The trend line in pari-mutuel wagering in the United States has been mostly negative since 2004. Plausible reasons include: the expansion of casino gambling, illicit online gambling, uncompetitive takeout rates on bets, a severe recession, high unemployment, financially-stressed consumers, and the financial crisis of 2008. Another cause that has surely taken its toll is the ongoing adverse publicity horse racing has received owing, for example, to high-profile breakdowns, unflattering articles in the New York Times about industry practices, and a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals expose of a leading trainer.
The significant financial fallout that such notoriety can instigate is factually demonstrated by Sea World. The company announced that it expects 2014 revenue to fall by 6%-7%, and its stock is down by 22% over the past year. Sea World attributes these developments to “demand pressures related to recent media attention…” The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” presented the point of view that great harm is done to killer whales in captivity. The film resulted in increased media reports and motivated more animal-rights protests that Sea World acknowledges have damaged its brand.
Commercial endeavors featuring performing animals are particularly susceptible to public scrutiny because the participants do not have the choice of opting out. Horse racing’s image vulnerabilities with the public at least partially emanate from the generalization that racehorses are overmedicated by callous humans for monetary gains—a charge being propagated by conventional media, animal-rights organizations, and amateur blogs dedicated to the eradication of horse racing. Perception based on such a canard can become a false and hostile reality.
Racing in the United States must begin to burnish its sullied image by meaningfully demonstrating to the public that medication rules across the country are not only uniform, but are palpably intolerant of drugs and dosages to keep ailing horses running.
Copyright © 2014 Blood-Horse Publications. Used with permission.