Simulcasts are wave of the future But live racing also vital, official says

September 13, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

One of the people in the forefront of changes taking place i the racing industry is Baltimore native Chris Scherf, executive director of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, who is headquartered at Fair Hill.

Scherf, who graduated from Mount St. Joseph's High School and the University of Maryland, is a former racing writer who once worked for the defunct News American in Baltimore and then covered racing for United Press International and the Louisville Courier-Journal.

He was in town this week overseeing operations at AmTote headquarters in Hunt Valley for the first National Pic-6, the

three-part series of six stakes races that started yesterday and continues Sept. 26 and Oct. 3.

It is the first time a large net pool, originating from about 40 different tracks, is being merged electronically at one location.

Scherf sees such technology and the advent of simulcasting as the future of the business, but warns live racing can't be sacrificed.

"That's the best part of the sport -- watching horses run," Scherf said. "If people just want an indoor gambling game, then that's the sort of thing provided by casinos and video lottery machines. You can't just simulcast everything."

He said that Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., might be the prototype of the future. "They have a high-quality live meet for about three months, then simulcast the races from other tracks for the remaining nine months," he said. "They churn out a lot of purse money for their live meet from those simulcasts. The meets that are most successful are the Saratogas, the Del Mars and the Oaklawns. They have short definite seasons with a high-quality product. But it's just economically impossible to sustain that level of interest and quality of racing on a year-round basis."

What Scherf eventually foresees for East Coast tracks are shorter meetings and the development of inter-state circuits. "There can't be four or five contiguous states with year-round racing," he said. "The dwindling supply of horses will take care of that. We just have to wait and see how those circuits shake out."

Scherf added that the worst thing that can happen is a cannibalization of the market, which is now occurring in New England. "The jai-alai and dog tracks are simulcasting [thoroughbred] races from New York, California and Florida and drawing away fans from live [thoroughbred] racing at Suffolk Downs and Rockingham Park," he said.

Technology, Scherf reiterated, is a double-edged sword. "If utilized properly, it's a tremendous opportunity," he said. "If it's not used properly, racing is not going to survive."

Putting racing last

If Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton is elected president, don't expect any help for the beleaguered horse industry, at least according to a Sept. 11 article in The Sun written by John Fairhall.

One of Clinton's economic proposals, as outlined in the book "Putting People First," is offering a cut in the capital gains tax for job-producing businesses that offer long-term investment. But Clinton excludes the horse racing and leisure boating industries from his plan.

Clinton, who comes from a racing state, certainly must realize that the sport produces jobs. It's estimated that in Maryland the horse industry employs nearly 20,000 people, making it one of the largest industries in the state.

The Tax Reform Act of 1986, which eliminated many tax breaks for horse owners, was instituted under a Republican administration.

Miscellaneous

Pimlico track operator Joe De Francis was in Cincinnati yesterday attending a meeting of the American Racing Championship Series. De Francis said that the series will continue, although not expanded, in 1993. He said the Pimlico Special will remain in the same spot on the schedule as this year -- the week before Preakness Day. . . . Lou Nichols, the Bowie-based trainer who died last week, did especially well with the offspring of the stallion Dancing Count. Nichols trained two quick Dancing Count colts, Count Disco and Jordana's Count, who was once known around Bowie as "The Freak". . . . Mary Eppler has a "blue hen" producer in her mare Seven Rogues. The mare's first two foals, Saturday Affair and P.J. Higgins, have both won stakes. . . . P.J. Higgins, a 2-year-old, recently won the Constitution Mile at Philadelphia Park. The mare is currently in foal to Carr de Naskra and has a weanling by Horatius. . . . Trainer Ben Perkins Jr. is thinking of running Mrs. Adelaide Riggs' Wild Zone in the Arlington-Washington Futurity on Sept 26. The race is included in the card for Part II of the National Pic-6.

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