Here is a race contested earlier today at the Nantes Racetrack in France. Unlike American racing, the distance was longer 3,000m (1.864mi) and instead of a mobile start, a manual start was used. The winner of this race was #5, Quif de Villeneuve, a 7 year old stallion by Coktail Jet who won the race in 3:40.87 (a km rate of 1:13.62) driven by reinsman F Nivard.
On this side of the Atlantic, we would call a race like this Extreme Racing, but let me ask this question, does it have to be? Let's leave the two biggest issues (#1 the horsemen, #2 the existing gambling base, who refuse to change) of holding races like this in North America out of the equation for a minute. Do you think if we offered a racing product like this (amongst other distances) in North America, we would be able to attract new customers to the races?
Think about if a moment, instead of always have ten horses racing the same type of race with the same exact strategy every single race, you would have a lot more horses in each race with a lot more time for horses to make their moves that there really is no such thing as a bad post and there would be excitement every step of the race. Contrary to the old fashioned problem of standing starts of yore, these standing starts do not take too much time to get underway, and we even would through in some races using a starting gate as well. Let's really blow their minds and even have some racing under saddle action thrown in to the mix and have each race track a slightly different configuration. My guess is we would be attracting new customers as the racing becomes something new and more exciting. With all the new variables, prices would pay off even higher.
As for the existing customers, let's not kid ourselves, it would be harder to get them over to this style of racing, after all, they are creatures of habit and as much as they complain about pools being too small and the introduction of new horseplayers may increase pools, they would have to figure out a new way of handicapping races such as they had to do when the Meadowlands came upon the scene. I would think after a while we could probably get quite a few handicappers to switch over in time and probably add new younger gamblers to join us in the game.
If you think I am wrong, how come this type of racing is contested all around the world with the exception of North America?
Of course the hardest nut to crack would be the existing horsemen and breeders. Breeders are heavily invested into the speed burners of one mile racing (though if they raced longer,we may find they could handle longer distances), but admittedly, we would probably need to import European and Down Under stallions to help in the transition. As for trainers, unless you are from a foreign country you probably would be sitting in your barn wondering what you are supposed to do since from the time you were a groom (for those that started that way), all you knew was a one mile race. Let's face it, there would be a learning curve to training horses to go different distances so we may need to invest some capital in getting some foreign trainers to come over and impart some of their training skills. Being our breed has been so homogenized to be milers, perhaps the first year we could expand some our longest races to 1 1/4 miles; the next year a 1 1/2; year three to 1 3/4 miles ; year four to 2 miles.
As for our drivers, it may be the hardest adjustment. After all, aren't these the ones screaming about having to change the way they use the whip? If they are screaming over the use of whips, some of these drivers may simply have their heads explode if we tried to changing the style of racing over here.
But something like this would likely never happen. People would say it would make harness racing like thoroughbred racing, while the reality would be we would be making harness racing more like the rest of harness racing world-wide. Could our North American-centric way of thinking change or have we just dug ourselves so much into a hole?
As a post note, how can we have more horses and standing starts on a half mile oval? The same way thoroughbreds sometimes start turf races; chutes. Have chutes either on the outside of the main track or have a chute in the infield that is wider and let the horse turn onto the main track.
Just wondering and while we are wondering, I would like to leave you with the words of John Gallinger, the CEO of Standarbred Canada in an interview:
.... I think we need to try different things and be open to change. The racing model isn’t the same around the world, so maybe here in Canada and North America we need to be open to trying different things...