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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Vision of Pope and a Look Back

In Thoroughbred Times, Fred Pope has a commentary about it is time to change the structure of racing; from the track view to the owner view such as done in other professional leagues.  Change the word thoroughbred to standardbred; the Jockey Club to the United States Trotting Association, and you can read about the decline of harness racing in the United States.  This should be no surprise as the fortunes of horse racing follow similar paths, except unfortunately harness racing seems to be leading the way to decline.  But by changing the structure of racing, it may reverse the decline in racing as the interests of horsemen and gamblers more closely align. instead of the current situation where what is good for the owner is not good for the gambler.

This is not a concept new to readers of this blog.  I have written several articles which call for an establishment of some type of league for harness racing; meaning getting away from the model where the tracks control things; the individual state horsemen groups lobby for themselves and say to hell with everyone else, and it is all perpetuated by the politically appointed racing commissions each state have.  Here is a list of some of the posts of the past which are similar to Fred Pope's view (the posts are not listed with the identical title of before, but the main jist of them).

There will be no commissioner, but why not Harness Racing Authorities?

An indicitment against the industry - The Zielinski Report

Cutting race dates - The case for America One

Time for the Harness Racing League


No, these articles may not mimic Pope's ideas, but the main concept of throwing the model of harness racing upside down, with the tracks, horsemen and owners answering to a higher authority (sounds like a Hebrew National commercial); specifically organizations which control the distribution per se of harness racing; when you can race, or a NASCAR-type meet at tracks, instead of the everyone race as many dates as possible format as if we need twenty harness tracks (at some times) racing on the same day.  An organization which will look out for the betterment of the industry at a national or regional level instead of the eighteen fiefdoms we currently have.  Uniform rules (via compacts) instead of eighteen different sets of rules (if you exclude the track rules) in the United States and even more if you include Canada.  One (if national) or several (if regional) 'courts' instead of multiple courts where an undesirable run out of Dodge heads over the border and starts all over.  Regional or national organizations deciding when tracks will race, giving each of them a chance at prime time instead of consigned to the bowels of irrelevance. 

For the most part I agree with Pope's vision except when it comes to control of racing's signal and fees (takeout rates).  That train has left the gate and there is no way to bring it back to the way it was, nor should it.  Racing, like it or not, needs to compete against other gambling products so pricing is key.  However, racing can form their own ADWs to compete against existing ones providing they don't run afoul of anti-trust laws.  Some will howl at this suggestion saying racetracks will go back to their old ways of not cutting, and in fact, raise takeout rates under this model, but with the genie out of the bottle in the form of TVG, TwinSpires, and the soon to be debut exchange wagering as well as casinos, racetracks will be unable to do so; the free market will rule.  What racing can do is get back some of that action by competing in a non-predatory manner to get back some of the money lost to ADWs and off-shore operators.  After all, competition is good for the consumers (read that as gamblers).

Take a look at the Pope commentary and go back and read some of my old posts and now see if any of them make sense.  If you don't like the way things are, many of these ideas make sense.  If you are satisfied with the way things are long term, don't bother reading them and watch race tracks and racing states fall like dominos.  Maybe not today, but fall they will.