Archives for June 2012

“DISTRUST… FANS HAVE FOR THE INTEGRITY OF THE SPORT”

What might come to mind when you read of a U. S. Senator lamenting “the legitimate distrust… fans have for the integrity of the sport?” In that some major players in U. S. horse racing have called for federal regulation of the sport/industry, and U. S. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and U. S. Congressman Ed Whitfield of Kentucky co-sponsored legislation for this purpose, a follower of the American turf would be apt to think of horse racing.

But this would be an incorrect inference: the answer, in this case, is boxing and the Senator who made the remark is retired Navy Captain John McCain of Arizona, who boxed as a midshipman at the U. S. Naval Academy.

According to the Associated Press, the furor over the judges’ decision in the recent Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley fight, in Bradley’s favor, caused McCain and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a onetime middleweight boxer, to introduce legislation to establish a U. S. Boxing Commission to “carry out federal law, work with the industry and local commissions and license boxers, promoters, managers, and sanctioning organizations.”

McCain, speaking on the Senate floor, quoted sportswriter Jimmy Cannon’s description of boxing as the “red light district of sports.” McCain said that the Pacquiao-Bradley outcome “is the latest example of the legitimate distrust boxing fans have for the integrity of the sport.” Pacquiao was previously unbeaten in seven years and was widely thought to have beaten Bradley, who won on a split decision by the judges.

With Senate Majority leader Reid co-sponsoring the boxing bill, it has a better chance of actually making it into law than does the federal regulation of horse racing. Regardless of one’s view of federal regulation, it is a sad and egregious occurrence when state regulation of horse racing has become so lax and inconsistent across jurisdictions that federal regulation is even discussed, which puts horse racing perilously close, in public perception, to another sport called the “red light district of sports.”

A once noble sport must do better than this. While adhering to due process, the bad actors in horse racing must be exiled…and this is in the hands of state rulesmakers and regulators.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

STANDARDBRED RACING IS MALIGNED BY ASSOCIATION

The theme of today’s post is that the recent negative publicity on raceday medication and catastrophic breakdowns in horse racing has especially done a disservice to harness racing. The New York Times expose focused heavily on Quarter Horses at lower-level New Mexico racetracks, yet left the impression that the results were representative of horse racing per se. This obvious case of an amateurish error in sampling led to unwarranted generalizations (i.e., the findings had poor external validity) about Thoroughbred racing but even more so concerning Standardbred racing.

A perusal of a representative sampling of the past performances at virtually any harness racetrack will show that it is not unusual for horses to race every couple of weeks and sometimes more often. A harness horse with 30-35 starts in a year’s time is not an anomaly. Even the top-level Standardbreds race frequently, by comparison to their Thoroughbred cousins. Moreover, the age limit for a Standardbred racehorse is 14 years old. One possible partial explanation is that the Standardbred is a hardier breed.

Another demonstrable difference between Thoroughbred and Standardbred competition is that the incidence of catastrophic breakdowns is far less in the latter. It may be that the trotting or pacing gait is less stressful on a horse’s legs and/or that the lack of weight of a jockey is kinder on a racing animal. The slower speeds in Standardbred racing also likely play a role.

Both Thoroughbred racing and harness racing are dangerous for rider and driver, respectively. However, while drivers are occasionally badly injured or even killed in harness races, the number of these occurrences pales in comparison to the number of jockeys who are paralyzed or die from in-race competition.

Harness racing is plagued with some of the identical issues that shed a bad light on Thoroughbred racing and Quarter Horse racing, such as the casting off of unwanted former racehorses, slaughter, illicit drugs, and rogue trainers.

But when it comes to durability of the breed and the occurrence of catastrophic racing injuries, it is inaccurate for the media to paint harness racing with the broad brush applied to Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing. The generic term horse racing includes several breeds, and just as Quarter Horse racing issues should be distinguished from Thoroughbred racing problems, so should Standardbred racing be distinguished from them both.

If I were a Standardbred owner or breeder, I would try to recruit new owners by emphasizing that trotters and pacers race more often, are less susceptible to catastrophic breakdowns, and drivers are generally less at risk of life-threatening injuries than jockeys.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

TURFWAY PARK UNDER NEW OWNERSHIP

Whenever a racetrack is purchased by a casino company, a question that invariably arises is whether the casino management will relegate horse racing to a second-class status or try to abolish it altogether.

Yet the recent change-of-ownership of Turfway Park provides plenty of reason for optimism because the newest investor has had outstanding results in founding and operating companies in sundry lines of business, and getting gaming legalized in a state where such efforts had always failed.

Turfway Park is now owned by Rock Ohio Caesars, a joint venture between current 50% Turfway owner Caesars Entertainment Corporation and Rock Gaming LLC, with Keeneland retaining a 10 percent share. A press release by Rock Ohio Caesars stated: “With (the) equity transaction approval [by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission], Caesars will contribute Turfway to the Rock Ohio Caesars joint venture.” Rock Ohio Caesars already owns the nascent Horseshoe Casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati, OH and Thistledown racetrack in a Cleveland suburb.

Whereas Caesars Entertainment is highly focused on gaming, the same is not true for the impresario behind Rock Gaming, 50-year-old Daniel Gilbert, a Detroit-based serial entrepreneur par excellence.

Gilbert owns or is a major investor in some 40 firms with 6,000 employees, including Quicken Loans (the largest online retail mortgage lender in the United States), the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association, and Rockbridge Growth Equity. He is also a co-founder of Detroit Venture Partners, which invests in seed and early-stage technology companies, primarily to be located in downtown Detroit. One of his partners is Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who, like Gilbert, is an alumnus of Michigan State University.

Gilbert’s portfolio of businesses contains firms with the creative and technical skills to assist in marketing Turfway Park, particularly online. Several are involved in social media and/or sports promotion and go by intriguing names like ePrize, Fathead, and Made By Rabbit.

Rock Gaming was instrumental in the 2009 voter referendum in Ohio that legalized casino gambling by amending the state constitution. Though Kentucky cannot have a similar plebiscite unless it is first authorized by the legislature and governor, the political savvy demonstrated by Rock Gaming in the Buckeye state should provide encouragement to those who want to see video lottery terminals at Turfway Park. At the very least, the Cincinnati Horseshoe Casino and Turfway can immediately develop coordinated marketing initiatives and consolidate some operations.

Prior to its acquisition by Rock Gaming, Turfway Park faced a grim future, owing to the scheduled 2013 opening of the Horseshoe Casino and the impending addition of video lottery terminals at River Downs racetrack. Turfway’s prospects can now be markedly enhanced by the resources and “can-do” corporate culture of its newest proprietor.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.