January is for lists. So here’s mine. Fifteen things for racing to work on in 2015, not really in any particular order.
1. Uniformity. I know there has been progress, but I want to know the rules are the same everywhere. And I want to know the penalties carry weight everywhere. And I can’t be alone.
2. Medication rules. You want to move toward the end of raceday medication? Start by decreasing the maximum allowable Lasix dosage and go from there, but not until you’ve got uniformity.
3. Real penalties. People are tired of drawn-out appeals to suit the schedules of trainers and jockeys given suspensions by stewards or commissions. People are also tired of trainers simply transferring horses to assistants and moving on with business as usual. Couldn’t racing create a sensible, legal, fast appeals process that helps tracks and commissions do their jobs and gives participants fair hearings? What a concept.
4. More horses like Eighttofasttocatch. To become racing fans, people need horses to follow not just horses to bet. Year after year, he left his races on the racetrack and his excuses back at the barn–winning three Maryland Million Classics, four Jennings Handicaps and all the rest.
5. More horses like Ben’s Cat, Russell Road, Lucy’s Bob Boy and Down Town Allen. See above.
6. Safety. Only in Thoroughbred racing is a national safety initiative optional. Tracks apply to be accredited by the NTRA, and many have, but some don’t and never will. Even those that get accredited have varying levels of standards. There really ought to be a tiered safety standard for all tracks. Base it on purses or racing days or some other variable, but make it actually mean something.
7. Cooperation. You really want to make progress in the region? Start working together racetracks and racing states. Now. You’re dealing with the same population of horses, owners and trainers. Share them.
8. More cooperation. How much fun would it be to have a day’s racing for regional-breds. The Mid-Atlantic Million or something. Move it around, open it to horses bred in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and New Jersey. Then work toward figuring out how to involve states with smaller crops–Delaware and the Carolinas. Then let them run. I see big fields, and lots of fun trying to figure out the winners.
9. Experiences. I had lunch at the new Tips Restaurant at Laurel in December and it was good. Really. The food, the atmosphere, the televisions, the company were all first rate. Keep it going.
10. A sense of history. Progress and modernization are great, but don’t forget what got us here. There are certain staples of Mid-Atlantic racing that should be preserved and celebrated. Laurel’s paddock; the Preakness weathervane; that giant horse head sculpture at Parx (which isn’t all that historic but it sure is cool); the mountain view at Penn National; the paddock at Delaware Park; there’s more (there’s always more) but the point is don’t change it all just because you can.
11. Sales. At the last two Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sales, people talked about the buyers not being there because the horses weren’t there or the horses not being there because the buyers weren’t there. Like the chicken or the egg argument, which comes first? Well, it starts at home. Regional breeders should sell their horses in the region. Buyers will come.
12. Stallions (and mares). Related to No. 11, one criticism of the region’s market is the depth of the breeding industry. Better sires bring better mares and it’s nice to see the additions to Maryland’s roster over the past two years. Nature is in charge, but a breakout stallion that makes an impact nationally should be the goal.
13. Jump racing. I’m on a task force that’s supposed to be addressing growth and development and at some point we called jump racing “the first second career.” And that’s a good place to start. Own a flat horse that hit a ceiling? Before you look for a cheaper race, think about having somebody evaluate him or her as a steeplechase prospect. You never know.
14. Crossover. Related to No. 13, the back-and-forth of people and horses between flat racing and jump racing is a good sign. Virginia’s plan for some flat races at steeplechase meets, like the October card at the International Gold Cup, is a good one. Expand on that concept.
15. Aftercare. The progress is astounding. More Thoroughbreds are doing more things in more places than ever, and more people know about it. But the job will never be finished. Racing can always do better by its horses.
Happy New Year. Now get to work. See you at the races.