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Thursday Thoughts: Questions Without Answers Don't Build Trust or Grow The Fan Base

by Al Cimaglia

November 8, 2018

Sometimes there are questions to ask but no answers to be found. 

Does anyone know why the complete Breeders Crown handle totals have not been published anywhere? 

The per race handles were available on the USTA website for a while, only seven days, but they were incomplete anyway. The race by race handles didn't include any money coming from overseas. When I called the USTA to get totals for the entire Crown card this week they said they were not available and that was the same answer from the Hambletonian Society. Pocono Downs didn't return my call. 

Usually information can be found on the internet, but not in this case. There hasn't been one press release from Pocono Downs or anywhere else. The Breeders Crown is the premier night in harness racing, to not have a press release with complete handle totals is very odd. If this doesn't make any sense to me, someone who writes about the sport, plays the races and owns horses it should be unacceptable to others as well. 

Even if the handle was disappointing the totals should have been released by now, the races were on October 27. No matter if the reduced takeout rate of 15% did not provide a boost in handle over last year the numbers should have been made public. If Pocono is going to host the Breeders Crown, they should not have the ability to hold back this type of information. 

Harness racing suffers from poor public perception and not being transparent with handle totals on what should be the biggest night of the racing season doesn't bode well. Sometimes this sport comes across as being a small club, whereby only members are allowed and a select few are in the know. That's exactly the opposite image to project when dealing with the public and when relying on them to bet. If for some reason, there were technical issues or a feasible reason as to why the handle has not been reported it should be disclosed. Anything less makes the sport look small. 

Unfortunately, the handle issue wasn't the only recent harness racing head-scratcher. 

I was in attendance when the yearling sale was going on at Fasig-Tipton in early October. There was a buzz in the air as sales numbers were strong and there was a lot of chatter concerning the recent announcement of a new $1,000,000 race at the Red Mile for 2-year-old trotters, supposedly scheduled for Sunday, September 29, 2019. That was then but on this past Monday the Hambletonian Society published a release saying the Red Mile Million won't be happening in 2019. 

After meetings were held concerning scheduling the Red Mile opted to move up the Kentucky Sires Stakes Final to September 15 to avoid other Grand Circuit conflicts. Evidently it was then realized the stakes calendar was overcrowded. So, it was determined adding another big race into the mix wasn't wise and the Red Mile Million was cancelled for 2019. 

A prudent mind could question- 
Why wasn't everyone on the same page to start, before a big splash announcement was made about a new $1,000,000 stakes race for 2-year-old trotters? Why wasn't everything buttoned up before buyers took a swing to purchase yearling trotters at one of the biggest sales of the year? 

Although it's a different question the answer is basically the same as to why the Breeders Crown handle has not been released. Harness racing is like a rudderless ship, it may move forward but no one knows where it's going to end up. Again there is a question of trust, this time possibly by those who put up money for yearling trotters at the Lexington sale. Also, it is painfully obvious there are individual initiatives, but harness racing is without a master plan. 

Evidently, the Hambletonian Society can't demand Pocono Downs to release handle figures, neither can the USTA because in harness racing every race track does what is best for them. Often that strategy isn't in the best interest of the sport. 

The biggest question without an answer is how and when the structure can change so the priority is to grow the fan base. 

The Hambletonian Society should not be blamed concerning the handle totals for the Breeders Crown being kept a secret, as if they are the formula for Coca-Cola. The Hambletonian Society is a non-profit organization and its aim is to encourage the breeding of standardbred horses by promoting stake races. The Hambo Society was involved with the Red Mile Million but so was the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission as well as The Red Mile. 

As often is the case there were many hands on the steering wheel, but at the end of the day the race track apparently had control of scheduling. The picture is so convoluted it's confusing and even if those entities involved do have the best intentions it's a scattered situation. 

If you are a fan of harness racing and want to know what the handle on Breeders Crown night happened to be, you will need to wait. If you purchased a yearling trotter with hopes of getting involved in the Red Mile Million for 2-year-olds that was announced as if it was going to happen, waiting won't help. 

Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia