In today's Harness Racing Update there were several issues discussed regarding the standardbred industry; drivers, trainers, and owners racing where the money is good instead of supporting the flagship track, the reduction of purse in stakes races, and the lack of demand for yearlings. Issues we have been talking about for quite some time within the industry. What we haven't talked about is how they are all inter-related.
As for industry participants heading where things are more lucrative, things are no different than they have been in the past. Horsemen always seem to gravitate to the tracks which offer the best purses, it is capitalism at its best. The difference between abandoning the Meadowlands versus tracks like Balmoral Park is this is the first time horsemen are bailing on a track with the highest overall handles (they handled another $3.7 million last night, tying the number of $3 million handles for all of last year which included the the Meadowlands Pace and Hambletonian). In the past betting determined the purses but with slot welfare (let's call it what it is), handle isn't the driver it once was. For the most part they have been able to book full fields at the Meadowlands, but the top classes are already showing some weakness in numbers, this only when Yonkers Raceway is open. No matter how much business improves at the Meadowlands, it seems there will be some weakness in horsemen support once Pcocono and Harrah's reopens unless there are some refugees from Ontario making the trip south.
The ever popular talk about the decline in purchase prices and availability of yearlings makes the news as well, with one writer explaining what should you expect when purses are being cut on stakes races making them less attractive? Here is a perfect example of the chicken and the egg. Which is it, less yearlings or purse cuts which causes the problem? Certainly in some cases purses have been cut because the purse account doesn't offer the latitude it once may have to offer $2 million purses. Then you have owners who were being asked to pay a large amount of the freight in stakes races only to skip them because they felt they were not cost effective or were paying out too much money to be willing to take their chances on possibly drawing a bad post position. So while tracks may be lowering their nomination and starting fees to gain more interest in their stakes, purses tend to drop further; all reasons to stick with overnight racing.
Of all the problems racing has, a major contributor to the problem is with racing being controlled on an individual state level; there is no group able to apply the brakes on these issues so without self-control of participants (as if that is going to happen), things will just continue on as we go through a downward spiral. How can we get a group put in place which can apply the brakes on the issues so we don't continue down a seemingly endless spiral which will only stop when we hit rock bottom?
What we need is a national racing code (agency) to administer things like assigning racing days, stakes scheduling and other issues within the industry. Now, with certain states allowing slots and others prohibiting them, there is no way to stop the purse inequity as no one is about to suggest slot states turn their backs on slot revenue, but what they can do is keep the schedule as clear as possible to allow non-slot tracks time where they are protected from competing against slot tracks and vice versa. No, I am not suggesting the Meadowlands be awarded a 'protected' meet where they get to run their race meet in prime time without any competition for horses with slot tracks but perhaps they can be awarded most of their dates in the winter months with a six week window in the summer where Pocono and Harrah's doesn't race where in return the Eastern Pennsylvania tracks are given a late spring/early fall period where the Meadowlands doesn't compete against them? As a result, handles could increase freeing up more money not only for stakes races but for overnights for green horses which will stimulate interest in purchasing yearlings.
Such a racing code would be charged with scheduling race dates to maximize the profitability of each race track racing so they may offer the strongest possible racing programs both for overnight and stakes-caliber horses which will promote breeding. What a difference it would be from the current model where every state is out for themselves and all they accomplish is cutting each others' throats so they all bleed, some faster than others?
I realize it is easier said than done as it would require action from the states and possibly the granting of anti-trust exemptions to allow a national regulatory code take charge. Is it an impossible goal? Well, it certainly is if no one is trying to move in this direction.
Grand Prix d'Amérique Recap
Royal Dream scored a minor upset over Ready Cash who was seeking his third straight victory in the 1,000,000 € Grand Prix d'Amérique this afternoon at Vincennes Racetrack, winning the 2,700 meter race in 3:14.3 (kilometer race of 1:12.0 (mile rate of 1:55.4) as the third favorite going off at odds of 7.40-1. Sweden's Maharajah led the early part of the race with a blistering pace and then was passed by Ready Cash who looked as he was going to win easy until the stretch when Royal Dream went by to win by a comfortable margin.
The top five finishers in the Prix were (Horse, Driver, Closing Odds):
1st 8 Royal Dream - Jean-Philippe Dubois; 7.40-1
2nd 18 Ready Cash - Franck Nivard; 2.30-1
3rd 15 Main Wise AS - Pierre Levesque; 156.00-1
4th 2 Roxana de Barbray - Dominik Locqueneux; 146.00-1
5th 11 The Best Madrik - Christophe Martens; 54.00-1
For additional specifics regarding the race, you may read harnessracing.com's coverage here.