Sunday, December 16, 2007

The B Track Blueprint III - The Fan

It was a nice August holiday. I decided to head out and visit a few of our stables’ horses just north of Mohawk near Campbellville, and thought a trip to Grand River Raceway was in order to watch the Battle of Waterloo.

Ronald Reagan used to repeat the famous line “there is nothing better for the outside of a man, than the inside of a horse” – and that is readily apparent, whenever I make a trip like this. I wish I could do it more. It's nice to be around horses.

Reaching Grand River, the joint was jumping. Entertainment, beer (a personal favourite of mine), hot dogs and harness fans. No floppy hats, compacts, or mint juleps. Too many parents tending to face painting for their kids for that.

After a few steps, I run into Norm. I say to Norm “making any money?” He shrugs, “Just got here, so nope. My wife and I were at a fair track today. No betting, but great racing and we had a fantastic time”.

Who in this day and age go to a track, in the middle of almost nowhere where there is no betting, then speed off to Grand River to watch another B track? Norm does, that’s who. He is a fan. Not a customer of Ian’s at Premier Turf Club below, not a guy who wears a suit to the Queen’s Plate, not a guy who yells and screams when his horse gets beat – just a fan who enjoys the sport of racing, and loves it in the B track setting. In fact, I barely spoke to him that day as he and his wife had to head out to get their picture taken with Run the Table, whose owners trucked him to Grand River for the day. Norm liked Run the Table.

“I love the B track atmosphere”, he says. “At the fairs for instance, there is no money for the horseman, no money for the bettor – nothing but the sport. It is old time harness racing. Ever since slots came in I miss that. It is hard to find now.”

“There are some tracks that are trying to capture that now in Ontario – like Grand River and Hanover. You feel a bit that those two tracks have some of the mom and pop stables who are racing more for the love of the game, with the money being secondary. Places like Woodstock I do not understand. The money there is outrageous. Last year Casie Coleman (WEG’s leading trainer) took Gus Q from Mohawk to go to Woodstock to race for $1000 more! These tracks are set up to be only for the wallet and nothing more. There is nothing for the patrons and it is very sad.”

I, like Norm, have been to all the B tracks in the province, so I naturally wondered what his favourite was and why. “Clinton Raceway was my favourite track”, he says. “They used to advertise themselves as Ontario’s family track. They would have a swimming pool and playground right on track grounds. Kids could be kids there. That bugs me nowadays with some tracks. Kids should be allowed to be kids. I have got hounded with my daughter at some tracks – not for betting or anything, she can’t, but for rules on being alone by age. And the rules seem to change. One day 13 and the next week 15. The B tracks are for families and they should treat families better.”

For the most part, Norm believes that racing is a good bet at the B’s too. He believes the racing is clean and despite biases against our racing in that respect, he thinks the judges and horseman do a good job. “If the B tracks marketed themselves and were on HPI TV at the right times, I would watch and play. You really have to work hard to keep us as customers, both live and on the net.”

Norm and others seem to like the fact that they can get close to the horses on the B’s, and bet in a relaxed atmosphere. Thinking about all my trips to the A tracks, I must say he has a point. I, like Norm, never seem to feel comfortable at Woodbine, compared to them.

If you read this story, I would hope it might enlighten us a little bit about why the three largest attended days in harness racing are not the North America Cup at Woodbine, or the Breeders Crown. They are the Hambletonian, the Gold Cup and Saucer, and the Little Brown Jug. The Hambletonian: Families out for the day. Gold Cup and Saucer: Harness fans, some of who travel from all over to be there. The Jug: All of the above.

The B track atmosphere captures a guy like Norm, and he and his friends attend our grassroots events. If you go to any of these events, and if you know Norm you may understand. He is the target market. I always wondered why harness tracks try to market to people who are thoroughbred players. We can not be all things to all people. They are not our market. We fight who we are in harness, trying to be who we are not and that bothers me. As a marketing consultant I would be advising to do the opposite of what we are doing. We need to go after the Norm’s of the world, and in my opinion, you’d be best to listen to them too. Who better to ask than a guy who drives five hours from B track to B track on a holiday Monday in Ontario?

Live racing in the B track setting has an edge on many forms of 2007 entertainment. Norm and his friends might just end up saving them, if they are listened and marketed to.

Addendum: Perhaps you are wondering about the picture at the top. That is a picture taken by Iron Horse Photo at Industry Day at Grand River. The horse is Run the Table. I don't know who the little fella is, but I think, like my pal Norm, he likes Run the Table too. Could you see a fan like that getting a picture done with a top thoroughbred sire like that? I don't think so. The sire would probably be guarded like Fort Knox.

And that is what makes harness racing great.

For a complete look at all the pictures from Industry Day at Grand River Raceway, click right here. If you are in the area next August, I encourage the trip to Grand River for the day. You won't be disappointed.

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