I guess it’s easy to arm chair quarterback the business plans of major racing operations, but I’m not alone when I say many have bitter opinions. This morning, I awoke reading todays, and some of yesterday’s news. No matter when you get to enjoy the musings of the high and mighty, we recall what Mom used to tell their daughters as they readied for the Prom. “Dance with who brought you.”
My first trip to Churchill Downs was mixed. It wasn’t the beauty of Keeneland, and early on it looked like an old make-shift prison. It was the not the gem of south-east Ohio in River Downs with the rolling hills of Kentucky over looking the majestic Ohio. Hell, it wasn’t even Louisville Downs where Harness racing was conducted for years. Over the years I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with some high ranking folks from the Twin Spires. They had a new vision. One where Thoroughbred racing was revered about 5 days a year with Derby weekend, Stephen Foster/Clark Handicap card, and the Breeders’ Cup. The rest was a pain in the ass, and that was a kind estimation.
Powered by the acquisitions of Big Fish Games and Oxford Casino, along with a strong Kentucky Oaks and Derby week, Churchill Downs Inc. reported an increase of $33.6 million in net revenues for 2014. The company also reported an additional $8.8 million of EBITDA generated during the KY Oaks – KY Derby week of 2014, compared with 2013 according to the Paulick Report. “Racing outside of the Kentucky Derby remains very challenging and we don’t see anything in the trends that suggests this is going to change in the near future,” Carstanjen said. “Our focus has been on our cost structure and managing our racing operations efficiently” according to the Blood Horse. Churchill Downs Inc. officials said Feb. 26, during a conference call with analysts and investors, that they aim to build on last year’s highly profitable Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) week, but acknowledged they see little opportunity for racing growth outside of that week. Does that sound promising? Go back 20 years, and tell the truth. Would you have thought CD would be “managing” (cutting back to the bare bones) Thoroughbred racing? I guess they forgot about the hard work and history of racing that allowed them to partner, buyout, and position themselves for the next 20 years. I was hoping to see myself sitting in the sun enjoying the races in my golden years. But, not only is that a long shot, but the focus on the racing product is as afterthought. Who cares about the Kentucky Derby? They’ll probably lease it off to other tracks as the Breeders’ Cup selects locations.
Also from the files of WTF, the state of West Virginia may be tipping it’s hand of things to come for all racing operations. I was reading Tom Lamarra’s “At Large” piece in the Blood Horse. He has been an guest on the Winning Ponies Internet Show many times, and is one of the good guys for the sport. After I read about West Virginia’s plan for the Greyhound industry. I started thinking this was just the tip of the iceberg, and how it would create a sparkling cocktail of change. Here is the complete article to read at your leisure, but you may want to bring a cold beverage to wash down the nasty taste http://bit.ly/1Gz3U6R.
You don’t have to enjoy dog racing, or even attend. But think about how they are stripping the industry of purse and breed development. Now, you probably say how does this effect anything but the small declining Greyhound industry? Easy. It’s the beginning of the Domino effect. The Greyhound tracks closed down apron areas for fans to enjoy the action up close. There is little to no marketing of the sport, and advertising is non-existent. Over 95% of the purse structure came from VLT revenue. If you love horse racing, this new model is being watched. Remember the promises and plans of VLT revenue rejuvenating the racing game? I guess they forgot there would be no VLT’s, racino growth, or plans for a glitzy future without this piece of the puzzle. If you ever thought there would be a day when the promises and planners would forget their word. That time has come as we watch our date mosey to the other side of the dance floor with a new partner.