Saturday, June 12, 2010

Quiet Time

There has been some reflective time available over the past week or so as I've been traveling again. While reflection has crossed over many topics, the only ones that have any bearing here are the ones that are relevant to the acing operation.

1. Can I Keep Racing at Canterbury? This was a large topic occupying my mind. For the type of horse we like to race - $20,000 Claiming or so - there does not seem to be much opportunity anymore. Races aren't filling and after a couple of shots at a starter allowance not filling, my frustration level started rising even higher. Without help, Canterbury will no longer be competitive for horsemen who want to race year round. To clarify, year round means coming up here for the summer and keep racing either beyond or before. Although it's home, having to compromise too much on conditions (turf instead of dirt, route instead of sprint) in order to even get into a race because of the horse population (size and/or makeup) makes me wonder if we should come back next season. Of course higher purses would produce more opportunity and would draw more horses, but the outlook on that is as bleak as ever.

2. Will I Keep Doing This at All? I love running these partnerships. It's great to get a group of folks together, especially those that have never been able to purchase a horse on their own, get the opportunity to own, visit and race their own horse. I try to keep it affordable, but with the economy, new owners are hard to come by as disposable income is scarce. The lower the entry point the better, but with lower entry points you need more partners ("How can we compete at such low prices? VOLUME!") and the numbers just are not there. Additionally when you start selling in 1 and 2% increments your costs increase. Accountants charge more for K-1s, communication pieces are more difficult and consensus is even harder to build.

3. Am I Just Fried with Racing? This was was a fleeting thought. The answer was emphatically "NO!" I can't imagine my life without racing in it. This was just silly!

4. Is the Monmouth Experiment a Good One? On the surface it seems great. Handle and attendance are both up and field sizes are nice and large. All of this is good news. What it signifies for the rest of the industry, though, is probably not as great. The corollary to Monmouth's success is the failure of the year round racing model we see today across America. In order for nationwide racing to duplicate Monmouth's success, dates need to shrink and purses need to go up. More consolidation would need to take place and the mid-range racetracks are probably the the targets to go. Arlington Park summers would dominate Chicago, but could (should?) Hawthorne survive? Does the upper Midwest need a Canterbury Park and a Prairie Meadows (Prairie doesn't have a turf track, but it does have slot fueled purses)? Does Kentucky need anything besides Churchill and Keeneland? Would California care if Hollywood folds? It becomes a whole new - yet old school - landscape for racing in America.

In proofing this before hitting 'publish' it certainly seems pretty negative. I don't view it as such. The sport can survive but it faces some hard choices - much as I do with the racing stable. While I was hoping at some point to make a living running the partnerships and talking and writing about racing, it obviously isn't feasible and will probably live on in my life as a nice sidelight. Racing may love the year round model, but it doesn't appear that is feasible either. Consolidation may be necessary - winter racing in Texas, Louisiana and Florida and spring summer and fall racing elsewhere. The economy has resulted in the breeding of fewer horses and that could help to kill off the weak racetracks and strengthen the hand of the stronger. It could be the painful rebirth of racing in America and, as with any birth, the promise of a brighter future beckons.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You mention some very good points Ted. If thoroughbred racing were run like a franchised league, such as the NBA, I would imagine we'd see contraction for the betterment of the whole, but of course that is not the case here.

I am amused when we see Beuhlah Park and Hawthorne essentially run on weird days in the wintertime, clearly to capture simulcast dollars from off-track betting.

It seems with the horse biz, there's just so many hands in the cookie jar: the "corporate" track itself, the horse owners, related services (Vets/trainers, etc.), and of course last but not least the bettors, who really make the whole thing possible.

Everyone thinks slots is the answer, and it may be a good stopgap. Slots as they exist now create a great disparity in tracks that have them, and tracks that don't.

It will be interesting to see if Monmouth can continue those mammoth numbers throughout its entire meet. I am pleased that they are attempting to do something different - at least try some different things. Something has to be done to get bettors to bet more and get more people to become bettors.