Thursday, July 8, 2010

TBA - WTF - The Solution Under Our Nose?

The subject of this post comes from Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance and other members will be posting their views to the questions below. These posts can be seen by clicking atop the blog roll to your left.

We all love Keenland, Del Mar and Saratoga; Will reduced racing dates, like Monmouth, be the future of live horse racing? Is a reduction of racing dates the best way to ensure Thoroughbred racing's future?

The answer to the above questions are maybe...and this comes from the blogger who suggested it.

Tracks (or should I write race-casinos) from Altoona, IA to Bossier City, LA to Erie, PA may already have the answer - slots or gaming supporting their purses. Even our neighbors north of the border have figured out a way to offer claimers almost double their asking price and maiden purses hovering around $70,000 at Woodbine Racing and Slots.

Of course this takes a population willing to put up with gaming/slots and a governing body able to pull it off. (Here in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts where the Legislature meets almost 300 days a year, a gaming bill sits in committee with no current option to support the state's two horse racing facilities - one Thoroughbred and one Standard bred. And this comes almost 15 years after two casinos were built in neighboring Connecticut carting thousands of Massachusetts residents and gambling/entertainment dollars south of their state border everyday.)

The math for gaming-supported racing is not hard to follow. A percentage of said gaming dollars goes to purses, greater purses attract more horsemen looking for a living and owners for a return on their investments, more horses means bigger, more competitive fields which attracts more bettors and ultimately translates into more handle, more revenue back to the horsemen, the state and the track. Does anybody lose here?

For those states without the guts to bring gaming in, Monmouth's plan - reducing dates to increase purses and revenue - is the best way to ensure a tomorrow. As it stands right now, Monmouth is on a pace to pull in the same total handle as it did in 2009 in half the racing dates. This means average daily handle is twice what is was last year. How many entertainment business do you know that can generate such equal revenue in half the time?

Of course Monmouth's great gamble comes at a cost. Their purses now average almost $700,000 a race day more than last year and the track will offer about $17 million more in purses to generate the same handle. In addition, with only 50 racing dates over a longer stretch of time, the average Joes working the windows, cleaning the facility and possibly even those along the backstretch will have less days of earning pay.

The tracks with short meets like Del Mar, Keenland and Saratoga have history and destination on their side. The racing in each of these venues is top-notch and bettors flock to the track or to their simulcast outlets or computers to bet the higher quality of their racing.

What other everyday tracks like Suffolk Downs or Aqueduct or even Santa Anita, without any casino dollars coming in the near future, have to do is to make their tracks destinations through either shorter seasons, limited days, greater promotion and heck even improvement in customer service and experience. Of course getting someone to travel by the East Boston gas tanks or the into the cold of a New York City winter is a little tougher than looking out at the mountain backdrop that is Santa Anita, which has its great share of history on its side.

Finally even racetracks with casino/slot action should limit their race dates to encourage fans to come out and see the "event" that is horse racing. Rolling it out daily, as the industry did in the less competitive times of its heyday in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, is one thing. But running a field of seven, $12,500 maidens on a Wednesday afternoon when most people work, don't care and find it easier to buy a lottery ticket, is another thing all together.

Like Monmouth other states should bite the bullet and try something new like limiting dates, working interstate, if need be, to develop a circuit of racing or supply purses that bring quality horses and people' gambling dollars out. For horse racing will exist in some form or another 30 years from now. It's up to racetrack owners, state governments and the horsemen to figure out a better model to deliver a quality product to its handicappers and gamblers.

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