Did [Go, Baby, Go] make a difference in handle or attendance?
That’s a hard question, Ray. I’d like to think so as U.S. handle increased significantly from 1998 to 2004 when I was living large. There was definitely more racing on national TV and more coordinated national marketing and promotion. But it might have just been good timing. The game had a nice run of almost-Triple Crown winners from ’98-’04 with Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones and the Seabiscuit book and movie definitely helped put us back in front of American public …
“Good timing” is an understatement: 1998-2004 was the rise of the Internet as we now know it. The industry’s various factions simultaneously managed to catch the moment, via ADWs, and squander it.
No, not for frog juice. (I’ll leave the negatives for another day.)
Grantland published a terrific interview with musician-chartcaller-reporter Bob Nastanovich that includes this great quote about why he’s working in racing:
So I started working thinking that I could make a positive impact on the sport at different levels, just because I love it so much.
Love the attitude, Bob.
Also praiseworthy: The Breeders’ Cup and Hello Race Fans, two organizations I believe are working in horse racing’s best interests (and not just because they both pay me), are partnering up on fan education. Nice work, all.
I would love to see the industry create a venture capital fund to nurture new technologies directed at racing and gaming and in so doing utilize the expertise of the many talented people with experience in those areas who own and love horses.
Capital isn’t the only obstacle to innovation in the industry, though. Social gaming bonus points for all involved if unfettered access to Equibase data for the purpose of development were part of any incubator or fund.
Almost 10 months after NYC OTB closed its doors for good, the New York Times visits the defunct betting parlors, finding most remain empty and unmourned by neighbors. (“Thank God they’re gone,” says one.) There’s a slideshow, unlikely to induce nostalgia (even in me, quoted as an occasional former patron, pro-OTB community), except possibly for retro signage.
Violette said there has been discussion about dedicating one-tenth of one percent of New York’s handle to retirement programs, which would need legislative approval. This would generate about $2.2-million per year.
“That way everybody that participates in racing — handicappers, tracks, jockeys, trainers, owners — would be giving something,” he said. “Yes, it means an increase in takeout. But I can’t think of a better reason for a takeout increase than the protection of our race horses.”
Raise takeout? An unfortunate necessity. Mandate that everyone who registers a foal pay $25 toward racehorse retirement? An impossible dream.
I’ve given money to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and other retirement groups in the past; I’ll surely do so in the future, because horses deserve a decent quality of life after the racetrack. But like most horseplayers, I don’t breed horses. I don’t own horses. And until those who do breed and own horses levy a similar burden on themselves to help cover thoroughbred retirement costs through registration, sales, or earnings — all possible sources of funds — then I’m not going to see a takeout increase, for the horses, as anything other than what it is — a politically palatable passing of the buck.
3/25/11 Note: There’s an excellent conversation going on in the comments about takeout and funding racehorse retirement, to which Violette thoughtfully replied this afternoon. “I will go even further; let’s not raise the takeout and take the same .001 from the existing levels,” he writes. “NO INCREASE. A solution must be found, this is for the greater good.”
Several weeks ago, in a post called “The Invisible Sport,” Jennifer Wirth of the Saturday Post inspired a campaign to increase mainstream media coverage of horse racing. A worthy goal, but as the reaction to Joe Drape’s New York Times story on the the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation shows, it’s the whole industry that’s largely invisible, not just the sport.
Outside of Kentucky and New York, there aren’t many non-trade publications covering the larger stories of racing business and politics, and outside of the New York Times, almost none doing investigative work.
Vic Zast runs down the reasons for the lack of horse racing coverage in his HRI column today. All are familiar (fewer reporters, reduced resources, turf writers “captured” by sources), but that doesn’t make the problem any less an issue.
Wirth argues that racing won’t last if people aren’t exposed to the game and its stars through news stories; it also won’t last without press oversight, exposing serious issues and compelling change. Whatever the debatable flaws in Drape’s work, his reporting is necessary, and racing needs more of it.
3:15 PM Addendum: Writing on the Atlantic, Andrew Cohen reacts to the TRF story. “No matter who is at fault, no matter what happens to the TRF from here, please, someone, take care of those poor damned horses.” It seems like there should be a mechanism, some simple way to gather small sums for retirement funds — something like the Jockey Club check-off program, made mandatory. An an opt-in program, it isn’t attracting much support.
But I’m afraid the industry has won, it’s beaten me down, stolen from me the energy needed to become angry. Taking it out of the realm of feelings, it’s a sad resignation I’m experiencing. Always, resignation.
In the short eight years I’ve paid serious attention to racing, I can’t think of a time where the industry felt so adrift, or so many fans so numb.
3/20/11 Addendum: Here’s your antidote to ennui.
Joe Drape is out with a scathing story this morning in the New York Times, alleging that the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation has had difficulty meeting its obligations to satellite farms caring for retired racehorses over the past two years, leading to cases of neglect and starvation. How deep is the mess? There’s no indication in Drape’s story that the quality of care horses get through the TRF Secretariat Center or prison farms has been compromised — and I hope that’s not because we don’t have the full story yet.
11:15 AM Update: TRF replies to Drape’s report on Facebook: “The TRF disputes the allegations by Joe Drape about the OK farms. They are either untrue or mis-characterized …” Further comment to come this afternoon.
12:30 PM Update: In a teleconference scheduled for 2:00 PM, TRF president George Grayson and board chairman Tom Ludt will speak to the press.
Ray Paulick is out with piece, from his perspective as a board member, that refutes the allegations in the NYT article and provides important context re: the financial turmoil that’s afflicted the organization for several years.
3/19/11 Addendum: “TRF defends itself against NYT article.” See also: “Dr. Patty Hogan responds to Drape.” I’m hesitant to say much at this point, because it’s obvious that the information out is incomplete, but what does come through re: TRF is that there’s tension with the Mellon Foundation, and re: retired racehorses is that not enough is being done (which is something that’s been known for a while). Drape’s story, which was followed up today with a report that the New York Attorney General’s Charities Bureau will review the complaints against TRF, has had one beneficial effect for TRF. “We’ve gotten a lot of money donated today, and that’s a positive thing.”
3/20/11 Addendum: The NYT reports that the veterinarian conducting the evaluations of TRF farms has been fired. “There were serious questions about her objectivity.” (But firing her raises serious questions about retaliation.) On the Paulick Report, Dr. Hogan “clarifies” the story by alleging Dr. Stacey Huntington released her findings “to the media for the purpose of creating drama” (comment #106). Dr. Huntington replies (comment #127).
In every deal, compromises are made. In the agreement made official on Friday between Suffolk Downs and the NEHBPA on the terms for the 2011 and 2012 meets, the track compromised by agreeing to an equal simulcasting revenue split; the horsemen compromised by agreeing to race 80 days.
Just as the split was a significant concession by Suffolk, so the days were for the NEHBPA, which had maintained until late in negotiations that 100 days were the minimum the horsemen could accept, in part to support the Massachusetts breeding program. Last week, the horsemen agreed to the shortened meet, but not to remain neutral on the legislation required to reduce days, a point the board ultimately conceded.
“We only conceded on the dates because from the onset Suffolk Downs made clear it would not run 100 days although state law required it to do so. So our only options were to either concede to Suffolk’s demands or compromise on days,” said NEHBPA counsel Frank Frisoli in an email, replying to the question of how the board had come to agreement on the matter of race dates.
Referring to the bill filed in the Massachusetts legislature that would allow Suffolk to race fewer than 100 days and continue simulcasting, Frisoli said that many on the NEHBPA board believed that if they didn’t agree to run a shorter meet, there would be no live racing at the track this year. It was 80 days or nothing — but the horsemen wanted some protection. “That proposed legislation delegates to the racing commission the right to excuse Suffolk from complying with state law as to the number of racing dates,” said Frisoli. “We advised Suffolk that was a deal killer.”
In exchange for accepting fewer race dates, the NEHBPA negotiated its non-opposition to the bill to apply only to the number of days required for simulcasting. “The NEHBPA will oppose the Petrucelli legislation and any other legislation which does anything more than reduce the minimum number of days to 80 for 2011 and 2012,” said Frisoli.
The terms of the agreement also provides the board with a powerful incentive to respect the neutrality provision in the hard-fought deal. “If any NEHBPA board member or employee takes action to oppose legislation to reduce dates, Suffolk can void the contract in which event the race meet will end,” said Frisoli. “I expect that our board members will comply with the contractual obligation, no matter how personally distasteful it may be to them.”
Frisoli, a horse owner of more than 35 years, said that he would “actively support” the legislation as the NEHBPA counsel. “I [will do what I] can to see that it passes in the belief that Suffolk Downs is entitled to the benefit of its contractual bargain and that the passage of the legislation would actually be of benefit to the NEHBPA in that it will ensure live meets for 2011 and 2012 and improve our relationship with Suffolk Downs.”
Now that the dispute is over, we can all look forward to the return of racing in East Boston. “The NEHBPA is delighted that we were able to reach an agreement,” said Frisoli. So are Massachusetts racing fans.
It’s official! Live racing is on! After more than six weeks of tense negotiations, the bitter dispute between Suffolk Downs and the NEHBPA over the 2011 meet ended today in a two-year agreement on purses, days, and the simulcasting revenue split. The track will run 80 days for $8.25 million (that’s average daily purses of $103,125), and will split net simulcasting revenue 50-50 with the horsemen. If handle reaches a certain benchmark by June 30, an additional five days of racing will be run. The NEHBPA agreed to remain neutral on legislation to reduce race days; Suffolk agreed to keep the barn area open from late April to mid-November. Racing is expected to begin in May. Stall applications, the condition book, and the schedule will be available in coming weeks.
“As we strive to offer a competitive racing program that is attractive to fans and horsemen, we are gratified that the NEHBPA has agreed that fewer days for higher purses is preferable to the alternative,” said Suffolk COO Chip Tuttle in a statement. “Having reached an agreement, we look forward to the 2011 racing season and to working together on expanded gaming legislation in Massachusetts that will create jobs, generate revenue for the state, benefit the local economy and ensure a strong foundation for racing here in the future.”
It’s been confirmed that the Aqueduct and Gulfstream simulcasting signals, which had been blocked as part of the dispute, will be restored on Saturday. Signals pulled in solidarity by Maryland, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Oregon horsemen could also be on as soon as tomorrow. (Of course, the question is how many horseplayers — who have scattered to Rockingham and other nearby simulcasting parlors over the past month — will return to Suffolk.)
8:45 PM Update: “[The NEHBPA] is very pleased it was able to successfully and amicably negotiate with Suffolk Downs a fair and equitable purse agreement for 2011 that also provides for a fair and equitable sharing of revenue for the year 2012,” reads the horsemen’s press release. “It looks forward to partnering with Suffolk Downs for a successful race meet in 2011 and subsequent years and seeks to develop a strong and amicable relationship with Suffolk Downs that permits the parties to work toward their mutual advantage.”
Also noted in the press release: “The decision to compromise the dispute by agreeing to accept less than the state-mandated minimum of 100 days of live racing was reached only after a majority of the Board of Directors of the NEHBPA concluded that in the absence of such compromise there would be no live racing …” Suffolk was quite serious about running a shorter meet, a justified position given the steep drop in handle since 2007.
More on this matter from Lynne Snierson, who spoke with NEHBPA counsel Frank Frisoli about the deal this evening. “[W]e looked at this and agreed to the 80 days because it was that or not have a meet,” he said. “This deal is in the best interest of our membership, the Massachusetts breeders, the farm industry, and all of the others involved.”
3/5/11 Addendum: “Did anyone apologize to the fans?” No, and why not?