The Auckland Trotting Club has announced a new incentive plan to help promote harness racing starting with the 2016/17 season which begins August 1. Under this plan, owners will receive a minimum $250 per starter while trainers will receive $150.
At first blush many would argue a plan like this would never work. However, taking a step back, would something like this help attract and/or keep owners in the sport?
Now, let's state up front, not every purse account will be able to support combined payments of $400 for each starter. However, what if the payment was $75 per owner and $50 per trainer at Scarborough Downs, leaving the full payment for major raceways. Whatever can be directed to owners and trainers would help immensely in keeping them (in particular owners) in the sport as it would help them with the monthly bills. Being trainers are hired by the owners, I would envision the $150 incentive being factored into the training bill.
Yes, there is the fear owners and trainers may race horses who should be staying in the stall in order to get their incentive, but this can be policed by stewards fining trainers for presenting horses unfit for racing as well as putting horses on the vet list when appropriate. Imagine what these payments would mean to owners and trainers; the difference between showing a profit or loss which may determine whether or not they remain in the game; possibly a reduction in medication abuse because everyone knows they will be getting something at the end of the day.
The problem is it is time for racing to acknowledge the cost for horse ownership is moving beyond the means of the ordinary person which has been the backbone of the industry in the past. For the industry to attract and retain new ownership, the truth is the sport is going to need to subsidize the cost of horse ownership. Consider the $250 per starter fee an owner would get. Assume a horse makes 32 starts; a subsidy of $8,000 a year is not going to make ownership profitable on its own, but it tilts the scale towards profitability yet leaves a large portion of horse ownership with the owner.
The way things are structured, these payments will need to come from purse accounts if only for the fact casino operators are not going to wish to increase their expenses. Yes, purses would have to decrease to cover these costs which some may complain about but owners and trainers need to remember these payments will help when the inevitable dry patch hits; it benefits all.