This weekend, Harness Racing Update, reported on an effort being led by Myron Bell to supplant the Triple Crown with a quartet of million dollar races for each gait which would have a million dollar plus bonus awaiting any horse able to sweep their respective series. With the exception of the Little Brown Jug, the qualifying races would be contested over larger tracks, eliminating half mile or five-eighth ovals. Initially these races would be for three year olds with an eye towards expanding the series so races for two and then four year olds.
While not a done deal, Bell indicates the series is dependent on the Meadowlands getting a casino; something which is far from certain, hence this grandiose plan may not come to fruition. But for argument sake, let's assume the campaign to get a casino at the Meadowlands is successful. Will this plan be successful in stimulating harness racing?
With regards to adding horse owners and stimulating yearling prices, leading to increasing foal crops, a quartet of races worth a million dollars alone should attract new owners, owners willing to hit the yearling sales. With new blood at the sales, it stands to reason yearling prices will experience increases and translate into an increase in breeding (and stallion fees) so it stands to reason breeders and stallion owners will benefit from this proposal. Of course, if the million dollar stakes series doesn't expand to four year olds, we can expect successful horses heading off to the breeding farms after their three year old season.
So while the concept works behind the scenes, it falls short in its effort to stimulate the product delivered to the consumers It will be successful as long as slots continue to fund purse accounts; seriously cut or eliminate slot revenue and there would be serious problems.
Million dollar races will likely attract interest though being an industry largely ignored by the media it is questionable as to how much additional media attention will be derived. The industry will have to assume primary responsibility to draw potential and lapsed customers in.
Here lies the problem. While people will be (re)introduced to harness racing, they will still be experiencing the same old sport. High takeouts, misleading post times, a long learning curve, complex racing conditions, short fields (initially), and small pools (as far as serious horseplayers are concerned) await those attracted by these mega races. Without fixing the issues which handicappers currently face, it doesn't matter how high the purses are; any initial gain in fans and gamblers will quickly be lost as they experience the same frustrations current horseplayers experience.
Unless the industry tackles the issues which have caused the fan base to drop off, this well-meaning plan will improve things for breeders and stallion owners as long as slot money is available. Ignore these underlying issues and the industry of cards remain, one legislative action away from collapse on a state by state basis.