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Friday, January 30, 2015

Horsemen Strangling the Sport with Boredom

The once nightly 1 1/8 mile race at the Meadowlands is no more thanks to an agreement with the SBOANJ and the Meadowlands along with its corresponding two starters in the second tier. At the same time, comes the demise of the once-heralded classified system which brought a great customer response according to press releases.  Truth be told, while I am a fan of the classified system, I understand the horsemen's complaint.  The C-2 class seems to have become a catch-all for many horses making it hard for some horses to have a decent chance to compete.  Perhaps expanding the classes to allow for X-3s may have helped or it may have been a reliance on the lower classes to help manage the purse account which resulted in stuffing the class but it apparently has became a problem which needed to be addressed.  So conditioned racing returns next week with non-winners of $5,000 in the last five starts being the bottom condition level and $10,000 claimers being the bottom of the claiming wrung.  (Read Dean Towers' thoughts in HRU on this subject).

What frustrates me is the disappearance of the 'distance' races and the trailers.  Yes, the mile has been the standard distance for eons and trailers have been eschewed for years but let's not kid ourselves, is an extra 1/8th of a mile going to matter that much for the horses?  Is two horses in the second tier with an extra 1/8th of a mile to compete so heinous?  Perhaps it is inconvenient for the horsemen but clearly gamblers are looking for greater payoffs which distance races and extra starters can provide but what does the customer have to do with it?

Now, I am sure the horsemen at Yonkers prefer the same old type of racing too, but in order to make their product attractive to European audiences they agreed to race at a distance of 1 1/4 mile with up to four trailers in their races and the response abroad has been overwhelming positive.  They recognized what the overseas audience wanted and they gave them it.  In addition, the distance racing has changed the flow of racing and made it more exciting, even to the point Americans were getting used to the new format (though races not sent abroad are raced at the traditional mile distance with no second tier).  (Thoroughbred Racing Commentary discusses the Yonkers-France experiment)

There have been times I have not been complimentary of the New York horsemen but in this case, they are ahead of the curve.  The future of harness racing is a global approach and sooner or later North America needs to join the global trotting community.

To think this was a sport where one once saw sixteen two year old trotters competing in stake races at the Meadowlands.  What happened?  No doubt the expense of racing has become much greater making owners and horsemen seek to get every advantage they can or at least eliminate perceived disadvantages but by doing so, the sport is slowly dying, dying of boredom.

Yes, we tend to be North American-centric when it comes to racing, but when the rest of the trotting world welcomes distance racing, handicapped racing with second tiers, different types of starts, and even RUS, isn't it time to think we may be doing something wrong and it is time to re-evaluate the product?

No doubt slot revenue allows horsemen to stand pat but as guardians of the sport, don't they have a responsibility to do what they can to make the sport more attractive to the existing and new generation?  It is time for horsemen to take stock of themselves and decide if they wish the sport to flourish or become further irrelevant.  One hopes they choose flourish.

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