HORSE RACING’S IMPROVED TV PRESENCE

From the early days of television to the present time, horse racing has needed more television exposure. The sport will never return to its halcyon days of fan support but increased TV time can greatly assist in developing the fans of tomorrow, especially since many major cities do not have racetracks for people to attend.

In regard to television, two recent announcements are promising. 

The New York Racing Association and Fox Sports have signed a deal whereby the latter will be the television home of racing at Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.  In 2019, Fox will televise 500 hours of NYRA racing and 600 hours in 2020.   This is a huge step up from the 100 hours FS2 televised in 2018.  

The other agreement is between NBC Sports Group and Ascot Racecourse.  Ascot is one of the premier race meets around the globe, and arguably the most prestigious, with longtime patronage of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.  The deal is for six years beginning in 2019 and culminating in 2025.  Coverage will be for 4 1/2 hours Monday through Friday of the meet and four hours on Saturday, the final day.  Fans with an affinity for top-flight turf racing should find this TV offering to their liking.

Television does not have the capacity it once did to reach viewers, as online streaming, the internet, and gaming have eroded TV’s audiences.  Nonetheless, television is still the best way to reach masses of people, even if programming is on cable channels rather than a major network.  While the Triple Crown races and several Breeders’ Cup races draw millions of viewers on network TV, horse racing needs more TV time between the Belmont Stakes in early June and the Breeders’ Cup in early November.  The FoxSports and NBC Sports agreements offer viewers some of the best racing available in June, July, and August.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business

THOROUGHBRED REGISTRIES AND GENE EDITING

A Chinese scientist recently captured attention around the globe when he claimed to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies.  Embryos of twin girls were altered so they would not contract HIV from their infected father.  The news was met with understandable concern and outrage over the potential for designer babies.  Scientists shouldn’t “play God.”

A Wall Street Journal article (entitled “Meet the Scientists Bringing Back Extinct Species from the Dead”) explained the technology used in gene editing and people’s reaction to its application:

“The Crispr-Cas9 system consists of two main parts: an RNA guide, which scientists program to target specific locations on a genome, and the Cas9 protein, which acts as molecular scissors.  The cuts trigger repairs, allowing scientists to edit DNA in the process.  Think of Crispr as a cut-and-paste tool that can add or delete genetic information.  Crispr can also edit the DNA of sperm, eggs and embryos—implementing changes that will be passed down to future generations.  Proponents say it offers unprecedented power to direct the evolution of species.

In January 2013 scientists published papers demonstrating that, for the first time, they had successfully edited human and animal cells using Crispr.  The news sparked fears of so-called designer babies edited for traits like intelligence and athleticism, something scientists stay is still far off because of the complexity of those traits.  But editing of embryos for research is already under way.   In the past 18 months, researchers in the U.S. and China successfully edited disease-causing mutations in viable human embryos not intended for implant or birth.”

While scientists’ experiments with “de-extinction” of animals and the creation of superior athletes are highly controversial, Crispr also has salutary uses such as producing disease-resistant chickens and searching for human cures for Alzheimer’s and autism.

The Thoroughbred horse registries allow foals to be registered only if they have been conceived by a stallion covering a mare, thereby prohibiting artificial insemination, embryo transplants, and cloning.  Gene editing presents a new challenge for the registries because Crispr offers hope of correcting adverse genetic predispositions.

If gene editing could lead to offspring less prone to exercise-induced cardiovascular bleeding or to breakdowns that would be a compelling reason for the Jockey Club registries to relax their increasingly antiquated rules on foal eligibility.  The problem, as I see it, is that the line between improving the breed and creating a superior athlete is vague.  At any rate, the Jockey Clubs must wrestle with possibilities that heretofore would have seemed in the realm of science fiction.  In addition, if a scientist were to alter the embryo of a Thoroughbred would a registry even be able to detect that a change had been made?

Think about the potency and the implications of a sentence from the Wall Street Journal article about Crispr:   “Proponents say it offers unprecedented power to direct the evolution of species.”

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business

DOES IT MATTER WHO YOU DO BUSINESS WITH?

The recent murder of dissident journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashogghi by Saudi Arabian operatives presents a moral challenge for many businesses, including prominent horse-racing enterprises who have customers from the Saudi royal family.

Currently, the United States and other nations are being urged by citizens and elected officials of all political stripes to severely sanction Saudi Arabia over the killing of Mr. Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Though Saudi Arabia has denied that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination, the Kingdom does not dispute that Mr. Khashoggi was murdered by Saudis with connections to the House of Saud.

Sanctions create a practical dilemma in that Saudi Arabia can drive up the world price of oil and is a major customer of multinational companies and an important source of funds for Silicon Valley high-tech startups.  In addition, Saudi Arabia could adversely affect prices on equity and bond markets if it were to sell its vast holdings in anticipation of or retaliation for economic sanctions.

So firms dependent on Saudi Arabian business face a dichotomy of fact and value.  On the one hand, a Saudi boycott would cost them plenty monetarily.  Yet, one may be uncomfortable doing business with a nation that has an indisputable record of human rights violations, including repression of women, and, moreover, was a breeding ground for fifteen of the nineteen perpetrators of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States as well as the mastermind.

Over the years, prominent members of the House of Saud have been deeply involved with horse breeding and racing.  They have spent millions of dollars at horse sales, owning farms across the world, employing thousands, and thereby providing economic fuel for the global Thoroughbred industry.  While it can be argued that Saudi racehorse owners may be upstanding individuals with no direct involvement in atrocities and repression, the fact remains that most of them are members by blood of the ruling House of Saud and therefore are at the very least accessories.

Horse trainers, auction company executives, and others with a vested interest turn a blind eye to Saudi human-rights violations because they won’t alienate deep-pocketed patrons.  Their posture is similar to corporate giants like Boeing and Raytheon and numerous California startups that depend on Saudi Arabia for investment, or even to consumers who enjoy low gas prices at the pump.

Businesspeople, including those in horse-racing, can rationalize commercial ties to customers and employers who may be complicit in crimes against humanity: “Keep business separate from politics” or “They are no worse than Russian oligarchs.”

Democratic governments and basically good individuals have a long history of conducting business with bad actors.  Yet, rationalizations aside, doing so may, or should, trouble one’s conscience…at least a little bit.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business