Regular readers of my blog will forgive me if I pat myself on the back today. Reading today's edition of HRU, I can't help but feel vindicated regarding what I have been saying since I began this blog. Where has everyone been? Did it take the double whammy of threats in Pennsylvania and Ontario for people to wake up and go "holy crap", what have we done?
While I may give myself a pat on the back, I get no joy from this. It should never have come to this. Believe me, if you had common sense and didn't have your head in the sand, you could have seen what was coming if you looked. In fact, there are times I felt this entire industry was in self denial. It was not just me, bloggers like Pull The Pocket and others have also been warning of what was going to happen.
There are a few people in the industry that deserve credit. As Bill Finley indicated, the PHHA deserves credit and to some degree the DSBOA deserves credit as well for sponsoring PostTime with Heather Moffett. Track operator, Jeff Gural, Jason Settlemoir, Moira Fanning, Tom Charter, Greg Blanchard in Canada and a few other people deserve credit for the few good things which have been going on in harness racing, but basically most people are living like it was 1950 or seemed resigned horse racing is heading towards extinction without any chance of survival.
People will try to blame the people at the USTA for the problems, but that is not the case. Taking direction from a board of 62 directors who can't get past their own self interests or living life in self-denial and being underfunded, it is amazing what they do get done.
Harness racing kicked out of Prairie Meadows because there was no interest in the sport despite it being at the fairs for years; at least one racetrack openly stating they would get rid of harness racing in a moment if they could; tracks in Ohio being moved around like checkers, not to increase interest in the racing product be it thoroughbred or standardbred, but to maximize slot revenue; an industry that could not see what was going on with ADWs until it was too late and is still refusing to compete against them, resulting in tracks taking a minuscule amount from those who do nothing to put on the show. Yet, we get USTA directors who keep refusing to change the game to keep up with modern times. Isn't it ironic that Chris Schick, a USTA director from California; the island of harness racing that has been fighting for survival for years and has no hope of getting a racino is the one that comes up with the idea of the Strategic Wagering Initiative?
The USTA directors can't seem to come up with plans to revive a moribund industry. They punted two years ago on the whipping controversy, no doubt because 'this is the way things have always been done'. It seems these people can't seem to get out of their own way, forgetting the old adage that "The worst decision is making no decision". Unwilling to make changes which may temporarily go against their own interests for the betterment of the sport on the whole? What is the annual USTA director meeting for in the first place?
Lets not forget where many of these directors come from; the horsemen groups. The very same groups who are thinking "the track provides the track and we provide the horses"? The people who oppose a fair start rule? Some of these leaders do good work but many of them have been in power so long that they treat their horsemen's association as their private little fiefdom? What are they doing to help promote the sport? It is state against state and racing as many days as possible even if they race for so little money. At least the trainers can bill the owners.
Then we get tracks like The Red Mile who last year had a relatively successful harness meet during the Grand Circuit racing at night except on Saturdays and Sundays so what do they do this year? They go back to day racing during the day exclusively which has been less successful so they can directly compete against Keenland Racecourse? What is the reason? Most likely because the horsemen and breeders treat the Lexington meet as a convention where they work during the day and go out to dinner with friends before the sales at night, clearly forgetting racing's customers are the horseplayers. After all, who needs those interlopers around?
There is a lot of blame to be thrown around and it seems like Pennsylvania and Ontario's threats, whether they go through with their plans or not, are a wake up call. To see Ontario, probably the strongest racing juristiction in North America for harness racing, be blindsided is unacceptable. To see the lack of imagination of those who lead harness racing in the United States resulting in them sitting complacent with their livlihood totally dependent on slot revenue is unacceptable. Reacting only when the tap might be turned off is unacceptable.
It seems to me it is time for some mass resignations of people starting with many of the directors of the USTA on down to those horsemen associations who have fiefdoms and organizations that spend more time worrying about racing subsidies than improving the product; resisting changes in how racing is contested. Let these people stand downs and allow those who still believe in harness racing and are willing to make the tough decisions in an effort to make racing a better product. After all, if harness racing is going to die, die trying to fix the sport, not just sitting there putting your own head on the chopping block.