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We Can Handle the Truth

Jack Nicholson was wrong. Racing can handle the truth, because the truth allows us to do the right things, rather than the wrong things. And it's a way forward.

Churchill Downs net income dropped 16% last year. Which is due to many factors. Most important to horseplayers in 2014 was the takeout hike, which decreased payoffs whenever you cashed a ticket. That spurred a pretty stout backlash. At the time, everyone and everyone's grandmother believed that Derby Day revenue would rise; which was pretty simple logic. It was the other part of the meet that was in trouble, handle wise. That turned out to be true:

The problem is, narratives about "field size" and other items muddy the truth, and that's where racing gets in trouble.

A takeout hike will hurt handle; you know that and I know that. But when the message gets muddied, the business glosses over it with other factors - weather, the Olympics in Vancouver, the economy, losing a half a horse in field size. No one wants to be wrong.

But that's dangerous, because the other factors permeate the industry and are used time and time again as a crutch, to raise juice, slap ADW taxes, make it harder for you to be a customer.

Racing not only can handle, but it needs to handle the truth. "We raised takeout to make more on Derby Day, and we succeeded, but the other days were soft, because we raised takeout".

Then, maybe, the next track, and the next, and the next, will think twice about it, and we'll not read year end press releases about handle being down, ad nauseam.

As well, I noticed a post at the Paulick Report about a trainer in Australia who got a TCO2 positive and was banned for three years. If and when this happens in North America - and it happens often - it's a slap on the wrist or an investigation of some sort. Some in the press will apologize for it time and time again (the "he's a nice guy" defense).

But we can handle the truth.

A trainer, known to many who has had various run ins with folks, but now seems to lead a pretty decent life as a very good trainer, posted this on a chat board recently (click to enlarge).

What he is saying is, sure you might've not used soda, but when you are tubing, the properties of what you use are giving you this reading. In other words, you meant to pre-race on race day and avoid a positive and you thought you were using something that would not affect blood gas levels, but it does. So you can get caught.

This does a service to everyone. First, don't drench on race day and you're okay, and two, to those who stand up for multiple TCO2 positive dude or dudettes, you might be hanging your hat on the wrong rack.

Handle will fall when takeout is raised. Positive tests can and do happen when someone might not mean to, but does intend to do something wrong. For the horse racing industry, the truth is better than obfuscation, or apology. Obfuscation and apology are nothing more than an excuse for the status quo.

Have a great day everyone. 


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