Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Paulick Distort

Pull the Pocket has an interesting article on the all too close-knit relation between racing press and industry. From computer gaming to wine, from model rail roads to fashion, the problem that the special interest media is both too personally connected with and too financially dependent on the industry it covers to really take a critical point of view is one found in every area. What really caught my eye though was not the topic itself but one of the comments.

In it, web journalist and former Bloodhorse editor-in-chief Ray Paulick, mentioned in the article as having a considerable bias towards the interests of horsemen, pleads "guilty as charged", adding that "without the horsemen, there will be no horses" and that "we need to do more for fans and horsemen...if we do that successfully, the tracks will succeed".

There is good reason for the coziness between racing journalists and horsemen. Everyone who spent decades in the sport will have become friendly with a large number of horsemen, so on a personal level it's understandable that racing columnists wouldn't want them to get hurt. Also, with the possible exception of Andrew Beyer, no racing journalist has the standing not to risk his job when confronting the industry. Since the racing media is financed almost exclusively by industry advertising, who do you think they would ultimately side with in a standoff between horsemen and a columnist. Still, there is a difference between avoiding a losing battle and actively lobbying for the horsemen’s interests, especially where it conflicts with the interests of the sport (and fans).

Mr. Paulick's claim that not siding with the horsemen would leave the sport without horses is an oversimplification to the point where it becomes an insult to the reader’s intelligence. Is he actually proposing that the sport couldn't exist with a lower number of horses and race dates than we have now? How then does he explain the success of Hong Kong’s two race tracks, each running less than 10 races a week? Or the existence of successful tracks in South American countries, all of them with a much smaller pool of horses and horsemen than in the US.

Horse racing, after all, isn't a welfare system, it’s a professional sport/entertainment industry. Does Golf succeed because it sees to it that wannabe-pros who regularly miss the cut on the Northern Arizona tour still make enough income to give them a living? It doesn't. Horsemen are professionals just like actors or baseball players, which means that either they’re good enough to pay their dues or they’ll have to search for another profession. The interest of racing jurisdictions and the racing media should be the well-being of the sport, because that’s the one thing everything else ultimately depends on. In the long run, tracks succeed only when the sport succeeds, which won’t happen as long as it ignores the most basic rules of supply and demand in order to keep every horseman's boat afloat.


  1. A HUGE over-simplification. Yes, the size of the business of racing in North America should shrink, but a major factor preventing that shrinkage is the insistence of the states on running too many racing days so they can get their tax revenue.

    Most horsemen (and women) aren't in it for the money. Overall, we lose 50% of what we put into the game; that's the difference between expenses and purse earnings.But we certainly have the right to argue for a fairer split of the available revenue, whether that's revenue being monopolized by the online wagering companies or skimmed off in high taxes by the states. Our efforts are no different from those of professional athletes seeking, e.g., to overturn the reserve clause in baseball or to assure a percentage of revenue for salaries.

  2. I think the post is mainly about issues of the coziness between horsemen and the media, and The Dresden File and Pull the Pocket make valid points.

    On another point, I think Steve Zorn is not right about horsemen not being in it for the money -- most horsemen that I've known are in it to make money. If they "lose 50%" of what they put into the game, that's the price of wildcatting. One major stallion prospect = gusher.

  3. I agree that state taxes are a major factor in explaining the current oversupply and probably an even larger one in preventing a solution, but that is another problem, and one that won't be solved until American racing gets a true governing body. Incidentally, it's Ray Paulick who recently wrote a great article about that subject.