A Diverse Educational Experience in RTIP

The Life

Reviewing stewards' inquiries as well as jockey claims of foul shed light on how difficult a racetrack steward's job can be when it comes to disqualifications. (Photo above ofbumping in the stretch in the 2009 King's Bishop Stakes courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)

When I meet someone for the first time and tell them that I go to graduate school for horse racing, the first few minutes of the conversation are filled with bewilderment as I explain that it is possible to get a degree in racetrack management.

Once this understanding is reached, the stranger usually becomes extremely interested in the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program (RTIP).

“What classes do you take? What do you learn in a typical lecture?”

I am currently enrolled in five classes, four of which are horse racing-specific. One of my classes is the Joe Hirsch Speaker Forum, which is named in honor of the legendary turf writer. This class is used as a forum for guest speakers to come talk to RTIP students about their experiences in racing.

We are expecting visits from speakers who work in the marketing, communications, regulatory, and veterinary sides of racing. As a first-year graduate student, I mostly observe and listen. Next year, as a second-year student, I will present my own capstone project (similar to a thesis) to this class. This spring is basically a warm-up for next year.

Three days a week, I have my lecture for Racing Organizational Structure and Financial Management. The goal of this class is to allow students to develop an understanding of how to operate and manage a racetrack. For example, we spent part of last week learning about food and beverage operations. We even held a meeting for a hypothetical racetrack in which professor (and “General Manager”) Elizabeth Bracken assigned a managerial role to everyone in the class to help organize a plan to transition the track’s food services from an external company to in-house.

Photo by Alexa Ravit

Some of us got quite engrossed in this simulated meeting and were ready to organize discussions outside of class to make this transition go smoothly!

On Wednesday evenings, I have my Advanced Animal Racing Laws and Enforcement class. It is a step-up from the Animal Racing Laws and Enforcement class that I took last semester. In class, we get an in-depth look on topics such as the decision-making processes for stewards, how racing commissions operate, drug-testing standards and the auditing of tote systems.

Last week, we spent the first part of class looking at rule language used in examining races, for example “interfered with,” “jostled” and “impeded”. We then examined two unidentified races that contained a stewards’ inquiry and/or a jockey’s objection. As a class, we discussed and decided what changes we would have made, if any, to the final order of finish for each race. We were then told what the stewards had decided.

Photo by Alexa Ravit

For one of the races, the 2008 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Stakes, most of us thought that the stewards made a sensible decision in disqualifying second-place finisher Proud Spell and placing her third. For the second race, an allowance race at Aqueduct in 2009, we strongly disagreed with the stewards’ decision to disqualify the winner.

This exercise showcased the difficulty of a steward’s job and the importance of being objective in these situations. From the gambler’s perspective, it is easy to convince yourself that the horse you bet to win did not drift into the second-place finisher on his way to the lead!

My final horse racing class is Race Track Marketing and Media Relations. In a recent class, we evaluated old commercials from a multitude of racetracks. We discussed the positives and negatives of all of the commercials, with the emphasis being on what product (entertainment, gambling, etc.) each racetrack was trying to sell and how well each track “sold” its product. We also spent time learning how to conduct ourselves in interviews with the media, and we evaluated old interviews from morning news shows to observe good and bad behaviors.

As someone who began RTIP with an equine and communications background, I am greatly enjoying my diversified educational experience in Tucson, Ariz. I am confident that all of the classes I am taking will serve me well in whatever profession I choose when I enter the racing industry upon graduation, and I am excited to discover all I have yet to learn!

For more information about the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program, visit the program’s website at www.ua-rtip.org and visit its Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. You can also contact the program’s director Doug Reed at dreed@ag.arizona.edu and 520-621-5660.

Photo by Alexa Ravit

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