09/23/2013 9:24AM

Jay Bergman: Throwing money at the problem not the solution

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There are those who believe the easiest way to solve a problem in this industry is to pour money on it. Take for example last Thursday’s Little Brown Jug. Somehow there is popular opinion from some that the second jewel in pacing’s Triple Crown didn’t draw star power simply because it lacked the purse structure.

The notion that all problems and misconceptions can be dealt with by finding the funds and adding them to races is as flawed as they come. While plenty of tracks have slot-inflated purse structures, it’s seriously doubtful that the added funds have produced one extra racing fan along the way.

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Ironically, it would appear that additional purses have actually reduced the competitive nature in our races.
For example, why should the owners of Captaintreacherous race two or potentially three heats in the Little Brown Jug at Delaware? That feat was hardly stressful a few years ago but has somehow become catastrophic simply because all races are going faster. But the reality is Hoosier Park was able to pull $50,000 from the purse fund to lure a mismatched group of horses to a race in what should have been categorized as a “non-wagerable” event.

What has hurt our industry is not the lack of money in major events, but the abundance of it. The options for owners have never been greater. The number of stakes races, whether Grand Circuit or the sire stakes variety, have given owners so much opportunity to earn that skipping one or two races is never a bad idea.

What makes today’s Triple Crown a non-starter for some and of little interest to the general public is the fact that these options exist in so many ways that horses simply don’t have to show up when their owners don’t want them to.

It hardly seems that long ago that Casie Coleman, trainer of Jug winner Vegas Vacation, was suggesting that her horse needed to make some starts in the New York Sire Stakes program to get him eligible for the final. Those starts never came, but the son of Bettors Delight could have saved the shipping to Ohio, stayed in the Empire State and still made a lot of money for his connections.

Even Captaintreacherous could have earned the same $25,000 racing in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes consolation at The Meadows if the owners wanted to prep him for Lexington a week earlier.

The reason our Triple Crowns don’t matter in this day and age has nothing to do with the names of the races. It has more to do with opportunity and the changing dynamic in the industry.

You’d have to go back to the 70’s and 80’s to recall a period when the Triple Crown of both gaits actually mattered. The difference 40 years ago was a level purse structure and a live Grand Circuit of racing. Quite frankly, owners, trainers and drivers didn’t have a choice of where and when to race. You couldn’t skip a $50,000 Grand Circuit race and have the opportunity to make significant money racing at any other track.
In those days, horses of Captaintreacherous’s caliber would have 20 starts by September, a far cry from the eight (nine if you count Saturday’s at Hoosier) starts he has made to date.

The Triple Crown of trotting mattered right up to the time that the Hambletonian’s purse was escalated to $1 million in 1983. It’s hard to argue whether a race as rich in tradition as the premier event for sophomore trotters deserved a seven-figure tag, but once that happened, the Yonkers Trot and Kentucky Futurity naturally became much less significant.

On the pacing side, the $1 million purses for the Meadowlands Pace and North America Cup shifted horsemen’s attention away from the Triple Crown races.

To think that substituting those two races for the Cane Pace and Messenger Stakes will suddenly give the Triple Crown added attention is pointless.

To be fair, the words Triple Crown should forever be linked to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Those three races have been raced at the same tracks, been held on the same dates each year and been kept at the same distance for quite some time. Purses have risen for all of them and they are as much a fixture as the World Series or Super Bowl.

The reality of the plight of Standardbred racing is that more effort should be made at pouring money into promotion and not purses. Getting the Jug or the Hambletonian, or any other of our major races on television should be the number one priority for those who want to see a future and aren’t just clinging to ideas and concepts whose time has past.

Tradition has its place in the sport and few can argue that Delaware, Ohio, has a rich heritage. The Little Brown Jug will be an important race in this industry as long as it’s contested. It doesn’t need to be surrounded by two other races to maintain its position.

The fact that we’re still racing the Cane, the Messenger, the Battle of the Brandywine is nice for those who have memories long enough to recall when those three were actually held at Yonkers, Roosevelt and Brandywine raceways, respectively.

Changing the names of our Triple Crown races will not do a thing to add anything of substance to our sport.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, our best racing these days comes from our aged performers. The four-year-olds Pet Rock and A Rocknroll Dance proved without a doubt just how strong, durable and athletic a pacer can be with two epic performances over the last two weeks at Scioto Downs first and then on Jug Day. While Pet Rock will get the credit as the multiple world champion, you have to tip your cap to A Rocknroll Dance for pushing the pace at Scioto and carving it up at Delaware.

It would have been nice if more had been done to promote the many intense battles in the aged ranks on television this year. Since Captaintreacherous must return and race next year it’s not too early to plan a marketing strategy around the races he’ll be nominated to - and hopefully race in.


 

The Big B More than 1 year ago
Think no matter what you do, you'll always have the conflict, those that truly care about the sport of harness racing, give untold selfless hours to improve it, and then those that just want to personally benefit from those efforts and enhance their own personal gains.
Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
Lotta truth in your article Jay.....But in America, $$$$ runs things. The purists of harness racing are attached to the Cane, Jug and Messenger. However, the biggest handle in the game today happens at the Meadowlands and on the WEG circuit. The sport muat be marketed around big city tracks if it's to survive. Moving the NA Cup to August and have it as the middle jewel between the Meadowlands Pace and the Jug with all races 1 month apart carrying a $1M purse with a bonus system attached to them and you'll get interest.
William Waters More than 1 year ago
Blaine, I like your idea--very logical.
Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
Thanx WW......