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Harness Racing Must Be Represented in Ontario's Transition

The current state of affairs in Ontario horse racing is nebulous. The OMFRA panel has been working, consulting with the industry on their draft plan. The plan is clearly a draft and could look very different when things are shaken out in October.

Woodbine - the elephant in the room - will likely control racing, whether the Transitional Plan says so or not. One part of the plan calls for betting revenue to be filtered into a central organization, to be distributed to tracks who have the best handle, or are putting on the best Ontario product. 

Dave Briggs interviewed WEG CEO Nick Eaves and he took issue with this part of the plan:
  •  Eaves was clear his company has "no interest in … moving into a new model which has us transferring our hard-earned economics somewhere else." 
If that part of the plan is scrapped, it will be good for Woodbine and probably pretty good for thoroughbred racing. Woodbine, I believe, will ensure Woodbine is in good (better than it looked 14 months ago) shape.

However, what does it do to grassroots harness racing?

It appears to me, that the OMAFRA panel is harness racing's best friend. The harness industry, unlike the thoroughbreds, is spread to every nook and cranny of the Province. Hay, cars, fuel, horses, tack shop goods and everything else are purchased by harness racers from Goderich to Cornwall, Fort Erie to Parry Sound.  Infrastructure is laid at more than a dozen harness tracks, not counting fair tracks that don the landscape. The government, and the panel, has a responsibility - a mandate it seems - to ensure some money flows there.

Harness racing's responsibility is to work with them to ensure its voice and concerns are heard. To accomplish this, I believe it must put forth some sort of long term vision for harness racing in the Province, beyond Woodbine. 

Perhaps "outside WEG" harness racing will be made up of a fair circuit. The RDSP worked on some sort of circuit like this in its plan. Ohio and other states and provinces do this sort of thing as a matter of course.

Perhaps harness racing - right now - needs to ensure that small tracks have a chance at turning their slots parlors into instant racing parlors, and teletheatres. They could reap the rewards of that 365 days a year and if several of them do it, they could pool funds and put on OSS or grassroots racing throughout the summer, with purses that are not too high that it attracts downtown horses, but are high enough to support a breeding industry.

Perhaps, with the OLG, a racing lottery is created. Much of the betting on this new jackpot bet would go through WEG. A percentage of which should go back to an HRO however, to be used for grassroots racing. Does anyone have a guarantee this would happen? It should.

Perhaps WEG can be used in such a grassroots plan. A recent comment on a chat board:
  • As we`re all in it together, so to speak, tracks, horseman etc. Why not conduct harness racing for OSS, Grassrooters, late closers and "B" track horses, particularly low end claimers at Mohawk? They could race in the three afternoons on Mohawks regular dark days. Surely the expenses would be cut significantly from attempting to run a dozen or so tracks down to a few...they could leave Georgian, Grand River, London and maybe even Rideau, but slash the rest. Windsor used to handle almost 500K on Sundays for that horrific product. As we are approaching an era where purses more or less will be derived from handle, I can`t imagine Mohawk not pushing close to a million on those cards. Mohawk at worst is in the top two or three facilities on the planet and as I understand it, Woodbine/Mohawk come very close to breaking even on live cards.
Admission could be charged, like was presented in the RDSP, and marketing in a box for such things, through an RDSP organization, could also be implemented for grassroots cards. This may create an outlet, with nice handle for grassroots harness racing, that could use Woodbine's brand and network to be ROI positive and build a totally new harness racing brand.

Sometimes I wonder who is looking out for harness racing. The horsemen organizations seem to want as many dates at as many tracks as possible, with no revenue based considerations. Woodbine wants what's good for Woodbine (and I don't blame them for a second for watching their back). What I see from harness racing are posts or letters wanting slots back, or going back to the way it was, with everyone nodding in agreement. That's not a policy for long term growth in the current slotless racing climate, it's a wish.

It'd be nice to see someone - maybe Standardbred Canada who has already done much of this work already with the RDSP - put forth a forward looking plan to the panel. Someone has to look out for harness racing; not because "it wants a slice" or that we're really, really mad you took slots away,  but because it needs leadership to say "look, here's a solid plan that makes economic and political sense".



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