In the July 21 edition of Public Opinion, I addressed what I called the “sharp decline” of race horse owners (“Owners are People Too”) which the powers-that-be in the sport ignores as if all is hunky dory.
The actual numbers from my usually reliable sources (getting information from horse racing’s regulators is like pulling dinosaur teeth) are frightening. In 5 short years, the number of registered owners has fallen by over 40% from more than 600 in 2012 to less than 350 in 2017. This can’t be attributed to the Claiming System, which has been in operation since 1993 and which encourages mass ownership instead of the elitism of the past. There are much more fundamental issues in play here.
The truth is horse racing is on the decline throughout the western hemisphere. Last time we were together (September 29; Upside Down Taxation Policy) I pointed to an alarming 60% decline in entries for the yearling sale in seven years. In the USA, a 50% decline in foal registrations was recorded during 2006-2016. Over the same period, starters have declined 30% (USA); number of races down 25%; and pari-mutuel handle down 27%.
The problem on this side of the pond is we continue to stick our heads in the sand and treat horse racing as belonging to and protected by the elite, hence marketing it as a mass sport is considered unnecessary. Promoters treat TV coverage as an unwanted leper because they constantly fear assisting the illegal bookie. But it’s a well known spiritual principle that you create whatever you fear so fear can never be the basis for any important decision.
FACT: Horse racing was able to attract crowds of over 100,000 before the sport of basketball was even known.
Instead of lamenting the many and varied symptoms of the decline we must dry our tears and address the fundamental issues of poor marketing and inefficient use of resources. We MUST effectively market racing to the average person and compete effectively for the entertainment dollar. We need to look at the causes and not the symptoms of the decline in racing’s appeal. Let’s look at some of the past decade’s glaring errors:
* Caymanas Park, a 196-acre property, operates an average of 12 hours per week. What other business you know is viable opening 12 hours per week? Why can’t we open 24/7 and offer dining, gaming, shopping, entertainment, sports centers? A piece of every additional dollar could be pledged to purses — the fuel that drives horse racing’s engine;
* It goes without saying purses MUST be significantly increased so more than the current 7% of the horse population can break even;
* The sport needs a complete overhaul when it comes to marketing. We MUST stop marketing the sport only to the existing fan base and seek to attract new fans. I thought I’d shown the way with a revolutionary new radio programme called Saturday Afternoon Live which dominated its timeslot using a variety of entertainment inserts including music; life story interviews with horse racing and other sports personalities; and sports betting coverage from all over the world. Our listeners included many who knew NOTHING about horse racing, including women, youth (we got calls from 14 year olds) and fans of other sports. The horse racing coverage thrown in (also done in a unique way) introduced potential new turfites to the sport. Since the show ended (due to commitment conflicts not finance) NOBODY has taken up the mantle and I’m still hearing the same old dry, boring preview shows and live coverage. Horse racing is nowhere to be found on social media;
* With the right government incentives, Jamaica is ideal for the breeding of horses for an international market. We have it all — good weather, limestone base, good, cheap water, cheap land and low cost transportation to USA.
In the UK, racing is on the upswing due to competitiveness and variety (Bookmakers compete with the Tote by making their own odds; racing is run on architecturally designed right and left-handed tracks with turf, tapeta and polytrack surfaces); high-class bloodstock; expert regulation; and excellent marketing through free-to-air TV as well as subscriber services like Racing UK (RUK) and At The Races (ATR). Punters receive every imaginable tool and encouragement online without having to leave their homes. Taxation systems rely on back-end taxes rather than choking the sport with high upfront tariffs.
There are 14,000 registered owners in Britain. They get free parking at the race courses; free race course admission; a plaque and a glass of champagne to every winner; automatic third party insurance etc, etc.
C’mon guys, wake up and smell the possibilities!
It’s time for our regular review of local performances based on REAL times.
Abbreviations: CT = “Corrected Time”; TV = “Track Variant” (a calculation of the effect of track conditions on official times to arrive at “real” or “corrected” times); TVs are in fifths of a second; “minus” means a fast track; “plus” means a slow track (e.g. -2 means fast by 2/5ths of a second). Variants beside individual horse’s names represent the difference between its official time and the grade standard.
Two more notebook horses on speed from September 29’s issue have since won namely ROYAL GIRL (October 16 at Evens) and SIEMPRE BUENO (October 21 at 9/5). Space is scarce this time around but we’ll still try to squeeze in two day’s speed work:
October 14, 2017 [TV -0.125/200m (Rd – Races 1-8); -1.0/200m (Rd – Races 9-11; Track Sloppy) -3 (str)]:
AWESOME SAUCE (-4) sweating in the preliminaries and keen in the race itself (R5; 3yonw2; 1600m; TV-1) benefitted from an unusually patient ride from Del “Horse-mek-fi-beat” Beharie; overcame hindrance 600m out; finished best of all under excessive whipping and won with something in hand from Winter is Coming/El Maestro (-3).
The winner’s CT (1:40.3) is 2/5ths second faster than nw3 standard while the next two (CT 1:40.4) are 2/5ths second faster than nw2. All can win soon.
October 21, 2017 [TV – 0.6 per 200m (Rd); +7 (str); Track Sloppy]
KANALOA (-9) was impressive (R6; 4yonw3; 1100m; TV-3) drawing 6 1/2l clear of Big Black Nation in 1:05.4! His CT (1.06.2) is 4/5ths second faster than 4yonw3/0T standard and only a tick slower than Overnight Allowance so he seems sure to repeat.
Overseas Betting Opportunities (OBOs)
Public Opinion’s bi-weekly schedule means Breeders Cup weekend (November 3 and 4) falls in-between issues so I’ll try to make some longer-term forecasts than would normally be the case.
I’ve been keen on ULYSSES for the Breeders Cup Turf since mid-summer and, as long as the ground at Del Mar doesn’t have the word “soft” in the going description, he should be a banker. I remain convinced he would have defeated super filly Enable in the Arc on a fast track.
The Classic promises to be a cracker with improving Gun Runner opposing Arrogate again. They met in the Dubai World Cup in March when Arrogate blew the start yet still ran down Gun Runner (not stopping) and won a shade cheekily. They dominate the betting but both could fall victim to Arrogate’s improving 3yo stable companion COLLECTED who defeated Arrogate by 1/2l over course and distance in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic over 10f and who has been working like a well-oiled machine since. Aidan O’Brien’s War Decree, also rapidly improving all the time, could be a big danger at a huge price.
Finally, a notebook horse for English Racing fans:
WISSAHICKON [2yo ch.c Tapit – No Matter What (Nureyev)] was poorly drawn on debut at Wolverhampton (October 21); ran wide against more experienced rivals (covering more ground than most); ran green when first asked to go closer; but got home by a whisker with a searing late charge. His immediate family is replete with Group/Grade-level success (7f-1m4f), notably Matron Stakes and Fillies’ Mile-winning half-sister Rainbow View, and, although this field was nothing special, his performance most certainly was and he appeals as one with an awful lot more to offer at this sort of trip