My hot takes on recent harness racing rumblings

My hot (or maybe not so hot) takes on recent harness racing rumblings

September 2, 2018

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by Dean Towers

There’s been quite a bit of news and opinion released recently in the sport, and I have an opinion of my own — you’re shocked, I know — on a few of these items. Please allow me to share them with you.

Red Mile million-dollar 2-year-old trot race

Just this week it was announced that Red Mile, Hambletonian Society, Lexington Selected Sale and the KHRC are putting together a race for a cool million for freshman square gaiters in 2019. This race will certainly help the breeding side of the sport – the winner will more than likely be sinking the lion’s share of the purse back into the sales – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But I can’t help but be a little perplexed.

In Sweden, purse money is large for older trotters. It’s one of the reasons why so many of the good 3-year-olds stateside (like Nuncio) move overseas for their older campaigns. As well, because of lesser purse money for 2- and 3-year-old events, the trotters in Europe are given time to develop; and develop they do, sometimes racing at high levels until age 8 or 9. In an ideal world, and in my view, a one million-dollar race for older trotters in the U.S. would be so, so nice.

Open draw blues

Elimination races cause us all much dismay. If it’s not bettors wondering why the races are betting affairs — where the lack of effort by some horses and drivers hoping to just make a final cause millions of dollars to be burned each year — to the complaints about the winners not getting a great post for the final, there’s griping from everywhere.

If harness racing was thoroughbred racing, there’d be an open draw with eight, or nine, or ten entrants, and off we go. But that’s simply not feasible.

Brett Sturman wrote about Jimmy Freight’s eight hole blues this week and I mostly agree with his take. Elimination races are just that – races to eliminate horses from a final. They were never designed to give the best horses the best posts when the big money is on the line. In my view, we should look at a final as a stand-alone event and all of them should have open draws.

B is for branding

Back in 2009, I was invited to be a participant on the Breeders’ Cup digital marketing committee. I was amazed how focused the Cup’s board was on their event and its branding. They work very hard each year to ensure they’re branding properly.

Comparing the Breeders Crown to the Breeders’ Cup is impossible (just look at the balance sheets), but I was very happy to see the Crown put a big “B” in front of its branding for this year’s races at Pocono by announcing lowering takeout for the weekend.

Players and fans have long complained about Pennsylvania’s egregious takeout rates, and in my view it has damaged the Breeders Crown brand. This is a great step by the Hambletonian Society and Pocono.

Atlanta versus Manchego

On an otherwise sleepy Friday evening, the action on social media and video screens near you was rampant when the gate sprung for the Casual Breeze at Mohawk. In the end, Manchego handled the (likely not fully cranked) Hambletonian champ Atlanta with relative ease.

Races like these give existing fans something to get excited about, and they help attract others like Thoroughbred fans Ed and Craig, too.

Speaking of thoroughbreds…..

The Kentucky Downs all turf, short five-day meet began this weekend in Franklin, KY and their recent numbers are nothing short of staggering. They’ve seen handle growth of over 400 per cent (they lowered their takeout to the lowest in the nation several years ago), oversubscribed races (they use instant racing money for purses) and incredible fan interest.

Can harness racing use this sort of meet as a blueprint, or is it pie in the sky? I think the former.

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