After seeing the news from Miami this week regarding Major League Baseball and COVID-19 positives, I think it’s fair to be concerned about the overall state of mainstream sports moving forward in 2020. Yes, the NBA has a bubble, but with so much in game contact and even more in the NFL, I think it’s safe to say sports isn't getting back to "normal" anytime soon.
For the first time in my life horse racing isn't just an afterthought in society and the sports world in general. The job done by many major racetracks, and Woodbine in particular with its enhanced TSN partnership and the timely unveiling of the DARKHORSE app, has moved horse racing further ahead than anyone could have projected. Yes, for many jurisdictions with casino partners 2020 has had some new and problematic challenges. Diminished capacity on gaming floors, COVID fears, and overall financial hardship have definitely reduced revenue at these venues. As our partners continue to navigate these uncharted waters, we need to do some navigating of our own.
Horse racing is very fortunate to be operating at all. I personally applaud the efforts of our industry stakeholders in getting us back on the job when so many of our neighbours are still unemployed. That isn't to say things are great and we don’t have major hurdles approaching, because we do. COVID-19 has put most everyone in a much different financial situation than they are used to, and the fallout from that is undoubtedly going to be felt first and foremost by our smaller breeders this coming sales season.
We have to face the realistic notion that there is simply less money available in 2020 to buy yearlings. I believe this an opportunity for trainers to show some entrepreneurship and partner with breeders that may be actively looking for a "Plan B" leading up to, and after the conclusion of the fall sales. Thestable.ca has done this since we opened our doors and some of our best horses have come from these partnership programs. We have been approached by many breeders already this season, and I’m sure there will be no shortage of interested parties soon enough to work with. This is incredibly important because if we start to lose breeders, we risk shrinking a viable entry point for new people coming into the horse racing industry. If smaller breeding operations shutter, we will have less horses bred, eventually leading to yearlings shortages in the future that will inevitability drive up prices making it impossible to find value in the yearling market at all. Further to that, less horses will ultimately result in smaller fields and the inevitable downward spiral that we must fight to avoid. By not working together this fall we will actually be hurting ourselves and our industry in the long run. The obvious question is: Where will the extra funds come from to form and foster these partnerships? Is there any way to create more cash flow to help our industry moving forward?
I've spoken in multiple venues on two continents about the power of affordable ownership, and the draw it has on everyday people. This year, because of the coronavirus shuttering society as a whole, we have more eyeballs on our sport than we had since the start of the Internet. Do you think any of these people watching have ever seen a sport they can become interested in, and afford to be an active participant in as well? The potential for that added value is immense for horse racing, and thestable.ca has proven that this transition from fan to owner is very real and possible. This article isn't about what we have done at our barn, as much as what other trainers can do in theirs. It isn't the name, slogan, or the person selling the idea. It’s the message of affordable ownership and the entertainment that goes with that. I always claimed that the affordability of the entertainment dollar for dollar found in horse racing is unmatched in society, now it’s simply unrivaled!
I believe the time is upon us to properly educate our horsemen on how they can connect with everyday people to grow their own barns and brands. More now than ever, we need to introduce ourselves to society in new and direct ways to show them what we actually offer. We have a competitive and exciting sport full of athleticism, speed, great stories, and hard work. There is nothing like seeing and hearing the horses thundering down the stretch to cross the finish line, all in a time when there isn't much of anything available for people to get excited about.
For the negative people ready to only talk about the struggles we have faced in the past with marketing, gaming, or bad apples in our sport, I would say to them that every sport has its own unique issues, and we are no different. Bringing new people into the sport of horse racing makes it stronger and helps us shine a light on all the poorly-lit corners of our industry. This is more than just new paint on an old piece of wood. This is rebuilding and rebranding a great product that more people than ever would be interested to participate in. Saying the interest isn't there is simply incorrect. I think if anything I've proven that to be untrue.
With the sports entertainment field significantly thinned out right now, we are doing a great job seizing the day, but I do think it’s time we strive for more.
People can say horse racing is dead, but I believe from this generational disaster we could find the fresh air we have so desperately been in search of for decades. Our future is literally right in front of us, we need to continue to push forward, be aware and stay ahead of the hurdles to come. Strengthen our core, protect our breeders, and we will see growth that most of us never thought possible.
The views presented in Trot Blogs are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Standardbred Canada.