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HRN Original Blog:
From Coast to Coast

Horse Racing industry needs a Commission

Within the last month, two graded stakes races for 3-year old fillies, the G1 Mother Goose and the G2 Hollywood Oaks, were run on opposite sides of the country. Despite the illustrious past of both, each field only drew 5 entrants. A field of 5 might be an easy race to handicap, but bettors would rather skip these types of races because there just is not any money to be made. There just isn’t any point in investing any money in any type of wager when the exacta only returns $3.40 and the trifecta only $7.90 for a $1 bet, as was the case with the Hollywood Oaks. This past weekend we saw a similar situation when the G1 Shoemaker Mile at Betfair Hollywood Park and the G2 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs, both contested at a mile on the turf for 3-year olds and up, were run on the same day; like the two races in the 3-year old filly division, these two races went to post with a field of five. The Firecracker had actually drawn a field of eight, but due to inclement weather, the field was whittled down to five by race time.
 
 
The horse racing industry needs a singular overarching commission, and that commission needs to make revising the racing schedule a priority. Stakes fields with only five entrants are hurting the industry. Bettors skip those races in favor of others with a fuller field because the return is worth the investment. As long as divisional stakes races are run head-to-head, stakes fields will continue to be small, decreasing the overall handle because though claiming races tend to offer bigger fields, it is the stakes races that the casual fan will focus on because those are the horses they can most easily follow. Rather than run two races for the same division on the same day, space them far enough apart so that horsemen have the option of running their horse in both rather than having to choose one or the other.
 
 
Though the closing of Betfair Hollywood Park certainly bodes ill for the future of horse racing in California, the positive spin on an otherwise dismal piece of news is that in the future, there will be one less track competing for full fields during the summer. That was at least the case until Gulfstream Park announced that it had requested summer racing dates and would be conducting its first ever summer meet. Despite Gulfstream Park President Tim Ritvo’s conviction that running head-to-head with Calder Race Course will give horsemen more options in regards to which races they want to enter their charges in, ultimately such a venture will be harmful to the industry overall. With the prestigious Saratoga, Belmont, and Keeneland meets already on tap for the summer and fall, top trainers are not going to opt to go to Florida where the purses are smaller and the races less esteemed. Furthermore, with Calder right across town, rather than the full fields that Calder boasts, fields will end up being split between the two as horsemen take sides, willingly or unwillingly, unless the two come to an agreement. Even if an open policy is put into effect, I cannot imagine a scenario in which both tracks could consistently offer bettors full fields.
 
 
Additionally, this commission would need to deal with rules and regulations and set standards that encompass the entire country rather than vary from state to state. With the prevalence of drug violations, this is especially true. Right now, a trainer can be penalized in one state but can move their tack to a different state and continue to train there despite any penalty handed down elsewhere. This simply cannot happen. Under the current regime, or lack thereof, there are very few hard-line stances taken against multiple infractions, something that serves to foster the drug culture due to a lack of real consequences, an issue fellow writer Matt Scott so eloquently addressed following the Mahmood al Zarooni scandal (Read about it here.). But the people that run this commission need to be knowledgeable horsemen that are both familiar with the industry and embody leadership characteristics. We need people that truly care about moving this industry forward, that care about marketing to the public in order to draw in new fans, and who understand that in order to be mainstream, we have to clean up our act.
 
 
Furthermore, aside from taking a firm stance against drugs or revising the racing schedule, an overarching commission would prevent a lot of confusion. Last year during Triple Crown season, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another ran with a nose strip every time he raced. However, had he run in the Belmont Stakes, which is run at Belmont Park in New York, he would not have been allowed to run with the strip per New York rules. To be perfectly honest, had anyone asked me about the situation at that time, I could have told them that the rules were different, but I could not have told them why that was so. After researching the matter, I found that New York stewards felt that if a nasal strip was going to be such an asset to a horse, then they had to regulate it in order to be fair. That explains their stance on the matter, but it still does not explain why it was permitted at every other track I’ll Have Another raced at except Belmont Park. It is inconsistencies such as this that confuse fans, new fans and old hats alike. You don’t see this issue in other sports around the country, so the logical thing to do would be to take a leaf out of football’s playbook and create and enforce one set of rules and regulations.
 
 
None of these issues can be resolved overnight. Like with any major change, these things take time. However, the success of the new Kentucky Derby points system gives me hope that if horsemen seriously take into consideration the problems we are currently experiencing and work together, then we can make positive changes that will benefit both the horsemen and the fans. We simply cannot focus on one without taking in consideration the other, especially if that means focusing on horsemen and ignoring the fans. Without the fans, particularly the ones that wager on the races, then the industry has nothing. Unfortunately, that is the direction we are headed. Stop all the in-fighting. Give the bettors full, quality fields. Lay down the law and stick to it. Then, and only then, can we truly move forward. 

 

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Older Comments about Horse Racing industry needs a Commission...

I like the idea of the USADA overseeing racing medication rules, testing and punishments. This group would be independent and all states that do simulcasting across state lines would be required to participate.
I really like your article. It's just going to be tough to have an overriding commission/commissioner when things are run at the state level (unlike the NFL). If they can't agree on nasal strips, I don't see them agreeing on medication, stewards rules, splitting up TV revenues (like in the NFL). Ironic thing is that states usually thumb their nose at racing like it is a nuisance, you would think they'd want the "problem" of racing off their plate and send it to a national level.
We could start with the stewards. Have a steward from each track, or to narrow things down even more, have one steward represent each state. They're already knowledgeable in the rules and regulations in their own state, so perhaps a committee comprised of them could begin the process of streamlining everything.
My point with the federal legislation to regulate country wide med rules, you will be laying the ground work for a commission or commissioner for enforcement that could be utilized to govern other aspects of the sport. Years ago the Jockey Club had full enforcement powers over all of the sport similar to the BHA in England etc., but the powers were stripped from them and state organizations created that have decentralized power and enforcement.
Agree that we need a commissioner. However, who is it going to be? And more importantly who is going to appoint him? To override much of the state organizations, you will need federal legislation, which is what the legislation on race day Meds which has been in hearings in Congress is about, a back door way to regulate Meds throughout the country by tying it to the interstate wagering act. The Florida situation has a lot to do with the simulcasting issues where state legislation allows for year round simulcasting based on just a few days of racing. Sadly like baseball before it, horse racing's competing interests are only going to get together when the sport reaches its nadir ( some would argue we are ther already).
since the anti-trust legislative victory over the jockey club by the jockeys guild, there has been no will to do this
Very well written, Ashley. I completely agree with you that we need a commission / commissioner. I find myself always thinking of the Hong Kong Jockey Club when it comes to this type of discussion, as they are as centralized as any racing authority can be.
Frank would gladly be king >> Otherwise???
Been saying this for a while now, and I don't think anyone opposes this so much as there is no one to start it
Always good to see this idea getting some press.
"Between the idea and the reality... falls the shadow." TS Elliot must have been a was a horseracing fan. Great idea. The path to implementation will be a long difficult !slog
Very well written, Ashley. I agree completely.
No argument here, and it seems that the majority of fans and industry "insiders" feel the same.
You hit it on the head!! Excellent read there crank... and I know just the guy for the commissioner role.
I agree we need one ruling body whether a single commish or a commission not sure research needed Maybe some looking into on how other countries do theirs You mentioned the Al Z affair in Britain How is their governing body,BHA,set up? How does it compare to what they have in Australia?
Amen Ashley!! It burned me up about IHA last yr. And I left a post on Gulfstream's fb page saying that racing in the summer in FL makes about as much sense as racing in the dead of winter in NY! This industry needs a swift kick in the pants, and a shot in the arm of common sense 2 times daily for 5 yrs!
A Detailed oriented powerful commisoner is needed. TPD
I would take it one step further and drop the commission, and take it to a commissioner ... Less chance of political gridlock.
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Meet Ashley Tamulonis
  
 

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, and it was her love of reading and horses that led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few short years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and get to personally meet and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

 

Before joining Horse Racing Nation, Ashley created her own blog Wired with Ashley Paige. The idea to venture into the world of blogging came to her when she realized that she had much to say about horse racing and no one to say it to at the time. Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation blogging as The Florida Filly. Using that moniker, she mainly covered racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues, and from time to time offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry as a whole. A move north to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the new From Coast to Coast blog for HRN, which is simply a revamped version of The Florida Filly. Don't let the new look and name change fool you, though. Ashley still brings to the table the same great coverage as From Coast to Coast as she did for The Florida Filly. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

 

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband Chris and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.