Dean Hoffman in an excellent column in Harness Racing Update discusses how harness racing needs to change; in particular with the number of horses and distance of races, something I have been discussing for a long time.
As much as I love harness racing, it has become somewhat monotonous, mile in mile out; ten horses across (assuming full fields). When innovation is attempted, horsemen buck. Just this year the Meadowlands raced some 1 1/16 races which were successful wagering-wise when they were asked to eliminate them because drivers felt uncomfortable driving in those races. Not that the races were dangerous because they aren't; it was the lack of familiarity which made drivers uncomfortable. We all know nothing like repetition to make drivers feel more comfortable in these events.
Two-tiers? You may as well consider yourself a heretic if you make such a suggestion. Yes, the second tier may be a tough nut to crack but this can be addressed by lengthening races and paying out more than the top five positions and why not? Owning a race horse is an expensive proposition. One would not suggest every horse earn enough money to cover their expenses each week but would it be a crime if a dent was made in those expenses if owners agree to a second tier?
RUS? "You'll never have serious money bet on it", some will say. The only thing we do know is it can't have serious money wagered on it if we don't try. People wager on it in Europe; are they so different in Europe where they will wager on something we will reject? I suspect not. Is it possible RUS will not be popular? Sure, just as possible it may be popular. The only way we will know is by trying.
When the Meadowlands first opened, people thought the New York harness players would never accept racing over the mile track day in day out. We know now once exposed to the style of mile racing experienced in the swamp, the punters adopted and made the track successful.
Be it distance, second tier, or RUS it will be foreign initially but punters are, if anything, able to adapt Whatever change(s) may be made, there will be a learning curve to become comfortable with the changes. Even those drivers who are uncomfortable with distance and second tier racing will adapt. It's funny how humans are able to do it.
The time has come for the sport to give the public what they want, a puzzle which pays larger dividends to those who are successful, not a parade of odds-on favorites. With horsemen in many states recipients of slot revenue, what better time is there to make changes?