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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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.

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

April 12, 2011

Sky, Keeneland, and the 2YO Sale

Sky Bred Last Thursday

Sky was scheduled to be bred last Monday on April 4th; however, I was informed by my veterinarian the night before that she would not be ready. So I woke up extra early the next day and called Airdrie to cancel Sky’s appointment. I rescheduled for Thursday afternoon and was told on Wednesday that she would be ready to go.

After my morning classes on Thursday, I headed out to Airdrie to be there for the 2 o’clock breeding. At about 1:50 I got a call that the van with Sky was running a little late. Sky is incredibly protective of her foals, which is usually a good thing until you try to get her on a van and leave Faith behind. Needless to say, Sky was not the easiest horse in the world to load and so the van ran a little behind schedule. While I waited on the van to arrive, I took a couple of pictures with my phone. One of Stevie Wonderboy and one of the big man on campus at Airdrie, Indian Charlie.

The van made it to Airdrie around 2:15 and Sky was bred just a few minutes after that. Stevie was a professional and everything went smoothly. Sky then got back on the trailer without a problem and headed back to her home at The Croft, where she was happily reunited with Faith.

On Friday, I received word that Sky ovulated after the breeding. Now the waiting  begins. Sky will be checked 15 days post-cover for pregnancy. I should know if she is in foal by Easter weekend. Everyone keep their fingers crossed!

My Final College Scholarship Day

Last Friday was my last college scholarship day at Keeneland. College scholarship days are held once every meet and I attended all eight that were held during my time at UK. Unfortunately, while I went 8 for 8 in attendance, I went 0 for 8 in winning a scholarship. Although I didn’t win a scholarship, I still had a great time as always. I began my final college scholarship day by handing out flyers for TVG’s “The Late Double” show that will be filmed at Keeneland this Friday. Some people hate handing out flyers, but I had fun with it and distributed about 1,000 flyers in three hours.

After I finished working for TVG, I teamed up with the Keeneland “notes team” to get quotes from the connections after the Transylvania Stakes. My job was to interview the jockey of the 2nd place finisher, which happened to be Julien Leparoux. I always interview the connections of the losers, while Mike Battaglia interviews the winning connections. I actually joked with Julien the day before that he should hope that he doesn’t have to talk to me much this meet. It was very funny that my first interview of the meet was with Julien. He was not thrilled to see me, but he laughed it off.

Keeneland’s April 2YO in Training Sale

This afternoon I decided to head out to Keeneland for the April 2YO in training sale. I always enjoy the excitement of Thoroughbred auctions and I was also curious to take a look at the lone horse by Stevie Wonderboy in the sale, hip #48. The dark bay or brown filly out of Quanah County was consigned by Kirkwood Stables, agent, and sold for $70,000 to Side Management Ltd. Hopefully she turns out to be a nice runner and I wish all of her new connections the best of luck with her.

I stuck around for another couple of hours after the Stevie Wonderboy filly sold and wandered around the sales pavilion. It was a lot of fun to simply enjoy the excitement of the sale. I also got to speak with some of my friends in the industry that I do not get to see very often. After socializing a bit, I went to the dining area to eat a chicken salad sandwich from Turf Catering. I decided after eating the sandwich in about five minutes that Turf Catering will be catering my wedding. To my future wife: this is non-negotiable.

While trying to decide if I could eat another whole sandwich, I noticed trainer Mike Stidham sitting a few tables away. I needed to get some information from him about Willcox Inn for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes post position draw on Wednesday, and so I approached him. Mr. Stidham was one of the trainers that I wrote a short biography on for the Breeders’ Cup website and so we had spoken many times before. I got the information that I needed and then we began talking about other things. He was curious about how I got involved in horse racing, how crazy my parents are for naming me after a horse race, and what I wanted to do with my life. We even talked about the future of horse racing, breeder awards programs, and race day medications.

He probably had a lot more important things to attend to; however, he took some time to talk with me and I really appreciate it. I have had to talk to a lot of people in the Thoroughbred business over the last two years through working on the Breeders’ Cup Bio Book team and the Keeneland notes team. Very few, if any, have been as enjoyable to talk to as Mike Stidham. He’s never treated me with anything but great respect and kindness and has always made time to answer all of my questions. Cheers to you, Mike Stidham.

 

April 4, 2011

It’s Time for Keeneland

Friday is opening day of Keeneland’s 2011 Spring Meet and also College Scholarship Day. Keeneland holds a College Scholarship Day every year during the fall and spring meets. After attending the races this Friday, I will have attended all eight Keeneland College Scholarship Days that have been held during my time at UK. If you are unfamiliar with Keeneland’s College Scholarship Day, or you’re just interested in my cinematography skills, you may watch the video below. I produced and filmed the video for Keeneland’s YouTube page to give fans a glimpse of the event.

I will no longer be making videos for Keeneland (at least I don’t think); however, I will still be highly involved during this meet. On Friday, I will be handing out information for TVG to college students, and this weekend I will help organize the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes post-position draw event. Also, every Friday and Saturday of the meet I will be tracking down owners, trainers, and jockeys to get their thoughts and opinions following stakes races. This can be a very interesting and exciting job; however, it’s not always great fun to interview the connections of a beaten-favorite in a stakes race. I’ve been chewed out a couple of times, but it’s part of the job.

I will be at Keeneland just about every day that there is live racing. If you are planning on making a trip to Keeneland, let me know and perhaps we can meet up. There will be beautiful horses, beautiful women, beautiful scenery, great racing, and hopefully fantastic weather. It’s not something you want to miss!

March 19, 2011

A Closer Look at Stevie Wonderboy. Part 2

A couple of days ago I gave some detailed information about the pedigree of Stevie Wonderboy. Today, I’ll take a look at his short, yet very successful racing career.

Stevie Wonderboy, who was bred by John Gunther, Tony Holmes, and Walter Zent, was born on March 27, 2003 in Kentucky. After failing to meet his reserve at the 2004 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Stevie Wonderboy would be sold for $100,000 at the 2005 Fasig-Tipton Calder selected two-year-olds in training sale.

Trained by Doug O’Neill and racing under the colors of Merv Griffin, Stevie Wonderboy made his career debut in a Maiden Special Weight at Hollywood Park on June 18, 2005. He steadied at the half-mile pole and ran hard to secure a second place finish to eventual multiple graded-stakes winner, What a Song. It would be the first of two times Stevie Wonderboy would be beaten by What a Song.

Stevie Wonderboy flashed enough talent in his debut that Doug O’Neill confidently entered him into the G3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship S. for his second start. He was a bit slow into stride, but ran well at the end to finish third behind What a Song and Bashert at odds of 4.20 to 1.

After running a decent third in a G3, Stevie Wonderboy was given a class break and entered into a Maiden Special Weight at Del Mar on August 6, 2005. He stalked the pace, took the lead nearing the stretch, and never looked back; cruising to a four-length victory as the 2/5 favorite.

Coming off a convincing victory in his last start, Stevie Wonderboy was favored in his next race: the G2 Del Mar Futurity. He did not disappoint and galloped home to a five-length victory for his first graded-stakes win. The race would serve as his final prep for the G1 Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Stevie Wonderboy broke from post 12 and had lots of trouble in the BC Juvenile. The Equibase chart of the race notes that he “checked at the start, clipped heels and stumbled along the backstretch, and raced far back for a half.” Once he settled down a bit, he quickly got back into the race and circled four wide entering the stretch. Stevie Wonderboy then finished very strong and the chart says he “charged to the front inside the sixteenth pole, then edged clear through the final fifty yards.” It was the biggest victory of Stevie Wonderboy’s career as he defeated a tough field that included Henny Hughes, First Samurai, and Brother Derek. The win gave Stevie Wonderboy a Grade 1 victory and secured his 2005 juvenile championship. Stevie Wonderboy’s exciting win in the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (along with a post-race interview with the connections) may be viewed in the video below.

Following his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Stevie Wonderboy was given the rest of 2005 off. He returned to racing on January 14, 2006 in the G2 San Rafael S. at Santa Anita. He ran a decent race, but was unable to catch Brother Derek and finished second as the 3/5 favorite. The San Rafael would be Stevie Wonderboy’s final start.

Unfortunately, Stevie Wonderboy suffered an injury to his right front ankle while training in February of 2006. He was able to eventually return to training after several months off; however, he was soon put back on the shelf with a chip in the same ankle. The connections were hopeful that he would someday return to racing, but he would never make it back to the track and was retired in June of 2007.

Stevie Wonderboy finished with a record of 3 wins, 2 seconds, and 1 third from 6 starts and career earnings of $1,058,940. I’m sure many were very disappointed that the juvenile champion was only able to make one more career start; however, Stevie Wonderboy retired as a champion, G1-winning millionaire. I’ll take a barn full of those!

January 19, 2011

A Couple of Notes and Comments

I would first like to thank Bloodstock in the Bluegrass and Equidaily.com for linking my blog on their sites last week. This blog had its highest weekly view total in five months and that would not have happened had my posts not been linked on the previously stated sites.

Last week I also started my last semester as an undergraduate. I remember when I graduated from high school that my projected college graduation date of May 2011 seemed very far away; however, the time has FLOWN BY and I will graduate in less than four months. For those of you that may be interested, my course schedule is listed below.

MKT 445: Sports Marketing
I am taking this class as an upper-level elective. I believe that it may be very helpful in preparing me for a career in the greatest sport in the world: horse racing.

AEC 325: Equine Law
I am really looking forward to this class. The topics that will be discussed include legal issues with stallion contracts, partnerships, horse ownership, wagering, public auctions, private sales, etc. The class is being taught by Walt Robertson’s son, Walt Robertson, Jr., who practices equine law in Lexington, KY.

AEC 321: Agriculture Futures Markets
I am taking this class to complete my minor in Agricultural Economics. The class will discuss the agricultural futures and options markets.

STA 291: Statistics
The course title is pretty self-explanatory. I am required to take this class by my major, but it could be interesting. It will also be the last “math class” that I ever take.

EQM 490: Equine Management Capstone
This is the capstone class for my major, Equine Management. The class will be centered around discussion of issues in the horse industry. There is also a group project that will be worth most of my grade. The project must analyze the various costs of owning and raising a Thoroughbred; I think I can handle that after this past year. On a side note, it has the fewest number of students of any class that I have taken during my time at UK; there are only eight students, including myself. It is also interesting to note that I am the only guy in the class, further displaying that the Equine Management major is one of the most female-dominated majors at UK (I believe it is close to 90% female).

What will I do when the above classes end and I graduate? Well that is still up in the air. I have almost completed my application for the MBA program at UK and I take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) this Saturday. I am hopeful that I get accepted to graduate school so that it will be an option upon graduation. I am also beginning the job hunt and hope to get a couple of job offers before May. I am trying to get myself as many options as possible.  

Moving on…

After a three race losing streak, my good friend Charlie (Usain Again) will drop back into the claiming ranks after six straight races at the starter allowance level. Charlie will run in the fourth race at Gulfstream Park in a $12,500 claimer. I haven’t had a chance to look at the past performances for the race, but apparently Charlie has a shot as he is 6/1 on the morning line. Good luck to Charlie and all of his connections!

Finally, I would like to make a comment about Monday’s Eclipse Awards Show. Here it is: it was dreadful. The show had about as much excitement as a middle-school sport’s team’s awards program. I turned on the Eclipse Awards in my living room and within a couple of minutes my roommates were begging me to change the channel because it was “so boring.” Boring should never be a word used to describe a large-scaled event in the horse racing industry. The show wasn’t just boring for my generation and I know this because I’ve spoken to some people from the “baby-boomer generation” that also found it painful to watch. It’s the most exciting sport in the world and the awards show may be the most boring in the world. A lot needs to change for next year’s show, but for starters, there needs to be a “big-name” star to host the show (with a stand-up routine that will actually get some laughs), some sort of musical performance, award presenters that aren’t stiff as a board, and a time-limit to acceptance speeches. I pray that next year’s show is better and that I will be able to stay awake to make it to the Horse of the Year presentation.

That is all for now as I am headed off to class. Have a great rest of the week!

January 3, 2011

Do They Even Know We’re in Trouble?

A couple of days ago I met up with a few of my old friends from high school. There were a few guys in the group that I did not recognize; they were guys that my friends met while in college. After talking for a bit, one of the guys that did not know me asked what I wanted to do when I graduated in May. I told him that I have no definite plans at the moment, but that I hope to work in the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry. He responded by saying, “Well, I guess that means you’ll be in Kentucky your whole life then.”

When I responded to that by saying, “I hope so, but that’s kind of up in the air at the moment,” his face became confused.

“What do you mean up in the air?” he asked. “You want to be in the Thoroughbred industry…doesn’t that mean you’ll always be in Kentucky?”

I then proceeded to give him a very short summary of the problems facing the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry. He had no idea about any of it. He’s a 20-something year old from Louisville, who has lived his whole life in this state, and he honestly had no idea about what is going on with one of the state’s signature industries.

I wonder how common this is. Does the average Kentuckian even know we’re in trouble? Or will they not notice until the industry as we know it is gone from this state?

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.

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