In today's The Record, there is an article discussing how this year's Breeders Crown races are the end of a thirteen year run of the Meadowlands. The article goes on to report that the Hambletonian Society wanted to get all the races run on one day and the Meadowlands could not manipulate their racing calendar to accommodate the Society's plan. As a result, Pocono Downs will host the Breeders Crown in 2010 and then go to WEG in 2011. So, does this mean the end of the Breeders Crown at the Meadowlands?
When we got the offer from Pocono, we had to take it. The Meadowlands simply couldn’t commit, not knowing their dates schedule. Hopefully, it will get straightened out and we’ll be back there in 2012.
Ouch. I hope this does not mean the Hambletonian Society is counting on a return to racing the crown exclusively on the Meadowlands - WEG circuit after 2010. First of all, making the race the exclusive domain of the two leading tracks does not encourage the growth of the sport. Secondly, in a couple of years the Hambletonian Society may find the Meadowlands being unwilling to host the Crown.
Make no mistake about it, Mohawk/Woodbine and the Meadowlands, the flagship tracks for harness racing in Canada and the United States respectively, deserve to host the Breeders Crown races. That being said, the races should not be the exclusive domain of these two tracks. Yes, we want to get the most publicity for these races as possible, but allowing the Breeders Crown races to make a detour to other racetracks would help promote harness racing. These two goals are not mutually exclusive. Is Chicago a major market? Why not race the Breeders Crown races at Balmoral Park? What about Detroit? If the situation in Michigan ever stabilizes, why not Hazel Park? Pittsburgh? The Meadows. While Indiana may not be the hugest media market it is neither Siberia. Why not Hoosier Park or Indiana Downs? Kentucky? Why not The Red Mile? Philadelphia is not a minor market, why not Chester Downs or Dover Downs? I left off the list Maywood and Yonkers because of the reluctance of some horsemen to race on a half mile track. Racing the Crown at these tracks would allow for media coverage and, if marketed correctly, could provide a shot in the arm to publicize and grow interest in the sport in these areas. I am not suggesting the Crown becomes a wandering show touring different tracks each year. Why not keep the series primarily between WEG and The Meadowlands and every third year choose a different track to host the Breeders Crown?
My second point is the Meadowlands may be unwilling to host the Breeders Crown in the future. First of all, the current New Jersey racing calendar calls for thoroughbreds to be racing at the Meadowlands during October and November; the time the Crown is to be raced. Who knows if the NJSEA could reach an agreement with the thoroughbred interests to allow the racing calendar to change. The other question is who will be running the Meadowlands in a couple of years as well as if there be VLTs at the track. Questions are already being asked regarding the future of the NJSEA, which operates the Meadowlands. If the decision is made to privatize the track, will the new owner be dedicated to maintaining the existing racing program as the NJSEA? If a casino company or a consortium of gaming companies end up owning the Meadowlands as part of deal to get VLTs in the Meadowlands, will they treat racing like a necessary evil to get slots thus not want to host the Breeders Crown or will they treat the racing program as an integral part of their business? If VLTs don't come to the Meadowlands, there is no way the Meadowlands will be able to afford hosting the Breeders Crown; even the Hambletonian would be questionable.
If harness racing is ever going to grow in importance nationally, the Breeders Crown move outside of the New York and Toronto market needs to be more than a one year stop at Pocono Downs. Make a periodic stop at different tracks and if marketed correctly, we can bring some excitement to the Breeders Crown with the best horses visiting tracks they may not otherwise visit. Otherwise, the Crown will become stale; a celebration of the standardbred that no one other than horsemen and breeders will care about.