John Pricci executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Prevarications as Belmont 150 Approaches

Thoroughbred racing will not become a viable world-brand sport until American horsemen realize and accept that their dependence on raceday medication is slowly yet effectively hastening the sport’s declining popularity.

The need to accept the fact that short-cuts to horsemanship in the name of economic expediency is perilous long term. The rest of the show will go on while American racing becomes less relevant on the world stage.

If racing had a choice of being categorized as a red industry or blue one, the current brand would be colored red. Racing’s 1% would insist on a status quo knee-jerk. The patrician manner in which business is conducted speaks to this.

Understandably, horsemen who work for today’s mega-breeders, owners and partnerships are loathe to put their considerable livelihoods at risk by attempting to play the long game.

And that makes it incumbent on racing’s driving stakeholders, the breeding industry, to insist that the industry really does something that truly benefits the horse, both near and long term.

The Water Hay and Oats grassroots organization, WHOA, continues to grow with new members each week and has made some political progress, but now America needs a big push to propel horse racing’s best interests across the finish line.

Only a united effort by America’s powerful market breeders can do that and without delay. I live in the real world and I don’t see the downside in this. Is more evidence needed to know that Thoroughbred racing has gone global?

The sport has provided all stakeholders with a great lifestyle and an excellent living for some, the rigors of a 365/24/7 schedule notwithstanding. But the world’s elite racing powers, to the East, Middle East and Far East are doing it without raceday medication. Why can’t America?

The industry knows who among them plays the long game; they are among the world’s elite. Most are allies or even friendly competitors who may secretly harbor wishes that we fail. In racing, you either root for or against.

But the way we currently play the game doesn’t make America first, it makes it America alone. Are we to embrace administrative propaganda or acknowledge reality? The American racing industry has a choice.

By joining the world community, wouldn’t it insure that American racing will hold its place at or near the top of a business framework meant to be inclusive, not exclusive?

Right now, major breeders--Winstar Farm comes to mind--are exploring new horizons by making inquiries about introducing new blood into the American gene pool. How can this be a bad thing in the long term?

This issue is much bigger than tribal custom and politics; it’s about the survival of a once-celebrated way of life, a horseracing lifestyle that has become anachronistic in today’s 280-character world.

If the American Thoroughbred industry is to thrive domestically, it needs to play the game globally. And only by adhering to international road signs can this be possible.

The old American model worked; worked beautifully and is still working today. But things change and they change slowly or, to paraphrase, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Nature is mightier than the computer and it will outlast infrastructure every time. Ignore this fact at your peril.

Like it or not, the world economic order is slowly shifting to the Far East, challenging Western culture as the future center of economic leadership--especially as know-nothing, regressive protectionists call the shots.

Horse racing, and gambling on horse racing, is still an important part of the culture. If the trend is to continue forward, American technology must help advance horse racing’s brand to a younger, wider audience. And the industry must play by international rules.

Horse racing must be branded beyond gambling; a world class sporting and entertainment spectacle.

After decades on the sidelines of self-absorption, today’s youth culture is embracing critical thinking, and that provides great opportunity. Here in America, integrity is the new profligacy. Today’s youth has shown it no will longer suffer lies and hidden agenda.

Millennials are demanding real transparency, not just in-name-only. They are insisting on fact-based truth. Their creed is that actions speak loudest.

At the recently concluded Asian Racing Conference, Chairman Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges put it this way: “We have too many people who try to bend the rules. [Racing] needs a strong commitment to medication-free racing from everybody in the sport…

“It’s an absolute must. There is no room for ambiguity, especially when it comes to prohibited substances – we need absolute hygiene for our brand… If you look at reputation, your whole global brand can collapse very quickly.”

“We have to broaden our fan-base and to do that we clearly have to shift from gaming as the main brand to leisure and entertainment... We have to create a much more emotional connection in order to reach out:

“Jockeys are world class athletes but even old race-goers don't know that their heart-rate goes up to 170 during a race because they see them more as instrumental to gaming; the races, the live events, are a unique platform, and if we look at the world's star horses, how many are known outside of racing?”

At this moment in time, Justify is giving the industry its latest 15 minutes in the world’s collective sports consciousness. Given a new world view, there is a chance to make the moment last.

Thoroughbred Racing’s future has two choices in the aftermath of the Belmont Stakes: The hard work and sacrifice that goes with meaningful reform, or lip-service business as usual. If targeting the future, it’s an easy choice to make.

Written by John Pricci

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