Two years after the first proposal was made to encourage horses to race past their three year old campaign no significant progress has been made. For the most part, the status quo remains; have a successful three year old campaign and head off to stud duty. The reason typically given is for retiring a horse after their three year old campaign is it does not economically make sense to race as there is more money to be made at stud than there is by racing. As typical with many issues within standardbred racing, we talk, we propose, we talk more and we propose more. While there are well-meaning people attempting to make changes, the industry just can’t get past the inertia. The time has come to ‘just do it’.
Let’s cut the purses for some stake races and late closing events we have for two and three year olds and start new stake races or series like the George Morton Levy Series at Yonkers for older pacers and trotters. For example, do we really need to have a $1 million Meadowlands Pace and a $1.5 million Hambletonian? Would a $750,000 Meadowlands Pace or a $1 million Hambletonian have any less importance than they do now? This year the World Trotting Derby and Filly stakes had $300,000 added money. What if they took $100,000 of that added money and had a race for older trotters? Let’s take some of that added money currently going to the two and three year olds and seed some late closing series for older horses.
No doubt some people will be upset at such a move. The argument breeders will make is that they will suffer from decreased yearling prices because the stakes programs for two and three year olds will not be as lucrative as they are now. On the flip side, yearling buyers will know if a horse doesn’t make it at two or three, there will be opportunities at four and older to make money. Smaller purses will make it easier for trainers to quit with horses during their two and three year old campaigns when a horse is not right because they know there will be more lucrative events for aged horses. The overall racing product will be stronger and easier to promote. Racing will have a better product to market as there will be star horses to promote once they make their name. Everyone knows about Muscle Hill, but now that he has achieved ‘greatness’, he will be leaving the scene. If purses were more lucrative for older horses, we may have been able to talk about Muscle Hill for another two or three more years. Racetracks would be able to have full fields of legitimate FFAers.
Harness racing is a sport based on gambling, not breeding. If the standardbred breed did not improve any further, we would be able to continue racing and fans would have a product to gamble on. However, if there are no racetracks operating, the breeding industry would collapse. It is up to the racetracks to keep the racing product strong by presenting the best racing possible and if that means encouraging our racing stars to race past three years old so be it. Remember the added money used to supplement many of these stake races belong to the horsemen that race overnight stock as the added money comes from their purse account. Therefore, diverting some of that purse money to older horse races will benefit horsemen on the whole as not only does it provide a better product to promote but if they have a horse that is a late bloomer, it gives them a chance to participate in some of these aged races.
Ideally, all parties in the industry should work together but the tracks are treating the breeders as if they were in control. Unless breeders operate more race tracks than The Red Mile or plan to bred horses exclusively for the show circuit, the tracks are actually in control. If the breeders won't play ball?
Sometimes you just need to say ‘Just Do It’.