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Monday, March 30, 2015

Hats Off to California Chrome and His Owners

Yes, you are reading the correct blog, but you must be puzzled seeing such a blog title from a self-professed harness racing fan who for the most part could care less about the runners.

To tell you the truth, not following the Sport of Kings, I could never understand what the fuss was about California Chrome last year.  Never watched one of his races last year so as far as I was concerned, he was just another thoroughbred (a very good one I would have conceded).  Didn't watch him race in Dubai either.

Then I saw a blurb that California Chrome was heading to jolly old England to race at Royal Ascot and being Ascot isn't till June, will likely race earlier in a stakes race to prep for Ascot.  Now my attention has been piqued.  Here is an American horse who flies off to the Middle East for a race and now heads to Europe to race in another prestigious race.  I still haven't watched the Dubai World Cup this year but this must be some horse to go around the world (okay, part of the world) to race against the best.  Rest assured, if he makes it to Ascot, I will be tuning in, reminding you this is a person who has zero interest in thoroughbred racing.

Now to bring this back to harness racing.  I intellectually understood what the 'Gural' rule was trying to accomplish but until I was writing this blog entry, midway through the third paragraph, I didn't really 'get it'.  Now I really know what Jeff Gural was saying about the sport needing stars that fans can follow.  Now, while many Kentucky Derby winners retire after their three year old season to head to the breeding shed, there are those such as California Chrome who keep on going.  Granted, the purse money for thoroughbred racing is much more lucrative, making it easier to make the decision to go on with a horse.  But the fact is they could have stopped with him or kept him in the States, but no, we have a world traveler knocking heads with the world.s best.  While I personally will follow Chrome alone and not becoming a thoroughbred fan, rest assured there will be those drawn in to the sport to see this wonder horse and sticking around.

Clearly, with the jettisoning of the Gural rule (I am not saying the decision should be revisited), harness racing needs to do its best to still offer the most lucrative four year old races to entice some of the better horses to stick around and race.

Meanwhile, we have the trotting mare Maven racing in Europe, and while her tour has not been a roaring success, she has raced credibly, finally winning a race which was restricted to those of her own sex.  Granted, she is over four and may continue to race a season or two more but she had the potential to become a super star in harness racing except for one problem.  Unlike the thoroughbreds, North America doesn't simulcast (with wagering) the big races in Europe when North American horses are racing.  If you are lucky, you may remember to go on YouTube to watch a replay of the race, but to be honest, unless you get to see a past performance page where you can appreciate the talent a horse like Maven races against as well as getting a race caller who calls the race in English. it is just another race.  Europe takes in America's top trotting races for its bettors to wager on, yet in North America, you would think there is no harness racing outside of the United States and Ontario.

While the Gural rule may have been scuttled outside of the tracks controlled by Jeff Gural, it is imperative that we get the best races in Europe and Australasia available for simulcasting even if not part of full card wagering.  At present, the USTA should talk to the major ADWs to get them to handle the big races abroad, even if not entire card.  If the USTA does offer a harness racing channel, it is a MUST that is covers the world's major races and if they are successful in establishing an ADW, they too need to offer wagering on these races.  We may have a hard time getting horses to stick around to become a marketable asset but when we have horses like Maven who keep on racing and doing their best to keep people interested, we need to make sure we get them the maximum amount of exposure with the racing public.

Wouldn't it be nice if someone in the thoroughbred world writes a blog entry titled 'Hats Off to Maven and Her Owners'?  Thanks to the lack of coverage outside of  North  America, such a blot title will likely never be seen.

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