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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Obituaries Are A Bit Premature

The International Simulcasting Conference was held this this week in Saratoga Springs, NY.

The mood was gloomy for certain. Some people were lamenting the fact that while racing still can be a viable product, certain groups refuse to adopt to the new world. Takeouts are a problem and when a few tracks have tried to cut the takeout rate to get people to wager more, other tracks drop their signal. We hear that there are less standardbreds being registered every year (not sure that is a bad thing in the long run). While we focus this blog on harness racing, the runners are not doing any celebratory dances either.

In spite of this, harness racing is not going anywhere. A lot of these comments are being made by good people, people who have poured their life into their respective sports but have been beaten up or frustrated too many times by those who resist change.

For sure there will be retrenchment; some of our racinos will eventually become casinos without the horses (as some had predicted when VLTs first came into vogue). Some tracks and breeders will close but despite this, racing will survive. In life, sometimes things need to get worse before things get better. There is a core of visionaries in this industry who will remain once the old school people (those who think we can whip like we did fifty years ago, we don’t need to cut takeout rates, there is no problem with unwanted horses, we can race at a track for twelve months a year, we can live with the cheats, don’t need a fair start rule to give people a fair shake, our customers are degenerate gamblers, etc.) get out; the visionaries will finally be able to get their voices heard and words put into action.

This new core of people will realize you need to give the public what they want, treat the customers right, make those racetracks that do survive places that people want to come to, embrace the Internet and other technologies to make racing special again. Standardbred breeders will survive by become more like quarter horse breeders, creating two markets; promoting standardbreds not only as a racing breed, but a breed which can be used for show and other purposes from the start, not just when a horse’s racing career is over. By necessity, the cheats will be pushed out of this sport once and for all; as those who remain in the sport will realize lip service regarding integrity will no longer do.

How will the industry look exactly, I don’t know. For sure there will be frustrating moments, times when things look hopeless; Governors selling out their horsemen (and not just in New Jersey); tracks closing; other things we can't even imagine, but these will be road bumps on the journey. Will the industry be as big as it is now with regards to the number of racetracks and race dates? Probably not, but the important thing is standardbred racing will still be here, bigger and better than most who are already writing racing’s (all breeds) obituaries can ever imagine. After all, don't people love sports and gambling?

And it is my attention to be here discussing the good as well as the bad as the journey continues. In the meanwhile, some last words on the subject:

If you think standardbred racing is dying, then step aside and let those who believe there is a future move forward.

Don't forget the Breeders Crown eliminations Friday and Saturday night at Woodbine. Once we have the final fields for next week's finals, I intend to cover them as I did with the races at The Red Mile.

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