In the upcoming edition of Hoof Beats magazine (November, 2010), there was a letter in the Readers Forum section which laments the current condition of harness racing and in particular takes the sport's leadership to task; from the owners and horsemen all the way up to racetrack operators and the USTA board members. As the writer put it the leadership is ancient and they don't want to or know how to connect with the current generation of customers. He laments the lack of youth in the executive level. The writer cites how every successful company has leadership which is able to understand the new world and act on it; something racing for the most part is not doing.
Being the writer wrote this letter in response to a column written by the USTA Chairman Ivan Axelrod, Mr. Axelrod decided to respond to the writer. What may surprise many people is that Axelrod agrees with the writer for the most part. As Mr. Axelrod states:
"With harness racing, we have a much bigger challenge as you mentioned many different groups in your letter; USTA directors, racetrack management, horsemen and others within the industry. They all have opinions on how we should do things and as you state many of them just want to do what we did 25 years ago. They are not prepared and may not have the energy, drive or financial support to move into this new era of gaming."
Well, there are a lot of people who don't get it. Ivan Axelrod gets it. In his columns, he has been refreshingly frank about the current situation and has never been one to say everything is wonderful. Quite the opposite. He knows there is trouble in River City and he has been sounding the alarm for most of his term as Chairman. Mr. Axelrod goes on to say:
"....I do not believe my opinions or yours are shared by enough people as of yet. It is somewhat like an addict. Until they have hit the absolute bottom, they do not think that anything is really wrong and everything is fine as it is. Unfortunately, I do not believe the industry has hit bottom yet. The new states with slots are real happy and continue to rake in the money. But we know this is a short-term solution that needs a long-term plan for success."
Mr. Axelrod then goes on to indicate instead of the stakeholders working together, everyone is busy going in different directions. He realizes everyone must work together towards the same goal and quite honestly he is not sure the industry will get their act together in time.
Mr. Axelrod's comments are going to make many people angry. Angry because what he says is true and there are people from USTA directors, track operators, and horsemen associations who will feel it is an attack on them. If they feel it is an attack on them it means one thing; it's hitting home. Those are the people we need to get out of leadership positions. The rank and file in the horsemen and owner associations need to ask themselves if their leaders are part of the solution or part of the problem and elect officers and directors who agree with Axelrod. Maybe then we can get the ship righted and move ahead.
The Meadowlands opens on Saturday night and the meet picks up where it ended in August as only four of the eleven races have full fields with three races only having seven horses going to the gate. In addition, the evening concludes with a field of $10,000 claimers. The sad thing is if enough racing days are not pared from next year's racing schedule, we may looking back fondly when the bottom class was $10,000 claimers.