Harness Racing, as is Custom, Runs Back to the Warm Status Quo Blanket

Harness racing has suffered mightily with horses retiring at three. In a rinse, wash, repeat custom, a horse is invested in as a two year old, he races at three - in a tightly controlled and managed schedule - and profit is maximized for the two year old shareholders, by retiring the horse in the fall. It didn't matter if the horse was good or mediocre, great or poor. It's just the way the quid pro quo ecosystem, created and managed, worked.

Thoroughbred racing - although fans gripe constantly about it - is nowhere near as bad as harness racing with this issue. Horses like California Chrome, and Shared Belief (even if he was not a gelding) tend to ply their trade at four, unless they are so crazy well bred, or injured. The simple reason? Money. California Chrome will go for $10 million in a week or so in Dubai, after racing for $5 million just last fall. Shared Belief will race for tens of millions over the next year or two if he stays sound.

Trying to be more like the Thoroughbreds - with better aged "handicap" stakes - it was proposed money be diverted to the older division, and a rule was passed where horses would have to wait until 4 to retire (unless they were injured of course). Woodbine and the Hambletonian Society hopped aboard.

The fans enjoyed the experiment, getting to see wonderful horses like Pet Rock and A Rock n Roll Dance and others race at four. Handle on the older races was good. 

But the breeders really hated the rule. You see, when a horse leaves the protected divisions at two and three, they can get exposed in a hurry. That money spent at two on a "sure thing" sometimes doesn't look like a sure thing anymore.

So, as happens in harness racing, if you don't like a new rule (because it changes the way you've always done things) the easiest thing to do is complain about it and lobby to get it changed back to the way it was. The status-quo warm blanket is a captivating garment.

Today, quietly and with little fanfare, that happened. The rule is gone. Smoke em if you got em.

It wasn't changed with a business case, or high level metrics, multiple regressions, or spreadsheets, or handle analysis. No silly goose, real businesses do it that way. It was changed to appease people. That's the way things are done in harness racing.

What's sad - no matter what you thought of the initiative in the first place -is that the industry was already changing because of it. This year the Prix D'Ete, Graduate Series, Confederation Cup and others were all created for four year olds. As well, the Roosevelt International, and the popular TVG were continuing or enhanced. In addition, four year old Father Patrick is breeding and racing this year, just like it's done in Europe. Things were evolving.

But, as we all know, this is harness racing. Change something, the industry responds with stakes money to help it, and in a quiet afternoon somewhere, behind closed doors, the rule is changed back, making what the industry did to respond to it, obsolete.  Boom, just like that.

I'm tellin' ya, just when you think you've seen everything in harness racing, the business trumps it and does something that makes you shake your head more than the other 150 times you shook your head.

I have no idea what harness racing is doing. I really don't.

One day it will be studied in MBA classes, I am sure of that. And it won't be complimentary.


Anonymous said...

Harness racing attracts insane people.

If you check the box "insane?" on the job application you get an interview.


Anonymous said...

“The older horses, the 5-year-olds and older, can be really good, really tough horses. Many 4 year-olds just are not ready to take on those guys yet. And that causes their value to go
down as a stallion prospect. If you have a good 3-year-old who has had great performances that is the time to
syndicate them.”

Translation: Please pay us for horses that suck.

That Blog Guy said...

I'm beginning to think it is time to get less emotionally involved. This way it won't hurt as much when the last harness track closes up.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately many in the sport seem to be short sighted and want the money now. Unfortunately we are reason of our own demise. There are still many of us that will continue to encourage changes and work with others who feel the same.

JeffreyB said...

Gotta agree with Pacingguy. Jeff Gural can be brash, but you do not have to agree with him on everything to concede, indeed applaud, that he has made an honest effort to salvage the Meadowlands, and from there, the industry. But, as PTP points out, one short-sighted decision follows another, and harness racing sinks yet another notch lower.

Anonymous said...

What "metrics" indicate that forcing horses to race at 4 in any way benefits the sport? There has NEVER been any evidence that the public "wants" to bet on "better" horses; in fact, the Meadowlands almost proves the opposite (where some of the worst horses and worst racing continually draws the highest handle in the industry, while places like Yonkers, Chester, and Pocono, with much better horses and racing, struggle with their handle). It was an idiotic rule to begin with, and it's no surprise that the experiment concluded in the way that it did.

Pull the Pocket said...

Hi Anon,

There are plenty of workable metrics that show a bump in revenue. Horses like Somebeachsomewhere bumped attendance at every track he raced at. There's also a $10B betting thoroughbred market who does not look at harness racing, but go to twitter when Sebastian K raced this year - quite a few on there were watching.

The free media gained is not something to shake a stick at either, when great horses race, more often. Harness doesnt market, so any free media is money to the industry.

In tbreds it is more of an issue yes - Cali Chrome bumps handle in every one of his races. Zenyatta doubled attendance and added millions to handle when she did.

Can that happen in harness? It probably can to some extent. It's not nothing and the logic is sound, imo.


Eric Poteck said...

If one makes an investment, but is not allowed to cash out when the investment reaches its maximum, chances are they don't invest in that product again.

Pull the Pocket said...

I'm upset that I can't maximize the profit of my three year old colt pacer, by racing him against a two year old filly trotter.

Rules are created to make the sport better, and everyone knows them going in.


Eric Poteck said...

if above is the strength of your argument, it's easy to see why WEG and Hambo peeps capitulated... imho

Pull the Pocket said...

People capitulated because the old guard asked them to. Harness racing policy is not driven by science or numbers, it is driven by the appeasement of fiefdoms - ironically the same fiefdoms that have driven the sport onto the brink of irrelevance.


Anonymous said...


"It's the five-percent guy who is complaining. You can't make that up.”

So, the fellow who invests a few dollars for a small percentage at two in a scheme, needs to cash out. The policy is being changed back to protect flippers.

G T F O H.


Carryovers Provide Big Reach and an Immediate Return

Sinking marketing money directly into the horseplayer by seeding pools is effective, in both theory and practice In Ontario and elsewher...