This past weekend I was on Twitter and mentioned Rambling Willie and the response I received was 'Who?' and 'I never heard of him'. What was perhaps a little unsettling is one of the individuals who never heard of him works in racetrack administration.
Granted I am a Baby Boomer, but not ready for the rocking chair either. Perhaps I am expecting too much from hard core gamblers for them to be interested in a gelding that passed away back in 1995, but when someone who works in racetrack administration doesn't know anything about "The Horse God Loved"; a horse that retired as the all-time money earner ($4,708,470.07 when adjusted for inflation); a horse that raced mostly in the overnight classes instead of stakes races; a horse which had problems with bowed tendons and other infirmities; winner of Aged Pacer of the Year three years straight (1975-1977), there is a problem. Primarily, harness racing has forsaken its past.
Let's not be naive, racing to the industry is about making money. You make money with stallions available for breeding and broodmares, not deceased geldings from nondescript pedigree (Rambling Fury-Meadow Belle by Meadow Gold for the record), but when you forsake your past you give up a piece of yourself. The industry laments the lack of interest in racing with one of the main reasons being society has lost its connection with horses. When an industry forgets its own history, how do we blame the general public for losing touch with horses? Celebrating the racing heroes of the past should not be restricted to the Hall of Fame of the Trotter, the industry should be making a point of celebrating racing's greats, even those who never made it to the breeding shed.
So how does racing present its history? It really isn't that hard. Have a late closing series or stakes race at your track named after a horse? Invest a page in your program telling the story of the particular horse and why the series or stakes race is named after it. A race named after a long gone track? Same thing. Some tracks have their own Hall or Wall of Fame. Don't have one, start it. Have inductions of trainers, drivers, and horses who were special to your track with the presentations occurring in the winners circle. Show people racing is not just horses racing around a circle, but a sport with a long proud history.
The May, 2012 edition of Trot magazine is an excellent edition which almost exclusively talks about the crisis in Canada. The magazine basically talks about what harness racing means to its participants and the economic impact it has on the economy. With regards to the magazine, it is an excellent piece of work done in a relatively short amount of time. One has to wonder if the industry had made its case to the non-racing public about the lifestyle and contribution to Ontario's economy earlier, if it would have kept the Liberals from even proposing eliminating the 'Slots at Tracks' program? Unfortunately, when you react instead of controlling the debate, you may never know.