HRU Feedback (2020-08-02)

Josh Marks apologizes to the industry

Dear harness racing community,

I am sorry.

The recent Murray Brown piece (full story here) is hard for me to read, but extremely accurate. Harness racing is my life. I love and have always taken great care of my horses. Unfortunately, I have not taken care of myself and have strayed from all the plans that were made for me. I let everybody else in our industry down with my behavior at Pocono that night and on many other occasions.

I have long ago apologized to Tom Grossman for embarrassing him and would now like to do the same to the entire industry. I am working hard on confronting my demons and know it will be a very long road. I have hurt the people I care for the most and lost everything that meant absolutely anything to me. I’ve been in rehabs, treated with psychiatrists, and keep praying for forgiveness. I can’t rewrite the past, but I am working to write a better future for myself and my family. I can only hope to one day earn the chance to, in some manner, utilize the lifetime’s worth of experience I have to again be involved with the animals and sport that I love so much. I wish each and every one of you well and want to thank you for working so hard to help harness racing survive for all of us and our children.

—Josh Marks

Question for HRU readers about uncoupled entries

I would like to ask a question to you folks with much more knowledge in the sport that I. I find it confusing from a handicapping point of view on races with the same trainer having multiple horses in the same race as uncoupled entries.

Usually there is one that is better than the others. Are the drivers on the other horses with the same trainer told to do or not to do certain things? In thoroughbreds there are “rabbits” entered to help the main horse get an honest or suicidal pace.

I always question whether the other horses are even trying to win. Have you ever seen two stablemates park each other out going for the lead or block a horse from getting out?
How do you handle this situation from a handicappers point of view?

(Editor’s note: Please respond with your thoughts to:

— Bill Hartenstine / Farmingdale, NY

Thoughts on the changing sports landscape

After seeing the news from Miami this week regarding Major League Baseball and COVID-19 positives, I think it’s fair to be concerned about the overall state of mainstream sports moving forward in 2020. Yes, the NBA has a bubble, but with so much in-game contact and even more in the NFL, I think it’s safe to say sports isn’t getting back to “normal” anytime soon.

For the first time in my life, horse racing isn’t just an afterthought in society and the sports world in general. The job done by many major race tracks, and Woodbine, in particular with its newly minted TSN partnership and the timely unveiling of their DARKHORSE app, has moved horse racing further ahead than anyone could have projected. Yes, for many jurisdictions with casino partners 2020 has had some new and problematic challenges. Diminished capacity on gaming floors, COVID fears, and overall financial hardship have definitely reduced revenue at these venues. As our partners continue to navigate these uncharted waters, we need to do some navigating of our own.

Horse racing is very fortunate to be operating at all. I personally applaud the efforts of our industry stake holders in getting us back on the job when so many of our neighbors are still unemployed. That isn’t to say things are great and we don’t have major hurtles approaching, because we do. COVID-19 has put most everyone in a much different financial situation than they are used to, and the fallout from that is undoubtedly going to be felt first and foremost by our smaller breeders this coming sales season.

We have to face the realistic notion that there is simply less money available in 2020 to buy yearlings. I believe this an opportunity for trainers to show some entrepreneurship and partner with breeders that may be actively looking for a “Plan B” leading up to, and after the conclusion of the fall sales. has done this since we opened our doors and some of our best horses have come from these partnership programs. We have been approached by many breeders already this season, and I’m sure there will be no shortage of interested parties soon enough to work with you. This is incredibly important because if we start to lose breeders, we risk shrinking a viable entry point for new people coming into the horse racing industry. If smaller breeding operations shutter, we will have fewer horses bred, eventually leading to yearlings shortages in the future that will inevitability drive up prices making it impossible to find value in the yearling market at all. Further to that, fewer horses will ultimately result in smaller fields and the inevitable downward spiral that we must fight to avoid. By not working together this fall we will actually be hurting ourselves and our industry in the long run. The obvious question is: Where will the extra funds come from to form and foster these partnerships? Is there any way to create more cash flow to help our industry moving forward?

I’ve spoken in multiple venues on two continents about the power of affordable ownership, and the draw it has on everyday people. This year because of COVID-19 shuttering society as a whole, we have more eyeballs on our sport than we had since the start of the internet. Do you think any of these people watching have ever seen a sport they can become interested in, and afford to be an active participant? The potential for that added value is immense for horse racing, and has proven that this transition from fan to owner is very real and possible. This article isn’t about what we have done at our barn, as much as what other trainers can do in theirs. It isn’t the name, slogan, or the person selling the idea. It’s the message of affordable ownership and the entertainment that goes with that. I always claimed that the affordability of the entertainment dollar for dollar found in horse racing is unmatched in society, now it’s simply unrivaled!

I believe the time is upon us to properly educate our horsemen on how they can connect with everyday people to grow their own barns and brands. More now than ever, we need to introduce ourselves to society in new and direct ways to show them what we actually offer. We have a competitive and exciting sport full of athleticism, speed, great stories, and hard work. There is nothing like seeing and hearing the horses thundering down the stretch to cross the finish line — all in a time when there isn’t much of anything available for people to get excited about.

For the negative people ready to only talk about the struggles we have faced in the past with marketing, gaming, or bad apples in our sport, I would say to them that every sport has its own unique issues, and we are no different. Bringing new people into the sport of horse racing makes it stronger and helps us shine a light on all the poorly lit corners of our industry. This is more than just new paint on an old piece of wood. This is rebuilding and rebranding a great product that more people than ever would be interested to participate in. Saying the interest isn’t there is simply incorrect. I think if anything I’ve proven that to be untrue.

With the sports entertainment field significantly thinned out right now, we are doing a great job seizing the day, but I do think it’s time we strive for more.

People can say horse racing is dead, but I believe from this generational disaster we could find the fresh air we have so desperately been in search of for decades. Our future is literally right in front of us, we need to continue to push forward, be aware and stay ahead of the hurtles to come. Strengthen our core, protect our breeders, and we will see growth that most of us never thought possible.
With respect,

—Anthony MacDonald /