The poll question on the Paulick Report today asked if the McKinsey Report presented to the Jockey Club last Sunday make you more or less optimistic about the game.
I was in the minority (44%) when I answered “more optimistic.”
Not more optimistic because the Jockey Club vowed to get involved and put their money where their mouth is, but more optimistic based on the entire recent dialog regarding major much needed changes to our beleaguered industry.
The McKinsey report is commons sense, but I was pleased the Jockey Club took the initiative to hire somebody to poll the stakeholders and come up with a list of issues to address. Lacking a central authority, it’s a start.
This comes at a time when all the stakeholders seem to finally come to realize what dire straits the industry is really in and how limited the future seems to be.
The Salix debate may not get resolved anytime soon, but it has caused the major stakeholders to get together in some cohesive form, address an issue and propose some solutions. The enthusiasm and debate seems to be contagious as it spills over onto such issues as racing days, horse shortages and what to do with retired racehorses.
The medication issue can be resolved with some simple compromise and experimentation. The horsemen and vets advocate Salix based on the well being of their charges, and everybody else (racetracks, fans, bettors, breeders and the Jockey Club) seem anxious to be rid of it even if an occasional racehorse drops dead from an acute exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.
Comparing U.S. racing to European racing seems to be a focal point in this argument, but I’d contend it’s a pointless argument. Racing in the U.S. and in Europe have absolutely nothing in common other than the same species of animal. Everything else is different. Let’s move on.
What we need is a reasonable compromise and a plan to go forward – now. Everyone in the racing game needs to come to grips with the concept that “perception is reality” and sometimes the perception is contrary to the facts.
It may be true that the facts show that we don’t have a drug problem, just like the facts show that we don’t have a race fixing problem. But that doesn’t change the perception held by some fans, media and bettors – especially the disgruntled ones holding a losing ticket. Like it or not, we no longer live in a society that embraces personal responsibility, so expecting a losing punter to say “I chose the wrong horse” instead of blaming the loss on drugs, the jockey or some bigger conspiracy is unrealistic. In a business that involves wagering, more folks lose than win and that make managing perceptions that much more difficult.
What does racing do when someone says it has a drug problem or that its product lacks integrity? The industry says “No, we don’t, and the facts back it up.” Problem is the industry only says that when somebody walks into the room and asks the question.
When was the last time the “industry” (stupid question already since the term “the industry” makes no sense since it’s made up of hundreds of fiefdoms) issued a press release titled “Racing Cleaner Than Ever.” The release would point out that out of the thousands of races run a year there are a small percentage of drug violations and practically no race fixing allegations.
Yes this would defy conventional wisdom causing racetrack and industry PR folks all over the country to recoil saying you NEVER mention drugs or race fixing! Why not, the people who pay the bills talk about it all the time – bettors and racehorse owners. Who’s kiddin’ who?
But that’s a big picture fix that leads back to a compromise on the race day medication issue. The HBPA recently endorsed a program for Salix on race day administered by a sanctioned vet with no adjunct medications.
This seems a logical start. Why not give it a three year test. Whether or not the industry wants to exclude graded stakes is up to higher powers. In addition, we need standard rules in every jurisdiction with matching penalties. Then the various state racing commissioners MUST enforce the penalties no matter how famous the trainer or how many races he/she fills daily.
If somebody smarter than me can figure out how to motivate owners to motivate trainers (without further burdening the group that writes all the checks) that would be a boon to compliance. Playing by the rules has to generate greater financial awards for owners who will then demand compliance from their trainers.
Virginia HBPA Executive Director Frank Petramalo pointed out at a meeting yesterday that such a race day medication program also desperately needs an extensive “public education” program as noted above. He’s right. We have to tell people we don’t have a problem, but we are instituting a new policy in order to further police the most policed sport in the world. Here are the rules, and, damn it, we’re gonna enforce them.
In the modern world of intense competition for people’s time and money and ever shortening attention spans, every industry must constantly deliver is message in every way imaginable. Racing isn’t good at that. Too many stakeholders are mired in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s.
That’s a problem especially when one considers that the way we communicate, and subsequently make decisions, has changed dramatically during the current decade. Certain things that seemed on the cutting edge in 2007 already seem outdated. Scary, but true says the guy typing this on one computer while checking email on an adjacent iPad.
Let’s stop talking and try some big experiments.
What do we have to lose? -- Glenn Petty