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ORC & CHRB on Same Path, But at Different Points

There is some news this morning on last year's annual report of the California Horse Racing Board as well as the Ontario Racing Commission racing plan. Ontario and California are two jurisdictions on exactly the same path, but one is simply further ahead on the curve.

First, business in California is poor. 

"Pari-mutuel wagering in California declined by $501 million during fiscal year 2009-10, and betting through advance deposit, the only growth area in the state's handle for the past several years, also dipped slightly."

This is no secret to anyone who follows the sport. Even ADW wagering is down, which shows there is something very wrong. California last season had their quarterhorse takeout rise, and they tacked onto their already super-high signal fees. It's really no shock ADW wagering would not be maximized in terms of handle, and it proves what a lot of people are saying: When you squeeze, you get less juice, because the lemon you are squeezing is already dryer than the Mojave.

The good news in the report is that the CHRB and Cali-racing, like the ORC has been for a long time, is very pro-horse in their long-term vision. Say what you want about synthetic tracks and horse safety, but Cali has always been on the front lines for detailing and looking into policy, like the necropsy programs. The ORC instituted that several years ago in Ontario and it is welcomed.

That is pretty much where the comparisons do end, unfortunately, but in my opinion, there is a reason: Cali racing has not hit a bottom.

In 2003 and 2004 Ontario handles were beginning to take a major hit, but not enough of a hit to frighten the long term. At that time, horseplayers, some owners, and some track executives and the racing press warned that this trend was not pretty. Things like purse pooling between tracks,  race date and race time coordination, claiming price ratios, investing in the future, better quality racing and rules, takeout rates etc were all talked about, but no change came. As handle continued to slide more and more (virtually cut in half) people jumped on board (contrary to popular belief the ORC can not make stakeholders do something). With that energy and stakeholder support, the ORC moved ahead with their 2011 racing plan, enacting many of the policies spoken about five, six or seven years earlier. This plan has angered some (or even many), but doing the right thing in the face of falling demand is rarely popular.

At the present time I think CA racing is at about circa 2007 when compared to Ontario; their 2010 annual review looks like a 2007 one in Ontario. The problems are there and they are deep and they won't go away with band-aids, but they are not quite alarming enough to get stakeholders moving right now at this minute.

I am half-certain some of the major issues in California will be addressed. Lower signal fees to attract out of state money and rebate in-state players, lower juice, better medical rules, better understanding of purses and the money that goes into keeping a horse race-ready to maximize ownership and field size etc will be addressed in a day, but it won't be yesterday.

The ORC is ahead of the curve and California is just starting it. I hope it gets fixed soon.

Note: Anyone in racing it seems is a whipping boy because things are not going well, and Alex Waldrop of the NTRA is no exception.  But I have always liked him - his vision and willingness to try and work with people who don't want to be worked with. Today on twitter to a question I posed regarding a survey, there he was with a response. It is what he normally does and it is totally expected because he has a passion for fixing things in our sport. I wish the NTRA, like the SC Plan up here, got more money and more power, not less, because looking to the long-term is something we lack in racing. Unfortunately, it is what it is, I guess.

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