- A couple of items from a couple of conferences going on this week. At first glance, I got depressed when I saw the headline of Matt Hegarty's story Study: Racing boosts track slots, regarding a panel at the Symposium on Racing at the University of Arizona. Not only, would it seem, are slots not helping business at the parimutuel windows, but it's the other way around, at least according to this report. And it is sobering for sure to think that there are any dollars being diverted from the handle and going to slot machines instead. I think that's the kind of money that you and I would like to see remain in the pools.
However, as Hegarty points out:
The study could be used by racetracks and horsemen's groups as a lobbying tool for protecting slot-machine subsidies for the racing industry. Those subsidies could easily be targeted for a reduction by many states during the current economic downturn, which is putting pressure on states to raise revenues from rapidly contracting budgets. [Daily Racing Form]It's been my fear all along that those subsidies would eventually be targeted, not for a reduction, but for elimination altogether, along with the requirement that slots be attached to a racetrack in the first place. But if this study, based solely on a study at Prairie Meadows (which, it would seem to me, is a potentially fatal flaw) is corroborated in other states, then racing would be seen as a boon rather than a burden. Perhaps the tracks and horsemen could even gain some leverage with the states in negotiating its share of the profits.
At the convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners in San Diego, Craig Dado, the VP of marketing at Del Mar, moderated a panel regarding a study showing that 42 percent of core fans "say performance-enhancing drugs are a serious problem."
"We can't talk our way out of the problem," Dado said. "We have zero credibility right now."Alex Waldrop was supposed to moderate this panel, but was absent due to a death in the family. A couple of comments on things Dado said:
Dado said racing could go the way of Tylenol, which responded prudently to a product tampering case years ago, or boxing, which Dado said "ignored warning signs over integrity."
Dado said that "unless there is meaningful, swift, decisive, and transparent action," then "a significant portion of fans will abandon the sport." [DRF]
For one thing, this idea that a "significant" number of fans are massing by the exit doors because of drugs is, in my opinion, pure poppycock. There has been cheating in the sport for as long as it exists; why now would devoted (and degenerate) horseplayers suddenly pull the plug? It didn't take long for me to find an article in the NY Times archive to support that point. The report is from May of 1903.
With the race horse Dr. Riddle dead from an excessive dose of "dope," as the drugs usedThe horse died a few hours later, and trainer William Howell took the rap.
to stimulate horses to their extreme of speed are designated technically, and the
stable connections of the horse in question under suspension pending final action by
the stewards of The Jockey Club, the most flagrant scandal in the use
that has been brought to lights since racing officials prohibited the employment of "dope"
was brought into notice at the Morris Park racecourse yesterday. Dr. Riddle raced in the name of J. Gardner and was a starter in the second event of yesterday's programme, a selling race at seven furlongs over the Withers Mile, in which fourteen horses ran. The horse was ridden by the light-weight jockey Sailing, and was backed for a "killing" by the stable connection, but attracted attention in the paddock by his peculiar actions, as he required two men to handle him when he was saddled and seemed then to be almost uncontrollable.
The charge of "doping" was regarded as practically proved against Howell before the death of Dr. Riddle. Under the recent rule adopted by The Jockey Club, the penalty is expulsion from the turf. It is intimated, also, that the Sociey for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also will be called to act in the matter.If "expulsion from the turf" didn't do the trick, 30 day "suspensions" in which an assistant takes over sure won't!
As always, I'm not saying that drugs are not a problem that needs to be addressed. But I think that Dado's rather extreme comments are symptomatic of the paralyzing funk that the industry has been thrown into by Eight Belles' death and, to some extent, the flap over steroids soon after. I don't sense any thrust toward marketing, just this constant hand-wringing, stemming in part by what I see as an irrational fear of punitive actions by a Congress with far, far more important items on the agenda. It's been a frenzy of self-contrition, studies, and committees being fueled I believe by a racing press and blogosphere that's turned as bleak in mood as a December home crowd at a Jets game.
I mean, are you telling me that someone is actually spending valuable time on a study showing that 42% think that drugs are a serious problem?? Yeah, so, duh? Been to a racetrack lately and listened to those around you? C'mon man, these are gamblers, hello! For one thing, at least 42% of those people absolutely love the cheating - it gives them something to bitch about! They'd probably quit the sport if they couldn't complain about the juice - then they'd have to blame themselves for being losers! And what percentage of football gamblers do you think would say that performance-enhancing drugs are a problem in their sport? Or baseball fans? Or ask some basketball bettors and fans if they think the refs are on the up-and-up. But I don't see those league executives holding their heads in their hands; they address the problem - adequately or not as the case may be - while continuing to market their sports.
And secondly with respect to Dado's remarks, seven people were randomly murdered in the 1982 Tylenol poisonings to which he refers. That's hardly an appropriate comparison, and many people would classify Johnson and Johnson's response more as PR than prudence.
Hmmm, perhaps racing should take a look at that after all..