By Melissa Bauer-Herzog
Day two of Equestricon started much like the first with a large variety of activities taking place around the Convention Centre, from panels to Justify’s connections signing autographs.
While the first day’s focus for this piece was on aftercare and racing personalities, the second day’s focus was on racing itself. That started in the Guardians At the Gate panel when Steve Koch, the executive director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety & Integrity Alliance, and New York Racing Association Chief Examining Veterinarian Jennifer Durenberger shined some light on the regulatory and state veterinary side of racing.
Much of Koch’s talk was based around the track accreditation process and various rules that have to be followed to get accredited. Talking about the process and the run-down of what tracks have to provide in their report for the application, he said it is one of the most interesting reports the public never sees. While only 24 tracks are currently accredited, Koch said that there are other tracks that are working toward getting accredited, but they just have a few small things that need to be solved.
“One of the things a lot of folks don’t understand is that it’s not just the racetrack that has to get this done,” he said. “Each track has to have all of the stakeholders in on this. If your jockey colony isn’t working with you, if your regulators aren’t on the ball, if your horsemen and owners and trainers aren’t on the ball, it’s going to be difficult to get over the hump.”
During Durenberger’s part of the panel, she shared some interesting stats from a variety of topics, both as what she sees as a vet and from the regulation side. One such thing was that NYRA runs between 1,200 1,500 Out of Competition test samples every year, in addition to daily TCO2 testing on horses in selected races.
When asked how many horses she scratches on a weekly basis, Durenberger said that gate scratches vary, but no matter where she goes in the world, the number of morning scratches seem to stay the same.
“That is remarkably consistent at every racetrack I’ve ever worked at, every international jurisdiction I’ve visited. If I’m looking at 30 horses, I’m going to expect to have to make a decision about two or three and I’m going to have to scratch about half a horse a day, so I’ll scratch three or four a day,” she said.
Both panelists fielded multiple questions from the crowd and it was near the end of the panel when Koch threw out some more information about accredited tracks that shows how powerful those 24 tracks are in the industry.
“Seventy-five percent of North American wagering, 90% of graded stakes, and 96% of Grade Is [are run at accredited tracks],” he said.
Shortly after the panel ended, next door international racing took the spotlight in the International Perspectives on Racing panel. With four panelists from around the world moderated by Nick Luck taking the stage, the panel could have filled a full day.
Among the many points talked about in the 90-minute panel were providing more information for gamblers, aftercare, how shuttle stallions are making it easier to follow racing abroad, and the need for racing seasons.
When talking about the topic often discussed in how North America should find ways to be as popular as other countries, TDN’s Kelsey Riley threw out a point that isn’t often considered when talking about Australia versus the United States.
“One thing I think about the Australians, I feel like racing appeals on so many levels there because it’s embedded into the culture in so many levels there,” she said. “Speaking on the higher end, you see people all dressed up out at the races having a drink, being seen. I just feel like that’s a big part of the Australian culture, that’s something that they just inherently enjoy doing. But at the same time, you also have the country racing where you can even go to the pub and watch it and have a bet. I think it’s dangerous to say that you can take these experiences, these certain ways of doing things and transfer them over to America because I think there’s big inherent cultural differences there.”
Full of good information from beginning to end, one point talked about later in the panel was the need for consistent disqualification rules around the world. With a more international audience wagering on races, figuring out why a horse was disqualified is a challenge that could be changed to help bring in more money.
“I think internationally it makes it smoother if we have a similar perspective,” Fanny Salmon said. “That’s also what the International Federation of Horse Racing Authority is trying to achieve, is that we follow the same rules.”
The final panel attended was one on how to find the next big horse, a fitting panel with the passing of the legendary Cot Campbell over the weekend. His involvement in finding previous big horses and ownership groups was talked about by West Point Thoroughbred’s Terry Finley.
“Cot is really the king of partnerships, he originated the concept in the late 1960s. Every time you dealt with Cot, you dealt with a person who always had a smile on his face and a good word to put in and a good word to say. He just did it with so much class and he was so genuine,” Finley said. “I challenge any of us to look at anyone in our industry who had as big of an impact on our great game in the last 50 years as Cot Campbell. I’ll say to Cot up in heaven, ‘Thank you very much.'”
During his talk, Finley also made it clear that, just because you find a ‘big horse’ once, doesn’t mean your search is over. West Point placing second in the 2014 GI Kentucky Derby and winning the 2017 Derby just fed the urge to find another big runner, Finley said.
“You think about the fact that you got to the mountain top when you win the Derby,” he said. “And all those things, you’re thankful for the people who assisted you, you think about going to the races with your father, but the things that also comes into your mind is ‘I’ve got to figure out how to get back here’ and to get the next big horse. So the search and the quest and the journey to get your next big horse, it never stops and that’s a good thing.”
While Finley talked about the constant search for the big horse, for Fasig-Tipton’s Terence Collier, searching is only a part of the journey.
“The panel is about the next big horse and I’m going to tell you now, you cannot find the next big horse. The next big horse is going to find you because you don’t know where they’re going to come from,” Collier said.
From stallion acquisition with Bill Farish to buying yearlings with David Ingordo, all four speakers acknowledged that luck played a part in finding their big horses. Ingordo summarized it best at the end of his panel when telling the story about how he privately purchased Stellar Wind after his phone calls had been ignored, but a friend’s phone call was answered.
“I could have called this man 100 times and never got a response and yet fate brings somebody in to the office that was able to help me get it done and it ended up being Stellar Wind. You can have all the plans you want and everything else, but sometimes there’s this element of luck,” he said.
While the majority of Equestricon ended today, a few final events wrap up Wednesday with Equestricon’s final event passing the baton to Churchill Downs with a day of racing at the track for those who bought the add-on experience with their tickets.