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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shift the Crowns

This morning I opened up my email and there was an advertisement by a prominent racing publication advertising their handicapping package for the races running up to the Kentucky Derby.  Not being particularly interested in thoroughbred racing, the advertisement didn't appeal to me but it  caused me to wonder "Would I ever see something like this for the run up to the Cane Pace or Hambletonian?"

Sadly, never.  There would never be that much attention to the pacing or trotting Triple Crowns.  First, I lamented harness racing has so little popularity that it would never draw that much attention.  Then I said, the races we use for the Triple Crown are all wrong so how could we expect the attention of the public for races which have long lost their meaning.

Then it came to me.  Yes, harness racing isn't as popular as thoroughbred racing.  It's true that some of the Triple Crown races may have lost their luster.  However, perhaps these are red herrings.  Could the problem be scheduling?

Bingo!  There lies the biggest barrier to interest in our Triple Crowns; scheduling.  Even if harness racing was as popular as thoroughbred racing and the two Triple Crowns were altered to include the big three races purse-wise, the amount of interest in the Pacing and Trotting Triple Crowns would be minimal due to the scheduling as the races are too late in the year.

Think about it.  The thoroughbred Triple Crown begins in May and ends in early June, in other words, springtime.  Yes, the weather is getting warmer but people are still not in summer mode.  The prep-races for the Kentucky Derby begin in January; winter, when people are dreaming of warm weather and to some degree are bored for something to do, basically stuck at home or work.  They long for racing just as the baseball fan is biding their time waiting for opening day. The Derby fills a need for those so inclined to follow thoroughbred racing.

When does harness racing's crowns begin?   The Cane Pace, the first leg of the pacing crown is scheduled this year for August 25.  Even if the pacing crown was revised, the Meadowlands Pace (eliminations) is not until July 6.  On the trotting side, the Yonkers Trot isn't scheduled until July 27; the Hambletonian final is scheduled for August 3.  The trotting and pacing Triple Crowns begin in the summer, when people have other entertainment options available.  Prep races?  Whereas the runners begin their prep races in January and some sires stakes programs have races for 3yos in May, the kick-off of the pacing preps begins in earnest on May 25 with the Art Rooney at Yonkers while the trotting preps begin May 4 with the Dexter Cup at Freehold.  Let's no kid ourselves, many harness racing fans are caught up in planning summer vacations, watching baseball, and looking forward to other summertime activities. 

Let's not kid ourselves, even the major thoroughbred races don't get that much attention in the summer; drawomg the attention of hardcore players.  If the runners race in some degree of anonymity in the summer, what chance does harness racing have in getting media attention?

For hypothetical purposes, let's say the harness and pacing triple crowns began in late April and were wrapped up by the end of  May.  Your prep races would take place in late February thru April when the media is looking for sports stories and those inclined to follow the horses have fewer entertainment options.  We may not get the attention the runners get, but you would get more attention for the prep races as well as the Triple Crown races; people are looking for something to follow.

Now I am not suggesting next year the Triple Crown races get moved next year to late April.  Training regimens will need to change and the industry would need to fill the gaps the movement of the Triple Crown races would cause.  However, a gradual change shift of the Crown dates towards late April could occur over a three year period with minimal impact on racing. 

I would suggest before worrying about which races comprise the Triple Crown race, I would look at scheduling first.


Anonymous said...


It's doubtful that many long time harness bettors can even name the Triple Crown races, much less show a lot of interest in them. The races are just three stakes races among many.

I agree scheduling them later in the year is a public relations disadvantage compared to the runners, but keep in mind why t-breds can start their Triple Crown journeys in the winter.

Where are the Los Angeles, Hot Springs and Miami tracks in harness racing? There's only Pompano to get race experience for a 3 year old stakes hopeful.

You can't expect to have a spring harness Triple Crown without southern and western warm weather tracks running in the winter.

On top of that, it would be more difficult to get a trainer to start a stakes horse in January. Remember, the arduous campaign for a t-bred from January to June might involve six starts. Standardbreds would run more often in that six month period or be considered not race ready.

Marv S. said...

There may be another angle to the popularity of the t-bred triple crown vs. the harness crowns. The t-bred crown prep races are not a near weekly circuit. Thus, many of the horses have not faced each other when they hit the KY Derby. In harness racing, they basically face each other almost every week. So the prep races do very little to create a new and exciting race in the Hambo, etc. The TC races become just another race, albeit with a higher purse.