by Trey Nosrac
Introducing a goat into the stall of a high-strung racehorse can have a calming effect on the horse. In days of yore, dastardly racing competitors would sneak into the horse stall and remove the goat before a big race in hopes of upsetting the horse’s performance. Ergo, the phrases, we got your goat or getting one’s goat.
Having a harness racing footprint in Florida was a comforting goat. Sadly, our goat is gone, leaving us upset and unnerved. At every step of the harness racing cycle – selection of a stallion, insemination of a broodmare, pregnancy, birth of a foal, training, stakes racing, selling, purchasing, and wagering, we have a moment where we ask ourselves, what if the storms arrive in my backyard? What happens if the sport is no longer feasible? Do we wave goodbye? Will there be a semblance of racing with wealthy harness racing hobbyists?
Many of us in our sport harbor dreams of self-sufficiency. Now that Florida is a non-racing state, my fevered mind believes Florida is open for national experimentation. Aided and abetted by other non-racing southeastern states, Florida may offer the best path to lay the framework for a different future.
The question is simple: without pari-mutuel gambling, could a model be conceived that would entice people to breed, buy, and race in what is, at present, a non-gambling environment? Would participants in this brave new racing world accept racing for what will primarily be their own money and, hopefully, state subsidies from agriculture and tourism to supplement the purse structure?
At this point, many of you will believe that harness horse racing is impossible without gambling money and casino dependency. You may be correct.
Still, somehow, someway, no matter the political and economic future, there will remain a stubborn core of people with resources who find great joy in the challenge of raising a racehorse and the sight of a young trotter rounding the final turn. These diehards will need a refuge if storms sweep away the game as we know it. Building such a shelter will be challenging, but we have intelligent, inventive, and constructive members in our ranks.
Foresight on a national scale, never a great attribute of harness horse racing, should be attempted. Everyone who loves the game could assist in ways big and small in a project for our future.
Consider these preliminary thoughts as an insurance policy, a summer home, a fun project, or simply a supplement to the regular racing season for hardcore owners who loathe the long winters. Just as wealthy people keep winter condos in Florida or have a boat waiting in the Gulf of Mexico, passionate players in harness racing could have a horse or two down south to visit and race.
Without financial crutches, a Florida racing project will be challenging. The money will be less, the initial programs will be modest, and who knows where the road will lead? But we will need places to follow our equine dreams. Beating this drum segues into a loose blueprint. The gist of the idea is to create a Florida stake racing program.
The twist for this suggestion is to push everything in this new state racing program back a few months to avoid conflict with other state programs and take advantage of the weather. What about bringing in three or four stallions for a Florida breeding season beginning in June?
The experimenters/operators/dreamers could limit the first crop to a single gait and try to create an original pool of at least 100 foals. Opening the breeding program to other southeastern states might be helpful. Raise a crop for an eventual yearling sale in January or February, followed by a winter racing season the following November, December, January and February.
The new program would have a minimum of six guaranteed races (five legs and a final) and consolation races. It would offer palatable purses and perhaps stakes racing as a 4yo. Make the pitch fun and fiscally tempting.
This proposal has a bit of an “If you build it, they will come” vibe. The question is, of course, who would build and spearhead such a Florida venture? The answer is unknown, but the breeding industry leaders in our sport tend to contain several forward thinkers, and some of our sharpest minds reside in Florida. We may have members looking for innovative projects and new business models.
Do you believe a state stakes program in Florida, a program that does not conflict with our current programs, is viable? Do you think resurrecting racing in one of our most populous states is worthwhile? Do you imagine a shelter from the storm is of value? Would having an existing stake program in Florida help with future legislation? Do you believe running towards a windmill like Don Quixote is more exhilarating than keeping your head down and hoping for the best?
I am just asking. Well, maybe, nudging and hoping we get our Florida goat back.