There’s merit to discussing regional circuit
I’ve said it to a few people. Some blanche. Some roll their eyes. Others seem to want to think about it at least. Pretty much all wonder if it could ever really happen.
The first two states in the region that join together to form a workable circuit of year-round (or mostly year-round) racing will be the winners.
There, it’s out. I wrote it.
And before you start shooting arrows my direction, think about it. Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia all have lengthy Thoroughbred racing seasons fueled in part by slots revenue. Combined, tracks in those states run nearly 1,200 dates a year. Mix in shorter meets in New Jersey and Virginia, and you’ve got a recipe for a horse shortage. Maybe not now, but at some point.
The problem is, nobody wants to blink. Horsemen don’t want to suggest fewer days at their track, for fear of losing opportunities, of not being able to compete if individual race purses rise too high and attract more powerful stables, of being forced to spend time on the road. Tracks don’t want to give up dates in the marketplace, or boost a rival’s business.
I understand, but I also say look ahead. Foal crops are smaller. Competition for the gambling dollar–racetracks or casinos–is fiercer than ever. Transportation between tracks is relatively simple. There’s a reason independent training centers like Fair Hill succeed. It’s because horsemen don’t feel pressured to run at a single track, and like it.
Teaming up might be the future. Tracks must keep stable areas open and maintain certain standards when it comes to training hours, backside amenities and other areas. Horsemen must not play favorites and would be expected to support multiple racing jurisdictions from a single base.
Think of the possibilities for strategic partnerships.
Could Parx Racing share its horse population and some other infrastructure with Monmouth Park as was discussed at least a little bit last year? The model works for six days in the spring at Atlantic City, which once again featured full fields and big crowds in April. Stop racing at Parx for a month or more, and run at Monmouth Park in the summer. Rejuvenate the fan base, horses, horsemen, staff. Charles Town and Penn National, which are owned by the same company, could do something similar. Or maybe Parx and Penn, which technically don’t compete (the former races during the day, the other mainly at night), could team up with an in-state circuit. Presque Isle occupies a unique geographical spot in Erie, but could still share some logistics with its Pennsylvania cousins.
Delaware Park and the Maryland Jockey Club tracks might be in a position to share horses and dates, much like they did years ago. Put Colonial Downs in the mix, sprinkle in Timonium and maybe a summer turf festival at Fair Hill and you’ve got a racing product that would be the envy of any area in the country. Kentucky makes Turfway Park, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs work–not without some angst but without slots.
This region ought to be at an advantage because of all the racing opportunity, and the relatively compressed inventory of horses. Take it another step and card races restricted to horses bred in the region–Mid-Atlantic Million anyone? The Sunshine Millions idea used by California and Florida would be a perfect fit for this part of the country.
A track could take a break, encourage some crossover, work on some of those projects that have long been put off. Horsemen can target certain horses for certain races, give others a rest.
Such an idea won’t, and shouldn’t, eliminate competition. It would be unfair to concede Labor Day or another big racing weekend to one state, but there’s room to share, work together, cooperate. There’s got to be.
Look around. Other sports are working on cooperative measures, not competitive ones. The National Basketball Association looks toward India for expansion. Major League Baseball participates in the World Baseball Classic. The National Football League creates a television special out of its draft, focusing on every team in the league rather than just one or two.