03/07/2013 10:40AM

Harness Racing Congress Thoughts


Once again the industry convened to discuss new ideas and the issues which may hinder the ultimate success of harness racing. And once again we learned some interesting things from panelists and discussions, but anyone who thinks these get-togethers ultimately solve anything are really fooling themselves.

At the end of the day, it would probably be a success if even a few representatives came away with a good idea or two to help their racing product.

Sam Mckee brought up a great point that while we (North America) think our past performance product is great, with a plethora of information, people in France would prefer a more barebones offering.

While the point didn’t get much attention, I thought Gerry Connors’ idea for a separate pari-mutuel pool to start and last for 7 seconds after the race begins was interesting. Perhaps 15 seconds is better, but I do often hear players wishing they could bet after seeing how the race begins. Wouldn’t it set up some nice overlays for those who love a closer?

Eric Cherry pointed out that most people do not bet to make money. It is the pursuit of making money that lures people to gambling. Yeah, there are some hardcore people out there looking to make a living at the track, but most of us just want to have a good time and win now and then.

It was nice to hear President Phil Langley speaking about the USTA looking to a marketing firm to explore advertising via social media. That certainly seems like progressive thinking.

Executive VP Mike Tanner spoke on how horsemen will soon be able to enter their horses online rather than waiting on hold to call the race office. An automated morning line program by Trackmaster was also mentioned. I will never think that a program can create a better morning line than a qualified human, but nowadays where the morning line oddsmaker at most locations is so bogged down filling multiple positions, the program would likely do as good a job as some current oddsmakers.

The one announcement from the weekend in Florida which just didn’t sit well with me was that all Open stakes races from participating tracks would now be granted Grand Circuit status. New Grand Circuit President John Campbell explained that the Grand Circuit designation would give tracks something to market and advertise.

Who are we kidding here? First of all, very few people in the general public even know what Grand Circuit racing is. Advertising the distinction is hardly going to make any stakes race seem more appealing for “Joe Public”. Secondly, doesn’t including all stakes give the illusion that all stakes are created equal?

I’m all for creating a “new” Grand Circuit to relive the days of old when the top horsemen and their best standardbreds would travel from track to track racing for the biggest purses. This new series is not that. This is a “let’s not hurt any feelings by leaving a track out” series. I applaud the attempt to innovate but don’t see the upside.

With a bunch of short fields scheduled on Friday and Saturday at the Meadowlands, perhaps a lesson was learned that Thursday racing needs to end prior to the opening of either Harrah’s Philadelphia or Mohegan Sun Pocono.

Perhaps combined with a purse increase, racing only two days a week will help produce 12 to 13 races of full fields through the lean months of March and April when many 3-year-olds have yet to return to racing and luring horses is no easy task. The Meadowlands will conclude Thursday racing on March 14.

Some may think that another issue for the Meadowlands could be the exodus of top drivers Tim Tetrick and Yannick Gingras on Fridays and Saturdays when Yonkers Raceway kicks off its Matchmaker and Levy series’ for older horses on March 22. Sure the casual fan may be turned off, but the serious bettors know that the absence of the tracks two top drivers could lead to value as less experienced bettors scramble to learn new drivers.

Meanwhile, Yonkers could have Tetrick, Gingras, Brian Sears and George Brennan racing on their oval for five straight weekends. There must be some way to capitalize on that from a marketing standpoint. It would certainly seem like a prime opportunity to set some nice wagering highs for the year.


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