Opening day of the inaugural Pan American Conference, being held June 3-4 in New York City, was part continuing education seminar, part technology trade show, and part round table discussion of the obstacles all Thoroughbred racing markets face toward becoming a fully integrated global sport.
"We face a lot of challenges," said Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, who kicked off the conference with a global overview. "The equator brings the challenge of doing business in two hemispheres. We'll hear a lot about reciprocity, the free exchange of simulcast signals. There is competition from bricks and mortar casinos and unregulated, online gaming; we have issues with takeout, medication rules, access to common data, and fluctuations in regulations."
The Americas, a region defined as the United States plus 13 other countries in North, Central and South America, produce 43.8% of the world's annual crop of Thoroughbred foals. Asia is next with 33.5% and the Europe/Mediterranean region contributes 22.7%. The Americas offer 44.7% of all Thoroughbred races worldwide but only generate 10.9% of the total wagering worldwide and pay 31.7% of the prize money. Asia is the leading region by wagering contribution at 56.5% and pays 53.8% of purse money worldwide.
"As a whole, Asia is gaining momentum and what it is doing deserves our attention," Waldrop said.
Waldrop's opening comments before more than 300 attendees were followed by eight presentations and panel discussions, held in a ballroom at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, where the conference continues June 5.
The presentations included an overview of Britian's new anti-doping rules, ways technology can be used to connect racing with its customers, a discussion of how graded/group stakes are rated internationally, and an overview of France's PMU pari-mutuel wagering and simulcasting outfit. The following are highlights of presentations related to the Latin American markets plus advice from Woodbine on how racing can deal with government.
Adrian Mansergh-Wallace, with Coolmore's Ashford Stud, spoke about the growing importance of the shuttling stallion market in South America.
"We are a big believer in the South American market and hopefully will continue shuttling horses of the caliber of Giant's Causeway and Scat Daddy to the principal breeders down there," he said. "It is a market we're convinced is very successful."
Scat Daddy is a particularly good example. Among his 10 grade/group I winners, eight are group I winners in Chile, including Il Campione, who won two legs of the Chilean Triple Crown this year and was recently sold to U.S. interests for a reported $2 million. He is now in the barn of trainer Chad Brown.
"The most problematic thing with shuttling is the shipping. It is always a risk," Mansergh-Wallace said. "But there are very good shippers that are all professional and do a great job. It is now relatively easy to get them there."
Julio Menditeguy, the owner of Haras Abolengo and president of the Argentina Breeders Association, said he is eager to see more balance in the trade between Argentina and the rest of the world. From 2009 through 2013, Argentina exported 1,401 Thoroughbreds and imported 1,203.
"We have seen a decrease in imports due to consequences of international trade and tariff barriers," Menditeguy said. "We need to do things in a fluid way—toward globalization, which is really the theme of this conference. The breeding stock needs a periodic introduction of fresh blood and genes."
Jim Lawson, CEO of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, gave a sobering presentation on how quickly a vibrant Thoroughbred breeding and racing market can sour with a sudden change in government leadership and priorities. The integration of slot machines at Ontario racetracks in 1999 was hugely successful, generating up to $800 million in revenue at Woodbine and its Mohawk harness track. Then the government decided the program was diverting too much money to the horse industry and shutdown the program virtually overnight.
"The slots-at-racetracks pull-back devastated an entire industry," Lawson said, noting that the Ontario foal crop dropped as much as 60%. "It did create an opportunity for us to educate the government. I was surprised at how little our government understood anything about our industry."
Compromises were struck and revenue from the slots program began flowing once again to support the Ontario breeding and racing program. Lawson said educating government leaders was the key.
"Governments don't care about horse racing, but they care about jobs and revenue," he said. "Now they understand the economic backbone created by live racing. The industry can sustain itself, the industry can work with government, and they can put on a great show together."
Carlo Rossi Soffia, chairman of the Valparaiso Sporting Club, offered insight into Chile's efforts to build a simulcast network. The South American country launched its simulcast network in 2013 with provisions that prevent the signal from "invading" a local market when it is holding live races. The simulcast network was build with total cooperation between racing associations (track owners), owners, breeders, and jockeys who are shared in the benefits of the new revenue stream.
Now Chile is looking for ways to share its signal with the world.
"We are trying to open borders to export and import," said Rossi through a translator. "People don't conceive that football or basketball games ever should not be viewed all over the world. We are asking why not horse racing?"
Guillermo Liberman, with Maroñas Entertainment, summed up many of the challenges South America faces in his keynote address at the end of the day's program.
"The relative weight, the presence of the region in the world arena is meager," Liberman said. "Breeders are an important and shuttle system has made it possible to breed to the good stallion on the opposite season, but when it comes to mares we have limitations."
He noted that a South American breeder cannot justify paying $200,000 for a mare in Europe or the U.S. with the purse money that is available. When a breeder does get a good mare or a good runner, the temptation is strong to sell the mare or send the runner overseas to take advantage of richer purses.
"If the breeder does not retain his best performing mares, then what is the purpose of the breeding (farm)?" he asked. Additionally, if top runners are sent overseas to compete then the class of these runners will never be reflected in the quality scores used to determine if a race deserves graded status.
"It prevents our top races from becoming more robust," he said. "We need to have more competition among ourselves." Liberman noted that efforts among South American countries to bring horses together to compete are not easy. The shipping is expensive, health requirements and other red tape make a viable South American circuit difficult.
Regardless, Liberman continued, South American owners, breeders, and racing authorities need to find a way to work with local governments and with sponsors to grow the circuit. He pointed to the partnership announced last year between the Swiss watchmaker Longines and the Organización Latinoamericana de Fomento del Sangre Pura de Carrera (OSAF). Longines became the title partner and official timekeeper of the group I Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano, which is the most prestigious race in Latin America. The sponsorship allows OSAF to provide $500,000 in purse money to the track hosting the race. OSAF is the South American Association for the promotion of Thoroughbred Race Horse Breeding in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
"Let's work on starting a regional calendar with a package of incentives—rich purses and travel allowances. It will take some time and a lot of work, but I believe it must be done," Liberman said.
The conference, which was conceived and organized by The Jockey Club and the Latin American Racing Channel (LARC), continues Thursday. Featured speakers include NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern; Louis Romanet, chairman of International Federation of Horseracing Authorities; and, David Howman, former director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency.