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.
Rick Hammerle is a long-time racing official, which included two decades as racing secretary and vice-president of racing at Santa Anita.
Race Planning and Administration
By: Rick Hammerle
The winds of change start with a small breeze. The leaves of thoroughbred racing have been in motion for decades, now the branches are starting to move.
Long before the crisis at Santa Anita came along there has been discussion about the need for a ‘centralized commission’ or ‘office’ to act for the betterment of the sport. The problem has been that most of these discussions never progress outside the boardroom or convention hall. The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation (TIF) was formed with a mission to move some of the ideas along.
As stated earlier in the TIF’s letter, all major stakeholders of the game need to find common ground on a number of issues to be able to compete in today's marketplace. It is imperative we find new and progressive ways to both attract and sustain our owners, breeders, fans and horseplayers.
The time has come to add the racing product and its delivery to the list of subjects that needs to be simplified and streamlined on a regional and national basis.
What if the Triple Crown races were for four-year-olds?
Got your attention? It surely makes you think, doesn't it?
It's time to start asking ourselves some tough questions about the way our races are offered, contested and wagered-on. We can make things better.
If racing compromised, the opportunity exists to create a centralized office of Race Planning and Handicapping which could serve as part of a broader bank of commission-like offices, responsible for the following five elements:
1. Restructuring and simplifying the different types of races offered.
The European method of ranking all horses, whereby races are written according to how each horse has performed at a given level, is an attractive consideration. Weights would be assigned according to the level of the race and rankings, while owners can still offer horses for the claiming price of their choice. By design, the conditions-based system of races would be eliminated in favor of this much more straightforward approach which is far more friendly to fans, handicappers and horsemen.
2. Limiting field sizes in maiden races.
The opportunity to participate and win maiden races is much more important than the relative purse. The more opportunity horses have to win a maiden race, the more horses that will be available for open races. There is a way to adjust purses in order for more maiden races to be offered. Limiting field size in these races will create better chances to win and let the breeder/owner move on to the next race, whatever that may be.
3. Coordinating post times on a daily basis with particular attention paid to weekend cards.
Racing has been promising this for a long time, but for a plethora of reasons, has not delivered. Tracks must work to adhere to listed post times for any coordination to work properly. Incentives to remain on schedule – or penalties for failing to adhere to it – should be on the table. Structured post-times, executed well, serves to create more opportunities for horseplayers and an increase in handle to benefit horsemen.
4. Forming pattern committees to bring order to the national stakes schedule.
Stakes races need to move forward in logical progressive patterns. On many occasions, graded stakes are scheduled for the good of the local track, but may not be in the interests of the flow of the category both regionally and nationally. This may cause situations where tracks could alternate running certain stakes races every other year in order for the races to maintain acceptable field size and proper grading.
One potential consideration is for tracks to submit their scheduling requests of “must have” stakes dates while allowing for greater flexibility of other races, a process somewhat similar to professional sports teams identifying dates where their home venues are not available for scheduled events.
5. Nationalizing stakes nominations and information.
National stakes nominations and Information should flow through a central office to make it easier for horsemen and fans to follow high-caliber horses and racing across the country. This could be a precursor to making data and racing information more easily accessible, and in developer-friendly formats, at little or no cost to all.
To some, these discussion points and possible changes may seem radical in their raw form. Maybe they are. We can no longer close our eyes and hope the game rights itself. We need to provoke thought and discussion as to how our racing product is presented to the public in its current form and decide if there is a better approach.
During my more than 30 years in the game, I have worked and witnessed racing on both coasts and Florida. I have worked on and with many different racing committees over the years including the Graded Stakes Committee and the Breeders' Cup Selection Committee. We have talked many times about the need to change and move forward with new ideas, and while some progress has been made, we almost always end up going our separate ways without affecting any real advancement.
We can no longer afford to kick the can down the road. Discussion, compromise and action must begin now.
Follow Rick Hammerle on Twitter @AwayTheyGo