Letter To The Editor: Economics, Not Medication, Is Racing's No. 1 Challenge - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Letter To The Editor: Economics, Not Medication, Is Racing’s No. 1 Challenge

There is no doubt in my mind that racing must bear down on the drug issue to build confidence in the sport among fans and bettors. But I don't believe the decline in racing is caused by this very important problem. Bettors have suspected chicanery in racing for a long, long time, but they stick with it nevertheless. They will suspect it going forward even if drug violations are brought under control. It's the nature of things.

The way I view the decline is very different. It has more to do with the economics of participating in racing. And you can see this most clearly in the ongoing decline in the foal population, over the years.

As a small-time breeder who began in the mid-1980s I recall that my foals were among 40,000-plus being bred each year. Today there are under 18,000. In Ohio, where I began, the number of foals increased marginally every year during that period, but it increased. We may have been dreamers in Ohio, but isn't that what racing is all about?

A couple of weeks ago four 3-year-olds competed in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes as a kickoff to the Derby prep season out West. All four were trained by a single person, the inimitable Bob Baffert. That type of field is on its way to becoming normalized. This boils down to the fact that breeders like me and trainers like the men and women who trained for me over the years are leaving the sport.

Because of the economics of the sport.

The best runner that I bred was Numerically, the Ohio Horse of the Year in 1993. His unraced sire was Four Ten, whose stud fee was $500. This stallion was a son of champion Graustark out of Eastern Princess, a full sister to champion Bold Ruler. My mare was an unraced daughter of Red Ryder, a full brother to leading stallion Mr. Prospector. In 1990 I had access to championship bloodlines for $500.

Try to put a pedigree like that together today for less than five or six figures. It's not possible.

You may think that this is OK as long as a few bigger racetracks can still field a program. So what if the lesser tracks decline? So what if the small stables decline? So what if there are fewer horses being bred?

So what? So, this is more likely the beginning of the end. And it's a slow, slow ending. I don't care if some whales fatten the parimutuel pools. I don't care if the sport takes place in a bubble. It just won't be racing as we once knew it and the only times that you're going to see large crowds at the races are on the premier days. Kentucky Derby. Breeders Cup. But perhaps those crowds will also decline when the big event turns out to be Cox vs. Cox vs. Cox.

When I was a kid, sneaking into Aqueduct every Saturday, there were always 30,000 or more people in the stands. It was exciting and infectious. That excitement drove me to get into racing, even if it was with $500 stud fees and unraced mares.

You might argue that casinos have eaten into the horseracing gambling population.  But they aren't the cause of what's squeezing the sport. The cost of being in the sport is, to me, the real problem.  People like me are NOT going to bet that Baffert will beat Baffert, or that Cox will beat Cox or Pletcher will beat Pletcher. This isn't the sport we want to be involved with.

Look, I'm not blaming them. This is just where the business and the sport have ended up.

Racing needs to find a way to bring back the $500 stud fee (metaphorically speaking). Racing needs to keep more people like me in the game or we can all jump on the withering bandwagon, cheering on fewer and fewer horses, fewer and fewer stables, fewer and fewer trainers…until it's gone.

The drug problem must be solved, but people like you good folks at Paulick also need to analyze the bigger issue, which is the shrinking of the sport and the loss of the thousands of horsemen and horsewomen who once made it what it was. They are not dying off. The sport is simply going down without them.

We didn't need to get into racing to make a bet. We did it for love.  Lose the love and all you have left is another casino game.

— Al Milano

Lexington, Ky

Breeder, owner, fan

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