Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is it Finally Time for a Harness Saratoga?

20 or 30 race card meets. A staple of the racing community. People come from all over. Huge purses, great stakes races. TV news coverage, blogosphere and internet coverage. ADW's offering bonuses and free past performances. Something everyone waits all year for.

That is what thoroughbred racing has with their boutique meets at places like Saratoga, Del Mar and Keeneland.

In harness? We have nothing really close, other than perhaps the Delaware State Fair, which is populated by more Ohio breds than one can see in a middle school in Youngstown.

Why don't we have a huge meet, where all other tracks in an area are shut down and the world focuses solely on that meet? Intransigence and lack of cooperation I believe are the main culprits. People in this sport want money now, want to travel as little as possible to race, and want to race cheap horses for big money. It is, and always has been, a pox on our business. It seems that cutting racedates for a meet to help the overall health of the sport is akin to asking one to take a pleasure trip to Kabul.

What if we would have thought ahead here in Ontario, and had people working together for the betterment of the sport; or perhaps actually mandating that it happens? Let's take Georgian Downs for instance. What if it was built for the sport of harness racing, and not as a conduit to give out slot money. The business plan is written and it says that instead of racing 110 days a year, we race 15. For those 15 days, Mohawk is given a break (we need breaks in harness racing, just like many states do in thoroughbreds) for a few weeks. We make sure it is set up in the Meadowlands off time, as well.

The top horses and drivers converge on Georgian Downs. A years worth of slot money has been accumulated, as well as a years worth of simulcasting revenue - we are not talking Red Mile or Delaware State Fair purses. We set up stakes for several divisions, mostly pacers, and we have our Gold Series, Masters and other finals for Ontario breds. We jam that into this short meet.

For five days a week we see races with Brian Sears and Randy Waples and John Campbell. We see Mr. Big, we see Muscle Hill, we see Lucky Jim. We see San Pail, we see Dreamfair Eternal, we see Well Said. We see Erv Miller, we see Chuck Sylvester, we see Blair Burgess. We see Swedish trotters over for our big aged trotting stakes. We see TV coverage, we see local news coverage, we see world wide coverage. We see Ken Warkentin in to call the races, we have Bob Heyden and Mike Hamilton and others doing on air promos. We have TVG on board with a low signal fee and/or a pay to play deal. We have European bettors on board with a deal with Betfair. We see people coming from all over to enjoy the lakes and rivers of Ontario's cottage country.

We have bands after the races, we have bar-b-ques, we have after-parties. We have the Barrie government helping out, we have local businesses - bustling with increases in business - offering harness racing promotions, we have the Ontario Lottery folks working in promos for the week. We have a low takeout bet or two for punters. We have our Adrenaline Festival, or Exxtreme Racing night all jammed in, for some extra hot sauce on our already spicy meet.

We might have had that, or we can have $150,000 handles on a cold December night, with a card filled with 5 claimers, going for a purse close to equal what the horse can be claimed for, with about ten people in the grandstand. In other words: the status quo.

Case A versus Case B is an easy choice for me...... but then again, I am just a dumb bettor.

1 comment:

Pacingguy said...

I agree whole heartedly. We have something close to this in the Red Mile grand circuit meet. While tracks don't shut down, any decent horse, trainer or driver descends on Lexington.

There are quite a few tracks that I could think of which would naturally fit this description. The Red Mile, Monticello, Pocono Downs, Freehold (if slots eventually show up are some of them. However, the horsemen would have a cow and no one is going to stop them.