Thoughts on Propulsion, racing’s need to control its own signal and more

HRU Feedback (2020-06-07)

June 6, 2020

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Propulsion should have been fully vetted before purchase

If you’re accepting comments for publication on Propulsion (full story here), I’d like to offer one — being totally disinterested of any party involved. A $210,000 purchase is not significant for big players even in today’s rocky world. Still, it’s hard to phantom such a purchase without this colt being fully vetted and his connections not consulted. Putting that aside, the old axiom holds true, especially in horse sales: let the buyer beware. An expectation that a jurisdiction with fixed rules under which everyone is accountable will grant a waiver, based on “I didn’t know” is a big ask. Perhaps mistakes were made throughout, but the facts are clear based on a single question: was the horse nerved? If the answer is yes, all else is secondary and a disqualification is the right thing to do.

– Vincent Lee

More on Propulsion

Until some half an hour ago I did not know about your existence. Now I am to thank you for Mr. Briggs’ excellent piece on the Propulsion affair (full story here).

Mr. Briggs hit the nail on the head. The timeline he provides is wonderful, his conclusions one can only agree with.

Though Daniel Redén may not be without blame altogether, it is, on the other hand, not surprising he trusted all who did the paperwork on Propulsion. Only thing though, making a call to the U.S. himself to find out about the nerve cuts would have been wise — but then, why, after two Travsport veterinarians examined the horse and concluded he had full sensitivity in both fore feet? There comes a point you must be able to trust people.

Next to this is the expectation of the time a nerve cut will stay effective. In my (shared by many) opinion it’s impossible that Propulsion can have raced at top level for a far longer than normal time with those nerves still not grown back together (nerves grown back means returning pain in case of an issue). Nor, that he did not break down because he would not have spared a foot or a whole leg even. Having sense in those bodyparts or not.

In general: can a horse race (and be trained heavily) for five long years without ever being lame, ever setting one foot wrong, never irregular, never jumping away, never galloping, etc., if it was not in a perfect shape? Isn’t it so that a horse that doesn’t feel pain (the warning sign) would break down if there was even the slightest amiss? Propulsion did not.

Daniel Redén is known for being an excellent trainer, an example for the trotting sport as a whole, and an avid lover of his horses. No way he’d race a horse ailing.

My question I cannot get answered: what was the reason, other than a chronic lameness, for those nerve cuts, more so because preoperative survey by radiographs didn’t show any ailments? Was Propulsion physically healthy, but was the lameness caused by growing pains, by a work scheme too much for him, or a combination of both? Was all this big horse needed more time and patience? This question underscored by what a Swedish trotting horse journalist thought of Propulsion on seeing him at the track shortly after arrival in Sweden: a good horse, but no future top horse, not, in my own words, a mature horse (which was drastically changed after half a year of training by Daniel Redén).

If so, then basically we here have a sound very hard horse with a blemish caused by outside circumstances. And a horse that indeed raced and won with full sense in both fore feet (based on the estimate of the time the nerve cuts would be effective).

There are many questions to be answered yet.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed for horse, trainer, groom and all others at the stable. And wish for an honest outcome.

Lastly: excuse my, at times, wobbly English. English is not my native language.

– Ineke Drossaart / Dutch by birth, but mailing from Sweden

Tracks need to own their own product, control own racing signal

Now that harness racing is reopening throughout North America, we should all be focusing on what we have to do to keep it open and turn it into a profitable stand-alone business in the Coronavirus, and post Coronavirus, era.

The likely reason for Pennsylvania’s slow harness restart is the absence of casino revenues all too necessary to fund Pennsylvania racing. It is an intriguing question as to why other states with equal dependence on casino revenues have been willing and able to start more quickly, and it is important to understand the answer to that question, for lessons should be learned for future unexpected funding interruptions. One can only hope that the Pennsylvania governor’s previously stated desire to divert the bulk of racing’s non racing income to what he perceived to be more compelling state social funding requirements is not a lurking factor.

In any case, the Coronavirus will doubtless accelerate changes to society, lifestyle, and industries across the board. Racing would be wise to understand now what the shape of that change will be, and to proactively respond to it rather than placidly waiting for the inevitable to overwhelm it.

With respect to racing, the accelerated domination of online, off site wagering as a percentage of total wagered dollars will be the inevitable residue. It was going to happen anyway, but our industry was hoping against hope that through some marketing ingenuity or unknown miracle, the rapid disappearance of on track attendance could be reversed. Coronavirus should make it clear to all that any business model whose profitability is largely based on personal, on site attendance is vulnerable and in need of reshaping to accommodate new consumer trends born from Coronavirus experiences and the drumbeat of new habits created by technological innovations. Increasingly people want to do things the easy way, and as quickly as possible. Young people even more so! With respect to racing, this is a deathknell for on track attendance, except for special event days, and it militates against interminably long race nights, post drags, and more than 15 minute intervals between races. Racing has to finally reconstruct its product to meet evolving potential customer proclivities rather than mindlessly continuing to pursue a Quixotic hope that it can reconstruct customer desires.

I only point out the above to emphasize the singular path racing has to achieve financial independence, independence it will need from government and casino handouts if racing is to remain a major, viable industry. Even then, it is likely that only the major handle tracks will be able to survive, with smaller wagering tracks either reduced to fair like status, or remaining completely dependent on government and/or casino handouts. In a world where increasingly states are nearly insolvent and technology keeps obsoleting employment, especially at a workplace, the end to those handouts cannot be all that distant.

The singular path to which I refer is the rapid recalibration of wagering dollars emanating from all off site wagering hubs. In the new racing world in which almost all wagering will be derived from locations other than from the actual racetrack at which the races are run, the home track (and its horsemen) cannot survive on the financial model now in effect. Most tracks (I believe) receive approximately 20 per cent of dollars wagered in their facility on their races, but only 3 per cent on bets generated off site. Ontrack wagers on other tracks’ races also generate good rates in the 15-18 per cent range.

In the old, glory days of harness racing, this model worked well. On track attendance and wagering was huge, customers spent well on track amenities, off track and simulcast wagering were unavailable. When off track betting and simulcasting commenced, they were perceived as avenues for additive wagering, and their pervasive effect on racing wasn’t truly foreseen. The accelerated trend away from on track attendance wasn’t anticipated, the assumption that more customers would bet more AT A TRACK on a full menu of available races was prevalent – and, in retrospect, an unsuspected victim of technological advances and changing customer habits.

Today, however, racetracks cannot survive financially from the dismally low wagering volume generated at the track, from decreased customer spending on amenities, and from the measly 3 per cent generated from off-site wagers! Reasonable estimates suggest the Meadowlands would need $5 million nightly handle to approach covering costs and overhead.

As interestingly detailed in a recent Paulick Report on these realities, Internet wagering and platform companies like TVG, EXPRESSBET, DAYATTHETRACK, TWINSPIRES, and ROBERTS are benefiting from racing handle to the detriment of the very tracks who provide them with their lifeblood of product! That is both financially destructive to racing, and financially unconscionable with respect to the unduly large sums going to these companies. Perhaps when initially envisioned, these percentage wagering splits were justifiable as necessary inducements to attract investment in new technology, understanding that wagering patterns would need time to transition and bring profitability to these new platforms. But these wagering splits are now incompatible with realistic profit needs for racetracks. Period!

Tracks need to own their own product, to control their own racing signal, to have their own off track network (thoroughbreds already recognize and do this to an extent), to make a sufficient return from racing in an online age to offer an online product.

Racing has leverage. It is their product that customers want, and know, and feel comfortable wagering on. Foreign competitors can challenge, but they are not as desirable to the betting hubs. Differing time zones present issues, and if domestic tracks restructure the wagering percentage split, foreign competitors will be aware of the fact and seek higher percentages too, albeit for them North American volume is gravy, not the meal.

I suggest that racetracks and the betting hub/platform/distribution companies share a common interest in modifying the wagering percentage split amongst all parties derived from off track dollars wagered. Without a racing industry — especially true for harness — that can independently sustain itself, everyone’s business will suffer. And a healthy racing industry can effectively help regrow wagering, evolve its’ racing and wagering options to fully access and expand its’ customer base and their contemporary wagering desires.

The only road to harness racing profitability lies along this path. Follow this path and government will be glad to assist an industry that can truly be profitable, and casinos will either willingly participate in a growing, vibrant, successful industry or cooperate in selling their racing interest for good value to an operator more in tune with racing! Failure to pursue this path will leave racing destitute and racetracks like cherries just waiting for the inevitable crow!

–  Gordon Banks / Coral Gables, FL

Will anything change?

As the world slowly gets back to normal but still with the threat of a second wave of COVID-19 I have to wonder will anything have changed. There is still pending the cases of the 29 persons who were indicted, which in my opinion will result in not much because, again in my opinion, these trainers didn’t just wake up one day and said I have to have a special edge that will keep me winning and my barn full, no it was the greed of owners and their egos.

The horse racing media glorifies these same owners in their stories and pictures actually false advertising that anyone can become successful, just put your money up and you’re a winner, which anyone who has lived and breathed the game their whole life knows that’s not the case. These giants of business who now own some of the best stock money can buy for the prestige and their ego, how in their business did they get to be that successful in the first place? We will never know only what the media tells us. It reminds me of that movie “Too Big to Fail” about the bank bailout by the government in the U.S. The government knew how reckless and ruthless the banking system was and warning after warning about their practices they still went against the government which inevitably resulted in the bailout. Is this not what we are seeing with some of these owners who even sit on the board of directors of racetracks all across North America?

The reality is that to stroke their ego it was to win at all cost, which in my opinion is the real problem horse racing has and this reckless egocentric ownership has penetrated the industry so deep when all is said and done nothing will have changed. Only a minor house cleaning and like this pandemic we have upon us a second wave of trainers that train for these win at all cost owners and they will carry on, business as usual.

– Bob Adams / London, ON

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