OFF THE PACE: WHAT RACING SHOULD DO… YESTERDAY

In this first of a three part series, I present comments received from some trainers, owners, agents and jockeys when asked the following question; “What is the number one change that racing needs to make?”  In the second part you will see ideas from some of my betting compatriots. In the third and final part of this series, I will list the top 10 changes, which in my opinion are so vital, they needed to be implemented yesterday.

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I find it telling that a number of the responders submitted more than one idea though I only asked for the most important item that needed to be addressed.  Additionally there were many different ideas suggested. I think this speaks to both the depth and the breadth of potential reforms.

Jenine Sahadi, a trainer whose resume includes training a Santa Anita Derby winner and two Breeders’ Cup Sprint champions, said promotion and education reforms have to be gambling-driven.  

“We have done a poor job of bringing in new players,” she said.

She also stressed the need for public relation efforts that highlight the improvements the game has made.  She felt efforts to stress improvements might offset the constant negativity racing receives from outside press. One potential area: the decline in the frequency of equine fatalities.

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Growing the game was also emphasized by Tom “TK” Kuegler, who is the founder and managing partner of Wasabi Ventures Stables.

He said, “We need to make the game much more accessible via simple and easy-to-bet opportunities.” He added, “Make all video feeds available to the entire country for free.”  One of his trainers, Jesse Cruz, said, “Appeal to the young generation. We have to figure out ways to get young people to the racetrack.”

Gene McLean, who is cofounder of the Louisville Thoroughbred Society, proposed a somewhat outside-the-box idea: “I think racetracks should limit the number of stalls to a single trainer. The mega-trainer is truly limiting the number of entries and a sense of fair and equitable competition!”

The sport has seen a number of rules changes in recent years, and not everyone thinks they are for the good. In fact, a number of suggestions revolved around undoing some recent rule changes.

Trainer Andy Simoff suggested, “We need to stop this idea that racing is better off without Lasix. Many horses need this medication to continue their careers.” 

Jockey Tyler Conner wants to roll back the new whip restrictions – for example, limiting the number of strikes and governing how they are delivered — and stated that rules like that are symptomatic of a bigger problem. He said,” I would probably change the way outside organizations influence racing. It seems the higher-ups are always trying to please the outside public who know nothing about racing, instead of trying to fix racing for the better.”

John Weilbacher, who has been a jockey agent both in the mid-Atlantic region and at Tampa Bay Downs, said there was a need for “more consistency track-to-track from the stewards involving jockey DQs. Probably far-fetched but not sure why we can’t have a central headquarters like they do with football replays. Also the whip rule needs to be addressed. It is just not fair to the bettors and owners.”

Consistency on an even larger scale was emphasized by jockey Trevor McCarthy, who stated, “If I could change one thing, it would be that all rules should be the same at every racetrack.”

Local owner Chris Brown, best known for tweeting about Cyrus, the colt who can’t roll, was very passionate about what needs to be done. He said, “The #1 thing the industry needs to do is start caring and stop making excuses to keep the status quo. The folks that are in charge need to look in the mirror and admit we’re in trouble. Be honest, start listening to people instead of pretending everything is fine. It’s the only way we can turn the ship around! We can keep debating until we’re blue, it will never matter until the people that have been running things forever begin to care or leave.”

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