TIF Spotlight Series: Groom Elite Program Comes to Laurel Park
by Shayna Tiller
The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association welcomes the esteemed Groom Elite Program to Laurel Park from June 25-29 with their Basic Grooming 99 course the first offering scheduled.
Dr. Reid McLellan, the program’s Executive Director, spent 15 years directing the Animal Industries program at Louisiana Tech University, and has worked in various positions throughout racing. McLellan co-founded Groom Elite with Susan O’Hara in 2001. O’Hara owned racehorses, and after taking one of McLellan’s trainer’s exam prep courses, inquired about opportunities for grooms wanting to improve their skills and knowledge.
“The minimal qualification for being licensed as a groom of a racehorse is that you could show up at a stable gate at five o’clock in the morning looking for work,” said McLellan. “Do that and you have reached the minimum qualifications.
“The grooms of [O’Hara’s] racehorses gave her so much information, because they were with them more and they wanted to learn.”
The inaugural Groom Elite Program was launched at Lone Star Park in 2001 and followed by a more advanced course in 2002. Since then, the program has reached 33 racetracks and continues to gain momentum. Groom Elite visited Gulfstream Park every year since 2008, and The Stronach Group is bringing it to Laurel Park for the first time.
“We were known as a Texas program, but really it is a national program,” said McLellan. “It’s just grown from that because there’s such a need for it.”
McLellan hopes to elevate the education of those working in the industry, as well as helping those outside of the industry become involved.
“There’s a two-fold need,” said McLellan. “The first was that we would provide education, information, and opportunities for already licensed grooms to learn about why we, as trainers, ask them to do the things we ask them to do, and give them some more insight into things like bandaging, tacking, and ways to do things that reduce hindrance and help a horse to have confidence to perform at its best.
“Then as we begin to get that done, some of the trainers were saying one of the things they didn’t have time to do, and what we needed, was an opportunity for people that wanted to learn or get into the business and have an entry level job. That’s the foundation of the basic grooming class we will be conducting at Laurel for the first time.”
Basic Grooming 99 is a 16-hour course teaching students how to work safely with horses in a racing environment, preparing them for an entry-level job as a hot walker or groom. Groom Elite 101 is a 40-hour, nationally-recognized certification program that is far more advanced and targeted at experienced horsemen. Groom Elite 101 is likely to be offered at Laurel later in 2018.
McLellan led Basic Grooming 99 at Presque Isle Downs & Casino in the spring, with all 15 students becoming licensed workers at the track. He looks forward to the same success at Laurel Park.
“Several of the people we had at Presque Isle were unhappy with what they were doing (before working with horses) and after their first week of work they were deliriously happy. That’s the idea. To get more people who want to be committed workers in the industry that we need.”
To register for the free courses, call (410)-902-6844 (English and Spanish), or visit groomelite.com for more information.
Author’s note: Growing up 15 minutes from Laurel Park, my family visited the track often, gushing over the horses and horsemen in the paddock and winner’s circle. For years, I wanted to become a part of the exclusive game, but it seemed unapproachable and unattainable without connections to the industry. Programs like Groom Elite are essential, not only to the continuing education of those involved in the sport, but also to help those who want to become involved without knowing where to begin.
The TIF Spotlight Series will occasionally showcase individuals and programs throughout thoroughbred racing that are making a positive impact on the industry.
Patrick Cummings named Thoroughbred Idea Foundation’s Executive Director
Patrick Cummings has been named Executive Director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation (TIF).
A non-profit organization, TIF was established to create an active forum for the exchange and curation of ideas designed to improve the prospects of the thoroughbred industry and its stakeholders.
“It is great to welcome Pat as the Executive Director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation,” said Craig Bernick, TIF founder and board member. “Pat brings a wealth of both domestic and international experience to the table. He is a great communicator, curious by nature and an optimist at heart. He has been a lifelong fan of horse racing, a longtime gambler, and an owner through various syndicates.”
Cummings, 37, joins TIF following three years with the Hong Kong Jockey Club where he led the racing division’s public affairs team, overseeing the strategy and delivery of racing communications, media management and new media development. Previously, Cummings spent four years as director of racing information for Trakus, based outside Boston, and seven years with investment giant Vanguard before that.
“Pat is clearly passionate about horse racing, understands its many international aspects, what has and has not worked both here and abroad. We see Pat as an ideal person to spearhead TIF’s goal of improving horse racing for owners, gamblers and fans. We are fortunate that he will lead the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation from the start.” Cummings will start with TIF from their base in Lexington, Kentucky late this summer.
“It is incredibly exciting to be returning home to launch the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation,” said Cummings. “Horse owners and gamblers are the foundation of racing and our focus will be on issues that can improve the economics of the sport for these two primary constituencies. The trickle-down impact thereafter is obvious. TIF will curate new, and surely some old ideas, and we will advocate for change to benefit those making the most significant financial investments in the sport while working with racing’s existing decision-makers. I am looking forward to working with our accomplished board and to begin tackling the many challenges ahead.” “I enjoyed three wonderful years in Hong Kong working in a world-class environment. The Hong Kong Jockey Club is an all-encompassing organization with a great team, a shining example of what is possible in this industry, and to have been a part of that was a priceless experience.
Cummings, originally from Philadelphia, earned his MBA from Baylor University in 2011 and completed his undergraduate studies at Dickinson College in 2002. He also covered Dubai racing for a number of outlets for nearly a decade. He has enjoyed the thrill of horse ownership through several syndicates and is a current member of Kentucky-based Brilliant Racing and South Africa’s Onamission Syndicate.
Thoroughbred Idea Foundation Board of Directors
Craig Bernick, Catherine Donovan, Lesley Howard, Corey Johnsen, Paul Matties, Justin Nicholson,
Tom Reynolds, Gary Stevens, Jack Wolf
Thoroughbred Idea Foundation is pleased to announce that Catherine Donovan and Tom Reynolds have joined its Board of Directors. Catherine Donovan and Tom Reynolds bring outstanding credentials and board experience to TIF, and will be helpful in all areas, especially strategic planning, governance, and marketing.
Thoroughbred Idea Foundation launches, will create active forum for exchange and curation of ideas to improve thoroughbred industry prospects
The thoroughbred industry is facing serious problems, bordering on a crisis.
According to the Jockey Club, the North American foal crop is projected to be 21,500 in 2018 compared to 35,274 (-39%) in 2008. North American handle was $11.5 Billion last year compared to $14.3 billion (-19%) in 2008. A 2011 McKinsey study found that just 46% of surveyed racing fans, defined as someone who bets or attends the races at least three times a year, would actively recommend others to follow the sport. For comparison, baseball fans recommended their sport at a rate of 82%, football fans at 81% and for poker players, 55%.
While significant efforts have been made to market the sport, the customer base is aging. Racetracks are closing. The industry, as a whole, fully recognizes these problems, but remains largely siloed. Each of the many impacted constituencies – owners, gamblers, fans and tracks, among others – are surely contemplating solutions, though there is little interchange of ideas, or regular cross-constituency cooperation.
Better service, transparency and pricing are keys to improving the sport for current participants, all of whom choose to actively participate in racing. Innovation is required to reach new gamblers, owners and fans. We believe the availability of content and data are key to growing the sport, and a path to finding commonality between the sport’s biggest contributors – owners and gamblers.
The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, a non-profit organization, has been established to create an active forum for the exchange and curation of ideas which will improve the overall prospects for the thoroughbred industry, its stakeholders and fundamentally, the horse.
Our goal is to tackle major issues facing the thoroughbred industry, endeavoring to find ways to improve the economics and sustainability of the business. In the long-term, this could include a not-for-profit business that funds horse charities and purses. We will be independent and transparent. Compromise is a necessity to improve our business, and with that in mind, we will bring people with naturally opposing views together to find common ground.
The only guaranteed funding for our business is through wagering. Purse supplements from other forms of gaming are helpful, but often fleeting. A huge opportunity is wasted if such supplements do not coincide with development and improvement of racing and wagering. With legal sports gambling imminent, the rise of eSports and rampant competition for customer attention, it is imperative that our business modernizes content, improves wagering menus and its pricing model.
The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation (TIF) is not looking for a seat at the table - we have no intention of creating another silo. The ideas and concepts offered will not have pride of ownership. We hope they are adopted freely, by racetracks and industry stakeholders that can implement them for the good of the business.
TIF will be headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky. We will be funded by owners, gamblers, fans, breeders, stallion farms, and other stakeholders. We will not seek or accept funding from industry organizations. Our launch phase will continue over the coming weeks, and we look forward to hearing your ideas. Engage on Twitter @RacingIdeas and use the hashtag #RacingIdeas. The time is now.
Thoroughbred Idea Foundation Board of Directors
Craig Bernick, Lesley Howard, Corey Johnsen, Paul Matties, Justin Nicholson, Gary Stevens, Jack Wolf