Thursday, July 21, 2011

What if I'm right?

I have started at least a half dozen blog posts over the last few weeks that I either didn't finish or post for various reasons. Most centered on the Lasix issue in some manner, usually triggered by some inane take by a member of the No Lasix cartel. Obviously I have made my view on the subject pretty clear and honestly it is getting tiresome countering the same inaccuracies and misguided assumptions again and again. While I maintain it is up to each and everyone of us who understand the issue to try to educate those who don't on the reality of a Lasix ban and the truth in what will happen if this situation isn't resolved sensibly, I admit I am getting worn down. No, no I'm not changing my view of the issue, just feel a deepening depression that the people who have the power in this business are so hopelessly out of touch that we are pretty much doomed to a continued slide into something more along the lines of pro Lacrosse than a major sport. Of course the cynic in me keeps putting thoughts in my mind that these people can't possibly be this crazy and there must be an underlying, hidden agenda at work. Most likely my cynical side is giving them far too much credit as there has seemingly never been a comprehensive, formulated plan concerning anything in this business which is precisely why we are where we are now.

I'm not going to rehash the entire Lasix issue here as I'm sure everyone is sick of debating on whether it works (it does), its theoretical side effects (wildly exaggerated), if it should be considered a performance enhancer (a no win situation either way), or supposedly what the "public" thinks (they don't seem care) or Europeans think (who cares?). What I want to do is express my exasperation with how the industry as a whole conducts its business, ask why so many people in the horse racing business feel we as a sport should have a self esteem issue, and warn how this issue may be the straw that breaks the camels back and sinks us as a big league sport forever. I apologize in advance if I am depressing you during what should be a joyous season (Saratoga/Del Mar) but the thing is that no one seems to be listening to common sense.

What other business would call Congress and ask to be called to the carpet? What other business would repeatedly air its dirty laundry in front of the world, even if most of that world didn't really care? What other industry would treat so many of its customers on both the front side and backside so poorly and expect them to keep coming back? What other sport would have respected owners ask for a bill that would cripple the sports ability to treat its athletes? What other business has so many different entities in which none of them are willing to sacrifice for the common good? What other industry has no national marketing plan, no regional cohesiveness, no business plan, no stated goals, no idea of who its customers are or what they want? How in the world have we made it this far?

I want to ask if anyone from the No Lasix Cartel has done any financial analysis on what the effect of banning Lasix will have on the industry, particularly on individual owners? Anybody run any numbers to see what kind of damage that this move will cause? Are you really convinced that the upturn in business resulting from this campaign will make the bottom line stronger? Has anyone thought of the fallout from the continued negative characterization of racetrack vets as charlatans who only care about making money and American trainers as drug pushing rubes? Sadly we all know the answer to these questions. I have yet to see any financial documentation that that this is a positive business move. Sure we have the same old tired crap about horses making less starts. Of course everyone fails to mention that this trend began in 1960 (long before Lasix) or that our horses in their current "weakened breed" state still make a whole lot more starts every year than their supposedly "hardy" brethren in Ireland or France (6.2 versus 3.1 in Ireland or 4.2 in France). Interestingly field size has shown to be about the same in 1965 as it was in 2009 (8.59 versus 8.24) but hey why let facts get in the way?
Business owners would you make a drastic change in your business without first checking to see if it was going to negatively effect your bottom line and/or put your business partners in a tougher economic position?

Exaggeration you say? Let's play the assumption game that seems so popular in racing circles. Let's assume Lasix is banned starting January 1, 2012. How many horses that were viable racehorses on December 31st, become completely worthless the next day without lasix? 5%? 10%? 20%? I suppose it is impossible to know exactly but lets say that 10% (a fairly reasonable guess based on conversations with many trainers and vets) become pretty much worthless, unable to race competitively or worse. Being that there were 68,235 starters last year we are forcing roughly 6800 horses into some sort of retirement (edit-I completely forgot about horses in training who didn't start which makes the 68235 number low by at least 10,000 to 15000). Without getting into the ancillary issue of what to do with unwanted horses, does anyone stop to think that the owners of 6800 horses are suddenly looking for homes for the vast majority of those which can not be converted into breeding stock (what you thought that people weren't going to breed well bred mares because they bleed? Ha!) So all the money that has been poured into these horses is now a sunk cost, never to be recovered. Is that a good thing? How many people are going to try to push the envelope and ask their trainers/vets to find alternative (illegal perhaps?) ways to control bleeding. Since we are playing the assumption game we will assume that most of those efforts are failures. So not only have we completely devalued thousands of our customers assets but many of those owners will chase good money with bad trying to salvage that asset.

How many horses will not become completely worthless but because they are prone to bleeding to a lesser degree race less hence fewer opportunities to earn, less efficient use of available stall space and the negative affect on field size? You think trainers are conservative now? Wait till you see how Derby horses are campaigned without Lasix. No one will be taking chances and running much when you can just work your horse on medication and be confident that your horse wont have a bad bleeding episode. This isn't 1980 anymore. Horses with 3 and 4 lifetime starts running in the Derby will be the norm, not the exception.

Do people realize that by calling Lasix a performance enhancer they are more or less degrading the entire sports' last 25 years? I always considered a performance enhancer an illicit substance that gave the user an unfair advantage over their competition. Legal use of Lasix doesn't give anyone an unfair advantage, to the contrary it levels the playing field especially since the RMTC came up with model rules which were adopted by most states. Who do people think that they are earning brownie points with by constantly demonizing trainers and vets? Does banning Lasix somehow turn us back into caring horseman? Isn't it a backhanded compliment to say "hey those guys aren't abusing their horses anymore since we took away their drugs"? If you tell your betting customers that they have been betting on races that weren't exactly on the up and up for years, why would they believe things are changed especially when the cheaters will be winning at an even greater percentage? Is this the way to credibility? To bash ourselves back to prominence? What other sport/business operates in this manner?

I currently train 26 horses of varying ability (well mostly modestly talented). I know of 2 that will become pretty worthless without Lasix and a few others that probably wont be nearly as good without it. Things are rough right now in the business. Owners have disappeared, many of those who have stayed are cutting back. People are dragging their feet getting those checks out. Vendors are understandably getting fidgety about payment and are reining in credit. Expenses continue to rise. The economy appears stagnant. This is the view from slots heaven where weak horses are running for upwards of $330k a day in purses. If things are tough here how bad do you think it is at Ellis Park or Colonial or other places with fewer opportunities and soft purse structures? To think that there are bettors that are going to increase their handle because there isn't Lasix is insane. People who think that this isn't going to cost us more owners, so many who have grown weary of 47% winning trainers and increasing expenses are kidding themselves. Just tell them their nice allowance horse who they thought might develop into a good horse will need "time off" because he bled and see what kind of reaction you get. Are all those foreign jurisdictions going to supply us with owners? Don't forget when you watch the races at Saratoga or Del Mar that the choices we make effect everyone in the business, that the game doesn't need to be made tougher for those who pay to put on the show and that rash decisions made based upon opinions without significant statistical/financial analysis are usually incorrect ones. Just think of how we came to be in this downward spiral in the first place...

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