Paul Moran

For 30 years, more than 22 at Newsday, in New York, Paul Moran has covered thoroughbred racing on its highest level. During that time, he has covered 30 Triple Crown series, every running of the Breeders' Cup Championships, 23 race meetings at Saratoga, won two Eclipse Awards, a Red Smith Award for coverage of the Kentucky Derby and other writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Editors, Long Island Press Club, Society of Silurians (the oldest press club in New York), Long Island Veterinary Medical Association, Florida Magazine Publishers Association.

In 2002, he was named New York's best thoroughbred handicapper by the New York Press in its annual "Best of Manhattan" edition. His work has appeared in virtually every racing publication published in the United States and most major American newspapers. He is a licensed owner of thoroughbreds in New York Contact:

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Slot machines everywhere; now what?

Once the details are cleared in Maryland, New York and parts of Florida, blinking lights, bells and annoying sound effects turned on, the vulgar things known as “racinos” will have reached critical mass on the Eastern Seaboard and order will be restored to the hierarchy of racetracks.

Purses will be larger than in the pre-racino era but in the same relative order and any advantage will have been lost. Delaware, long the pacemaker in the race for slots, will resume its position at the rear of the scrum. Once every track that matters has slots or VLTs or whatever they may be called the circle is closed. At that point, it matters not that a racetrack has some form of slot machines, but what it does with the new traffic to expose the local racing product.

The trend so far has been virtual segregation of the races from the casinos, but this makes no sense. Slot players and horseplayers have little in common and the managements of racetracks have begun the casino operations with the view that never the twain shall meet. There is no view of live racing from racinos, no race call, and no exposure to simulcasting. Segregation of gamblers appears to be the business model.

It would take little effort to cross market, minimal additional expense to design casino and restaurant facilities with exposure to racing and only a modicum of planning to, perhaps, design traffic patterns that required passage through or at least past simulcast areas in order to reach the casino.

The making of a horseplayer requires exposure to the sport. Throughout history, this has been accomplished one person at a time. Another draw – regardless of how vulgar – has serendipitous potential. If one in a thousand crosses the invisible barrier and becomes interested in racing, the effort to market the sport simply through casual exposure will bear fruit. The sport is its own best marketing agent.

First, though, someone with enough vision to see the light must have to courage to take a new and uncharted course. What is there to lose? -- PM

Written by Paul Moran

Check out Paul Moran on Blogspot At the Races
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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Two sinking ships tethered

With the recent approval of a referendum on the question of video lottery terminals at Maryland racetracks and the designation of Delaware North as the operator of the casino that will eventually materialize at Aqueduct, a an unbroken chain of “racinos” will soon extend over the length of the Eastern Seaboard.

There is likely to be less prosperity resulting from these money mills than was originally expected. Redistribution of waning wealth squeezed from a shrinking market will be of some assistance in supplementing purses but the reality is that what has happened is an expansion of product in a stagnant marketplace at a time when wagering in all forms is contracting within an economy that will almost certainly be in a deep and sobering recession for years to come.

The projections on which economic forecasts were made in advance of the Aqueduct project, having been calculated during the long-ago burst technology bubble and sustained through the exploded real-estate bubble are no longer valid. Nor, probably, are those sold to voters in Maryland. Alternative gaming at racetracks in no longer an enhancement to the core business but a survival mechanism. With wagering on horse races down nationwide and the gaming industry in freefall, it is a tenuous partnership upon which the racing industry has attached its hope for future prosperity.

At the moment, Magna Entertainment, operator of the Maryland tracks, Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita and as assortment of lesser tracks, all on life support, is insolvent and almost certain to remain so. Its stock closed on Tuesday at $1.80. Churchill Downs stock, $31.96 when the market closed on Tuesday, is besieged by conflicts with horsemen over advance deposit wagering revenue and has been forced to slash purses throughout its network of racetracks. Thinly traded Churchill is well below its 52-week high, $57.55, but not nearly as battered as the largest gaming companies.

Las Vegas Sands, $5.34 at the Tuesday close, is perhaps the most jaw-dropping example of the current morass in the casino gaming business, having traded within the last year at $122.96.

MGM-Mirage, closed at $11.36, well below its $93.19 52-week high.

Wynn Resorts, once a $139.75 stock, closed on Tuesday at $50.10.

The only gaming stock with anything to offer at the moment, Boyd Gaming, closed Tuesday at $4.48, significantly lower than it 52-week high, $39.84, but yields an 8.6% dividend.

The marriage of the ill to the crippled seems a rather flimsy business plan, but, in reality, it is exactly what the partnership of racing and mechanized gaming has become. --PM

Written by Paul Moran

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

BC snubbed by American print media

From the very beginning, the Breeders’ Cup has been my favorite event of the year and not entirely because there has never been a bad Breeders’ Cup.

The traveling done by the racing press in the United States has all but disappeared. It was observed, though there was no official count, that the foreign racing press covering this Breeders’ Cup may have outnumbered the Americans. This is lamentable.

Newspaper circulation is in steep decline in this country at least in part because newspaper executives have lost touch with the readership, preferring to dictate content to providing what is desired by audience.

Major American daily newspapers were represented sparsely at Breeders’ Cup XXV.

Joe Drape traveled from Smith Center, Kansas, pop. 1,900, where he working on a book about a high school football dynasty, to cover the Breeders’ Cup for the New York Times, which also retained the services of a Los Angeles correspondent. Of the other Eastern dailies only the New York Post, with Ed Fountaine and Ray Kerrison, and Daily News, with Vic Ziegel and Jerry Bossert on site, sent more than one writer to Santa Anita. The Post still understands the thing about newspapers providing material that people want to read. The Daily News, while it no longer employs a full-time racing writer, attempts to keep pace at important events. USA Today continues to cover major races. But most newspapers nowadays are essentially about coupons.

The Los Angeles Times rediscovered racing just in time for the Breeders’ Cup and covered the race with three people. How long this will continue is a matter of speculation. For the first time in memory, no Kentucky paper assigned a columnist to the Breeders’ Cup. My former employer – which until last year routinely assigned two people to the Cup and covered those run in New York with as many as 10 -- sent no one, dismissing the event for the first time in its history. Andrew Beyer, who is technically retired from the Washington Post, represented the sponsor of his pension.

Neither major Chicago daily was represented nor were the Baltimore Sun or the major dailies in New Jersey, Florida and Texas (though Gary West, of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, was in attendance on his own dime after having watched the last Breeders’ Cup and recent Triple Crown races from deep in the heart. “I’m here,” he said one morning at Clockers’ Corner, “because I want to be here.”). Papers in smaller racing markets – Cleveland, Detroit, and northern California – that once employed racing writers and handicappers routinely in attendance in the early years of the Breeders’ Cup, have abandon the sport. The Boston Globe was absent. Ed Gray, formerly of the Boston Herald, covered the races for his former paper while working on assingment for the Breeders' Cup. Sports Illustrated declined to cover the races at Santa Anita.

The Breeders’ Cup, in a completely unintentional but serendipitous result of separation of the classes, brings diverse groups with much in common together. The “press hotel” is common in other sports but in racing only happens at the Breeders’ Cup. There are other hotels at every Breeders’ Cup venue at which VIPs of various stripe are segregated by status – sponsors, owners, trainers. The point is, the Breeders’ Cup is the only racing event at which the people who make a living writing about the game sleep for a week in the same building and each evening for a week convenes in the same bar. Last week, the thinning of the annual gathering provided a stark illustration of what has become of the racing media in this country.

This time, the long, steady decline in numbers seemed stark. The American racing press is almost extinct, outnumbered last week in California – and this is an estimation since there is no official head count -- by journalists from the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Asia as well as the domestic trade media.

Aside from a couple of pieces written for and others for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, my primary focus last week at Santa Anita was working as a member of the Breeders’ Cup notes team. This group included several veteran racing journalists now semi-retired freelancers as well racetrack publicists. The team gathers, assembles and disseminates information on the participants during the week leading up to the weekend and, on race days, shifts its focus to the race-by-race compilation of reaction of the involved humans. There were 14 members, which rivaled, in number, excluding the trade media – staffers representing the Daily Racing Form, The Blood-Horse and Thoroughbred Times and a smattering of others in service to various racing web sites – the total of domestic print media in attendance.

The decline of the racing press has followed in lockstep with the dissipation of the audience, the migration to off-site venues. This, coupled with satellite and cable television dissemination or races, takes the racing audience out of the grandstand and into alternative locales that include homes and offices. Sports editors in racing markets, who considered racing and wagering bedrock to the news package, were replaced by people who grew up in the age of OTB with no grasp of the sport or the machinations brought on by marriage of technology and negligent racing executives, who for decades have watched the live fan base decline without doing much to lure it back.

So, cutbacks, buyouts and attrition have emptied many seats in the press boxes of American racetracks. (The new Gulfstream has no press box.) The decline cannot steepen. We have reached and foot of the cliff.

Readership surveys -- by which newspaper executives live and die – will always leave racing on the fringe because most who bought papers for racing coverage – charts, entries, selections and news – long ago stopped relying on newspapers. After a lifetime spent working on newspapers – 27 of those, in Florida and New York, devoted exclusively to racing, my own daily purchase is limited to the Wall Street Journal, New York Post and Daily Racing Form. The rest -- what’s worth reading -- is online. -- PM

Written by Paul Moran

Check out Paul Moran on Blogspot At the Races
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