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Friday, January 15, 2010

Last Chance for Iowa?

The final schedule for the 2010 Prairie Meadows meet has been released. Originally, track management sought to end their standardbred program and just fund the Iowa fair circuit. With harness horsemen objecting, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission ordered Prairie Meadows to offer a harness meet of at least ten days. Track management has obliged by scheduling a ten day meet which will run from October 1-16 with purses averaging $55,000 per day.

This in all reality is probably the last chance for standardbred racing at Prairie Meadows. If this year's meet does not show significant improvement, it is all but certain that the IRGC will not require Prairie Meadows to offer another meet. Therefore it is paramount that the best possible show be put on in an effort to stimulate wagering interest in their meet.

The question is what, if anything is the industry prepared to do to support the Iowa horsemen? Obviously, there has been little interest in the Prairie Meadows simulcast product so something needs to be done to make the product more attractive. Are any horsemen from the Midwest willing to ship some of their better racing stock in for the two week meet? Are any 'name' drivers not racing in Grand Circuit events willing to offer their services to promote more interest in the meet, not only in Iowa but to make the product more attractive for simulcast locations?

As for the Iowa horsemen, will they be willing to attempt to promote the two week meet as a racing festival to stimulate interest in the meet locally even if it means supporting the festival financially? Will they be resentful or willing to allow some 'name' drivers and shippers to race there? Sure, for those out of state drivers and horses to come in, it will likely mean leaving some money on the table if they race at Prairie Meadows. For the Iowa horsemen, it would mean purse money going out of state and a possible investment to promote the meet.

Why should each group make sacrifices? A successful standardbred meet at Prairie Meadows for those outside of Iowa will help promote the sport and possibly attract new fans that may be willing to wager on out of state harness racing during the off-season. For the Iowa horsemen, a successful standardbred meet will mean another year of racing at Prairie Meadows and help strengthen the fair program and breeding industry. More importantly, it will show if horsemen can look past their parochial interests in order to work for the common good, not just in Iowa but in other states as the need arises.

As short as the Prairie Meadows meet is, harness racing can't afford to lose the foothold they have in Iowa. While the fair racing would continue in the immediate future, the loss of the only pari-mutuel meet in Iowa will spell the eventual loss of the entire standardbred industry in the state. Here is hoping the industry can pull together.

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