by Trey Nosrac
After the final race at Pompano Park harness racetrack, many of us will sense an unsettling feeling about the future of our sport. As far as I can tell, nobody did anything wrong at “The Winter Capital of Harness Racing.” The racing handle was strong, the track and the people who put on the races gave off a good vibe — all to no avail. The wrecking ball will swing.
Interviews with political representatives supporting our sport in Florida suggest the future of harness racing is more than a longshot. We may never know the legislative arm twisting and turning that brings us to this low point where harness horse racing gets snuffed out in one of our most populous states. Similar stories continue with Michigan, Illinois, and countless other racetracks that rely on shadowy, unknown forces.
Harness racing often feels like we are stuck in loveless arranged marriages, dependent on the other party who has connections, lawyers, and politicians, trying to facilitate an uncoupling.
Troubling times like these might inspire you to believe, as I do, that we need something to aim for, a project to get excited about, an initiative that is all ours, all positive, free from conflict, fiefdoms and restraint. Instead of silently slinking out of Florida, we could build something, something we all could take ownership of financially and emotionally. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to create a not-for-profit, multipurpose, year-round facility dedicated to the sport, a hub of harness racing, a place of our own we could call home, a shelter against oncoming storms?
Let’s leap into the unknown. We may fall, we may fly, but we can try.
Create the legal framework for a non-profit entity. After an afternoon on the Internet looking into things like an IRC 501(c)(8) (a fraternal beneficiary society, orders, or associations operating under the lodge system), or 701(3)c, or LCC’s, this project seems possible. We have plenty of good lawyers in our midst that could assist in the setup.
Find a Florida location. We could build from scratch or reinvigorate a training center. I would suggest Spring Garden Ranch training center in DeLeon Springs, a spacious rural area with existing zoning and infrastructure. This location would be perfect. Each visit to Spring Garden calms the troubled heart and raises spirits.
No racing license is required. Of course, we continue to work in the Florida state legislature to restore pari-mutuel racing. But at this point, and maybe for a long time, wagering is not needed. This effort would be like Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, who hears a strange whisper, “If you build it, they will come.”
Get the funding. Operating expenses are always an obstacle for dreamers who leap into the unknown. At Spring Garden, either the purchase of the property or a long-term lease would not be an onerous expense. The fastest path would be an original outlay from an interested benefactor or benefactors. A deep pocket or two from benevolent members of the racing community could give us a start. After securing the property, raising money, and electing a board of directors, the funding becomes the staff’s responsibility.
Rebrand our flagship facility. Create a mighty and proud name such as – The American Society of Trotting and Pacing Institute at Spring Garden Ranch.
To do exactly what and raise funding how? The beauty of leaps of faith is that there are no rules. The staff (and our team should consist of youthful, enterprising people) will take the ball and run. The staff answers to the board with their plans. Possible funding? The team can prioritize from a broad menu of revenue streams. Here are a dozen easy examples tossed on the table:
- The winter training operation
- Educational grants
- Agricultural grants
- Tourism grants
- Reopen the onsite restaurant
- Donations from you and me
- RV hookup rentals
- Facility rentals
- USTA convention site
- A for-profit horse retirement operation
- Non-wagering horse events and races
- Legacy grants from estates
- Merchandise sales
Smart, enthusiastic people will fill pages with concepts and funding methods for ongoing expansion. The facility will be ever-changing, a launching pad for new initiatives. Right now, you might have your creative juices flowing for funding, additions, and activities.
As a person who enjoys our sport, ask yourself these fundamental questions: Would you support building a national harness racing beachhead, something extraordinary that would make you proud? Would you enjoy watching the facility grow, experiment, and expand? Would you enjoy traveling to this lovely rustic beachhead for vacations?
And finally, wouldn’t it be great to race toward something new and wonderful instead of looking over our shoulders and squabbling?