08/21/2007 1:28PM

A Half-Full Round Table Roundup


I highly recommend Matt Hegarty's news story for a full account of Sunday's Jockey Club Round Table, a two-part event that prompted a two-part reaction on my part. The first half of the session, on account wagering, featured an entertaining dustup but was ultimately depressing for providing no prospect of a resolution to the current mess. The second part, on medication, was at least somewhat more hopeful.

The Round Table began in 1953, with just 18 people in attendance at a meeting called by George Widener to discuss issues including "purse distribution" and "the use of hormones and vitamins." So there's some comfort in seeing that the game has survived the ensuing 54 years with only slight variations on those eternal topics. Today the event draws more than 300 invitees from all segments of the industry.

The account-wagering debate was a showdown between the CEO's of the two warring principals: Churchill Downs/TrackNet's Bob Evans and TVG's David Nathanson. Evans essentially called TVG a failure that has not sufficiently grown the market to justify the 5 1/2 percent it extracts from betting pools to pay for tv production and cable-tv carriage, money that would otherwise go to tracks and purses. Evans thinks a better model going forward is to eliminate the middleman and use rapidly-improving Internet streaming to disseminate signals. Nathanson kept repeating his mantra that "If you put it on tv, people will bet on it," and then showed a long promotional video about TVG's worldwide reach into many homes.

It's mildly amusing to see a couple of business titans hissing at each other like tomcats, but the bottom line is that neither side is budging. You won't be seeing Churchill and Magna tracks on TVG any time soon, and each will continue to insist that it's the other guy's fault. Customers in many states will still have to maintain more than one account to play and watch all the tracks they want to see, an idiotic situation that is crippling what should be the game's greatest growth sector. On this point, neither Evans nor Nathanson had anything encouraging or apologetic to say.

On the medication front, the most newsworthy development was The Jockey Club's call for a ban on anabolic steroids in both sales and racing, which could happen relatively quickly. All but four steroids have already been reclassified as prohibited Class II and III substances under model rules that there is increasing sentiment to adopt widely.

There also is promising movement on the testing front through the Equine Drug Research Initiative at UCLA headed up by Dr. Don Catlin. The lab has had some success developing tests for prohibited bronchodilators and is now focussed on the EPO family of blood-altering drugs.

There was a palpable sense inside and outside the conference that people at the highest levels of the sport have been jolted into action about the medication crisis. While a lot of customers understandably assume that "no one cares" and "no one is doing anything," that's really not the case today even if it may have been in the past.

The two biggest hurdles to more and quicker action? First, the fact that changes in rules and penalties have to be effected 38 times rather than once because everything has to be done at the state rather than national level. Second, the constant need for more funding for research and enforcement. Two disheartening facts were cited by Dr. Scot Waterman, director of the excellent Racing and Medication Consortium. Waterman said that at many tracks, trained investigators are "being replaced by minimum-wage security guards." He also noted that over the last 20 years, the gross amount spent on drug testing has increased by only 10 percent, actually a sharp decline when adjusted for inflation and the costs of increasingly sophisticated tests.

Adam T. More than 1 year ago
I would much rather watch streaming video on my laptop than see the races on my 61" HD television. Com'on!
SR Vegas More than 1 year ago
Regarding TVG I have to agree with Andrew (sorry David) but as a novice to horse racing , I enjoy the shows and coverage that TVG offers. (in our area HRTV is not available) It is both informative & entertaining.I may not always agree with what may be said, or their predictions, but it is presented in a good format. And though I learn alot from the blog I read here and over on the Drf site, I also include the TVG coverage. I would be more inclined to watch the track coverage that is on TV, and then supplement other tracks by watching race re-plays off the internet. I'm not a big Handicapper, or bettor so I look at the resources a bit differently. Mr Crist- I have totally enjoyed your blog and insights. I may never get to Saratoga, but I live it vicariously through you. Any Weasel sightings, lately? SR Vegas
Phil J More than 1 year ago
I'm also from the Garden State ... exit 2 haha ... Anyways, I too have an NJ wagering account and it is awesome. I get NYRA, Magna plus all the Churchill tracks with just a click of my mouse. You get video streaming of 90% of the tracks that you can wager on ( exceptions being the smaller tracks get excluded from video streaming but not wagering on big or busy race days ) and it is usually pretty smooth to watch with a decent internet connection. We had to wait though while PA had Phonebet up and running yet NJ blocked us out of that. I will admit that wait has been worth it. The platform is well designed and I've only had a few problems. I enjoy TVG, though I do wish that the analyst did give more insight into the selections and tickets they make. The personalities are good enough and the majority of the handicappers seem to be on their game. Plus Christina is a nice change of pace.
Horserun More than 1 year ago
For those Bloggers from NJ, you left out a few facts about NJ ADW. Mainly, somehow they were able to handcuff the citizens of NJ into "Legally" betting on our computer with NJ ADW while making it "ILLEGAL" to bet with any other ADW of our choice...I always thought this was a CAPITALISTIC country and that this type of action was not allowed , however in the world of NJ and Politics, rules and laws dont always seem to matter.... Do they think we are all that stupid or do they just dont care that they are Hypocrites
Tom F. More than 1 year ago
Just have to comment on the coverage supplied by TVG...absolutley AWFUL...On air talent makes so many mistakes, I just listen & laugh most of the time...They have most of their hosts bend over backwards to agree with everything Gary Stevens says, it is actually disturbing...If Quarter Horses is your thing, TVG does do a fairly good job with their coverage, and their on-air talent( Les Onaka, Mike Joyce, Dave Weaver) is quite knowledgeable with all aspects of that particular breed...However, for the most part, TVG is too busy blowing their own horn, and forget that they need to educate their viewers in all aspects of the racing game, so in the long run, the confident & educated horse player (and account holders) will keep coming back, knowing they have somewhat of a "fighting chance" in a game where at times, the most experienced & knowledgeable fans & handicappers feel they have "no shot" at coming out ahead financially.
Tory I More than 1 year ago
Toni: I have a NYC OTB phone account and you get track prices, no surcharge on phone accounts. It's easy and you never have to go into an OTB parlor, unless you need to withdraw after a nice score.
John C. More than 1 year ago
After reading some rather cynical and negative comments now and in the past, I just have to voice my support for TVG. Though I do all of my wagering via my NYRA internet account and I do watch many live races online, over the past two years I have become a BIG fan of TVG. Most of their hosts have great/winning personalities (Simon, Ken, Matt, Todd, Frank, Gary, Mr. B, and the BEAUTIFUL and talented Christina O.) and, even better, certain teams of hosts have such great chemistry together. Viewers are always in for many good laughs when the guys start to needle Todd and vice versa. I've gained a LOT of valuable handicapping insight from Simon Bray, Frank Lyons, et al. Even when horses are warming up or are in the paddock, you can pick up some inside info about the trainers, workouts, conformation, etc. TVG also has some great specialty shows and features on great trainers and jockeys, past and present. I have been watching races on TV since the early 70's and TVG GENERALLY does great job covering the races(and TVG has yet to post horses speeds in MPH!). The only show that matched TVG's quality was the old "Racing from Aqueduct/Belmont" show on WOR-TV NY (Channel 9) with trainer Frank Wright and (the beautiful) Charlsie Cantey.
Tony More than 1 year ago
Steve it's across the board . All us racing fans really enjoy the blogs .... Maybe you should also do them for the breeders cup weekend ........It gives us a place to read and learn . Tony
Andrew Carpenter More than 1 year ago
I disagree with David's comments on TVG--they have career horse people including Grade 1 winning trainers-Frank Lyons(pedigree specialist-especially turf races and his europe background, HOF Jockey Gary Stevens-good handicapper when he seems truly interested, Paddock Picks-which win more than you may think with good prices, shows with Matt Carothers with detailed reasons on picks, Big event coverage--Blinkers Off with DFR's key people--I have no idea what show you are talking about. I don't get HRTV and have no plans watching the races on my computer when it's available on TV. Magna has some serious balance sheet issues moving forward with plans on selling plants and facilities to fund debt payments-that's never a good picture.
AlHattab More than 1 year ago
Steve- has racing ever tried to come up with a "model rule" that a national body would craft and which could be put in front of all state regulators? I recognize not an easy task, but the state-regulated insurance industry has a national body that develops a framework for adoption by states(sometimes with minor modifications) to promote consistency and make it easier for insurance companies to play by a common set of rules.