DISMANTLING PAST ILLUSIONS

My beloved horse racing industry is in shambles and, at time of writing, nobody knows if it’ll continue after May 1 when drastic purse cuts are expected to kick in.

As usual, occupational permit holders, led by the always militant Jamaica Race Horse Trainers Association (JRHTA), have rejected the proposed purse cuts; called for the dismissal of CTL Chairman Joseph A Matalon; and threatened protest action if the cuts are implemented.  Congratulations, gentlemen.   Then, what?

The truth is that altogether too much focus has been put on “Big” Joe Matalon in this crisis. The JRHTA, as has been its wont over much too long a time, seems only able to address issues by personalizing them and creating individual Enemies of the Sport.  But what exactly has ‘Big’ Joe done?  He has identified the unsustainability of the Promoter’s current purse levels vis a vis its income and taken steps to cauterize massive fiscal bleeding for industry  stabilization.  Industry activists, born, nurtured and brought-up in an “All-for-me” environment and advanced level graduates in the “Gimme-a-money” principle, expect nothing to ever change unless, of course, change means “more” for them.

So they’re blaming everybody within hailing distance for their problems.  Of course, it’s the competition’s fault (Bookies) for not underwriting CTL’s costs.  But, first and foremost, it’s ‘Big’ Joe’s fault for placing a pragmatic hand on the CTL wheel and insisting on removing all cash cows from his stables.  Trainers don’t seem to understand that previous management disasters of such monumental stupidity as to make intelligent observers suspect something more sinister are yet to be addressed.  CTL, like Karen Carpenter, has only just begun.  Why should Off Track Betting Parlours (OTBs) owe CTL millions of dollars without penalty?  If these sums are ever collected, why is no interest charged to offset CTL’s additional expenses, real or notional?  Why’re Trainers occupying stables constructed by CTL at CTL’s expense, free of any cost?  Why are they allowed unlimited water and electricity without equivalent compensation?  Can you imagine the decibel level of the whining if and when ‘Big’ Joe gets around to addressing these issues?

                   “What a weepin’ and wailin’ dung a Caymanas park
What a weepin’ and wailin’ dung a Caymanas park…

Again, even in this matter of the so-called purse cuts, ‘Big’ Joe is merely dismantling past illusions.  The story starts in late 2007/early 2008 when Pat Rousseau, that great Jamaican patriot, lawyer, businessman and major investor in horse racing, was appointed CTL Chairman.  Pat, who knows something about the international sport, moved to increase the handle by reducing the Promoter’s Tote take-out by 5%.  The timeworn philosophy is: Return more to Punters; Punters bet more (“churn”).  Worldwide data suggested he was on the right track to increased revenues and, thereby, purses.  Sales improved but his Chairmanship was abruptly abbreviated based on a senseless OCG report following up on vitriolic attacks by racing activists over alleged conflicts of interest that didn’t exist in an area none of his accusers, seemed to understand.

Soon, with much public fanfare, there came a CTL announcement that purses would be increased by $100 million per annum.  The activists celebrated claiming victory over evil.  But, the problem with that announcement, like many from national stages, was that it heralded an illusion.  There was no money. My usually reliable industry sources confirm that the first year’s purse increase was funded by a government grant through a related government agency with a stern warning that it was a one-of grant.  CTL had one year to boost its revenues sufficiently to sustain the purse increase.

What did the geniuses in charge devise as a strategy to earn that increased revenue?  Exhibiting the tactical brilliance of a Boston Marathon bomber, they reversed Pat Rousseau’s decision reducing the Tote take-out and, expecting a larger retention to mean more sales, returned the takeout to a world high of 30% (40% on exotics).  Sales plummeted.

Recently, on a popular radio programme, Ian Parsard, Board Member under both Pat Rousseau and his successor, admitted “Quite frankly, from the time I was on the Board, when the massive increase was given, it was pretty much a certainty that it was not sustainable”.  Yet that purse increase was announced and paid for years without a sound or any financial basis.  What was that?  A Ponzi Scheme?  All “Big” Joe Matalon is now doing is closing the stable door long after that particular horse had bolted and returning reality to an industry living in an illusory bubble.

Peace and Love

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