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Monday, January 17, 2011

The Changing Face of North American Harness Racing

Imagine looking at your program and seeing races at the distance of 1609 meters (1 mile), a race at 2011 meters (1 1/4 miles), or a race at 2615 meters (1 3/8 miles).  What about starting gate or vault start?  Horses, with a 20 yard handicap or a second tier?  Outrageous you think?  Don't be so certain.

As racing handles continue to decline with or without the Meadowlands, there will be a greater need to mine the simulcasting market on a global level.  With Canada and the United States being the only countries that race at the standard mile all the time (almost), single tier only (for the most part), exclusively with a starting gate (though I imagine we may find an unsanctioned race meet somewhere where it is not the case), and the rest of the world (Europe, Australasia, South America) racing odd distances, with a starting gate or a vault start, with second tiers or distance handicaps, who do you think is going to change to meet the demand of the global customer?  It is a numbers game; especially with the sport being healthier in other countries.  In fact, would it be too bold to suggest the possibility of monte racing?

I am not saying these changes are going to occur next week or next year, but I suspect within the next five years we are going to start moving towards a global standardization of the sport.  What about our American purists?  Well, maybe here is one advantage of having the majority of our fans being senior citizens.  As time goes on there will be less purists we'll have to worry about.   

Right now, come Breeders Crown and Hambletonian Days, the foreign market can tolerate our vanilla flavor of racing, but do you think on a daily basis they will be content with the same flavor of racing each day?  My guess is no.  If we want wagering from Europe, Australasia, even South America on a daily basis, we are going to have to give the customers there what they want; not what we want to give them.

Why do you think global thoroughbred racing is so successful?  Because regardless of the country you are racing in, the game is basically the same.  Sure, their races may be in meters, but when you convert the distances from meters to furlongs, they are similar distances.  Some tracks are not flat, having some hills in the course, but a gambler in the United States will have no problem wagering on races in Japan, Australia, England, Singapore (as they do now) and vice versa.  If harness racing is ever going to seriously try to exploit the global simulcasting market, it is going to be necessary to standardize the product and who do you think is going to accomodate who, two countries in North America or the rest of the world?

It's going to be Darwinism at its finest.  Adopt or die. 

1 comment:

Ivan said...

Maybe our thinking is not too far apart. Check out my Hoofbeats column in February's edition.

Ivan Axelrod
Chairman, USTA