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.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Journalististic Values Help the Sport
LOS ANGELES, June 22, 2013-- Kudos to the executive editor for opening a window
for us West Coast wing-nuts. I have a feeling there will be a price to pay, even from 3,500 miles away.
The piece noted that the media and cyber-skirmishes between California trainer, Bob Baffert, and two of his more prominent and persistent Internet critics, Ray Paulick and horseplayer advocate Andy Asaro, had recently taken on a personal note when Baffert began making references to the private lives of his opposition.
The irony here is that Paulick and Asaro have previously publicly employed, if not exchanged, similar unpleasantness themselves, so none can claim to have taken the high road here.
It will be interesting to see whether those two adversaries, being on the same side of an issue for a change, can actually effect the change they advocate.
Baffert’s shot at Paulick took place on TVG which has yet to give the latter equal time. This is no impediment to Paulick who -- through his popular website -- has become the Oprah Winfrey of Internet racing discussion forums. His posted response
to Baffert was greeted with rousing audience support.
I respect Mr. Paulick as one of the most talented writers and communicators on racing-related matters. The continued success of his website mirrors his ability to present issues that fuel reader participation like the one mentioned.
However, I’m a little skeptical re his simplistic addiction-as-disease stance which elicited overwhelming sympathy from the audience. Some diseases can cause suffering beyond the immediate victims; to family, caregivers, society and even victims of unexpected and unintended consequences as a result of those actions.
Alzheimer’s is one such disease but one that is not self-inflicted as addiction caused by substance abuse can be. I’m not suggesting that’s the case here but I feel compelled to raise the awareness of those who have never experienced such tragedy in the life of a loved one.
The comment thread was reminiscent of a referee, i.e. the majority of posters calling a foul on a player who reacts to the foul that the ref didn’t see. In this case, the original foul was Paulick’s news piece on Quarter Horse racing that led with a seemingly gratuitous shot at Baffert, deserved or not.
Toward the end of that 200-plus comment thread, Paulick finally pointed his finger at the real villains in the piece: "… The Thoroughbred Owners of California and California trainers that have fought efforts calling for more transparency--even when it comes to mandatory release of veterinary records for horses that die in racing or training.
It pains me to say this but California racing is sinking under the current leadership of the CHRB and TOC."
While it has indeed been a series of tragic events accompanied by regulatory malfeasance that are dimming Baffert’s bright light, triggering suspicion and constant criticism in cyberspace, some of it is warranted. The comments made by this Hall of Fame icon speak to an arrogance that, in Sheets parlance, is a “new lifetime top.”
Some SoCal horsemen maintain that the 80-20 rule is alive and well in this state; that 20% of the horsemen are receiving 80% of the purse money. (I doubt we'll ever learn what portion of that 20% Baffert earns as the trainer of highly successful owners, and as an owner himself, but I suspect it is substantial).
The fact that Baffert sits on the TOC board, an organization that effectively controls the rate of takeout charged racing’s customers to fund those purses, strongly suggests a conflict of interest.
That he, or any trainer, could have seven horses in the same shed die suddenly within an 18-month period and be allowed to continue to train before the cause of those deaths are revealed, speaks to the regulatory agency involved.
At best, the California Horse Racing Board is overly influenced by this iconic figure and his powerful owner, the influential TOC board member Mike Pegram. At worst, it suggests that the CHRB is incompetent, corrupt, or both.
These two men have been subjected to continuous cyber-scrutiny by people such as Asaro, a horseplayer willing to speak out against the inequities imposed by the arrogantly influential and powerful, even in the face of intimidation that includes threats of legal action and an investigation into his private life.
That might explain why, up until now, only a few others have been willing to step forward and openly challenge these agents of privilege and power.
Perhaps, beginning with the efforts of Paulick and Pricci, more journalists, if there any left among industry media, will be willing to step up and call for broader-based, transparent leadership in California and elsewhere. Rubber stamps do the sport no good.
Written by Indulto
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
California’s Dire Situation Needs Gov. Brown’s Intervention
LOS ANGELES, May 28, 2013—Last Thursday, California Horse Racing Board meeting at CAL EXPO in Sacramento exposed its chairman, David Israel as an expletive-ejecting enabler of wealthy Southern California racing interests.
And If there was any consideration of Golden Gate’s replacing Hollywood Park in a statewide circuit rotation, I missed it. What I didn’t miss, however, were several earfuls of foul language and browbeating.
Even though the buffoon-turned-bully’s term on the California Horse Racing Board is up in January, seven more months of ineffective regulation while the state’s horsemen try to recover from the loss of a major venue can’t be a good thing.
The net result of the meeting was that Santa Anita and Del Mar will get most of Hollywood’s dates, with the remainder to be pursued by Los Alamitos and possibly Fairplex. The contentious stabling location and funding issue was not resolved.
One individual stood out in these discussions: Alan Balch, the Executive Director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. It’s unfortunate that the clarity and dignity he contributed to the proceedings aren’t a regular component of these meetings.
Does it make any sense for Santa Anita to race in the heat and smog of June and July and without a turf course in optimal condition? Who will make certain horses and riders aren’t at greater risk competing in such a climate? Is night racing reasonable given rush-hour commuter traffic on all freeways surrounding it? Who will be available to play after-hours racing live or on-line on either coast?
Now that destiny has dispensed with the notion of a Triple Crown winner that many fantasize will reinvigorate racing, we are back to the status quo where enthusiastic national attention is limited to five days per year and local attention is lavished only on boutique meets. But can Del Mar expand its highly successful window and remain the attraction it is now?
Why would the Breeders’ Cup risk dealing with the vagaries of San Diego tides, untested surfaces and unproven security when Santa Anita offers certainty and capacity? This point is moot, of course, if the TOC sticks to its own-foot-shooting decision by refusing to authorize simulcast signals even if only juvenile races are subjected to the Lasix ban.
Parenthetically, the Breeders’ Cup could easily circumvent that challenge by splitting days among venues and running the Juvenile races (along with two others, e.g., the Marathon and Turf Sprint) elsewhere; perhaps in Florida.
The Blood Horse
reported that two-day Cup handle and attendance were off from the previous three runnings, which begs the question of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. diluting its own product.
It is not unreasonable to dream that handle for the strongest possible single day card at Santa Anita could eclipse the two-day figures, allowing for a subsequent second day to re-introduce Hialeah’s beauty to a new television audience, is it? But, I digress.
Current events have made it fair to revisit recent history. The politically-connected Keith Brackpool and leaders of the Thoroughbred Owners of California engineered the takeout raising coup that was legislated in 2010 effective in 2011.
Those who rebelled against the table-tilting subsidy to the wealthiest horsemen at casual player expense learned that this was only one in a long line of leadership lapses, resulting in the loss of horses, horsemen, and participating bettors.
When I’m asked to state my occupation these days, it is all I can do to suppress the urge to say, “disgruntled horseplayer.” Consequently I’ve come to enjoy reading the commentary of fellow HRI blogger, Harry Hacek, who taunts us with tantalizing tidbits for thought as he targets those he deems responsible for California racing’s present morass.
I applaud Mr. Hacek’s efforts to rabble-rouse (myself included) in his Only Insurrection Can Save California Racing
where he concludes, "If the past has taught us anything, the odds are against positive change. Revolution of the rank and file is in order. If not now, when?"
Resurrection through insurrection? Not in California. The opposition will never give in, even to save itself. When faced with the inevitable they will take their ball and go home. Racing in this state will continue to contract as long as powerful horsemen are able to self-medicate, self-regulate and, if Mr. Hacek comments regarding race conditions-writing are accurate, self-officiate.
Higher purses for smaller fields won by fewer owners and trainers while attracting fewer dollars cannot be self-sustaining. In that scenario, it’s hard to imagine weekday racing after the Santa Anita Derby. If summer dates at Santa Anita don’t materialize, Mr. Stronach might acquire those dates for Golden Gate rather than vacate them.
None of the above can change without pressure from the top, but it’s the pressure from the bottom that still will be necessary to ensure that changes imposed by the top are in the best interests of all
Few would advocate the ham-fisted approach Governor Cuomo has used in New York but many would like to see Governor Brown become more involved, at least to the point of restructuring the CHRB into a body that truly protects the public interest. That would be a critical first step.
Written by Indulto