Opportunities Ahead

By D.G. Van Clief Jr.
For those inclined to look on the bright side, present company included, 2005 was a challenging year for Thoroughbred racing. As one Turf writer pointed out, even the best on-track performance was fraught with peril, as Afleet Alex and jockey Jeremy Rose overcame near disaster in the Preakness (gr. I).

The negatives have been well documented and, frankly, it is counterproductive to get bogged down by them. So, in the interest of offering solutions rather than problems, I would like to look back on a few of the positives for our organization and our industry in 2005 and to look forward to how we need to address key opportunities in 2006.

Top on the list for 2005 would be record membership commitments to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association by industry organizations, reflecting the recognition that we accomplish more working together, and general industry concurrence with our 2006-10 goals in five key areas: fan development, Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, sponsorship/group purchasing, and legislative and trade association functions.

We announced a new partnership with ESPN/ABC Sports that has vast potential to grow the audience and build the Breeders' Cup brand. We made progress in fan development, including the introduction of a new ad campaign and tagline, "Who Do You Like Today?" that shines the light on celebrity interest in horse racing, and we introduced Breeders' Cup-branded Xbox and PlayStation games to appeal to a new generation of gamers.

We led industry response on issues like jockeys' accident insurance and fallout from federal indictments related to money laundering in New York and New Jersey.

We continued to strengthen and expand our influence on Capitol Hill. Our legislative team helped draft a bill designed to promote investment in the industry. The Equine Equity Act reduces the capital gains holding period for horses, accelerates depreciation for racehorses, and makes horses eligible for federal disaster assistance.

For the first time, all eight Breeders' Cup races were sponsored by global brands. Our tandem NTRA Purchasing program helped the industry achieve record savings on $80 million in sales. And last but not least, the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Belmont Park set records for handle and purses.

Certainly, this list in no way diminishes the challenges we face--attracting new fans, growing handle, protecting our position as the only legal form of Internet gambling, addressing integrity issues, and working together as a functional industry.

As we develop our fan base, especially in the age of new media, it is important to offer an integrated platform that includes network and cable television, Internet, broadband, on-demand, mobile, and other digital content delivery methods. The resources and promotional power that ESPN/ABC Sports can deliver here made it an easy choice to partner with them for the next eight years. They are committed to providing media and promotion beyond our current ability to buy on the open market. But the onus is on us as we move forward to deliver the best and most compelling content, including a properly structured racing series for 2007.

The Office of Racing Integrity is a top priority for 2006. While we have taken steps to upgrade the security of our wagering systems, we need state-of-the-art capabilities to monitor transactions and to recognize potential irregularities to protect the wagering public.

In addition to legislative action such as the Equine Equity Act and other measures like it, with the continued growth of TVG and account wagering, our Washington team remains vigilant to combat any threats to our ability to conduct legal wagering.

We will also be working to sustain the global prominence of the Breeders' Cup brand and our championship day of racing, grow event handle and purses, and attract non-industry revenue to the game.

When John Gaines originally proposed the Breeders' Cup 23 years ago, there were many detractors who doubted this industry's ability to pull together for the common good. But by the end of 1984, we had demonstrated what we can achieve by working together. Looking toward 2006, especially for those in leadership roles, without question, a collaborative approach such as the one that launched the Breeders' Cup will be necessary for the industry to move forward.