Joe Nevills recently wrote an article on The Michigan Bred Claimer making a case against the presentation made by Churchill Downs CEO Robert Evans where he called for the contraction in the number of thoroughbred tracks operating in North America (rest assured no Churchill Downs tracks would be included) in order for thoroughbred racing to survive and thrive. Evans claims racing will become stronger with fewer tracks, in particular by eliminating smaller tracks, such as bull ring tracks like Mount Pleasant Meadows. It is no secret some involved with standardbred racing feel the same way; there are too many harness tracks in operation, spreading the simulcasting dollar to thin to allow the bigger tracks to remain profitable.
You can read Joe's Top Ten Arguments against Evan's plan and which pretty much states my opinion regarding consolidation. Make no mistake, there will be consolidation, but any consolidation should be done naturally, not through forcing tracks to close.
We have people saying it is necessary to get rid of what would be best known as the 'C' tracks (The Thunder Ridges, Blue Ridge Downs, and other tracks with inferior product. Some would say get rid of the half mile tracks; they are obsolete. Nonsense.
One day I looked at the simulcast calendar at the Red Mile and found twenty one harness tracks on the simulcast calendar and there was the answer. It is not the number of tracks around; it is the fact they can’t schedule correctly by running seasonal meets. Run a seasonal meet and you will see attendance grow as people will attend those meets because they are virtually here today, gone tomorrow.
A problem harness racing has is there is little wagering interest through ADWs and simulcasting. Is this a surprise? People in Montana will wager on thoroughbred racing because they get to see racing at Yellowstone Downs and the other bull rings. They had a chance to experience racing in person and get to learn the game albeit with cheap racing stock. This is why we don't get people from states that don't have or don't neighbor harness racing states wagering on the standardbreds. Why would we expect these people to wager on our sport if they never see it in person? People need to experience racing live before they will embrace it. The purses may be cheap, the horses less than stellar, the handle minuscule, but they get to sample the sport and get caught up on the excitement, something which doesn't necessarily occur on a computer screen until you have experienced it live. And those hated half mile ovals by the big gamblers? What better way to get a novice excited by being able to stand outside and hear the hoof beats, watch the whole race without binoculars and see sweeping moves down the back stretch?
Now, we can't have twenty-one harness tracks racing at the same time as there is no demand for all that racing, but there would be nothing wrong with a one or two month meet at these smaller tracks to get people emotionally involved with the sport. Racing fewer days at tracks will allow for bigger purses so maybe the racing stock won't be as inferior as it is now.
Contraction will happen, that is a certainty. But the problem is the number of racing days, not tracks. Unless we get the number of racing days under control, we will loose many more tracks than necessary and they may not be the ones we want to see closed.
I am a member of Dignity After Racing and today I took a look at the list of members already signed up and I was pleasantly pleased to see some of the names of people who joined thus far. People in the industry do care, but just need an avenue to express themselves and someone to take the lead. The website is not yet completed, but if you are on Facebook, you can join the group and see that you are in good company.