Sunday, June 30, 2013
Gladiators, Alligators and Volunteers
LOS ANGELES, June 27, 2013—Upon reading http://www.horseraceinsider.com/On-The-Line/comments/06242013-its-opening-er-closing-day-at-gulfstream-park/#comments" target="_new">John Pricci’s piece about the squaring off in Florida between North American thoroughbred racing’s two corporate titans, I immediately thought of this.
The author acknowledged having his own perspective:
"… this much seems clear about Gulfstream’s expansion: Thoroughbred racing in South Florida could not be in better racing hands, nor can it be better positioned for the future.
No matter which parties are involved, conventional wisdom says that racing in the long term will always be better off in private hands than it would be with a publicly traded corporation."
Eventually the dust will settle and a single, bloodied combatant will be left standing, but how can we really say one is preferable to the other?
In one corner, we have Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI), led by the very well compensated five-million-dollar-man, Robert Evans, CDI’s heavy-handed, competition-crushing decisions suggest representation by King Kong.
In the other corner, we have the Stronach Group (SG), headed by gazillionaire Frank Stronach, who may envision himself racing’s savior much as Godzilla, portrayed by its Japanese creators as the savior of the earth against forces from outer space.
On SG’s side of the ledger we have:
1) Purchasing racetracks for apparent and alleged personal benefit using corporate funds at expense of Magna shareholders.
2) Rebuilding Gulfstream Park with little regard to its existing on-track customer base.
3) Acquiring racetrack properties for cents on the dollar through bankruptcy causing losses to Magna/MEC shareholders.
4) Elimination of the charitable fund-raising Oak Tree operation at Santa Anita through bankruptcy.
5) Creating on-shore rebate-shop ADW giving high-volume players overwhelming advantage over non-rebated players at their indirect expense.
6) Hiring former CHRB Chairman following beneficial rulings under his watch allocating Oak Trees dates to Santa Anita and granting a waiver from the mandated use of synthetic surfaces
7) Hiring former Breeders’ Cup Chairman preceding multiple assignments of Santa Anita as host venue for the BC.
On CDI’s ledger is:
1) Selling Hollywood Park to a land developer
2) Forcing the Illinois Derby off the Derby Trail
3) Strong-arming horsemen at Calder to prevent them from running elsewhere
4) Eliminating competing ADW operations
5) Freezing ADW bettors out when negotiating signal fees with tracks
6) Refusal to accept dime superfecta bets on Derby day (as opposed to restricting them to bet-taking processes that would not jam up betting lines on-track). This denies small-volume/casual players their best opportunities to score on racing’s biggest day.
Take your choice, but be prepared to watch out for the alligators – in Florida and elsewhere! And even if one prefers to liken them to gladiators the corporate culture is likely to emerge. Check out this parody "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."
"I, Miles Gloriosus,
I, slaughterer of thousands,
I, oppressor of the meek,
Subduer of the weak,
Degrader of the Greek,
Destroyer of the Turk,
Must hurry back to work"
Maybe the Santa Anita of Charles Strub, the Hollywood Park of Marge Everett or even today’s Oaklawn Park of Charles Celia exemplify the kind of "private hands" embraced by Mr. Pricci, but in my opinion, neither conglomerate is sufficiently concerned with customer satisfaction or the welfare of the horsemen under their control. Without competition, the situation is likely to become worse.
Horseplayers and horsemen content to watch these proceedings from the sidelines will suffer the consequences. Surely there must be common ground to get an organization off the ground to protect the interests of non-professional horseplayers and horsemen with smaller stables.
I was reminded of gladiators when, once again, the Pull The Pocket (PTP) blogger provided a humorous take on the goings-on in California here; including his tenuous relationship with fellow horseplayer advocate, Andy Asaro, in the course of the blogger’s own advocacy work.
With great respect for both individuals, I can only say that reform is not possible without standing up together and forcing the issue. Our collective voice must clearly reach and reflect the concerns of the most common denominator among us--not the least, not the elite.
Asaro’s real voice is starting to become familiar due to his frequent appearances as a guest on the Roger Stein radio show which at times seems to approach co-host status
But if not Asaro, then who?
How many others are willing and able to stand up to racing’s powers-that-be and do it face-to-face and at their own expense if necessary?
Racing’s powerful and privileged give up nothing unless forced to do so. Without organized opposition, they will continue to exert their authority with the same arrogance that invariably drives more people away from the game than it attracts.
The takeaway here is that new blood is needed. It would be helpful if they had Asaro’s drive, commitment, and savvy.
Candidates would need the skills to organize the strength of traditional racing organizations in order to move the industry forward. Once you get the alligators’ attention, you have to go in and wrestle him.