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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Philly Park Still Kicking Around Racino Plans

- There was a report last week that Philadelphia Park had backed off its plan to scrap the construction of a permanent slots facility and keep the machines where they are now - on the first four floors of the existing grandstand, thus causing the herding of the few remaining racing fans onto the 5th floor. But those reports were apparently mistaken. It seems as if Greenwood Racing, the owner of the track, merely requested a delay of the consideration of their petition to make the current facility the permanent one.

"This is just another example of why Greenwood Gaming is not to be trusted," said Michael P. Ballezzi, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "There has been a public backlash against Philadelphia Park's proposal. With increasing public scrutiny, I think Philadelphia Park realized it was in a very weak position to claim that construction of a new facility was no longer prudent or feasible."
"Horseracing at Philadelphia Park is slowly being killed off because of the conditions we are forced to operate under," said Ballezzi, citing a 26 percent drop in live horse-betting at the racetrack for the month of April. "Philadelphia Park committed to build a new facility that would have improved conditions for horseracing fans and slots patrons alike. It needs to be forced to keep that commitment." [Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association press release]
Greenwood is claiming that it needs more time, and issued a press release of its own:
"Before this matter is considered by the board, we are requesting a few extra months to further redefine the first phases of our proposed master plan for the whole of the Philadelphia Park property. As our petition makes absolutely clear, that plan will provide details of further expansion and phases of development beyond our existing facility. That preparation is an ongoing process which we will be pursuing aggressively over the next few months . . . There have been certain misconceptions and, in some cases, misrepresentation about the classification issue and our future intentions." [Philly Daily News]
Note how they dance around the issue with vague wording and never directly affirm that a separate facility for the slots will indeed be constructed. So the horsemen don't trust them, and are mad enough to....well, kick a horse in the stomach!

OK, well I guess that's not funny, and jockey Victor Molina, who was escorted off the grounds at Philly Park on Monday after being caught in the act on TVG, certainly isn't laughing. He deserves to be disciplined....but some people seem ready to string the guy up. From what I've read, he is quite well-respected after 27 years in the saddle, and was very contrite afterwards. We all lose our tempers some time. And though that doesn't excuse acts of violence such as this, he didn't inject the horse with EPO's or snake venom, and didn't try to put a fellow rider over the fence with a reckless riding maneuver. So fine and suspend him accordingly, and let's move on.

- Bill Finley has another great idea which will probably never see the light of day. Recently, he suggested that since revenue from racing is so insignificant compared to VLT revenue in slots states, reduce takeout to a bare minimum level that will encourage people to wager on the ponies. The chances of any state legislatures or racino owners becoming that enlightened seem very unlikely. Now, writing on, Finley suggests setting the conditions of certain stakes races, the Derby in particular, in a way that will discourage owners from retiring horses early.
Imagine what would happen if every Grade I race in the country, or even just the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup races, were restricted to horses whose sires were 5-years-old or older at the time the horse was conceived.

Any horse retired prematurely and rushed off the racetrack after its 3-year-old campaign would be severely penalized as a stallion, at least for one year. Knowing that the progeny of a 4-year-old stallion would be ineligible for the sport's major races would scare people away from breeding to that stallion.

Breeders and owners would have no choice but to keep their horses in training at least through their 4-year-old years. In most cases, that would amount to delaying a stallion's career by one year; eminently fair when considering how much money could still be made breeding a horse and racing's desperate need to keep its stars performing in front of the public.
Nice idea in theory, and indeed, racetracks are free to set whatever conditions for races that they'd like. But breeders from Kentucky to Dubai would scream bloody murder, and the latter could conceivably threaten to boycott U.S. auctions in retaliation. And besides, owners would likely retire a horse anyway and let him just hang out on the farm for a year before breeding rather than risk a grievous injury on the racetrack anyway. Sacrificing one year's worth of racing income would be a small price to pay to get their stallion to stud in one piece.


Anonymous said...

Alan, you pointed out the racing/breeding dilemma very well. Somehow racing needs to keep these 3 YO's on the track for at least a 4 and a 5 year old campaign. Just as all other big league sports do, we need to see our "stars" race for at least 3 season in a row, 4 would be better, to build up a following. And we need to find a solution soon or we'll be left with bowing east to Mecca and praying that the Clintons drain the Dubai Sheihks dry.

Nellie said...

What bothered me the most about the kicking incident was that it's important to remember that these are extremely sensitive and somewhat neurotic (but remember, I love the breed for both racing and riding) horses - I can see a Quarter Horse grumbling a bit but moving. However, a 2 year old Thoroughbred who had just had a bad experience in the starting gate ... that worries me.

The incentive to keep horses in training longer is a nice idea, and something should certainly be done ... but there would need to be some sort of clause protecting horses who are injured or for some other reason have their career cut short.

Anonymous said...

It wouldn't address the early retirement problem, but I've been thinking that to encourage horses actually leaving the barn once in a while, only horses who have raced at least 8 times in the year should be eligible for an Eclipse. This wouldn't apply to 2-year-olds.