Round Table Sounds Optimism, Cooperation

The overall theme of this year's Jockey Club Round Table was optimism.

Participants in The Jockey Club Round Table Aug. 22 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., sought to convey optimism and opportunity in the face of declines in many facets of the Thoroughbred industry.

As part of presentations by racetrack operators, New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority chief executive officer Dennis Robinson said this year’s “elite summer meet” at Monmouth Park is an example of what the industry can accomplish with a commitment to change.

The "fewer-days-higher-purses" experiment at Monmouth got off to a quick start, and through mid-August held strong with a 40% increase in ontrack pari-mutuel handle, 127% hike in export handle, an 11% gain in ontrack attendance, and a 23% increase in average field size, Robinson said. The plan required cooperation from all factions in New Jersey, he said.

“We’re at a collective crossroads, not only at Monmouth Park but across the country,” Robinson said. “It’s clear we’re not going to cut our way out of this predicament.”

The NJSEA has made cuts over the years, but the condensed racing schedule and funds from the final year of a casino purse supplement have fostered growth. It remains to be seen whether the state will continue its support of New Jersey racing, but comments by Robinson indicated optimism in that regard.

As for how the experiment came about, Robinson said: “Without trust and credibility, you cannot make significant change.”

The New York Racing Association is preparing for change that will come when revenue is realized from video lottery terminals. NYRA chairman Steve Duncker said improved conditions at NYRA tracks are important for the entire Thoroughbred industry.

Estimates offered by Duncker suggest NYRA will get about $18.1 million a year for capital improvements. Purses will get $29.4 million a year, and breed development $4.5 million a year. Duncker said he's extremely optimistic about the future of New York racing.

On the topic of pari-mutuel takeout rates, Duncker noted the blended rates in New York were 15% in 1960, 17% in 1970, and 19.81% in 2010. Over that period, racing has faced growing competition from other forms of gambling that employ takeout rates of 2%-10%.

“What business people in this audience think that’s the way to increase business?” Duncker said. “We’re being priced out of this market. We need to bring the cost of our product down in a competitive market.”

Jockey Club president Jim Gagliano said trends in the industry—breeding and business—should be viewed as an opportunity, because contraction is inevitable.

“We’re on the verge of a flight to quality,” Gagliano said.