12/08/2014 1:11PM

Symposium to address shrinking foal crop, field size


TUCSON, Ariz. – The annual University of Arizona Symposium on Racing and Gaming opens on Tuesday at a mountainside resort in Tucson with the most pressing issue in racing first on the agenda – the need for racetracks around the world to begin cutting races to maintain field sizes that will be attractive to gamblers.

Pressure on racetracks to cut races is springing from declines in foal crops in many countries, including the U.S., where the foal crop from 2010-2012 contracted 25 percent. Those declines, in most cases, are related to drops in wagering, signaling a troubling worldwide loss of interest in a sport that, despite its long history, has often been criticized for failing to react to shifts in the marketplace.

“Declining Field Size: A Global Issue” will discuss those issues as the first panel on the three-day symposium agenda. Jay Privman, the national correspondent for the Daily Racing Form, is scheduled to moderate.

Though the symposium’s administrators emphasized in agenda materials that declining field sizes are a worldwide concern, the problem is most acute in North America, where widespread purse subsidies from casinos have dangerously skewed the economic incentives for live racing for the past 20 years. At many tracks in the U.S., subsidies from year-round casino operations provide a vast majority of the purse revenues, giving horsemen and tracks little incentive to cut races even if betting on their own product has weakened substantially.

In the U.S., the number of race dates fell 3 percent in 2013, according to data from Equibase, and through November, the number of races held at U.S. tracks is down another 3.8 percent this year. That trend has accelerated in recent months, and racing officials have predicted that the number of races held at U.S. tracks will need to decline by at least another 20 percent by the end of 2015 in order to allow for an average field size of eight horses per race. A contraction of that magnitude appears to be highly unlikely unless racetracks drastically change how they do business in 2015.

Issues related to the decline in breeding and wagering appear elsewhere on the symposium agenda. Immediately following the field-size panel will be a discussion of whether racing and racehorse owners would be better served by alternate ways of distributing purses. On Wednesday morning, a panel will explore the impacts of the strategies many racetracks are expected to employ to deal with the field-size declines, including race cards featuring far fewer races than in the past and a condition book that’s written to get more horses into individual races.

The unstoppable transition to the digital marketplace is also featured in a handful of panels on the symposium agenda. On Tuesday afternoon, a panel will explore how social media has changed “crisis management,” a topic familiar to any racetrack that has faced an outcry over animal-welfare issues. Immediately following is a panel exploring how technology is changing wagering on racing.

The Wednesday afternoon session is devoted to technology issues, with panels on digital marketing, account wagering, and “Making Everything Mobile.”

Absent this year from any prominent place on the symposium agenda are issues related to animal welfare, medication reform, and track safety, topics that have been front-and-center in the industry for the past five years. However, those issues are now getting prominent treatment at the annual Safety and Welfare of the Racehorse Conference, leading symposium organizers to focus the Tucson conference on the issues that are most pertinent to racetrack front offices.

For a detailed list of symposium panels and speakers, go here.

Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Did anyone else read about the CHRB stewards from the Breeders cup who were at this event, and they tried to have students reassure them that they made the right call in the classic. PATHETIC.
M More than 1 year ago
1) Pay out larger % of rake through 6th place. It don't pay to own right now. It costs more per year to have a Thoroughbred on most tracks than to put a kid through a private college (and no financial aid for horse owners, no grants, no loans). 2) Run more 2YO graduate races (allowance and mid claiming). It is only maidens and stakes. You got sound 2YO's across the tracks sitting 3-6 mos. I am largest % owner of one 3 months now. It don't pay to own. Foal crops and fields will keep getting smaller until it pays to be an owner. We are just marks right now for everyone--writing 5 figure monthly checks with little hope of any return. Fun. Fun.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Interesting comments. All good I suppose, except I'd like to add something about the actual subject of this story, which is foal crop size. Bottom line, in respect to people investing in breeding and owning horses, which increases foal crops, this industry needs to come together and pay lobbyist to influence tax policy on horse investments. If the horse investor gets more of a tax break to invest in the industry, ( an industry that provides many jobs), then people will invest their money into breeding more horses. Also, when you do get lucky enough to hit a " homerun" finally, after years of losing money owning and breeding, the U.S. government taxes capital gains at too high a rate. All I can say is this, if somehow, the powers that be, could give tax relief for horse breeding and owning, more folks would step up and breed.
M More than 1 year ago
Oh, I got tax breaks, Frank. I lose thousands every year--almost guaranteed. Only, I am about to lose the breaks if I can't show a profit (i.e., prove it ain't a silly, costly hobby).. We can depreciate em like mad... It is the monthly costs that kill you. Then even finding a race can be tough. And I suspect accountants and tax lawyers across the US have to counsel people out after years of no gains (which is the norm) because you can't show it is a legit business anymore. Red alert there industry: owners actually have to show a profit at some point to prove it is a business...so make it possible for them... You can't afford to own alone (unless you are 8 figures rich) and good luck getting a dime out of the partnerships and syndicates (like a very rare for me).. Yes, crisis may be right. It ain't the horses you lack--it is the owners who can and will pay.. Rare birds. And dying fast. You gotta be a rare combinations of rich, gullible, dumb, and brave/crazy to shell out thousands a month on a miniscule chance of return on a high risk proposition where everyone gets paid (trainer, vet, jock, exerciser, groom, track, farrier) but you...
Lawrence MacSelwiney More than 1 year ago
The problem with racing in the States. Each track has its own set of rules and those are left open for interpretation. If you interfere with another horse and cost that horse a placing, you are disqualified and placed behind the horse you interfered with. So when Toast of New York slammed Shared Belief a sixteenth of a mile out of the gate, it wasn't interference. I can understand the no call on Beyern, because it happened the first few jumps out of the gate, but no call on Toast of New York or even a discussion or explanation is ludicrous and that was on the biggest day of racing for the year. Trainers with multiple medication violations get slap on the wrist penalties. Doug O'Neill is serving out his latest and what 9th violation? The take out is too high! The take out is too high! The take out is too high! There are too many tracks with money now due to casinos. Its great for the short term. Ship to Penn National and run for 500K, while the Santa Anita Handicap purse is cut from a million to 750,000. Racing had a great opportunity on BC Saturday to possibly draw some new fans into the game, but they butchered it with a non call in the biggest race of the day. You had California Chrome running and a beautiful weather. If you were attending, watching, playing the races for the first time on Saturday and saw the mess that was the beginning to the Classic, would you want to wager on this sport?
russell More than 1 year ago
Lawrence I agree with most of your post but how you can say Toast of NY deserved to be DQd and Bayern was okay defies all logic. I've seen over 50,000 races in my life. Bayern was a ez DQ. You want to DQ Toast of NY I can live with that but iMO it was race riding in a big race. It happens all the time. Bayern crushed 2 horses at the start and made no attempt to get in a straight path. That's a DQ every day of the week.
Lawrence MacSelwiney More than 1 year ago
Hi Russell. I never said I was OK with the non DQ of Bayern, but I get the no call, because I've seen incidents similar and its not called when a horse makes an immediate turn out of the gate and interferes with another. A Square Eddie filly is the most egregious offender in recent memory. Del Mar or Betfair last year she broke from the 3 hole and made an immediate left and wiped out the 1 and 2 horses. Completely eliminated them from the race and the stewards ruled no change, because of a rule stating that out of the gate a horse is allowed a few strides. So saying Bayern is an easy DQ is not so easy, because the way the rule is stated. Do I think Bayern should have come down? Absolutely. Also Toast of New York. You can not interfere with another horse at that point of the race and for the stewards to justify the whole non call on either by saying that it is not reasonable to think that it cost Shared Belief a placing. I guess he was just going to run fourth anyway. Brilliant job by the stewards.
Mark D More than 1 year ago
I have a casino and a track 10 minutes from my home. Blackjack has about a 8 % takeout...Roulette 9%....my local bookie is 10%...Rake at a Texas Holdem table 4% And if a bet a Triple in a horse race....33%. Horseracing is living in the days when they had the monopoly on our gambeling dollors and could get away with this joke of a percentage. If they do not change...this industry will die.
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Good points, all. If patrons had to pay that 33% at the door, nobody would walk into the game. In cyberworld gambling that takeout disappears like clocks in a casino.
russell More than 1 year ago
Mark you made an excellent point. But roulette and blackjack dont get me excited. I do enjoy the dice table once in a while where the pass line bet is less than 2%. Horse racing is one of the few betting options where its not chance. If you do your homework and watch the races you can actually make money. You also have to skip a lot of races. Anyone that bets 7-8 races a day is a guarateed loser. I've been handicapping for 35+ years and I'm only 45 yrs-old. The best lesson my father EVER told me was look for the stuff in the DRF most people ignore. Trainers can't win every race nor can a horse but a skilled handicapper can tell when they are really trying to win at a price. Some races are simply workouts for horses and if you dont understand that concept you will never have a good ROI.
russell More than 1 year ago
Racing is thriving in many parts of the world but dying in North America. The Royal Ascot meet draws 90,000 a day and they race Tuesday-Friday. They run 6 races a day and admission in 20-200 pounds. The crowds in Japan, Sha Tin, and Australia are huge. And one of the main reasons is because they all have a national agency with uniform rules and regs.
GuyFleegman1 More than 1 year ago
Too many Stallions...not enough quality mares...there ya go
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've never heard more nonsense in my life than what I hear from the mouths of people in charge of racing or those who are going to fix it (often one in the same). Forget all your mumbo jumbo about field size, medication and the gambers. When racing starts making it at least feasible for owners to break even or God forbid, make a profit, that's when all the problems will be solved. You'll have larger foal crops, larger fields and a better product to wager on. NO OTHER business model starts out with the proposition that an owner should lose money and have no control on when or where he/she can operate his/he business. Keep cutting race dates and options for where an owner can run a horse and I can assure you that you will have further contraction in breeding and field size. IT'S VERY SIMPLE! Start taking care of the owners and maybe this can grow. Otherwise it's doomed. You can't keep treating owners like an afterthought and that's exactly what happens at most tracks on almost all days.
william More than 1 year ago
it's never been easier to make money as an owner.....just wait til the plug is pulled on the slots subsidy, then you'll see 500k horses running for an 8k purse, like they do it the UK.
Howard Schwartz More than 1 year ago
Exactly, the slots welfare will soon end. Then racing will collapse. 70% of purse money comes from slots. Mr. Kay should give back his bonus. He did nothing to stop the dependence of racing for slots money.
Beenthere Donethat More than 1 year ago
Right now the horse folks hold all of the power in the situation. If a track makes a change that limits options, the horse folks can just run their horses elsewhere. I do believe a revamping and shortening of condition books would help the situation greatly, but those that operate the tracks walk a tightrope between keeping horsemen happy and present, and making sound business decisions.
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william More than 1 year ago