Tag Archives: The Big Picture


SpringHillNothing uplifting here as a recent edition of the Saratoga Special featured an ad from well known real estate broker Phil Thomas’ Thomas and Talbot.  With long-time Virginia horsemen John Coles as listing agent, the firm is advertising the sale of Spring Hill Farm and the Middleburg Training Center.

The Casanova nursery that produced so many top Virginia-breds for Edward P. Evans is listed for $25 million.  Evans left his entire estate to Yale and the proceeds will benefit his foundation.  Seems hard to imagine there is a likely purchaser for such an immense property when breeding horses in Virginia offers such economic limitations when compared to surrounding states where purses and breeders funds are fueled by alternative gambling dollars.

Perhaps more discouraging is the $3.9 million price tag on the Middleburg Training Center.  The facility was built in the 1956 by horseman and philanthropist Paul Mellon (who was honored yesterday as a Pillar of the Turf at the National Musuem of Racing’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony) and has been turning out racehorses ever since. Conveniently located in Northern Virginia with good access to racetracks in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaward, the bucolic setting has long been seen as a great alternative to conditioning both young and older horses.

MiddleburgTrainingCenterA group of prominent Virginia owners and trainers purchased the facility in the 1960’s and talented young trainers used to wait in line to gain access to one of the 11 training barns which were kept full for decades.  In recent years as the industry contracts it has grown harder and harder to fill the 20-stall barns.

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TOOMUCHAs promised, VHN.com will examine the industry here in Virginia and in the region over the span of the next few weeks.  Today, the Wall Street Journal poses the question is there too much racing?  The answer seems obvious: Yes.

There can be no doubt that even in the face of a declining Thoroughbred population, the decline of owners seems to be steadily falling as well.   Just ask any trainer.

The capacity for useful racehorses is clearly limited and the capacity for sub-par ones is almost non-existent.  The available resources for retirement and reuse are also a major problem in every market.  So the idea of producing more foals for the sole purpose of filling even more races seems a naïve approach to a tenuous future.

That said, Terry Finley of widely known West Point Thoroughbreds says no to the question.  According to Finley, the varied menu of racing conditions and dates are needed to accommodate a very diverse race horse population.  Others say yes, claiming the constant call of “They’re Off!” dilutes to product for the betting customer.   Both have points.

The problem is when racing days are reduced economic opportunities decline and, in the end, somebody’s  (if not everybody’s) ox gets gored — owners, trainers, breeders and racetracks.

Later this week, we will examine the industry here in Virginia starting with the process to license the Commonwealth’s only pari-mutuel racetrack and the political restraints that have stifled the growth of the both racing and breeding (the intended beneficiary) over the past 16 years Colonial Downs has been open.

To read the WSJ take in their sports blog The Fix, click here.

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Screen shot 2013-07-21 at 9.12.11 AMWhile well-organized professional sports with a central authority (NFL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR to name a few) must face outside competition for fans’ entertainment time and money, the consolidated league approach does prevent them from competing with each other.

No so for horse racing which has long ignored the damaging impact of head-on competition between races.  Yesterday was no different as two events for older mares occurred at Delaware ($750,000 Delaware Oaks Gr.1) and Saratoga ($200,000 Shuvee Handicap Gr.3) went head to head generating one field of five and one of six.

Horse players looking for large fields were treated to two good performances by the winners Royal Delta and Authenticity, but neither represented a top notch wagering opportunity…While owners and trainers may like big prizes and small fields, racetracks frequently miss the opportunity to build critical handle by not cooperatively scheduling these races.

To read more about Delaware Park’s big day from Frank Vespe at The Racing Biz, click here.

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WestCommentaryGary West for ESPN points out that racing’s economic indicators are running counter to improving economic conditions.  That traces back to larger issues largely unsolved by the industry with regard to the primary product (it’s hard to figure out and even harder to use) and the long-term impact of utilizing alternative gaming to produce critically important purse dollars.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 both soared to record highs this week. The Case-Shiller home-price index has registered its largest gains since 2006. Unemployment has dropped to 7.6 percent. The economy, many pundits insist, even if some wallets disagree, is getting stronger.

But amid this economic “recovery,” horse racing’s downward trend continues. Even worse, the main obstacle to reversing the trend is the industry itself — a sprawling, disorganized, captious, shortsighted, disputatious and frequently stupid cacophony of self-interest.

“The industry is paralyzed,” said Eugene Christiansen of Christiansen Capital Advisors, a research and consulting firm. And the industry’s problem, he said, is “secular,” meaning in economic terms that it’s fundamental, deep-seated and inveterate, that it’s beyond the palliation of Band-Aids…

To read the story, click here.

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