The New Jersey Generals sign Herschel Walker. The LA Express sign Steve Young. The Hartford Whalers sign Gordie Howe.
Thank goodness the NFL and NHL actually had some power structure, because when the stars are signed to alternate leagues, the broader sport suffers. They found a way to either merge, or wait for an implosion.
Unfortunately, the hodge-podge that is racing can not stop this from happening in our sport.
The Meadowlands, Churchill Downs, Keeneland are all brands. When they falter, the sport falters. With slots and entries being peeled off to lesser tracks, that do not have a brand (yes, I know we have seen and heard this before here and elsewhere), it does the sport no good.
There is no better example of this than the Meadowlands and Chester. The Meadowlands is harness racing; when someone mentions the sport, the M is the track that they think of. In contrast, a harness fan was watching the races with me the other day and a race from Chester came on. He asked "where is Chester anyway?" My answer, "Chester is a track that all the drivers now race at, and all the best horses go to race."
"OK, but where is it?"
On Wednesday night there were some god awful races at the Meadowlands. Half the drivers were names that rarely, if ever, even drive at the Meadowlands. Tonight I watched the first few races at the M and they were seven horse fields that would not be carded at that racetrack on their worst day. Flipping over on HPITV to Chester I saw all the big name trainers and drivers racing. The problem? They were racing in front of no one. Everyone was inside pulling a handle on a machine, and real fans were watching the Meadowlands.
Chester is the USFL. The Meadowlands is the big league. The problem is, there is no one in charge to stop the insanity. When we have the best horses and drivers at tracks that no one watches, and our top brand suffers, it is simply another nail in the coffin for our sport. In case you have not noticed, harness racing can not afford to operate in a sub-optimal fashion.
Chester, Pocono and Yonkers should be running short stakes meets and that is all. The Meadowlands should be this sports beacon, for promotion, and for marketing. If there was someone in charge this would have been done long ago. Sooner or later this sport is going to have to decide if slots are a welfare scheme for horseman and for drivers (many of whom make more money than a surgeon, while driving a horse in front of an empty grandstand), or there to grow the sport of racing. If they decide to do the former, just send people checks and tell them to stay home, if it is the latter, start working towards doing something about it.
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