Money makes the horses go around. Let's no kid ourselves, without big stakes races, there would be no harness racing as there would be no horses bred. After all, commercial breeding can't survive on stakes with $60,000 purses.
That being said, without gamblers/fans, there would be no commercially-viable harness racing sport either. As weak as attendance and handle figures are at slot tracks and elsewhere, any significant decline from those figures would result in slot subsidies being pulled by legislatures. This is what makes events like the $60,000 Gold Cup and Saucer which was contested last night at Red Shores Charlottetown/Charlottetown Driving Park. Take a look at last night's races, or more importantly, look at the crowd gathered around the oval.
Notice the size of the crowd. It is tough to tell due to the lighting but all around the track, including the backstretch, there are people watching the races. Where you can easily see the crowd you see how deep the crowds are. The Gold Cup and Saucer final caps off Old Home Week in Charlottetown where there are doubleheaders of racing as part of the festival. The only thing which comes close to the GC&S is the Little Brown Jug.
While the purses may be small compared to the big stakes events, these races are just as important. One would be naive to think every single person who shows up at these events are going to be regular horseplayers, but certainly a percentage of them will become regular players. If nothing else, it provides harness racing a 'feel good' moment which shows how racing, properly marketed, can be an attractive entertainment option; it can also show legislatures the sport still has a certain level of popularity. The increased crowd sizes will also provide racetracks with an influx of revenue from non-racing sources.
Every track from the smallest to the largest can and should have their own Gold Cup Saucer moment, it may be a $60,000 event, a $100,000+ event, or even a $10,000 event; the market will determine the proper level. There is no reason why a track can't have their equivalent of an Old Home Week working with the local community in developing a festival. To get people to try your product you have to get them in the door, even if they become virtual fans using an ADW. If a track wishes to have a major event and is willing to help fund the effort sufficiently, the local chamber of commerce or tourism division will be more than willing to partner with a track to supporting such an event.
There is no reason a track which races virtually all around the year couldn't have a festival connection either. Take a week off before and after the festival to delineate it from your regular racing schedule. I am sure your horsemen would appreciate something to break up the rote routine; even horsemen could use a pick up from the same old same old routine.