTN and applied it as well as what I learned from the "other" group and learned a lesson on how NOT to operate. The way I look at it, if I don't treat people the right way, I won't stay in business very long.

As "Winston...Not Really" has pointed out a number of times, the NTRA has no real teeth to enforce anything and that makes any kind of accreditation dubious. That's not saying that a "NTRA Approved" bug wouldn't be appreciated, I just don't know of how much weight it would carry.

I'd like to see state regulatory agencies take a stronger tact in delaing with these operations. I have nothing to hide, so I have no fear. If others are on the up and up, then they also have nothing to fear. An "Approved by the CHRB" would - or at least should - carry quite a bit of weight.

Just one more comment from me on this - I agree with you wholeheartedly that the next generation of owners can come from partnerships. Racing has a unique opportunity to engage its fans on a level that no other sport can - as owners. That to me, is an enormous opportunity as well as a serious responsibility. If I turn people off by my actions, then I may turn people away from the sport forever. However, if I'm open, honest and fair, then I may be able to create not only fans for life, but folks that may go on and buy stock on their own and help infuse the sport with the new ownership blood that is necessary. I take this responsibility seriously and I would hope that others that run partnerships will as well.

Anonymous said...

I'll throw out some of my own randomness to add to the comments.

I have never had the opportunity to attend the Breeders Cup in person, so this year since it was at my locale at Santa Anita, I gave it some serious thought. After finding out it was going to cost me $20 just to set foot in the grandstand, I decided to just stay home. I attended the Cal Cup a few weeks before, and it cost the usual $5 to get in the grandstand, plus they gave us a cheesy Cal Cup watch and posters of Lava Man.

At home I wagered on the races through my TVG account, had a nice comfortable sofa to relax on, and used the $20 admission, plus the $30 dollars it would have cost me in gas to finance my betting for the day.

If an avid race fan like me isn't going to go to racing's biggest day in person because of exorbiant costs, then how do we get the new fans to attend the BC, and give them a chance to experience the best of our sport? In comparison, the casinos will give the new client freebies to include food, cash, and in some cases, the person who brings in the fresh meat some gift for referring them.

I can only imagine how much more people would have attended if they had some raffle where they made a random person "an owner for a day" for every horse in every race? Let them stand in the walking ring with the real owners, give them a prize or better yet a tiny percentage in the purse "their horse" won. Not only would they quickly become new fans, but an experience like that would definitely spark an interest in ownership.

We keep complaining that our sport is dying and needs new fans, but we sure don't make it easy for them to come. Especially on our sports' biggest day.