In a wide-ranging presentation to the National Steeplechase Association’s annual meeting on Nov. 14, the chairman of its Promotion and Growth Task Force discussed challenges facing the sport and strategies that the Task Force will pursue to encourage growth in jump racing. His report can be accessed on the NSA home page, immediately above the Official Notices.
NSA President Guy J. Torsilieri asked William J. Price, a horse owner and co-chair of the Queen’s Cup, to chair the Task Force in July. Price said the Task Force has held five teleconferences since then and has embarked on an action plan to expand jump racing. In addition to increasing overall awareness of the sport, the Task Force has a mission to increase the number of owners and to retain current owners.
The Task Force hit the ground running, with an advertising campaign, “The First Second Career,” featuring prominent flat-racing owners Cot Campbell, Dr. David Richardson, and Ken Ramsey, all of whom have raced steeplechase horses. The campaign ran through the Saratoga meet and will continue in targeted trade publications.
In his presentation, Chairman Price listed some of the challenges facing the sport. Since American Steeplechasing’s high-water mark in the early 1990s, ownership has declined by 51%, the number of trainers dropped by 64%, starters by 39%, and races by 30%.
While the National Steeplechase Association distributed near-record purses of $5.2-million in 2014, inflation-adjusted purses have declined by 19% from their peak.
Because most steeplechase horses come off the flat tracks, jump racing also will be challenged by current North American foal crops, which are stabilizing after several years of declines.
To better understand the issues facing owners, the Task Force sent a representative to the Thoroughbred Owner Conference in Lexington, Ky., in mid-October and conducted a poll of owners who had not renewed their licenses in recent years.
Price said the poll offered some encouraging insights. Of the 49 former owners who responded, fully 80% said they would consider coming back if they had the right horse. Price encouraged trainers to find jump-racing prospects and to reach out to the former owners and prospective owners. He also encouraged trainers to form partnerships to ease entry into the sport.
The poll results produced an action plan for the Task Force in the coming months. Among the ideas that will be pursued are:
- Greater contact with owners at all times and especially at race meets.
- An owner conference in the spring.
- A “buddy system” to link new owners with established owners who will assist the newcomers’ entry into jump racing.
- A social-media campaign to link the NSA, race meets, and steeplechase enthusiasts.
- Develop strategies to increase purse money and to provide recognition for small-scale owners.