Since we missed New Year’s, here are some February resolutions – which are just as good if we get to work on them – for the region’s Thoroughbred industry and for me too.
Tell New Jersey’s story.
Everybody, tell New Jersey’s story to politicians (especially) but tell anyone who will listen. The state’s racing and breeding programs fight for a chance in a region crowded by states with assistance from alternative gaming. Slots fuel purses and owner/breeder incentives in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware. Only New Jersey goes it alone, trying to keep Thoroughbred racing alive at Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands in the face of powerful competition from the neighbors. Monmouth is in the discussion for prettiest track in the nation and shouldn’t be allowed to wane. The really crazy thing is New Jersey already has casino gaming. Figure out a way to help the other industry that depends on gambling and you’ll save horses, jobs, open space and more. In 2015, according to Jockey Club statistics, just 47 mares were bred in New Jersey. The number was 206 in 2009 and 452 in 2006. Jersey-bred foal numbers are also declining – to 113, the lowest on record – in 2015. That number was 401 in 2007. The Garden State will never be Kentucky, nor should it try to be, but it can have a healthy breeding/racing industry with a little help. And it’ll continue to create jobs, protect farmland and preserve a racing legacy. And just so everyone knows, Jersey-bred horses are doing their part in 2017 with wins by Green Gratto (one of 237 foals born in 2010) in the Grade 3 Toboggan Stakes at Aqueduct, Sunny Ridge (one of 152 born in 2013) in the Jazil Stakes also at Aqueduct and the emergence of Irish War Cry (one of 118 born in 2014) as a 3-year-old to watch. Go on boys, carry that flag. And if you’re from another state in the region, think about how you might be able to help – even if it’s just advice. Strong state-bred programs (all of them) make a strong region.
Tell Virginia’s too.
Somehow, without a racetrack, Virginia is creatively making the most of some incentives to breed horses in the state. Virginia-bred races soldier on at in-state steeplechase courses, in Maryland and in West Virginia. Bonuses get paid to owners of Virginia-breds who find success in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. Though it’s born of necessity, that last bit is brilliant. The owner of a Virginia-bred gets rewarded in multiple states. Let’s see someone else try that. The state is also opening off-track betting facilities and working to get some racing facilities up and running in the face of declining numbers along the lines of New Jersey (47 mares bred and a registered foal crop of 113 in 2015).
Tell jump racing’s too.
January’s column in this space touched on the Thoroughbred melting pot that is American steeplechasing. I’ve actually heard from a few people about it, which is great. Thanks for the feedback. The jumpers come from everywhere, and people need to remember that. There are positive signs jumping (sorry) up all over. There’s a new meet this spring in Charleston, S.C., and another new course coming on line in Tryon, N.C. Purses hit a record $6 million last year and I’m on a committee guiding a handicapping system (to decrease a dependence on claiming races) like those used in other countries. It’s a work in progress, but it’s got traction.
Engage a young person.
Our industry (every industry) needs new people. They add energy, ideas, revenue, life. I was recently asked to take part in the Maryland Jockey Club’s Students On Track career initiative. It’s a day (March 4) set aside to welcome college students to Thoroughbred racing at Laurel Park. Participants will watch morning workouts, experience a day at the races and take part in a panel discussion about careers in the industry. Great idea. Every track should do something similar and, even if they don’t, informal steps can be taken by owners, trainers, breeders and leaders. Get new people to the tracks and to the farms.
See more horses.
Like everybody, in every job ever, I get stuck in my office dealing with all the little things that make a job a job. I need to see horses – mares, foals, stallions, yearlings, racehorses, whatever – a little more. I can’t be the only one. Schedule that lunch meeting for the racetrack. Swing by the local breeding farm to see a foal. How many stallions can you actually meet? The Maryland point-to-points start next month. See you out there.
Get to the gym, go for more runs, eat more vegetables, spend less time looking at my phone, hug my family, walk the dog (check) . . . oh, and spend more time coming up with column ideas.