“While the traditionalists will struggle with this move, it’s the new-age punter the sport desperately needs to attract and this move will help.”
So said Adam Hamilton from Sky Racing said regarding Harness Racing Victoria's (HRV) decision to end the practice of using standing starts for pacers starting September 1. HRV noticed handle on standing start races was significantly lower than on races conducted with the starting gate.
HRV made the decision because they decided they needed to do something to provide a product the customers want by eliminating these races which punters tend to stay away off.
You may be saying harness racing in North America is doing well. After all, in the United States, didn't handle go up a little over 1% this year? True, but a closer examination of the handle numbers show wagering per race has decreased roughly 3%. Ask those in non-slot states and it is more evident there is a problem with the racing product.
The mile distance has been a sacred cow in North America for as long as anyone can remember. It has been a long time since horsemen readily accepted horses in the second tier for stakes races (I remember 16 horse fields at the Meadowlands). This despite fuller fields (with longer distances) could increase wagering as customers love more betting choices as prices increase. Granted, it may take a little time for handicappers to get used to the new set up, but get used to it they will.
RUS? Yes, there is regulatory hurdles to be overcome to get parimutuel wagering approved but in some states there is a refusal to try and get wagering approved or outright hostility to this new form (at least this side of the pond) of standardbred racing which with support of horsemen will attract new customers and interest.
We have too much racing, more accurately too much poor racing. I am not talking about tracks with cheaper racing stock, but non-competitive fields due primarily to a shortage of horses exasperated with too many tracks operating in the same geographic region, competing for the same racing stock.
The problem is in slot states, shorter fields mean having to beat less horses to earn slot money so it is in the interest of horsemen and owners to keep the status quo. In the meanwhile the sport suffers with dwindling attendance and handles on individual races declining as customers grow tired with cheap prices.
Jackpot wagers abound, sucking money out of the churn. The big bettors love them but it comes with the loss of money played into other types of wagers, wagers which fund purse accounts, The jackpot wagers fund accounts as well with little of this money going back through the machines and comes with the expense of shedding customers who give up quicker, chasing dreams of jackpots won.
As in New Zealand, the industry needs to ask itself questions. Are the current policies in the best interest of its customers or do changes need to be made to make the sport more attractive to customers?