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World Trotting Conference Symposium Opens

The World Trotting Conference Symposium opened to members of the public on Wednesday with a full day of sessions, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

The schedule began with a keynote address from Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario CEO Jean Major, a regulator of gambling for the last 27 years. He said that since Ontario introduced legal casino gaming in 1992-93, horse racing has lost its “complete dominance” in provincial gambling, dropping to “less than 11 percent” of dollars wagered there annually.

Major said Ontario is moving from a prescriptive approach to a new, outcome-based way of regulating the alcohol and gaming industries.

Next, a panel discussion on the “Brave New World” of betting provided insights on wagering analytics. Dean Towers, secretary of the Horseplayers’ Association of North America, said that handle on sports betting had doubled during the same period that games of chance, like slots, were declining in popularity. Fixed-odds wagering and carryovers were two growing trends Towers identified as capturing gamblers’ interest.

Brad Cummings, founder and CEO of Equilottery LLC, said that “the problem is not the product -- it’s the packaging.” He presented data showing how the quick-pick horse racing lottery game could help attract the Millennial-aged players currently lacking in the sport’s customer base.

Woodbine Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of Information Technology, Chris Lush, said most of the volume on the company’s Horseplayer Interactive wagering site came from Baby Boomers. He added that newcomers “look at our tote systems and they are lost”, but a recently-introduced “Woodbine app” for mobile devices was part of company outreach to “make [wagering] more interactive, more fun.”

Christopher Schick, representing Golden Bear Racing LLC, which operates Cal-Expo Harness, focused on betting options and how they were received by the gambling public. “Each track needs a signature wager,” he said, but some offer “too many gimmicks” relative to respective pool size. Schick noted that “guaranteed pools drive handle”, while reduced takeout is unattractive to Cal-Expo’s biggest bettors, who prefer lower host fees and more rebates.

Next, equine health was front and centre.

Dr. Kathleen MacMillan, assistant professor of equine ambulatory medicine at the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island, provided an overview of some of the most common conditions affecting Standardbred racehorses. Her topics included respiratory health, fractures, and gastric ulcers.

Adrienne Herron, a traceability systems specialist, followed with a presentation about the microchipping of horses. She said that although the practice is still gaining wider acceptance in the Standardbred industry, it will be implemented as a mandatory identification measure in registered Canadian Thoroughbreds, beginning with foals of 2017. Herron said that microchipping was safe and valuable for accurate, immediate racehorse identification, as well as faster cross-border horse transport.

An afternoon panel discussion addressed the topics of medication control and research. Dr. Carolyn Cooper, director of equine drug control at the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (CPMA) cautioned that “you really need to know where your compounded medications come from”, because questionable “trunk-of-a-car compounding” could result in positive tests for prohibited substances. She noted that natural health products also face “little to no regulatory oversight”.

Lydia Brooks, manager of research and analysis for the CPMA, said environmental contamination was “a challenge in the testing for prohibited substances”, because of the many possible ways for horses to come into contact with trace amounts of controlled or prohibited substances.

She said cobalt poses a threat to equine health, and was identified as a prohibited substance by the CPMA beginning in 2015. “The good news is that cobalt levels have decreased significantly since cobalt was first identified as an issue in Canada.”

United States Trotting Association president Russell Williams described the evolution of racing regulation as a response to the sport’s development as a gambling entity. The Hanover Shoe Farms chairman said there was no clear need for the National (US) Uniform Medication Testing Program in harness racing, as it would shift federal program costs to horsepeople and fail to utilize “the human capital in the regulatory system that we now have.”

In the afternoon, the Symposium featured a trio of panel discussions on ways to promote harness racing to new audiences. They followed a lunch presentation by Woodbine Entertainment’s Tom Via, who introduced plans to make Mohawk Racetrack into a “year-round mecca of North American harness racing.”

“The Facts About the Fracs” examined the topic of fractional ownership. Mats Norberg, a board member with the Swedish trotting organization Svensk Travsport, described the highly-popular Rikstravet model of sharing a racehorse. The trainer selects the particular trotter for the fractional owners, said Norberg. “One payment, all-inclusive” billing, and the ability for owners to exit a fractional group if they so choose, have helped make Rikstravet a success.

Justin Van Daele, marketing director for TheStable.ca, spoke on behalf of founder Anthony MacDonald’s Ontario-based fractional ownership group. He said that at a cost of roughly $24 a month, per share, The Stable removed the element of unwanted surprise from the cost of racehorse ownership. Live-streaming drone video on training days, and keeping in touch with owners via “chain e-mails, three to six times a week”, helps owners feel connected, added Van Daele.

Paul Ryneveld, general manager of Alberta’s Century Downs, said the track’s racing club was established, in part, to help remedy the local racehorse shortage. “The goal was to bring horses from out of the jurisdiction to the province,” he said. Ryneveld noted that a “new class of license” initially needed to be developed in consultation with Horse Racing Alberta, ensuring that “no current horse owner would be a part of the racing club” as a means of “hidden ownership.” Century Downs Racing Club purchases and manages the racing careers of its horses. In 2017, there are 94 members, each paying $250 per year.

Mike Tanner, executive vice-president and CEO of the US Trotting Association, said that while the breed registry cannot own or sell horses, it can help in other ways. He mentioned time-limited fractional stables based at Scioto Downs in Ohio, and The Meadows in Pennsylvania, although concerns that horse shares might be considered “securities” under U.S. law have made it a challenge to replicate the model of TheStable.ca.

Later, the symposium theme shifted to working with government. Don Marean of the U.S. Trotting Association stressed the importance of open communication with elected officials, and Joe Faraldo, representing the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, emphasized the value of printed materials and transparency. Gilllaume Maupas, from France’s Le Trot, drew attention to the people and horses that distinguish the racing industry from other forms of gaming today.

The Honourable J. Heath MacDonald (right), the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism for the Province of Prince Edward Island, spoke about the importance of the relationship between government and the horse racing industry, stressing that the industry has many important messages and must make sure that government has the data and information to make informed decisions.

The day wrapped up after a rapid-fire “Lightning Round” of marketing ideas from international panelists. The audience voted on their top three marketing pitches from Harness Racing New Zealand’s Edward Rennell, Standardbred Canada’s Darryl Kaplan, Adriana Spatzner of Ontario Lottery and Gaming, Johan Lindberg of Svensk Travsport, and Red Shores marketing manager Lee Drake. Results will be revealed today (August 17), when the WTC Symposium resumes at the Delta Prince Edward Island.

The full schedule is available at StandardbredCanada.ca.


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