by Trey Nosrac
I’m very well acquainted with the seven deadly sins
I keep a busy schedule, trying to fit them in
I’m proud to be a glutton, and I don’t have time for sloth
I’m greedy, and I’m angry, and I don’t care who I cross.
Song by Warren Zevon
Using me as a constructive example for anything is problematic, akin to considering the Big Lebowski for a wardrobe consultant or meeting with Keith Richards for diction tips. However, I am a participant in each challenging area of the sport of harness horse racing – gambling (moderate), ownership (one stakes hopeful per year), as a breeder (two mare maximum per year), seller, buyer, etc.
Step into my mind for a few thoughts about the future.
My previous two seasons in the harness racing game have been a lot of fun. No, my fiscal fortunes did not change. Red ink continued to flow at an alarming rate, young prospects struggled, and my online wagering account found multiple deposits and zero withdrawals.
So, what’s to like about these recent seasons with the trotters and pacers? What made them different?
Trey leaned into the aspects of the game that give him pleasure (yearling sales, breeding, young horses, stakes racing) and leaned away from the elements that do not (overnight racing, winter racing, claiming racing, and gambling). I took a winter break except for a few visits to training centers. These breaks and the concentration on the stakes portion of the sport revived my interest.
A troubling example is that my gambling on harness races waned due to the oncoming tsunami of other sporting wagers. Yesterday, $100 of old-fashioned horse racing gambling money just trotted off to a futures wager on Major League Baseball. Tomorrow, another chunk of my change will go on a football game over/under bet. I feel sad about gambling down other alleys, but rudimentary math shows the takeout in horseracing is, and will continue to be, a horseshoe around our neck.
But weren’t the recent yearling sales, with serious money following hundreds of hammer clacks, a total blast? Weren’t the previous stakes racing seasons great fun? Bulldog Hanover was jaw-dropping fun. The weather was excellent for most of our big days. Was it just me, or were the months between the first 2-year-old qualifiers until the Harrisburg Sale exhilarating?
Statistics, economics, business, and data crunching are not my fortes, but the thoughts and feelings of participants of my ilk could be helpful if we want to bend the curve of our future. The fundamental question is: if gambling on horses is aging, changing, saturated, and heading out the door, would it not make sense to latch on to the segments of our sport that excite people enough that they spend gobs of money playing in the world of hopes and dreams?
Perhaps bending the curve in my new direction would involve an off-season where racetracks stockpile casino revenue during a more condensed racing season. Stockpiled funds now earmarked for winter purses could enhance breeding programs with deeper layers and increased purse pools.
Perhaps bending the curve would involve cycling out our veteran horses (faster horses) for young stakes performers or state non-winners of various numbers of races or earnings (slower horses).
Perhaps to bend the curve, stakes racing, and the annual yearling sales, already the fun portion of our cycle should be accented even more.
Perhaps breeding farm owners and operators, who are well-versed in longer-range planning, should have more influence in operating our sport.
Many people in our industry have a niche — overnight racing, harness racing administration, dealing with casinos, gambling, training horses, etc. When you operate daily in a specific area, it is easy to become myopic and fail to see the big picture. The farther back you stand, the better design we will have.
A good redesign starting point is to keep the parts people seem to enjoy while gently deemphasizing aspects that are, or will be, struggling. If the lack of gambling dollar power is an iceberg in plain sight for our harness boat, we need to do more than fiddle.
Bending any curve is daunting. Global warming, political divisions, mutant viruses, robot worker forces, obesity, etc., all seem impossible. Huge problems feel immune to change. They may be. But the world, including the microscopic world of harness racing, is like the Titanic. A few degrees right or left can make the difference between smooth sailing and disaster.