Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Texas Horse and Dog Racing: Out with a whimper.

With news out today that the Texas Racing Commission is taking public testimony for it's future life, a quick read of the tea-leaves is ominous.

Follow Live: Texas Racing Commission to decide on historical racing. Austin American-Statesman

he members of the Texas Racing Commission are scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to repeal historical racing, a form of electronic gambling in which bettors electronically wager on already-run races that have been stripped of all identifying markers. The political fight over the issue has pitted conservative lawmakers against the Texas Racing Commission, and threatens to shut down a multibillion-dollar industry.

I think calling the Texas racing industry "a multi-Billion" dollar industry is a little bit of a stretch. The industry has been struggling almost from its inception due to some critical errors made by the lobby when pushing for the enabling legislation.  First, they never understood just how critical the presence of slot-machines in casinos would be to long-term viability.  With neighboring states (Louisiana and Oklahoma) having those options means that their racing is far superior to Texas in terms of purses and quality of participants.

Another problem Texas racing backers had was their deference to the Texas Quarter Horse Association. In short, Texas racing was created to feature that organization. It limited the number of thoroughbred races tracks could feature and forced them to hold a certain percentage of racing featuring quarter horses.

The big problem with that?  The general public (those people in Texas who would be interested in horse racing) could care less about the short sprints.

Another problem with Texas approach is that Remington in Oklahoma, already is a regional hub for the better quarter horses and has higher purses and is a better track. There's little reason for trainers to run in Texas for lesser money with lesser exposure.

So, how bad is it in Texas?  So bad that the pathetic thoroughbred program at Delta Downs (which, really, is a quarter horse track, outshines what should be the best thoroughbred program in Texas at Sam Houston.

As a matter of fact, I would argue that the single, best feature of Texas horse racing is the turf track in Houston. It's one of the better tracks in the nation but it has been wasted on low-purse races that should have been main events.  The Connally Turf Handicap is a great race that has, from time to time, featured some great turf horses. It's been wasted in recent years however as purses have dropped to low levels and management has been at a loss as to how it should be handled.

For all of the moaning and bitching about how "some conservative legislators" are trying to kill Texas horse and dog racing, the two groups have done plenty, by themselves, to do it already.

1. Lack of betting options. - Most tracks never did anything to promote their Pick 3's and Pick 4's. There have never been any serious guarantees provided to support off-track interest and therefore the pools were low.

2. Poor promotion. - Since the high-point of Texas racing, the 2004 hosting of the Breeder's Cup by Lone Star Park there's not been a single moment that has defined the industry.  Texas thoroughbreds are considered sub-standard by the rest of the country, and (in large part to their limited racing schedules) don't field serious contenders in any of the big races to draw interest.

3. Poor breeding/Training  - Texas' biggest star (Houston Based Steve Assmussen) has spent more time on suspension or fighting suspension for illegal drugging, than he has winning races. Beyond that there's no-one in Texas racing that has any national stroke.

4. Poor track management. - Andrea Young of Sam Houston seems like a nice lady, but she also seems more intent on turning Sam Houston into a concert venue than a horse racing track.  Granted, some of this is probably due to the poor state of racing in Texas, but when she took over the decline of the industry hadn't fully taken hold, so while she brings up some good points her hands are not entirely clean. The other tracks in Texas seem lost as well.

Add all of this up and you get to where we are today, a place where the tracks would rather keep historical racing, have the Texas Racing Commission de-funded by Sen. Jane Nelson and crew, and die a quick death rather than to continue their sorry state

And it appears that they've gotten their wish. So the State Senate will now zero out funding to the Texas Racing Commission and we'll see what the courts have to say.

The most telling thing about how irrelevant all of this is?  The general public doesn't care.

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