As the Governor in New Jersey is about to drop the anvil on New Jersey horse racing of both breeds, it is easy to blame the government for racing's predicament. For sure some of the lies with government; refusing to allow horse racing to expand it's reach into the public consciousness. For example, can anyone tell me why a horse player is not able to visit their local lottery retailer and make a wager on a race at the Meadowlands that night?
What people in racing don't want to realize is they have their own blame to share in this debacle.
For example, horsemen claim at racinos, racing has become the orphan child. A good part of the problem here is related o the fact track operators sold out to gaming companies instead of bringing gaming companies about to manage their casino properties.
Remember when races were exciting events with action all throughout the race? Well, races have becoming boring events with single moves. The passing lane, once thought to make racing exciting by not allowing a horse to be locked in, gives these horses the reason to sit until the stretch.
Thoughbred interets got right was their rule regarding jockeys. Jockeys can not own, or train their own horses. A jockey makes their money from winning races; and winning races alone. Yet harness racing never moved upon their nepotistic ways. Harness racing is a nepotistic; trainers and drivers are related to each other and allowed to compete in the same race at the same track. Yet no one has really addressed this situation, A driver can own and train horses, sometimes owning horses with drivers or trainers the compete against.
Thoroughbreds schedule races against each other. A leading trainer will send their best horse to the top affair and send their second string horse to another race. With harness racing's attention to avoid conflict, some stables will race two or three horses in the same race.
Thoroughbreds limit the number of starters in a race or they race in divisions. Harness racing races eliminations which encourage horses not to compete to their best ability in an elimination or they offer their choice of post position to heat winners which in effects, fixes races to heat winners.
The Meadowlands has been considered the mecca of harness racing, with large pures, but let's look at the downside. Owners like Lou Guida, came in and commoditizes horses, bringing people into the business who are not horsemen but bean counters that treat a horse as a widget. The Meadowlands caused the demise of the trainer/driver; where a trainer would keep a horses best interest foremost in their mind so there would be a horse remaining for future weeks; replaced by catch drivers that have no problem gutting a horse as their would be fresh meet the following week. When controlled by a trainer/driver, there was no problem with giving a horse a week off; now with the big purses trainers are forced to get a horse ready for the following week regardless of the long term impact on a horse. A vet is now a critical member of racing teams.
Back in the early seventies, the USTA rules permitted sixteen starters on a mile track, fourteen horses on a five/eighths trans; twelve horses on a half mile oval. Now owners cry with one horse in a second tier which results in eliminations with six horses in a race.
The Meadowlands spoiled other horsemen. Where tracks were content on having seasons, the appearance of a seven month meet at the Meadowlnds lead to longer meets at other tracks so know tracks like Balmoral/Maywood, Monticello, Meadowlands, and Yonkers now race year round. What was a welcome seasonal event has became a contender for discretionary income dollars. Now there is too much racing product available on a daily basis.
In Canada, Standardbred Canada has come up with a program for a Racing Development and Sustainability Plan yet only 704 signatures have been put to the petition asking the ORC to put 5% of the pures account into a program to maket the sport in each state. Yet, due to the low response, the program will likely move nowhere this year.
We have racinos like Monticello which never race on a weekend when people in the local market can attend the races. Yonkers Raceway, won't schedule a holiday matinee to expose slot players who normally don't go to the track during racing hours to racing.
Remember the rule where a horse needed a valid start within thirty days to race in a parimutuel race? Now some tracks have a forty-five day rule for stakes horses and in winter environments, a horse may not have started for six months to start in a race.
Yet, despite all these issues with harness racing, the blame all lies with government for pulling their support. How many people are looking into a mirror wondering if just maybe they did something to stop the decline., racing may not be in such bad shape.
If you have not yet read the interview with Tasmanian driver Sam Rawnsley where we discussed racing in Australia, you may read the entire interview here.