Yes, I understand Festivus was Dec. 23, but I air my grievances on Christmas afternoon, after I put away my new socks and underwear and when there is not a single racetrack running.
Let’s face it, 2019 was not a good year in horse racing. It started with a rash of equine deaths at Santa Anita and a backlash from animal welfare advocates followed by the industry dropping the ball on how to respond. We even gave the nutjobs at PETA a seat at the table and a voice.
Then we had a 22-minute steward’s inquiry at the Kentucky Derby (G1) and a disqualification of the best horse in the race. Lawsuits followed.
That was followed by breaking news that 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify had tested positive for drugs after his final prep before the Run for the Roses, and the California Horse Racing Board decided to sit on the information for months.
The Breeders’ Cup decided to keep the championship event at Santa Anita despite all the negative attention at Santa Anita earlier in the year. We came within a hundred yards of having a safe event over the two days of racing action. Instead Mongolian Groom was injured in the stretch of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and later euthanized.
The year ended with the announcement by The Stronach Group just 41 days before the race that the purse for the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) would be reduced from $9 million to $3 million, sending the likely favorite Maximum Security to the $20 million Saudi Cup in February.
I probably should not have started that last paragraph with “The year ended” because we still have a few days to go, and the sky could certainly fall farther in this industry.
There is still time for us to get kicked in the groin one more time.
2020 is going to be a very important year for horse racing. The industry must start to get back on track or is going to get left farther behind. It is well on its way to becoming completely irrelevant except for about one day a year, maybe two if there is a Triple Crown bid.
Nobody other than people in the industry and horseplayers pay attention unless something bad happens nowadays. There is practically zero mainstream media coverage now unless a horse breaks down or a Hall of Fame trainer has a horse test positive for drugs.
Most major sports websites used to have a horse racing tab. Then we were listed under the tab “More Sports” along with curling, darts and track and field. Where the hell did we go?
Four states have now legalized sports betting and there will be many to follow in 2020. I know dozens if not hundreds of once serious horseplayers that have decreased their betting handle by substantial numbers, myself included.
Here are a just a few grievances about our sport in no particular order that don’t need feats of strength to fix.
Stagger ‘Em Dummies
Okay, I know staggering post times is not a new issue and probably not one of the top 20 issues horse racing is facing, but for godsakes it’s an easy fix. This problem dates back more than two decades, has probably cost the industry millions in handle, and drives horseplayers absolutely crazy.
It is now as bad as ever. On Monday I watched TVG and the only three thoroughbred tracks running were going off at the same time. With most of us now betting at home, we need three or four televisions just to keep up on the action. Does that make sense?
They have pretty much figured things out in the U.K. Even the Australians seem to know how to do it. Here in the U.S? Nah, it’s too difficult and we have rogue tracks like Gulfstream Park who seem to drag post times eight or nine minutes just to run on top of two other tracks.
A google calendar and a couple of phone calls can fix this problem, yet it exists, giving me no real hope any more serious issues could ever be remedied in this industry.
I should probably just stop here, but dinner is not ready yet.
I Like Devo, But…
Shape it up, get straight, go forward, move ahead, try to detect it, it’s not too late…Wait stop. There has been a lot of talk about the whip this year, far too much in California. The California Horse Racing Board wants to limit whip use or make jockeys whip underhand or something, I can’t keep track.
I know some experts including jockeys say the whip is needed for safety reasons, but the general public does not think so, and it needs to be phased out.
“Why did the jockey whip his horse 11 times when he is already winning by five lengths,” I say under my breath several times a day.
How many of you have been to a Kentucky Derby party and after the race a handful of party goers start asking the only two people in the room that watch horse racing on days other than the first Saturday in May why all that whipping was needed?
Whip proponents are saying we just need to educate the public on these new crops. They don’t hurt! There are two problems with the idea. One, the industry is not capable of educating anyone on anything. And two, the general public would not be paying attention unless “whip education class” was held three minutes before the Kentucky Derby started.
Sports Bettors > Margarita Drinkers
Much of the marketing effort in recent years has revolved around trying to get younger people to the racetrack and it’s not by educating them on how much fun playing the ponies is.
Most of the marketing dollars seem to be spent on getting the younger crowd to dress up, have a bourbon, and be on the lookout for D-List celebrities in the crowd.
The only way horse racing is going to survive is to increase handle and positive exposure in mainstream media. And for that the sport needs BETTORS. Or customers, we could call them customers.
Betting on sports is fun, exciting, and the potential is there to make money. That is true in horse racing too. Well, except for that last part. The younger generation is smart enough to know you can’t beat a betting game that syphons off more than 20% of the money.
The problem with horse racing is we have no winners. And the idea of creating “winners” through handicapping contests is not working.
Horse racing contests and gimmick Jackpot bets are just not the answer. Nether are 10 cent wagers or Racing Roulette.
We need to make the game at least appear beatable. And the only way to do that is make it more competitive with other forms of gambling by lowering the takeout. While we are at it get rid of breakage which is contributing to killing churn along with these idiotic Jackpot wagers.
Make PETA a Gelding
When PETA placed billboards in Baltimore, Md. with a picture of a crab and the wording, “I’m Me, Not Meat. See the Individual Go Vegan” they got more than they bargained for.
Local restaurant Jimmy’s Famous Seafood responded with a billboard of their own, sprinkling Old Bay seasoning on a crab and stating, “Okay, Now I’m Meat. See the Individual, Put Old Bay On It.”
If you stop into their restaurant, you can also wash down those crabs with a beer called Peta Tears.
Horse racing needs to do two things. Get our house in order when it comes to being transparent about breakdowns and equine deaths and fix the horse slaughter problem.
No wait, three things. Also, never, ever give PETA a seat at the table or a voice in our sport unless we are offering a discounted price on Peta Tears beer at next spring’s Preakness.
Get Drug Testing, Penalties and Reporting Right
Every time we have a drug overage the mainstream media reports it the same no matter if it is Class 1 performing enhancing drug or a slight overage of a permissible drug.
We need a better way of reporting all drug overages, and swift and harsh penalties for trainer’s and vets that are abusing horses with performing enhancing drugs. That goes for breeders too.
Dragging out the process that in some cases have been two or three years is ludicrous. Let’s get the cheaters out of the sport. NOW.
I have many more grievances, but just accomplishing ONE of these would be a Festivus Miracle. And Festivus Dinner is on the table.