Reaching for Roses: The Beginning of the Journey

March 17, 2013

Just 48 Days from the First Saturday in May…

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Just 48 days from now, 20 horses will line up at Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby will be run for the 139th time. Things are pretty hectic in all the departments at Churchill Downs as we continue to prepare to host more than 250,000 people over one weekend. I was at The Downs for the Derby in 2011 and assisted in the press box, but last year was my first time going through a full year of Derby preparations. I didn’t know what I was in for and I worked harder than I ever had in my life. But in the end, I felt like I was a small part of Derby 138 and I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment as I watched I’ll Have Another cross the line first in front of a record crowd.

This year, I know what I’m in for and I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I know that I can do it, but I also know how hard these next seven weeks are going to be. However, there also will be much excitement and anticipation and I’m looking forward to seeing another 3-year-old put it all together on the First Saturday in May and make history. I couldn’t tell you who’s going to win Derby 139, but if you’d like my early picks, I currently like Tiz the Truth, Verrazano and Orb.

Obviously, I’ve done a bad job of updating the blog on a regular basis since I took the job at Churchill Downs. I think there are three reasons for this…1) I’m more busy than I was in college. 2) After a day of reading copy and writing press releases, I don’t have much interest in doing more of it when I get home. 3) Twitter and Facebook.

I think I saw someone on Twitter say that fewer blogs are updating on a regular basis because it’s easier to update people through social media. When news comes along in my life that I think would be interesting to others, I usually post it on Facebook and Twitter. So…if you’d like more regular updates on my horses and career, then follow me on Twitter @TraversMan or send me a friend request on Facebook.

Also, you should check out KentuckyDerby.com and ChurchillDown.com regularly for the most up-to-date information on the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. Barn notes and Derby notes will be starting in April and there’s no better place to find information on the Kentucky Derby.

One thing I’ve been doing lately is a weekend preview of the prep races on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” and “Road to the Kentucky Oaks.” They are posted each Thursday afternoon on the Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby websites. You can read the most recent one at http://tinyurl.com/cmkwb6x.

As you will read, each weekend preview contains “10 Things to Watch.” So, in thinking along those lines, I thought I’d give five updates to the readers before the Derby storm comes on in full force. I’d give 10, but…hey…it’s late.

1. I signed a contract a few weeks ago to send Sky to 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver on a mare share with WinStar Farm. Obviously, I will post more about this as we get closer to the date, but yes, I plan to sell Sky at the 2013 Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale in foal to Super Saver.

2. Sky currently is in foal to Nobiz Like Shobiz and everything seems to be going well. She should foal in mid-to-late April. My next post hopefully will be full of pictures of the healthy foal. Reminder…I leased Sky out this breeding season to another gentleman and so I will not own the foal; however, I think I’ll consider myself an uncle.

3. Sky’s first foal, Sky Above, breezed four furlongs in :48.30 at Palm Beach Downs on March 13 in his first published workout since finishing third in an allowance at Keeneland in October.

4. As far as I know, Skype (Score Classy) is still in Puerto Rico. She hasn’t raced since Jan. 1 and, unfortunately, they don’t publish workouts. Her record stands at 5-4-0 from 10 starts and earnings of $90,314. She is a Grade III winner and Grade I placed at 2 and 3. I’m hopeful she’s getting some much deserved R & R.

5. Faith, as most of you know, was sold at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearlings Sale for $20,000. I’m told she was bought by Puerto Rican owners who have been impressed with her half-sister, Skype. Word on the street is she has been named Stephania My Love. I’m not a fan. She’ll always be Faith to me.

That’s all, folks! Thanks for stopping by and remember to check out my Twitter and Facebook for more regular updates and go to ChurchillDowns.com and KentuckyDerby.com for all the latest news on the “Run for the Roses.”

Oh…one last thing…can anyone believe this photo was taken more than three years ago? What an amazing ride it has been.

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December 28, 2011

Back Again

Well to say that it’s been awhile since my last post would be an understatement. After posting consistently for the past year and a half, I haven’t posted in more than three months. So before we start 2012, I wanted to update everyone on what’s been going on in my life.

Let’s start with Skype. Most of you know that Skype was purchased at the 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale for $7,000. You might not know that she was purchased by connections from Puerto Rico and has been sent there to begin training. It’s not the best thing in the world and I would have much rather her gone to anAmerican outfit, but that’s the way it goes in a public auction. I can only control her reserve, but not who purchases her once the price goes beyond it. It took awhile for me to “make peace” with the situation, but I’m fine with it now. Hopefully she’ll be a big fish in a fairly small pond and can get herself some black type.

Puerto Rico’s racing falls under the jurisdiction of the Jockey Club so I’ll be able to follow her races. She has been named Score Classy by her new owners and has begun some light training. I found a man on Facebook who works with her in Puerto Rico and he sent me this picture of her. Technology is pretty cool, huh?

Now moving on to Faith…

I went to see Faith last week and she’s doing really well. She’s gotten big since I saw her last and has a striking resemblance to her older sister. I guess Sky really “stamps her foals.”

After taking a look at Faith, I went to the other side of the farm to see her mom, Sky. Sky is currently in foal to Stevie Wonderboy and is due to drop around the beginning of April. Stevie Wonderboy has had a pretty decent year as a freshman sire. He’s had a handful of winners and a couple of stakes winners with a crop smaller than many of the other sires at the top of the freshman list. Hopefully he will have continued success as his first crop of 2-year-olds turn three and begin running longer distances.

One more update on my animals…I added another chestnut filly to my life a couple of weeks ago. She’s just a tad smaller than the first two (and previously three) that I have in my life.

Her name is Lilly and she is a six-month-old dachshund. My girlfriend Amanda and I rescued her from an animal shelter in Louisville. She loves dogs and finally convinced me to get a pet that I wouldn’t ever have to sell haha. If you ask me why she is named Lilly, I would tell you that she is named after the flowers given to the winner of the Kentucky Oaks (yes, I know the flower is spelled lily). My girlfriend would tell you that she is named after Lilly Pulitzer, the designer. Oh well…it was a name we could both agree upon. She turned down Sara (for Saratoga), which I didn’t think was too bad. I didn’t even suggest Personal Ensign…didn’t think that would go over too well.

Moving on to my work at Churchill Downs…

I made it through the Fall Meet and it was a ton of fun. It really flew by, though, because it was non-stop action from start to finish. We began the meet with Stars of Tomorrow I and the Breeders’ Cup and ended things with a Thanksgiving weekend packed with stakes action. Hopefully some of you were able to read the Barn Notes I wrote at ChurchillDowns.com. If not, look for them in the Spring. My meet highlights included Royal Delta’s win in the Ladies’ Classic, St Nicholas Abbey’s dominating performance in the Turf and Gemologist’s win in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

I took last week and this week off for the holidays and start back after the New Year. I’m told that the craziness preparing for the Derby will begin as soon as I step in the office. I probably don’t have any idea what’s in store for me and maybe that’s a good thing. It’ll be a lot of early mornings and late nights, but it’ll be all worth it on May 5.

I apologize for not posting in a while and I promise to keep this blog more updated throughout 2012. Thanks for reading and have a fantastic New Year.

July 6, 2011

My First Meet at Churchill Downs is in the Books

The Spring Meet at Churchill Downs came to a close on July 4 and it was a meet I will never forget. I accepted a job at Churchill in April, began work on May 12 and now my first meet is officially in the books.

Here are my top ten highlights from the meet (in no particular order).

1. “Shadowing” the communications and media services team during Kentucky Derby weekend and having the best seat in the house for the big race

2. Trainer Garry Simms, who has become a good friend of mine this meet, winning the Debutante with Flashy Lassie. The Debutante was also my first recap of a graded stakes race.

3. Trainer Ken McPeek winning five graded stakes races in a row (the Dogwood, the Aristides, the Mint Julep, the Matt Winn and the Regret)

4. My first story in the barn notes: exercise rider Tara Murty and her horse Cherry Included

5. The tornado that tore through the backstretch at Churchill Downs. It’s not exactly a “happy” highlight, but thankfully no people or horses were hurt and obviously it will be something that I’ll always associate with my first meet.

6. My daily conversations with trainer Tom Proctor at the clocker’s stand

7. Getting my picture taken with Brass Hat on his final day at Churchill Downs

8. My first breakfast at Wagner’s

9. The race of the meet: Keertana winning the Louisville Handicap in a three-horse photo over Bearpath and Guys Reward

10. Speaking to the connections of Wise Dan after his win in the Firecracker Handicap on closing day. Trainer Charlie Lopresti was so excited he couldn’t stand still during the interview and owner Mort Fink told me, “This is one of the greatest things to happen to me.” It was great to see that kind of pure joy following such a big win.

The team took a couple of days off to take a breath after the meet, but it’s back to work tomorrow. I’m sure before I know it my first off-season at Churchill will be in the books as well and I’ll begin my first fall meet. Time flies when you’re having fun and I’m having an amazing time.

June 8, 2011

One Month After Graduation

One month ago today, I graduated from the University of Kentucky. It really seems as though it was just yesterday. The older I get, the faster time seems to fly. It’s been a really exciting month and hopefully things continue to go well.

Working at Churchill Downs has been great. I’ve really enjoyed meeting lots of interesting people and working at one of the most historic racetracks in the world. Things have been more challenging the last couple of weeks because I am sort of out on my own now. Prior to Preakness weekend, I was accompanied by Gary Yunt while working in the press box and on the backside. Gary was loaded with information and had been writing about news on the Churchill Downs backside since before I was born. He decided to move home to Denver and “watch the deer and the antelope play” after the Preakness and since then I have had a lot more responsibility. It’s been a great experience and I’m learning more than I ever thought was possible. If you are interested in reading the Churchill Downs Barn Notes that I have been working on with John Asher and Darren Rogers, then you can click on the following link: http://www.churchilldowns.com/news/archive/barn-notes.

One of the best parts of my job is being around the stars of our sport on a daily basis. I stood just a few feet away from Animal Kingdom the day before he won the Kentucky Derby, I watched Shackleford get a bath shortly after returning to Churchill Downs following his Preakness victory, and last week I got my picture taken with the recently retired Brass Hat, a Grade I winner of more than $2 million. The picture I took with Brass Hat is below. Trainer Buff Bradley took the picture for me after handing me the shank. It was so cool!

The goal from the age of 15 was to be employed in the Thoroughbred industry because I wanted to have a job I would enjoy. I can honestly say that I love waking up for work in the morning.

Thank you to all the readers of this blog for the continued support. I apologize for the blog not being updated as often as usual. I’m sure I will have more time to update the blog at the end of the Churchill Downs Spring Meet, which is July 4. But if you’re interested in what I’ve been writing about at work then you can read the Barn Notes on the Churchill Downs website.

One last thing…

In tomorrow’s fifth race at Churchill Downs, Dullahan will make his career debut for trainer Dale Romans and owner Donegal Racing. Dullahan is a 2-year-old half-brother to Mine That Bird by Skype’s sire, Even The Score. Jerry Crawford of Donegal Racing bought the colt at last year’s Keeneland September Sale for $250,000 and Romans told me he is “definitely one to watch.” I’d love for Dullahan to do really well and get some good press for Even The Score before Skype enters the Keeneland sale this September.

May 16, 2011

Update Time – Twitter Edition

Well it’s been almost two weeks since my last post and so it’s time for lots of updates. There is a lot to tell, so I’ve decided to put a sort of Twitter spin on this post. For those of you that are unfamiliar, the website Twitter allows users to post messages; however, the messages are limited to 140 characters. This ensures the messages are short and sweet. I won’t limit myself to 140 characters, but I’ll be keeping things brief.

Sky

Sky was bred to Stevie Wonderboy on April 7 and was pronounced to be in-foal on April 25. Unfortunately, Sky pulled a Zenyatta and it was discovered the she had lost the pregnancy when she was rechecked at the beginning of May. Sky is completely healthy, but these things sometimes happen. She was sent back to Stevie Wonderboy on May 6, Kentucky Oaks Day. I was working at Churchill Downs at the time and was unable to accompany Sky to the breeding shed, but I’m told everything went smoothly. She will be checked for pregnancy at the beginning of next week.

Skype

Back in January, I listed several reasons as to why Skype would not be sold at a public auction. I also wrote that plans could always change and one can never say never in this business. Well, plans did change and Skype is entered in the 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. She has matured nicely over the past several months and I believe she could do well at the sale. This is a new development and I will give more details as I know them.

Faith  

I went out to see the horses on May 10 and Faith looked great. She was quite the shy filly at the beginning, but has definitely gained her independence and has no problem wandering off from her mom. Faith is happy, healthy, and growing like a weed.

Sky Above

Sky Above is the registered name of Sky’s first foal, a colt by Artie Schiller. I was able to contact the owner of Sky Above last week and found out that he is training at the Webb Carroll Training Center in South Carolina and is progressing nicely. He will want to go two-turns and could make his debut this fall.

137th Kentucky Derby

I was asked to help out in the press box during the Kentucky Derby and it was a great day. I had to run a few errands, but for the most part I just enjoyed the races. Unfortunately, I did not pick the winner of the Derby for the fourth consecutive year (Street Sense was my last winner), but my view of the race from the press box made everything okay. Even though I did not play Animal Kingdom, I was still screaming and cheering as the horses crossed the wire. Also, I was able to catch some footage of one of my favorite parts of the Derby: the singing of my “Old Kentucky Home.” Watch the video below, and please excuse my terrible singing.

First Day of Work

I started my job at Churchill Downs last Wednesday and it has been nothing short of awesome. I have already had the opportunity to meet several stars of horse racing and have also enjoyed getting to know all the people on the backside that are so important to this game. If you would like to read Churchill Downs’ barn notes that I have been co-writing then you can follow this link: http://www.churchilldowns.com/category/news-category/barn-notes. The notes titled, “Routine Day for Preakness Hopefuls,” gave me my first ever “by line.” It was pretty cool to see “By Gary Yunt and Travers Manley” on Churchill Downs’ website.

Life

My grandpa always used to tell me, “Travers, life is good.” Well, life is better than ever. I told my dad the other night about how much fun I’m having at work and he said, “That was the plan all along. To get a job that you love.”

I am so blessed to have the love and support of God and my family because without them I would not be where I am today. My mom and dad always tell me that I am responsible for my achievements and they didn’t have anything to do with it. “You went out and accomplished all this on your own,” they say. Well the truth is, I would not have achieved anything without them. I am the young man I am today because of their love and support. They will say they had nothing to do with it, but they had everything to do with it. I appreciate all of the compliments that I get on this blog, but the people you really need to congratulate are my parents. They’re the impressive ones, not me.

Well…that’s all for now. Have a great week!

May 1, 2011

Looking Forward to Firsts

Last Friday was an absolutely gorgeous day in Lexington and I was fortunate enough to spend the day at Keeneland. It was so nice to finally have good weather for a weekend day of racing. There was a wonderful crowd on hand to celebrate the closing day of the 2011 Keeneland Spring Meet. I was happy to see that there were thousands of 20-somethings in the crowd and several of my close friends were also able to make it out to the races.

The highlight of the day came when I got to speak to Mr. Ted Bassett. He was sitting outside of the Keeneland gift shop doing a book signing with Nick Nicholson and Bill Greely. I waited until the end of the signing and then walked over to the table he was at and approached him. When he saw me walking his way, he got a big smile on his face, jumped up from his chair, and greeted me. For those that do not know, I met with Mr. Bassett back in March to seek his advice about what I should do with my life when I graduate. I had not seen Mr. Bassett since then and so I went up to tell him about my new job at Churchill Downs. He was so excited for me and thought it was wonderful. He even introduced me to Mr. Greely and I spoke with him for a few minutes. Before saying goodbye, Mr. Bassett said, “Travers, I’m very proud of you.” I will remember that moment forever.

On a quick side note…On March 31, Mr. Bassett came to speak at the University of Kentucky as part of the Equine Initiative’s Distinguished Lecture Series. He spoke for over an hour about his early days in Kentucky, college life at Yale, time in the Marine Corps, and experiences in the Thoroughbred industry. If you have some extra time, I strongly encourage you watch the video of Mr. Bassett’s speech. You can watch it at http://video.ca.uky.edu/videos/video/136/.

Moving on…

After speaking with Mr. Bassett, I had to get a few notes for Keeneland. I spoke with Ken Ramsey about winning the owner’s title, Ken McPeek about winning the trainer’s title, and Rosie Napravnik after the G2 Elkhorn. Getting quotes from these people was my final task as a Keeneland employee. I began working for Keeneland in August of 2009 and have steadily worked as a member of the Keeneland team since then. It has been an amazing experience working for such a wonderful company. My experiences were so great that Keeneland was recently awarded the “Most Influential Internship Site” by the University of Kentucky’s Equine Initiative Program. The award is well deserved and I will forever be grateful to Keeneland and, more specifically, Julie Balog (Director of Communications) for teaching me so much.

As I just stated, Friday was my last day as a Keeneland employee. Friday was also my last day of classes in college. On Wednesday, I will take my last final exam and Saturday will be my last day as an undergrad. Senior year has been an amazing year and by far the best year that I have had in college. Unfortunately, senior year is full of “lasts.”

I am now ready for some “firsts.” I am ready for my first (and only) college graduation. I am ready for my first Kentucky Derby as a Churchill Downs’ employee. I am ready for my first “real” day of work at Churchill Downs on May 12th. I am looking forward to seeing Skype and Faith run in a race for the first time. I am looking forward to Skype and Faith’s first wins. There are countless other things I am looking forward to in the next few years, so that is only a few.

The point is that I have had a good share of lasts this year and, rather than being sad about these “lasts,” I will choose to look forward to the firsts.

April 21, 2011

The Job Search is Over

At the end of January, I received a Facebook message from a friend that heard there may be a potential job opening at Churchill Downs in the Media/Communications Department. She told me that I should contact Darren Rogers, who is the Senior Director of Communications & Media Services at Churchill Downs. I immediately sent Mr. Rogers an e-mail with some information about myself and to inform him that I would be very interested in any job openings in his department. He informed me that there may be a job opening soon, but that currently there were no available positions. I assumed that I had struck out.

Over the next several months, I spent a large majority of my time trying to find a job. I e-mailed a dozen Thoroughbred farms in Lexington, applied for positions at various racetracks around the country, and searched daily for “horse jobs” on websites like Monster.com. I didn’t have any luck.

My job search continued into the month of March and frustration was beginning to set in. I can recall lying in my bed on the night of March 8th and thinking, “I graduate in two months and have no idea what I’m going to do.” Needless to say, I didn’t get very much sleep that night. In fact, I wasn’t sleeping very much on any night.

A few days later it was suggested to me that I should try to meet with Mr. Ted Bassett to get some guidance. Julie Balog, the Keeneland Director of Communications, my former boss, and dear friend, was able to set up a meeting with me and Mr. Bassett. I met him at the cottage on Keeneland’s property and I can remember trying to steady my hand enough to turn the handle and open the door. If I knew how the conversation was going to go then I never would have been so nervous. Mr. Bassett is a wonderful person; a true gentleman. We talked for hours, but the one thing that I took away from our meeting was that I needed to market myself better. I needed to begin telling possible employers what I would bring to their company that they don’t already have and also what sets me apart from other people applying for the job. Before leaving his office, he gave me a short “pep talk” of sorts. The last thing he said to me was, “Travers, you have found something that you are passionate about. If you want to be in this business, then nothing is going to hold you back as long as you don’t give up. Promise me you won’t quit.” I promised him, we shook hands, and I was out the door.

The next day I had a meeting with Keith Kleine of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. The graduate advisor of my fraternity works for the AAEP and recommended that I speak with Mr. Kleine for some additional guidance. I had a great talk with Mr. Kleine and found out that he knew Darren Rogers from Churchill Downs. I told Mr. Kleine that there were no openings at Churchill Downs, but he encouraged me to contact Mr. Rogers again to see if the situation had changed and if there were any positions available.

After meeting with Mr. Kleine, I got really busy with school and it seemed like I had a test or paper due every day. Eventually, things calmed down and I had the time to send Mr. Rogers an e-mail to check in on the situation at Churchill Downs. He responded to my e-mail rather quickly and asked if I could meet with him. We worked out a date and time and I went to meet with him on April 3rd.

We talked for a couple of hours about all sorts of things. I talked a lot about myself, obviously, but we also talked a lot about horse racing in general. It was a good discussion and, before I left his office, Mr. Rogers informed me that a position in the Media/Communications Department was available. He told me that he would speak with John Asher, Vice President of Racing Communications, and then contact me in a few days about whether or not I would be invited back for a second interview.

About a week and a half later, I received an e-mail from Mr. Rogers asking if I could come meet with him and Mr. Asher on April 17th. Of course, I said that I could meet with them. I traveled back to Churchill Downs and my meeting with Mr. Asher and Mr. Rogers was very similar to my meeting with Mr. Rogers a couple of weeks earlier. Basically, I talked a lot about myself: how I got interested in horse racing, my educational background, work history, etc. We also talked about some Kentucky Derby history and the Triple Crown trail.

During the meeting last Sunday, Mr. Rogers casually mentioned that he would like to hire me. Unfortunately, before any specifics could be discussed, he had a personal matter to attend to and our meeting was cut short. I had a dentist appointment scheduled in Louisville on Tuesday and so we arranged for our meeting to be continued on Tuesday afternoon after my appointment. When I arrived at Mr. Rogers’ office, he was on his way out to the backstretch to watch the arrival of a couple of horses pointing towards the Kentucky Derby. He invited me to join him and said we could discuss the job specifics along the way.

On our journey to the Churchill Downs’ backstretch, Mr. Rogers offered me a job as a Media Coordinator and Staff Writer. I would be working closely with him on Media and Communications’ matters, as well as doing a lot of writing of feature stories, stakes wrap-ups, and barn notes.

And…

I accepted the position! I graduate on May 8th and I am scheduled to work my first day on May 12th. I am so excited to have a job when I graduate and relieved that the job search is over. I am thrilled to begin this next chapter of my life and look forward to being a member of the Churchill Downs team.

A very special thank you to all that helped me during my job search; especially, my family, Julie Balog and the rest of the Keeneland team, Dr. Bob Coleman, Dr. Mary Rossano, Meg Levy, Keith Kleine, Ted Bassett, and Alicia Wincze Hughes. I also want to thank God for continuing to bless me so much. He has blessed me with a great opportunity and I am so thankful. I wouldn’t be where I am today without His love and guidance.

Moving on…

To conclude today’s post, I have included a few pictures that I took on Tuesday. I hope you enjoy them and that everyone has a fantastic Easter weekend!

Multiple Graded Stakes winner, The Factor, arriving at Churchill Downs

Nehro on his way to his stall upon arrival at Churchill Downs

The view from my future office in the Joe Hirsch Media Center

December 27, 2010

My English Paper…A Proposal for Changes in KY Racing

I wanted to share my final paper in my English class with the blog’s readers. It is a proposal for changes in the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry. Please be aware that the paper was limited to 5 pages and so I was unable to go in-depth on many issues and had to leave a lot of stuff out. Trying to write a detailed report on what needs to change in the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry in less than five pages is pretty much impossible, so I did the best I could. Also note that I was writing for an audience that was not familiar with Thoroughbred racing. Another problem is that I could not get the graphs and charts to show up, so please disregard the parts when I mention them. Anyway, the paper is below. I appreciate any comments. Thanks and hope everyone had a great Christmas.

Necessary Changes in the Kentucky Thoroughbred Industry

The state of Kentucky is rightfully known throughout the world for bourbon, basketball, and Thoroughbreds. The Kentucky Distillers’ Association estimates that 95% of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky and the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team is the winningest program in college basketball history. Two of the three trademark industries of Kentucky appear to be continuing their success and have bright futures. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the state’s Thoroughbred industry. Money wagered on races, track attendance, television ratings, and foal crop numbers have all been declining rapidly over the past couple of years. The Thoroughbred industry is far too important to Kentucky for leaders to allow it to disappear, but that is what will happen if action is not taken.

According to the Kentucky Horse Council, the Thoroughbred industry provides 40,000 jobs in the state and has an overall economic impact of close to two billion dollars. The economic impact of the Kentucky Derby alone accounts for nearly one-quarter of a billion dollars. Changes in Kentucky’s Thoroughbred industry are necessary and vital to its survival. The Kentucky Thoroughbred industry will remain one of the state’s most important and successful industries and experience improvements in handle (money wagered), attendance, and television ratings if the following proposed changes are implemented in the racing and breeding sectors of the industry. The leaders of Kentucky racing, specifically Keeneland and Churchill Downs, must increase new client recruitment and development, improve client retention, and increase lobbying for expanded gaming legislation. The breeding industry leaders, this being major stallion farms, members of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, and the members of the Kentucky Breeders’ Incentive Fund, must work in collaboration to lower stud fees and improve the state’s breeder rewards program to be competitive with other states.

New Client Recruitment and Development

Kentucky’s Thoroughbred racing industry is desperate for new clients; i.e. fans and owners. The state’s two most important racetracks, Keeneland and Churchill Downs, must lead the way on implementing programs to recruit more fans and owners. The first task is to get people to the track and allow them to experience the joy and excitement of Thoroughbred racing in Kentucky. One of the easiest ways to get people to the track is with promotional days; such as Keeneland’s College Scholarship Day and Churchill Downs’ Night Racing. Keeneland’s College Scholarship Day occurs once per racing meet and offers free admission, free food, and live music to college students. The most recent College Scholarship Day attracted almost 3,400 students. Most of the students in attendance were students at Kentucky colleges and universities; however, the event also attracted students studying outside of Kentucky. Many of Kentucky’s Thoroughbred industry issues are causing fans and owners to leave the state; however, this event brought fans into the state. Churchill Downs’ Night Racing program features “prime-time racing” under the newly-installed lighting system. Churchill Downs held its final night racing program of the year last month and close to 16,000 people were in attendance. This number triples the attendance for an afternoon program on the same day in 2009.

Obviously, these promotional days have been accomplishing their task of bringing new faces to the racetrack. Keeneland and Churchill Downs have done a herculean job of getting potential fans to the track; however, improvements must be made to keep the potential fan entertained during their visit. First impressions are everything and if a potential fan has a bad first experience at a racetrack, he/she is extremely unlikely to return.

A good place to start on changes is pricing. Keeneland and Churchill Downs must cut their prices for parking, food, beverages, and souvenirs. A person going to Churchill Downs or Keeneland may pay $10 to park, $5 for admission, $7 for a sandwich, $3 for a drink, and $25 for a souvenir t-shirt. This person has already spent $50 and has not even placed a bet yet. Parking should be free, souvenirs should be cheap, and food and beverage prices should be more reasonable. In an effort to attract fans, many harness tracks, including Lexington’s The Red Mile, offer free admission and parking along with inexpensive food and beverages. The state’s Thoroughbred tracks should follow The Red Mile’s lead. Lower prices will encourage potential fans to make a few wagers throughout the afternoon; however, high prices will keep them away from the betting windows. No one should ever walkout of the racetrack and say, “I’m not coming back; it was too expensive.” Thoroughbred racing must be a cost leader in the live-sports entertainment industry.

Another area for improvement is customer appreciation. This will help recruit and develop new fans and also improve current client retention. Horse racing is known as the “Sport of Kings” and fans should be treated as kings while at the racetrack. Unfortunately, fans are treated as anything but kings while at racetracks. Frank Mitchell, author of several books on horse racing and owner of The Croft Thoroughbred farm, noted that Kentucky racetracks “don’t seem to recognize that their job is to make sure fans have a great time.” Customer appreciation can be improved with more comfortable seating, knowledgeable and courteous employees, cleaner facilities, and complimentary items to all guests. It is important to note that not all people attending the races will become fans, but enough will to keep the industry successful. Also, all owners were once “only” fans and then decided to take their love of the game to another level. The industry is in need of new owners and maybe a few people will leave a track after their first visit with the desire to own a racehorse.

Client Retention

The Thoroughbred racing industry needs more fans and therefore cannot afford to lose any current fans. Fortunately, racetrack leaders can “kill two birds with one stone” when it comes to client recruitment and client retention. Several of the improvements that racetracks must make in order to attract new fans will also retain the current fans. Making the customer feel appreciated is extremely important and feeling appreciated matters to all fans.

There are a couple of improvements that can be made to retain current fans of racing; including frequent player rewards programs and decreased takeout. A frequent player reward program would reward fans for regularly betting on the live racing. There would need to be different player levels based on amount wagered by a person during a given period of time. Frequent players betting small amounts of money may be rewarded with free admission, free food, and free drinks. The “high-rollers” may be rewarded with Kentucky Derby tickets or a free VIP suite for the afternoon. Also, a decrease in takeout would be appreciated by current racing fans and bettors. The takeout is a portion of all wagering pools that is taken by the track to cover a variety of expenses and provide profits for the racetrack. The current takeout in Kentucky is 16% for straight wagers and 19% for exotic wagers. These takeout percentages are some of the lowest in the country; however, they must decrease even further. According to the Horse Players Association of America’s president, Jeff Platt, “takeout percentages must be lowered to a level that is competitive with casinos. Most casinos only take out 2% of money wagered on table games and 9% for money wagered with slot machines. Lowering the takeout by a couple of percentage points would encourage fans to wager more money, make the takeout rate more competitive with casinos, and would display the racetracks’ knowledge that the bettor is the most important aspect of this industry.

Expanded Gaming

Current legislation in the state of Kentucky does not allow for expanded gaming (slot machines and casinos). Keeneland and Churchill Downs must lead the charge on lobbying for the legalization of expanded gaming in Kentucky. It is vital to the survival of our state’s beloved industry and would greatly improve the economic impact of the industry as well. Expanded gaming licenses have vastly improved the economic impact of the Thoroughbred industry in other states, especially Pennsylvania. In 2001, before expanded gaming was legalized, the economic impact of the Thoroughbred industry in Pennsylvania was $345 million, the industry employed about 6,500 people, and racing provided close to $7 million in taxes. In 2008, after a couple of years with expanded gaming, the economic impact of the Thoroughbred industry in Pennsylvania had risen to $1.6 billion, the industry employed over 23,000 people, and racing provided nearly $80 million in taxes (Pennsylvania Equine Coalition).

The other states in the region that allow expanded gaming are Indiana and West Virginia. Similar situations are seen in these states, with massive increases in economic impact and people employed since legalizing expanding gaming. The revenue that is obtained through slot machines is going into the purses of the races in these states. The purses continue to grow and eventually Keeneland and Churchill Downs will not be able to compete with the purses at tracks in Indiana and West Virginia. This is already the case with Turfway Park and Ellis Park. Jennie Rees, journalist for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, noted that “Indiana, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia will continue to siphon off horses from Kentucky until expanded gaming is legalized.” Rees is spot-on with her analysis and the numbers are there to prove it. Figure 1 displays the number of Thoroughbred foals produced in the state of Kentucky for the past three years. Unfortunately, as the purses in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia rise, the foal crops in Kentucky fall. More and more owners and breeders are moving their horses to states with expanded gaming to benefit from the larger purses. It is the responsibility of all people involved in the industry to help keep the industry alive in Kentucky, and that includes supporting lobbying efforts for expanded gaming legislation. The leaders of these lobbying efforts must be the most powerful and influential people in the industry; including, but not limited to, Keeneland’s president Nick Nicholson, Churchill Downs Incorporated president Robert Evans, Fasig-Tipton’s CEO and president Boyd T. Browning, Jr., Taylor Made Sales Agency’s president Duncan Taylor, Keeneland’s Director of Sales Geoffrey Russell, and Lane’s End president William Farish. The previously mentioned men are some of the most respected people in the industry and carry a great deal of power, as they operate some of the most successful companies in the Thoroughbred industry. Although they must lead the charge on lobbying for expanded gaming legislation it is every fan, owners, and breeder’s responsibility to help the cause.

Lower Stud Fees

The bettor is the most important aspect of the Thoroughbred industry; however, the breeder is not far behind. The Thoroughbred breeding industry must also make changes and improvements; including, lowering stud fees and improving the state’s breeder incentive program. Both of these changes would improve the overall health of the industry and Kentucky and help prevent more owners and breeders from leaving Kentucky for nearby states that can offer big purses and fantastic breeder rewards programs with the revenue obtained with expanded gaming.

Rob Whiteley, owner of Liberation Farm, wrote that “stallion owners are making less money, consignors are making less money, veterinarians are making less money, and breeders (the foundation for the other three) are experiencing heavy losses.” Many of these heavy losses are experienced due to incredibly high stud fees in Kentucky that do not reflect the current poor state of the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry. The average stud fee for stallions that will stand their first year at stud next year is about $9,000. This represents a 40% increase from the average stud fee for stallions standing their first season in 2010 (Blood-Horse). While all significant numbers in our industry our decreasing, stallion fees continue to rise. This is not right and must change.

The biggest Thoroughbred yearling sale in the world is the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Each year breeders bring their horses to sell and find out what their years of hard work and money is worth in the current market. The cost of getting a horse to the September Sale is significant and Whiteley estimates the cost at “between $60,000 and $70,000 to get a horse through the ring at Keeneland.” Whiteley took the $60,000 as a “break-even” price and analyzed the percentage of yearlings that sold at, or above, their break-even price. Figure 2 displays the results of Whiteley’s study throughout the 15 sessions of the sale.

As is clear from the graph of Figure 2, breeders are taking a beating whether they are selling horses at the front of the sale or the back of the sale. Only about one-third of the “select” horses, horses chosen for outstanding pedigrees and conformation, sold above their break-even price. That is an awful percentage, but nowhere near as awful as the percentage for horses that sold in the later sessions of the sale. Only about 1 out of every 50 horses selling towards the end of the sale were able to bring their break-even price. The easiest way to decrease the break-even price and give breeders a better chance at turning a profit is to lower stud fees. Stud fees are one of the most expensive parts of yearling production and a reduction would greatly help Kentucky breeders. In the study conducted by Rob Whiteley, his figures included a $20,000 stud fee, seeing this as a “ballpark average.” Being that the stud fee is a fixed cost in yearling production, a lower stud fee lowers the “break-even” point by the same amount. Therefore, an average reduction of stud fees in Kentucky would give Kentucky breeders more of a fighting chance at breaking even in the tough climate of the Kentucky Thoroughbred market. For many breeders, breaking even is the goal; however, currently many breeders are experiencing big losses and it is only a matter of time before these breeders either move their operations to another state or get out of the industry entirely.

Breeder Incentive Program

It is time that the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund’s members and the members of the Kentucky Breeders’ Incentive Fund come together to increase the breeder rewards program in Kentucky. The breeder rewards programs are so great in other states that one breeder of Thoroughbreds, who chose to remain anonymous, said, “I would be crazy to let a mare foal in Kentucky. There is nothing for me there.” The industry cannot survive without breeders because without breeders there are no horses. Money to increase the breeder rewards programs must be obtained, if not through expanded gaming, then through money from the state’s major sales companies and racetracks (Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton, and Churchill Downs). An extremely small percentage of money wagered at Kentucky racetracks goes into the breeder fund and this number should increase substantially, especially if expanded gaming is not legalized soon. Too many owners are leaving Kentucky to foal elsewhere. Figure 3 shows the percentage change in the percent of the United States foal crop from 1998 to 2008.

Conclusion

The Kentucky Thoroughbred industry needs a lot of changes and improvements to return to greatness. Horses used to be the number one cash crop in Kentucky; however, last year they were overtaken by poultry. Unless industry leaders would like to live in a state known for bourbon, basketball, and chickens then these changes must be implemented as soon as possible. Enough time has already been wasted and this industry no longer has any time to waste. The task at hand is not an easy one; however, it can be accomplished through client recruitment and retention, expanded gaming legislation, decreased stud fees, and improvement of the state’s breeder rewards program. Winston Churchill once said, “There something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” The Thoroughbred industry means too much to too many people to let it disappear. Failure is not an option.

 

November 8, 2010

Breeders’ Cup Wrap-Up and Some Pictures

I had an amazing time at the Breeders’ Cup this past weekend. It was definitely tough to see the big girl lose in the Classic; however, I’m happy that I got to see Zenyatta run in person, Goldikova win her third Breeders’ Cup Mile, and watch two days of non-stop, top quality racing. As an added bonus, my family lives in Louisville and I really enjoyed staying at my parents’ house for a couple of days. Since going away to college a few years ago, I haven’t gotten to see my parents as much as I would like and so it was great to spend some time at home.

To remind everyone, I worked as a spotter for ESPN on Friday and Saturday. Thanks to ESPN, I had the opportunity to follow, or spot, several of the best trainers in the industry over the weekend; including, Todd Pletcher, Roger Attfield, Jonathon Sheppard, Richard Dutrow, and Jean-Claude Rouget.

Working for ESPN over the weekend meant that I had an all-access pass throughout Churchill Downs. I was in the paddock before every Breeders’ Cup race and watched many of the races from the rail or the horsemen’s viewing area in the clubhouse. Having a “go anywhere I please” pass also helped me get some great pictures of the event. Here are a few of my favorites.

A friend of mine also took a couple of shots of me while working:

Hope that everyone else had a fantastic Breeders’ Cup weekend. I know it will be one that I’ll never forget.

November 4, 2010

Breeders’ Cup Bound

Tonight I will be traveling back home to Louisville for the Breeders’ Cup this weekend. I was lucky enough to obtain a job as a “spotter” with ESPN for the weekend. I “spotted” for NBC for the 2010 Kentucky Derby and I’m very fortunate to have the same job for the Breeders’ Cup. The job of a spotter is quite simple. Each spotter is given one person, or a group of people, to follow (usually “big name” trainers and owners). During the broadcast, the producer may want to get a shot of a particular owner and trainer and will radio the spotter to discover their location.

For the Derby, my assignment was Todd Pletcher and it was so exciting when Super Saver won. I will not find out my particular assignments for the Breeders’ Cup until tomorrow, but I’m hoping my assignment(s) wins a few races. Perhaps I could prove to be a good luck charm. Hey, whatever will land me a job come graduation :-).

I’ll be sure to take plenty of pictures this weekend and post them on the blog. Stay tuned for that. Until then, everyone have a great Breeders’ Cup weekend!

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