ESCAPE TO SARATOGA

Visiting Saratoga Springs, NY and its Saratoga Race Course is an annual rite of late summer for me. The city is full of restaurants, offering a diversity of cuisine, quaint retail shops, and majestic Victorian homes and stately commercial buildings.

A stroll around the racetrack provides one with a variety of images, from men and women in their fine clothing to others laid back and outfitted for leisure. Bands offer several kinds of music and lively young people can be seen dancing to Dixieland tunes.

All of this, coupled with the finest in American racing, keeps people like me coming back year after year. One gets lost for a few days in the ambiance, a welcome respite from the problems and noise of everyday life.

The incessant blare of political television commercials are nowhere to be seen on the racetrack’s TVs and supporters of Obama and Romney put aside their differences to enjoy Americana as it is represented by a venerable town and racetrack. After Point of Entry’s win in the Sword Dancer Invitational, the junior Democratic U. S. Senator from New York, Kristen Gillibrand, graciously presented the trophy to the equally gracious winning owner, Ogden Mills Phipps–a rock solid member of the millionaires and billionaires cohort that the Senator’s side of the aisle often demonizes.

If an alien from outer space got a glimpse of Saratoga Race Course on any given race day, the extraterrestrial would no doubt conclude that this thing called horse racing–where beasts mounted by small beings called humans, and cheered on by thousands of mostly larger humans, rush around an oval—is a hugely popular event that evokes plenty of emotion.

The alien would not be privy to the political machinations that are going on with the New York Racing Association and over VLT revenues and the threat they represent to horse racing in the Empire State. Never mind that horse racing at the retail level is only the tip of the economic-development iceberg in New York state; upstream from the racetracks are breeding farms–and a sizeable agribusiness that supports the farms and racetracks.

But elected officials tend to be short-sighted individuals, focused myopically on “give me the money now” so I can cater to constituents and perhaps stay in office. That is the reality, whether the politician is in New York City, the capital of Albany, or in Washington, DC.

But the tug of war for control of NYRA can await the close of another glorious year at Saratoga, on Labor Day. For now, there are several days of racing left, and New York City and Albany may as well be on another planet. Call this escapism from the looming U. S. fiscal cliff, European central bankers, and some crazed foreign regimes, but so what. I am a seasoned citizen and can be cut some slack.

I fervently wish that Saratoga can be preserved as it is for younger generations to savor, just as generations since 1863 have done so. 2013 will mark 150 years at the Spa and maybe I’ll see you there.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

FIDDLING WHILE ROME BURNS IN KENTUCKY AND ILLINOIS

Barron’s newspaper (August 27, 2012) has an article titled “Best & Worst Run States.” The publication ranks the 50 American states on the soundness (or lack thereof) of their balance sheets. Barron’s explained the underlying calculation: “The ranking is based on debt and unfunded pensions compared with state GDPs” (gross domestic products).

According to the ranking, Kentucky is the fourth worst-run state (rank #47/50) and Illinois is the second worst-run state (rank #49/50). Kentucky has a debt + pension liability to gross domestic product ratio of 15.7% and Illinois’ ratio is 16.3%. By contrast, the best-run state, South Dakota, has a ratio of 1.0%.

Kentucky state elected officials, past and present, have repeatedly failed to provide a boost to the state’s horse racing and breeding industry by legalizing video lottery terminals at the racetracks. The lunacy is manifest. While Kentucky’s finances have deteriorated to a precarious level, elected officials have said “thumbs down” to a significant revenue source. In so doing, they have also badly wounded the state’s racing and breeding industry, which is a strong but imperiled economic enterprise.

Similarly, although Illinois has a balance sheet that, charitably speaking, could be characterized as being full of “junk debt,” elected officials (mainly the incumbent governor) spurn expanded gaming, including at horse racing tracks.

Additional gambling is not a panacea to correct past profligate public spending, but it is one source of desperately needed funds for state coffers. Some of the folks, in Kentucky and Illinois, standing in the way of this revenue stream, are sad examples of people getting what they vote for. The double whammy for future generations will be higher taxes and a greatly diminished racing and breeding business.  That takes some doing, even for dumb clucks.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

TO CLONE OR NOT TO CLONE?

Horse enthusiasts had a variety of premier equestrian competitions to view in the 2012 Olympics, recently held in London. The contests in jumping, dressage, and eventing were conducted under a radically-revised eligibility rule that, before Dolly the cloned sheep came on the scene in 1996, would have seemed like it emanated from the realm of science fiction.

The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) is the global governing body for equestrian sport and is recognized as such by the International Olympic Committee. In June 2012, the FEI decreed that cloned horses and their progeny are eligible to compete in FEI competitions. This was a total reversal of the FEI’s 2007 ban on cloned horses. Dr. Graeme Cooke, FEI’s veterinary director, told ABC News that much more has been learned about cloning since that edict: “We now know that the clone is only a 98 percent copy of the original.”

The Chronicle of the Horse reports that no clones are competing at the present time. However, several clones of champion dressage horses and show jumpers have been born. Gemini—a clone of the gelding Gem Twist, the 1988 Olympic Games silver medalist in individual and team jumping–is being used as a breeding stallion.

The Thoroughbred breed has steadfastly hued to custom by registering animals conceived the old-fashioned way, ever since the advent of James Weatherby’s General Stud Book in 1791. Yet the distinction between live cover and other means to procreation seems increasingly anachronistic in an era in which cloned horses can officially compete for Olympic gold.

A new generation of Thoroughbred breeders, circa 2022 or 2032, may be bemused looking back on the days when their predecessors debated the genetic implications and economic consequences of artificial insemination, frozen semen transport, and embryo transfer.

The FEI has allowed controversial and cutting-edge science to dramatically enter the staid world of equine breeding and competition. Future disputes for breed registries are likely to revolve around trailblazing questions, such as how many clones can be registered from any one superhorse, how long after a horse dies can it be used to clone, and how entries in competitions and races can be screened for genetic ringers.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

Published originally on the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.