Thoughts on the sport after 50-year hiatus
Just some thoughts on the harness racing industry. I have returned to the industry after a 50-year hiatus. I was a groom at The Meadows in the late ‘60s and loved it. My father loved the sport and he and I would often buy a program and a six pack and go sit on the final turn hill in the parking lot to watch the races. Sometimes, we would actually go into the track. Our mutual affection for the sport only increased after I started working at the track. However at this point I went off to college and life interrupted with marriage, kids, and work. I still loved and followed the sport from the stands and at the betting window.
Last year, my plan for retirement kicked in and I started my racing stable with great trainers and two filly yearlings I purchased in Timonium. With my future in mind I started looking at the state of the sport with not just an owners perspective, but with my personal experiences buying, selling, and investing in many different types of businesses.
Even with my limited experience at this level, I do believe the sport needs to evolve more to ever grow and maintain relevance as a viable entertainment option in the future. These thoughts are my own.
• The industry needs more women and minority owners, trainers, grooms, officials, and everything else surrounding the sport. Mirroring the real America can only enhance our product and our fan base.
• We need to concentrate on educating young people on the beauty of the sport and older people and investors on the thrill of owning a standardbred. How watching a race totally is transformed into an emotional experience when you have your beautiful horse in it.
• Every track should have a “Winner’s Circle” right in front of the stands so they can see themselves in it getting THEIR picture taken with their horse. Also, there should be an area where the trainers can bring a horse up close to the stands so the kids can see the horses up close without a bike and harness to make it real. Look a horse in the eye or pet one and most kids and adults are swept away.
• Have more family days after these changes with giveaways, ice cream, etc. for the kids to entice them to give us a chance.
• Encourage owners and trainers to host one or two school field trips to the tracks or training facilities to get a feel for the opportunities the sport offers both as a career and as a future interest. (schools always look for field trip options)
• Continue to make the fan experience at the track more than watching their bet run around an oval. Pick seat numbers that will be drawn every race for a prize, free bet, paddock visit, free something, etc to get them to watch. Have the best drivers and trainers give short talks live to the stands on subjects of their choosing right before or after the race cards. Have the drivers give autograph sessions. Let the fans see them as real people not just numbers in helmets.
• Run the USTA more like a business entity starting with cutting down the number of directors. Too many makes sure nothing will get done in an efficient or timely manner. Having been on and reported to many BOD’s in my business career, I have never seen many successful corporations with more than 6 – 12 board members.
Lynn Curry / West Chester, PA
Eric Cherry: The problem with higher purses for claimers
My first thought was” WOW!” when I saw first saw the purses for the claimers at Yonkers. My second thought was “this is something I need to get back into.” And therein lies the problem. We already have a horse shortage, even including the many horses bought from Down Under. The issue is if we go down the path of giving so much of our purse allocation to claimers instead of the young horses, we are creating a bigger horse shortfall down the road than we have today.
I have a filly racing in the PA Stallions Series for 15 per cent less purse than a 25K claimer at Yonkers. If you play this out, why buy yearlings that you have to put more money into that might never even race and if they do, they will probably race for less than the 25k claimer? True, when you buy a yearling you’re chasing rainbows but, as we all know, there aren’t too many of those. As people pay less for the yearlings, breeders will breed less. My main concern is not the top 5 per cent. It is the bread and butter buyers and breeders that support our industry, since today’s yearlings are tomorrow’s overnight horses. My partners and I bred well over 100 mares this year. If the current purse structure stays in place I am confident that we will re-evaluate what we do with our funds next year. But, for the time being, it looks like I will probably getting back into the claiming game, at least for the short term.
Eric Cherry / Boca Raton / FL