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As I See It: Stepping Down
Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - by F. Phillip Langley

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One of the hardest decisions I have made was to retire as USTA president after 14 years of working with a truly great and dedicated staff.

As I leave, I have complete confidence that USTA Executive Vice President and CEO Mike Tanner and his young staff will continue to come up with innovations like online entries and online registrations.

I have had the opportunity to attend many of the weekly staff meetings and it is always interesting to listen to new ideas, including discussions of ideas from the directors. Lately, the inclusion of worthy changes to past performance lines has included at least two good ideas: indication of trailers and recall information. The question of space and what can be deleted or changed is always a necessary consideration.

I often hear we have too many directors, but I always found it very helpful and necessary to have input from all sections of our industry – tracks, fairs, breeders, owners, drivers, trainers, etc. This is especially true considering the vast geographical distribution of fairs and tracks. I found that directors and officers are all very conscientious and very generous with their time – all on a voluntary basis.

I think there are some changes that would help. Most are probably pet peeves of mine and likely no one else. For example, when I’m watching races, it drives me crazy when post time is ignored. I know simulcasting makes it more difficult, but in racing’s best days we set a post time and the race was off within seconds of that time.

Another thing that bothers our occasional or part-time fans is drivers leaning back so far. The fact that drivers appear to holding horses back has been a problem since day one, but in recent years it looks even worse.

Odds changing halfway through a race is also counterproductive.

Do we really need 14 or 15 races a program?

I have always thought larger fields and longer distances would help interest--at least on occasion.

I’m not a fan of those calling for lower takeouts. Lotteries and slots both take out more than racing. The slots hide behind saying their takeout is 5 or 6 percent, but since you can spin those wheels 10 times a minute, the end result is you lose more sooner. Somehow tracks and horsemen need enough revenue to operate and lower takeouts won’t make it possible.

Finding new markets is a challenge, but Yonkers Raceway and the Standardbred Owners Association of New York through their work with France show it can be done.

I know there is a lot of fear that sooner or later slots will be lost and we need to do something to maintain the present excellent purse levels. My take is everyone needs to follow the lead of states like New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana and others that work daily to show legislators the economic benefits of racing other than racetrack handle and attendance. I see no way we can replace slots purse money. It is not a 5- or 10-percent increase, but rather 400 or 500 percent. My advice is to fight like mad to keep that money.

I am proud of the accomplishments over the past 14 years, but it is time for some new leadership. Thanks so much for everyone’s help.

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The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.