You have to give credit where credit is deserved. Sunday's Battle of the Exes being held at Del Mar Racetrack looks to be a winner. The Battle of the Exes is a match race between jockeys Mike Smith and Chantal Sutherland. For those of you who don't know, these two were engaged at one time and broke it off and Chantal returned to race in Canada but is racing at Del Mar this meet.
More importantly, it is getting the track a lot of publicity being reported in multiple newspapers, websites, and television. Even more importantly, you can expect a big crowd at Del Mar Sunday afternoon to see this race.
Granted what helps this event is you have two high profile jockeys, one being quite attractive (after all Chantal also acts, models, and has a jewlery line) and a racing venue that naturally gets a lot of attention (one of those short boutique meets). But they have a marketing department which actually works to get people to come out to the track, something most harness tracks (Gural tracks excepted) give token effort to, if any effort at all these days. No, you won't get hard core gamblers by having these promotions, but what you do get is people into your track and exposed to your product. You can't get people wagering on harness racing if they don't get exposed to it.
Like it or not, sex appeal sells. The music industry, professional sports, and advertising firms understand this. If Chantal Sutherland was not an attractive woman, Del Mar would not be having this event. Harness racing, does a horrible job of promoting itself, thinking racing alone is all which is needed to draw people in. While the focus is on the horses, people are drawn to other sports and activities which promotes their men and women; getting their faces in print ads and on television as their personalities become the stars..
Being the majority of the population is women, we need to attract them to the sport. Unfortunately, harness racing keeps women in the background, in the barns as grooms and trainers and does little to get women in the sulky at race time. The one thing which keeps women out of the sulky is the hesitation of trainers and owners to give women drivers a chance with live horses. If you look at horses women drive, typically they are horses they train and/or own themselves and when their horses are ready for the bigger races, the women is replaced by a male driver.
Need examples? The Lady Drivers Championship at Goshen consisted of drivers with few starts or trainers who get into the sulky to race. The Mildred Williams series has races with many drivers with few starts when compared to other drivers.
I am not suggesting women get live drives because they are women, but they need to be given the chance to become stars in the industry and not forced to reside in the background. We already have some women who would make excellent personalities for promotion; Riina Rekilia and Julie Miller would be great to promote.If we can get more women driving with regularity, perhaps we can have a battle of the sexes competition between male and female drivers, but with drivers who can hold their own in a regular race. Then, when we advertise, we can promote the human athletes of both sexes and perhaps draw more interest in the sport.. Who knows we may hav men versus women championships down the road.
Speaking of Women in Harness racing, HarnessLink has a profile on Heather Moffett host of PA Harness Week and Post Time.