Tuesday, May 19, 2009

National Governing Body Would Help An Industry In Trouble

The thoroughbred racing industry is in big trouble these days. One needs to look no further than two of the sport's top racing hubs to see that. This week, Hollywood Park became the latest track to cut racing days due to not enough horses to fill the race cards and they have dropped Wednesday racing for the remainder of the summer meet. Earlier Del Mar, the west coast's summer racing place, announced that it would drop Monday racing for 2009 and go with a 5 day racing week, except for Labor Day weekend.

Last week after a very successful Derby weekend, Churchill Downs announced that it would be going to a 4 day racing week for the remainder of it's summer meet due to lack of horses. A horse shortage in Kentucky is troubling but it is evidence that this recession is hitting everybody.

A look at the plight of the Preakness and Maryland racing as a whole are also not a good sign. Magna Entertainment, who owns Laurel and Pimlico in Maryland, Gulfstream Park in Florida, Lone Star Park in Texas, and Santa Anita Park in California along with the Xpress Bet online wagering service declared bankruptcy leaving the future of not only the Preakness which is run at Pimlico but the 2009 Breeders' Cup which is to be held at Santa Anita up in the air.

After years of attempting to get a racino bill passed by the Maryland legislature which would have allowed the Maryland tracks to compete fairly with all neighboring states who already have casinos associated with the race track, the Maryland legislature passed the racino bill this year but it is too late for Magna. Now, the legislature has been forced to pass legislation to keep the Preakness in Maryland so it can't be auctioned off to the highest bidder if Pimlico does not open in 2010.

After a 15 year battle, the Minnesota legislature still failed to pass the racino bill which would allow Canterbury Park to once again become a viable facility at which to conduct first class racing. With 79% of Minnesotans favoring slot machines at Canterbury Park, a stranglehold of the legislature by the state's Indian tribes once again blocked passage this year.

The closing of Bay Meadows in San Francisco and proposed closing of Hollywood Park in Los Angeles in 2010 to develop the land are other ominous signs for the industry.

New York racing seems to be on the other side of the bankruptcy mess as NYRA who had declared bankruptcy a couple years ago has emerged from that and the state is in the process of awarding the franchise to operate a casino at Aqueduct. Hopefully what is happening in New York can happen elsewhere.

The economy is certainly contributing to the industry's problems right now. However, a national governing body as all other major league sports have to coordinate the effort in marketing, rules regarding medication, and gaining legislative support across the country would go a long way toward digging the industry out of this hole they are currently in.