Off And Pacing app drawing new fans

by Brett Sturman

Let’s face it. Despite all the talk in recent years of ways to “promote the sport,” there has been little in the way of tangible results in terms of bringing new interest into harness racing from the outside world. Despite industry efforts, no one has been able to implement a strategy that could show off harness racing to a much-needed new and younger demographic — until now.

A newly-launched mobile app named Off And Pacing is about to introduce harness racing to a wider range of people than what could have even been previously conceived. Founded by Ryan Clements who comes from a long history of harness racing in his family, the Off And Pacing app is available for free download on both Android and iOS for iPhones.

Off And Pacing gives users the ability to manage all aspects of a harness racing operation as if they were an owner in real life. The concept of acquiring horses through sale and claiming races, determining which races to enter in and the most exciting part of watching your horse race live is going to appeal to a broad group of people that extends far outside of harness racing.

Coming from a harness racing family, Clements had tried over the years to introduce others to racing but had found that the complex type of inside-baseball jargon contained within racing proved to be a difficult barrier to overcome.

Off And Pacing solves this problem. Said Clements, “Our game introduces the sport at its most basic level. It’s about enjoying the sport for what it is and we’re already starting to see people are doing just that… I love getting the posts about a person who’s never been part of harness racing before, and he’s started playing our game and now he’s going to the Hambletonian this year. Another guy is going to be at the Little Brown Jug and he wasn’t a fan at all before either.”

Another question that the industry has waded into previously is that of how to attract and cross over thoroughbred interest into harness racing. Just by the nature of Off And Pacing being a game that involves both racing and horses, Clements has already found there to be thoroughbred interest in the game. Clements said, “One of the things we’re noticing that we didn’t expect at all is that thoroughbred people love the game. We don’t yet know the impact of turning those thoroughbred players onto a harness racing game, but it’s definitely something that will be monitored.”

While turning thoroughbred players onto harness racing is one thing, turning total outsiders onto harness racing is another story. But that, too, is what’s taking place.

For example, the website Reddit is one of the most popular sites in the world and particularly a hit with the millennials, social media and tech savvy types. It currently has a topic on its site about Off And Pacing and by extension, harness racing.

In the topic and string of replies, discussion includes strategy in the game and how it’s better to race a 2-year-old against other 2-year-olds, as opposed to older horses. It also discusses the strategy of racing a horse in various non-winners conditions (risk versus reward considering competition and purse), as well as the differences between a non-winners and an open race. The discussion may be about the game, but it’s also completely applicable to real harness racing, as well. It’s neat seeing this type of conversation play out on a major site in the real world; it’s a totally new concept for harness racing that has never been seen before.

Off And Pacing was designed to create a unique experience. “Off And Pacing is different from most other games in the App store in that the mindset is meant to mimic the feelings of real world horse ownership,” said Clements. “In that first game experience, you might claim a horse but then have to wait a week to race him (luckily one week in Off And Pacing is equal to only 12 hours in real time).”

Similarly, other parts of the app that mimic the real world include going through the condition sheets, selecting a driver and reviewing the race programs that have the look and feel of a completely realistic race program. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the app is the live race itself.

The app is truly a fascinating piece of work. Clements has taken the approach of developing the artificial intelligence (AI) as the first priority, more-so than graphics at this point. He said, “We want the driver AI and the actual racing to be realistic. So our first take is to get the experience that when you have Aaron Merriman driving your horse, he drives like he would drive in real life and that the racing looks like real racing. It should work like real racing where if your horse gets parked or gets a perfect trip, the results match that. We find that graphics are only second to that and if the racing isn’t realistic then nothing after that will matter.”

No matter how altruistic Clements’ motives are for helping to promote the sport (and that definitely is one objective), he’s also put together a viable business model as well. The game allows for in-app purchases, which means that, while free, a user also has the option to purchase more game buying power with real money in order to grow their stable quicker.

As in real life, you’d have the option to enter into the business by getting a claimer and trying to grind your way to the top, or you can come into the business and purchase some top talent right off the bat. In this sense, the app hopes to be a win-win all around for its investors, its players and really harness racing as a whole.

I’ve personally never downloaded a game on my iPhone until I did so with Off And Pacing this week after seeing chatter about it for months on Twitter. I acquired my first horse which was a 2-year-old filly that I named Casey’s Shadow Too (The name Casey’s Shadow was already taken as there was already at least one other Walter Mathau fan on the app), and raced her yesterday for the first time in a 2-year-old N/W 1 race.

The race didn’t start off well as my filly left from post 3 and parked out two other horses through a :26:3 opening quarter before yielding and then being shuffled. Assuming hope was lost, she then angled off the pylons at the top of stretch, swung wide and somehow won going away to establish a 1:54:1 mark in her career debut. I’ve watched the replay now a few times (yes, all races even have replays) and still can’t believe how good she was. The next step will be to find a race for her in the coming weeks (or days in real time) and see what kind of horse I really have.

People within the industry have completely fallen for the app and comments around the Internet from non-harness racing sites suggest that many others can’t get enough of the app either. Off And Pacing is by far and away the best chance for the future of harness racing.