Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Careful What You Wish For
Marriages of convenience aren’t exactly the happiest, nor do they always last forever. Any decent divorce lawyer can tell you that when the relationship stops being so accommodating for one of the parties, the lace on the valentine yellows and frays pretty quickly.
And so it seems that the love affair between certain jurisdictions with expanded gambling and the racing industry has hit a rocky patch. Just like in a marriage, when things go south, the fight over money intensifies.
Many states which were facing great big budget shortfalls decided to, for lack of a better term, marry for money. They climbed into bed with the racetracks, which were having a not-so-little revenue problem of their own.
The states enabled the tracks to get a much needed makeover into racinos, and then the casino side of the operation funneled all that fresh money- and lots of it- into the state coffers.
Everyone was happy and the bottom line on both sides got healthier. Purses got bigger and the quality of racing got better. Now it seems that some jurisdictions think the racing industry is getting too much of the good thing.
Now they want to change the relationship.
As of late, there have been plenty of stories in the news about certain states, with Pennsylvania and Indiana among them, wishing to pull back on the amount of the take from slot machines and other forms of gaming at the racinos that is returned to the horse racing industry.
In the Province of Ontario, Canada, the word is that the government wants to end payments generated by the slots-at-racetracks program as early as one year from now. That revenue sharing program, which returns 20% of the profits to be shared by the tracks and the Thoroughbred, standardbred and Quarter Horse horsemen while the government retains 80%, has been in place since 1998.
Since then, the Canadian horse racing industry has seen an increase of an average of $345 million per year and much of that money has fueled purses and other operating expenses. Without that money, it is feared that most of the province’s 17 tracks would no longer be able to support live racing and it is reported that about 60,000 people employed by the tracks, owners, breeders and ancillary industries would be thrown out of work.
Now the Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation reportedly wants the government and its agencies to keep all of the money. In Pennsylvania, which passed a bill authorizing slots at tracks in 2004 that resulted in the construction of fan-friendly new Thoroughbred and harness racing tracks where purses have shot through the roof, there are similar problems.
Today, Wednesday, March 14, more than 10,000 Thoroughbred and standardbred owners, breeders, farm owners and others who make their living in the industry are scheduled to attend a news conference at the state capitol rotunda to make their voices heard. They stand in opposition to a proposal to redirect $72 million annually from the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund to other state programs. That money is reportedly in addition to $49 million annually already being diverted.
At issue here and elsewhere is the very heart and future of the industry.
When the states and the racinos entered into the blessed state of holy business venture, it was a win-win. Owners and breeders invested in the industry, purses went up, green space was preserved for farms, breeding programs flourished, outfits hired workers, tracks were able to revitalize, and racing was back on the right track.
Moreover, tens of thousands of jobs were preserved and tens of thousands more were created. And the states which had the racinos, complete with those slot machines and/or table games that generated all of that new cash, enjoyed a significant competitive edge over the states that didn’t.
If a horseman could get a hell of a lot more money for winning a race in a state with slots revenue, why would he or she ever want to base an operation in a state that didn’t offer much bigger purses plus breeders’ awards?
The bottom line is that it’s the casino side of the racino operation which continues to fuel state coffers with hundreds of millions of dollars annually. For these jurisdictions, now that they’ve gotten what they wanted, they’re trying to kick the racing industry out of bed.
That’s not fair. And it’s not right.
Written by Lynne Snierson
Monday, March 05, 2012
Roger Attfield: It’s About TIme
By Lynne Snierson
Roger Attfield is a finalist for election to the 2012 class of the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame. Hell, yeah, it’s about damn time.
He has only been a member of the Canadian Thoroughbred Hall of Fame since being elected in 1999, which was his first year of eligibility.
Maybe the man whom many consider to be Canada’s greatest contemporary trainer had to finally win a Breeders’ Cup race to make the ballot on the American side of the border.
After coming in second twice with Play the King (1988 Sprint) and With Approval (1990 Turf), he captured his first Breeders’ Cup race in 15 tries last fall when Perfect Shirl won the Filly & Mare Turf at odds of 27-1. What other reason could there be for his absence?
If you don’t know that Attfield, 72, is one hell of a horseman, then you don’t know anything about racing. I’m not going to recount the lengthy list of his extraordinary accomplishments here. I do that in detail every year when assigned to write his extensive biography for the Breeders’ Cup and the NTRA.
So let’s cut right to the heart of the matter. If an American trainer, provided he or she satisfied the requirement of being active for at least 25 years, had taken home the Eclipse Award a record eight times, won the Kentucky Derby a record-tying eight times, trained almost half of the Triple Crown winners, and had the Horse of the Year in his barn six times, do you suspect he might be a Hall of Famer?
You can bet your sweet Timothy hay he would. The dapper and charming Englishman has accomplished the equivalent of all of that, albeit with a Northern flair.
He has a record eight Sovereign Awards as Canada’s top trainer in his trophy case, he trained three of Canada’s seven Triple Crown winners (Izvestia, With Approval and Peteski), won the Queen’s Plate, which is
Canada’s most prestigious race and as important as that annual affair for three-year-olds run in Kentucky every year on the first Saturday in May, a record-tying eight times.
And this: Roger Attfield has developed six horses that became Canada’s Horse of the Year: Norcliffe (1976), Play the King (1988), With Approval (1989), Izvestia (1990), Peteski (1993), and Alywow (1994).
Attfield, a gentleman in every sense of the word, has made 1,727 trips to the winner’s circle and won 369 stakes while his horses earned over $88 million in purses. He’s as good with young horses as he is with the older ones and with females as well as males, and he can get the best out of the lot whether he spots them on turf, dirt or Polytrack.
If all of the above isn’t worthy of Hall of Fame induction, please be sure to enlighten me as to what is.
Attfield, who shifts his operation from Woodbine to South Florida in the winters, didn’t even know he had made the Final 10 as a newcomer along with the horses Ashado, Ghostzapper, Housebuster and Xtra Heat.
Repeat nominees Calvin Borel, Garrett Gomez, Alex Solis, John Velazquez and Robert Wheeler are the other five on the ballot.
“Really? How nice is that?” he said to Toronto Globe and Mail racing writer Bev Smith when she called him for reaction to the news. “I hadn’t really thought about it at all. It’s nice to have been nominated but there are people who deserve it a lot more than me. It’s a big honor, that’s for sure.”
As much as I don’t want to argue with the man, he’s wrong. Flat out wrong. Nobody deserves to be among the 2012 inductees into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame more than Roger Attfield.
Fortunately, I have a say in the outcome because I have the privilege of voting. I generally like to keep my selections a secret, but you can probably guess whose name is going to be one of those checked on my ballot this time around.
This is an honor that’s long overdue.
Written by Lynne Snierson
Monday, February 20, 2012
When you add glamour, beauty, a role in a hit series on HBO, talent and athletic ability, there’s plenty of extra sizzle and it’s every marketer’s fantasy. Right now their dream girl is Chantal Sutherland.
Playboy, that paragon of men’s magazines, has picked up the bit and is featuring the rider. No, Sutherland isn’t the centerfold as Miss February, the Playmate of the Month, but the reason isn’t because the editors didn’t ask.
After keeping her clothes on and at the same time turning them off, they still chose her to kick off their new feature series “Femme on Fire: Women to Watch For” on Playboy.com (http://www.playboy.com/entertainment/femme
As the inaugural subject, Sutherland sat down for a Q&A session to talk about her concurrent careers as a model, actress and jockey and then she posed for photos taken by someone who knows a few things about being the “It Girl” and stardom, as well as her way around the racetrack.
Bo Derek was on the other side of the camera this time.
The result is stunning. Sutherland, holding a pink whip in her perfect teeth, is dressed in pink polka dot silks that are unzipped just enough to reveal her white lace bra underneath.
The jockey, who has already been photographed by none other than Annie Liebovitz for Vogue and appeared in People as “One of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World”, said that she only agreed to do a revealing shoot with Derek, who was the dream girl of her day and considered the embodiment of the perfect “10”.
Sutherland insisted that the photos be in her words “classy, tasteful and artistic”. And we have a winner. While some, including Julie Krone, Patti Barton, and Patty Cooksey among others, may rightfully take exception to Sutherland being introduced in the piece as “the queen of the jockeys,” no one can argue that she is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous in the photo posted on the very popular website
That can only be good for racing, which needs an influx of new people betting fresh dollars not only at Santa Anita, where Sutherland is currently riding, but at tracks across the continent, including her native Canada.
Continue to watch the total handle drop each quarter and you don’t have to be the second coming of PR maven Swifty Lazar to figure out that the old ways of selling the sport just aren’t working well enough. And they haven’t for a long time.
As someone who’s sat in a hell of a lot of marketing meetings at tracks in both a major market and on a smaller circuit and has attended an awful lot of national marketing seminars and symposiums, I can attest that a variety of different approaches have already been tried to jazz up attendance and handle (anyone remember the Lori Petty and ‘Go Baby, Go!’ campaign?).
The industry has already tried to define and sell itself in a multitude of ways: Do we key on and promote the sport? The gambling? Family entertainment? A day at the park? Beer, food and fun? Beautiful horses? All of the above? None of the above?
Sex sells everything else, so why not our sport? Just maybe if people fall in love with Chantal Sutherland on Playboy.com, they’ll also fall in love with racing.
As my grandmother used to say, “It couldn't hurt
Written by Lynne Snierson