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Anthony MacDonald's Blog


Draft plan prompts more questions than answers

Published: July 2, 2013 10:51 am ET

Last Comment: July 8, 2013 8:54 am ET | 10 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

Many of us have spent the last couple days reviewing the panel's latest work, "Toward a sustainable future - a Draft plan for horse racing in Ontario".

These reports seem to prompt more questions than provide answers. With dates set for input from our industry stakeholders, it's up to us, as stewards of our industry, to review these transition reports from all angles.

I want to discuss some of the questions that came to mind as I read through the report. I look forward to hearing your own interpretations, concerns and questions.

I am pleased the panel has recommended formation of the "LRO" (Live Racing Ontario. I may have got the acronym wrong but the function is pretty darn close.)

My biggest concern surrounds the "Board of Directors," which I understand to be "government appointees" with focus groups from stakeholders around the industry being involved in collaboration with Standardbred Canada. I wonder about the board's transparency and accountability to the horsemen.

I've given some thought to how I would like to see an LRO run. I would like to see:

1) We need a provincial oversight office to report to the government directly.

2) We need a director of racing to streamline the product.

3) We need a multi-faceted marketing strategy to attract and retain a fan base for our industry. We also need to build support for our new product and industry from the inside out.

This LRO can't be a pig with lipstick on; it has to be run correctly and have total accountability and transparency to both the government and the racing industry.

The lack of numbers in this report leads me to believe that the government is in their own transition stage.

I would be shocked if we didn't see expanded gaming at all six tracks (Mohawk, Flamboro, Georgian, Western Fair, Grand River and Rideau) spoke of in the report. I doubt they will venture into online gaming, but HPI is already there - that's a feather in our cap, and Woodbine already has a world class simulcasting hub. Think of the potential for cross promotion.

We do have to be more clear on what system is best for racing. A few lines speak of the importance of small rural racetracks without any elaboration. The report speaks of a five-track alliance and leaves Rideau out. "Limbo Downs" so to speak? And we still have a big hole from Sudbury (which isn't mentioned at all) to Georgian (when closed) all the way to Ottawa. No mention of Kawartha Downs worries me also.

Why not look to diversification of racing at Ajax Downs for the Eastern horsemen?

A report this vague is intended to stimulate discussion. Although there is lots of wiggle room for both negative or positive to slip in through our transition period, I'm prepared to take a leap, throw in my two cents and hope for the best.

Personally, I've had enough of the doom and gloom. My baby boy arrives in four weeks -- wouldn't it be nice to see some actual progress by then? Here's our chance and we certainly can't afford to let it slip away.

As always please comment, discuss, rant or berate. I have thick skin and too much is on the line to stay silent.

Thanks again,

July 8, 2013 - 8:54 amIf you want to attract new

If you want to attract new bettors - let's forget the "fan" title for now, I personally watched 3,000 "fans" wager less than $10/each on Dream Of Glory night last year at Hanover - there are a number of things you should consider.

1) Lower takeout EVERYWHERE and promote the hell out of it as an olive branch to bettors that will give them hope that they can turn a long-term profit. I consider myself an excellent handicapper and a good gambler and still struggle to break even due to opressive takeout rates. I have been betting horses for 35 years and am likely not going to stop because I also do love the sport and the horses, but, the younger generation like my son need a hook. They need to know that they can win. Create new low takeout bets that will attract new money - something like the "Rainbow Pick 6" that Gulfstream has available that often grows into big pots.

2) Agressively go after cheaters. There are so many examples of horses that change barns and suddenly knock 3 or more seconds off their times including a second or two off their last 1/4s. It's just not believable to experienced observers that one trainer can be SO much better than the other. I wonder: when these form reversals occur, do the judges haul in the connections and grill them, even a little? Like I said, many of these extreme form reversals are just not believable to be on the level. It turns bettors off.

3) Make MUCH better use of the free advertising known as social media. I applaud the very small handful of owners/trainers/drivers that regularly tweet their thoughts on raceday, but there is so much more that could be done by the industry to reach new audiences. Why everyone isn't regularly on Facebook and Twitter posting pictures, videos and stories on the horses, drivers, and races is beyond me. It's low hanging fruit; grab it!

There is plenty that can be done to improve the game and attract handle. Jeff Gural has proven it. As A Mac states correctly, the SARP program is gone and it 'aint coming back. That is now reality. Time to take a different approach.

July 6, 2013 - 9:11 amVery poor analogy Mr

Roy Steele SAID...

Very poor analogy Mr Yamakva... Players in other sports can speak.. yet to see a horse explain what is wrong with him although trainers do build a bond with their horses.
Acountability is when after every race ... the message over the public address calls certain horses for urine or blood tests, your comments insult the sport to some extent.
I however do agree on the point that a well thought out plan is needed we are not willing to learn what works and more to the point what doesnt and take a look at other countries and see the wagering platforms their. We have a gaming system that splits a profit pie and is not willing to expand easily with or away from that.
When you take Europe for example people lining up to place V75 wagers but couldnt tell you the name of a horse in scandinavia we have to take notice. The potential wager that a player wants is a life changing result and at the moment we dont give that option easily on a daily basis ... so we all have to change and not with stop gap measures live historical tv races its a start but we have a young generation that is mobile app savvy they want action at their finger tips. Which brings me to the point that if wagering was promoted it buys us time via revenues to improve the ontrack experience. The handle is key thing at the moment it will keep things ticking over till the dust has settled and a marketing program is put in place by marketing professionals.... Not a govt panel that is paid to deliver and they are not sure what they want delivered.
It is a case of being led to water but not being shown how to drink ... talking to a top flight american jock who rode recently at Royal Ascot I asked him about the experience. I wasnt to suprised when he didnt mention meeting the queen but drooled about the betting shops and what could be wagered on ... a multitude of sports and events. Iam not saying that is the model for harness racing but I AM SAYING THAT IS THE COMPETITION ONLINE TODAY AND EVERYDAY FOR THE NEXT MILLENIUM so instead of ignoring whats out there how about embracing some of the ideas.
I will be attending the panel meeting at Western Fair next week it should be with eagerness but Iam resigned to the fact it will be more of the same ex poloticians telling us what is good for us. If that isnt the case then produce a panel that is experienced in worldwide gaming and stratergies.
Build it and they will wager and save the sport... then we can look at providing off track entertainment that will compliment the on track entertainment.
This is not thinking outside the box its simply suggesting doing what the rest of the WORLD IS ALREADY DOING.

July 6, 2013 - 7:38 amA couple of things wrong with

A couple of things wrong with this. Purses at Kawartha are terrible and obviously the gov't intends not to rescue it (even though the slots are still there and our "friend" Skip is still getting millions a year on top of the millions he kept for himself.) Track owners like him getting rewaeded for not being honest and transparent is what killed the track and of course those who were to be overseeing the situation failed miserably. They wouldn't even make him put in a proper safety lane and there are horsemen that thought what was there was okay - so how can you win. Grand river is a great little track and it's what we need in east end plus an owner who will let us have promotions and a clean comfortable place from which to watch the races, and a sharing of pools and conditions.

July 4, 2013 - 9:28 amAnthony, while I'm not

Anthony, while I'm not against trying something new. Two things bother me. Firstly, under this plan, the gov't is running the show and controls the purse strings and as we all know, they not only can screw up the Lord's Prayer but they can't even balance their own budget. Secondly, as a few other people have already pointed out, racing can not sustain itself on it's own, as is the ultimate goal here. Therefore, this plan as proposed, amounts to a slow death for Standardbred racing. As I was thinking this morning, the number of Standardbreds, either racing or in training, already gone from my area (Rodney, West Lorne, Dutton areas) is probably 75-100 horses. Along with them went jobs, reduction in feed sales, reduction for vet and farrier services, loss of potential sales for trucks, trailers and other equipment. The loss is devastating to the local economy. The fallacy of this whole proposal is the Liberals want to save horse racing and the rural economy. What a joke??? Like I said before, just more expensive political mumbo jumbo. We don't need INCOMPETENT POLITICIANS telling us what to do. We need leadership from OUR industry to come up with some viable proposals to enable racing to survive and then maybe, there might be light at the end of the tunnel.

July 3, 2013 - 1:30 amAnthony, For the first time

Anthony, For the first time someone has started to think outside the box to save racing. I agree with much of this blog post and I am encouraged that there are other in this business who haven't given up. I agree that Rideau needs to be a big part of the Standardbred mix. The track has done a great job bringing out crowds and increasing its on track handle. This maybe in part to the fact that the track offers not only horse racing but gaming and bingo. We can't loose sight of the people who matter the most to us the fans and by loosing Woodbine Standardbred racing we are loosing a share of a very large market. Most people living east of Toronto won't bother to attend racing at Mohawk, Western Fair, Grand River or Georgian. We need to enhance the harness product at Woodbine and encourage people from downtown Toronto to come to the races. We need to encourage more corporate partnerships to enhance racing.

I also agree with diversifying the product at the other tracks. We talk about creating a world class racing circuit but we aren't offering world class racing facilities, or tracks that are conducive to producing world class product. Why not make a one time investment in the tracks willing to continue racing horses and introduce new racing products such as Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. Its amazing what a little change in a tired product can do for exposure. People will come out to see something that hasn't been done before. I agree that the recent panel report provides fewer answers but I also agree that it provides a vision for a great new racing product. So long as the governance model is held accountable. Governance in all three breeds is sadly lacking and that is why we have ended up where we are today. It's time for the industry to embrace new and innovative ideas. This industry is very lucky to have many younger minds who have sought post secondary educations and yet we don't draw on those for insight for the future. Our current governance is aging and out of touch with what is required to be successful as we go forward. Why not have more younger brighter minds at the table.

Anthony I applaud your blog and look forward to more insight and thought.

July 2, 2013 - 11:40 pmPaul and will. Firstly

Paul and will.
Firstly will.
I believe in omitting the accountability to "The Gambler" I deserved the critique.
I have been pushing accountability to the gamblers in all of these blogs.
I appreciate all that you said.
All I said was we need to promote but not until our product is properly competitive. That process should be easy to implement quickly?

Paul maybe it is "Pie in the Sky" but the sarp program isn't coming back.
The holes that were in it made it easy for the government to squash it and brand it with "Horse Racing or health care".
To think we can't grow such a great industry is upsetting to hear.
Especially from the people that love it the most.
I have always believed this industry can be better.
We have an opportunity to do something that has never been done before.
Make this industry a main stream viable gaming product.
Will it happen for sure???
But it's troubling that so many people have given up already without trying.

No disrespect to anyone in this indistry,
But why not try something new?
Why do we need to depend on slots? Why can't we be more than a distraction.
I believe in this industry, it's participants, and that this product can be viable, worth watching, getting excited about ,and wagering on.
Many businesses and sports have reinvented themselves. Why can't we?

July 2, 2013 - 6:46 pmAnthony, if you think that

Anthony, if you think that this plan will work, then I say you are living in Utopia and under false hope. The biggest factor that is missing here is that there is no POTENTIAL FOR PROFIT for either the breeders or horse owners. The amount of money available for purses has been slashed to the point that it is not economically feasible to own a racehorse in Ontario. Furthermore, given the cut in race dates with only five tracks and LIMBO DOWNS in Ottawa, there is limited opportunity to race for whatever purse money is indeed available. Jack Darling has got it right. We need a financial arrangement whereby the horse people SHARE in the revenue generated by the slots and other forms of gambling...... But isn't that what the SARP was???..... We don't need, nor do we want to be "subsidized." It's OK to be an IDEALIST but one also has to be a REALIST and the reality is that there is not enough money left on the table for the Standardbred Racing Industry to survive and in time, it will surely die. Ask the breeders. It starts with them first and then filters on down to the rest of us horse owners. After reading this report, I have concluded that this is just more expensive political mumbo jumbo. If the Liberal gov't was serious about saving horse racing, Ms. Wynne could have done so very easily by re-instating the SARP via an executive order and then undertaken to revise it and weed out the inefficiencies and eliminate the tracks that were not promoting racing and those taking advantage of the Slots program. We all know who they were. In all likelihood the Province would have still received its $1 billion plus in yearly profits, there would still be those 55,000 plus jobs and we wouldn't need all these expensive reports from the "three wise men" to collect dust on the shelf..... Finally, if I were you, I think I would have a good look before I leaped.

July 2, 2013 - 5:19 pmI almost want to see Rideau

I almost want to see Rideau run independent of this OLR thing that they want to do. The handle at Rideau has been pretty good and if there was a way to go 3 days a week year round with the purses staying relatively the same (except Friday nights because of too much competition) I think Rideau would be ok. Off track betting facilities and exporting the signal to the US has helped alot. Rideau does have many promotions to bring people there but the location can be a deterrent just to watch horseracing which is why the off track betting and HPI does well for Rideau. It's certainly working well for 3R in Quebec with their off track betting facilities and HPI bringing Quebec horseracing back from basically nothing. Sudbury, Kawartha and Rideau could get together with some sort of plan to help everyone but I don't think any of them would want too. Plus there is still the uncertainty if Rideau will get a casino. Like you say more questions than answers.

July 2, 2013 - 2:18 pmAnthony, as far as I am

Peggy Powell SAID...

Anthony, as far as I am concerned , if the slots are to stay at our racetracks in an expanded form or their currant form then we will be cannabelized just as the Conservatives and the horsemen thought over ten years ago . The only answer, in my opinion is that a share of the profits must go to the purses or none of us who have everything invested in this industry, both monetary and emotionally, will be able to survive another year. The costs are too high to race for the purses that we are racing for. Plus the $5,000 claimers are now going as fast as the $10.000's used to. We have already lost our shirts and our pants are soon to come.

July 2, 2013 - 12:31 pmIts amazing you say,

Will Yamakva SAID...

Its amazing you say, "accountability to the horseman".....

And you hope they work for you, but you as horseman are hardly accoubtable to us fans. As a gambler.... I get a full injury report on each player. No so with my horses. I get a report of why a player gets equipment changes I do not with harness racing. I hear when a player is going to get less ice time as he is rounding into shape. I get to hear from players in slumps and hear what they do to change.

If you want accountabilty and seem to stress its importance.......

What accountability have horseman ever shown us bettors? Where is the accountability to us.

Your suggestions are clearly that of a horseman and politician.... the same group that has horse racing where it is. You seriously think your answer is different horseman and government...

No disrespect Mr MacDonald..... the more I read here... the more im sure my wagering dollars in the future will not be bet on Ontario racing, not because your racing isnt great..... its just clear to a neutral observer.... the ideas and complaining and lack of a well thought out plan isnt forthcoming.

Ive showed you in your past blog that this route you endorse will cost more as you are not adressing areas which clearly are surviving on slots alone.

You wanna keep tracks open because the eastern horseman need the money. Rideau is the only track that can survive in the east.

Go look at the results of the last three racing dates at Sudbury or Kawartha. The handle is at the bottom.

You honestly think they can be fixed to not be so dependant on slots? And you want another track in Ajax downs....... come on. You cant be serious.

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