Archive for Kentucky

Kentucky Stakes Rule Penalizes Trainers Looking For Best Spot

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Jennie Rees of Courier-Journal…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

A rule that needs to be scratched (well, actually, rewritten to exempt stakes)

A bizarre Kentucky regulation required the scratch of Console in Friday’s Phoenix, with Medal Count and Oogley Eye to be scratched by the stewards from Saturday’s Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.

Here’s what happened: The regulation requires a horse who is on the “also-eligible” list for a race that overfills, then is entered in and gets in the body of another race, will automatically be scratched from the race in which it is on the AE list (akin to a waiting list). Such rules almost always apply only to overnight races, not stakes. But the Kentucky regulation makes no exception for stakes, where owners pay nomination, entry and starting fees to run.

As it turns out, there were scratches in the Phoenix and expected defections in the Breeders’ Futurity, so the horses would have gotten to run in those races. But one doesn’t know that going in. And because Bill Mott entered Console in Saturday’s Woodford turf sprint, and Dale Romans entered Medal Count and Oogley Eye in Sunday’s Bourbon on turf as back-up plans, they unwittingly put themselves in positions to be scratched from the races in which they really wanted to compete.

The irony (and what makes this particularly galling) is that horses who get in the body of two stakes can run in either. Example: Hogy being scratched from the Phoenix to run in Saturday’s Shadwell. And trainer Todd Pletcher double-entered Intense Holiday in both the Breeders’ Futurity and today’s Champagne in New York, with the colt running in the Champagne – which otherwise would have made room for one of Romans’ horses.

But trainers who are entering their horses in other spots to ensure they get a chance to run are penalized, as are their owners.

And this is serious business this time of the year, with so many of these races “Win and You’re In” challenge events where the winners get their entry fees paid to the Breeders’ Cup. Including the Phoenix and Breeders’ Futurity.

Yes, those horses still have a shot to run (and in Breeders’ Cup challenge races) but not in the race that their trainers obviously thought suited them best. What are they supposed to do? Not enter another stakes, hoping for a scratch that might not come?

Chief state steward Barbara Borden said the stewards must apply the rule as written, and that it’s clear that the horses must be scratched. Romans argued that another reg exempts stakes, but Borden said that applies only to race preference lists, which are different from also-eligible lists.

“The rule doesn’t exclude stakes,” she said, showing a reporter the rule.

She said the stewards will ask the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to review the regulation. “It’s a rule that definitely needs to be reviewed, and we will put in our two cents in as to what it should say,” she said.

Those two cents no doubt will be two words: add “except stakes.”

This bad rule was exposed because of Keeneland’s full stakes fields, the fact that there is so much crossover between Polytrack and grass racing, and that Keeneland had stakes for both surfaces so close together.

Making it worse, Console had already gotten his Lasix medication four hours before post time, and then was scratched.

No doubt it was an oversight by those who drafted/wrote/fine-tuned the regulation. But it’s still highly embarrassing to get its major flaw uncovered on one of the biggest racing weekend’s in Kentucky. The good thing is that the high-profile nature means the rule has the best chance to get corrected, quickly.


In The Process of Growing, Did Churchill Downs Lose Its Charm???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Paul Moran of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Progress is no subtle beast

First images can be burned forever into memory.

The Grand Canyon. Niagara Falls. The Colosseum in Rome. Big Sur. The Manhattan skyline. The twin spires at Churchill Downs silhouetted against the gentle illumination of first light viewed from the end of the mile chute.

That image now lingers only in memory. The iconic spires remain but are now dwarfed by the towering expanses built to accommodate luxury suites and casinos that have yet to be embraced by Kentucky politicians. The top floors of the new version of Churchill Downs look down on the spires, the historic track’s once crowning glory overshadowed by what some see as progress, others as desecration by architecture.

The Churchill Downs landscape, the Kentucky Derby and the city that is home to both have undergone dramatic evolution since the last Derby winner won the Triple Crown.

Kentucky itself has seen marked change in the past 30 years. The distillation of bourbon is constant, but the autumn air around Lexington no longer carries the pungent scent of curing tobacco. Poultry, not horses, is the state’s largest agricultural product. The breeding industry has contracted as other states offer generous incentives fueled by proceeds from alternative gaming. Louisville has become a livable city.

When Affirmed beat Alydar in the Derby of 1978, Louisville was very much a river town struggling almost apologetically to keep up with the 20th century. Churchill Downs, up close, looked like the work of a dyslexic madman with a life-size erector set, and the Derby was the only race run there that mattered.

What is now a vibrant city — with a nationally prominent medical community, rejuvenated historical districts, diverse cultural alternatives, good restaurants and hotels, expansive public parks, colleges and a large university, accommodating suburbs, nightlife, and an active downtown — has evolved from a town that not too long ago hunkered down on the southern bank of the Ohio River, doing its best to avoid the attention of outsiders except when they brought money in copious sums during the first weekend of May.

In that Louisville, there were, at most, four habitable hotels, at least two of which required a taste for (or at least tolerance of) sketchy decor and all things musty and worn. There were fewer acceptable restaurants capable of much more than a regional stew known as burgoo or a plate of congealed cheese, sliced turkey and tomato known as a “hot brown.” Both were acquired tastes. There was, however, an abundance of dark and often-forbidding bars, most of which had windows decorated with neon signs that said either “Whiskey” or “Girls, Girls, Girls.”

Louisville in 2013 barely resembles the city in which Affirmed beat Alydar, an era that predates guided morning tours of the Churchill Downs backstretch, the orchestrated and convoluted draw for post position staged inconveniently in late afternoon, point systems, and a race presented by a fast-food conglomerate that sells more fried chicken in China than in the land of Colonel Sanders.

There was no Churchill Downs Inc. in those days. The home of the Derby was simply Churchill Downs, a racing association without greater ambition. The stock was owned primarily by people with an interest in the sport and was thinly traded. A typical racing card was not discernibly better than those offered at nearby River Downs or what was then known at Latonia, now Turfway Park, generally cheap horses even on the Derby-day supporting card. In the pre-Internet infancy of simulcasting, there was no advance-deposit wagering platform, no consideration of shareholder interest. With “Inc.” came acquisitions in Florida, Chicago and New Orleans as well as a tote company, casinos and an online poker enterprise. The Derby went from big race to an industry unto itself. With “Inc.” came a new image and a view focused on the bottom line. Homespun, how-y’all-doin’ Churchill Downs was gone, never to return.

This is how the present-day “Inc.” describes itself:

“CDI is a diversified growth company built around three core businesses.

“Our Racing operations occupy more than 800 acres of real estate in four cities: Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Ill.; Calder Casino & Race Course in Miami Gardens, Florida; Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans, Louisiana; and Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Ky., home of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

“Our Gaming operations consist of 33,000 square feet of gaming space, including slots machines, table games and a poker room at Harlow’s Casino Resort & Hotel in Greenville, Miss., 1,245 slot machines and poker room at the Calder Casino, 606 slot machines at the Fair Grounds Slots venue, and 809 video poker machines at our 11 off-track-betting establishments in New Orleans.

“Our online operations include our Internet wagering business,, an interest in the horse racing television network HRTV and our Bloodstock Research and Information Services business which provides handicapping and breeding data and publications.”

Rapidly expanding “Inc.” needed an upgraded image, and the eyesore that was Churchill Downs beneath the spires — a patchwork of metalwork in which each of many expansions was clearly evident — fell to the 20th century. From 2001 to 2005, the track underwent a 3½ year, $121 million renovation. The clubhouse and grandstand were replaced with a pair of huge buildings that house 79 luxury suites. The corporate culture overtook the hard boots. The twin spires, an iconic landmark, became a logo.

This ain’t your daddy’s Churchill Downs. There was a certain charm that is no longer part of the racing experience in Louisville. Old Churchill welcomed you back every spring like an old friend. “Inc.” is impersonal and aloof. It revolves around return-on-investment and share price, not tradition. It could be anywhere.

But for all its commercial diversification and ever-widening sphere, “Inc.” still lives and dies with two days in May. Derby eve, Oaks day, was once known as “Louisville’s day at the races,” until “Inc.” — recognizing a captive audience when it saw one — introduced the requirement to purchase tickets for both days and moved the celebration for locals to Thursday.

On most days, Churchill Downs is like any other racetrack — generally empty. Night racing on Fridays has been popular, but day to day, few rattle around in a place built to accommodate large crowds. Unlike other tracks, it has this advantage: About a quarter-million people will be in attendance over the weekend and “Inc.” will maximize the opportunity. There is no draw in American sport quite like the Derby, which holds an audience for some eight hours from first post until last, much of that time devoted to eating, drinking and gambling.

With its various enterprises, “Inc.” now enjoys a national scope that expands exponentially into the international market on the first Saturday of May, but most outside Louisville or without direct connection to the racing industry still know it only as the racetrack that hosts the Kentucky Derby.

Once upon a time, that was enough.


Should Kentucky Ban Race-day Lasix???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Jennie Rees of The Courier-Journal…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Want to see a bloody corpse? Kentucky racing without race-day lasix

I don’t know a more polite way to say this but: IS THE LEADERSHIP OF THE KENTUCKY HORSE RACING COMMISSION THAT WANTS TO BAN RACE-DAY BLEEDER MEDICATION (in such a sneaky fashion that even some of its commissioners didn’t know it would be up for a vote at Monday’s meeting until late last week) BONKERS?

This is a game-changer for Kentucky racing, and not for the good. Rather, it would contribute in alarming fashion to the devastation of a circuit already on the ropes. You want to see a bloody corpse, that would be Kentucky racing if getting rid of the proven-effective anti-bleeder medication furosemide is banned on race day.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating.

Horses bleed, not just thoroughbreds. Lasix has been proven to prevent or reduce the incidence of bleeding. It is highly regulated. The bettors know who is on Lasix and who is not, because it is prominently noted in the program. It is a system that works when you’re talking about integrity and protecting the public.

Let me stress something else: Mere months ago, Mary Scollay, the commission’s equine medical director, repeatedly assured horsemen that no one was trying to ban Lasix in Kentucky – emphatically and categorically, and she couldn’t understand why trainers such as Hall of Famer Bill Mott and prominent veterinarian Ken Reed kept wanting to turn the dialogue back to potential efforts to ban race-day Lasix, when what she was only discussing was the so-called adjunct bleeder medications also permissible in Kentucky and some other states. Then this comes out of the blue about a flat-out ban on race-day Lasix, with absolutely no warning. And they wonder why horsemen don’t believe what they are told by commission administrators.

I’m guessing those wanting to ban the one medication* allowed on race day (certainly far fewer than, I would guess, any of the commissioners use in any 24-hour span, remembering that caffeine and a whole lot of other things we take daily are illegal in horse racing) are ones who attend Keeneland, with its huge crowds, and Derby and Oaks, where one certainly could believe everything is hunky-dory. (*Also the adjunct anti-bleeder medications in some states. But today virtually no jurisdiction allows anything else within 24 hours of race, and even some very innocuous therapeutic medications can’t be given with 48 hours or more. For those following the rules, it is incredibly drug free. If there are those not following the rules, guess what? – They don’t care! A ban would only be in their favor.)

I suspect those on the commission seeking to ramrod this through are not paying the bills on a 6-year-old horse running for $5,000 claiming on a Thursday at Turfway Park. The Thursdays that Turfway still runs, anyway. (I would say Wednesday, but those have been eliminated at every track in the state but for Keeneland’s six weeks of racing a year and Churchill’s short fall meet. I can’t even say for a Thursday at Ellis Park, since those have been gone for a couple of years.)

Or if they are paying those bills on a nickel claimer, they think they can’t win because everyone else is cheating – certainly not because they have a too-slow horse! – and if only Lasix is banned they would have a better chance.

These commissioners wanting to ban Lasix certainly haven’t been in Kentucky’s racing offices struggling to pull cards together, even with a significant reduction in days.

Surely, for goodness stakes, the motivation isn’t to get an atta-boy! from The New York Times.

The ultimate outcome of Kentucky becoming the first jurisdiction to repeal Lasix would not be universal trumpeting about how great and courageous the commonwealth’s racing regulators are. Instead, it would result in the further exodus of horses to other jurisdictions and heads shaking everywhere by those grounded in reality.

As trainer Dale Romans told me the day before he won the Blue Grass Stakes with Dullahan – and few people in the commonwealth in any position have as much at stake in the industry as he does, with his huge stable (including many he owns), training center and now a farm to house broodmares – trainers and owners don’t need anything more to give them the legitimate excuse to go race at Indiana, where the purses are fatter thanks to slots and the competition not as tough. Or Pennsylvania. West Virginia. And probably soon, Ohio. Think about it: Kentucky a loser to Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio racing.

What has kept Kentucky racing as good as it still is, despite its serious erosion and mega-problems, is loyalty of its owners and trainers who want to race here, whether it’s because they live here or admire the appreciation the public has for the sport. Get rid of Lasix, many will feel no one cares about them and their horses, so why should they care about Kentucky racing?

The racetracks also need to speak out if they find the potential for Kentucky to be standing alone with a Lasix ban to be alarming and risking their already shrinking horse population.

If getting rid of Lasix is such a noble cause, why hasn’t New York – home to many of the horses raced by the elite of the Jockey Club – shown any inclination to repeal its use? You think those horses are going to ship into Kentucky for stakes when they can find similar races elsewhere (and quite possibly for more money) and not risk subjecting their horse to a bleeding episode?

Just take Aruna, winner of last fall’s Grade I Spinster at Keeneland. She was a bleeder in France and sent to America so she could race on Lasix and prove herself on the track, which she did. I’ve used her as an example before, because her camp is open about what brought her to America. But does American racing (and Central Kentucky) really want to get rid of the Arunas of the racing world? She is from one of the greatest racing and breeding operations in the world.

For those owners and breeders (including apparently some on the KHRC) who say Kentucky should be the first in line to ban lasix, I say you don’t need a regulatory change to not run your horses on anti-bleeder medication. Set the example and don’t run your horses on such medication and prove you can be successful without it and that it is just the needless and dangerous crutch you contend it is. Take out ads that your stallion/broodmare never raced on Lasix, if that is the case.

The fact is that horses only have so many starts in them. In many instances, each race has financial impact for those involved with the horse. Why do something that hurts its chances to compete at its best? Especially in the current climate?

It makes no sense, and it has dangerous consequences.


Are Kentucky Slots Facing “Do or Die”?

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Gregory Hall of The Courier-Journal…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Is this the last chance for casino gambling in Kentucky?

FRANKFORT, KY. — Supporters of expanded gambling have said this year’s legislative session — fresh off Gov. Steve Beshear’s landslide re-election win over Senate President David Williams — may offer their best chance yet for success.

But is it also their last chance?

“I don’t think so. Not at all,” said Beshear, who has proposed a constitutional amendment that is expected to get its first airing on Wednesday before the Senate State & Local Government Committee.

Whether the measure passes this session or not — and he thinks it can — Beshear said, “I am excited that the issue is finally getting the attention that I think it deserves, and I think it will only go on from here.”

Others, on both sides of the debate, aren’t so sure.

While the issue likely wouldn’t go away, they say, a defeat could seriously derail political momentum, at least for the push to allow expanded gaming through a constitutional amendment — an approach that circumscribes the chance of a court challenge.

Martin Cothran, a senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, which opposes expanded gambling, said a defeat on the Senate floor could kill the issue practically and politically speaking.

“I think … unless there’s a change in the party dynamics of the Senate, that this is the last hurrah,” Cothran said.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who has pushed for expanded gambling in the past but prefers doing it through statute, agreed that defeat of Senate Bill 151 might end the push for an amendment.

But he said, “I don’t think you can say something that’s been around for 20 years is going to die overnight.

“… This issue’s not going to go away until we address it or solve it or put an end to it. The manner in which the issue is addressed may change, but I don’t think the issue would go away.”

When asked the same question, Williams, a Burkesville Republican who opposes expanded gambling, said he doesn’t respond to hypotheticals. During last year’s campaign, he said the votes could be in the Senate to pass an amendment, but he has been critical of the way the current bill is drafted.

A constitutional amendment requires a three-fifths vote in both chambers of the legislature — 23 senators and 60 representatives — and ratification by the voters in the November general election.

SB 151, which contains Beshear’s proposed constitutional amendment, was introduced last week and assigned to the State & Local Government Committee, whose chairman, Georgetown Republican Damon Thayer, is the measure’s sponsor.

The amendment would allow up to five casinos at racetracks and two at other locations, though the latter could not be within 60 miles of one of the state’s eight tracks.

But that wording could change significantly by the time the committee is expected to take it up on Wednesday, with Beshear and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a Republican, planning to testify for it and Cothran against it.

Thayer previously compared the bill’s drafting to “threading the needle” — finding a compromise that works for those who want casinos only at tracks and those who want no guarantees for tracks.

But responding to criticism of the bill’s language, both he and Stumbo said a simpler amendment would have a better shot at passing.

Specifically, some legislators in both parties and chambers have been critical of the amendment’s preferential treatment of the horse industry and in how the 60-mile radius in essence gives racetracks like Churchill Downs in Louisville and Turfway Park in Florence monopolies in their markets.

If those tracks didn’t get one of the five racetrack casinos, then there wouldn’t be any casino in the Kentucky portion of their markets.

“There are some legitimate constitutional concerns that are being brought up and I think we’re going to have to be mindful of those,” Thayer said on Thursday.

He said that he thinks a simpler amendment — leaving the racetrack issues to enabling legislation that would be considered later if the amendment passes — is “the way we’re headed.”

In an interview with The Courier-Journal, Beshear said he may make changes to the bill in response to complaints from legislators.
“We’re getting a lot of useful suggestions, and I’m going to be talking with a number of folks in the legislature,” he said.

As it stands now, the bill has at least five votes in committee — six are needed for passage — and Thayer has said it likely will get to the Senate floor, where Republicans command a 23-15 majority, including one independent who caucuses with them.

While the Family Foundation has declared the bill dead, and opponents plan to rally against it Tuesday at the Capitol, Thayer said he doesn’t believe anyone really knows where the votes will be when and if the roll is called on the floor.

“I think that’s difficult to say definitively, at this time, whether it’s going to pass or fail,” he said. “I think it’s very close. I do think it could go either way.”

Cothran said he believes the bill might die in Thayer’s committee. But if it does get to a floor vote, he believes a decisive defeat “is a very real possibility” — and effectively would spell the end to the push for expanded gaming, assuming the makeup of the Senate remains similar.

“I think that any kind of conservative leadership would have plenty of justification to say the next time they bring a bill like this, ‘been there, done that,’ ” he said.

Cothran acknowledged that “as long as there’s big money in it for casino advocates,” the incentive to continue the push remains. “But I think that they’re going to find fewer politicians willing to risk their credibility on it,” he said.

Thayer said he agrees with Cothran on every issue but this one.

“To me it’s about letting the people decide,” Thayer said, declining to say whether he thinks the issue is dead forever if his bill fails.

“I never want to say anything is alive or dead forever,” he said. “But this is the last time I will sponsor it.”

Patrick Neely, executive director of the pro-gambling Kentucky Equine Education Project, said they don’t see an end to the issue if the bill fails.

“As long as our signature industry remains at a competitive disadvantage and as long as hundreds of millions of Kentucky dollars continue flowing to out-of-state casinos, the issue will continue to be debated and discussed,” he said.


Kentucky Dates Discussion Heated, Yet Little Changes From 2011

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Janet Patton of Lexington Herald-Leader…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Track Dates Inspire Hot Debates

After unusually heated debate, the race dates committee of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved racetrack requests that are almost a carbon copy of this year’s calendar.

The full racing commission will take up the race dates at the Oct. 18 meeting. “Aren’t we going through the same thing as last year? I don’t see what we are going to do to make our game different,” said Tom Ludt, a committee member. He is also chairman of the Breeders’ Cup board and president of Vinery, a Thoroughbred stud farm. “We can’t keep repeating the same thing we’re doing.”

Ludt’s comment came after the five Thoroughbred tracks asked for 210 days of racing and three Standardbred tracks asked for 65, almost exactly the days they raced this year.

One harness racetrack, Thunder Ridge in Prestonsburg, cut its request by three days, to 21. Asked why, track general manager Anita Ratliff was succinct: “Money.”

She said that the track lost thousands of dollars on the extra days this year and that there were some days when betting on live racing totaled $18 for the day.

Ludt suggested the tracks throw “something controversial” at the committee to get the public’s attention rather than continuing in the same vein. “For $20 a day, why bother?” he asked.

That prompted fellow committee member Betsy Lavin to ask whether Ludt was “suggesting denying dates to someone will put pressure to the state as far as gambling.”

Ludt said he was not directing criticism at any track, but he wanted to see more innovation, especially since they will be competing soon with slots-enriched purses in New York. His farm is moving some operations to New York to take advantage of expected larger purses for state-bred horses.

But several tracks said they were making some adjustments:

■ Churchill Downs has invested $4 million in lights for a few nights of racing each year.

■ Kentucky Downs has opened the first instant racing parlor, increased its dates request from four days to six and nearly doubled the tax revenue paid to the state in September, compared to last year.

■ Ellis Park is applying for instant racing, which track owner Ron Geary said he expects to boost purses by 50 percent, to about $270,000, after the first year of operation.

■ Keeneland has rolled out a mobile betting application that saw $40,000 in handle the first day.

Bob Elliston, president of Turfway Park, said a recent report noted that casinos at tracks in Pennsylvania had pumped $275 million into that state, siphoning horses from Kentucky. “These (changes by the Kentucky tracks) are all attempts to overcome that big gaping hole,” Elliston said.

Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs racetrack, said that even changing a track’s meet from November to September would not be enough of a game changer. “The game changer is what Bob said,” he said.

One major point of contention was Churchill’s request to drop the Fourth of July from its schedule. For the past few years, Churchill has overlapped the holiday with Ellis Park in Henderson.

Committee member John Ward, a Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, said that switch could cost the state money on handle and drive trainers out of the state faster.

“We’re going to see a huge difference in handle between Churchill and Ellis,” Ward said. “Do we represent the state of Kentucky to maximize profits to the state, or the tracks to maximize profits to the tracks, or the horsemen?”

Racing commission chairman Bob Beck said the committee must balance the various interests. “I don’t know that we’re here to maximize anybody’s profits,” Beck said.

But Beck also said he was still worried about the calendar. “Three years ago I had some concerns about the year-round calendar. … I continue to be concerned about that,” he said.


Do Horse Racing’s Hot Button Issues Boil Down to What Benefits Fans?

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Amanda Duckworth of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Taking care of fans is key to growth

Kentucky is usually known for its original horse power. Sleek thoroughbreds dot the landscape, and come the first Saturday in May, they take center stage.

In recent weeks though, the state has been making national news for its problems dealing with man-made horse power. The traffic problem that occurred outside of Kentucky Speedway during its first NASCAR Sprint Cup race has only been made worse by the defiant nature of Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith.

Because I live in the state, it has been impossible not to hear about how the poorly the debacle has been handled. Some fans sat in traffic for more than six hours trying to get to the race only to be denied entry because there was nowhere to park. Instead of giving cash refunds, Smith has simply passed the blame to everyone else.

America is a country of customer service, and that is never more true than when it comes to sports. At the end of the day, a sport cannot survive without fans.

Although they both feature speed, NASCAR and horse racing are in very different places at the moment when it comes to fan base. I understand that. But at a time when discretionary income is hard to come by, angering the people who allow you to exist seems a bit foolhardy.

While pondering this, I couldn’t help but think of the difficulty horse racing has faced while trying to maintain and expand its fan base. As an industry, horse racing has been aware for some time that in order to survive it must do this, but that is far easier said than done.

The tricky thing with horse racing is there are no teams to cheer for. Loyalty to a runner rarely can last more than a few years, simply because said horse will be retired. People have favorite trainers and jockeys, but the star of the game has always been the horse.

It’s not like an NFL team that a family will follow for generations, through thick and thin. For instance, my family’s team is the Denver Broncos. While John Elway will always be beloved, our loyalty to the Broncos did not change when he retired. I guarantee that some of the fans Zenyatta picked up along the way retired from racing when she did.

Another unique aspect of the game is the gambling. Getting people in the door simply isn’t enough. The success of a race meet is not only judged by attendance but by handle.

For instance, Lone Star Park ended its spring thoroughbred meeting with a 10 percent increase in average daily attendance, which was the largest average daily attendance increase in the track’s history. But, overall handle was down and that had to be addressed.

Also, for better or for worse, racing has no commissioner. Rules and regulations vary by state and for the average fan, that can be confusing. It can also lead to almost cannibalistic in-fighting at times because tracks have to take care of themselves before they worry about the whole.

All of that said, horse racing has been making steps in the right direction.

This year, for the first time since 2005, all three legs of the Triple Crown were aired on the same network. Even though no horse was going for racing’s ultimate prize, viewership of the Belmont was up 44 percent from 2010. It seems unlikely that it was pure coincidence. People like things to be easy, and splitting the races between networks simply wasn’t.

Also, in an effort to capitalize on the popularity of 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, the Breeders’ Cup has designed a Web page exclusively for the purposes of marketing the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Most of the Breeders’ Cup Classic challenge races will also be aired on national television, and on-track fans will be able to compete in a free fantasy-type game where they own virtual shares in competing horses. The game, which hinges on who wins the Classic, features a $250,000 jackpot.

The Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup are racing’s biggest events. Positive actions by both entities benefit the sport as a whole.

Furthermore, serious discussion about the use of race-day medication continues.

Earlier this year, the Association of Racing Commissioners International called for the end of race-day medication within five years. This summer, Breeders’ Cup Ltd. announced plans to ban race-day medication in Breeders’ Cup World Championships juvenile races in 2012, and it will not allow it in any of the event’s races in 2013.

No matter where you stand on the hot-button issue, the fact it is being discussed and analyzed is a good thing.

There has also been a focus in recent years about what happens to a horse when his or her racing days are over. Although no perfect solution has been found and problems still exist, addressing the issue and trying to fix it is key.

Doing what is right for the horse can only help racing’s persona. After all, one of racing’s biggest issues is perception. It is hard to bring new fans into the sport when they are worried about how the horses are treated and if the game is fair. Who can blame them?

The other issue is simply exposure. Thankfully, the wireless world we now live in can help with that, as long as we make use of the available technology. It is important to make the sport not only accessible but engaging.

No sport can take its fans for granted. People simply have too many other options these days and once they are gone, they are unlikely to come back.

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I do know that fans must be taken care of or the sport cannot survive.


Aussie Journo on American Racing: “attracts desperates and crooks”, “grubby sport”, “a farce”!

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Matt Stewart of Melbourne Herald-Sun…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!


MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – In Friday’s (Melbourne) Herald Sun there was a full-page ad of the like rarely, if ever, conjured up by the racing industry and presented in the nation’s biggest-selling daily newspaper.

Paid for by Racing Victoria, it promoted the first clash of sprint superstars Black Caviar and Hay List in the Patinack Farm Classic, run the next day.

It was a simple ad without fluff; just two horses facing off, their race records underneath and a banner that promised something raw and enthralling, a “Heavyweight Showdown”.

It did not require any other sexy elements to lure us through the gate; no popping champagne corks, no beautiful young people or a rock band after the last.

More than 77,000 people attended the final day of the four-day carnival, attracted, of course, by the usual party elements but also by the most simple and time-tested calling card racing has; the horse.

The horse, as opposed to horsing around, has been the successful theme of this spring carnival and racing has surely made some important inroads back into the hearts and minds of the wider community.

On Cox Plate day the mums, dads and kids swelled eight and 10-deep around So You Think’s stall an hour before the Cox Plate. They “ooohed” and “ahhed” at the horse’s beauty as they would at an animal at the zoo.

They were intoxicated by him, by his simplicity.

First timers who were there will return to the racetrack, knowing that amid the drunks and punters there are magnificent animals at the races, too.

Briefly, So You Think took the whole nation for an emotional ride.

Even non-racing types are captivated by a horse who is beautiful and unstoppable.

We saw that at Churchill Downs in Kentucky yesterday.

The Yanks couldn’t give two hoots about horse racing; to them it’s a grubby sport that attracts desperates and crooks and is conducted almost in secret, underground.

But the Yanks love a good story, even one that occurs on a racetrack.

As Zenyatta paraded and pawed the ground in her purple rug before her bid to win her 20th straight race, an entourage followed and a mob converged. Cameras flashed. For a few minutes, Zenyatta was an American superstar.

Back here So You Think has been that superstar, first for his quest to defy all sorts of historical hurdles to win the Melbourne Cup – before failing, bravely – then as a heart-breaker after his shock sale to Ireland’s all-consuming Coolmore Stud.

Rarely has Joe Public become so absorbed, so emotional, about the sale of a racehorse.

Fast colts with good pedigrees are bought and sold all the time. The Arab and Irish billionaires make irresistible offers and pluck the best from all parts of the globe so they can pit their poached horses against each other on the racetracks of Dubai, Europe and America.

This is the way of the racing world, a fact many of us only half accept.

There were two overwhelming sentiments after So You Think was sold to Ireland – parochialism and disappointment.

Bart Cumming’s devastated foreman Reg Fleming summed up the parochial sentiment when he asked: “What makes their racing better than ours anyway?”

Peter Moody joined in after Black Caviar won on Saturday. “Why don’t they come to us?” he asked.

They both have a point.

Yesterday’s Breeders Cup extravaganza in Kentucky was allegedly world racing’s biggest deal. Coolmore and Darley poach horses with an ultimate eye to the Breeders, Royal Ascot and Dubai.

The Breeders Cup was run over two days and the temperature was about 8C. Two horses were put down after failing to handle the tight track. One favourite was declared unfit to run by its trainer in a pre-race interview, but started anyway and was pulled out of the race by its jockey.

Punters, already freezing, did their money cold. Two jockeys had a punch-up, one champion, Workforce, was scratched, his connections too scared to run on the track.

This farce, compared with the wonder of Flemington through Cup Week.

As Fleming said, 100,000 people lifted the roof when So You Think hit the front at the 200m in the Cup. That responsibility, inspiring 100,000 fans to lift the roof, now sits on the shoulders of Black Caviar.

The Cup Week crowds will not return for another year but while the party has moved on, the horse is a constant.

The summer and autumn will be a ghost town compared with what we’ve just seen, but the horse is back as a magnet and none will have the pulling power of the mighty Black Caviar come Flemington in February.