This week is often a week for being nostalgic and as such, I went back and looked at some blogs entries. In particular, I came upon my first blog entry from May 18, 2009; hard to believe it has been more seven and a half years since I started this blog. In particular, these part of the entry are worth re-exploring.
"Harness racing, as other forms of pari-mutuel racing, faces many problems. While many people in the industry are offering suggestions to deal with issues the sport is facing, they are approaching the issues from their own perspective. Breeders, owners, trainers, drivers, racetrack owners, and gamblers are representing their segment of the industry as they should, but without concern for other stakeholders. This is a problem; to work through the problems harness racing has requires cooperation".
"I refuse to believe harness racing is on it's death bed. Yes, there are problems but there are great horses and stories to be told".
So what has changed over these seven plus years? Breeders still seem to be out in the cold with little concern for them other than an attempt to attract new owners; though the effort seems to be involved with ready to race horses. As a result, foal crops continue to decline in the United States. In fairness, the effort to get new owners is young, it is going to take more than a year or two to develop a base of new owners, it takes success for owners attracted to relatively low cost/low risk racing syndicates before they graduate to individual ownership and hopefully on to yearling buyers. While some tracks have increased purses for lower level non-winners, purses are still too low when compared to claiming races; there is a need to offer more reward in maiden, non-winners or 2, 3, or 4 races to give yearling owners a chance to recoup much of their investment before they move on to big stakes, or if necessary, put their horses up for sale at auction or via the claiming route. Until then, foal crops will continue get smaller, forcing smaller tracks to close, chronic horse shortages, and poorer racing.
At some tracks there seems to be a genuine partnership between horsemen and track management in an effort to improve interest in their racing product, Yonkers Raceway being one which comes to mind. Whether those efforts will be successful remain to be seen but the fact they are trying is encouraging, but don't be misled. While efforts are being made, they tend to be superficial, avoiding some of the more serious issues, such as too much racing, takeout rates, new wagering options, post time lag (very annoying), and to some degree whipping and kicking.
Now before anyone sees red about whipping and kicking, I realize I left an important segment of the industry out of the initial article; the regulators. While I think the industry has to go further with respect to whipping, it is true a big part of the problem racing has is regulators which refuse to enforce the rules consistently. When it comes to whipping and kicking, judges must be unwavering and consistent in their enforcement of existing rules and penalties must be increased. As long as the potential penalties fail to be significant, drivers will look at the risk of being called on kicking or excessive whipping as a 'cost of doing business'.
I would argue contrary to public opinion, having judges who are former drivers is not a good thing, what we need are judges who are professional from the first day they are in the industry. While I believe many of the judges try to do their best, being a former member of the racing fraternity unfortunately leads to giving drivers you formally raced with a break, whether conscious or not. Judges should be hired from colleges, perhaps students from those colleges which offer racing programs; learn the rules and how to judge in the classroom with internships in the judges stand and upon graduation start judging at B-tracks, working their way up to the A-tracks.
Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.