By Sue Finley
Frank Stronach was honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit Thursday evening in recognition of his outstanding success in racing, breeding, racetrack ownership and support of retired racehorse programs.
Accepting the Award…
“There’s an old saying: the whole world is a stage, and we all play a part in it. Tonight, the stage belongs to the great horses of 2017. We want to celebrate these horses, and the people involved with them- the owners, the trainers, the jockeys and the breeders and many others. Without those people, there wouldn’t be any horse racing.
“We also have to realize that without the racetracks there would be no horse racing, and the economics do not look very good for the racetracks. On every table, there’s a copy of my latest book, which just came off the press, with the title The Question of All Questions: Where did we come from, and where do we go?
“We have a good idea where horse racing came from, but we as horse people need to sit down and think about where we are going. In life, you have to look back in order to see the future. When we look back, approximately 30 years, the betting handle was approximately $50 billion per year. In today’s dollars, that would be at least $75 billion per year. Right now, betting handle is approximately $11 billion per year. This is a dramatic decline in the betting handle. Horse owners and track owners are the big losers.
“Horse racing faces many challenges: from lotteries, to casinos and now most likely sports gaming. Horses are alike all over the world. There’s no politics involved, no religion. For business people, they are a great equalizer, to connect with nature, and a chance to get away from mundane activities and the pressure of work.
“The horse should be man’s great friend, and has made a great contribution to the civilization of mankind. Especially since not that long ago the American West was settled relatively quickly with the help of horses.
“People love to have pets. It connects them with nature- from birds to cats to dogs. But among large animals, the horse is the most loved and wanted.
“Of course, there are always exceptions. I know of a little girl who came into the pet store and said with a sweet voice, `I would like to buy a rabbit.’ The sales lady asked her if she wanted a black rabbit or a white rabbit. The little girl said, `My anaconda snake does not care if it’s white or black.’
“But I know most girls love horses. I remember my granddaughter when I sat her for the first time on a pony. Her eyes were gleaming, and I think they’re still gleaming. I would like to state here that The Stronach Group does not seek to dominate horse racing, but we would like to interface with all the stakeholders- horse owners, breeders, jockeys, tracks, the NTRA and The Jockey Club. I believe we the stakeholders, if we work together, can get horse racing on a higher level.
“The year 2018 should be the year of the horse. I would like to interface with the stakeholders and establish some priorities. We should establish a horse racing charter of rights. We should establish a marketing plan for the whole industry with the focus on how we get young people to the races. Third, a responsibility program for the well being of racehorses, during and after their racing years.
“The above rules and programs must benefit all the stakeholders. They must comply with anti-trust regulations. The horse racing industry must prove constantly to the public that we operate under the highest ethical standards and we make a provision that horses are properly cared for.
“Any racetrack can join this new program providing that they adhere to the newly designed rules and programs. Those programs will be formulated to enhance competition and to improve the quality of horse racing.
“I would like to take the lead in this new initiative, and I hope the horse racing community will say by this time next year, `It was justified that Frank Stronach was awarded the Eclipse Award of Merit.’