Friday, 15 February 2019 19:38

Uncertain Futures

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February 15, 2019

Uncertain Futures

By: Jonathan Stettin


To a large extent, the future is always uncertain. You can escalate that when you talk horse racing. Today, more than ever, the future of the Sport of Kings faces serious questions about how it will survive.

Let’s look at what we know. Saratoga has become a watered down meet not even closely reminiscent of the boutique high-quality August place to be it once was. NYRA has extended it to be a summer-long event and the fields you see on the large majority of days could be run at Aqueduct in the winter.

Aqueduct faces closure. The inner track for winter racing is gone. The casino is the focal point of the plant with racing a mere backdrop. The grandstand and clubhouse are dated and falling apart.

Belmont is undergoing renovations, maybe as no ground has been broken yet, but a hockey arena is apparently moving in. The old Belmont will be another Paradise Lost soon.

Hollywood Park is barely a memory.

Calder is not even a memory.

Pimlico is so run down it is in danger of losing the Preakness. If it does they will be a memory also.

Suffolk Downs. Gone.

Hialeah is like it never existed.

Santa Anita despite being home of one of the games powerhouse stables, Bob Baffert’s, struggles to find entries for their races.

Illegal drugs are seemingly prevalent. Legal drugs are overused and misused. Stewards are inconsistent at best. Super trainers are driving small barns into the ground.

Slaughter and aftercare are a serious issue. Perception of the sport is more negative than positive.

You can fire a cannon at most tracks during the week, and on plenty of weekends and not hit a soul.

Tracks can’t work together to the point of staggering post times, let alone any uniformity on significant matters.

Some of the things we don’t know can have even more ramifications.

Nobody really knows how sports wagering is going to impact or interact with horse racing. Many of the scenarios are not looking that good for our game. Why do any books need to share any revenue with horseman and or racetracks? I don’t know but if they don’t have to a good bet is they won’t. Hardcore horseplayers who feel alienated by the tracks are likely to be exposed to sports wagering. Even if sports wagering is not promoted, sports get mainstream coverage, and that will attract some players. I am not sold on us attracting any hardcore sports bettors. They have already been exposed to our game and landed where they did for a reason.

One of the most interesting things developing is the Stronach Trust lawsuit. While there have been reports on it, nobody I have seen is really looking at the scenarios that may unfold.

Stronach owns Santa Anita, Gulfstream and Pimlico amongst other tracks and assets. They own Adena Springs. These are major players in the thoroughbred industry. We know from the preliminary discovery all these tracks and the farm are losing money. Belinda, Franks daughter is claiming it is the result of Frank’s poor management and expensive whims.

Back when Gulfstream transitioned from the old facility to the new one I was still attending the races daily. I was there every day at the tent meet and the first few years in the new facility. I remember shortly after the new venue opened there was talk of a Magna bankruptcy. The 10 Palms staff, many who were my friends were worried about paychecks bouncing. It seemed that all went away, but now it seems that possibly it didn’t or may return.

I don’t know the financial situation of the Stronach holdings nor does it matter from where I sit. I do know that none of us know how this litigation will play out and what a settlement, verdict, or court order will do to the game.

What if Belinda wins and decides to sell off the racing assets? What is the court or Judge orders some type of asset dispersal? What is a settlement is reached which gives Frank the racing operations and they can’t sustain themselves? A lot of what ifs in that lawsuit and they almost all create uncertainty for the sport we love.

I think the potential is there for this lawsuit to have some major impact on horse racing. Maybe not tomorrow but down the road. Most of the scenarios look iffy at best.