Dan Liebman

Dan Liebman Editor-in-Chief

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Commentary: One Small Step

It was an item that didn’t draw many headlines. But, as Neil Armstrong so eloquently said about one small step, it can lead to a giant leap. In a similar vein, this announcement is the type that could signal cooperation that could lead to meaningful change.

The key word, of course, being “could.”

Still, the fact officials from New York, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania gathered to discuss working together on issues, while not as dramatic as the first step on the moon, has taken longer to achieve and, if in fact anything does comes from the meeting, will mean more to the Thoroughbred industry than Armstrong’s footprint has meant to most Americans.

Consider this: On July 29, Saratoga ran the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds going nine furlongs with a purse of $500,000 guaranteed; on Aug. 4, Mountaineer ran the West Virginia Derby (gr. III) for 3-year-olds going nine furlongs with a purse of $750,000 guaranteed; and on Aug. 5, Monmouth ran the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) for 3-year-olds going nine furlongs with a purse of $1 million guaranteed.

The scheduling of races is just one of many issues tracks in a region should regularly sit down to discuss, though it certainly is one of the most important. It doesn’t take a genius to see that three races in a week’s time for the same horses make little sense. It did make sense 30 years ago, when there was no such thing as simulcasting. Attracting the right horses to your race helped your handle, which was all on-track. It didn’t matter what was happening 60 miles or 600 miles away. But we are in a different era now.

Today, roughly 85% of the dollars wagered on races are placed off-track at simulcast sites, through phone accounts, or by clicking a button on an Internet site. The game has changed, but most tracks and their mindsets have not.  

Prior to simulcasting, a horse player handicapped one track, attended the live races, and wagered on the card. Options are plentiful in 2007, and track officials, rather than being parochial, can capitalize on this. There is nothing wrong with marketing another track’s marquee race. Many tracks throughout the country promote the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), so why shouldn’t tracks throughout the East Coast promote the Travers (gr. I) or Haskell? 

How many handicappers would be engaged by a Pick Six that encompassed races at six different tracks?

What if track officials in every state in a region sat down to see if they could collectively save money by purchasing televisions through a common supplier, or agreed to serve a certain brand of soft drink or beer, thus cutting a better rate with distributors?  

For decades, there has been discussion of uniform medication rules and testing methods. If it can’t happen nationally, perhaps regionally is at least a start. With horses regularly shipping from state to state on the East Coast, it makes sense that a horseman could treat his horses without worrying which state he might ship to for the runner’s next start. 

Competition is a good thing; it certainly drives people to perform better. But in many instances, even those in competition can come together when it not only serves all their interests, but also helps to better serve the industry of which they are all a part.

That a meeting took place among officials from some tracks in New York, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania is a step in the right direction. They should meet again, and add officials from Maryland, West Virginia, and Massachusetts.  

Just imagine, tracks actually working together for the betterment of each other.

This is a small step; no spaceship required.