Mike Ziegler, Executive Director of Racing at Churchill Downs, spent some time at Canterbury Park this weekend and took some time to speak to owners and fans in a talk sponsored by the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association.
Ziegler touched on a wide range of issues including the state of the industry, ownership, race day medications and where does the industry going from here.
He was gracious enough to spend some time with us here In The Paddock.
MWPR: Your position is very new. What have you seen to be your biggest challenges so far?
MZ: I think that the biggest challenge thus far is that there is so much to do. They just created my position and the job description is vague and it has been really hard to wrap my arms around what to prioritize. Really right after I started came the Derby prep season and right into the Triple Crown.
MWPR: Rumors round backsides in our world is that Million Day is going to be the last day of racing at Arlington.
MZ: I’ve never heard that before, so that’s the first I’ve ever heard that.
MWPR: Is there any way to turn Arlington around without alternative gaming?
MZ: I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that I was there on Thursday and there were 6,000 people there so there are a lot of people interested in racing there. I think it’s similar to here [Canterbury] in that we need to get those people betting. The crowds are there, they just aren’t betting any money.
MWPR: What do you say to the folks that say Churchill Downs is more interested in being a casino company than a racetrack?
MZ: The fact that they created my position tells me that they are taking a huge step in the right direction to righting that opinion of them. At this point in time I have had no constraints put on me. Everything is gradual. We’re not just going to step in and change things overnight but they have been very supportive so far.
MWPR: Do you think it’s more difficult for a public company when shareholders demand improvement from quarter to quarter and it’s hard for the racetrack to move that needle and easier for a casino to?
MZ: Sometimes it’s not in the best interest of your shareholders and that’s where Churchill has had to make important decisions over the years – for shareholder value. It’s hard to judge that because so many racing organizations are not-for-profit or closely held and this is a publically traded company.
MWPR: There are racetracks that have gaming and they view the two very differently. Although the casino, and the destination as a whole, is making money, racing’s earnings are not equal to the bottom line and racing gets short shrift. Churchill only has one of the three properties with gaming. Is there a way to view these destinations as a whole as opposed to individual entities under one roof?
MZ: I haven’t really given that much thought so I can’t really…I don’t know. I suppose. Ultimately it all hits the bottom line.