Saturday, March 12, 2011

Commissioner Simon? LOL! I dont think so.

The Internet has brought a whole new dynamic to the way we discuss topics in horse racing. Before the usual places where the game was discussed was at the rail in the morning, in the clubhouse in the afternoon or in some sort of formal meeting situation between groups representing some segment of the industry. The racing fan or perhaps a better term, patron was rarely included in the discussion and surely the game has suffered for it. However the Internet now provides pretty much anyone with an opinion about the sport or some issue relating to the sport a forum with a wide reaching audience. Between  chat rooms, posting boards and Facebook there are any number of racing topics being kicked around almost around the clock. In its best form, this creates an opportunity to educate interested parties on the game, which is pretty complicated compared to many other sports, especially the wide multitude of gambling options along with different surfaces, distances,  pedigrees, etc. The flip side is that rumors, half-truths and agendas can and do rear their ugly heads which counteracts the educational process by introducing a confusion to what things are and what they should be.

Out of this mess comes the idea that horse racing needs a central governing body, ie. a commissioner. The thought goes that a commissioner granted broad authority by the federal govt is needed to solve the seemingly endless issues that the sport faces ranging from takeout reduction, to medication guidelines and regulatory policy especially considering trainer suspensions, to marketing. If everyone was on the same page they say, the industry would function much better, the problems that we face would be eliminated or at least be under control and the sport would flourish. We could get rid of cheating trainers and the people who support them, axe the race day medications that supposedly make us the laughingstock of the world, increase handle via mandated takeout reductions with tracks not following the script being excluded from simulcast menus across the country. We could get better TV deals and not have to beg ESPN to cover our big races or preempt them with cricket matches or N. Dakota State Tech versus Eastern Montana soccer games. We could stop breeders from over breeding their stallions and make tracks come up with a sensible stakes schedule so we don't have 3 three year old turf stakes at three separate tracks 90 miles apart on the same weekend.

Sounds like a great idea right?

So does ending hunger and world peace.

That is not to say that these aren't all noble goals but the cold, hard reality that we face as an industry makes talk of some all powerful, federally appointed commissioner a complete waste of time.

First of all you have to understand the role a commissioner plays in other sports. The structure of the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL are completely different than horse racing. Those are privately owned leagues, owned by a consortium of  owners which employ the players AND commissioner.  The players, coaches, umpires, referees, and officials are all employees directly or indirectly of the owners. In horse racing you have completely independent parties, tracks, owners, trainers, jockeys, regulators, gamblers and breeders. None of these parties actually directly work for the other. Sure trainers work for owners and jockeys work for trainers/owners but on a large scale every group works as an independent business.

Before you could even start to set up a central office you have serious questions that don't seem to have logical answers.

Who would this commissioner work for? The racetracks? The horseman? The federal gov't?
Where would his/her powers come from? A federal law or series of laws?
What would the scope of the authority of office of commissioner be? Does anyone really believe a new federal mandate that strips businesses of their right to operate as it see fit (or forces them to operate in a less profitable manner directly benefiting their competitors) has any prayer of surviving especially in the current political climate?
Does anyone really think that there won't be a huge push back from the states that currently regulate (and greatly profit from) racing?
Does anyone really believe that the federal gov't is going to simply appoint a commissioner, grant him wide reaching authority and then exit the scene? Who would this commissioner report to? How much is this going to cost the industry to operate since it is a million to one long shot that the Feds have the stomach to set up a taxpayer funded horse racing commission.
Since the individual state regulators are seemingly not very effective in great part due to the political nature and make up of its boards, why would a federal regulator be any different or for that matter even worse?
Who would possibly be qualified to take this position that isn't already involved with the industry in some way?
Who would hire the commissioner?
How much would a qualified person need to make to take such a position?
Who would they report to? In other words, who would be their boss?
How would the commissioner be evaluated?

These are just things off the top of my head. This entire push for a commissioner is simply a complete waste of time. A much better approach to the problems facing the sport is to tackle issues individually, many times locally. Identify a problem, find a reasonable solution, publicize what steps you have taken and move on to the next. Focus energies towards a single issue at a time. This method has had some successes recently. The elimination of anabolic steroids, advances in horse rescue, etc. If we cant solve a smaller, localized issue then how does anyone expect to solve the larger ones?

As Rick Pitino famously stated during his brief run as the coach/GM of the Boston Celtics, "Larry Bird ain't walking through that door". We need to stop waiting for some prince in shining armor armed with a magic wand. He ain't walking through that door.

Day 16

Well....I'm posting about as often as some trainers run!

A lot has happened since my last posts back on September 16th, 6 months ago. We finalized our decision to switch our focus to the Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic, leaving the Kentucky circuit after 11 years. My house is Louisville has been sold and I don't have a single racehorse, yearling or mare left there. I have split the horses between winter quarters at the Classic Mile in Ocala and Parx, formerly known as Philadelphia Park.