by Al Cimaglia
January 25, 2018
Harness racing needs to reconnect with the public and work on shedding the stigma which is attached to the sport. By its very nature a harness race can look suspicious to the untrained eye of a casual bettor. Some of the stench which lingers is earned. There was a time when questioning the legitimacy of an outcome of a harness race was justified. Although those days are well in the past the odor lingers, and the stigma is still in place.
When thoroughbreds stumble out of the gate and are knocked out of contention it's commonly considered bad luck. When a harness horse breaks stride the cries from the few in the grandstand are not about misfortune, but rather the fix was in. Some of the disconnect with the public is deserved. There hasn't been a committed, unified effort by race tracks and the USTA to paint a better picture. As the handle has dwindled less money is spent on marketing and educating the public, so the downward spiral continues.
Hawthorne Race Course has stepped up with some initiatives to project a better image of harness racing and have helped promote an idea of a local trainer. Conditioner Payton Ode thought it would make sense to showcase the sport and his 15 horses to friends and anyone else who would listen by giving them a tour of his stable. Kind of a behind the scenes look, and his idea was embraced by another Hawthorne trainer, Angela Coleman. Now the two are competing to see who can get the most people to tour their stable.
Hawthorne has promoted the concept on its website as a Night at The Races-Stable versus Stable. The trainers have also used Facebook to attract folks to take a backside stable tour. Hawthorne will provide free admission, a complimentary program and a $5 free wager, all of which will help to promote the competition. The Illinois Harness Horsemen Association has also pitched in with complimentary coloring books for those 12 years old and younger.
Hopefully many will sign up to take the tour as racing continues until February 19th at the Stickney oval. To receive more information stop by Guest Services at Hawthorne.
Currently there is another contest being promoted at Hawthorne. It is a raffle whereby the winner will receive a two percent ownership share in an Illinois bred two-year-old. Fractional ownership is another fantastic way to get people involved in harness racing. Next month, I will have more to say about fractional ownership and The Stable.ca who is participating in this event.
These initiatives are a prime example of a unified effort between race track management and horsemen. It's nice to see, and more of the same type of consolidated effort and out of the box thinking is needed to grow the harness racing fan base. Hopefully other horsemen and race tracks will follow the lead of trainer's Payton Ode and Angela Coleman as well as Hawthorne Race Course.
Maybe there will be a time when a standardbred goes off stride it will be thought of as only bad luck.
Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.