Sitting outside, or in the grandstand at Greenwood brings back many memories. Racing was super-popular and we usually had a packed house and some energetic fans. Every harness fan at that time will remember the reaction when a horse broke stride. First there would be cursing; players more upset than they are finding out they do not get a tax refund this year. Then, after the horse would come by the grandstand, far, far behind the others, the crowd would give the driver a bronx cheer.
"Am1947" has been tracking horses who break stride in his database and posted them at Pace. I found the numbers pretty shocking.
At the Meadowlands there have been 11,815 pacers sent to the gate in the past year and a half or so. 329 of them broke at some point of the mile, for a 2.78% break frequency.
There have been 4604 trotters sent to the gate and 522 have broke stride, for a 11.3% break frequency.
That means about 900 times the past year or so a bettors money went up in smoke without even having a chance.
These numbers are at the Meadowlands, which has gentle turns, the best horses and a great surface. On a half mile track these numbers must be much worse.
This is clearly a problem. Someone heads to the track, pays admission, studies his program, waits twenty minutes between races, puts down his hard earned cash, and with trotters, 11% of the time their money goes poof, without even having a chance to play. The takeout is about 17%, so adding 11% due to breaking at random, it is like a huge takeout hike.
Breaking horses are part of the game, but I don't think they have to be. If we are being honest with ourselves, we all know that most of the cash for purses in our sport are from slots. What if there were refunds given for these breaking trotters? Are we really going to miss the smidgen of cash that we lose? Would these refunds be worth their weight in gold for customer satisfaction and churn?
Maybe we should try something new. If we do, perhaps when a horse breaks in the future we will not hear "f*#) harness racing", but "well, at least I get my cash back. I will try that horse next time" instead. The latter seems to be preferred from a customer service perspective.