The opening day of the second Pan American Conference got off to a solid start May 18 in Washington, D.C., with several bridge-building panels to help the sport of Thoroughbred racing grow internationally.
Stuart Janney III, chairman of The Jockey Club, welcomed some 400 registered guests at the Grand Hyatt. His message to the international group was one of U.S. racing continuing to embrace technology and becoming a "national" business. Racing controlled on a state-by-state basis is a "vestige of the past and the past is becoming less relevant," Janney said while speaking of the need for there to be one set of rules, on par with other international countries.
The morning keynote speech was delivered by U.S. Congressman Andy Barr, the Republican representative from the sixth district in Kentucky. A co-sponsor of the Horse Racing Integrity Act, he noted he planned on reintroducing the legislation within the next few weeks.
"Lack of uniformity creates problems for owners, trainers, equine practitioners, and the public," Barr said. "We think we should unify racing under a single set of rules. We recognize that some of racing's challenges are not solely attributable with the lack of uniformity, but we also recognize we need to eliminate excuses for young millennials not to become fans of our sport. Our commitment to integrity, safety, and uniform rules is a great way to bring more people into the industry."
One of the more engaging panels of the day was a group of trainers discussing the benefits and hurdles of racing across international borders. Hosted by Kim Kelly of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the trainers consisted of Criquette Head-Maarek, Ignacio Correas IV, Kenny McPeek, and Breeders' Cup's Josh Christian.
While international racing is growing, the difficulty between shipping from the Southern Hemisphere to the U.S. remains a high hurdle.
"When we move east to west that's pretty good," Correas said. "When you change hemispheres, especially from South America to North America, it takes a lot more time because of the quarantine. For quarantine the horse has to stay in its stall for seven days. They get only hay—no grain. They are not allowed to leave the stall.
"The horses are at a real disadvantage. You can't train. You can't even touch your horse. The horses lose weight in those seven days. It's something the industry needs to address. South American horses ... it's impossible to run off the plane."
McPeek added: "The fillies coming from South America ... the issue is the cycle. So, you think about a broodmare cycle. ... The fillies have to change direction on their cycles. They are used to going from a spring-summer-fall and then all of a sudden they have to go the other way and their coats change. You have to be patient. Usually it takes six months, plus or minus. If we could eliminate the quarantine, it would make the steps easier."
One way the Breeders' Cup works with the north/south issue to recruit runners from the Southern Hemisphere is through their "Breeders' Cup Challenge" races. The Challenge races are in May and June, which allows connections time to decide to compete in the Breeders' Cup and plan acclimation time. Challenge winners also have their entry fee waived and are allowed travel expenses up to $40,000.
In general, McPeek embraces the international experience and said ideally he'd like to run horses in the Carlos Pelligrini races (a series similar to the Breeders' Cup run in Argentina).
"It's a blast taking these types of trips," he said. "Some owners and trainers are more conservative and worry about things they've never experienced. A horse race is a horse race.
"If you have a horse that is doing well and an owner who is brave and wants to have a good time, it's super. Wesley Ward talked to me before he took his first horse over (to Royal Ascot). I told him, 'Relax, take a good horse, and fire away.' He's done a great job. He's aggressive and he pops them off when they're ready. He's like a king over there coming from the U.S. It's entertaining."
During a presentation from the Korean Racing Association, some interesting numbers were released:
Korea's 2015 purses totaled the equivalent of $156 million based on a handle of $6.4 billion. Considering computerized pari-mutuel betting just got underway in Korea in 1984, they rank seventh in handle worldwide and fourth in purses paid, behind only the U.S., Japan, and Australia.
The day concluded with a discussion on racetrack and facility design, with moderator Paul Roberts of Turnberry Consulting reminding the audience: "The live experience is the lifeblood of the sport. If something doesn't grab you, that's a problem."
The social experience at racetracks were most easily compared with baseball venues and the discussion covered "what can racetracks be beyond racetracks?" as many newly constructed sports venues are fitted out to house other forms of entertainment.
The Pan American Conference, sponsored by The Jockey Club and the Latin American Racing Channel, concludes May 19, with most delegates heading to Pimlico Race Course for the Preakness Stakes (G1) the following day.