Commentary: Battle Lines
by Evan Hammonds
Date Posted: 8/21/2007 11:21:43 AM

Evan I. Hammonds
Managing Editor

Photo: Lee Thomas

Advance deposit wagering, which most sources agree accounts for about 10% of handle on Thoroughbred racing, is the sport’s latest battleground. Anyone with an online or phone wagering account has been forced into hand-to-hand combat in the last few months with the advent of TrackNet Media, a joint venture of Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp., and the ending of many exclusive content contracts with TVG.

The upheaval has forced bettors into racing’s version of Pickett’s Charge, to choose sides with one provider or another and narrow their focus of content; open multiple accounts to handle a full assortment of tracks; or worse, retreat altogether.

The root of the problem is easy to find—the economic model that was set up with the advent of satellite technology and simulcasting in the 1970s. But with betting off-track, where the majority of handle now originates, it’s apparent the way takeout is distributed today is putting a strain on horsemen and the tracks that put on the races.

The future of ADW was front and center at the 55th annual Jockey Club Round Table Aug. 19. Presentations were made by Robert Evans, president and CEO of Churchill Downs; David Nathanson, senior vice president and general manager of TVG; and Joe Santanna, president and chairman of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

All made compelling arguments; however, the future of how the sport will be presented is plenty murky.

Evans is banking on the future with technology. One of his keys to online success is Internet Protocol TV, or IPTV, which is essentially television online. He admits it’s “not ready for prime time” yet but feels it will get better quickly.

Nathanson hammered home the fact “people will bet on what they can watch on television.” That concept isn’t in doubt, but what can be questioned is how we’ll watch television in the future.

With the rapid expansion of on-demand content online offered by the networks, the growth of sites like YouTube, and the advancements in wireless products, who knows where, what, or how we’ll view “television” in the coming years?

Can an industry wait and watch? Probably not.

Alan Marzelli of The Jockey Club provided the closing remarks on the topic and made an easy-to-follow presentation showing the drop-off in attendance in Major League Baseball following the 1994 strike that eventually ended the season and canceled the World Series. It wasn’t until 1998 that baseball recovered from internal fighting and bickering to return to its pre-strike attendance levels.

“Can racing afford to do the same?” Marzelli asked. “The view here is we won’t solve this or any of our major racing problems by each going our own way.”

Thoroughbred racing’s fractious nature has been worn like a scarlet letter for as long as anyone can remember. We’re at yet another crossroads, with the entire economic model being questioned.

If we are divided, we’ll be conquered.

MILEAGE MARKER

It was a pleasant surprise to see New York Racing Association’s racing secretary P.J. Campo card a two-mile allowance race on a Saratoga Saturday (Aug. 18). He noted he’s been with NYRA for 11 years and couldn’t recall running a race at that distance—on the main track and not over jumps—at the Spa. Even though it’s only one event, it’s a move in the right direction to showcase stamina in the Thoroughbred.

There was a time when Belmont Park’s two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup was the championship-defining race near the end of the racing year. Martha Gerry’s Forego won it in 1974, the next-to-last year it was run at that trip. This year’s grade I Gold Cup will be run Sept. 30 at 1 1/4 miles.



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