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Thursday Thoughts: A Black and White Assessment

by Al Cimaglia

January 4, 2018

As the calendar flips to 2018 many of us assess how the previous year has gone and then look forward to making changes. Sometimes the evaluation process can be sobering. But if the results are in black and white it's not a time for excuses, although a deeper look at reality can be discouraging. Regardless it's a time to fine tune plans for better days to come.

In 2017, $1,383,189,222 was bet at harness tracks in the United States, which was a decrease of 4.39% from 2016. The total amount of race dates declined 1.77% from 3,675 in 2016, to 3,610 last year. Although there were fewer race days the average bet per race barely increased, and that should be an eye opener. In 2017 the per race average was $37,327 which was a mere three dollar increase from 2016.

Now comes the most interesting number picture, total purses increased by 2.35% or $9,927,646 to $432,995,289. So, the handle was down over 4% while purses rose over 2% and the harness racing business model isn't in great shape. What keeps things afloat are the subsidies from casinos, slots and state governments. That's okay for now but there needs to be more money bet and most likely additional consolidation of race dates until the harness racing fan base grows.

My take is the arrow is pointed up for harness racing, but simply the realization for 2018 should be more fans are needed. When the fan base increases wagering can rise as well as purses, in a more self-sufficient business model.

**The data source for wagering information as published on the USTA website was United Tote. Handle totals includes U.S. and Canadian common and separate pool wagers on races contested in the United States.

Hawthorne Race Course

Starting tomorrow night at 7:05 CST Hawthorne Race Course kicks-off their winter meet. The opening two weeks will have racing conducted on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Then the schedule continues with weekly racing from Thursday through Sunday and concludes with a special Monday night of racing on February 19.

Leading drivers Casey Leonard and Mike Oosting will be back. Also adding to the driver's colony from the Hoosier circuit with Chicago roots, are Todd Warren and Sam Widger. A rising star on the Indiana circuit, Brandon Bates will also be competing at Hawthorne. Winter racing has been absent in Chicago since 2016.

Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.