by Al Cimaglia
April 26, 2018
The love for harness racing that Pompano Park's track announcer Gabe Prewitt has is easy to recognize. One doesn't have to be a longtime fan of standardbreds to feel the enthusiasm Prewitt brings to his job. Over the last few years Pompano Park has gone from almost unnoticeable to being a significant factor in their fall through spring meet.
Prewitt uses social media to grow the Pompano fan base and his Twitter tweets are informative. Prewitt's opinions on Pompano Park and harness racing in general are below and I think you will find them enlightening.
Gabe, Pompano Park has had a resurgence this year, you have developed a social media presence and I feel you have been a big part of the increase in handle. What do you feel has clicked to account for such a surge in popularity?
Over the course of the last three-four years, I think we have built momentum in a variety of different ways and we have positioned ourselves back on the radar of horse players throughout North America. We know that handle is how we keep score in this business, and it was only five years back where we were averaging $162,000 in handle per night. These days, we are fortunate enough to bet close to or over a million on some occasions. We try to maintain a strong social media presence, we were exposed to a wider audience a few years back when we got back on TVG, we also lowered takeout on some of our signature wagers. All of these things helped move the needle, and we are so appreciative of the wagering action and the many new fans we have picked up along the way.
I know it's a chicken an egg thing to some degree, but harness players will fire into Pick 4 and Pick 5 pools if there are larger guarantees. Your meet as well as the current Cal Expo meet has kicked it up a notch with guarantees. How important are guarantees to grow the handle on horizontal bets?
I think at a track like Pompano guaranteed pools are extremely important, we were used to seeing Pick 4 pools of $2,000-$3,000 only a few years back. I can vividly remember missing $2,500 guarantees in our 0.50 Pick 5 when we were trying to get it off the ground. Those types of pools are not going to get any major action because players know their win is limited. If you can add to the guarantee, preferably with a low takeout, players know they can shoot at a decent score and they don't mind investing a decent amount. Chris Schick (General Manager of Cal Expo) does a fantastic job at Cal Expo and at administering the USTA Strategic Wagering Program. We have seen our multi-race exotic pools increase another 25-30% this season, and I fully expect to be able to raise the guarantees to an even higher level next year during our peak winter season. Another thing that we have added this season is our 'live money' graphic which seems to be very popular among our players. That was suggested by a few people on Twitter, and I thought it sounded like a good idea as well. We try to listen to our players, if someone takes the time to reach out to me on social media, good or bad, I try to respond. Most of the time the best ideas come from your patrons.
Pompano has cut back on race cards as the current meet has gone on. I would rather see fewer races with full fields than 12 or 14 race cards with six or seven horse fields. How do you feel about this and how difficult is it to manage the inventory of horses throughout a meet?
I agree with you 100% on this, we need to put out a solid betting product as an industry. It's only my opinion, but I think 14-15 race cards can get a little ridiculous. I'm not sure we have many people willing to spend five-six hours with us at a track for a single betting card. I wish we had more horses in South Florida, and hopefully we will next season. Ideally it would be nice to have ten races a night with solid field sizes of eight and above. We must work in 126 race days by contract, so that is the reason we must go five nights per week during the winter. I do think it's possible to recruit a few more barns down next season which will hopefully allow us to put out an even better product. Who doesn't want to spend the winter in South Florida?
Recently, there was a good deal of controversy when Miso Fast, who was a standout favorite was scratched due to weather and track conditions. The betting public who singled Miso Fast in horizontal bets received a lukewarm favorite who ran third.
It's a tough situation but I feel the owners should be able to scratch because of weather conditions. Also, I think it's better an odds-on favorite doesn't race unless it's an all-out effort. The best scenario would be to have an alternative selection on the ticket when singling a horse that could be used if there was a scratch. What are your thoughts?
Honestly, I feel terrible about the entire situation. We need to come up with some type of solution as an industry, and the technology should be there in this day and age. Having an alternative selection is certainly a viable solution, however late scratches are always going to be extremely bad for the betting public because it changes the entire sequence. In our situation, most people, myself included had likely singled Miso Fast thinking he was tons the best. However, if you take out Miso Fast the race becomes more wide open, and most of us would've preferred to be three or four horses deep as opposed to having any other horse singled. Late scratches are always going to create havoc, but we need to come up with a solution where the player has more control of their destiny. Obviously, I take pride in our product at Pompano, so I hated to see the situation play out here, but the reality is that the same exact thing could happen at any track in North America again tomorrow. We need someone to pull the right people together and solve the problem.
You are 34 years old, and that's part of the demographic harness racing should be targeting. What would you do to help get the 21-40 crowd to attend racing?
I had never watched a harness race in my life until I came to college at the University of Kentucky, although I was at Keeneland on many, many occasions in my childhood. I loved horse racing, but never knew The Red Mile existed prior to moving across the street. The first day I walked in was a Friday afternoon of Grand Circuit racing with Sam McKee on the mic, and I got to see the best of the best on the track. It is safe to say I was an easy sell. Almost all my friends in my age range like to gamble, I think more people are gambling these days than ever before. I think we need to present our product in a way to entice wagering.
Obviously as an industry we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and make some changes. It would be great as an industry if we could come together and lower takeout, coordinate post times, and cooperate overall for the benefit of the long-term health of our sport. I think local marketing and having event nights is a great way to get people out to the track in that age range and introduce them to the sport. We all had to be introduced at some point, no one dropped out of the sky hammering exactas at the $50 window. It could be something as simple as food trucks.
If you had the ability to change one thing about harness racing what would it be?
I would like to find a way to have one centralized person or commission looking out for the best interests of the entire industry. Right now, it's almost every track, every horsemen's group, every racing commission, just trying to do what's best for themselves in their own little bubble. It could open us up to a new era, with standard medication policies, coordinating race schedules regionally, coordinating post times nightly. The possibilities are endless.
What do you think the next one to three years holds for Pompano Park?
Pompano is very near and dear to my heart obviously, so I want to see us continue to move the needle with the handle. I am thankful I get the opportunity to work at such a historic place, and I hope we are still talking about more and more people jumping on board with the handle continuing to increase in three years. Again, we appreciate all of the support out there from the #SendItIn Army, as we call our gamblers at Pompano. If you haven't jumped on board yet, we hope you'll tune in to the races soon. I am always available on Twitter for any new players that have questions.
Thanks Gabe, I do appreciate your time!
Gabe Prewitt, grew up on a farm just outside of Lexington, KY. He started announcing the 'early fall meet' at The Red Mile in 2008, he has announced races at Buffalo Raceway (2012 & 2013), Gulfstream Park (one month in 2016) and Hialeah Park (2016). In addition to announcing Gabe has done television work at The Meadowlands for the Championship Meet in 2017. He is currently the track announcer at Pompano Park and The Red Mile. Gabe also serves as the Executive Secretary of the Kentucky Harness Horsemen's Association since 2010.
Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.