U. S. RACING NEEDS INTERNATIONAL HELP, BY FRED A. POPE

Some people spend time thinking about how to win a big race. Some dream bigger. They think about how to deliver a bright future for the Thoroughbred breed.

The Breeders’ Cup cancelled its ban of race-day drugs and some liked the decision, thinking it might help them win a race. Others felt betrayed and one man resigned. That man, Oliver Tait, works for Darley, the racing operation of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Sheikh Mohammed dreams big. A part of his dream is playing out this month in Dubai on a scale only a country ruler can implement. But his role in educating newcomers and supporting Thoroughbred needs around the world is well known and respected.

Mr. Tait said he resigned because Sheikh Mohammed wants the sport to be enjoyed and admired by a new generation of participants and enthusiasts. He noted other sports have distanced themselves from drugs.

The Breeders’ Cup attempt to go drug-free was not going to change U.S. racing. It would be like the NFL saying the Super Bowl will be drug-free, but not the games during the season and the playoffs.

Is the drug image here a barrier for current and future generations, or is it just one symptom of the real problem in U.S. racing?

The real problem is the lack of a talent-based structure, where like-minded stakeholders who own the talent control a top portion of the sport.

There are few stakeholders like Sheikh Mohammed. He has more skin in the game than anyone. In U.S. racing, Frank Stronach probably has the most integrated investment. Then around the world come major players like John Magnier, the Aga Khan, Terry Yoshida, and Khalid Abdullah.

These individuals and more share a vested interest in seeing racing enjoyed and admired by a new generation of participants and enthusiasts. They agree to the restrictions necessary for the sport to have credibility.

Sheikh Mohammed can do well in Europe, Dubai, Australia and Japan without U.S. racing and breeding. But his dream for the future includes the world’s largest market, just like every worldwide enterprise has a U.S. strategy.

So, what are these leading stakeholders in an international sport to do with a country that is not only damaging the image of their game, but might also be hurting the future of the breed?

It is easy to do nothing. It wasn’t easy for Sheikh Mohammed to build Meydan in Dubai, or for the Aga Khan to save Chantilly. These are not casual stakeholders. But I doubt they have ever considered U.S. racing a problem they could help solve.

U.S. racing has now exhausted the strategies available under the current track-based structure. Every organization has tried and none can overcome it. Not the Jockey Club, not TOBA, not RCI, and finally not the Breeders’ Cup. It is not just drug policy, every aspect of the game will benefit from the introduction of a new, talent-based structure.

The same U.S. laws that prohibit control of all Thoroughbred racing also allow like-minded stakeholders to join together and form a racing program within the sport. That’s how Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NBA are able to take restrictive actions to benefit their brand, because their brand is the public face that advances the entire sport.

Sport has one indispensable element—talent. It is movable and it is the legal basis for all sports contracts. It doesn’t matter where the talent comes from, the entity that organizes, packages and presents the talent can change and grow the image of a sport quickly.

Ironically, the one country damaging the international sport is also the only country where racehorse owners can introduce their own racing program. A new brand can become a beacon that shines a refreshing light on the sport and assures common international rules to benefit the Thoroughbred breed. The infrastructure is in place and ready to partner with talent-based stakeholders committed for the long run.

How is a talent-based structure different from the current track-based structure? Facility owners do not make rules in any successful sport. They do not determine how to package, present, and promote the sport. The best example for racing is the PGA Tour, where the talent agrees to rules, contracts with the golf course owners, then packages, presents and promotes their brand of golf. It works.

Every sport has had to wait until strong individuals joined together and defined a talent-based structure for the highest level of each sport. That is the segment within each sport the public enjoys and admires.

Perhaps less than 200 individuals worldwide have the means and ability to put aside rivalries and join together for the future of the breed. Right now, the country with the most problems, the most need and the most potential to elevate racing internationally is the U.S.

Each country, except the U.S., has a structure to protect racing within its own borders, but as our problems here illuminate, we are missing an overall authority to protect the Thoroughbred breed across borders. Who has the worldwide plan for the Thoroughbred breed? There is no international Jockey Club, just individual countries.

There is a body called the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), which helps harmonize racing rules to allow owners to cross borders. It does a fine job, but it is not a modern sport structure.

Even with IFHA agreements on rules, each country is an island. The mix of Jockey Clubs and government agencies provide the public face of racing and breeding. However, in each country strong individuals are the backbone and real power.

No matter how powerful, racehorse owners worldwide move to the whims of those who control racing events in each country. Some owners leverage these event organizers, but in no country do the racehorse owners call the shots in the same way the talent in other sports protect, monetize, and expand their brand.

It is time for racehorse owners, both domestic and international, to step into direct involvement in order to protect and develop the sport and the breed. That is the void in our international game.

I won’t suggest now how a new structure be formed or how it would operate as a business. I hope this piece encourages serious rivals to see the opportunity and need to join together for the breed.

There is every reason to believe that in the world’s best market, a new brand of racing can be established quickly and communicate its benefits as fast as possible.

Copyright © 2013 Fred A. Pope

Mr. Pope can be reached at fpope@popead.com

Comments

  1. A thorough review of racing was conducted during the possible sale of NYCOTB.Several top consulting firms all concluded US racing to be a dying business with a mature and shrinking customer base, a poor business investment.

    There were no remedies seen with 38 separate States vying for their own benefit. As a business prop, put a fork in racing!

  2. James Staples says

    Not one damn word about the GAMBLER$ INPUT on all this XXX thats been going on with T-Bred Horse Racing in this nation for WAY WAY to long!!!…There are a BUNCH of people involved in “THE GAME” that SHOULD be IN PRISON or on their way THERE…PERIOD…ty…

  3. Fred is always provocative…even if one doesn’t agree with him. He has lots of ideas and stimulates a person to think.

  4. Mike you might just be wrong about racing being a dying business. That’s also the conventional wisdom about newspapers and Warren Buffett is buying them up. Several top investment companies have a buy on Gannett.

  5. Read the interview on the Paulick Report with the Australian vet and see how out of step the US is on the use of Lasix. Fred, I doubt that foreign TB leaders think USA racing can be brought up to world standards (Europe, Asia, etc.) because the US trainers can’t get off their addiction to Lasix. Only a matter of time until foreigners give up on US bloodstock purchases if Lasix continues as the drug of choice.

  6. The vet is right on and has lots of support from commenters.

  7. Charlie Davis says

    So basically, follow the CA model where the TOC runs everything and the tracks are closing. Once again you forget about the customers.

  8. Charlie…
    No doubt the customers come first. Absolutely. But that has nothing to do with Fred’s theme. The major sports leagues are all based around talent and the fans flock to see the games. Fred’s not saying to ignore customers.

  9. ratherapid says

    Fred Pope is the poster boy for capture of racing by a small club of rich owners. Congrats Fred since that is ur conception of the future of racing. Mine is the continued democracy of the sport where all can participate with a small investment. Expand the sport instead of contract it into little rich boy’s club. And, btw Fred–I request to cease talking about something u know nothing about–lasix, or possibly u’d provide some research or fact the EIPH is genetic and affects the “breed”.

  10. Charlie Davis says

    Manny,

    I know that Mr. Pope doesn’t mean to ignore the customers, but I think the majority of his plans do just that.

    If you look at the major sports, you’ll find sports that get revenue from sponsors, and customer purchases. Those sponsors drive decisions in each sport, not the players or the team owners. The customer is the sponsor, and they are the ones that the sport is based around.

    If you look at our sport you’ll see a sport that gets revenue from gambling. Sponsors are not the customer, the gambler is the customer.

    Putting the owners in charge of the sport, never works because these “200 individuals” that have the means and ability do not understand the basic economics of the sport. They live in a different world where they make money selling horses, winning races, etc. They are running for guaranteed purses, with no concept of where the purse money comes from.

    I think CA is a great warning against Mr. Pope’s idea. The TOC has 100% control of CA racing and through their leadership, they’re destroying the sport there. Let’s not forget that Mr. Stronach, one of Mr. Pope’s proposed leaders, is very involved in that jurisdiction. They’re turning race tracks into housing developments, making lots of money, and watching 6 horse fields where 4 of them are with the same trainer. All the while watching handle dwindle, fields shrink, barns close, and tracks close.

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