Taking a brief break from handicapping (not the Preakness, but the Arthur J Cutler Memorial at the Meadowlands tonight) to write this column, I need to continue a discussion of the decision of the ORC approving RUS racing for parimutuel wagering.
This can be big, real big. First of all, it has the possibility of attracting new people to standardbred racing, those confused or hating those sulky 'do hickeys' and how they cause horses to get boxed in. Secondly, those individuals of RUS Ontario who have spent countless hours going to businesses in order to seek sponsorships for purses may now spend that time doing what needs to be done, training their horses more to make them better monté horses, and yes make these ladies better riders in the races. In addition, knowing there is a source for continuing funding of purses (from the purse account), trainers can no longer dismiss RUS as a fad and must seriously consider the option of having their horses participating in these events. Also, RUS racing by default gives women a chance to participate in racing while they are kept back in the sulky.
Lastly, with a horse shortage, horses which have may have no longer make it as traditional racers, may be able to become decent monté horses, increasing the pool of horses available for other races. After all, if one race a night is set aside for under saddle racing, it means ten horses which don't get to race in a traditional race will be available to race in one of the other races carded that night thus filling out fields.
Of course, it is all depends on the acceptance of RUS racing from the general public. Horsemen in Ontario are willing to give RUS a chance but if wagering doesn't hit a certain level, horsemen may think twice about allowing them to tap into the purse account.
Given a chance, I think RUS can become a great extension of harness racing. We need the racing community to put a product out there which gives the sport a fair chance.
Horse Welfare. An issue I haven't discussed in a while, has made it back in the news in Australia. Why do I bring this up? What starts in one country will eventually make its way here. In response to complaints by the public, certain types of bits, which as the media down there refers to as tools which appear as if they were used in the Spanish Inquisition, have been banned. Specifically, The use of chain, twisted wire or rope pulling bits (irrespective of covering), or devices which constrict a horses jaw, is banned.
What does this mean in North America? The industry needs to think of the picture it presents when the public sees horses being whipped and yanked to perform. It is not an easy picture to take. American harness racing needs to think about what equipment is allowed to be used on horses and reconsider the laisez-faire approach when it comes to developing equipment. There needs to be a standard set of equipment which is allowed to be used, not only based on effectiveness, but its perception to the horse lover.