With all the focus on the Meadowlands, the other battle for survival in harness racing is getting no attention from the harness racing community as Iowa horsemen are left to fight their battle on their own. Harness racing in Iowa is on life support, and the future of harness racing there is hanging by a thread. How bad are things in Iowa? At Prairie Meadows, the one pari-mutuel horse racing track in Iowa, the horsemen are racing on a packed thoroughbred surface for their ten day meet. How slow is racing over a packed thoroughbred surface? The average win time on opening night (Friday), which featured two year olds, was 2:12.1 over the 'good' oval. Saturday was much better as the average win time was a 'blistering' 2:06.4 for a card which featured three year olds.
Actually, the fact they are racing at Prairie Meadows this year is a gift courtesy of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC). Last year, Prairie Meadows decided to drop standardbred racing, offering to make a $1 million donation to keep harness racing going at the Iowa fairs, claiming there was virtually no interest in harness racing at Prairie Meadows. Thanks to the protests of the harness horsemen, the IRGC forced Prairie Meadows to race a ten day meet this year after which the future of harness racing at the track would be re-evaluated by the IRGC unless an agreement between the IHHA and Prairie Meadows is reached.
With the likelihood of this year's short meet being another financial disaster and management's known goal to eliminate harness racing, it is safe to assume once again the future of standardbred racing will be up to the IRGC; this time one can't assume they will force Prairie Meadows to host another meet in 2011. If harness exits Prairie Meadows, the future of standardbred racing will depend on donations by Prairie Meadows to fund the fair purse accounts. Once standardbreds are gone from Prairie Meadows, it is just a matter of time before track management attempts to stop their voluntary payments to the fairs which would mean the end of standardbred racing in Iowa.
Standardbred Canada is conducting a poll asking the question Hypothetically, if it cost $1.2 million to get the Breeders Crown on NBC, would you endorse $100,000 purse cuts from each final? As of the time I am writing this, 64% indicated they definitely or probably would agree to this. I disagree. While I am all for getting harness racing exposure, if we are going to get the anemic ratings we got for the Hambletonian, it would be a bad purchase of airtime, whether it came from purse money or other sources. That being said, if the question asked was whether a $100,000 purse cut from each final should be made to fund an initiative such as Standardbred Canada's Racing Development and Sustainability Plan, it would be a different story; I would endorse that immediately. If it is a case of either or, let's fix racing's problems and make it a more desirable product. Then spending $1.2 million to get the Breeders Crown on network television would be a wise purchase. As for now, a cable television broadcast makes better sense; perhaps a program which could be offered to all ADWs with cutaways for their individual programming.
Speaking of broadcasting, The Breeders Crown will be broadcast on MAVTV this year. A half hour Breeders Crown preview show will be broadcast on Thursday, October 7 at 1:30am, 1:00pm, and 6:00pm (all times eastern). A live two hour broadcast from Pocono Downs on Breeders Crown night will be shown at 9:00pm with the preview show being shown once again, immediately before at 8:30pm. MAVTV is available on Direct TV and many cable systems.
All the tracks which host a thoroughbred triple crown race offers advance wagering on their triple crown race cards. It will be interesting to see if Pocono Downs will be offering advance wagering for the Breeders Crown race card.
Some of the people who claim whipping is not an issue at the highest levels of the sport need to rethink this line of thinking. Daniel Dube, a regular driver on the Meadowlands circuit, was handed a $300 fine by the judges at the Delaware County fair for "...whipping in an excessive manner causing welts...".