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Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Lack of a Homegrown Advocate


For decades the two media forces in harness racing were the Horseman And Fair World magazine, which was established in 1877, and the Harness Horse, which went back to 1935. It was Kentucky breeding, racing and sales vs. the same in Pennsylvania. The relationship between the two factions that nourished these publications was distant at best, and although both of them provided weekly racing results, the editorial slant and focus of the two magazines was so different that it made sense to subscribe to both. I don’t believe Hanover even advertised their stallions or yearlings in the Horseman until Bob Hackett became editor and softened up the flinty Czar of Pennsylvania, Lawrence Sheppard.

Back in those days sire stakes racing, where it did exist, took a back seat to the Grand Circuit and Kentucky was a major player via Castleton, Stoner Creek, Walnut Hall Farm etc. It was the same in Pennsylvania. The difference is that a vibrant sire stakes program, in tandem with a strong Grand Circuit presence, has propelled Pennsylvania to the top of the mountain, while inaction by politicians on the sire stakes front has left Kentucky for dead. Third Straight, Groton Hall and 25-year-old Cambest are about all there is when it comes to stallions. The state will soon transition to a residency style state-bred program.

That being the case, why is the Horseman And Fair World still alive and kicking, while Pennsylvania has no home grown advocate? The Harness Horse ceased to publish more than twenty years ago. Unlike the Horseman, which has transitioned nicely into the modern era with Harnessracing.com, no such thing happened in Pennsylvania. Times: in harness, Sports Eye and the like have provided coverage to happenings in Pennsylvania, but nothing along the lines of Harness Horse, which was married to Hanover. Publisher Bowman Brown co-founded the Standardbred Horse Sales Company, which runs the sale at Harrisburg, with Lawrence Sheppard: they were always on the same page. Harness Racing Update does a good job covering Pennsylvania, and publisher Bill Finley is certainly mindful of who is buying ad space and how much, but he doesn’t get his marching orders from anyone at Hanover.

David has laid Goliath low in this case. Kathy Parker, Gordon Waterstone and the Horseman staff did an exemplary job covering the Red Mile meet and the Lexington Selected Sale, both of which take place in their backyard and have been associated with the Horseman forever. Contrast this with the Breeders Crown, which will card eliminations tonight and tomorrow at Pocono. The USTA site, Standardbred Canada, Harness Link, HRU, DRF and Harnessracing.com have all been running pieces on longshots and contenders alike, but none of these sites are based in Pennsylvania and none of them give you a fraction of the information available in the Horseman magazine or on Harnessracing.com.

One can say the same thing about New York, which is another powerful force in the sport, but lacks that dedicated voice in the media. So Kentucky and Ontario, both of which are on life support, have powerful media advocates willing and able to help them sing their song, while the sport’s two mightiest power brokers, Pennsylvania and New York, do not. How did that happen?

JF