Ken Wilkins got it right:
“The challenge is to identify and solve the real problem–we do not have enough people that want to own racehorses. More owners will create more demand for our breeding product, period. Conversely, less demand will exacerbate all our problems. It has already impacted us and we are experiencing a slow and sure gradual shrinking of our business. What can each of us do to achieve the outcome of increasing ownership? Let us start with asking the right question. How can we increase demand for our product?”
Simply put, we need more Thoroughbred owners. In the spectrum of supply and demand, the supply of racehorses has dropped by 43% since 2008, from 35,274 foals down to 20,000. One would expect with such a huge reduction in horses that demand would outpace the supply. But that has not happened.
Most would agree that owners are one of the lifebloods of our sport. Without owners who are willing to invest in racehorses, everyone is affected: racetracks, fans, breeders, auction houses, racing syndicates, trainers, jockeys, vets, farriers, training centers, agents, feed suppliers, publications, etc.
That’s why, in 2012, The Jockey Club announced at the Round Table Conference a new initiative to “develop new resources to encourage Thoroughbred ownership.” McKinsey & Company, which conducted a comprehensive economic study of our sport in conjunction with The Jockey Club, discussed in 2011 the difficult barriers to entry in our sport as an owner. As a result of this finding, OwnerView.com was launched in May 2012 by The Jockey Club and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. With a vast amount of information for new and existing owners, the website continues to be the “go-to” source for owners and prospective owners. And the best part is everything is free.
In 2014, OwnerView hosted the first Thoroughbred Owner Conference at Keeneland, followed by conferences at Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita (twice), Del Mar, and Churchill Downs. The annual conference has been very successful in educating prospective, new, and longtime owners. This year the owner conference takes place at Saratoga in late July.
Other advancements in growing the owner base include the recent trend in racing clubs. The success of these clubs has been well documented. The Churchill Downs Racing Club has more than 1,000 members. In 2019, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association launched its first racing club (Empire Racing Club), and it will expand its efforts in 2020. Other tracks with racing clubs include Oaklawn Park, Arlington Park, Fair Grounds, Remington Park, Lone Star Park, and Canterbury Park. Although the conversion rate of club members to more traditional ownership levels is small, the sum of the parts from racing clubs may lead to an uptick in ownership levels. More racing clubs sponsored by racetracks and horsemen’s organizations will help contribute to this uptick. A good example is the Victoria Racing Club in Australia, which has 31,000 members!
But it’s going to take a substantial effort to make ownership more attractive to racing fans. Ken asked in his Op/Ed, “How can we increase demand for our product?” Answer: We can all do this collectively if every industry participant and organization makes it a priority to grow the owner base. We all have close friends, business associates, and family members who have the means to be Thoroughbred owners. But prior to 2012, we did not have a neutral and unbiased resource such as OwnerView where we could direct prospective owners. Instead, many new owners learned by their mistakes and often were referred to unprincipled people who took advantage of their lack of knowledge. With access to OwnerView.com and the annual owner conference, no person should be entering our business without fundamental knowledge of ownership.
Many owners have said that Thoroughbred ownership is one of the most entertaining, emotional, family-oriented rides they have ever been on. We need to get this message out to the general public and do everything in our power to nurture newcomers when they decide to make the jump into ownership. We believe OwnerView can and will continue to play an important role supporting a campaign for new owners.