Shadow Play, as anticipated (heck Herb has him #2 in his poll!) easily won his elim for the Breeders Crown this weekend. He gets post two, and Somebeachsomewhere draws the three. Referring to this new rivalry (remember the last one with Art Official?) I caught this post out there in blogland, and it is very true. We are extremely lucky to see harness horses race week in and week out. I was alive when Cam Fella won 28 in a row, and raced 33 times in a year. Talk about cool, considering half the horses I enjoy in thoroughbred racing race about five times it seems.
The harness industry has proven this year that good things happen when you run good horses FREQUENTLY. Both Somebeachsomewhere and Deweycheatumnhowe have interesting stories, interesting connections and they run all the time at a variety of tracks. Maybe it's because of the blogs, but I don't previously remember so much coverage of the sulky folks. Anyway, it's been fun watching their individual rivalries, which we don't get enough of in thoroughbred land.
Out in chat forum land, Rich Bauer, the man behind a Magna boycott not long ago posts an interesting thought (at Paceadvantage.com)
Where is the game going?
For horseplayers, I’d have to say the answer is “Nowhere”.
The future that I see for racing will depend less and less on horseplayers and their money. While there are a few exceptions, such as Keeneland and Tampa Bay Downs; making changes to improve the horseplayers’ lot do not appear to be high on any racetrack’s “to do” list. The main reason is the push to replace handle as the primary engine for race purses with money from “alternative gaming” sources. In a word, “Slots”.
Not that horseplayers' are all that important in the minds of industry leaders today, but as their money becomes less important then so do they. We can see this in the attitudes of most racetrack executives (and politicians) who find it easier to increase takeout percentages in an attempt to get a few more dollars than to reduce takeout percentages in an attempt to get more handle that will in turn provide the extra dollars that they seek; and, at the same time, extend the horseplayers’ bankrolls a tad farther. With revenue from “alternative gaming” either in the bank, or, on the horizon, where is the motivation for anything but the status quo where horseplayers and handle are concerned? Squeeze that lemon dry!
The industry is replacing the money previously provided by horseplayers via the bets that produced the handle-generated revenue, with the money provided by the general population via slots and other gaming devices. It’s quite a coup, actually. They are succeeding in getting purse subsidies from a much larger population that cost them virtually nothing (it’s more or less a wire transfer) instead of having to rely on an expensive network of bet takers to produce the revenue from a small segment of the population that is becoming smaller day by day. Getting your money that way sure beats having to compete and put on a first-class show to get it from horseplayers.
Now, I happen to think that allowing gaming revenue subsidies to replace handle as the main purse-money engine will turn out to be a mistake. But, it will be a mistake that will be some time in being recognized and it is the short-term financial fix that the industry is looking for today. When it starts to dawn on the voters and politicians that there is money being provided by the general population that is being diverted away from the needs of the general population to satisfy a special-interest group, then horse racing will have reached its dead-end. They will have driven away most of their core constituents, the horseplayers, and replaced them with handle-pullers and button-pushers looking for a jackpot who wouldn’t know an exacta from an enema, and who would think that “twenty-two and change” is some new money denomination for the machines they play.
But, it doesn’t matter what I think. I’m a horseplayer.
Yes folks, this game really kicks you in the teeth and gets you down. It is the toughest, bar none, sport to be a fan of. I am honestly surprised there are any of us left.
Note: I think I have been too hard on harness racing. Below I called the business bizarre. There are things that are more bizarre. Like World Toilet Day.