Thoroughbred Racing Fan Association, Inc.




 Does Mike Repole Have It Right?

Even Mike Repole, who spent $14 million at a recent sale on horses, thinks racing is on hospice. From many ThoroFan Thoughts Articles we agree with him from the fan perspectives. He points his scalpel at the racetrack as the diagnosed disease with specific reference to Churchill Downs. He recalls when he took a horse to Churchill for Derby day and bringing along a herd of friends. He had to purchase seats in the Mansion for all his guests. The cost was astronomical. He likens it to bringing a horse to the Derby and finishing second just to pay the expenses for the trip. He feels tracks are dising owners.

Fans share his feelings. With seats in the clubhouse at Saratoga costing between $25-to-$100 plus admission and draft beers over $15 how can a fan sustain more than one or two days at the track during the meet? Unless they want to sit in the backyard, euphemistically called the picnic area, watching the races on dated television screens the track experience is not affordable for the average fan.

Betting is a challenge with the blended takeout on every winning bet hovering around 20%. With sports betting and casinos knocking at racing’s door like it’s Halloween the future isn’t bright. On this point we can agree with Mike Repole.

Mike thinks racing would be run much better by owners and trainers who likely will put the betterment of the sport above the business of the sport. Not sure of that point. Owners and trainers are in the business of racing. Mike likens his idea to the way other major sports are run. The owners own the team and establish collective rules for playing which they all must follow. The track management operates the stadiums and sells the seats and the refreshments and profits from wagering. Mike thinks this model will work for racing if owners have control.

The problem with the current model and Repole’s redo is the lack of a defined role for fans. The assumption that fans will come, pay for admission and seats, pay high prices for refreshments and bet is a logical stretch for anyone looking at the long game. Time is running out on this approach. Fans are more than just customers; they are a critical mass of cheerleaders for the sport.

The problem with Repole’s model is the legal history that favors tracks and racing associations. The 1978 Interstate Horseracing Act allows tracks to take wagers across state lines with certain restrictions. One is that a majority of horsemen must sign on to an agreement specifying their role. i.e., purse structure, purse size, etc. This may be a heavy lift for Repole’s group of owners and trainers to attain.

Although Mike Repole’s frustration with the current operation of racing must be applauded, his quick fix may be more fantasy than reality. Yet the role of all stakeholders in the sport collaboratively participating in the restructuring of the sport may be more successful. We have learned from the way racing evolved from a “blue-blood-only club to a business that went off the track that a single stakeholder strategy won’t work. In recent years tracks haven’t been much more successful. Fans have opinions but lack the necessary comprehensive experience to run racing, no matter what some say or think.

The answer must be a comprehensive look by all stakeholders at the root causes of racing’s current problems. The answer is not making deals with racing competitors who are only interested in cannibalizing our dwindling revenue streams. With all problems thoroughly defined, as Einstein reminds us, the solutions will become obvious. Then and only then can a rational restructuring of racing lead to helping our sport survive and prosper for another 200 years or more. Quick fixes derived from personal opinions won’t work even for Mike Repole with all his wealth.


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