This past weekend, I saw a drive at an east coast racetrack which quite simply was the most horrible drive I have seen in recent memory. To prevent embarrassment to the driver in question, I won't name him/her nor will I mention the track or what happened. Suffice it to say it was not a question of giving a horse a horrible drive with respect to the gambler or owner but it was a matter of safety to those on the track and how its impact on the race's outcome.
This particular driver drives less than 4 drives per year in recent years, yet, the individual has a full license. My question is how can someone who drives so little be allowed to drive at pari-mutuel tracks? It is not fair to gamblers who wager on a race to run the risk of a driver messing up the race for other horses by creating a hazard within a race and more importantly, it's not fair to ask the drivers in the race to compete against such a driver where they need to worry more about a driver in the race instead of the horses. This is not a knock against the driver I saw this past weekend, it could be the best driver in the world; if out due to illness or injury, they would have to be rusty if they drove so little.
Harness racing has a responsibility to put the best product possible on the track and that means when it comes to drivers, ensuring we are dealing with drivers who are able to perform to a certain level of competency. To allow a person who obtains a full or amateur license to maintain the license simply by renewing their USTA membership is unacceptable. If professionals licensed in states need to take continuing education courses to maintain their license, should we not require harness drivers to meet minimum requirements in order to maintain their license?
Harness racing needs to institute its own version of continuing education; points earned in drives. I propose, with the exception of non-wagering amateur races, drivers be required to successfully earn a minimum of 250 points over a two year period but no less than a 100 points in any one year. A successful (no driving infractions) drive in a pari-mutuel race earns 10 points; qualifying races 5 points. This means, assuming a driver only races in pari-mutuel events, a driver may have as few as 10 drives in any one year but must have at least 25 drives in a two year period (2 qualifying races would count as one drive).
If a driver does not meet these requirements by the end of a calendar year, the license would revert to a lapsed status requiring the driver to drive in a certain number of qualifying races before being allowed to drive in pari-mutuel races. At that point, the driver must compete successfully in at least 10 pari-mutuel races in a twelve month period in order to be restored to a full license. These are minimum standards, the final standard may require a higher number of drives.
If harness racing wants serious gamblers playing its races, the last thing the sport needs is a driver in a race being a hazard to fellow drivers and horses. The proposed standard is not an unreasonable number of starts to ask a driver to compete in. It is time to protect the gambler and horseman at the same time.