by Liza Hendriks
This interview is one of a continuing series in the TDN in which current Godolphin Flying Start students interview former ones who have gone on to work in the racing industry. U.K. native Dan Blacker runs a stable based in Southern California. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh, he graduated from the Godolphin Flying Start program in 2007.
LH: How has the Godolphin Flying Start helped you in your career as a trainer?
DB: For me, getting to know American racing and moving around the country was extremely beneficial. I got to spend time in California working with Richard Mandella and I really felt at home here. I never would have had the chance to experience all of that had I not been on the Flying Start. When you start training, it’s a huge leap of faith going from assistant trainer to trainer. It’s such a massive step and no one really knows it until you do it for yourself. Looking back on it now, I think spending those two years on the Flying Start really gave me the confidence to make that leap of faith to train in America.
LH: Given the current situation in racing in California, have you had to make any adjustments in your business strategy?
DB: Yes, I am feeling the pinch along with other trainers. I’m down on numbers right now and I think certain owners back East are just a little bit wary of sending two-year-olds out this way right now. I think we really need to do our own bit of promotion for California and get behind our industry. I, for one, want to be really positive that we have a strong future here and this is just a period of change that is pretty rough, but I think when we come out on the other side it may be better in the long run. California is setting an example that safer racing is possible and we can take pride in those advances as long as the horse population thrives.
LH: How do you think the industry as a whole can try to change the public’s perception of racing, especially being in California surrounded by celebrity influencers. How do we get them involved?
DB: That’s a good question, and when I first came out here it’s something that I always noticed. We have such a huge entertainment business and there’s so much money here in southern California. Why can’t we get more people interested in the sport? I think it is just so foreign for a lot of people and it is difficult to educate people to a level where they want to spend money on the sport. The main thing is to promote horseracing and educate people in a really positive way, but education is going to be an uphill battle that is going to need a lot of positive aspects. There are a lot of organizations really pushing that now like the I Am Horse Racing movement. These sorts of things are going to help in the long run, but it is a lot of work ahead of us. In my opinion, the most important thing to do right now is to reduce the number of breakdowns. I think we seem to be doing that, unfortunately, at some point, it is going to happen again, but right now we are doing great. The industry as a whole, the racetrack, trainers, and vets are working together, and it seems like it is making a difference and that is the most important thing moving forward in terms of improving the public perception.
LH: In a slightly unrelated matter, having taken the Racing Official Accreditation Program while on the Flying Start, do you agree with the decision in the Derby and do you think America should shift to category 1 rules in the future?
DB: The stewarding course helped us understand the job that the stewards have to do. It’s a very thankless job and a really tough position to be in to make those sorts of calls. It’s super subjective as we found out in the Derby. I think American racing is different–we seem to race a little tighter. I think there are lots of things we can do within the industry as a whole to make unilateral rules around the world in a positive way. I think you need to be flexible for certain things and there are things that might not work in America that work in Europe and Australia and vice versa. I think you need to be open to changes within that. The most important thing is safety and public perception and if you have to make the rules a little stricter in order for the rules to be more effective, then I’m for that.
Liza Hendricks is from Unionville, Pa., and holds a B.S. degree in Business Administration from the College of Charleston. Before starting the Flying Start program, she worked in t.v. and simulcasting at the NYRA.