SHAKOPEE, MN – The Minnesota Thoroughbred Association sponsored a talk at Canterbury Park by Mike Ziegler, Executive Director for Racing at Churchill Downs Inc.
Ziegler engaged with a couple of dozen MTA members and fans covering the state of racing and where the industry goes from here.
“A lot of negative gets written about what’s happening in racing,” Ziegler said. “But not enough attention is placed on the positives of racing.”
Ziegler pointed out that the Kentucky Derby always enjoys star power and racing needs to work it’s way back into the popular culture. While there are many differing viewpoints on the Caitlyn Jenner story, no one can deny that it’s been a big story and there she was, front and center on Opening Day at Del Mar.
In addition to the Triple Crown, there are plenty of success stories in racing. While Saratoga and Del Mar tend to capture the lion’s share of attention in the summer, Delaware Park and Monmouth are great summer locations for racing and have had successful meets. Belmont’s Festival Weekend, though undoubtedly boosted by a Triple Crown try, was certainly a success. Oaklawn, for another, was cited by Ziegler as an unbelievable regional meet.
“I was here yesterday,” said Ziegler, “and there probably were no more than four racetracks in the country that would have higher attendance on a race day.”
“If it’s in their region, budget and folks can make the trip,” said Ziegler, “a Breeders’ Cup is something that they need to attend. It’s great racing with the best horses in the world and while we know about it in the industry, it’s one of those events that non-racing regulars should attend.”
While there may be issues that need to be overcome, racing overall has positives to point to and to build from.
“We need to ride American Pharoah’s coattails for a while,” Ziegler opined. “What Victor [Espinoza] and Ahmed [Zayat] have done for the sport has been tremendous. Many people don’t know this, but Victor has donated 10% of his riding earnings at City of Hope Hospital. How many big time athletes do this? Bob Baffert donated all of his Belmont Stakes earnings to charity.”
Ziegler also suggested that “insiders” bring folks out to the track. The on-track experience is colorful and exciting and it’s the one sport where owners, trainers, jockeys and fans alike all can have a stake in the outcome. Exposing more people to the experience is one grass roots way to cultivate the next generation of racing fans.