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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fair Start (Not)

Could you imagine going to a casino to play a game of blackjack and after you put your initial wager down the dealer drops the cards and you are told you lost your bet even though you didn't even get a chance to start playing the game? No.

Could you imagine going to a racetrack and playing a horse that refuses the mobile starting gate and have the field sent on their way why your selection is still 300 feet behind and being told you lost your bet? Yes, if in the United States.

What is wrong here?

One of the biggest travesties that the American harness racing fan has to face is the failure of the tracks to adopt the fair start rule in effect at Canadian tracks. For those not familiar with the rules in Canada, here is an excerpt of the rules from the Ontario Racing Commission (ORC):

(k) The Fair Start Pole is a pole erected at the point approximately 200 feet before the
start. The Fair Start Pole shall be yellow in colour and shall protrude at least two feet
above the inner rail.

(l) If a horse has not reached the Fair Start Pole when the horses are released at the
starting point by the starter, the Judges shall cause the inquiry sign to be displayed
immediately and shall request the horse be scratched from the mutuels.

To put it in simple words, in Canada, if a field is sent off and a horse is hopelessly outdistanced at the start the bettor gets their money back. Yet, the horseplayer in the United States can rip their ticket up before the race even starts.

Is it really going to cost the tracks that much money to refund wagers in these types of situations? Nope. Common sense would dictate these bets be cancelled and refunded to the horseplayer; it would make a customer feel their business is appreciated and build good will. Yet the tracks (with the help of their racing commissions) decided they rather keep the money in these situations and are willing to alienate their customers by ripping them off. Why the contempt for their customers?

Look, horses breaking before the start of the race is part of the game. But there is a big difference between a horse breaking just before the start and a 1/8th of a mile before the race starts.

Implementing the fair start rule in the United States would be a good first step in retaining and growing the fan (customer) base at a minimal cost. Each state should implement this rule immediately.

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