It’s no secret that harness racing has seen better days and despite the infusion at many tracks of VLT revenue, the situation is getting worse. Contrary to what one would think, despite slot-fueled purse accounts, the number of owners and horses bred continue to decline along with membership numbers in the United States Trotting Association (USTA). It is with this background the USTA Directors face a contested election for President of the organization with Incumbent Phil Langley facing a challenge from Jason Settlemoir. In the opinion of this blogger it is time for a change, so VFTRG endorses Jason Settlemoir for President of the USTA.
As Langley has been quoted, his record speaks for himself. As President, Langley has served his office with distinction. Why Settlemoir instead of Langley? Perhaps jaded by the treatment harness racing has received in his home state of Illinois, it appears for the most part Langley in recent years has acted in a defensive mode, concerned with maintaining the status quo as long as possible with respect to maintaining slot revenue instead of acting to move the industry ahead. It seems he is resigned to the current state of regulation which keeps the USTA from pursuing some changes. We can't help but feel as if Langley is the captain of a ship taking on water. He does a very good job at bailing out the water but despite his efforts, in the long run the water will win.
This is not to say Langley has not had successes; the Strategic Racing Program was implemented during his term in office. He had the USTA withdraw from the RMTC over the issue of clenbuterol, albeit a bit late to influence the decision making of some racing commissions when it came to the use of the drug when adopting uniform medication rules. In addition, he has presided over the introduction of the USTA's social media effort, but for as good as having a social media presence is, the underlying product remains the same so any gains from social media may be short lived.
Another issue, albeit no fault of his, is the length of time Langley has served as President. Elected initially back in 2003, he has served as President for twelve years. No one should be in office that long; Organizations grow with new people with new ideas in elected positions, otherwise they grow complacent and lose the spark to move forward. The fact no one up to now has challenged Langley for President speaks volumes to the challenges the industry faces; it is a thankless job which no one else has wanted up to now.
Settlemoir on the other hand is an agent for change, change for the better as he believes there is a future in harness racing if it adopts new policies such as developing a marketing plan paid for by both horsemen and racetracks. Despite being employed at the three Gural group tracks, with primary responsibility for the Meadowlands, Settlemoir recognizes harness racing doesn’t start and end at those tracks, it is important to lift all tracks in any marketing effort. He recognizes the need to increase membership and ownership of race horses as well increasing foal crops. If elected, his ideas if implemented will rejuvenate the USTA staff and we can expect new initiatives to come from the USTA under his leadership.
Discussing Settlemoir’s candidacy, we can’t help but mention the elephant in the room. Some will wonder if a vote for Jason is in effect a vote by proxy for Jeff Gural. No doubt Settlemoir buys in for the most part the way Gural runs his tracks, but Settlemoir speaks his mind. When Gural excluded for a short time Brian Sears from competing at the Meadowlands, Settlemoir was one of the racing officials who advised Gural not to exclude Sears. We have no doubt Settlemoir will act in the interests of all in the industry, not just for the Meadowlands, Tioga and Vernon Downs (as a reminder, Settlemoir is the Director of Simulcasting at the Delaware County Fair and also serves as the backup track announcer there and at Tioga and Vernon Downs). Therefore, the Directors who vote for President can be assured a vote for Settlemoir is a vote for him and not Jeff Gural.
Both Langley and Settlemoir are or have the capability to be competent Presidents, the issue which guides our endorsement is the future of harness racing. Do you feel harness racing is in an unavoidable decline or do you feel there is a future to the sport with proper leadership and change? We feel there is a future and for that reason we endorse Jason Settlemoir for President of the USTA.