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.
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