Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thoroughbred Racing: Study This

Saratoga Springs, NY, Dec. 9, 2008--”This game has been studied to death,” New York Racing Association vice-president, the late Pat Lynch, told me while I was enjoying a cup of coffee at NYRA nearly four decades ago.

Little has changed. And everything has changed.

Given that, I’m always interested to see the proposed agenda at the annual University of Arizona Symposium on Racing and Gaming.

According to blogs posted on the Thoroughbred Times and Bloodhorse web-sites, the goals were to identify the perception young people have about racing, and the realities and pressures associated with changing the face of the sport.

“How to speak to racing’s diverse demographic target market,” is the subject of a panel discussion entitled “Gen Y and Baby Boomers.” Horse safety and tote security are two factors that seriously impact how the game is perceived.

There will be a strong Jockey Club presence vis a vis safety and welfare, it was promised, with discussions on the reporting and prevention of injuries, and an updating of industry initiatives.

Good thing those JC officers are pulling double duty. These days they need to justify those hefty paychecks reported in circulated e-mails authored by those pesky boardwatch folks over at the California Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association .

I have some thoughts that might help, too.

The first is, what youthful perceptions? It’s hard to find any more than two youths at a racetrack at any one time. Can’t remember the last time a young person stopped me on the street to ask the time of day.

Horse racing doesn’t exist for young people. Maybe some of the old people would have taken some of the young people to the track with them when they were a lot younger themselves.

But you lost them long ago when you failed to fix the “juice” issue, you priced your product too high because you didn’t understand what business you were in, or you just flat-out gave them bad service.

And since no one is likely to say something like that in public for four days in Tucson, I thought somebody should.

But that’s not just me talking. It’s what your customers talk about all the time. They’ve given up on you paying them more than just lip-service at about the time they stopped bringing their children to the racetrack--when they learned they couldn’t in good conscience tell their kids that being a participatory racing fan was such a good bet.

Of course, the breakdowns are the worst of it. And I don’t think that any informed, fair-maiden person would accuse the industry of not doing its best with respect to reporting and prevention.

But the industry has done nothing about the medication issue for so long that even reasonable lovers of the game have lost faith that the industry can once again exist as sport. Some are still out there, but you’re scaring them half to death.

The trouble now is that the ones you’ve take for granted--those who bet their money and make all manner of livelihoods possible, including mine--are beginning to walk.

And what is the public’s perception of what the industry is doing to fix it? That powerful factions in racing would rather shut out some of its best customers and alienate the rest because they want a larger ADW-share of racing’s shrinking pie.

Great timing.

So far the good news is that the American race horse is outliving the American iron horse, but not by much. And, since no one asked, allow me to contribute something of a positive nature based on recent events.

Bettors are leaving the racetrack to play poker on the Internet. Guess they didn’t see the recent “60 Minutes” segment showing how hackers cheat online players by looking at everyone’s hole card.

Will racing exploit this fact? Don‘t bet on it. Will they do something to counter the ever shrinking fan base? They had better.

Could there be a better opportunity than in these desperate times to market investing in the horse market to the young and engaged, telling them how they could teach themselves how to fish for life? So, how do you reach them?

Through Internet, television and radio media. Like the sports touts, only with dignity, intelligence and class. This is a niche. Appeal to it.

Advertising must teach that despite its high cost, horse-race investing offers tremendous opportunities to earn big with a small investment--if people are willing to devote the time to learn the handicapping discipline.

Because who are you going to trust your future to? Government? Corporations? Teach them how the takeout might be better on Wall Street but that there are far fewer crooks on Union Avenue, at the corner of Birdstone and Bird Town.

Change the paradigm. One of the symposium Internet speakers had it right: “chase the concept, not the dollars.”

But there’s no one in charge to stop the madness.

Like we said, so far, the American race horse is surviving, but on life support. However, if the end should come, after we shut all the lights we can say that at least we left behind a considerably smaller carbon footprint.

Written by John Pricci

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