Thursday, March 08, 2012
Inside the Headlines
HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., March 8, 2012—It’s been an especially busy news cycle of late, dominated, of course, by anything slugged Derby or prep or Dubai. Often, however, news is made outside the fences, in state houses, stewards stands and the like. To wit:
CALIFORNIA SPORTS BETTING BILL INTRODUCED: Due to the nature of handicapping, there is a synergy between picking winners on a diamond or gridiron with those athletic events that take place over a mixture of sand and loam.
Since the Californiasports betting bill will require legal sports wagers be placed at existing gambling facilities throughout the state, the hope is more people will come out to the racetrack to make a bet on the Dodgers.
But be careful what you wish for. In New Jersey, where legislation permitting online wagering with some of the proceeds earmarked for racing, was also approved, the measure subsequently was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie because he had “concerns” about the racing provisions.
So a new bill, deleting the racetrack language, was submitted and this one is expected to gain the governor's approval. Recent lobbying by horsemen apparently has been too little and too late.
Even if the bill ultimately becomes law, can any legislator--or casino owner--be trusted to fully endorse a compact with Thoroughbred racing? Unfortunately, everyone knows that answer already.
Never mind that racing was the cornerstone upon which gaming was built in various states across the country. The entry of ethics and loyalty will usually finish a bad second to the bottom line.
NYRA HITS THE JACKPOT: Actually, it’s the horsemen who have. The infusion of VLT revenues only serves to get the New York Racing Association off the fiscal hook while taking away an incentive to grow the game internally by using its own product: parimutuel wagering on Thoroughbred racing.
However, what’s good for NYRA is not necessarily what’s good for the industry as a whole. Slots revenue has taken an already uneven playing field to a new level, tilting it severely in favor of the haves: Racinos; not the racetracks.
It’s not NYRA’s fault that racing is in California, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland is under pressure, some more seriously than others.
If horsemen—whether or not they are threatened by future loss of stalls in their home state--decide to flock to New York so that their maidens can have a chance to run for an $85,000 pot, what is the trickle down from that?
New York’s huge purses provide a great incentive for horsemen stabled elsewhere to support New York racing while helping themselves at the same time, but with potentially terrible implications for the industry in those abandoned states.
The existence of smaller venues in states across America is marketing that the sport cannot afford to lose; it’s invisible in too many states already. Racing needs to fight for every inch of recognition it can get.
In every sport, the belief is that when New York teams are competitive with the best in the game, that sport benefits. New York is the tide that lifts all boats. But that was back in the day—pre racinos. NYRA’s cup presently runneth over. The question is whether the rest of the industry will drown in its wake?
MILLION DOLLAR CHARLES TOWN CLASSIC: Perhaps Hollywood Casino Charles Town Races, conducted by Penn National Gaming, could have found a better way to spend some of its 2012 budget. Next month the Charles Town Classic will celebrate its fourth running. The track is even bringing in Triple Crown race caller Larry Collmus to give the event a little more star power, a little more heft.
The race usually attracts a full field going nine furlongs, which makes it a three-turn affair. It attracted such a strong field last year that it was upgraded from Grade 3 to G2 for this year's renewal.
However, if you want to be big time player, you have to act like one. Toward that end, Charles Town management should have declared the recent notorious one-horse finish “No Contest,” paid off the winner, and given refunds to ticket holders in all other pools. If West Virginia’s rules of racing don’t cover such a contingency, then rewrite the rule book, now.
Clearly, slot revenue has provided a surplus for purse money and that’s fine, but the good will and positive publicity this action could have provided would have been priceless. Charles Town: They did the right thing by their fans and players!
How much money is bet on a sealed sloppy track on a rainy Wednesday night at 10:33 p.m. in Charles Town, West Virginia, anyway? But then racinos, owned or managed by large corporations, are all about the bottom line, so this might qualify as an unrealistic expectation.
Once again, the industry was lucky to dodge a bullet, but only because the incident that would have had PETA members protesting horse racing outside Charles Town’s gates wasn't a national event. What if the accident had happened during the West Virginia Classic instead?
Horseplayers understand that betting on the races is a zero sum game. Practitioners understand that a potential winner is never a sure thing under any circumstances. And accidents happen, that’s why they’re called accidents.
No one wants or plans them; but there should be plans for them to better serve and protect the public. And perhaps the stewards at Charles Town Races might have erred on the side of caution and when a horse named Disclosure broke down in the seventh race, they might have taken a closer look at the surface instead of having the next race go off in the normal timeline of approximately 30 minutes.
“This was not an issue of the track condition causing an accident,” said Chief Steward Danny Wright. “This was a horse breaking down during the race that unfortunately took the field with them.”
So then we know for sure that it was a coincidence that Sharp Beauty broke down in roughly the same spot as Disclosure 33 minutes earlier, correct? Race charts indicate that a horse went lame and was vanned off an hour before the first breakdown.
The ninthand final race was cancelled, perhaps more owing to the fact that five jockeys were sent to the hospital after six horses fell over a stricken Sharp Beauty. Thankfully, none of the riders suffered serious injuries.
But to say definitively that the track was “not an issue,” is disingenuous and shows a disregard for the audience. Here’s a question for Mr. Wright, or anyone else to ponder: Why is it that about 90 percent of scheduled morning workouts are cancelled when the racetrack comes up a sea of slop?