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Al Cimaglia: Handle Surge Wasn't Enough For The Pomp To Survive

by Al Cimaglia

April 17, 2022


This will be the final night of racing at the “Winter Capital” of harness racing, Pompano Park. Ironically, the track isn’t being shuttered because of a run of bad years. The 2021 handle for the Pomp was the best since the track opened in 1964. But when corporations are involved and it is determined there is a “better use” for the land, the property is sold or used for a different purpose. Recently the same reasoning happened concerning the decision to close Arlington Park. But Gabe Prewitt, Director of Racing for Caesar's Entertainment-Racing wasn’t at the controls in Arlington Heights.

Prewitt is the track announcer at the south Florida track, and he is a good one. But make no mistake, Gabe influenced every aspect of racing at the Pomp. What Prewitt managed to do was create a club without a membership fee and called it the #SendItIn army which is how he promoted it on Twitter. Send it in, meaning your bets and that is exactly what happened.

In a world where hyperbole is commonplace, I’m comfortable in saying the turn-around at the Pomp over the last four years or so, will never be equaled in harness racing. It didn’t happen in a few weeks but once the #SendItIn army gained momentum Pompano became a destination for horseplayers that it hadn’t been since the 80's, albeit not on site.

What Prewitt did best was to make an awful situation better by playing the hand that was dealt and telling the truth. He can talk the horsemen’s language and doesn’t come across like a management suit. Prewitt is also a horseplayer, so he knows what is important to gamblers. Everyone relates to Gabe.

Without saying so, Prewitt knew people like to embrace a cause and we are all lemmings to a degree. So, the rallying cry was to keep betting so the Pomp could survive. The handle rose, purses got better, the field size increased and the guarantees on horizontals were boosted.

Everything fell into place despite a facility in need of repair, nothing stopped the turn-around. Electrical outages, tote and starting car malfunctions were part of the vibe. The video was circa 1980's poor, the finish line camera position had a bias of at least a long nose. Without the sound, bettors wouldn’t know if it was the 6 horse or the 3 crossing the line first, the same with the 1 or 7. Prewitt knew about the issues and didn’t like it but continued to promote to survive. His efforts added at least a year of life to the Pomp, probably two.

There was a time when race tracks were owned by families who were backed by generational wealth. They would be able to shoulder tough times with the aspiration of continuing a legacy of racing at their facility for future generations. It’s much different now and harness racing in total is not a guaranteed life for future generations of horsemen.

Unfortunately, that’s the truth, and there are few involved in racing like Prewitt, who can make a significant difference. Prewitt will continue doing his regular stint of calling races at the Red Mile. When I asked Gabe about his future otherwise, he simply said it will be fine and he worries more about the people at Pompano.

There isn’t a doubt Gabe will be fine; he is too talented not to be, whether in racing or not. But it would be a shame if he weren’t heavily involved in promoting another track. The 2022 harness racing handle is down 9.8% compared to the same time last year.

It’s time to #SendItIn and there might be someone available who knows how to make that happen.

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