Zero-sum game

Zero-sum game

February 20, 2022

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A solution to all of harness racing’s problems.

by Trey Nosrac

Illegal drugs, horse shortages, a boring product, lack of innovation, ridiculously high takeout’s, PETA, unfair post positions, horrific demographics, on and on. The list of problems in harness horse racing are long and deep. The challenges are wearying. Using deeply superficial research and a fevered mind, let’s examine a possible solution to many of these problems.

Close your eyes. Open your mind. Visualize a new branch of our sport: contests based on precision rather than raw speed.

Note the term contest instead of race. The next scheduled contest is for 2:00 trotting horses. The purse is $8,000. You have wagered $10 on horse number three, New Horizons, one of the five trotting horse contestants.

Now we stray into new territory. There is no starting car, merely a solitary horse on the track approaching the laser-controlled starting line. The goal is perfection. Perfection for this contest rests in four 30-second quarters for a score of zero. Each quarter-mile time deviation, over or below, measured to the hundredths of a second, is a penalty.

The first horse trips the starting beam. A pleasing chime signals the horse has begun the mile. Your eyes glance back and forth between the trotting horse and the large running timer display. At the first quarter milepost, the optical laser light blinks on 30.021, an excellent time. The horse trots on. You shift your gaze to the timer as the horse trots toward the half-mile laser display. The laser blinks 60.140, and then the three-quarter laser time is 1:30.020. The final time of this mile is 2:00.010. The contestants ‘ goal is the lowest penalty time, which is arrived at by compiling each quarter time. The score of the first horse flashes on the giant scoreboard:


+ .140

+ .020

+ .010

= .191

Within a minute, horse number two approaches the laser starting beam. This trotter has a poor outing. His time is .235

The horse you wagered on, New Horizons, is next. You know your target time is below .191. Your horse is off in quest of the perfect mile, each quarter rivets your attention, the final time – .187! You take the lead. Two more horses in the contest, each significant to you.

Please cease all scoffing, eye-rolling, and swearing. Gently set aside terms like blasphemy, madness, rabble-rousing, sedition, and take a calming breath. Stakes racing and traditional racing will remain. At this point, this timed harness event is an experiment for veteran horses that have already established a performance ceiling.

Allow me to ask and answer your questions.

Q This game is about speed! It is about winning! The faster your horse goes, the better, you idiot!

A I agree, well, maybe not with the last two words. In this new proposal, the faster the horse you own can compete, the more purse money you will earn. Speed remains essential. Should you have an older trotter with the talent to trot miles in 1:56, your purses will soar to $30,000. Should you own a trotter that possesses the ability to compete when the time marker for a trotting contest is a breathtaking 1:52, the few who can compete at this speed could compete for a $100,000 purse. The possibilities are endless.

Q How is this exciting? One horse at a time? Come on man, quit smoking stuff that is not on the approved medications list.

A I believe this type of timed competition is superior to traditional harness races due to mental stimulation. Virtually every second during the 15 minutes required for this five-horse contest introduces action for the player. Every race in this contest is meaningful as your eyes dart back and forth between the timer and the trotter speeding around the track. Your mind is occupied as you constantly make mental calculations. Every quarter-time flashing, each thirty-second interval, is of interest to you. This concept offers a more immersive presentation.

Q How in the hell does this help the handicapper?

A In many ways. First, while beautiful horses and trotting talent remain on display, an additional onus is placed on the driver, a human being. Second, each of the five horses and drivers is competitive, ultra-competitive. Third, the difference between the horses will be infinitesimally slight. No unbeatable 1-9 favorites and hopeless longshots in this format. Fourth, the need or desire to dope horses will vanish when every horse in the race can comfortably make the classification time. Fifth, while this sort of contest will squeeze out a segment of genuine handicappers (only a matter of time in an artificial intelligence world), the opportunity to open the gambling door to more recreational players will more than compensate. And sixth, this offers a fresh start for a stale product and can be integrated into existing racing programs.

Q We tried this in 1957. We called it time trials or time bars or something, and it was a dud. Why repeat it?

A This is not 1957. Remember the adage: one never steps into the same stream twice.

Q What makes you believe this is possible?

A I spoke to my daughter on the phone this morning. She lives 1,000 miles away. I not only talked to her, but we also saw each other. She was baking chocolate chip cookies. I showed her the 1947 edition of Gulliver’s Travels that I picked up at a flea market. Later in the day, I watched and wagered a traditional trotting race on my iPhone.

Q A sport that cannot implement teeny, tiny changes will revolutionize? Keep dreaming.

A I will. Aside from laser timers, Beta testing of this program would not require significant investment or retrofit of a racetrack. Why not experiment with the first two or last two races on traditional racing programs and analyze the reception.

Q What other benefits could there be from this insane idea?

A Use your imagination. Imagine chipping away at the old problems with a new concept.

Well, that takes care of the sport of harness racing.

Next week, I will unite the maniacal political factions.


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