04/06/2015 9:55AM

Bergman: Harness Racing is not black and white

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Ken Weingartner/USTA Photo
The Standardbred Horse Sale at Harrisburg is cutting back a day of selling from it's schedule.

Black and White is the new grey.

In today’s 24-hour news cycle the need to be absolute on a subject is crucial. We live in times when there is no such thing as grey.

I’m right.

You’re wrong.

Its just that simple, or so many would like us to believe.

Many would have you believe there’s a crisis going on in the harness racing world as we approach an impending horse shortage. The numbers don’t lie, or at least to some the projections don’t lie.

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Recently some handicappers extrapolated from the last 10 years of standardbred foaling numbers and projected what dire times are ahead for this industry 10 years into the future.

It was black and white. No grey areas here. Clearly anyone that looked at the last 10 years could do nothing but predict incredibly accurately about what will be 10 years from today.

It’s pretty much the same thing when it comes to gambling on racehorses. There are those who look at past performances seven days prior and predict what a horse will do now. To most there is no grey area here either. It’s simple and for the most part it’s not always reliable.

Predicting the future, whether it’s 10 minutes from now or 10 years is something that has multiple variables.

I owned a horse named Country Fiesta along with the late Carl Allen in 1984. He was a New York-bred three-year-old that was entering Sire Stakes competition and was favored in a division at Monticello Raceway on what looked like a glorious Sunday afternoon. It was a perfect day, the horse entered the race in great form and appeared to be the class of the field.

Five minutes before post time there was an intense thunderstorm. It wasn’t in the forecast, but that didn’t matter as the rain soaked the track and turned it rather sloppy. Country Fiesta was a fast horse, but not very sure footed and at times he would take “steps” that would need correction. On this afternoon, thanks to Mother Nature he lost his way and made a break at the start. He went from close to a sure thing to an also-ran in a matter of minutes.

When it comes to breeding of horses, the current calamity that needs instant fixing, the determination is in some ways supply and demand related. Economics play a role in pretty much everything in a capitalistic society. The breeding industry went through a boom period when the advent of two-year-old races with substantial purses mixed with an advantageous taxing structure. As the tax advantages were taken away and the number of high level two-year-old purse races disappeared, so too did many of those casual breeders disappear.

The breeding industry requires incredible capital and runs on future expectations. In theory, the addition of so many slot tracks could or should have propelled the breeding industry forward, but in reality the tax advantages and the purses for young horses still didn’t lead the industry to higher yearling prices across the board. Without higher current yearling prices or the expectation that prices will rise, it’s hard to project an upside and therefore difficult to attract new investors.

That doesn’t mean that the next 10 years will pass and everything will remain as it is today, as those of the black and white army would suggest.

Times and laws change, and sometimes inventions come along that completely alter the business models of those who believe they see the future.

At the same time the absolute nature of the sky is falling predictions and what it will mean for the racing product seem farfetched as well. While the sheer number of yearlings may be reduced, one would believe that a higher percentage of those yearlings have better pedigrees and likely have more potential. Perhaps the lower number of yearlings will give rise to increased yearling prices given the laws of supply and demand.

The fact that this year’s Harrisburg Yearling Sale will have one less sale day should not give rise to imminent doom. Conversely it should hopefully suggest to buyers that they better purchase before the supply runs out because there won’t be any bargains on the fourth day.

Unfortunately the harness racing business has more critics than it has fans.

Long-range solutions require something that those in the black and white set appear unwilling to hear.

There has to be a meeting of the minds among all of the shareholders in the sport and a recognition that horsemen and racetrack owners, young and old, male and female, all have a common stake in the future of the sport.

It’s disingenuous when those in their 70’s pretend that they care about what those 30-40-year-olds are going to do if this business dies. At the same time it’s narrow-minded to believe that the sport must be led by a younger person in order to achieve a brighter future. These are absolutes and they have no place in the present, let alone the future of this sport.

By now those who love standardbreds should be willing to see opposing points of view and attempt to adjust just slightly. For all of us to benefit in the near and far term we must reach out to those who appear on the other side.

It’s been painful to watch this sport divided as it has become over the last few years. In this country there should be plenty of room for individuals to voice their opinions. At the same time there has to be a forum where those with black and white principles can come together with a willingness to find more grey areas to agree upon.

The idea that one person or one group of people has all the right answers to the challenges we face in black and white terms is pointless.