I thought we’d change it up for this column. Let’s have a pop quiz. The winner gets a free subscription to Harness Racing Update. Yes, I know it’s already free, but roll with me on this one. The prize budget is tight.
Trainer Bob Shedrow had a horse test positive for xenopropoaleyne, an exotic Malaysian drug. This drug has opiate properties and makes horses go really, really fast. According to Internet rumor, trainer Bob got the drug in a bar on the west side of Kuala Lumpur; you know, the bar where they shot that scene from the movie the Hangover II.
Trainer Bob’s penalty should be:
a) $1 trillion fine
b) $1 trillion fine and a lifetime ban
c) $1 trillion fine, a lifetime ban and he needs to be strung up from a tree
d) I don’t know. What are the circumstances around this positive?
Although I understand those who wish for a, b, or c, the correct answer, without fail, is “d”.
We’ve seen this time and time again: A positive result from a spike on a chart in your neighborhood horse testing lab occurs. The result is released from the commission (sometimes this occurs without it being released) and because it’s a Class A or B drug, a two-to-five or 10- year suspension is handed down. There’s rampant speculation and everyone’s opinions are hardened. When Bob walks through the barn in the morning, people move to the other side of it; like high school, with horses.
Then, a month later, trainer Bob pays for a test himself that shows the levels of this nasty drug at 1 picogram – about one ten millionth of a grain of salt; an amount that would not even affect a really small ant. Further, trainer Bob has never been to Malaysia, and has never seen the Hangover II (or I or III for that matter). The evidence shows Bob has no clue what happened and there certainly was no intent.
All of that could’ve been avoided if the sport takes a breath after a positive is released. I am not speaking about sweeping things under the rug like some would like – that’s silly and wrong – and I am not saying Bob doesn’t need to be more vigilant with stable management where he gets let off with nothing. I am just saying that the way this business handles positive tests needs some work.
I hope you’re with me and chose “d”.
Question 2 – True or False?
“Harness racing is dead. No matter what we do, handle can not improve. No one is betting any longer, no one is buying horses. It’s as dead as an MC Hammer concert, the hula hoop, or New Coke. Dead, I tell ya.”
The correct answer is false.
Do you know what harness and greyhound (the so-called “unwanted gambling sports”) turnover was in 2000 in Australia? It was $2.4 billion. Do you know what it was last year? It was $6.2 billion.
Those two codes moved up the ladder while sports betting was introduced (and thrived) and thoroughbred wagering grew as well. Although harness racing has many issues, and greyhounds and thoroughbreds have done better, it is – unlike here in North America since 2000 – increased market share through more handle.
How they’ve done that is an exercise most would be encouraged to study. Fixed odds wagering (like sports betting) and exchange wagering was introduced. Although this wagering has lower takeout and doesn’t pay as much margin than the old-school TAB wagering did, it has helped the sport to remain relevant with new players, and those seeking value.
In addition, the modernization of wagering has brought money back from offshore. A problem for a lot of gambling enterprises and games.
Harness racing gambling is not dead. The sport in North America has probably just not tried hard enough.
Our bettors really dislike the following:
a) Trot races
b) Stakes races
c) Conditioned races
d) Cheap claimers
When the Meadowlands recently announced (primarily due to horse shortages with new slots-fed competition opening) they were carding $7,500 claimers, some folks in the sport had a conniption.
“The flagship track carding cheap claimers? That will kill handle!”
Actually, no. During this meet, the ten claimers at the Big M garnered $222,000 of handle – more than some harness tracks do on an entire card. In thoroughbred racing it is not much different, with over a million dollars bet on some cheap claimers at big tracks like Gulfstream.
Bettors want big competitive fields and bet them accordingly. The answer to this question is most certainly not “d”.
Question 4 – True or False?
“If we increase purse money, handle will improve.”
The answer is apparent if you look at numbers out of Philadelphia Park. Parx purses have tripled, while handle has gone down.
This was also addressed in Thalheimer’s seminal study at the University of Louisville which stated, “wagering would increase by only six per cent if purse were doubled. This is a surprising finding considering the importance that is attached to the purse variable in all major policy decisions to increase the wagering in this industry.”
Question 5 – True or False?
“Harness racing should not commit money to “promote” itself because all we see are bad stories about drugs, PETA protests, mistreatment of animals and assorted other bad things about us. We don’t need the mainstream media picking them up.”
Well, Phoo’s Boy would say this is a big fat false.
In 2012, a two-and-a-half month foal and his mother were dropped off at a farm they would call home until the foal would hopefully embark on his training career. On Friday evening, everything was fine.
At some point overnight, something wasn’t fine. The next morning, they found the little son of Art Colony with a two-inch bullet wound in his neck, with an exit wound 10 inches in diameter. He was still alive and brought to a clinic. His owner:
“I put a flashlight to his neck and could see his vertebrae. I kept thinking, he’s going to have to be put down. But I walked into the stall and he came over to me and put his head against my belly and I said, ‘that’s it buddy, we’re going to try and save you.’”
After a long road, Phoo’s Boy made it, and began his racing career in earnest, just last month.
The idiot kids who shot this poor horse, failed to get the job done. They didn’t count on the toughness of the standardbred and the people who care for them.
There are hundreds of great people in the game; there are hundreds of stories that are not much different than that.
They need to be told.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s Pop Quiz and I’d wager you all scored 100 per cent.