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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


A couple of recent news item should be sending a chill throughout the racing world.

New Jersey announced that sports wagering in the state surpassed Nevada for the first time in May. It was a close call, $318.9 million for the Garden State, $317.3 million out west. That’s $318.9 million in one month that at least theoretically is new non-racing money, an ominous trend for racing.

New Jersey is helped by the absence of sports betting in New York. Four of five bets in New Jersey reportedly are made online. The only nuisance is you have to be physically within New Jersey to bet.

Mobile wagering is the heart of sports betting

I have family members in the Garden State, who say they know New Yorkers, who use one of the Hudson River tunnels or bridges to cross the state line, pull into the first convenient area to stop, make their bets on their cell phones then make a U-turn to drive back home to watch their money in action.

Only the naive don’t accept that there is a finite amount of disposable income for gambling. Every dollar that goes to sports betting is a dollar that might otherwise find its way to a race track. Racing handle has been in a free fall since the advent of lotteries and casinos. Every new form of legal gambling has eaten into racing’s handle. Sports betting has the potential to dwarf all other forms of gambling.

In another related negative development, EquiLottery announced a major breakthrough, a new lottery-style game, which uses baseball games instead of horse races even though the company name is EQUI-Lottery.

Baseball has a much larger, broader fan base than racing. When a player decides which game he or she wants to put their money into, which do you suppose it will be, baseball with its fan loyalty and passions or racing with unfamiliar horses and tracks.

It is a matter of time until the national pastime pushes racing totally into the background. I would guess it is only a case of being able to strike a deal with the NFL until EquiLottery will be using pro football games, the king of the gambling hill.

No disrespect to EquiLottery but, as they said in The Godfather, it is small potatoes in the big picture. The numbers that football, college and especially pro, will ring up in the states where sports gambling is now legal will be staggering, almost beyond belief.

Not only will at least some of those dollars come from used to be horse racing caches, they will induce players to stay home from race tracks to monitor their sports action.

Racing was born and nurtured due to its status for most of the 20th century as the only way to place a legal bet. Absent gambling, it would have had the fan base of roller derby. Every new, more popular way of gambling chips away at racing’s base and discourages the next generation from even becoming interested in racing.

Yet racing is doing nothing to combat this threat. Lower takeouts, elimination of breakage, free admission and parking and more reasonably priced past performances are all essential to at least try and stay in the game.

Stop laughing. If you’re a racing fan, you should be crying.

Eclipses face shrinking world

Races abroad are not supposed to be taken into consideration when voting for Eclipse Awards. This is a wink-wink to some voters, who justify a vote for Euro stars because they did race at least once in North America.

This could come into play in 2019. Suppose Chad Brown puts his reservations aside about Bricks and Mortar handling the BC Turf’s mile and a half and sends his star against superstar mare Enable, who outruns him as she has done to everything else lined up against her.

Who gets the Turf Eclipse? To me, who has never given an Eclipse vote to a one-start-in-North America horse, it’s not even debatable. It would be a travesty to give the prize to Enable, although there will be many among the electorate inclined to make a statement for globalism and vote that way.

Bricks and Mortar started his campaign in January. Even if he doesn’t race again before Nov. 2, he has swept five stakes at Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Churchill Downs, Belmont and Arlington. All but the Muniz in Louisiana are Grade 1. They should be engraving his name on the Eclipse Trophy right now.

If it comes to it, he shouldn’t be punished for one blemish at a distance his soon-to-be four-time Eclipse winning trainer has declared is not his best.

Similar situations could become commonplace with Saudi Arabia jumping into the world class race field with its new $20 million event in February. Suppose an American-based horse were to double in this stakes and the Dubai World Cup, not an unlikely scenario considering the money at stake and American superiority on dirt, then take off the rest of the year to recuperate before the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which he also wins, his only victory of the year in America.

To spice this hypothetical, let’s say the winner of the Kentucky Derby or one of the other Triple Crown races, has two or three additional Grade 1 triumphs but misses the BC Classic or comes up short in it.

Theoretically, the victories in the Middle East shouldn’t count and many BC Classic winners have not been voted Eclipses. However, you know the wins on the other side of the world would be considered by many voters. Unfairly in my opinion.

With the racing world shrinking, it behooves the Eclipse people to issue a set of guidelines. Either only U.S. races count or any race on the planet should be considered.

Which way do you lean?

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8 Responses

  1. Great posting. You want more “negative” look no further than Justify points garnered in Santa Anita Derby which paved way for Triple Crown heroics. No knock on the horse but this is not good. Louisville Courier Journal wrote that this debacle makes Maximum Security disqualification look as “innocent as a split infinitive.” Put MAX up as “official,” he won the race in a crowded field. Coast to coast winner. This game has problems, as you and your compatriots articulate better than I. Thank you for covering this story which could cause tremors not unlike some of the earthquakes they have out there.

  2. As log as we’re talking hypothetically, the connections of Enable said early this year that if she were to win an unprecedented third Arc, to attempt to BC Turf repeat would “be greedy.”

    However, if Bricks and Mortar and Enable did meet in The Turf, and she won, given the one-race rule and a “Championship” event, I would lose no sleep voting for the mare. Perhaps there ought to be a two-race minimum.

    As far as biggest threats to racing are concerned, the way the industry conducts its business, with its built-in conflicts and lack of transparency, the game remains its own worst enemy. It needs independent, objective oversight in the worst way. There are no perfect solutions. What more do reasonable people have to see?

  3. ‘The coverup is worse than the crime’ has been true for as long as man has existed, yet we never learn. Why should anybody be expected to listen to any potential innocent explanation to a test positive when it was covered up in this way?

  4. JP,
    Disagreements make the game go.

    My opinion is the Eclipse Awards are for a season’s body of work, not one race. But as long as there are no guidelines, everyone is entitled to his or her own standard.

    This wouldn’t be the first (or last) time you and I are on different sides in an election🙂

  5. Let’s use an NFL analogy. Two teams with the best records in their “divisions” make it to the Super Bowl. They did not meet during the regular season and each won the same amount of games.

    Team A wins and is the NFL champion. Both had excellent bodies of work, they meet one time, one team beats the other.

    Break And Mortar beat America’s best. Enable beasts Europe’s best.

    Let’s forget for the moment that Euro G2s have been beating our G1s all year.

    And the tie breaker for me? Which horse will racing history consider a Thoroughbred legend?

    Vote progressive!

  6. Bricks and Mortar gets my vote (what vote?). Zenyatta nosed out Blame for HOY Award after Blame narrowly defeated her in BC Classic (her lone loss). I agree with Mr. Jicha, give it to B & M. Arlington triumph looked so easy. Push button winner. Love this horse!

  7. Mr. Jicha, this post and your last couldn’t be more antipodean; in one the Thoroughbred racing industry is enjoying huge growth in handle and in the other ‘if your a racing fan, you should be crying’. Which position you take is accurate? Is the industry going to gain in popularity or is it doomed?

    We both know what the prop is that keeps Saratoga and the vast majority of other racetracks operating, don’t we (you’ll find what it is Alice under ‘Income from nonracing operations’ on financial statements)?

  8. Pete Rose had best of both worlds. Manage the Red in Cinci and then shoot over to Turfway Park in KY and get down on their Pick 6. A baseball/ponies DD if ever there was one. And, when you run low on cash go sign some baseballs. You cannot beat this deal. Not a knock on Mr. Rose, mind you. I would have done the same thing, ha, ha.

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