Rooney: Future Is Bright For A Thriving Thoroughbred Industry - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Rooney: Future Is Bright For A Thriving Thoroughbred Industry

Tom Rooney, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association

The Thoroughbred breeding and racing world is descending on central Kentucky this week. The excitement is palpable, Lexington is abuzz, and anticipation is building each day as we get closer to Friday and Saturday's Breeders' Cup World Championships at Keeneland. And while this event will begin the wind down to the 2022 racing calendar, I am reflecting on my first year as president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA).

I've been a Thoroughbred enthusiast my entire life, but this is the first year where I've lived, ate, and breathed Thoroughbred breeding and racing like so many other stakeholders, customers, and fans. The year has been filled with great racing, record sales, incredible enthusiasm, and strong handle and on-track attendance. These and other metrics make me more excited than ever to see what the future holds for the Thoroughbred industry.

This year was a strong one for racing. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic where many of the biggest races were run without fans or in limited numbers, this year's Kentucky Derby welcomed nearly 150,000 people to Churchill Downs on Derby Day alone and delivered an almost unfathomable fairytale ending. Attendance and handle figures at racing's premier meets were as strong as they've ever been. Prize money is also up significantly, more than 10 percent higher than where we were at this point last year. Like in all aspects of life after COVID, people were ready to get back to the racetrack, or at least they were ready to get back to enjoying their favorite horse betting app.

We have also had a tremendous year in the auction ring, with records set at many sales. The OBS Spring Sale, annually the highest grossing of all 2-year-old in training sales, surpassed last year's sales record by almost $20 million. The Saratoga Select Yearling sale produced 10 seven-figure yearlings and topped its gross sales record from 2018 by more than $4 million. The Keeneland September Yearling Sale, the leading source of champions and stakes winners around the world, saw the highest gross sales in Keeneland auction history. With two sales immediately following the Breeders' Cup and based on these trends, there is every reason for optimism that sales will finish the year strong.

This year also saw a dramatic increase in sports betting, as 36 states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports wagering in some capacity in the four years since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision. The widespread acceptance and legalization of sports betting across the country is hugely exciting for horse racing. We have an opportunity to introduce our product to a whole new universe of people and a whole new generation of gamblers. With the anticipated addition of pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing to sports betting platforms with millions of account holders, I'm very bullish about the bright future we have on sports betting platforms.

And last, and most importantly, more emphasis has been put on the health, safety, and welfare, and, yes, aftercare of Thoroughbreds in 2022 than ever before. As we as an industry continue to move through the creation of greater national uniformity, we are improving America's first sport for generations to come.

In January, we will celebrate the success of the 2022 racing year at the 52nd Annual Eclipse Awards being held at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla. Many of the horses racing at the Breeders' Cup this weekend will be contenders for the awards, and their success will determine many of this year's champions. I am excited to welcome the entire industry so we can together celebrate the best of the best. While no good thing comes without its challenges, the Thoroughbred industry is thriving, and the future is bright.

Former Congressman Tom Rooney is the president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

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