A friend on the backside watched them leave. Shortly after the announcement was made that racing was cancelled for the 7th straight race day yesterday she saw the horse trailers pull out. By no means is this an exodus – yet – but it’s a scary start. The fact that racing was cancelled for tomorrow this morning – marking the second straight weekend of lost racing, income and employment, depending upon your perspective – just compounds the problem.
I fail to see the difficulty of the decision facing Judge Kathleen Gearin. She has two choices: believe that the Minnesota Racing Commission is funded like the Minnesota Zoo, which she allowed to stay open, or it’s not, like she decided once already. Lawyers for the HBPA and the racetracks, Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Park, filed a petition with Gearin the afternoon of July 6 to reconsider her original decision that MRC’s mechanism is different and therefore requires legislative appropriation and gubernatorial signature. The supporting brief from the tracks went into greater detail on the similarities between the MRCs capability to run on existing funds as well as the statutory appropriation already in place. She either agrees with that or she doesn’t. The fact that there is no decision in nearly 4 days is, quite frankly, ridiculous. But at least we know that former constitutional officers should continue to receive their pensions. Thousands of people’s livelihoods are in the balance but at least we know that a handful of former governors will continue to get their retirement money.
My plea, and the plea of many horsemen I spoke with the last couple of days, is to decide already - one way or another. This hanging by a thread waiting every day to see if the smoke from the tower is white or black is cruel. Horses are being pointed to races. They have routines leading them up to race day: certain types of workouts on certain days before a race to make sure that they are primed are ready on race day. Not knowing whether or not they are going to race is not good for their preparation which, in turn, is bad for the horses.
This indecision is also messing with people’s livelihoods. Trainers make money when they are winning races for their owners. Yes, trainers receive a day rate, but they make their profit off of commissions earned when a horse hits the board. Just how long are owners going to put up with paying a training bill for a fit, sound horse ready to race…but can’t? Not long.
If your horse can run once every four weeks and you last ran on June 3 you were probably pointing to a race leading up to the shutdown. It’s now a week and a half later and you have no sign that you’re going to race but you’ve probably prepped your horse by now. Your plan was to race in Minnesota for the summer, but now you have to plan to race elsewhere. Before you can race you need to get licensed in that new jurisdiction. It could be cheap. Or you could have to pay $50 for an owner’s license, $25 for fingerprints and then another $35 processing fee for the prints and you can’t enter until you’ve been granted your license. Over $100 out and you still haven’t shipped your horse the 200 – 500 miles to where it’s going to run next. That’ll cost you anywhere from $250 - $700 round trip. Now you’re in nearly a grand and you haven’t raced yet! By the time you actually get your license processed, ship and enter to race, you’re down the road another week, maybe two. Does a round trip at that point make sense or do you just move on?
Now it’s July 23rd and you haven’t raced in nearly two months, your horse is out of sorts from already prepping once to race, maybe even twice, but not been able to, plus the added stress of shipping to another location. What are the odds that you’re going to get a peak performance? Not great and you’ve lost your summer.
Please tell me why you would stay here and try to wait it out? You wouldn’t and financially you couldn’t. At some point very soon owners are going to tell their trainers you get this horse into a race somewhere or he’ll move him to a barn in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana – pick your state, it doesn’t matter – to a trainer who CAN run him. If you have 10 – 12 horses with a trainer, that’s going to carry some clout. Even if you don’t, enough disgruntled owners and you have to move – you don’t have a choice.
And what about the jockey colony? You don’t ride you don’t get paid. You’re an independent contractor paid to ride a racehorse. No racing, no paycheck. You build a reputation as a jockey over time and that reputation parlays into rides. Trainers like to use familiar jockeys and besides, it’s good for the horse to have some continuity in the saddle. If the jocks are stuck here in limbo how do they earn a living? They can’t just try and catch rides at another track. They may catch a few, but like I said, trainers like continuity and how can they count on you to keep riding their stock if at a moment’s notice you’re going to hightail it back to Minnesota. These men and women have decisions that need to be made as well – like yesterday.
Canterbury Park is a great place to race. No, we don’t have the highest purses, but the facilities on the backside are first rate and the crowds are large and enthusiastic. It’s racing like it ought to be. Not like it used to be in racing heyday, but close enough for the new millennium. Without added money from alternative gaming like they have in Iowa and Indiana – and perhaps Chicago soon – that’s all we have to compete with. Well, that and a management team that cares about horsemen and the business of racing. They are owners and breeders too and win and lose along with the rest of us. How do we get the Canterbury Park first timers like trainers Mike Chambers and Roy Bland back again after this debacle? I don’t know if we can.
The first step is to get a decision – one way or another. Either the case made by the tracks is compelling or it is not. The issue is the same with a bit more supporting evidence. Again, it is compelling or it is not. Either way, let these hundreds of people operating small businesses on the backside of two racetracks plan their lives, not to mention the over 1500 employees between Canterbury and Running Aces that have already been laid off pending a resolution. This indecision is nearly more unfair than any decision could possibly be.