Hitch up those teams

Creating a harness racing league could draw in bettors.

by Trey Nosrac

If the Chicago Cubs are your favorite baseball team, each regular season is a rollercoaster ride of joys and disappointments you share with fellow fans. Each game in the quest for a National League Central Division title is crucial, but being a Cubs fan is much more.

Rooting for your Cubbies means that every draft pick, player acquisition and trade is meaningful. The rosters of opposing teams, preseason games, management decisions and off-season moves are all part of the fun. When the season begins, the constantly shifting standings are riveting. The depth of experiences for a team sports fan is endless. And starting this year, you can wager on your home team.

For many reasons, team experiences were unavailable to horse racing. Communications and research did not offer the chance to view far-away races or to research any race deeply. Horse racing was never a team sport. Perhaps it never will be. However, the world has changed. Racehorse gamblers and fans have new options and creating a team paradigm for our sport could be one of them. Let me paint a simple outline.

When the fall yearling sales end, the “commissioner” of the MLHHR (Major League of Harness Horse Racing), begins to set the season in motion. Setting up the season is a simple, enjoyable task. First, the commissioner (or his delegates) decides how many state teams will be in the league and gives each team a catchy name. For example, one team will be the Indiana Iron Horses.

Step two, choose 10 Indiana-bred yearlings (soon-to-be 2-year-olds) from the recent sales results to compose the team roster. Repeat this process for other states — New York, Ohio, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey and Maine — maybe combining some states like Kentucky, Virginia, Minnesota and Illinois. And, of course, assign a franchise representing Canada. Bingo, we have a league.

The commissioner could assign each team a clever nickname and logo for fun, maybe even do a little merchandising. The training season begins and everything proceeds as usual throughout the 2-year-old racing season. There is no ask of any trainer or owner, no fees; they are merely a virtual stable of young horses.

The competition is straightforward — each team’s total dollars earned, in and out of state, at commercial racetracks, on the Grand Circuit, or at Podunk fairs — every penny earned in purses by each team member gets added to the running total through November. The most aggregate money determines the champion team. Your team must stick with the horses they rode in on. No replacements for injury or 2-year-old horses that do not qualify are permitted.

Who would be the commissioner and why would this team concept be of value?

Let me state clearly: I don’t know who. But it could be anyone. Nor do I know if this idea has any value. Iterations may have been experimented with previously, but remember, environments change and you never step into the same puddle twice. I don’t think being the new commissioner would cost a dime and could be fun for the creator and the participants. The whole plan would appear to be cost-free.

Of course, people could follow their team just for fun and bragging rights. A team concept with wagering could bring revenue. In gambling terms, this would be considered something along the lines of a long-term futures-market sports team wagering proposition.

Your challenge is to choose your team and wager. You can pick your team from a hat or choose because you like the trainer. Maybe you select a team because most horses will race in your home state, or you use meticulous analysis and sales results. We all understand that some of the ten horses from each group will not reach the starting gate. Forecasting 2-year-olds’ performances are chancy. Million-dollar yearlings often may not earn a dime, and medium-priced yearlings may evolve into a Bulldog Hanover.

It is beyond my pay grade and mental acuity to opine exactly how team wagering should be structured. The league composition could be state or national. Do payoffs go to the winners only? Pay first, second and third? Will some teams have a higher payout? Will wagering on these harness horse racing teams have a closing date to lock in wagers? Will the market odds fluctuate? If you back a team leading in the standings, can you market your ticket?

Simple factual analogy.

I have gambled on sports teams winning championships for the past few years, usually $50 or $100. Last preseason I wagered on a group of young men who assembled to play together as the TCU Horned Frogs football team to win the NCAA Championship. Last preseason, I wagered on the Cleveland Guardians baseball team, a group featuring 17 rookies, to win the Central Division. And I wagered on the Cleveland Cavaliers, with a core lineup barely out of their teens, to win the NBA Eastern Division.

Why can’t teams of 2-year-old harness racehorses form a league and offer me the same wager on the Ohio Obliterators taking the MLHHR crown?

If this offer were on the table, as soon as the teams of yearling are listed, I would have a lot of fun evaluating the various team groupings (horses, trainers, programs) and choosing my favorite. If a team wager of this type is on the table, I will bet a hundred, maybe two hundred, on my team before the deadline. When the horses begin to near qualifying time, I will get very interested in how “my team” is performing and how my opposition’s teams are lining up. Qualifying day and early racing will be fascinating and immersive. Every day throughout the season, I will have horses to watch race and root for or against. I may place additional wagers if team wagers are available in shorter intervals, such as which team will win the most money during the first seven days of July.

This team competition format would be a unique way to play for harness racing fans/gamblers like me. For the other 98.4 per cent of the uninformed masses, this team format would offer a nice little entrance ramp into our world.