A “RETREAT” FROM SOLUTIONS – MORE PROBLEMS

And so it is made to appear that the deep-seated problems of the horse racing industry have been solved at a one day Retreat attended by the Board of Directors of the Promoting Company, the JRC, the BGLC and the Junior Minister of Finance.

Whew!  That was close.  Now I can relax and wait for the industry’s certain take-off.  Can’t I? What’s that you say?  You’ve heard it all before?  The so-called “solutions” announced are really recipes for more problems?  Please, don’t be difficult.  Why must you always be so negative?  Why can’t you all just get along?  What?  I can’t hear you?  No-one asked you your opinion, you say?  So?  Who are you?  Oh, I see, you’re a punter; a customer of the racetrack; someone with the idea that it’s the racing that’s important not the gimmicks.

Well, I have to say that I’m somewhat miffed myself that no-one asked for my own view.  But that’s normal.  Why would one ask for views when one is of the opinion that only one view is important?  And what is that view?  We must mix horse racing with slot machines.  We must re-invent Caymanas Park as an Entertainment Centre.  And, what did the brilliant young Minister say again?  Ah yes, I remember now, we must have innovative betting.

Folks, where have we heard all this before?  That loud rustling sound you hear is the collective yawn of experienced turfites who can spot talk over action every time.  Well, I have some very bad news for the famous “Retreat”.  It has come up with a lot of what is cleared from every stable in the compound daily.  The “solutions” smell to high heaven and are unlikely to produce much more than talk and more talk.  In particular, I’m looking forward to the successful creation of an “Entertainment Centre” surrounded by Waterford, Meadowvale, Independence City and Passage Fort.  That sounds like fun!

Let’s begin with that long hailed saviour of racing – the slot machine.   Is the plan for CTL to seek a slot machine licence and get into the slot machine business?  Or is some smooth slot operator to be allowed to bring his slots into the racetrack (and the OTBs) in order for him to profit from the (small) captive audience there whilst a pittance from the earnings is thrown at horse racing?  And will the introduction of slot machines attract one new customer to Caymanas Park?  If so, will that customer have any interest in racing whatsoever or just be a cross-eyed computer geek who wants to stare at spinning numbers all day to the detriment of the horse?  How exactly will slots at the track improve racing’s revenues?  As usual, we are 30 years too late.  There was a time when slots were profitable.  Ask Supreme Ventures how their slot business is doing these days.  Land based slots are now obsolete except in the most luxurious of Casinos (themselves on the way out) and in the dumping grounds of third world countries.  If it is betting our genius retreaters are going to concentrate on, they had better check where the most betting activity takes place these days and it is not in the real world.  It is definitely not where Vin Lumsden would call “on the ground”.

I have some more bad news for the geniuses who attended this magic “Retreat”.  There is no panacea for what ails local racing.  There is no easy way out.  The desperately needed improvement in local racing revenues will only come from a concerted will and intent to improve the horse racing product and customer service.  The solutions will not come from some elite “Retreat” where the room is filled with people whose main focus is pointing fingers at those not in the room.  Don’t ask the people at the “Retreat”.  These are the people who, despite having been in a recession for years and suffering from competition of all shapes and sorts leading to a severe drop in real revenues, are still focussed on telling their customers how to dress in order to be permitted access to the product that they are currently struggling to sell.

We are still led by blind persons living in a time warp when Caymanas Park was the only game in town and the punters’ choice was “take it or leave it”.  Faced with that choice today, in 2009, punters are happily “leaving it” in droves in order to bet with local bookies who, although far from perfect, have exhibited more vision than CTL in the types of betting products offered to the public and the variety of racing available for live viewing.  They are “leaving it” in droves to access the global bookmaking market, now but a click away, and the global horse racing products, now but a double-click away, in order to watch competitive, corruption-free racing from other jurisdictions and bet with bookies who do not try to take it all in every race but who understand the fundamentals of betting which is that less (takeout by the Book) is more.

No one must take the hot, dry, long drive to Caymanas Park, put up with the lack of parking facilities, the crude begging industry and the off-hand treatment by the Promoter with limited seating, poor visibility and pathetic ancillary services in order to watch uncompetitive, unattractive and often plainly corrupt racing whilst being treated like a mendicant by the Promoter of this mediocre product.  When the slots are added, all we will have is uncompetitive, unattractive and often plainly corrupt racing together with slots.  Gee whiz, what a thrill!

And then our Promoting Guru says that we must have innovative betting products.  Nonsense!!  The “product” is horse racing NOT betting.  The focus ought to be on improving THAT product; on putting on attractive, competitive, corruption-free horse racing without any particular focus on bets.  It is sport that attracts the public NOT betting.  In Dubai, betting is illegal and there is no Tote Machine yet the richest purses are on offer and the racing is attended by hundreds of thousand of patrons.  It may well be that, in Jamaica, horse racing cannot survive without betting but if you focus on the betting aspect of it, you will kill the sport.  If you focus on improving the sport, the betting will come.  And don’t bother with some elitist “Retreat”.  If you want to know what will improve your revenues, ask your customers what it is THEY want.  Take scientifically conducted surveys of turfites and punters.  Forget inexperienced Directors, bewildered Ministers and inept administrators and regulators.  ASK US!!!

Did you know that, in Britain, if a jockey is caught giving out information about his mount to anyone but the owner, he is banned for 1 – 5 years depending on the severity of the breach?  One English jockey told a punter the truth that his horse did not relish soft going and was banned for a year.  And it matters not who you are.  Keiron Fallon was caught using his cell phone to tell a well known gambler that his horse was “not fancied today” and was banned for 3 years!!  There are any number of ways to skin a jockey and you do not have to wait until you can catch him “pulling up” a horse in order to reduce corruption in the sport.  What the jockey does (or does not do) on the horse would be irrelevant if someone was not out there putting on the unfair bets based on inside information not generally available.  Our overstaffed and woefully inefficient and ineffective Racing Commission needs to take its collective nose out of the air and start to build an intelligence file on what takes place with betting in Jamaica.  Bookies must be made to report unusual betting trends.  Cell phones must be tapped.  The Rules of Racing must be amended to recognize that we are in 2009 not 1845 and corruption must be tracked down relentlessly wherever its tentacles extend not just between the starting gate and the winning post.

And horse racing must understand that it is not isolated from the needs of the modern world.  Tennis was forced to change its rules to accommodate TV.  Even Wimbledon now features the tie break.  In Jamaican racing, we are still trying to keep horse racing off the TV as if we were some elitist ostriches with our swollen and empty heads buried in the Hellshire sand not caring whether or not anyone knows , hears or sees of our existence.  But, if someone does, he or she had better dress properly or his/her filthy lucre and common custom will not be allowed through the gates of the Castle no sireee Bob!!  The success of modern sport has to do with easily identifiable Champions and winners of every game.  Baseball has its jingoistic named “World Series”.  Cricket and Football have their World Cups.  European and North American Horse racing have recognized the importance of the Breeders Cup as the “World Championship” of horse racing at least insofar as those two Continents are concerned.

Year-in, year-out in Jamaica, we just have the next raceday.  We make no effort to crown a Champion at year end.  And when we do have a “Horse-of-the-year” or an induction into a “Hall of Fame” (false advertising if ever there was  any), it is always done like the “Retreat” behind closed doors by an elite group of persons who know what’s good for racing and for the rest of us.  Give it up Gentlemen.  Racing may be the King of Sports but it is no longer the Sport of Kings.  It is now the Sport of The People.  Let the people decide.  Have a series of races with a view to crowning the winner of the “Final” (just like a Cup Final) as the Champion for the category.  Allow the public to vote on the Horse of the Year.  Have set statistical criteria as qualification for nomination to the Hall of Fame that will not allow every owner who visited the track once to be eligible.  Accomplishment must be the sole criteria.  Then, as persons achieve the statistical criteria, let the public vote as to whether they should actually be inducted.  Yes, ASK US!! We understand that the Institution is a Hall of FAME not an Hall of Long and Distinguished Service.

Gentlemen, stop playing word games with this great sport.  It will die and take the slot machines down with it.  Get some real practical, plans in place to improve the product from every aspect.  Build a horse racing product of which we can be proud.  If you build it, the revenues will come.

Good Luck!

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2 Responses to “A “RETREAT” FROM SOLUTIONS – MORE PROBLEMS”

  1. Paul Wright Says:

    Unfortunately all that you have written is true. The worst part of the present racing scenario is that the powers that be do not have a clue about what you are trying to teach them. These gentlemen are now committed to keep racing out of the hands of people who understand the sport and hand its adminisreation to wellwishers, whose first vist to the Track was their day of appointment.I love this sport dearly but I am now despairing.

  2. theterribletout Says:

    Yes Paul, it is really depressing stuff.

    As a Doctor, if you had a female patient with scoliosis, would you address the problem by arranging a marriage to a man with arthritis or would you see what you could do about the scoliosis as a first point of call?

    It really doesn’t seem like rocket science to me but the so-called “experts” are really making it look very difficult indeed.

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