Following the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation's call for stakeholder groups within the industry to pursue compromise, "A New Way Forward" offers the opinions of five industry leaders over five different areas. If we can work together to move beyond that which has divided us for so long, the ideas presented in this series present a glimpse into a more prosperous future for the sport.
Owners' Services and Recruitment
By: Brad Weisbord
The prospects of racing are simple – we need owners and horseplayers. Without a healthy supply of both, our sport suffers.
Managing a substantial set of partnerships, sourcing interests in hundreds of horses, I am incredibly fortunate to participate and assist owners in racing’s most prestigious events. It is clear that we must adapt to ever-changing market conditions. Efforts to make racing as transparent as possible to owners should be applauded. Below are five ideas that could take us to the next level.
1. Develop a single, nationwide banking relationship to clear all racing-related transactions.
Want to claim a horse at Belmont? You need money in an account at NYRA. Want to nominate for a stakes race, enter a race and win a race at Gulfstream? You need money in an account at Gulfstream. From state to state, it’s pretty much all the same. If a horse has multiple owners, the requirements for those owners vary even more so.
In other words, barriers to a smooth experience exist in so many ways. The comforts of online banking we experience away from the racetrack should be replicated by our business, within it. Tracks should work together to create as seamless an infrastructure as possible. For our owners, the experience should be as hassle-free as could be imagined. Unfortunately, the opposite is often reality.
2. Recognize placed horses in major races.
Owners lose far more than they win – the same can be said for almost every stakeholder in racing. In our biggest races – graded stakes in particular – it is an accomplishment to finish second or third. Racetracks should develop a way to celebrate placed horses in major races in a fashion similar to that exhibited overseas. A placed horse at Royal Ascot or Meydan? The horses and connections of the second and third-placed finishers are welcomed back to the parade ring. It’s racing’s equivalent of an Olympics medal ceremony.
Graded stakes represent less than 2% of our races, they are racing’s peak. There is no shame in running a very good second or third. Prize money is good. The impact to a filly or mare’s future value could be substantial. North American racing should find a way to better celebrate our version of the “silver” or “bronze medal” placings, beginning at least with the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races.
3. Tracks must find ways to better facilitate the celebration of winners – at all levels.
Win a $90,000 allowance race at Saratoga – take a picture. Win a $300,000 Grade 2 at the same track and you get a picture, a trophy, and maybe 20 minutes in a room to have a champagne toast. Win the Travers and you get, relatively speaking, the same experience as a Grade 2 or Grade 3 win.
Our team was fortunate enough to celebrate a Travers win last year. Already a marathon race day, and with a large group of owners each with a set of original plans made for after racing (assuming we weren’t going to win), the mood changes entirely when landing a massive score. Outside of the Kentucky Derby, with a formal celebration in the Derby Museum, it would be a huge boost if tracks partnered with prime local restaurants to offer a formal celebration for winning owners of their biggest races.
Further, tracks have an opportunity to offer an added touch following every win. It could be a $10,000 claimer or a $50,000 allowance. Maybe it’s a bottle of wine, or a premium spirit – something which Del Mar has done, admirably, over the years via a sponsored deal. Winning a race is special, and it goes just beyond the prize money. We must make our owners feel as respected and looked-after as possible.
4. Embrace transparency in the adjudication of racing.
People want racing to be fair. Unquestionably, I support measures to eliminate race-day medication and ensure our testing standards are as good as they could be. But on a much more basic level, racing in America lacks what is seemingly the simplest form of transparency.
Stewards make decisions that can shift hundreds of thousands of dollars between owners and bettors. Let’s put cameras and microphones in the stewards’ room and understand the adjudication process. Let’s hear the dialogue between jockeys and stewards. Other professional, modern sports are far more transparent today than at any point in the past – the public is legally betting on those more than ever and have come to expect it.
NBA referees now walk over to the broadcasters to explain decisions. Replay centers are used. Other sports use Hawkeye or “video-assisted referees” to help officials. These are all transparent measures to help boost viewer (and bettor) confidence. Racing should be no different in embracing this modernized approach. A more confident owner or bettor is more likely to remain engaged in the sport, others wouldn’t consider participating without it.
5. Bring the magical experience of a morning on the backside to mainstream America.
Whenever working with a long-time owner or a new one, a morning on the backside is always magical. When owners bring friends or family to experience it, the experience is always enjoyed. It is easy to fall in love with the horses and “the feel” of being engaged in their morning routine. While I don’t have an exact plan for this idea, I believe it is important if we brainstorm ways to share and engage as many people as possible in experiencing that same feeling we get on a beautiful morning at Saratoga, Del Mar, Keeneland, Churchill, etc. While there are some efforts in place already to accomplish this, we can surely do more.
Our sport inspires the senses. We need to share that as far and wide as possible – we will generate more owners and interest in thoroughbreds if we do.