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Thursday Thoughts: John Campbell's Initiatives & a Need for Balance

by Al Cimaglia

December 7, 2017

There's a balance needed for effective change it shouldn't happen only because something different is needed. Change must make sense and be organized to be effective. That's easier said than done for harness racing.

There was an interesting interview with John Campbell in a Harness Racing Update article from December 2nd. After his recent retirement from driving, Campbell became President of the Hambletonian Society and he discussed a couple of his initiatives. Campbell is going to peck away at change, so harness racing can become more popular with bettors and the fan base can grow.

Campbell's first two initiatives are to unify the classification system and to make the rules the same in every racing jurisdiction across the country.

In my view it will be impossible to use the same algorithm to classify horses at every harness track. Campbell basically has stated the same, but he is headed in the right direction. To simplify the program so it doesn't appear to look like a Chinese crossword puzzle to new fans is the correct path to take. There will be issues, some tracks still face a shortage of horses. Others are loaded with cheap claimers but lack top end competitors.

An advantage harness racing has over thoroughbred racing is almost every dash is one mile in distance. In recent years extra distance has been added, especially on half mile ovals but most races are at one mile. If there could be a more standardized way of classifying horses that would make handicapping not as complex. Not sure it would be any easier to pick winners, but it would appear so to most people.

The next substantial change Campbell will be working on in 2018 is to have only one rule book. This would make it easier for those who now race in different jurisdictions to stay in compliance. Currently, medication which might be legal in one state might not be just across the border. Trainers who race in multiple jurisdictions have an almost impossible task.

Its easy for the public to think trainers who are most successful are the best chemists. But the rule book is written so a trainer is guilty if anything deemed to be illegal is found in a horse's bloodwork. The only thing to be decided is what type of violation has occurred, for example is it a Class 1 or Class 2 offense. It's a blanket system of justice, trainers are completely guilty, with little discretion being used.

Instead of having adequate testing in place and a consistent rule book, as it is today it is guilt before due process which is used to attempt to catch cheats. It sounds good to say everything being done is in the best interest of the public. But there's a balance that needs to be achieved because currently it is guilty until proven innocent.

The entire regulating system is out of whack, almost from top to bottom. Campbell knows the same, as he has lived it for 45 years. Fortunately, he realizes there aren't any quick fixes. It will take time to get things in balance and provide meaningful change, but that doesn't seem to be stopping Campbell.

Note to readers...

Those who read my race picks and comments on a regular basis know I normally review the results the next day. Many times, I handicap a Pick 4 sequence. The reason I usually chose that horizontal sequence is there are four races to review. Hopefully you can find an angle that otherwise wouldn't have been obvious to you in at least one of the races.

Keep in mind my picks are made ahead of time, so I'm not aware of the betting action. I don't know who are the hot drivers and trainers that night, or how the track is playing. Many times, the highlighted Pick 4 is correct in at least three of four races. But what should be noted is the picks featured are also involved in gimmicks and the selections can be useful in that regard.

This past Sunday, my posted key horse at Rosecroft Raceway, #6-Rock N Roll Jet won and paid $22.40. That winner keyed a $101 exacta, on top of the #7-Rocktavius who went off at 9/5. The Sunday before a top selection came second and paid $26 to place as it went off at close to 50-1.

Hopefully readers are getting full value when reading the comments and integrating the picks into their own betting style. It may pay to look deeper into the selections, beyond the posted Pick 4 numbers.

Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.