Plenty of Room at the Table

by Ed Meyer

posted on August 28, 2022 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | Comments Off on Plenty of Room at the Table

The landscape for wagering is in full effect. There are so many avenues to spend your discretionary dollar – the decisions are getting tougher and tougher. I have seen that gamblers at any level love to play for a jackpot of sorts. – Slots and video poker offer up some sizeable feasts for the rapid-fire players, and this has been just one of the many reasons that racing has taken a shot to the gut. It’s not enough to just compete and open the doors for throngs of gamblers to come running through. We must plan together as an industry and not just assume the biggest bully wins.

If you look at the NFL, NBA, MLB, just to name a few, there is a process of a governing body to allow for a fair and level playing field for all. – It will be the sign of the end of racing when you watch one large behemoth dictate to others what will happen and how you’ll be allowed to play. It’s already happening, and we assume that’s fine. – The above-mentioned leagues try and keep things fair; growing with drafts, TV rights, and penalties for those who don’t play by the rules. Is it fair? I would say it’s a step in the right direction. Everyone has a seat at the table.

Horse Racing right now is being manipulated by bigger entities that push and shove smaller tracks around. Twenty plus years ago there was an article in the Daily Racing Form about the “Ten Super Tracks of the Future.” – I scoffed at the idea at first, but as I watched tracks fall by the wayside, the trend is becoming a reality. The ten super ovals would be the only racing in the country, and we would be playing them if we wanted to get our bet down on the ponies.

So, what to do? – I’m sure everyone that makes a bet will have a sure-fire plan, but as a man who has worked the majority of his life in horse racing here are a few ideas that will start the thinking process. You don’t have to agree with everything, just give it a good think about the future.

Take a look at field sizes. They are shrinking from 12 horse fields to five and six even at the biggest tracks. We could take a cue from Europe and Australia about running a live a race. Take the top three tracks running on a typical day. Now, there can be a governing body that stays in full contact with the track’s stewards and tote operators. They may need to take an additional minute or two to keep from running right on top of the other tracks. This will keep fans from jumping from one to another where somebody is going to lose. – No need, as if one fails it is only a matter of time before another track is next. We really don’t want to see any track fail or become the odd man out when it comes to handle. Keeping the “Big Three” off of each other is a great way to ensuring each will have focus on their signals/handle at the windows or betting sites. Maybe a good start? – When you’re watching the NFL this year and the big decisions on a penalty or review get tossed to New York for a final decision. Tell me it can’t work in racing as well.

Smaller tracks. They will have a seat at the table as well. – They will start hours earlier, or later if they have a top shelf lighting system in place. – Keeping the small tracks operating will allow a place for horses to run when they no longer are the G1 attraction and keep small time trainers in the game. It’s not a good sign when the smaller tracks are pushed out of business. Horses at the marquee tracks can’t all run or compete at that level. The small track has a certain charm of its own by offering competitive racing at a lesser level. – Generates revenue, job growth, and adds to tax coffers. As the big boys run at 1 pm, have the smaller tracks going to post at 10am. By the time the marquee oval has the first post parade the smaller track is finished for the day. – The smaller tracks will get more focus from the early ADM monies that would have been split on the bigger tracks. Then, after the eight-race card at your local smaller track is over, the bigger tracks will have a more concentrated stream of handle. – Everyone wins and still plenty to go around. You don’t think tracks, OTB’s or ADW’s want racing to fall off the cliff, do you? They still get a good percentage from the tracks running. They don’t mind if it’s home of the Derby or the $5,000 claimer.

Years ago, Beulah Park used to have “Million Dollar Mondays” when not many of the big boy tracks were running. It was a golden time. – Smaller tracks need to take the off-days that marquee tracks don’t seek and start early and be the early bird that gets the worm. Those million-dollar handle days were on super cheap claimers which yielded big payouts. The kind of results gamblers love to chase.  Smaller tracks have a purpose.

There is still room at the table. – But it will get worse before it gets better. – Look for marquee tracks to dump major ovals and focus on mid-level tracks to buy them up and shift dates to another holding where they can empty the competition. – But there is plenty of room at the table only if you are looking to keep racing going at all levels and not have a monopoly on a select few. Just some thoughts from a lifetime racing fan and someone who has worked at many tracks during my working life.