As the year comes to an end I decided to forgo my annual naughty and nice list for 2013 and look ahead. As a result, here is a list of what I would like to see happen in harness racing in 2014. While I realize not all of them will happen (sadly, we would be lucky to see a few of them adopted), they are all worthy of at least some discussion by those within the industry, the industry which seeks to build its customer base.
While I attempted to group items together, some items are out of place so make sure you read the entire list. Feel free to let me know what you like or don't like on the list.
1. Some track(s) to reduce takeout rates on something other than Pick-4s or Superfectas
2. Exchange wagering to finally come to California harness racing, and then quickly come to New Jersey.3. Free ‘basic’ program pages available on American Racetrack websites. I have no problem with people having to pay for advanced programs but if we want people to even sample the sport, we need to give them something to look at. Names don't cut it.
4. 4NJBets.com (or put in your ADW) to cover some additional tracks (such as Fraser Downs). While we are at it, how about some foreign harness racing. No, I don’t expect it to be on television, but over the Internet, how expensive can it be? At least the classics such as the Prix d’Amerique and the Elitlopp. .
5. If we can’t get wagering on these classic races, how about live or near real-time broadcast over the Internet of these classics? Having to wait a couple of hours or for the next day to read about it seems so primitive (Here it may be more on the onus of the foreign tracks.)
6. A Fair Start Rule (Definitely not holding my breath on this one).
7. Get rid of the passing lane. Yes, it makes it easier for a horse that is boxed in to have a shot in the stretch but it also lets a race get more boring. Instead of sucking along and moving in the passing lane, make the driver and horse earn the win by competing.8. Legislators coming to their sense in Illinois and pass the ADW bill. Why we are at it, why do you insist on a sunset provision?
9. Racetracks and their own ADWs show some love to the little player. Look, I understand the larger players pay the bills but the smaller player deserve some type of rebates. Instead of 3% back, give them 1% back. Instead of crediting them it back daily, do it quarterly. The point is give them something tangible back; something to let them know you appreciate their business. And please, make it a wagering credit, a free program after spending $250 doesn't cut it.
10. Stop this nonsense of having state governments assessing domestic market fees on out of state ADWs to get the customers YOU LOST back. If your ADW offered rebates like the out of state ADWs, you wouldn't need the state to get your customers back. Compete for your customers and win them back. Instead of having the state tax out of state ADWs, lobby them to give you a percentage of the pari-mutuel tax for rebates.
11. An understanding of the criteria for getting licensed in California. Do they check on prior records or are they that desperate for warm bodies that a warm body is the criteria?
12. Peace between racetracks and harness horsemen in Michigan so a meaningful harness circuit can be had.
13. How about a percentage of the takeout going towards horse retirement/placement in second careers when they are done and publicize the fact it's being done. In some jurisdictions some money is being used exactly for that but it's treated like a state secret; that's not smart.
14. Horsemen who worry more about how many people are in the stands than they do about how much slot revenue they may get or not get.
15. Require horsemen to wager. Of course, not on their horses but they should be required to wager at least $1,000 over a year using a card which can be used to track the wagers. You would be surprised how many horse owners and others don't bet the races. I won't speculate why but maybe if they wagered on the races they would appreciate what the gambler goes through. Maybe then they would understand why we are not happy with the way things are.
16. Judges to finally recognize the lunacy of transferring horses to a second trainer when the regular trainer gets suspended and stop approving them.
17. The end of seeing horses consistently race lackluster in eliminations and then turn into bear cats the following week.
18. Get rid of earning your post position based on your finish in the elimination. You say it's not fair to draw the outside when you win the elimination, but you had no problem when someone else drew the outside in the elimination and had to race their heart out hoping to advance to the final. Earning post positions is utter bull, well you get the idea. If a random draw is good enough for an elimination, it should be good enough for the final.
19. Each track to have their charter put comments on each horse in a race so each race line in the program has a comment. No, it's not the same as watching the race or replay yourself, but it gives those who don't have the time a little something else to work with.
20. A crackdown and meaningful fines on booting, kicking, remove your foot out of the stirrups, or whatever you want to call it. Yes, you will still be able to remove the earplugs with your foot. Trust me, there is a reason why a driver gets a nickname of 'Boots' these days and odds are it’s not their sense of style when it comes to footwear.
21. Consistency when it comes to exclusions. I'm all for a private track operator to show 'undesirable' people the door, but while it is a good tool for the operator, you can't help but wonder why one person gets to race while someone else is banished to the hinterlands when the individuals seem to be having similar situations. It gives the appearance of playing favorites which hurts credibility.
22. RUS racing to become a wagering event once a way to properly place horses in classes is established.
23. Those who say ‘No’ to RUS to give it a chance to develop; let the wagering public decide if it is worth continuing or not.
24. Cooperation between area tracks so that simulcast viewers could watch a race every 5 minutes, instead of 3 races going off at the same time and then waiting 15 minutes for another 3 races that go off at the same time.
25. Speaking of cooperation and coordination, how about this year have tracks racing on Breeders Crown night alter their program so they can bookend Breeders Crown races by alternating live races with the Crown tilts. Having harness racing's biggest night in your simulcasting parlor really doesn't cut it.
26. Continuing on a cooperation and coordination theme, do we need to have Harrah's, Meadowlands, Pocono Downs, and Yonkers Raceway all racing at the same time? First of all there is not that much demand for the product and secondly, you are watering down the racing stock available at each track. Coordinate the meets instead of slugging it out against each other and not only will the racing be better but your handles will increase (especially if you get rid of your extortion-like takeout rates Pennsylvania).
27. More tracks to use the Trakus system that was being used at WEG tracks (still being used for the flats).
28. Races to go off at post time with the countdown clock like they have in Sweden and the WEG tracks. If the race is held up, it should be no more than two minutes (Remember USTA Rule 16 Section 10?)
§ 16.10 Holding Horses Before Start.—Horses may be held on the backstretch not to exceed 2 minutes awaiting post time except when delayed by an emergency..
29, A transition plan to make the Breeders Crown the finals for the highest point earners on the Grand Circuit.
30. As much as I hate it, some form of expanded gaming in states where it presently is not available. Do you hear that Governors Christie, Quinn, and others?
31. Penn National to announce they will race at Rosecroft in 2015 despite the fact they won't be building a slot parlor anytime soon in the state.
32. A more exciting Levy and Matchmaker Series at Yonkers. They have the idea down right with the points system but they preliminaries were pretty boring this past year.
33. A little more equity when it comes to purse money for filly stakes races. True, fillies don't go on to become stallions, but the last I looked, it costs the same amount of money to feed and train a filly. At a minimum, the added money should be the same for filly companion stakes. Filly (and mare) stakes should be targeted to go for at least 75% of the target purse for their respective colt stakes.
34. Exciting camera angles like they have in France. Gosh, if there is anything less exciting in sports presentation-wise than horse racing, I would like to know it. How about some camera angles from the inside of the track and close ups of horses in the turns. Make the presentation of the race like the bettor is actually in it.
35. Free Wi-Fi. Block the wagering sites except your own if you wish, but maybe I want to be able to check on things at the other tracks.
36. How about fewer food items that are good instead of a lot of things which shall we say, stink? Ever notice how many people don't eat at the track (losing revenue). Oh, and believe it or not, some vegetarians do come to the track. How about adding that veggie burger to the menu?
37. In the future, should any more tracks get alternate gaming, have racing and/or gaming commissions require permit holders to upgrade the racing-side of the facilities and not just backstretch improvements. No, I don't expect each track to make the grandstand look as luxurious as the casino part of the facility but just the same, some amount of upgrading of the grandstand is reasonable. I'm sick and tired of walking through some beautiful casino into a grandstand that looks like Newark, NJ after the race riots. Remember, you sold alternative gaming as a way to save horse racing so asking you to do something more than applying a fresh coat of paint is not unreasonable.
38. Want to get more horse owners? How about starting small? Have tracks or state horsemen associations start passive unit investment trusts or a similar investments where individuals can buy shares of a horse(s) where there are no additional expenses and have them race at your local tracks. No one owns enough of the horse to require licensing. At the end of the two or three year period, pay out the trust and sell the horse with the trainer being reimbursed for expenses from the profits before the investors are paid, sort of like the Bourbon Slush partnerships Lindy Farms had a few years ago but instead of yearlings, go with raceway stock. These are passive investments so the investors get no tax benefit but at least they get to experience horse ownership and possibly will want to get more seriously into horse ownership afterwards. At worst, you have people interested every time their horse races. Call it "Regis the Horse" lite.
39. Concerts, with a twist. Instead of having concerts which people go to, perhaps bet a few bucks and next return when you are giving out t-shirts or the next concert, have a concert for your regulars who belong to your loyalty program. The 'whales' get the best seats, the 'middle tier' gamblers get the next best seats, while your 'third tier' gamblers also known as recreational gamblers get the rest of the seats. Comp your whales and middle tier gamblers and offer your recreational gamblers who come to the track frequently but don't bet a lot tickets at a reduced cost, anywhere between 50% to 33% off depending on how much they wager. If you have other seats left, then open it up to others at full price. It would be a nice thank you to your regulars, regardless of how much they bet and it may get them to come to the track more often.
40. A year where Joe Faraldo and Jeff Gural decide to focus on what they agree on instead what they disagree on. Do we really need another year of public tweaking of the other?
41. Heather Vitale finally joining the broadcast crew at the Hambletonian and/or Little Brown Jug. If Heather was good enough for ESPN, why not now?
42. The USTA Social Ambassador program to be a huge success.
43. And of course, it goes without saying, driver Anthony Coletta up on his feet.
Readers of this blog know I am not a big fan of thoroughbred racing, but when a track such as Hollywood Park closes, it can not go without acknowledgement. It makes you wonder where the industry went so wrong that a track in a huge metropolitan area couldn't make it. The sad thing is people in charge seem to want to continue doing the same things which led to the demise of this iconic track. If you want to see the final race at (Betfair) Hollywood Park, you may see it here.