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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Requesting a Fair Start

Racing fans, your help is needed.

How many times have you seen a horse that goes off stride or refuse the gate just as the starting gate begins moving or more than an eighth of a mile before the race starts? You may have wagered on the horse or others may have. In Ontario and other provinces in Canada the bettor is protected by the 'fair start' rule. In the United States? You become a victim of a money grab; your wagers goes south long before the race begins.

While I understand the need to eliminate recalls in these types of situations, when the old recall rules were in effect, recalls were held because a horse was considered non-competitive and the bettor was protected by having a recall. Well, if the horse was uncompetitive in the past, what now make that horse competitive? Nothing. In effect, the racing commissions have not adequately protected the gambler's interest to the benefit of the tracks. The result? The few newbies who attend the races and have their wagers go up in smoke as a result of the lack of a fair start rule head for the gates and never return. Those fans/gamblers who continue to play the game may wager less because they are not assured of a fair start or they finally get burnt by an offending horse and they decide that was the last straw; they deal with the high takeouts but enough is enough and they head to the gates and never return and turn their attention to the thoroughbreds or poker.

What can you do? Write a letter/email your racing commission and ask them to adopt a fair start rule like they have in Ontario (refer them to rule 22.03 (k) and (l)). In some states, sending them a request like this will result in it being put on the racing commission's public agenda and will be published for public comment. Such a request has already been sent to the NJRC. It may not result in a change, but at least there is a chance. If it gets published for public comment in your state, it is important to get support for the proposed rule change so when it gets to that point, ask your fellow horse players in your state to send in their comments in support of the change.

While a request may have been sent to New Jersey, we need to get this brought to the attention of all commissions which handle harness racing; if it is a national movement there is a better chance of getting a change than if it remains an isolated local request.

Not a good letter writer? I have provided a sample letter below, all you need to do is copy and modify it for your use. Then just mail or email it in.

Dear Racing Commission Chairperson,

I would like to petition for a change to the recall rule to adopt language similar to the Ontario Racing Commission’s rule regarding a ‘fair start’. The following is an excerpt from the Ontario recall rule (22.03) concerning fair starts:

(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.

It is my belief that the public’s interest was not adequately protected when the current recall rule was modified to no longer have recalls when a horse was deemed non-competitive for refusing the gate or going off-stride before the recall pole. I understand and accept the logic that having recalls for these situations can result in a disadvantage to those well mannered horses by requiring multiple start attempts. I agree with the concept of eliminating recalls but object to the fact that monies bet on such horses that refuse to come to the gate or go off-stride before the former recall pole are not refunded as it neglects the public’s (horse player) interest.

Under the old rule such horses were considered non-competitive and recalls were ordered. All of a sudden such horses are now considered competitive? No one can tell you that a horse that is hopelessly outdistanced before the race even begins is competitive. On numerous occasions I have seen horses refuse the gate or be off-stride well before the 1/8th pole and those that wagered on those horses can throw their tickets away well before the race begins.

I do recognize the tracks’ interest in not refunding the wagers; it results in lost handle. However, how many times will a horse player/gambler accept this ‘money grab’ before they decide to find alternative gambling options instead of wagering on harness racing, especially newcomers to the sport? If the argument is that the race has already ‘begun’, then why are we allowing wagering to continue after the race begun? Using this logic the pools should already be closed once the starting gate begins to move.

This current rule is ‘detrimental’ to the interest of harness racing in that it is counterproductive to the development of new racing fans and increased handle. In effect, the track wins in the short run, but they, as well as the sport, lose out in the long run. For these reasons, I urge that the recall rule be modified as requested to include a provision for a fair start.

Thank you for considering this request,

Your Name
Your Address

You can make a difference and protect your interests. All it takes is finding the person to mail/email the request to. We are not asking for much, just a fair shake.

UPDATE: The Fair Start proposal has now been placed on the agenda for the August meeting of the NJRC scheduled for August 19th at Monmouth Park. More details will be forthcoming.

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