Day At The Track

Food for thought at HTA meeting

04:28 PM 12 Mar 2008 NZDT
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Dean Hoffman
Dean Hoffman - Speakers and the panel discussions were first-rate

It was writer’s cramp, not sunburn, that was my greatest problem. Several people jokingly asked me how my sunburn was after I attended the joint Harness Tracks of America-Thoroughbred Racing Associations meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Although I can get a sunburn just walking under a 60-watt light bulb, I didn’t come back from Florida with a sunburn, but I sure came back with a lot of insight and understanding into racing’s problems. Not to mention the writer’s cramp from taking so many notes.

The speakers and the panel discussions were first-rate. I’ve been to enough conventions to know that agendas often look fascinating, but there is usually a boring act somewhere in the circus. That usually doesn’t happen at HTA-TRA meetings.

My father had a quaint expression to describe a meal, a person, or a presentation lacking in substance. His term was “wind pudding with air dip.” That was his way of dismissing them. My father was a meat-and-potatoes guy and he would have found a lot of meat and potatoes in the presentations at the HTA meeting.

Ironically, I think that the final presentation of the sessions might have been my favorite. It had a long and deliberately provocative title: Racing & New Technologies: Having Missed the Television Boat A Half Century Ago, Will We Be Left To Sink Again Without Adapting To New Forms Of Communication?”

Alas, some attendees had bolted by then or were enjoying a late morning coffee break.

They don’t know what they missed. It was chockablock with good ideas that were useful for any track, association, or business in the racing game.

On the panel, famed announcer Dave Johnson represented Sirius Satellite Radio, Eric Wing represented the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and Seth Merrow was there on behalf of the excellent Web site

Johnson started by admitting that “people have lost interest in our game” and that racing must use technology to bring passion back to racing.

There is no doubt that you see some Web sites in racing that look as if they were created to fill the need for a Web site, then immediately forgotten. It’s shocking to see Web sites with information on events from 2006 and other dated references.

In such cases, you need to either cure it or kill it. If you can’t keep your Web site fresh and updated, then take it down. Why bother? It’s embarrassing.

I couldn’t begin to pass along all the good ideas that I gleaned from this session about how “old media” thinking still dominates horse racing.

Periodically, I visit Thoroughbred and European harness racing Web sites just to see what’s going on in those worlds. While I have trouble reading all the European Web sites, I can see some of them -- those maintained by breed organizations, publications, and private firms -- are absolutely superb.

Frankly, it’s probably a blessing that I can’t read all the materials on these sites because I’d never get anything else done. It would be a case of information overload. I’m a political junkie, too, and I’ve visited many sites during the primary election season and I could fritter away countless hours on them.

But it’s far better to have too much information than too little. Bettors like information. Breeders like information. The internet is a way to deliver it to a wide audience.

The HTA-TRA session on “Medication & Regulation” was a dandy, too, and certainly it prompted a lot of interest and questions from the audience. Anyone who has read the comments recently in Congress by Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky knows that racing has to clean up its act or the federal government will come riding in to take control.

Bennett Liebman, a former racing commissioner and now with Albany Law School, said that racing is a “sitting duck” for government investigation.

It’s always a delight to hear Liebman speak. He always fires off zingers that get your attention. He once asked a respected testing authority for the truth about steroid use in racing. The answer, he said, reminded him of Jack Nicholson scolding Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men when he said, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Can racing handle the truth about widespread steroid use? Liebman seemed doubtful.

Wind pudding with air dip? Far from it. My father would have loved being at the HTA-TRA because it was a steady diet of meat-and-potatoes from some of the best and brightest minds in the racing world. The attendees got plenty of food for thought.

Dean Hoffman

ourtesy of The US Trotting Association Web Newsroom

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