Tuesday, December 03, 2013
SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY, December 3, 2013—For me, last weekend’s holiday horse racing feast had only one negative: Discovering that “America’s Turf Authority” doesn’t take its brand slogan very seriously anymore.
If it did, Daily Racing Form wouldn’t compel its customers and racing fans to pay a premium to read, of all things, routine stakes advances meant to showcase the game’s brightest stars while keeping fans informed and engaged.
In an age where mainstream racing coverage has all but disappeared in markets not named Southern California, Kentucky, or Saratoga, thoroughbred racing’s paper of record is no longer in the business of bringing you all the news needed to follow the sport comprehensively.
It’s what happens when the corporate mission is to monetize everything.
From the beginning, Thoroughbred racing, with boxing and theater to a lesser degree, kept the publication alive over a span of three centuries. The converse is also true.
Racing’s fans could always depend on “the Form” to let them know what was happening to their favorite horses and about the horsemen who labor on the backstretch of America’s racetracks.
I’ve made many friends at the DRF in the course of 40 years, and even worked for them a bit, conducting handicapping seminars at Siro’s in Saratoga and as a sports handicapper.
And I’m convinced that DRF’s present day editorial people must horrified by this change in focus, at once understanding that revenue pays the bills but now are left to wonder “why did I get into this business in the first place?”
Oh, yes, their passion to be involved in Thoroughbred racing on some level.
If recent events are a measure, it appears that DRF is no longer in the new news business, and into everything else. The original charter to promote the sport has become secondary; racetracks and profitability, not readership, are now the true constituency.
No disrespect intended, but if you wanted to read about what’s happening at Tampa Bay Downs or Zia Park this weekend, you could still do that by simply logging on to DRF.com.
But if fans wanted to know what the Clark or Cigar Mile players were saying in advance of possible championship defining events, they would have to pay a premium to read about it on DRF Plus.
The DRF’s focus has changed dramatically since it entered the bookmaking space. Instead of supporting the game and the racetracks as it once did, it now competes for the dollars created by an industry and infused it with purpose, it now monetizes the stories fans want to read about.
The Thoroughbred industry is incestuous. Tracks and their ADWs never really put any pressure to bear on this once-partner now-competitor. Indeed, online wagering competitor Xpressbet powers the DRF betting platform, and tracks continue selling the DRF product in their buildings.
Who knows, maybe this is payback going back to the time when tracks got into the past performance business, selling their overpriced track performance programs at a cost that was still cheaper than buying the Form.
Traditional mainstream news has moved into a space once occupied by new media. But even though cyberspace is endless, mainstream media has all but abandoned horse racing. In the interim, meanwhile, tracks have learned that no-news can be good news.
The industry now controls the message almost completely while avoiding the spotlight’s hot, hostile glare. It is no wonder racetrack press releases are being disseminated by communications outlets for free all over the Internet.
HorseRaceInsider started out on a shoestring seven years ago and created a press release section to fill the considerable gaps a one-man staff couldn’t. Commentary and insight, not hard news, became the true grist of the Internet’s mill, especially in a business founded on the opinion that one man’s horse can beat another’s.
Press releases provide fans with racing information with sanitized quotes that almost never acknowledge accompanying storylines that could be viewed as being controversial, even if an essential part of the story.
Equidaily was the first news aggregator to take the LexisNexis route to disseminate racing information. Ray Paulick took that idea, added his reporting skills and brought in a partner to create a sound business model. Horse Races NOW most recently entered this space, coming in and essentially ripping off both.
In practical terms, DRF stopped covering the game when it got into bed with the racetracks, the most glaring example when it failed to even acknowledge that a boycott of Santa Anita betting pools organized by the grassroots Horseplayers Association of North America group that was protesting a significant rise in takeout existed, much less that it was successful.
For the first time ever, horseplayers were given a voice. Sounds like a news story to me.
This past weekend featured great, bettable races that had possible Eclipse Award implications--the case in both the Grade 1 Clark and Cigar Mile.
Fans could have read all about it had they previously purchased a one-year subscription package (among other plans offered) to DRF Plus for $119.95. The stakes advances were free to DRF Bets customers. And so the cross-promotion goes.
Javier Castellano rode five winners on the Cigar Mile program, underscoring the fact that he is New York’s dominant reinsman after injuries to Joel Rosario and Johnny Velazquez seriously curtailed their Eclipse aspirations.
The story on the DRF website Monday from Aqueduct had the headline: “Castellano Could Get Eclipsed by Stevens” You couldn’t read it unless you were DRF Plus subscriber or DRF Bets customer.
I live in the “real world.” If a company wanted to charge for information related to wagering, they should have at it. If a customer can benefit financially from the fruit of the organization’s labor force, paying a premium has some justification.
But if you wanted to read about the pros and cons of Gary Stevens’ comeback in Eclipse terms, or learn about Shug McGaughey’s 2014 Kentucky Derby mindset, that cost money.
What this policy will cost the Thoroughbred industry down the road is incalculable.
There simply are too many racing organizations that want to charge customers a premium for almost anything worthwhile; from the rake on making a bet to the past performances that drive the horse betting business.
I might live in the real world but I don’t have to like it. Charging for important stakes advances, or stories like the Jockey Eclipse scenario, is a terrible disservice to the industry and its fans, showing a lack of regard for the sport of modern-era horse racing.
On the DRF Plus order page, there is a note that reads: “If you would like to donate $1.50 to the Keeneland Library to digitally preserve a full page of Daily Racing Form's historical editions, check this box.”
I wonder how much DRF policy makers would charge for a bowl of Rocky Mountain Oyster Stew.