I am horse racing and these are my New Year's resolutions:
I will finally get serious about the problem of illegal drugs, something, shamefully, I have never done. I will implement a detention barn system, where the horses must be under lock and key for at least 24 hours prior to post time, for every Grade I race. I will find a way to come up with the money the industry needs to bring its drug detection methods into the 21st century. I will stop handing out meaningless 30 or 60-day suspensions to trainers, whose stables, run by assistants, chug right along uninterrupted. I will watch and learn from what they are doing in Ontario, a place that is showing the way when it comes to going after the cheats.
I will also go after the widespread use of legal drugs, which has gotten way out of hand. Virtually every horse that races today runs on Lasix, yet horses are more brittle and run less often than ever. There has to be a connection here. The sport was far better off before all these drugs were legalized. I will start by barring Lasix in all 2-year-old races and all graded stakes races, the first steps toward a total ban.
I will stop burying my head in the sand when it comes to the issue of horse slaughter. I have the clout and the money to put an end to this reprehensible practice. I am truly ashamed that I have allowed thousands of retired race horses to perish in this grisly manner each year and I will do something about it. For an industry that generates $14 billion a year in business, there shouldn't be any problem coming up with the money to make this happen. I'm going to stop pretending this isn't a serious problem.
While I will continue to pursue slot machines because they represent easy money, I will not put all my eggs in their basket. Besides increasing purses, slot machines do nothing for the sport and they don't create new racing fans. I will be more creative than I have ever been in my marketing efforts and I will succeed in convincing people that horse racing is a beautiful sport that is also the most intellectually stimulating gambling game there is. I will not get lazy just because everyone is making a few bucks off the slots.
I will increase the purses of the Preakness and Belmont to $2 million each. That two of my three biggest races have a purse equal to that of the Delta Downs Jackpot is something I will no longer tolerate.
Speaking of the Triple Crown, I will not so much as listen to anyone who insists the set up of the series needs to be changed.
I will get all the big shots into the same room and I won't let them out until there is a resolution or a compromise that solves the account wagering mess. The Internet and television are the keys to growing this industry, yet we have managed to make a mess of all this. I understand that I can only turn off players by making them watch two different racing channels and having at least two betting accounts in order to play all the major tracks. This foolishness will stop.
I will order that every racetrack that has a slots room also have a mutuel window in that area, television screens showing the races and, whenever possible, an unobstructed view of the racetrack. I've had it with racino managements who do everything possible to keep the slot players from even knowing that horse racing is going on somewhere else on the premises.
I will no longer require that Eclipse Award ballots be in before the year is actually over. What's the rush? What have I been thinking? I dodged a bullet when Balance didn't win the Grade I La Brea Dec. 30. That would have made her a serious candidate for the 3-year-old filly championship, yet the race, as far as the Eclipse Awards go, wouldn't have mattered. I need to be more patient.
Happy New Year.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at email@example.com.