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Emerald Downs

Muckleshoot Indian Tribe

Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association

Washington Horse Racing Commission

President's Message - August 2, 2010

Greetings from your WHBPA:

Here we are in August, entering our last two months of the season. Where has it gone?

Buckle up; this is another longer one…. Please do me a favor, though, and read to the end, as I have a few comments on some local issues that I would like you to know about.

It is great to see the two year old races. My wife and I have two of them; we have had one start, and the second one will get to the races, maybe, late this month or by the middle of the next. Just like in April, when we collectively await the start of the season to see what it will bring, two year olds reveal themselves to us in unexpected ways. Hope always springs eternal, but speed, the ability to carry it, and the heart to take dirt in the face or to look another horse in the eye cannot be measured until they take to the track to actually compete.

July was a busy month for us. Together with our Executive Director MaryAnn O’Connell, and WHBPA Director Keith Swagerty, my wife and I attended the National HBPA Summer Convention held in Minneapolis from July 21 through July 21 – 25. It was a long time to be away, with many meetings.

The National HBPA Summer Convention was held in Minneapolis to allow for our group to be near the annual Claiming Crown, held at Canterbury Park, in nearby Shakopee, Minnesota. We were excited to have Keith and Jan Swagerty running three horses there that day, and their trainer, Vann Belvoir, running a fourth, all ridden by Gallyn Mitchell, who rode a red eye or two to make his mounts there on Saturday, and back home on Sunday. The Swagertys got off to a great start, winning the first race of the day, just prior to the start of the Claiming Crown races, with their Roy’s Tops. Their other two runners, Forener and No Flies on Doodle ran well in competitive bouts, but tired in the heat and humidity in the stretch to fall out of the money. Trainer Vann Belvoir had a great third place finish in a $100,000 race with Elusive Schemes, missing second, at long odds, by a nose. Vann owns Elusive Schemes with Gloria Ballestrasse.

One of the highlights of the event was the naming of the 2009 National Claimer of the Year. The National HBPA sponsors this award, and obtains nominees from all over the country. MaryAnn O’Connell had nominated Swag Stables’ No Flies on Doodle in January, and to the (well-kept) surprise of the Swagertys, they were honored in the winner’s circle prior to her race.

When you see them, please join me in congratulating Keith and Jan Swagerty, Swag Stables, trainer Vann Belvoir, and jockey Gallyn Mitchell, the No Flies on Doodle team, on beating many other quality nominees for this national honor.

The convention itself is a busy time with a great deal going on. There are a number of committee meetings, as well as plenary sessions for all to attend. There were four “forums” offered to everyone that took place Thursday morning and afternoon and Friday morning and afternoon. These covered Current Technology, the current state of Economics in the Industry, the status of the National Racing Compact, and a panel discussion on the proposed dropping of the level of “bute” to be approved by various states.

In summary, the technology forum pointed out that there are numerous changes in both the behavior of the public and in available tools for each of us to use, and indicated that new applications will soon be coming to iPhones and other “smart phone” devices. These hold promise for us in some ways and challenges in others.

The economic forum discussed issues facing smaller tracks, such as ours, and the influence and impact in various states of non-horse racing gaming implications, both on and off track. While there are those who lament the lack of slots or alternative gambling at Emerald Downs, I am of the belief, based upon a great deal of evidence, that such assistance to purses comes at both great risk and long-term cost. As brief examples, I will say that while things perked up greatly in Pennsylvania due to the alternative gaming being put at tracks, this effect may be fleeting, and detrimental to racing in the long run. While purses have been pushed up, considerably, the recession has caused the state government to rewrite some of the laws regarding splits already, and more is expected once the federal stimulus money falls next year. Further, the handle on racing itself has been negatively affected due to the introduction of competition right at the track. Similar government take-back of purse money generated from alternative gambling types has occurred in West Virginia, where Mountaineer is now “Mountaineer Casino” and no longer “Mountaineer Park.” And, although one of our own horses recently raced there, I would point out that the promise that everyone locally heard about the impact of alternative gaming would have on purses at Hastings Park, it simply has not occurred as expected, and their purses are not really much different than ours.

The national racing compact forum discussed practical views as to how the process would work, and the extent to which individual states would have a say in rules being promulgated. After a great deal of discussion, the board of directors of the National HBPA approved a motion indicating its support of the concept, as long as: 1) The implementation of rules must be based on industry consensus; 2) A structured process must exist which provides horsemen with an opportunity to be heard on both the local and national level; 3) Reasonable uniformity of rules can be imposed only based on industry
consensus; 4) Concrete protections need to exist against unilateral rule-making; and 5) Commissioners are to be selected on the basis of merit and experience. In summary, the National HBPA wants to be supportive of the concept, but wants to ensure that our support is tempered by competent persons setting rules based upon consensus of the constituents.

The single most important forum was thought to be the medication discussion regarding bute. An allstar panel of various researchers, practicing vets, and one trainer took on the task of addressing this topic. As medication is not in my wheelhouse, I quote the following summary from the National HBPA website to tell what went on:

The National HBPA Medication Committee presented a speaker forum entitled, "Bute - 5 mcg ... To Be or Not To Be," which was moderated by NHBPA Medication Committee Chairman and Florida HBPA Executive Director Kent Stirling. With a panel consisting of a virtual who’s who of racing medication testing and regulation experts, the forum presented all sides of the current debate over a proposed change to the longstanding RCI Model Rule regarding phenylbutazone (Bute). The proposal would decrease the allowable level from 5 mcg/ml to 2 mcg/ml for Bute administered 24 hours prior to

As a result of considerable previous work and research, as well as the information heard at the Medication Committee forum, the National HBPA Board of Directors took an official position actively objecting to any change to the RCI Model Rule regarding phenylbutazone at this time because it is clear that the scientific community is not unanimous in its opinion that the preponderance of scientific evidence demonstrates that there is an effect on the athletic performance of the horse at the 5 mcg/ml regulatory threshold, nor does the scientific evidence demonstrate that the 5 mcg/ml level impairs the ability to conduct accurate pre-race examinations. It is understood that while the vast majority of horses test below the 2 mcg/ml level, the 5 mcg/ml level simply provides a safety margin to avoid inappropriate positives.

National HBPA President and CEO Joe Santanna commented, “We represent the majority of racing horsemen in North America. And while a rule change like this might seem somewhat benign, it could lead to unfair burdens on horsemen and unnecessary negative media scrutiny of our industry and its participants. So the burden here – as it should be on any important rule change – was the science. Does a preponderance of scientific evidence in this case show a clear line between a lowered regulatory threshold and a decrease in the rate of musculoskeletal/catastrophic racing injuries to horses? At this time, in our opinion, it does not.”

In addition to those forums, there were a number of other meetings that we attended. MaryAnn holds national leadership positions regarding medication and benevolence, and attended and led sessions in those topics.

While we gave up five days of our work and play lives to go back to Minneapolis to represent the Washington HBPA, I do feel it was time well-spent having our voices heard, and keeping on top of the issues faced by horsemen across our country and at home.

Back here, I want to close this message by addressing a few local items.

First, as I have reported to you before, our industry is full of misinformation. One of those items was a “rumor” that the WTBA sale had less than 100 entrants in it. Having looked at the online version of the sales book, I can confirm that it looks like about 157 yearlings are listed, and another 18 are offered as weanlings, broodmare prospects, broodmares in foal, and racing prospects. So, let’s correct that misperception and support the local industry where we can.

Second, since I had been gone, I sat down with Ron Crockett and went over a few interesting numbers. He had some information on the Weiner Dog Races evening that he shared with me, that I thought you too might find of interest. Comparing the same Saturday of the year, with and without the dogs, we noted that attendance was up 85%, to a nice crowd of 5,510. That increase in crowd helps Emerald Downs, which is having a tough year, in that more admissions are collected and more food and beverage are sold overall. However many more folks were there, it did not translate into a boon at the windows, or thus into the purse accounts. Very surprisingly, handle actually went down by 15% from the prior year, despite having many more people at the track. And even more surprisingly, and perhaps a reflection on the economy in some respects, the average amount bet per person in attendance was actually less than half of what it had been in the prior year. So, while well-intended promotions, such as the Weiner Dog Races are fun and do punch up the attendance, the net impact on our purse accounts of such incremental activity did not turn out to be much. Emerald Downs and your HBPA will be looking at other programs in the near term to help with turnout and hopefully punch up the purse accounts as well.

Third, the evening before The Mile, the Washington Racing Hall of Fame will induct its 2010 honorees at a dinner at Emerald Downs. Eddie Delahoussaye, Kentucky Derby winning jockey, will be a special guest at the dinner. You can obtain tickets through Customer Service at Emerald Downs.

Fourth, Emerald Downs has announced an iPad giveaway promotion during Mile Day. They will be giving out 50 of the highly sought-after personal computing devices, which will undoubtedly give a boost to a day which is always well-attended. As a result, Mile Day should really be rocking, and I would encourage everyone reading this to plan on attending, and to encourage friends, relatives, and others to get to the track, take in our biggest day, and get a pretty decent shot at winning a really nice giveaway.

Fifth, earlier in the year, I asked for owner volunteers to offer horses for a proposed “win a horse” promotion at the track. The original idea was to take the generosity of some of our owners to allow contest winners to have a mythical ownership interest in horses drawn at the contest, and to have our owners both offer 5% of the purse won to the mythical owner, as well as to shepherd them about the track and “show them the ropes.” We had about 15 owners generously offer to give up some of their purse money and to help out in the process of educating the contest winners. However, because there was going to be a financial cost to our volunteers, Emerald Downs and I agreed to move the promotion to the later part of the year. Emerald Downs had plans to create a media-supported promotion, but the media partner moved too slowly and we ran out of time to do the promotion in the manner planned.

We would like to do something along the same lines, but more abbreviated. Emerald Downs will offer, on its Facebook site, an opportunity for non-licensees to have a mythical ownership interest in volunteered horses for upcoming Friday nights. It will require that one time only, a willing owner of a horse running on Friday night put up 5% of the earnings for that one race (with Emerald Downs to match the 5%, giving the contest winner a 10% interest in the horse’s outcome) and that the owners show the night’s contest winner around, and provide them with access to the paddock for the saddling. If you are willing to do this, please let me know, and I will coordinate it with Adrian at Emerald Downs. (Ron and Rosalie Warren and my wife and I have agreed to serve as the first guinea pigs on August 6, as one of our horses goes in the third race, and one of the Warren’s runs in the sixth. We will each host a “winner” in the paddock and give them a share of our winnings, hoping to give them a taste of the experience). The good news is that the ultimate cost to our volunteer owners is much lower than it would have been if we had followed the original program, so if you have a horse entered any of the Friday nights remaining during the meet and are willing to help us out with this promotion, please do so.

Sixth, we are going to schedule our annual General Meeting of the Washington HBPA in early September. You will receive notice of it soon; please plan on attending.

Last, the WHBPA has established a “classifieds” section on our website, which went active last week. This was done as a service to our members, to be a very low cost location where items could be listed, such as horses, tack, or other miscellaneous items. As of this writing, no one has taken us up on this yet, so I am going to post a few items later this week to get the ball rolling and see if we get any response.

Thanks for taking the time to wade through all of this.

See you at the races. And best of success to you, unless, of course, you are facing one of ours …

Ron Maus

If you have comments or questions, I can be reached at ron@buffalostables.com.

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