I can't help but notice all the press releases talking about tracks opening early on Saturday for the Dubai World Cup, finding them online as well as on the Standardbred Canada and USTA websites. I understand the World Cup is a significant event, especially with Arrogate racing, so it is fair enough to see the tracks sign-on.
However, I can't help but wonder if the harness tracks have given up on harness racing as part of their purse structure. Sure, the tracks have wagering on harness racing, but how many harness tracks (or their ADWs) have taken wagering on races from Europe or Australasia (there are a finite number of smaller ones which may)? When did they take wagers on the Prix d' Amerique or the Elitlopp? The Meadowlands had taken wagers on the Prix a few times, but the handle was so abysmal they couldn't bother doing it again. The Elitlopp which usually gets a North American horse or two, no wagering. Heck, even Yonkers Raceway which has a deal with PMU to send their races over to France can't bother taking any of the French races. How many of us complain about a race at our favorite harness track not being show live on television because of a race of $2,000 claimers at some thoroughbred track in Western Canada?
The fact is those tracks which live on handle depend on thoroughbred signals to keep up purses. As bad as the Meadowlands purses have fallen, could you imagine what the purses would be like if it depended solely on wagering on harness racing (live and imported)?
Of course, tracks will blame the bettors for abandoning the trotting game for the runners but they would be wrong. You can't even blame it on takeout rates (though this is a big problem) or the game being stale. At one time harness racing handle could hold its own to the runners but now, harness racing handle had dropped precipitously compared to the runners. The blame lies with the industry's cavalier (or non-existent) concern about integrity.
I realize the harness game started as a family business but with the scandals of the past, trainers owning horses and sometimes driving them leads people to some concern, but add to that cousin Joey racing against cousin Ralph, and possibly Uncle Ben as well as horses going to some obscure trainer who runs their way up the standings and people wonder the worse.
What the answer is I don't know, but one thing is for certain, if the industry doesn't get behind integrity big time. The harness game will all but disappear.