Boycott, increasing expenses only add to industry's problems

HORSE RACING

August 23, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Sitting on the sidelines of last week's boycott by the Pimlico trainers was partly a lesson in civics, economics and human nature.

Track operator Joe De Francis took to quoting Mark Twai ("Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated") and Patrick Henry ("We're either going to hang together or we're going to hang separately").

By week's end, Timmy Boyce looked more like a haggard UA negotiator overseeing the closing of an auto parts plant than a horse trainer.

Here are a few observations gleaned from the week's activities.

* Tracks' current biggest headache: Finding horses to run in th races. Handle decreases when there are only five- and six-horse fields, and by winter there will likely be an estimated 1,500 horses, a 30 percent decrease from three years ago.

* Economics 101 quiz: If owners are going out of busines because the cost of keeping a horse is too high, do you:

a. Charge them an extra $4 a day for stall rent?

b. Charge them an extra $25 every time they van their horse?

c. Tack on added costs to insure they go broke and will neve own another horse?

d. None of the above.

As well-intentioned as Boyce and other trainers are in findin ways to raise the $400,000 to keep Pimlico open, adding to the financial burden of owning horses is not one of them.

That's why the industry is in it's current predicament.

The answer is increasing the handle (amount bet daily). Th bigger the handle, the more money everyone can make from their percentage of the wagering pie. That is why it was imperative to pass a statewide off-track betting bill. If the tracks make more money, then they could afford to keep Pimlico open.

How to do you increase handle? You widen the market and the give the fans more horses to bet on. How do you get more horses? You get more owners. How do you get more owners? You give them more purse money or at least an opportunity to break even. You don't increase their expenses.

If you can't immediately generate more handle, you re-distribut the purse money already available so people can afford to stay in the game. Twenty-five percent of the horses cannot make 75 percent of the purse while everyone else starves.

Trainers at Pimlico are either going to have to bite the bullet an move or get more owners and more horses and fill up the stalls at Maryland tracks. But that's the problem. Where do you get the horses?

* Latest horse population estimates: According to the Aug. 2 issue of the Thoroughbred Times, William S. Farish III gave the following report at the recent Jockey Club Round Table at Saratoga.

In 1986, there was a peak thoroughbred crop of 51,293.

Estimates for the 1992 crop are now put at 38,500, a 30 percen drop from six years ago.

The 1993 estimate is 36,000 foals.

By 1995, there will be 116,000 horses of racing age in training i the United States, a 34,000 decrease from the current number.

Farish said there are not going to be enough horses to fill cards and he predicted the decline will continue until the end of the century.

Obviously, the shortage of horses is going to be the racin industry's problem of the 1990s. It is not going to go away. It will only grow more acute.

In the short term, if Pimlico closes, 42 percent of the trainers sai they will leave the state and take 229 horses with them. If they leave, it only weakens the industry they will want to come back to in four months.

If they stay, they'll argue that they can't afford the added cost of moving their outfits and stable employees to Laurel and Bowie.

Then it's up to the tracks to make it affordable. If there is no extra money to be generated, the money currently available could be re-distributed. That means reducing stakes 10 percent and giving it to overnight purses.

Will fewer horses come to the Washington International if the purse is $675,000 rather than $750,000? Did the Pimlico Distaff really need a $200,000 instead of a $180,000 purse to attract Wilderness Song and Harbour Club?

In the long term, if the horsemen really care about the future otheir help, themselves and the industry, they should start working with management to get the off-track betting system going. That way, the handle increases and there's money available for everyone to meet what hopefully becomes their joint agenda.

Saratoga success

Maryland horsewomen have won races with regularity at the Saratoga meet. Not only has Victoria Schlesinger leapt to the top of the national steeplechase standings, but local trainers Mary Eppler and Alicia Murphy also won races at the Spa. Scheslinger won three Saratoga steeplechases. Murphy saddled the winner of one jump race. Eppler won an allowance turf race with Alfred Vanderbilt's Up In Front. It was the first win at Saratoga for Vanderbilt in seven years.

5/8

Miscellaneous

Kent Desormeaux will ride at the Pimlico meet for 10 days from Sept. 24 to Oct. 2. He will be available to ride in the Maryland Million on Sept. 26. . . . Charlie Fenwick, ninth-leading rider at Laurel, will compete in England during the Timonium meet. Fenwick will ride races there for prominent trainer Ian Balding.

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