Archives for October 2013

NEGLECT OF KENTUCKY RACING FROM WITHIN

Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain, is supposed to have quipped, “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Kentucky because it’s always 20 years behind the times.”

While Kentuckians may take exception with such an unflattering description that is over a century old, those in the enterprise of breeding and racing horses are likely to concur that a majority of state elected officials have succeeded in keeping the Commonwealth’s racetracks two decades behind the leading-edge of competition. The irony is that breeding and racing horses is a potent economic force in Kentucky.

The recently released study by the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Horse Council, titled “2012 Kentucky Equine Survey,” estimated that of the 242,400 horses in the state, 54,000 were Thoroughbreds and 9,500 were Standardbreds, plus an unspecified number of Quarter Horses that are bred for racing. Horse racing (breeding not included) accounted for almost 42% of the projected $2.91 billion economic impact from equine activities. The equine sector employed approximately 40,665 people (32,022 full time) and paid $134 million in taxes to the state.

Contributions of this magnitude would strongly suggest that the people’s representatives in state government would long ago have done what is necessary to foster and enhance an industry that employs so many of their constituents and generates a significant stream of tax revenues for the benefit of all Kentuckians. Yet that has not been the case with respect to Kentucky racetracks, where owners and executives have watched, waited, and waited some more as racing venues outside the Commonwealth have legalized casinos and racinos.

As a result, the state’s racetracks are many years behind in terms of what they can offer to customers. In this limited regard, Twain’s observation has been inexplicably and painfully documented by the evidence.

Copyright © 2013 the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.

DIGITAL NATIVES

Attracting young people to any sport requires that sport to be compatible with their life experiences and not be passé.

Part of the challenge is that the task falls to executives who are often a generation or more older than the target audience. The Beloit College Mindset List, published annually since 1998, underscores why age differences and cultural perspectives matter.

The Beloit list depicts the worldview of current college freshmen. Most freshmen of 2013 were born in 1995 and are referred to as “digital natives.” This designation sounds promising for horse racing because the delivery system for the product is facilitated by the Internet, smartphones, and innovations like Trackus and 3-D animated replays.

Beloit College says, “For this generation of entering college students…Dean Martin, Mickey Mantle, and Jerry Garcia have always been dead” and the students aren’t likely to remember Bill Clinton as a sitting president.

To digital natives, GM brings to mind Genetically Modified, JAVA does not mean only a cup of coffee, and a chat usually does not involve talking. Favorite feature movies for 18-year-olds were usually computer-generated and driving somewhere has never required directions and a map in the glove box, just a GPS.

Consider a similar list pertaining to horse racing. Today’s freshmen weren’t alive to see Paul Mellon win his only Kentucky Derby. They were born the year Angel Cordero Jr. rode his last race and Cigar won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Laz Barrera, Eric Guerin, and C. V. Whitney were always deceased, and so were Easy Goer, Northern Dancer, and Secretariat. There has never been a time without simulcasting, exotic wagering, and advance deposit wagering.

Freshmen of 2013 have scant recollections of anything that occurred before the 21st century, and 9-11-01 took place when they were in the first grade. So waxing nostalgically about the year when D. Wayne Lukas won three Triple Crown races with two different horses won’t register with them.

“Digital natives” can best relate to a centuries-old sport like horse racing when it is wrapped in a comprehensive high-tech package.

Copyright © 2013 the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.