How horse racing can appeal to a younger crowd

The Sport can overcome its ugly past

Let’s be clear. I wasn’t planning on liking horse racing.

I spent the first four weeks of the shutdown in a hazy search for sports, looking for signs of it everywhere — in old NBA classics, Madden simulations, the car chases on TV from which I couldn’t un-glue myself.

Growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, I made the three-hour trek to Calgary Stampede parties multiple summers in a row without ever giving a single thought to buying tickets to the rodeo. Horse racing was even less than an afterthought.

Even though I thought it would be tedious, maybe a little charming but ultimately not for me, I was ready to play the ponies. It’s the kind of thing you do early in a relationship, when you’re still pretending to be open to new experiences.

And then a dozen beautiful horses leaped from the gates, and I was entranced…

Read how she got hooked on horse racing

Illinois Horse Racing and Sports Issue Still Pending

Despite moving to the brink of a two-year contract for horse racing in 2020 and 2021, Arlington Park and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association have yet to put pen to paper on an agreement and forced the Illinois Racing Board to recess its Thursday meeting for approval of this season’s schedule until Friday.

The sides were supposed to have a signed contract in place by Jan. 1, 2020 as part of the $12 billion capital bill Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law last June that also legalized sports betting in Illinois. Arlington Park tweeted Wednesday saying it had reached a tentative agreement with the ITHA, but the two sides had a breakdown prior to Thursday’s scheduled board meeting. The ITHA had issue with the language in the contract because purse projections could change if Arlington does not receive the same amount of race days in 2021 that it has in previous years.

More about this Illinois issue:

Belmont Stakes 2020 wagering recap

What’s the Status of Horse Racing In PA?

When can horse racing resume in Pennsylvania? Even the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission hasn’t a clue.

And that’s not because they haven’t asked PA Gov. Tom Wolf. The governor suspended racing right along with casino operations in mid-March to stem the onslaught of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

And there is no target date for racing to resume in PA, yet.

Late-breaking news updateA face-to-face meeting between Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and members of horseman’s groups is now scheduled for Thursday [5/27], PlayPennsylvania has learned exclusively.

Woodbine and Horse racing Return June 6

The Associated Press

Horse racing is back on at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, but without fans.

The track’s thoroughbred season will open June 6. The pandemic forced Woodbine to postpone its scheduled April 18 start.

Harness racing, suspended in March, is to resume June 5 at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

Wager on WoodbineMark Casse, one of North America’s top trainers, says the reopening is crucial.

“We have many horses that we’ve targeted for this meet that haven’t done anything,” he said. “But this is even more important for the owners and trainers who’ve been up there since December and haven’t been able to run.”

Casse has won both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes as well as five Breeders’ Cup races. He has been named Canada’s top thoroughbred trainer an unprecedented 11 times.

Ohio Horse Racing to Resume

OSRC Passes Resolution Allowing for the Resumption of Live Racing in Ohio

The Ohio State Racing Commission during a Webex meeting Thursday, May 14th unanimously passed a motion allowing for the resumption of live racing in the state as well as setting the safety protocols under which stabling, training and racing will take place in the state.

The Ohio HBPA is working with ownership at both Thistledown and Belterra Park to set the schedule for shipping in to stable at the tracks as well as on dates for the resumption of live racing. Those will be available on the OSRC site as soon as they are determined as will specifics on how the safety protocols will be put into place and operate at each track.

How Sports-Starved Bettors Made Fonner Park Must-See TV

Jake Olesiak’s transformation starts at 8 a.m. after he punches out from his overnight shift at an ethanol factory. His steel-toe boots go into the trunk, as do his mask, face shield and hard hat. Black riding boots come out, then the goggles and finally his Minnesota Vikings ball cap.

Behind the wheel is his wife, Megan. For the next two hours, Olesiak, 32, tries to sleep with his hat pulled down over his eyes as Megan drives the S.U.V. westward from Firth, Neb., to the meatpacking town Grand Island, with little besides cornfields and the interstate to keep her company.

Check out Art Parker’s piece for AGOS – Essential Business from last month.

Olesiak, a production supervisor at E Energy Adams, which makes fuel from local grain, is considered an essential worker. He is more than that at Fonner Park, a tiny jewel box of a horse track in the heartland. He is a money rider, perennially atop the jockey standings.

Olesiak has won more than 1,000 races and has nearly $7 million in purse earnings. He has dreamed of riding in the Kentucky Derby, and for a decade, he pursued it full time. He has hung his equipment, or tack, in jock rooms in the Dakotas, Iowa, Ohio and Canada.

But soon after his second daughter was born, he decided to take a full-time job and ride the boutique Nebraska circuit …

Saratoga Race Course Planning To Open As Scheduled

Saratoga backsideTown of Saratoga Springs Still Prepares For The Worst

SARATOGA NY (WRGB) – Even though the New York Racing Association has delayed the opening of the Oklahoma Training Track at the Saratoga Race Course, opening day for the race season is still set to happen as scheduled on July 16th.

Other states like Florida and California have given horse racing the go ahead, but restricted fans from attending.

Michele Madigan, Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Finance, said that local leaders need to start preparing in the event that the season starts with no fans in the stands.

“I think we need to prepare and I think we need to have our eyes open,” said Madigan.

Madigan said that the city is already seeing a lack of revenue due to the delayed opening of the Oklahoma Track.

“I estimate that if the track doesn’t open through July, the city estimates about a $7.5 million revenue loss and through the end of the year potentially up to $16 million dollars,” said Madigan.

She said that is more than a third of the city’s operating budget.

More about Saratoga in 2020:

Corruption in New York and the OTBs? Shocker!!

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST SURFACE WITH CLOSING OF NASSAU COUNTY OFF-TRACK BETTING OFFICES

It should come as a surprise to no one with knowledge of how things work when the public’s involvement in the business of horse racing—wagering–intersects with politics; political process almost always wins while customers and rank-and-file employees lose.

The closing of Nassau Off-Track Betting shops whose employees interact with people may have more to do with protecting executive positions and union busting via digital betting terminals than any deep-rooted concern it may have in sheltering the public from the ravages of COVID-19.

The process of shutting down branches was made possible by a rewritten clause in an agreement co-signed by Nassau Off-Track Betting Chairman Joseph Cairo and Kevin McCaffery, President of Teamsters Local 707 whose union represents 132 Nassau OTB workers.

Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting has asked its employees to use accumulated sick and vacation time, work temporarily without pay or retire as the agency manages the shutdown of its betting parlors which coincides with the Coronavirus outbreak.

Conversely, Suffolk County OTB is paying its 300 employees while it seeks a loan under the new federal Payroll Protection Program designed to help businesses pay their workers during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to an agency spokesman.

It is currently estimated that Suffolk OTB’s annual payroll is $16.6 million, while Nassau OTB has an annual payroll of $6.98 million.

More about the closing of Nassau (NY) OTBs

Horse Racing Opinion Piece: Essential Business

by Art Parker

What is essential? People or a business?

Even though I now play online almost exclusively, I’ve been going to race tracks for decades. Last time I went to a track was last August when I visited my daughter in the Washington D.C. area. We slipped over to Laurel for the Friday afternoon card.

At Laurel that day, I observed the same things I’ve seen for years and years. Track employees and vendors. The people selling beer and hot dogs. People selling programs and Racing Forms. They didn’t charge for general parking but there was still a man at the gate watching cars go by. There were a couple of fellows handling valet parking. Naturally there was security and police as expected.

Empty row of seats at racetrackWe didn’t go where any real meals are served, but I imagine there was plenty of employees taking care of the many chores related to cooking and serving. And of course there were plenty of people constantly cleaning – I guess us horseplayers are just messy folks.

Of course there were pari-mutuel tellers taking bets. The list of people making things happen goes on and on. These people were there because patrons were there. You take away the patrons and all of a sudden a track is a ghost town.

The employees I didn’t mention are there to work – patrons or no patrons.

Here is my beef with the decision to close tracks because of the corona virus. If we race without patrons very little will be different than the days when there is no racing at all. Open the doors, be diligent with all precautions regarding the corona virus, let the patrons play online and let’s run.

Horse racing was slow to embrace television and that probably cost us a generation of potential players. When we caught up with the times and used technology, we held a possible edge – simulcasting and online wagering. In this day and time an enormous percentage of our handle comes from online wagering. I have been told by several that online wagering is now 85%-90% of horse racing’s handle. The sport is staying alive without patrons on site. Why shut it down? The risk for the few people is minimal. I read in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune where top trainer Bob Baffert said, “It’s safer out there (track) than going to a grocery store. Those are packed.”

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I think Baffert is right. In fact, I went to the grocery store yesterday and saw more people in close proximity than one would find in three gate crews.

The most interesting statement I have seen came from Southern California trainer John Sadler, who was quoted in the Press-Telegram as saying, “I don’t see how not racing the horses makes us any safer. This isn’t a factory where you can shut the doors and turn out the lights. People are still going to have to be there to look after these equine athletes.”

I’m sure the real problem with closing race tracks comes from the words “non-essential business” and “essential business.” What is not understood by decision makers is that while a race track may truly not be essential (like a grocery store), it can be closed but still open for business. Why? The non-essential people will not be there if the track is closed to patrons, but the essential people must be there regardless. I don’t know any thoroughbred that can take care of itself. They need to be bathed, groomed, exercised and fed. They can’t pick up the cell and call Pizza Hut to get a pizza delivered to the barn.

Comparatively speaking very few hands are needed if a track is running but closed to patrons. Have you ever been to morning workouts? If so, how many actual track employees were around?

With no patrons in attendance the handle will diminish some – no doubt about it. But purses can be adjusted for that and I promise the horseman would rather run for a little less than not run at all. Don’t forget that 100% of nothing is nothing.

Many horsemen are going to be in dire financial need if they can’t run. Many will go out of business and/or they will need to jettison some stock. Other trainers will not be willing to take stock off their hands because it will only deepen their financial burdens.

The corona virus is very serious and many precautions must be taken. But when it comes to horse racing I don’t think anyone will convince me the open track without patrons is more dangerous than a grocery store full of them inside an enclosed structure.

NE Racing Commission approves April days for Fonner Park

“The two-week trial basis went well enough,’’ Fonner CEO Chris Kotulak said. “It hasn’t been a raging success but it’s been greater than our expectations.’’

Fonner Park will continue to race Mondays through Wednesdays for the remainder of its Thoroughbred race meet.

State racing commission approves April days for Fonner ParkThe track’s request to shift its race days throughout April was approved Friday in a one-hour Nebraska Racing Commission conference call. The request received unanimous approval from the five-member board.

The commission had granted Fonner’s request two weeks ago to move its dates from Friday-Sunday to Monday-Wednesday on a trial basis. That request was made in part because Fonner has little racing competition nationwide early in the week.

Because of strong simulcasting mutuel handles, track officials wanted to keep those days.

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