Harness racing these days, can be best described as "The Best of Times and the Worst of Times". Those racing at racinos are having money falling into their hands, all while they are racing in front of few people at the track or even on the Interent; some of them seemingly content to keep on going until the cow runs dry.
Then you have those racing at tracks without slots and not fortunate enough to be racing at the Meadowlands. For them, being an owner is a struggle, trying to find that lightning in the bottle attempting to get a horse that at least pays its way. Honest trainers, who come from families who have been in the business, are struggling to pay the bills, wondering how much longer they can stay in the business before they have to give up the family business and go working at some service industry job. Drivers, who do not train, have to find part time jobs to allow them to keep on driving.
What do all these people have in common? Those at the non-slots tracks are wondering where things went wrong. Those at racino tracks are going to be wondering what went wrong. I came across some comments from certain individuals which I print below. Mind you, these are the opinions of the individuals; not mine. Some of the facts may be true, some may be perception. However, I do feel whether real or not, they partially explain the decline we are experiencing.
Here is a comment from a former owner, trainer, and driver:
My obsession, when it comes to racing is; honest races, tough judges, no unexplainable reversals of form, professional televising of the races.(You see, this all benefits ME).
Some tracks (Yonkers, Northville, Saratoga Harness and others) seem to be trying to hide the race from the bettor. Other tracks (Balmoral, Dover, Harrington, most actually) do their best allow the bettor see every competitive horse. I don't play the tracks with the "crap' camera work.
Here are comments from a gambler who gave up harness racing for poker:
I have played this drug infested game for 35 years and I would say my numbers as a bettor would be in the top 1 percent for all those years.
I'm mostly into poker these days as I find harness racing unbeatable. Now in years past I believed that the track take was by far the biggest problem with racing and today its a minor problem compared to the speed tracks with very little movement after the quarter and unlike thouroughbreds where speed horses are in front, the standerbred game usually has the favorites up front and this produces small payoffs. Drugs, ... and speed tracks make the game unbeatable.
Now another problem, We need new blood [drivers] in the game at every racetrack [as] the same 10 guys drive every race on that card and soft racing on no movement tracks make harness racing look like a joke.
Be like the [thorough]breds where you have a colony of 50 jockeys and less friendships on the track will arise, A colony of 50 drivers will make less soft racing happen, The suits think that if they put boring chalk handicappers who give you 10 reasons every race why they should win and announcers who glorify 3 dollar shots that racing will grow.
Now as a poker player I can tell you that poker is in huge decline as [the] dead money has dried up as is the case at the track, I just came back from Atlantic City and Los Angelos [sic] and both places are in huge decline. Without dead money in pools or games, the gaming world will be in decline.
This person also refers to the stupid suits (his words) that run the tracks. Presumably, he is referring to those people who run the track who seem to accept the status quo.
Comments from another person who has given up harness racing for the thoroughbreds:
In my time in New York, I saw Adios Butler, Torpid, Jamin, Bret Hanover, Widower Creed, Royal Pastime, Adios Oregon, Galophone and all the other greats of the 50s and 60s. I never would have believed that any seemingly minor change in the game could send me to the thoroughbreds forever. However, when they abandoned the classification system (rating horses as Free For All, Junior Free For All, AA, A, BB, B, CC, C and D), and moved over to the conditioned races, I was gone. I was no longer interested and haven't been since.
From time to time, I have gone to Pompano Park, but trying to decipher the conditions just never appealed to me. And I guarantee you that there are an untold number of racing fans who feel the same way. Classified racing made it easy for a novice to walk in on any night and feel as if he had a chance.
The funny thing, is many of these comments have been echoed for years with little action having been taken to address these concerns (perceptions). A few tracks have tried to re-introduce classified racing, only to be forced to go back to conditioned racing after the horsemen complained too much. But the racing, for the most part, become very boring. As for me, I like to win, but if at least I get some excitement for my wager, losing is not as bad; at least I was in it for a while. Now, I can often tell before the quarter mile is completed if I have a chance or not.
The question is, are there any people out there willing to take a chance to address these issues and can they get the power to do so? That is the million dollar question.