A poster below asked "what should Woodbine/Mohawk racing look like in 2010?"
I don't know what it will look like in 2010, but here are some thoughts as to what might be put into place to improve its product.
As I mentioned before, WEG and most of harness racing in Ontario, is held to horseman agreements, CPMA rules, ORC rules and more. In effect, when Wal Mart wants to have a sale, they have a sale. When they want to change product lines, they change product lines. When they want to fire someone who hurts their business, they fire them. It is what makes the free enterprise system work - namely a quick response to the customer and the business. WEG's business model in terms of product and price is not very malleable.
As in other posts though, we have a magic wand. Here at Pull the Pocket Downs, we can make changes. Regardless, this post will look at what might or can be done to improve the Woodbine product in 2010.
I would do the following ten things (notice there is a change, then promotion with that change..... they would go hand-in-hand):
1. The Super 7 - er Pick 7 - would be scrapped. I would immediately lower pick 4 takeout back to 2003 levels, which I think was 14.75%. Why they raised prices in a falling handle landscape in the first place is beyond me. We immediately right this wrong. This lower takeout would then be advertised. "We have the lowest win 4 rake in North America" is our tagline. If this grows, I would seed this pool on Saturday nights to a big number and hope to get new money into the pool. The racing secretary would make sure all pick 4 races are 9 or 10 horse fields. There will never be a trap race in a pick 4 again - i.e. a race with a seven horse field with a 1-5 shot.
2. With WEG currently at 4 nights a week for harness, there is absolutely no excuse to card races with fields less than 9 - with some work. Entries have been in the 160 range, for 110 spots the past while. The horse population is there. After a few weeks of tweaking the condition sheet, we should be able to see full fields in most races. Once full fields are established, promotion begins: "Woodbine Harness Racing has the Fullest Fields in North America" is our tagline.
3. The high end of the condition sheet - FFA's etc, will now be full fields with FFA/JrFFA Handicaps. The purse for this event will be made $60,000 from $45,000. It will be a feature race every week and press releases about this race will be sent out - it is our draw. It will be a field of ten. The FFA's we currently see seem to be 5 or 6 or 7 horse fields and are generally snorefests. The promotion: "WEG Harness has the richest and deepest Handicap division of Open pacers in North America" We might even attract some new horses from the Meadowlands.
4. We own a night. Trots are raced on Thursdays, perhaps with some sort of bet promo. Young horses are raced, say Fridays. We own Saturdays: The best fields are assembled, the pick 4 is seeded, HPI rewards points are doubled, purses are upped to attract the best horses we can (while diverting purses from other nights), 13 or 14 high quality races are carded, the pre-game show with Mike and the boys is promoted and they work on camera most if not all night - no dead air, we also take the Saturday show up to Champions where interaction with customers can occur and we can create some buzz up there, all simulcast races have volumes turned down - on track stuff is key and it is the focus. On track giveaways, slots stuff to hopefully cross people over - virtually everything is done for that night. Promotion: "Saturday at Woodbine is Harness Night In Canada"
5. Claiming races are written, and written and written - every week until they fill. If purses need to be diverted to these races, and taken away from some others, so be it. Make it happen.
6. Rewards programs are increased immediately. I read a "Harness Tracks of America" conference transcript several years ago where WEG's exec said "we won't pay people to play" with regards to rewards. How is that working out? Well we pay people to play in WEG 2010 - every gambling business does it, and has for literally centuries.
7. Day of the week promotions, whether that be a seeded superfecta pool, a cincofecta, a low takeout pick 3 night - whatever, are established and promoted.
8. The signal is now available to anyone who wants it. Mountaineer Racetrack went from a backwoods place who races 5 claimers at night, to a high handle track within a few years. Their philosophy was to sell their signal to resellers and let them do what they want with it. There is a new sheriff at WEG in 2010, and he exports the signal. This increases gross handles and gets us to hopefully compete, and within a few years beat Saturday Meadowlands racing; making Woodbine Saturday harness the destination for harness fans. If a small track in West Virginia can own night thoroughbred racing, we sure as hell can do better.
9. In the corporate offices a new employee incentive program is announced. It is based on handle. If handle goes up, your bonus goes up. This program is established for everyone - right down to a program seller.
10. Judges rulings are explained on air, by the judges. The racing product itself is scrutinized. Uniform calls are made, as we illustrated here below. In addition, no hock kicks, no illegal whipping - these are fined heavily - $500 for a first offense, and up $1000 for each offense after that. These guys are making $200K a year, $100 fines don't cut it. After three infractions you are suspended for 30 days - no appeal. If a hole is given; it is for a strategic purpose. If not, fines are given. $1000 for the 1st offense, and increases of $1000 from there on out. That will stop this stuff in about a week, once and for all. A jockey in Hong Kong just got two months for not riding a horse hard enough for second place, which will probably cost him $50K, so please, no one tell me this is too penal. It's time we joined the rest of the world and show our bettors we mean business.
That's it in a nutshell. In summary: We become a racetrack who pulls out all the stops. For horseman, they get a night with great racing and big purses. For the customer they get a wonderful on track experience. For the bettor, they get quality, deep fields, lower rakes, a competitive rewards program and respect for their hard-earned dollars from judges and horseman. For employees, they get a chance to be part of something, and are given incentives to achieve the goal of becoming the best harness track in the World.
Most of all: These changes are tried for a long period of time and each change is promoted. The first time someone comes into the office with a "bean counting" thought, they are shown the door. We don't bean count. Jeff Bezos, when no one was coming into Amazon.com in 1995 and buying books, did not say "whoops, didn't work, let's close up shop. This Internet thing won't catch on!" Neither did Ebay, or Paypal, or Careerbuilder. It is the 21st century - things are different now.
That's my thought on WEG racing in 2010.
Please comment below if you wish. I would like to hear what people think.
PS: Of note, I have made the above suggestions based on the landscape of Ontario racing and its rules. Of course I would want lower rakes for all (in the 7-10% range as many wagering economists have said it should be.... and it has to be across the industry, not just one track) and do much more, but with the landscape as it is, without change, the above is doable, imo.
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