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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What’s Better: More Opportunities or Higher Purses?

By Richard E. Glover, Jr., National HBPA Director of Communications

It was announced today that the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association has come to an agreement with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (which owns Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands) to reduce the number of racing dates at Monmouth’s summer meet to 50 (from the 93 days originally allotted) but boost the average daily purses to $1 million per day. That will be the highest daily purse average in the nation. The meet will run on Fridays, Saturday, Sundays, and three holiday Mondays from May 22 through September 11.

In addition, the plan calls for Monmouth Park to conduct a 21-day fall meet from September 12 to November 21, while the fall Thoroughbred meet at Meadowlands (slated to be 48 days) will be eliminated. Daily purses at Monmouth’s fall meet will average between $250,000 to $300,000.

Under the plan, Atlantic City Racecourse will still run the six dates originally planned (April 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, and 24).

The plan reduces racing opportunities for Thoroughbreds in New Jersey by approximately 50 percent – down from 147 racing days to 77 days.

The New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (NJSEA) is legally contracted with the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to provide 141 racing dates for Thoroughbreds per year, which is why the horsemen needed to endorse to plan to reduce the number of racing dates offered.

The New Jersey legislature must approve the amended racing calendar.

The question this raises is one that has been faced by horsemen in most racing jurisdictions at one time or another – when your local handle cannot continue to support your purse structure, is it better to have more racing opportunities with reduced purses or higher purses with reduced racing opportunities?

I have heard the arguments of a lot of horsemen over the years on this subject, and those arguments have tended to go along the following lines (their arguments, not mine):

On one side of the coin, you have horsemen who contend that the best thing for the most horsemen is more racing opportunities, which theoretically gives the smaller stables with perhaps less talented horses a better chance to earn a decent living. These horsemen usually maintain that higher purses and reduced opportunities are unfair to the horsemen that have filled a track’s races during difficult times because the new, higher purses cause new trainers from other places to come in and compete, often taking a sizable portion of the purses for owners in other racing jurisdictions. Thus, less money is left for the local horsemen than they had before. Moreover, it may mean horsemen have to move their operations to another state for part of the year when they previously didn’t – something that can be a very expensive hardship on a stable.

On the other side of the coin, you have horsemen who maintain that higher purses give owners and trainers a better chance to make a profit on their investments. These horsemen sometimes suggest that horsemen who are opposed to increased purses at the expense of racing opportunities don’t want to spend the necessary money to upgrade their stock to be competitive with the better horses the higher purses will bring – they want to continue running inferior horses for lower purses so that they can remain competitive without having to change. These same people sometimes say that if some horsemen cannot afford to upgrade their stock, it may be an indication that perhaps they shouldn’t be in the business anyway.

Another argument sometimes put forth by horsemen who prefer higher purses and less racing opportunities believe that higher purses will lead to better horses and larger fields which, in turn, will lead to increased wagering. That increased wagering will yield more money for the horsemen’s purse account, which can then be used for even further increased purses or to add more racing opportunities – both which would benefit the local horsemen.

Clearly, it is a complicated issue, and one about which many horsemen feel passionate. And certainly the current situation in New Jersey is an extreme example … purses skyrocketing from approximately $330,000 per day to $1 million per day at Monmouth, but racing opportunities being cut almost in half.

So what do you think? Hypothetically speaking, if your horsemen’s organization was faced with a situation in which your local handle was not able to support your current purse structure and the choice had to be made between higher purses with less racing opportunities or maintaining the same number of racing opportunities but reducing purses, which would you choose? And why?

We want to hear from you.

1 comment:

El Caballista said...

As much as I hate to say it, we need LESS horse racing in this country if we want the industry to survive. Sports have seasons (i.e. baseball, basketball, football, etc.) and horse racing used to have a season also. This made coming out for live racing something special. Too much of anything is not a good thing.

If horsemen can't compete at a certain level, then they need to find a new vocation. that's not to say that only trainers with Kentucky Derby contenders or Breeders' Cup horses should be allowed to participate. There is a place for lower level racing, but not 365 days a year.

Ask yourself, why has horse racing embraced slots? It's because our industry cannot make it on its own. Maybe if racing were 'special' (i.e. less)once again, we would find our fan base growing.

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