North American racetracks have searched without effect for a strategy to reverse the persistent decline in pari-mutuel wagering.  Thus their preferred approach has been to transition into gaming, thereby relegating pari-mutuel wagering to a subordinate status and compelling the bloodstock side of the horse-racing industry to downsize.

Horse racing’s lack of a coherent industry strategy is increasingly a liability as the gambling terrain becomes more crowded and the competition more intense.  A shakeout has already begun with the closing of prominent casinos and racetracks.

In a new book titled The Soft Edge (by Rich Karlgaard), FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith cogently elucidates on why strategy is the sine qua non in any industry or business:  “You can have the best operations.  You can be the most adept at whatever it is that you’re doing.   But if you have a bad strategy, it is all for naught…  Absent a viable strategy, you’re in the process of going out of business.”

The decentralized structure of the horse racing enterprise has inhibited the formulation and execution of anything resembling a grand strategy to make the sport/business more attractive to existing and prospective customers, who have plenty of gambling and entertainment options to choose among.  Whether horse racing’s major interest groups will voluntarily align for the common good to proactively address divisive but make-or-break issues is a question that so far has been answered mostly in the negative, though commendable actions by, for example, the Jockey Club, the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium, and the Stronach Group are significant steps in the right direction.

Smith’s battle-tested words of wisdom should be sufficient motivation for racing’s most influential individuals and organizations to unite behind key initiatives.

Copyright © 2014 Blood-Horse Publications.  Used with permission.