by Al Cimaglia
June 14, 2018
A conundrum for harness racing and horse racing in general is the drag in post times. It's no secret, the position of a race in sequence compared to actual post times at other tracks can increase or decrease the handle a great deal. It's not fair to those who watch the races or more so to those who bet on the ponies, but it's a fact. If a track can position themselves properly whereby there is not another race going off on top of them they can benefit from more dollars being bet on their dash. The tracks with a greater following have an advantage and others are best served by following their lead.
Race tracks are primarily interested in getting the largest handle possible. They are out for themselves first and are not concerned about the greater good, because that's a matter of opinion. Horse racing is unfortunately in every man for themselves mode because there isn't a single governing body. So as is the case with many other aspects of the sport, there isn't a way to regulate post times and the actual start time for races. It's common place for post times to be 10-12 minutes behind schedule.
Basically, this is like a game of musical chairs and if there isn't an effort to coordinate things someone is always left standing alone. Trying to get a plan for all to follow is like screaming for the rain to stop. Facts are the facts, the handle for harness racing is up .22% year to date, basically unchanged. But the average amount bet per race is up about $3,300 on 1,236 race dates compared to 1,302 in 2017. That's saying the same amount of money is out there to gamble on horse racing and there isn't much growth. The total amount wagered is basically flat but the average bet per race is up 7.44%. The good news is harness racing isn't losing traction. But are there more fans?
It has been reported the Yonkers' handle is up significantly mostly because they have delayed their start times of races. The overriding issue is the Yonker's handle isn't higher than it was 20 years ago or even ten years ago. Good for them things seem to be improving but there's no need to book a marching band for a parade. The idea should be to grow the pool of bettors, not churn the same people over and over. Not to mention the top race tracks stepping on the lesser known isn't helping to advance the sport. It's time to try something different.
In my view the one general principle that should be followed for 2019 is more race days but fewer races per card. Unless it is a special occasion, there is no need to have more than ten or at the most 11 races run on a card. If everyone stuck to no more than ten races during the week and 11 for the most part on the weekend that would be a start to some sensibility.
The Meadowlands is in a tight situation, they need to stop the red ink from gushing, so they really can't be too concerned with the greater good. The longer a track can milk the clock and delay the start of a race the more money bet. But if everyone could agree on the number of races for each card that would be a great start to moving towards a common goal.
Once everyone falls in line with the number of races per card, then a closer examination of the time between races could take place. Today, spare time is at a premium, many work two jobs. Some may have only one job, but they average well over 40 hours per week. Time is precious and there is a great deal of competition for entertainment dollars.
Over the past 15 years the number of active golfers in the U.S. is down about 30%. One reason cited, and it seems the most logical, is people don't have four to five hours to play a round of golf as leisure time is at a premium. But folks are expected to watch and bet races for close to four hours or more at one track.
Instead of having 14 races per card, increase the amount of race dates and possibly that will help grow the fan base. Maybe on some days there will be eight or nine races, but in the end, horsemen get to race, and the total handle bet may grow. In some jurisdictions there are guidelines for a minimum number of races to be run per meet, but there shouldn't be much blowback in increasing the amount of race dates.
Any movement towards a common goal is a lofty expectation at this point, but it needs to start somewhere. Instead of battling for the last few drops of betting dollars from a stagnant pool of gamblers, increase the amount of people wagering. Maybe less races and additional race dates can lead to more racing fans, then call the marching band.
Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.