The message given at the Mark Kaufman Workshop presented by the Turf Publicists of America Dec. 10 in Tucson, Ariz., was simple: Tell the truth or spin out of control.
The workshop, held each year during the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing and Gaming, this year tackled the issue of proactive versus reactive reporting in the world of online and social media. Horse racing is prone to spin when it comes to a message, but the tactics are becoming rather ineffective in a new environment that demands transparency.
"Tell the truth as fast as you can tell them the truth," said Michael Blowen, a former journalist who now operates Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement. "If you try to rewrite history and spin, you'll run into trouble."
"The landscape has change immensely, mainly in the absence of traditional newspapers covering the sport," said Marcus Hersch, a reporter and handicapper for Daily Racing Form. "Information will always get out; everybody knows everything about everything. I try to be as independent as I can and not rely on the people handing me information."
Amy Zimmerman, senior vice president of production and programming for HRTV, said it's a challenge to determine when information such as a racehorse breakdown should be disseminated. Years ago track officials would make sure the trainer and owner knew first; with daily coverage of races online and on television, however, the information is out there immediately.
Because of that, racing "needs to take control of the message (on social media)," Zimmerman said.
Hersch noted jurisdictions such as Hong Kong are effective at releasing a lot of information on horses on a regular basis. He said that strategy can be effective when something negative happens because there is an information trail that has been available to the public.
The workshop ventured into other issues.
In response to a question about whether a Triple Crown winner would boost interest in Thoroughbred racing, Blowen indicated he isn't convinced it would. He said people who visit Old Friends love to see racing's retired stars, many of which competed beyond their 3-year-old season.
"Putting all your eggs in the 3-year-old basket is one of the things killing the sport," Blowen said. "Cigar won the Massachusetts Handicap twice and literally saved Massachusetts racing for two years because of the interest he created."
Zimmerman offered a different perspective on the subject of early retirement of racehorses. She noted Triple Crown winner Secretariat retired at the end of his 3-year-old season, but his name and legacy resonate 40 years later.
"Just because they retire from racing I don't think their influence is decimated," Zimmerman said.
The TPA earlier in the day presented its Big Sport of Turfdom Award to jockey Gary Stevens, who was unable to attend the event after spending time in Hong Kong for the international races at Sha Tin the weekend of Dec. 8-9. Zimmerman, however, read an acceptance statement from the 50-year-old Stevens, who returned earlier this year after seven years in broadcasting.
"It's easier to ride in a race than talk about one on television," Stevens said. "Thanks for making it an amazing year."
Chris Lincoln, who moderated the Kaufman workshop and emceed the Big Sport of Turfdom presententation, noted the strong year Stevens had winning the Preakness Stakes, Breeders' Cup Distaff, and Breeders' Cup Classic (all gr. I) after a seven-year absence from race-riding.
"The only thing he couldn't do this year is get his butt here," Lincoln said jokingly.