So a New Year has dawned upon the Northern Hemisphere and now is as good a time to talk about some things which may have escaped our view last year.
It looks like Rockingham Park will continue to operate only as a simulcast center as the New Hampshire Governor has vowed to veto and gambling bill for the state. With the lack of casino gambling at Rockingham and a requirement that Rockingham Park pay for its own regulation by the state racing commission, it just doesn't make sense for the track to operate a live meet.
The standardbreds have raced their last meet at Prairie Meadows. As of now the state commission has set the dates for a sixty-seven day thoroughbred meet and is pending the assignment of dates of quarterhorse racing, depending if Prairie Meadows gets the Bank of America Championships. Depending on that decision, the quarterhorses get either a twenty-six or twenty-seven day meet either after the runners, or in the fall. No harness dates were asked for nor given as the Iowa Harness Horsemen Association has given up the fight to race at the Altoona racetrack. In lieu of racing at Prairie Meadows, the track will fund standardbred purses and maintenance of state, and county fair tracks with 8.75% of the total purse account at Prairie Meadows. Based on a $20 million purse account, the fairs would be subsidized with $1.75 million. The track is barred from hosting a harness meet. If another harness track was built, unlikely considering the disaster at Prairie Meadows, the money could also be used to boost purses at that track.
Why did Prairie Meadows fail? In a nutshell, the lack of support of the harness industry outside Iowa. For all practical purposes, it was an Iowa only meet with roughly 90% of the horses being Iowa bred and few out of state trainers and drivers participating. Let's face it, if you want to have any type of simulcasting action on a track's races, there needs to be some horses, trainers, and drivers that have familiarity to gamblers. Hence the product was ignored. As to why no one attended the races, even worse than other tracks? May have had something to do with the quality of the Iowa bred horse. If harness racing is to ever start racing in another state like Georgia, the industry better make sure out of state horsemen and horses make an appearance otherwise, a similar situation is bound to happen.
The embarrassment of Thunder Ridge Raceway and Kentucky Harness Racing. When you think of Kentucky Harness Racing, you think of the Grand Circuit meet at the Red Mile. Oh, if the racing there was so good all year, they would be in heaven down there. Unfortunately, that applies to two weeks of racing a year. A closer analysis of overnight racing at Kentucky harness racing tracks will tell you why the sport gets little mention in the newspapers even during the Grand Circuit meet.
Actually, things improved at Thunder Ridge Raceway, after so many years, they finally did get a website established and they no longer have auto racing there. Unfortunately, the quality of racing and wagering did not. The amount of money bet on the races at Thunder Ridge is pathetic with plenty of ALL pay offs in the exotics including Daily Doubles, Exactas and Trifectas. You get horses that come in the money that don't pay anything of because no one wagered on the horse and the purses show it. In 2012, Thunder Ridge asked for twenty-one days of racing, three days less than in 2011. They also got approval to operate their OTB facility in addition to simulcasting.
Not as bad as Thunder Ridge Raceway is Players Bluegrass Downs which is actually operated by a casino company. There purses for $2,000 claimers start at $1,600 and the Open class races for a princely sum of $2,900. Last year, their meet went for a month. In 2012, Bluegrass Downs races for fifteen days, the same as in 2011.
For the record, The Red Mile has asked for a whopping twenty-nine days in 2012 which is the same as in 2011. While purses during the Grand Circuit are good, the purse level during the regular part of the meet is not so spectacular with the bottom class racing for $2,000. Hopefully, they will start with Historical Races like the runners have done to increase purses.
About the only thing you can say kindly about the harness industry is the KYSS is good, all things considered. On the parimutuel side, the total purses of the KYSS totaled $2 million last year ($250,000 per division). The KYSS program has approved $140,000 for the Kentucky Colt Association which consists of eleven dates including the KYFS finals at the Red Mile. Last year if there was only one division at a fair for a particular age, sex, and gait the race went for $4,000. If two divisions were required, they raced for $2,000 each; more than two divisions, they raced for $1,333 each. The finals at The Red Mile went for $7,500 to $10,000 depending on the number of starters in each division.
That's sixty-five days (excluding the fairs) of racing in Kentucky for harness racing at three tracks with truly pathetic purses for the most part. And there are horsemen complaining about racing eighty-one days at the Meadowlands? I would suggest that the Kentucky Harness Industry develop some type of marketing campaign including all three tracks to get some interest back into their product.