Monday, July 6, 2009

Declaration of Interdependence

The wraps are on another 4th of July holiday - the day, the weekend filled with burgers, beers, baseball and horse racing only the most devoted fans and handicappers follow - in celebration of our independence from the Brits. A quick reread of mostly Jefferson's words to crazy King George reveals bitches, moans and mostly minor infractions in addition to the most famous paragraph, starting with, "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

And while Jefferson and his mates broke the mold on monarchy rule, they were in a time and place that allowed them to get away with their strong words. They were separated by an ocean, had plentiful natural resources and were self-sufficient beyond indentured servitude. Of course they had the balls to follow through on their demands by laying waste to the most powerful army and navy on the planet through guerrilla warfare and help from the French. 

In the multi-tiered and fractured world of Thoroughbred horse racing in these United States, I argue there is the desperate need for just the opposite sort of declaration, if the Sport of Kings (pun intended) is to survive far into this next century - a Declaration of Interdependence is necessary. 

The nature of the Thoroughbred business has operated in stark independence. Jockeys ride at will, trainers gather many clients hoping to hold onto enough to earn their keep, horse owners hire and fire on whims, tracks with casino or slot support offer purses several times over the claiming tags of their horses, small venues without such support rely almost entirely on fans they never see and big tracks on each coast just seem to do as they please. States all have their own commissions, rules, take out percentages and sanctions for infractions. 

The only constant in this horse flesh mess is the bettor - someone who is not as well organized and probably not as well educated as our Founding Fathers to cast off the many-headed kings of the industry in order to start a more perfect race track. The bettor needs all the players of the Thoroughbred industry to provide the venue for his hobby or vocation, and as we have witnessed in many recent days, there is no body - governing or otherwise - to watch over the industry from bettor to back stretch employee

Instead of the vast array of rules and procedures for each state, Thoroughbred horse racing needs a more unified connected body of people, rules and sanctions, if it is to survive and thrive. As I have argued before, one of the few ways to get this done is through federal legislation. 

Except for the largest or most religiously followed venues, the vast majority of race tracks earn their money through simulcasting their signals to bettors all over the country. Simulcast betting was created through federal legislation allowing for such interstate gambling. Thus the only way to get unified rules and/or a governing body on Thoroughbred racing is for the Feds to hold up the life vein of the industry for consistent rules and consequences from everything from medications allowed to racing dates to sales ring procedures. 

I know allowing greater, unified federal control to a fiercely independent industry is a frightening prospect. Unfortunately, I see no other way to create a symbiotic relationship throughout the industry for horse and human alike.


  1. Tony,

    Sorry so long between comments.

    This piece is right at the heart of the solution, unfortunately the game is filled with "mavericks" who don't want to give up their independence. Their personal agendas are more important than the good of the game as a whole. They don't see the symbiotic relationship that is necessary to fuel the game.

    Horse racing is paralleling the economic despair our country is in...we are a capitalist country that denies there are socialist principles necessary for us to thrive.

    The large breeding operations would rather see the smaller operations go under to monopolize the industry. The same goes for the big trainers and owners.

    In a nutshell: Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    Back at you soon.

  2. Thanks for checking in. In a little more than two weeks time, I'll be in Saratoga! I'm thinking of doing some video blogging from the track.

  3. I have to tell you I was glad to get to that last paragraph about your concerns with having the feds involved with unifying horse racing. That thought scares me spitless. I'm not sure I agree that the feds should be involved at all. Better a non-partisan commission than than the feds.