08/02/2007 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor


Racing act of '78 remains vital to sport's well-being

The July 29 letter to the editor "Racing legislation handed power to the wrong party" was mere sophistry spiced with incorrect statements, along with a few non-sequiturs.

The writer first asked this question: "Is it a coincidence that the decline of horse racing's fan base started about the same time that the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 went into effect?" This overlooks the fact that technology and the demands of the fan base came together to provide the simulcast industry that racing today is highly dependent upon. The world has changed, and those who supported the Interstate Horse Racing Act were visionary in that respect. Further, the premise that racing is in decline is highly debatable. It's different, but nonetheless successful.

Next the letter took issue with the legislation providing horsemen a say in the dispersal of simulcast signals while conveniently overlooking the fact that the horses do not belong to racetracks. The characterization of horsemen's groups as "unions" is plainly incorrect, as they are decidedly not that, legally or otherwise. Without the federal law, individual horsemen would be dependent on the benevolence of track owners for any portion of the funds derived from interstate simulcasting. Instead the law provides them with a fair share of that income, which has led to record purses in virtually every jurisdiction. This is as it should be.

The letter's statement that the "unions, in most cases . . . pay a minority of the expenses to put on live races" is incredibly naive. Agreements between the tracks and horsemen almost universally address the expenses involved in putting on a simulcast program, and generally these expenses are taken into account before purses are funded.

Finally, the letter stated that track management "must have authority to send the product to wherever it is likely to generate an audience," implying that horsemen are standing in their way of doing so. Not true. As someone who has been in the business for many years, currently with the Arizona Department of Racing, I have noted that in the few times that there have been problems they have generally been settled within a very short period of time. However, a segment of the wagering public was this year denied the opportunity to bet the Kentucky Derby, and this was unrelated to horsemen's objections. Instead it was a consortium representing track management and a wagering service that could not come to an agreement. Their failure to do so probably cost horsemen in Kentucky and other jurisdictions millions of dollars.

The bottom line is that the Interstate Horse Racing Act was and remains an exceptional piece of legislation. It came about because disparate sections of the racing industry were finally able to shake off their animosity for one another. Not everyone was enamored of it when it became law but everyone involved understood the necessity for such a law. It has worked very well, and horsemen and tracks are better off for it.

Bill Walsh - Phoenix

To gauge fan base, follow the money

"The decline of horse racing's fan base," bemoaned in a July 29 letter to the Racing Form, is the single greatest myth ever perpetrated on the North American racing public.

According to the American Racing Manual, total parimutuel handle in North America in 1988 was $9.5 billion. After passing the $10 billion mark the next year, it continued to increase to the point where for the last six years it has exceeded $15 billion annually. In 2006, the North American parimutuel handle was more than $15.5 billion. Is this erosion of the fan base?

Sure, attendance at racetracks isoway down, but that's no surprise. Two decades ago, I made several trips a year to Hialeah, Gulfstream, and Calder, which are anywhere from four to five hours from my home. I made many more to Tampa Bay Downs, about an hour and a half away. But when simulcasting came to the Ocala jaioalai fronton, then to the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co., I would have had to be an idiot to make the trek south when I could take a 10-minute drive instead.

The advent of home phone and Internet wagering, along with Television Games Network and HorseRacing TV has made it that much easier. The result is that with three wagering accounts, from my couch I probably bet 25 times as much (or more) each year than I did in the good old days.

Please, let's not read about "the decline of horse racing's fan base" ever again. Horse racing's fan base has merely shifted its base of operations.

Bernie Dickman - Ocala, Fla.

Bettors protected by constant vigilance

Steven Crist wrote in his July 29 column, "There are ways to ease bettor fears," about the fans' exasperation with delays in posting final odds and the constant irritation and suspicion provoked by late odds-changes. He also noted an enormous amount of wagering data can be collected daily and reviewed to ascertain possible racing or wagering fraud.

In fact, the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau has been doing just that. In 2006, the bureau launched its comprehensive Betting Analysis Project to enhance its investigative and analytic capabilities and enable Thoroughbred Racing Associations member tracks to address concerns such as those cited by Mr. Crist.

The Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau now collects wagering data on a near-real-time basis from all TRA-member racetracks and stores it in a highly secure centralized database. Analysis is conducted upon this data. Betting anomalies identified through this autonomous process undergo further analysis and, if appropriate, result in continued monitoring or a thorough investigation.

Even before this daily system was developed, the TRPB conducted a review of tote system data and investigated a number of alleged past-posting complaints resulting from late odds shifts. To date, every analysis and investigation (and there have been many) into a race with late odds shifts has produced computer verification that betting ceased at all wagering locations at the start of the race.

Without being so foolhardy as to say past-posting never could occur, the true culprit for large odds changes is an ever-larger proportion of the parimutuel pools being wagered within the final two or three minutes to the start of the race. Ironically, fear of late odds changes probably is expanding this practice by bettors, who can take advantage of various account-wagering vehicles or even shorter lines at the mutuel windows to "get down" late.

Chris Scherf, executive vice president, Thoroughbred Racing Associations