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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Potential of the Harness Racing Congress

The agenda for the 2013 Harness Racing Congress looks to be a very informative meeting with a wide-range of topics being discussed.  If people approach these sessions with open minds, this congress may be known as a watershed moment.

The first day opens up with a s session in "Surveying the Legislative Landscape in the Wake of Ontario".  No doubt this session will be talking more about how to fight the battles in the legislatures to make sure individual states don't become another Ontario, having their slots program slashed and/or ended.  Not privy to the contents of the session, one can only hope how racing needs to make sure legislation enabling slots is crafted so capital investments are made on the racing side of the business as well having benchmarks established to guage the success of the industry; no longer should slots be used as a crutch but used as a tool to improve interest in racing.

The second session of the day is "Limited Funds, Maximum Vigilance; How the Industry Can Best Address the Medication Issue".  One would imagine this session will be how to do more with less when it comes testing for medication including the possibility of using a centralized lab for testing.  Is there a need for dual testing as well as the development of a single medication policy to make things easier to administer.

Day two's first session is a topic very dear to me.  "The Globalization of Harness Racing: Monetizing and Maximizing Harness Racing Across Borders".  In this blog I have been arguing harness racing has fallen far behind the curve when it comes to taking advantage of international simulcasting both as an importer and exporter of signals.  Why can the thoroughbred industry manage to develop a means to provide program information for races in different countries while harness racing still has past performance information which is beyond understanding for gamblers?    You can't expect horseplayers to wager on races where information is virtually non-existent; one of the reasons why there will be no simulcasting of the Prix d' Amérique in North America this year.  With the cost of simulcasting becoming lower every day, racetracks need to keep their facility humming along virtually 24 hours a day to maximize revenue even if part of this time is limited account wagering from tracks in different time zones.

The second session of day two, "The Revolution Will Not be Televised: The Explosion of Social Media into Racing's Consciousness" is a session which racing needs to get a grasp of.  With the exception of marquee events such as the Hambletonian and Breeders Crown, harness racing is such a niche sport that investing efforts to get on national platforms such as network and cable television is an expenditure of resources not worth spending.    Racing needs to find the optimal means of delivering its product to the masses through social media.

The final session, "Innovative Ideas: And Now for Something Completely Different" is perhaps the most important session of the congress.  Racing can no longer be a sport with eight or ten horses lined up across the track behind the starting gate of one mile.  I am not suggesting we need to get into a period of extreme racing, but races such as monté. longer distance racing as well other as variations which will impact the number of starters in a race.  Of course, this will require people to loosen up their grip on tradition and give the public what they want to appeal to them.  I would anticipate discussion of new forms of wagering to attract gamblers with different budgets.  In other words, racing will not be your father's game anymore.

Speaking of the Harness Racing Congress, John Campbell, President of the Grand Circuit will be discussing at the congress about making the Grand Circuit more relevant.  Here is a preview of that announcement.

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