08/14/2014 1:58PM

Crist: Racing needs to improve its product and change with the times


Some of the most interesting remarks made at last Sunday’s Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing were on a topic sometimes overlooked at such industry gatherings: Matters actually pertaining to actual racing.

Martin Panza, nearly a year into his new position as the senior vice president of racing operations for the New York Racing Association, has already made a series of welcome changes to the game in New York – not in the frequently overemphasized areas of marketing or medication, but in the nuts and bolts of the racing product.

He has emphasized quality over quantity, banishing the 13-race Saratoga cards that used to overflow with turf sprints, maiden claimers, and complicated conditioned-claiming races.

“Race day schedules have to be reduced,” he told the assemblage in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “Our fans deserve and demand better wagering opportunities. If there is not a reduction in race days, then at the very least there must be a reduction in the number of races offered. The days of carding 11, 12, or 13 races may be over. They should be. It’s just not working.

“As our economic environment has changed, we need to reevaluate our circumstances and our strategies. Instead of scheduling cards with 11, 12, or 13 races, because that’s what we did last year, maybe it is time to look at the equation from the other side. How many races can we run on a given day and average eight, nine, or 10 horses per race? Set the standard from a requirement of what we want the product to look like, and then determine the amount of races that can be offered to meet that standard.”

Setting a standard for racing, rather than having it set for you purely by economics, is exactly the kind of attitude that makes our sport different from managing a casino floor. It’s been a while since anyone paid more than lip service to the idea of setting high standards for the sport of racing in New York, and now is the ideal time to be doing it.

Promoting quality over quantity sounds good, but doesn’t work if you can’t pay for it. When Monmouth Park went upscale with an “elite” meeting, everyone liked the boost in quality, but the increased business was not enough to offset the higher purses. The whole experiment turned into a massive giveaway that was discontinued after one year.

Due to its huge, casino-fueled purses – maiden races on Whitney Day were worth $98,000 – New York can afford to do the right things for racing instead of focusing entirely on the bottom line. Panza believes that the declining annual foal crop makes such changes necessary as well as desirable.

“It is difficult to maintain a quality racing program for the long term by running lower-level races,” he said. “The economics of ownership is not really sustainable with the lower-level purses.”

Rather than card as many five-horse fields as possible, he suggests, less could be more.

“Having spent most of my career in California, we enjoyed a certain amount of isolation from other racing circuits,” he said. “Now working on the East Coast, I am amazed at the amount of racetracks trying to compete with each other in such close proximity. With the foal crop situation, horsemen, owners, and racetrack operators may fare better with coordinated 60-day meets shared amongst three states rather than the current schedules being offered. Perhaps breeding programs could expand to tristate or multistate opportunities rather than remaining unique to each individual state.”

These are the kinds of ideas that are going to be necessary for the sport to survive, much less thrive and grow. An increasingly vocal and critical fan base is voting with its feet against smaller fields and higher takeout. Racing tends to spend more time worrying about abstract ideas about customer creation and retention rather than doing the best marketing of all – improving the product being sold.

“The game is undoubtedly going through a transitional period,” Panza acknowledged, but found some reason for optimism there:

“It seems to me with thought and proper planning, we may have an opportunity to reinvent ourselves.”


Jo-Anne Ward More than 1 year ago
4100 yearlings at keenland sale- more than half will be at slaughter plants in 5 yrs from today. yup ,racing needs to improve and KEEP its product and change with the times. Only Stake races allowed, no steak races.
Buzz Nottingham More than 1 year ago
Two things, I must be the exception. I like 10+ horse races, the lower the class the better. I learned to handicap in the Mid-Atlantic area. Low level horses are inconsistant. They never repeat. They pay box-cars. I played Bowie when Bowie was the only track running. I was present the day the train wrecked. Players walked the last mile to the track with blood soaked clothes. Number 2. Pay me the breakage. I mean all the breakage.Now that $.10 supers are paying with pennies, pay me $15.57 on the win end. And P.S...Let me in for free.....
eagle river More than 1 year ago
I expect you all to laugh, but maybe someone at the NYRA ought to visit my home track, CBY. They get 8,000 mostly young people out on Thursday nights for a "meet market," and oodles of families out on Sunday family day. Kids love the horses and this creates new fans. The food and beverage is good and fairly priced. The track is clean. The staff is polite. They're running 14% takeout pick-3s. Free parking and admission $6, with no "upcharges." CBY does not have the complete Rx for the sport's disease, but they do have something to teach the more "sophisticated" venues.
HatzOffToNixon More than 1 year ago
Do we really need an 18-25% takeout, just so we can afford to pay Andy Serling 500k a year to present his bad opinion?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
They have not reduced the amount of races very much was just looking at entries 11 races this Friday. The quality still stinks even with these crazy high slot purses. I can't wait till they lose the slot money. Will still be same quality running and half the purses. I love going to Saratoga but what a long day it is for even the biggest race fan. I can only imagine how boring is must get to the casual fan. They wont comeback with the fleecing they take for food and beverage etc.
William Norton More than 1 year ago
Good old Martin Panza. You guys had enough of his "entries" yet? Only 14 "late" scratches today. Hollywood Park regulars know that Marty's entries always looked good enough to eat a day or two beforehand--until you bite into them.
Kenny More than 1 year ago
If government was taken out of it these levels would find the optimal % since states would compete against each other for gambling $$ and horses via lower %s and increased handles and therefore increased purses, racing in some states might even disappear which would be good for the game as a whole
HatzOffToNixon More than 1 year ago
yep, the takeout is an obscenity and a vulgarity, not to mention the tax on 'large' payoff winnings. What a joke. Racing needs to figure out how to pay for the show without ripping off its customers on a daily basis. It's a miracle the game survived this long considering the abuse of its clients.
Kenny More than 1 year ago
How ludicrous is it that if a 50 cent pick 5 with a 500k handle pays 5k for 50cents, instantaneously 181,250$$ are removed from the players pockets? Pitiful economics
Kenny More than 1 year ago
Take outs are way to high..........thats it plain and simple.............everyone is to shortsighted.....ownership, horsemen, politicians.....they are all at the trough feeeding at the bettors/fans expense......25% on pick 6 on carryover days.......thats ludicrous
johnd More than 1 year ago
About two years ago I was at the poker room Harrah's in Atlantic City. In the course of a conversation I was having with a Millennial I asked him why he was so adverse to playing the horses. His reply? To me it was classic and to this day I have no come back for it. In one short sentence he defined one of racing biggest problems: "In blackjack 3-2 pays five dollars. In horse racing, 3-2 at post time usually pays around $3.40". The perception the sport is somehow dishonest continually surfaces when speaking with younger, affluent, could be future fans....and they want NO parts of it.