WHY THE JOCKEY CLUB MATTERS

As with any institution that is highly selective in extending membership invitations, the American Jockey Club has its share of detractors.  The typical criticism is that the Jockey Club is a calcified organization run by men of great inherited wealth who are trying—to the detriment of horse racing and breeding—to control the sport.

This allegation, however, is patently not supported by an objective examination of the facts.

A cursory review of the Jockey Club membership roll reveals that many of the members have had unusual success as largely self-made business people and entrepreneurs outside the realm of horse racing.  Any organization that includes as members, for instance, the founder and chairman of a Fortune 500 company and the retired chairman and CEO of a Fortune 500 firm has some very knowledgeable human resources to draw upon.

The assertion that the organization is an exclusive club for men of bequeathed wealth is a canard, as evidenced by members who, for example, come from the workaday occupations of jockeys, trainers, racetrack executives, auction employees, and veterinarians.  Many members of the Jockey Club worked their way up in life from modest economic circumstances and some members don’t have college degrees, much less prestigious educational pedigrees.  In addition, the “old boys bastion” pejorative is disproved by the inclusion of 15 female members.

Under the leadership and strategic guidance of recently retired chairman Ogden Mills Phipps, current chairman Stuart Janney, and president and COO James Gagliano, the Jockey Club has hired demonstrably capable executives and staff and occasionally retained premier consultants like McKinsey & Company to assess specific issues.  In turn, these individuals have crafted and implemented initiatives that have discernibly advanced the sport/business of horse racing.

Four important items on the 2015 Jockey Club Roundtable (held August 9) agenda were illustrative

Fan development:  One of the horse racing industry’s main tasks is to cultivate a larger fan base and in particular a younger demographic.  This topic was addressed by Jason Wilson, president of TJC Media Ventures, and Penelope Miller, the Jockey Club’s Senior Manager for Digital Media.  The overriding goal is to employ “multi-media strategy that involves traditional media outlets, television, and mobile technologies as well as social and digital media to introduce new and casual fans to…horse racing.”  This strategy is implemented mostly under the “America’s Best Racing” brand.

Product enhancement:  College and professional sports like football and baseball have zealously adopted predictive analytics, which succinctly means using statistical techniques to sort through masses of data in an attempt to discover meaningful and actionable relationships (the book and movie “Moneyball” pertained to how predictive analytics were pioneered by Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics.)  The Jockey Club has entered into an agreement with a company called STATS to develop predictive analytics for horse racing, which would have great appeal to handicappers.

Thoroughbred safety:  While there has been considerable progress in recent years in reducing the number of racehorse breakdowns, there is much improvement to be made.  Not only is safety of jockeys and horses imperative, but fewer breakdowns are essential for fan development.  The Jockey Club Injury Database is critical to this effort because it allows for quantitative measurements of progress.

Racing integrity:  Through its membership in the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, the Jockey Club is advocating for federal legislation (i.e., H.R. 3084, Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015) to mandate uniform medication rules across the United States and to deputize the United States Anti-Doping Agency to oversee drug policy and testing in horse racing, just as it does for “athletes in U.S. Olympic, Paralympic, Pan American, and Parapan American Sport, including all Olympic sport national governing bodies, their athletes, and events throughout the year.”

Based on my varied experiences as a long-time business-school professor, researcher/author, consultant to companies of all sizes and lines of enterprise, and corporate director, I strongly believe that without such proactive Jockey Club involvement over the last several decades, American horse racing would have suffered economically far more than it has in the face of vigorous competition for the entertainment and gambling dollar.

While the Jockey Club does not have the power of a league commission, it is making a difference where it can…and that is a reason for optimism about horse racing’s future as a sport/business.

Copyright © 2015 Horse Racing Business

For the record, I have no business relationship with the American Jockey Club or any of its members.

Comments

  1. I had no idea about the membership diversity and what all the Club has been active in. Pretty hard to argue that it is a haven for idle wealthy guys who never worked for a living. Racing would be in worse shape without the JC.

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