Thoroughbred Racing Fan Association, Inc.





 Popular public opinion is commanding more attention than it ever has. Some would argue that the election of President Trump proves this point. Others would turn to the exit of Briton from the European Union as better example. Nonetheless, with the impact of social media, the voice of the people, whether informed or not, is making a real difference. This is referred to as popularism. So, what has this to do with Thoroughbred racing?

On the surface, not much. But if we look closer some disturbing points arise. Popularism in states that have direct initiatives and hold Thoroughbred racing meets could be problematic for racing given the current attack on our sport by animal rights groups.

Let me explain. Direct initiative processes allow residents of a state through a petition process to place legislative efforts on the ballot. Once on the ballot they can be voted up or down by residents of that state during an official election. If approved they could become law. Currently there are fourteen states that have a direct initiative process. Four of them, Arizona, California, Colorado and Arkansas, offer Thoroughbred racing. So, if animal-rights-groups decide that they are determined to stop Thoroughbred racing as they did for Greyhound dog racing, the path in these states is clear.

Fans who think the public storm brewing in California is not a threat to racing in that or other states are misinformed. It appears that a petition to do so would require only 600,000 signatures that is roughly 1.5% of the population of California. If the petition process were to succeed, the initiative would be on upcoming election ballot. A question for the industry is: are there enough supporters of Thoroughbred racing in California to stop the initiative? If the answer is no then the slope for the opponents of our sport to move to other states is very slippery. Besides the three states with direct initiatives, there are four other states that host Thoroughbred race meets that have referendum process that could be used creatively, as well. They are Maryland (home of the Preakness Stakes), Michigan, New Mexico and Ohio. Not to cry “the sky is falling”, but fans must not be naive to the possibilities.

Around the turn of the 19th century, movement by conservative and anti-gambling populists began to influence the New York State Legislature. After a number of iterations, a law was passed and signed by Governor Hughes that so restricted gambling on horse racing that tracks closed. Racing was stopped for two years from 1911-12. The law that caused it was the Hart-Agnew Law. Thankfully, that changed and racing and pari-mutuel waging continues in New York State. This part of history is recounted only to show that such outcomes to our sport are possible.

Although the current issues with racing seem focused in California driven by the inordinate number of on-track-fatalities, a quick fix for these fatalities is not likely to cool the concerns of the opposition. Will they attempt to stop racing in California through the direct initiative process? Will their supporter in other states try? No one knows. What we, as fans, know is that we need to prepare for the chance that they might. How?

Clearly, we need to understand the root causes of the problem and not apologize for those involved. Systemic action is necessary. We need to become educated to all the issues and our industry leaders need to know what we think.

Although social media is powerful, a critical mass of racing fans in each state augments that power. In the case of California statistical projections suggest that there may be as many as eight million racing fans living in that state. These are the true constituency of our sport. The industry has to find ways to reach them, educate them and prepare them to stand-up for the sport before it is too late. If only 10-20% of these fans were engaged by the industry, we would be moving n the right direction.

In previous efforts by the industry the focus has been on finding new fans, getting them to the track and getting them to bet. Now we need to tap existing fans, like you, to help save our sport. ThoroFan can help, but it needs full support from all fans. We have reached out to the Jockey Club and supported their Vision 2025 initiative. We have talked with owners and syndicate managers asking for support. Although most are committed to resolving the issue that has ebbed in California, much of what we have seen is dealing with the symptoms. Sure, improvement in medication use is critical and efforts to do so should be applauded. But the real problem is with the 38 (+/-) racing jurisdictions that control local tracks and wager, individually. Getting them to give up control will be unlikely, unless the status quo causes more pain for them, than change. A critical mass of fans can unify their voices and speak to the leaders of our sport and to our elected officials.

ThoroFan calls on all fan-based-organizations and internet groups to begin the dialogue. All of us have a base that can be integrated to form a critical mass that cannot be ignored. You can help by writing to your favorite organization, social media platform or internet site and asking them to “parrot the above message”. Perhaps we can have an on-line public forum of fans who seek to work together to save our sport.

It is the first step that we must try. Our sport’s future depends on it.