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Monday, May 9, 2011

The Second HANA Harness Survey - Part II

Yesterday, in Part I of my review of the second HANA Harness survey, we talked about wagers and different ways to present the racing program.  Today, we will take a look at judging, scratching out when drawing bad posts, coupling of entries, the lack of program comments, fines, bearding, and some possible issues with the traditional aspects of the sport (the all around horsemen, and family issues). Due to similarities in responses, in most cases we will look at all respondents as a group and not break out the high value gamblers.

As a reminder, these are my interpretations of the results.  Others, may draw different conclusions.

Judges Get Graded 

Ever get frustrated when there is an inquiry and your local track doesn't show the inquiry or give you an explanation for a decision or non-decision?  You are not alone.  85% of the respondents say the judges should explain the reason for a disqualification via the racing broadcast and 76% say the judges should explain why there was no disqualification.  If not possible to be interviewed, 73% feel the judges should issue a statement afterwards regarding their decision.  These percentages are strongly agree.

How do gamblers grade their local judges in the following categories?

  • Consistency - 32.6% agree judges are consistent; 41.8% disagree
  • Favoritism -  43.4% agree judges play favorites; 23.4% disagree
  • 'Buddy-Buddy' driving - 51.8% feel judges tolerate this; 17% say judges put a stop to it.
  • Reversal of Form- 55.3% say judges tolerate reversal of forms while only 13.8% don't.
  • Infractions are always shown - 46.9% disagree; 30.4% agree
  • Judges always explain decisions - 31.9% feel their judges explain decisions and non-decisions while 46.9% don't (that may mean they don't explain non-decisions only)
Gamblers know how their local judges rule, but in the day of simulcasting with different rules in each state, there may be a different feeling about the judges elsewhere.

  • Consistency - 17.2% think the judges are consistent while 58.3% say the judging is inconsistent.
  • Favoritism - 48.9% of the gamblers feel judges do favor drivers and 18% say there is no favoritism.
  • 'Buddy-Buddy' driving - 60.4% of the respondents say judges don't crack down on buddy buddy driving while 5% say judges don't tolerate it.
  • Reversal of Forms - 53.3% of the respondents say judges don't crack down on reversal of forms while 12.2% say the judges crack down on these reversal of forms.
  • Showing of Infractions - 28.1% say other tracks show infractions while 41.7% say not all infractions are shown
  • Explaining decisions - 21.6% feel other tracks do a good job of explaining decisions and non-decisions while 52.6% say explanations are not always given.
When asked about the biggest problems with judging, the biggest problems in descending order is the lack of consistency, ignoring reversal of forms, not cracking down on buddy-buddy driving, and showing favoritism. 

As a matter of personal observation, some of the problem is due to the fact most officiating is subjective and with different st-ate rules, the lack of consistency in the rules leads some people to feel judges elsewhere are doing a worse job than they may be.  That being said, with regards to favoritism, part of the problem may be former local drivers becoming judges in some areas; judges need to officiate where they don't know drivers or trainers to avoid subconscious favoritism which may be occurring.

Coupling of Horses

When to couple and when not to uncouple, that is the question.  As you know each state has different rules, sometimes predicated on the availability of racing stock.  At Cal Expo, for example, where there seems to be a perennial horse shortage, many overnight races have uncoupled trainer entries while other states would not tolerate that.    The only time, people feel horses should be uncoupled is when a common owner owns a small percentage of a given horse (10% was the number used).  When it comes to overnight races, gamblers feel the horses should be coupled if there is a common owner (68.3%) or trainer (56.3%).  In stakes races or races over a certain purse amount it is 48.4%-44.4% against uncoupling when trained by the same person.  Common ownership is still heavily favored to be coupled.

As for the heavy gamblers ($50K+ a year), their opinions are a little different.  They agree on uncoupling when an owner has only 10% ownership of a horse but when it comes to overnight races, only 50% feel a common trainer should be coupled, but they still feel strongly (59%) an entry of common ownership should remain coupled.  When it comes to stakes races, here is where a difference shows up. 72.7% say if a horses are related only by trainer, they should be allowed to race uncoupled, but 50% still feel if a common ownership exists, they should remain coupled.    This would suggest that the rules used in some states for uncoupling are not in line with the respondent's opinions.

Program Comments

80.8% of the respondents feel programs should offer trip notes in the past performance lines.

Law and Order

Most respondents feel the way fines are issued is way outdated.  They feel fines should be indexed depending on the income of a driver (60.5%)  or trainer (62.9%).  This makes absolute sense.  A provisional driver receiving a $100 fine will learn a big lesson while that $100 fine for a driver or trainer that earned a million dollar in purses last year will be just a cost of doing business.  Apparently, if a fine is going to be a deterrent, make it hurt and not a slap on the wrist.

Bearding is a big problem in the sport with roughly 80% feeling that way.  Bearding, having someone else listed as a trainer to get around a suspension or license denial has been going on for years and is admittedly tough to address, especially when no one is tracking who's an assistant trainer.  81.5% of the respondents feel harness racing needs a formal licensing class of assistant trainer where the assistant trainer must declare who they work for.  In addition to that, 51.6% of the respondents feel if a trainer gets suspended, the assistant trainer should be suspended as well (29% said no and 19.4% were unsure).

Gamblers seem to have problems where a person is licensed as a trainer in one state and a groom or something else in another state.  66% of the respondents indicated a person should be licensed at the same level in each state.


Many race tracks have a problem where horses that draw the outside post scratch out for no apparent reason other than Post Seven or Eightitis (on the half).  Some people argue horses should be allowed to scratch out if they draw poorly similar to the thoroughbreds, others say they should have to race regardless.  Wanting to know what HANA Harness members thought, we surveyed them. 

The options for scratching were:  Tracks should penalize horses that scratch out of a race after drawing a bad position; tracks should let these horses scratch out with no penalty even though it may result in short fields and possibly the cancellation of some exotic wagers; allow horses to scratch out of races and maintain also eligibles who may draw in as late as six hours before the first race; don't know.  The results for this question are illustrated below.


Harness racing is a very traditional sport.  While catch driving is now normal at the major raceways, at a lot of the smaller tracks, drivers, train and own horses where with thoroughbred racing, jockeys ride and that is it; they can't own a horse or train.  In addition, as harness racing is more of a family-oriented sport, you can't seem but help to find relatives competing against each other at on the track; the closeness of the relationship up to the state or track rules.

To see if things should change, we surveyed our respondents on these two issues.

The following chart talks about having drivers be only drivers.  The chart gives the results, but the choices were; Yes, but existing trainer-owner-drivers would be grandfathered as it would otherwise be too disruptive to the sport; yes, but only at 'A' tracks.  At 'B' tracks, trainers may continue to drive and own horses as this is the only way many of these tracks can remain open; yes, such a rule is important for the integrity of the sport; no, it is good to see drivers reinvesting their own money in the business; no, the fact that a person can own, train, and driver their horses, is part of the tradition and should not be altered; unsure.

The questions regarding whether family members whether they live in the same household or not should be allowed to drive in the same race were:  Yes, but only if they are immediate family members (fathers, mothers, son/daughter (in-laws), brothers, sisters, and live in partners); yes, there is still a conflict of interest when relatives drive in the same race; no, the current rule is sufficient and/or it is not practical to have such a rule; unknown.

Clearly, despite some reservations, harness racing gamblers value tradition.  They are also realistic in realizing the sport has been this way for years and to change the way the sport developed is not practical.  Is it our Achilles heel?  Maybe, but we need to manage it the best we can.

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