Closing the Training Track Is Just the Latest Front in CDI/AP's War on Horsemen
|Mike Campbell, ITHA President |
Dear Fellow Horsemen:
Churchill Downs Inc./Arlington Park's decision to shutter the training track two days a week will impair the fitness of horses, put horses and riders at greater risk of injury, and likely also decrease entries during this meet.
But haven't you heard? CDI/AP says it's strapped for cash and that it must keep the training track closed twice a week to save an estimated $80,000 on ambulances, outriders and other costs associated with operating that track.
Let's be serious. CDI is the same company that cheerfully announced its first-quarter results in late April - net revenues of $250.9 million, adjusted earnings of $48.3 million, and net cash from operating activities of $89.7 million. All three were reported as records.
And during each day of racing this year, CDI/AP will seize $55,000 from horsemen's purses in the form of its recapture subsidy. So in just two days of racing, CDI/AP will take more in recapture than the amount of the supposed savings associated with closing the training track.
We're expected to believe that keeping the training track closed two days a week is critical to ensuring CDI/AP's financial health. But the truth is that CDI/AP is no more trying to protect its financial health by closing the training track than it was trying to helpfully educate Illinois owners and trainers by repeatedly and viciously assaulting the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association during our recent contract negotiations.
Sadly, this is just the latest front in CDI/AP's war on Illinois horsemen.
Last year, it was the failed campaign to supplant the ITHA with a house organization more likely to cater to its whims. This spring, it was the constant attacks on the ITHA budget. Then there were the condition books purporting to show the amounts the ITHA deducted from the purse account to represent the interests of horsemen (amounts that pale in comparison to the recapture sums CDI/AP gladly takes from the purse account).
Just for good measure, the CDI/AP bookkeeper this meet has been issuing statements artificially inflating each horse's purse earnings in order to ostensibly show the fees paid to the ITHA from those winnings - all as part of a choreographed effort to continually undermine the ITHA.
Maniacal Focus on Hurting Horsemen
As CDI/AP is no doubt aware, many of our members strongly prefer to train on the training track. As Michele Boyce, a trainer and breeder reported to the ITHA, "For my operation, the training track's availability seven days a week for four hours is essential. Logistically I could not train my horses without it. Several of my trainees tie up when sent to the main track to train. The training track is the only surface available to us; that is what horses were meant to train and run on."
But in a move that no doubt was calculated weeks ago, CDI/AP is trying to blame the ITHA for closure of the training track. In notices that CDI/AP has directed security personnel to share with trainers, ITHA Executive Director and General Counsel Glen Berman is tagged as somehow or another responsible for the training track closure.
We have consistently requested that the main track and training track remain open for training - each track for four hours a day, seven days a week - and we continue to make that request. But such a fact is incidental to CDI/AP, which is continuing its maniacal attempts to undercut organized horsemen at every turn.
In addition to putting the horse and rider at greater risk of injury, reducing training availability hinders the training schedules of horses. It also makes no real business sense as it increases CDI/AP's own liability exposure, due to compromised training conditions. And it likely will result in a decrease in entries, either from horses not being ready or trainers who leave in order to not be subject to such petty, arbitrary and vindictive decisions by management.
Fewer entries mean decreased field size, which results in lower handle and probably lower on-track attendance. Never mind the admonishment in a recent CDI/AP newsletter that horsemen should "help keep the growth of our handle as high as possible by entering and running their horses as often as possible and by keeping scratches to a minimum."
We can't help that CDI/AP resents the ITHA's success in advocating for the interests of horsemen. But we can and should remind CDI/AP that its resources and energy would be far better spent on efforts that grow purses, improve field size, expand Illinois breeding, and otherwise support the interests of the larger Illinois horse racing industry and the state's taxpayers.
A Better Business Model
We reject the premise that a more cooperative approach, driven by management, is untenable or at odds with sound business principles. As the Stronach Group tracks in Florida and Maryland have demonstrated, management and horsemen can work together to advance a shared desire to improve both the quality and quantity of thoroughbred horse racing.
As the Baltimore Sun recently reported in a story about Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, the Stronach tracks in Maryland, "Relations between track executives, horsemen and breeders are the most stable and collegial they've been in recent memory, governed by a 10-year operating agreement reached in 2012. Race purses, foal production and betting handles are all on the rise. Perhaps most importantly, the Stronach Group has made good on promises to build barns at Laurel and spruce up the grandstands at both tracks."
Last month at Pimlico, the Preakness drew record attendance and handle of more than $85 million - up substantially from last year. Yes, the Stronach tracks face their own challenges, just as all tracks do in this day and age. But it's clear that hostility toward horsemen is not a prerequisite to a successful racing operation.
CDI/AP would be well advised to abandon its continued exploitation of owners and trainers, and instead embrace a business model that fosters positive and productive relationships with the men and women who make horse racing possible.
As always, I'm proud to serve the finest horsemen I know.
Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association