HRU Feedback (2018-04-22)

Suggestion for Pick-6 and Pick-4 changes

All the uproar about Pick 6’s & 4’s concerning scratches (story 1) (story 2) – seems to me with a ticket in a heat where the single selection is scratched, the holder should have the option to cancel the ticket – not be given another entry. If the ticket is not cancelled, the race time favorite becomes the holders pick. Not sure but guessing that in most cases no action will be taken, with the exception of a few ultra sharp harness punters.

There are many more important issues concerning a rule, which IMO should be clarified – one concerning horses leaving the course. It’s always an issue, mainly because there is no definite rule.

— Dave Stolz / Columbus, OH

Response to Buzzworthy on new Mohawk name

Garnet Barnsdale’s Buzzworthy article on the Mohawk name change (full story here) hit on the key point for me. I wasn’t sure he or anybody else was going to do that, but he did. The name change is about branding. And that is the key thing to take away from all of this and it’s not a good thing.

The point has been made that Woodbine is a name brand, known the world over, and attaching that to the Mohawk name will increase interest, handle and recognition with the worldwide bettors. That assumes that T bred bettors are inclined to play standardbred horses in the first place. They are not. A few will, most won’t, and most of those view harness racing as a substandard product not worth their time or dollars. Many view T breds as The Sport of Kings, while they view harness racing as a bunch of farmers who go around the track in their funny little carts.

As well, Mohawk has a big name recognition factor with the Europeans and to some extent, the Aussies and New Zealanders, who are actually likely to bet on it if given the right circumstances. While Woodbine, as a harness product has always been viewed as a bad stopgap, emergency solution that never worked with the people who really like the product.

Garnet himself admits that he loves the Mohawk product and experience, and he also did Greenwood. I was the same. I never liked Woodbine for harness, but loved it for T breds, which is what it was always intended to be.

It’s great to brand, if you have a brand to brand. The brand was Greenwood, and is now what is and still is Mohawk. I think it’s a mistake to change the name, but either way, that debate will fade or nobody will much care by mid-summer. I feel there is a much bigger point in play, and Garnet touched on that, as well.

Since the OJC became WEG, the entire focus is on branding, or being an entertainment company, to push HPI and exotic sucker bets with high takeouts — and not try to fix the product, which has been going downhill for years. This last winter, we see just how far it has fallen. Very short fields and extremely low quality of horses, one- or two-trainer dominance every night, on and on. The product is being ignored, because those that run the game now are not horsepeople, like they were back in the day. They are corporate branders.

On one of the closing cards, race 4, the beginning of the Pick 4 was carded with six horses. That is just outright ridiculous and should have never happened. If they cared about the product, somebody would have stepped up and stopped that before it happened. What if there were two scratches? You are going to start the pick 4 with four horses and also still expect the bettors to inhale a 25 per cent takeout rate? Good luck with that.

I get that Adriano Sorella would take the tact he did, as that is his business and what has made him a rich man. Adriano understands very well the Internet and how to market effectively. But that won’t work for racing. Again, he is a smart guy, very smart, but he isn’t a lifelong racing fan and player. He doesn’t have perspective. If branding is the focus and the only thing they really do, the product has to be viable and palatable. Most of the long-time players are really turned off by the crappy standardbred product they put out now from about November to May. I will always call it Mohawk, and they can call it whatever they want. But, I won’t be playing it after this fall unless they radically do something about the awful product they throw out there. If they are just going to give me cheap claimers and phony conditioned claimers, why not just play Northfield or Cal Expo on those nights and take a much smaller takeout? The quality is the only thing that would make me stay rather than stray.

In contrast, Yonkers had been going downhill for decades, but they took positive action, hired a horseperson with a top pedigree and experience at all levels of the game, who also has good marketing and business skills, and he took immediate action to fix the product. They even went out and got a consortium together to bring in fresh horses with some ability from France. What does WEG do? They just write cheaper and cheaper classes and skim the better B track horses from places like London and Flamboro and hurt their product and their own in the process.

They can brand until the cows come home, but if they don’t start fixing the actual product, it is going to become a second-class circuit, which it gets closer to every year. In my opinion, the entire structure of who runs the product at WEG needs to be overhauled and they need to clean house.

I still believe Mohawk can be a world-class racing product 12 months out of the year, night in, night out. Can be. But the clock is ticking, and the more they waste time and focus on branding and continue to ignore that other tracks are stealing their A track status on the world stage, the closer they get to the point where it will be very hard to repair. A generation is this close to not getting involved and simply not becoming valued, long-term customers like Garnet and I, and many others have been our entire adult lives. I am close to walking away from it, and I see others doing the same if they don’t get their focus back in the right place.

Fresh blood and solutions are needed and out there. Yonkers hired a guy to do that. Why can’t WEG?

The name change, to me, is like putting mustard on the hot dog instead of ketchup when the problem is the hot dog meat is not what it once was.

— Mark Deutsch / Thornhill, ON

Attract lottery bettors and poker players

I have been betting on harness racing for years. The industry has a PR problem. You have to blame yourselves and those who fail to promote you the right way, aka the media, ESPN, Fox Sports, TVG aka TVG junk, and the like.

Harness racing only has a negative image by most. Why not do something and make something happen? In NJ, we are waiting for the Supreme Court to allow sports wagering to be legal. This will help or hurt horse racing in this state.

As for the Big M, it is a joke. What happened? I will not even talk about this stupid love affair with fast times. No one cares! How about more competitive races at the Big M? The races are single file garbage with half the drivers from Freehold, which is now a complete dump for racing.

Bring back foreign racing like the Swedish V65 and V7. Partner with these people and make this happen along state lines. Simple, you need to bring those lottery wagerers and fringe poker players back to racing. It seems to me what you are doing now does not work.

(Closing) Woodbine harness… sucked… It makes you wonder what people in the industry are about. They have no clue if you are going to close Woodbine harness like that.

Another track closes, what does this mean?

As for the industry, you need a change of action. It is that simple. Business as usual does not work.

For starters, someone up top in harness racing needs to contact TVG about how they mishandle harness racing. They do an awful job and no one says a thing.

PS – Bringing outside lottery-like tracks and lottery players is the ticket. I remember back in the day when the Big M had a real pick 6 and had pools over $500,000 on a Tuesday night. Yes, people had to drive to wager. Guess what? They would play those pools as they had a real chance to win.

— John Kaniuk / Hamilton, NJ