Shore: After The Week We've Had, 'Racing Is Unequivocally Not Entitled To Think About Growth Right Now' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Shore: After The Week We’ve Had, ‘Racing Is Unequivocally Not Entitled To Think About Growth Right Now’

I've found myself having to be VERY defensive of our industry over the last week, and it's ultimately brought me to something (admittedly long-winded) that I feel like I need to say. I'll get a lot of pushback for this, probably, but I'm telling you — it's the absolute truth.

Since starting my journey into racing as a teenager and continuing to try to figure out what my place is in it, I've seen (and contributed to) a narrative among pretty much everyone where we think the question we need to ask is “How do we grow the sport?”

It's the wrong question.

Racing is unequivocally not entitled to think about growth right now. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably well-meaning but is ignoring a whole lot. If this last week has taught us anything, the question we should be asking is, “How do we stop our sport from shrinking?”

A lot of us try to create growth by externally projecting all of the good our sport creates. And there really is so, so, so much good. There are so many great groups out there — educational groups, experiential groups, exciting new ownership opportunities. Y'all are amazing. I see you, I love you, and I support you (please let me know if I can ever personally help you in any way, truly). We need these things and the industry must keep supporting them. With our time, with our investment. They are doing essential work.

But with the perception that we need to accentuate the good, there's also this (in my opinion, incredibly flawed, and even dangerous) view that we need to suppress the bad.

Do you know what the best way to stop hearing bad stories is? To eliminate them. To simply — not have bad stories to tell. We can't eliminate bad stories entirely, but we can definitely try. And if this week has taught me (and hopefully everyone else) anything, it's that we must try.

At the very minimum, we need transparency. You all know what I'm talking about. For other owners, for bettors, and for the casual fan. We also need quick(er) adjudication, and we need punishments that bite. We need funding for better testing. We need a comfortable betting public.

Many of you are also frustrated with HISA. I'm going to take a firm stance on this one — HISA is deeply flawed, but it's what we have. I know many are afraid of government involvement, but certainly no one can make the argument that we're still capable of self-regulation. Sorry. At a very minimum, we need to let HISA be the work in progress that it is. I'm sure it'll keep evolving, and I'm even more sure that horsemen will play a central role in that process. Patience, as with all things, is key.

If you don't like HISA, I expect you to voice other ideas.

Next, I want to address the brain drain that is happening from the racing industry, especially among young people. There is a cultural generational difference I've encountered on this app many times over between what the definition of “hard work” is and should be. I can tell you… I know SO MANY incredible, genuinely hardworking young people wanting to build lives in this sport, willing to tackle almost anything this industry throws at them to achieve their dreams. But I also know so many people who have left, frustrated and disillusioned. They feel overworked, underpaid, and most importantly, like there is a massive ceiling to what they can achieve in their careers. A ton of men too, but especially women, and especially people of color. There's no intended slant here — this is fact.

There needs to be a deep, deep culture shift to change a lot of these things. But the status quo is driving a lot of us out. And it's not just young people, either. You know what's a very simple solution (one that holds true for younger and more experienced workers alike)? Pay them. A living wage. I know so many people who live in abject poverty in this industry, it's crazy. Working for people who can afford to pay them more. And invest in their well-being more. Don't expect (the amazing!) advocacy groups, etc. to do it for you.

So if you can afford to pay your employees more (and believe me, most of you really, really can – although I recognize some of you can't), do it. I promise you your margins will be fine. I promise you your business will thrive because of it.

I also want to address breakdowns, since that's at the forefront of all of our minds now. I know we are decades into breeding to emphasize certain things, and that many soundness issues with the horse itself are not wholesale solvable. But I want to implore breeders big and small, and especially farms as they make decisions on what stallions they hope to stand, to ask themselves one thing before they make their decisions. Ask yourselves, “Does this horse REALLY need to enter the gene pool?” And go from there. If they regularly bled, if they didn't or couldn't race at three, if they were ever significantly injured, or if they were a real, serious problem to keep sound, among other things … the answer is probably no. And I ask you to consider making that decision, whatever it costs you.

And I recognize how high and mighty that sounds. I've been a small breeder myself. But at the end of the day, we all should be in this because we love the horse. Because we want to be good stewards of the breed. And sometimes good stewardship requires making hard decisions.

And maybe we should also be investing more into track surface development, I don't know. This isn't remotely my area of expertise, but I've been as alarmed as anyone with what I've seen with track safety. Track management is responsible and MUST listen to horsemen.

Finally, back to negative coverage. Many are so caught up in what you think the mainstream media does that you try to find an agenda everywhere, often where there isn't one. Sorry to call some people out, but it's true. I promise you, journalists are just trying to do their jobs. If they run a story that's bad, a story you don't like, or that sheds a negative light on something, it's probably because that thing … happened. And you need to let them run that story, if you're anything from a fan to an industry stakeholder. You *need* to let them run it. Because, to tie everything up, we need to hear about the bad. Remember that transparency thing? Sorry. We need to hear about it. If you don't want to hear about it, you need to be doing everything you can to make sure the bad doesn't happen. Yes, you personally. All of us. From casual fans to big industry stakeholders. And if the bad gets out to the general public? It's probably a good thing, only disguised as a bad thing. It'll keep us accountable. Because, y'all. We need to be better. This sport WILL die if we don't.

It needs to come from every corner of the industry. Everyone who makes an investment of time, money and heart into this. So I welcome any input anyone has – any reaction to this and any solutions anyone has to offer. Because, sorry for my language, I love this shit. Let's fix it.

–Sophie Shore
Co-founder, Nexus Racing Club, fan, breeder
Durham, N.C.

This commentary was originally published via Shore's Twitter handle @Shore_Sophie and is reprinted here with permission.

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