Guest Column: More questions and some answers not everyone wants to hear

by Bob Marks

Imitation is a sincere sign of flattery. So it has been said and again we’ll continue a salute to Clyde Hirt’s Impertinent Questions Columns that graced Harness Eye’s patriarch newspaper Sports Eye for so many years.

Why don’t they cover us? Meaning the non-trade journals as our own sites sometimes seem almost too redundantly competitive trying to outdo each other covering what are basically the same stories. Way back before my Boardwalk days, in the early 80’s, I wanted to keep my press box privileges at Roosevelt so I submitted a racing column free of charge to my hometown Long Beach weekly. After carrying the column for a month, the editor asked when Roosevelt would advertise as it was hard to allocate space to non advertising entities regardless of readership. Roosevelt never advertised. The column was dropped. I’d imagine a similar scenario applies to most daily newspapers in racing areas.

Why don’t we have sponsors? Companies spend mega-millions promoting all sorts of products and the media mavens are well aware of what the cost per thousand in terms of viewership turns out to be. We no longer have significant on track attendance to qualify as a potential viewership audience. Cadillac sponsored the Breeders Crown for a while. They no longer do. Most of our sponsorship has gravitated to in-house breeding farms etc.

Why don’t they watch us? Oh they did-in droves, they no longer do except perhaps for our in-house audience via simulcast or TVG etc. Think about that every time you race one easy for whatever the reason. Not that long ago, two well known promotional sports mavens Vince McMahon and Dick Ebersole created this XFL spring football league with half naked cheerleaders, all sorts of glittering camera angles and whatever other tidbits they could devise on network television no less. When all the hoopla finally ceased, what remained was lousy football. It failed. Therefore, it’s not enough to just televise “the product” it must be exciting and meaningful. That said, if we were to somehow able implement a “harness racing channel” similar to TVG we would at least “be eligible to be watched”.

Why don’t they show our races? They did. Remember the American Championship Harness Series on ESPN in which the producers opted to make harness racing the sport of the “MTV” generation featuring the odds and evens wager? The very first program highlighted filly trotters at I believe The Meadows in which predictably half of each field went off stride. Not overly compelling viewing. Prior to that, Stan Bergstein and Spencer Ross for years did the racing from Yonkers or Roosevelt show on Thursday and Saturday nights on the WOR network that aired in many cities. In the ‘60s, the legendary Marty Glickman used to host a racing show from Yonkers on Saturday nights before the 11 pm news. Every night 1010 Wins, one of the leading radio stations in New York would broadcast the feature race from either Roosevelt or Yonkers, whichever was open. Not sure what they did in California, but judging from the crowds and celebrity attendees, the word was out. The world knew about harness racing back then — big time.

Why don’t they wager on us? They did indeed! On a typical New York Saturday in the ‘60s, Aqueduct might handle $3.2 million or thereabouts in the afternoon while Roosevelt or Yonkers, whichever was open, might handle $2.7 or $2.8 million that evening. Thus, the difference was a mere plurality not the massive differential between thoroughbred and harness handle today. Why don’t they wager on us anymore? That’s obviously a very complex question with no single answer but it does appear thoroughbred bettors are more inclined to believe they’re getting a more ethical run for their money than do the harness bettors we no longer have.

Why do they charge me admission and for programs when they’re already making a percentage of my handle via often prohibitive takeout? There are those aware of what might be termed betting inertia in which the body in betting motion tends to sustain itself until the money runs out but there are those who don’t think that way. Perhaps they should. This is worthy of further study.

Who judges the judges? Ultimately the betting public by their action or lack of it, though it wouldn’t hurt if racing officialdom as those in other sports are subject to some form of performance review.

Should racing results ever be changed after the fact? They don’t change Super Bowl’s regardless of blown calls. Baseball never credited the “no-hitter” even after it was obvious the umpire blew the call. That said, change results but only if you honor ALL tickets on the posthumously declared winner.

If casino’s never happened, would harness be as popular as it was? Personally, I doubt it. For example, I stopped doing the Orange Horse tip sheet at The Meadowlands in the late-‘80s — not that I couldn’t still pick winners but the nightly attendance had so dwindled that sales became non-existent. And that was when casinos were only located in Vegas and Atlantic City.

Why can’t we maintain high purses? Every boss I ever worked for preached “If I don’t make money, I can’t pay you.” That said, if there’s no appreciative handle income and but limited subsidization casino or otherwise, where precisely will the purse money come from other than what may be accrued via nominations, sustaining payments and entry fees?