Letter Sent To Ontario’s Premier

Dear Sir:

I'm sure you are well aware of the poll published in today's (March 15) Toronto Star showing that 69% of Ontarians oppose the expansion of casinos and slots in Ontario.

You may recall Ontarians felt the same way when slots were first introduced in Ontario 15 years ago  and that is why they ended up being housed at existing gambling facilities RACETRACKS.

Combine this poll reality, with another reality, ending the existing slots/racetrack program puts 60,000 jobs in jeopardy, and you are creating a true DOUBLE WHAMMY.

The Liberals crass anti-racetrack ads were so simplistic and tainted that the Toronto media jumped on them immediately.  Now public opinion is coming full circle and seeing this charade for what it is.

The OLG's strategy to push full blown casinos seems flawed at best.  Less than 25% of the OLG revenue comes from casinos, and the majority of that revenue is likely from slots housed at those casinos.  Did your OLG experts look at the US casino havens?  Atlantic City and Las Vegas are in a free fall.  In fact, US casino companies have instead turned to a new venue: RACETRACK SLOTS.  A number of major US casino companies already have purchased racetracks, and more are in the process of building them.  

In light of the new Liberal gambling proposals, the Star poll also shows a reversal of fortunes in the overall polling numbers.  The Conservatives are now at 40% support, Liberals are at 28%, and NDP at 23%.  

I might be a bit naive, but why would any government (let alone one in a minority situation) want to offer up such an easy lightning rod of discontent  - kill 60,000 agricultural jobs then try and recoup some of those losses by introducing localized gambling.

Wouldn't now be a good time to reconsider your position?

Sincerely,
Cam McKnight,
Tillsonburg.


Gural On The Right Track

Racetracks and the industry, as well as politicians, should take a close look at what Mr. Gural is doing at the Meadowlands where the handle is UP 13%. This was not luck.

In two short months of racing, he is showing horsemen, owners, the whole industry, as well as politicians, that given a fair chance or even a decent chance, quality horse racing can flourish.

And it is a complete effort needed by all parties, including the politicians, who now are beginning the raids on the horsemen's share of slots. Politicians are always so short sighted, and the horse industry as a whole, too lazy or too set in the ways of half a century ago.

Racetracks MUST take racing into the 21st century! Mr. Gural shows the way with demanding solid competitive racing each and every race, from start to finish. He, along with Peter Koch and his assistants, have put on really well put together cards of competitive racing, which is an absolute must if we want people to bet more and come more often.

I wish that a couple looooong standing suggestions that I have been vocal about would be implemented.

1) Each track have a "video room" set up to do post position draws, that is then streamed either live or to be played any time someone wants to view it. Ideally, set up just like they do for Lottery draws on TV. I firmly believe people in the industry will LOVE it, and that includes the ever important gamblers and fans. Who would not enjoy clicking on the draw and waiting for your race to be drawn, and hearing/watching that draw come up?

I believe it would be an outstanding form of entertainment for those interested in participating by clicking on the link, and anyone not interested can ignore the link and just look up what they drew. And finally, it would be a bit of advertising, in a way. Which is why it needs to be all done the same way, with a set up that matches all the tracks as best they can. Nearly everyone that I speak to about this, and it has been hundreds and hundreds over the years, love the idea.

2) E-mail entries. This is a must. We can order anything on the Internet, and get an immediate confirmation of what was ordered, the time, and a confirmation number. Horsemen should be allowed to enter their horses at any time, day or night, the day of, the day before, whenever condition sheet comes out.

Only trainers realize the stress of making sure you get all your horses in at the right tracks, in the right classes, at the right time of day, etc. Time and again, people either miss the draw or are scrambling to call in entries, even while jogging a horse on the track and calling it in with seconds to spare. It is not fair to the trainers or the owners, and it is actually unfair to the judges and race secretaries. The technology is absolutely available and foolproof and dummy proof....for those who are still afraid of computers.

I am sure that it could be set up where when the draw closes, it automatically blocks any more entries, and then, organizes ALL of the entries for the race office and prints it out for them. This is once again, and outstanding manner of entering horses. And will make the judges and race secretary's offices run even smoother. I am sure that it is no fun for the people in their office sitting there taking entries over the phone.

I hope Mr. Gural will lead the way on this too. I think it would excite the racing community in many ways, and open the door for further strides into the 21st century. Driver changes could also be done this way, and a list of available drivers to pick from. If not done in time, it would randomly pick a driver.

There are so many little things that can be tweaked or added into these ideas. You could have guest fans to help in the draw, or sponsors for each draw......

Politicians need to stand by agreements, and the horse industry needs to help make that easier by enhancing our product and bringing more fans to the track or to the avenues to make their bets. It needs to be a team effort by all horsemen, fans, owners, racetrack owners and officials and politicians.

Steve Manzi


Meridian Farms Keeping The Spirit Alive And Well

We here in Newfoundland race for the pure love of the sport. When you look at our average purse of $500 it’s plain to see we enjoy our racing but don't get me wrong we would love to race for more money.

One has to understand our only means of funding comes from our simulcast betting; our government does not help out here in any way and never have. We struggle each and every year to keep our sport alive and well, promoting our sport in every way we can.

One of our biggest and most memorable days each year is the Canadian Drivers Showcase which unfortunately we couldn't get off the ground this season but with the help from Mr. Bill Andrew and Meridian Farms it looks like we will have an even bigger day than we expected.

Mr. Andrew and Meridian Farms have been our biggest supporters for the last four years and the only breeding establishment in Canada that has offered to help.

Just to give you an update on the Meridian Farms day which is next Sunday, September 25:

We have two races for NW of $70PS in 2011 both going for a purse of $1,500 each.
One race for Meridian aged going for a purse of $2,200.
One will be the Meridian Farms King of the Rock Pace for Meridian bred or sired two and three year olds going for a purse of $2,000.
A Meridian Farms open mares race going for a purse of $1,700.
A Meridian Farms open colts & geldings race going for a purse of $1,800.

As the day draws near our horse owners, trainers and drivers are very excited about the Meridian Farms day. The card will be filled with excitement as we race for some of the biggest purses in our history and we also have trophy coolers on every race including the Meridian Farms Amateur Pace which a lot of our future drivers will partake in.

On behalf of our members I would like to extend a very big thank you to Mr. Bill Andrew and Meridian Farms for their continued support and would like to wish them all the best in their up and coming sales season.

It’s farms like Meridian that helps keep the spirit of racing alive and well.

Thanks
Scott Forward
Goulds NL




New Rule Well Intentioned But Ill Conceived

                  As you know, Marc and I generally don’t get involved in the many controversies that beset our sport, but the recent push by Jeff Gural and the Hambletonian Society to compel owners of stallion prospects to race their colts as four-year-olds to qualify eventual progeny to significant U.S. stake race eligibility is both well intentioned and ill conceived.

                  All elements of harness racing have been struggling for years to counteract decreasing on-track attendance, diminished publication coverage of harness racing and the clear fact that in today’s world our product does not seem to be attracting the interest of young people necessary to carry the sport forward in the manner we have become accustomed to. All interests within the industry have felt the effects of our industry’s downturn – handle has dropped, mares bred have fallen in number, racetracks have closed and those remaining are in jeopardy or clearly dependant on slot revenue for success, owners face ever increasing costs as well as regulatory attempts to use them as soldiers in racing commission attempts to control the dangerously out of control chemical trainers that all recognize but none seem able to ban, and breeders as well as stallion owners are having to cope with fewer customers, negative global economic conditions, and a decreasing buyer’s bench and middle market.

                  It is no surprise, therefore, that Mr. Gural and the Hambletonian Society would seek novel solutions to our malaise. In Europe and Australia, a horse cannot achieve greatness unless it prevails in one of the many time-honored Aged Racing Classics that have come to be pre-requisites to top-end stallion launches and syndications. These Classics have been around for ages, and the biggest racing purses are for Aged horses. The European and Australian racing culture is different, however, and most importantly, the underlying economics of the business there are different.

                  In North America, we push our two and three-year-olds and huge success at two and three leads to huge syndication value. In Europe and Australia, they are much more lightly raced at two and three and even where shining champions they are not capable of earning the money ours earn.

                  It is putting the cart before the horse in North America to expect our stars at two and three to be raced at four when we just don’t have the aged races necessary to make it economically viable to forego $5 to 10 million syndication paydays in favour of the risks and limited racing upside associated with  four-year-old racing. Owners of champions know how lucky they’ve been, and they cannot be expected to forego a significant and well deserved cash out. The potential for European style aged racing just isn’t there yet, and it is unfair and unrealistic to expect owners of a stallion prospect such as Somebeachsomewhere to risk the horse’s value to further the vague notion that keeping him racing at four will somehow significantly help the industry as a whole or racetrack owners, in particular.

                  It would, indeed, be wise to create lucrative four-year-old and aged stakes of high visibility that would begin to tempt juvenile champions to keep racing. But forcing owners of these champions to do so without this infrastructure in place is a dangerous concept.  In fact, the likely result will be the deliberate disabling of highly valuable juveniles to disqualify them from the financially onerous requirement of racing at four. At the very least, there will be massive pressure on vets and trainers to fit such horses into disqualifying niches.

                  In addition, once we have the appropriate Aged Classics, new aged champions will surface and provide the impetus Mr. Gural is looking for. In every industry, economic realities drive what participants do, racing is no different in this regard. Artsplace, Lismara, Four Starzzz Shark, Mister Big and many others had to race as four-year-old and/or up because their value needed the boost that success would create. Their continued racing did not “save” the sport, nor will the continued racing of today’s juvenile champions. In most years, these young stars are hardly prominent enough to potentially impact our sport sufficiently to justify compelling owners to keep them racing. And the grueling juvenile racing undertaken by most two and three-year-old champions will surely take its toll on most of these horses if they are forced to continue racing thereafter. The likely effect will only be the diminishment of our young champions when they fail to dominate thereafter, offering little benefit to our industry and significant loss to owners whose continued involvement in the industry is desperately needed. Perhaps  three-year-old syndications will still be attempted, but at reduced valuations, burdened by significant insurance costs, or attempted abroad, leading to the exportation of potentially significant stallions (especially trotters).

                  For Canada, keeping far abreast from this U.S. movement to compel young stallion prospects to race at least through their four-year-old season would be a wise move. It would offer potential stallion owners a viable option regarding three-year-old placement of their stallions, the result of which would probably be the placing of superior stallions in Ontario. The Ontario stakes program is so strong that U.S. stakes which preclude stallion progeny from Ontario because of retirement at three would be the real losers and, eventually, they would be forced to reconsider. Create the proper racing opportunities for top four-year-old and aged horses and most young stars will continue to race beyond three. They will not do so because of some draconian rule that ignores financial realities. At the end of the day, racing’s success must be based in economic models that make sense for all participants, not just the few who theorize that some magic potion will re-energize on-track attendance. We must recognize that the future of racing cannot be based on our past and on plans ignoring the core fact that the days of significant on-track attendance, except for major event days, are long and irretrievably gone.
Best wishes,

Gordon Banks    &    Marc  Hanover
(Enviro Stables Ltd)
 
PS: On an unrelated matter, Marc and I have often remarked on how our industry fails to attempt to control the many internal disputes, suspensions, and appeals that seem to undercut the viability and integrity of racing.

                  We fail to understand why all elements of the industry are not required, as part of their annual licensing, to agree to be bound by 14 day arbitration with respect to any/all racing related disputes. If someone doesn’t so agree, be it a trainer, driver, groom, owner, etc., it seems more than appropriate that he be refused the privilege of a license.
                  There is no reason for suspensions to be allowed to linger in litigation or appeal for endless months. There should be a simple, well-explained, publically available waiver of litigation and appeal venues in favor of specified remedies, hearings, and appeal schedules via arbitration. Again, racing licenses are a privilege, not a right, and it seems only reasonable that all racing participants abide by well understood ground rules not just with respect to day to day racing conduct, but also with respect to appeals and disputes emanating from industry involvement.


October 25 2010

Great Racing Without The Whipping

I'm sure there is nobody who would disagree that by far the best racing in North America during the last two weeks took place at The Red Mile.

Something that might not have been noticed is that this racing took place without any one handed whipping or that none of the whips had snappers.
Was the racing fast? You bet it was.

Was the racing highly competitive? Indeed! Would the horses have gone any faster or would the races have been more competitive if one handed whipping had been allowed? I doubt it.

Kudos to the Kentucky Racing Commission and all others responsible for the transition to the 21st Century.

Murray Brown, Hanover, Pa.


October 8 2010

Walnut Hall Ltd. Opposes RDSP

Although our farm is in Lexington, Kentucky we stand three high profile trotting stallions in Ontario:
Deweycheatumnhowe, Striking Sahbra and Windsong Espoir.
Walnut Hall Ltd. is totally opposed to any plan that would be funded to any extent whatever by money that was taken from the purse account.
If such a plan becomes a reality, we would give serious thought to relocating one or more of our stallions outside of Ontario.

Sincerely,
Alan J. Leavitt, Lexington, Kentucky


September 2010

Praise For Julianna’s Joy

I just finished "Julianna's Joy" in September's issue (written by Nicole Kraft).  Thank you for the beautiful job you did showcasing my sister, Julianna, and my niece, Hannah (Khifra Hanover).  

You really caught the respect and love Julianna has for Hannah.  My young children and I have made several trips to watch Hannah race, and were as blown away by her performance on the track, but it was off the track where Hannah's heart showed to me.  

My son was two when he first met Hannah and he treated her like his personal pony.  Up, down, over, under, between her legs and under her belly, she never batted an eye or moved a muscle.  I'm not a horsewoman like my sister, but I saw a patience in Hannah that I haven't seen in other horses my son has been around.  

Even when she was crabby (my opinion, Julianna rolled her eyes at me) when she was injured, she never showed it to my children.  Hannah is truly a horse to remember and it is a sad day that she won't race again but I can't wait to see what she produces!  I promise, with Julianna training, it's bound to be a sight to see!

A very proud Sis/Aunt,
Alanna A. Prine


August 18 2010

Open Letter To BC Government

My family has been involved in Standardbred racing for three generations and the fact that you have targeted the Standardbred sector sickens me.

You have not realized the effect this will have on thousands of lives both human and equine. You are leaving many families facing the decision of uprooting themselves and leading thousands of horses to slaughter.

I have many questions for you regarding your choice to effectively kill the Standardbred sector while the Thoroughbred sector remains unharmed:
Why is it that the Thoroughbred sector has $22.5 million less projected revenue in 2010 then received in 2009 yet their dates and purse pool remain unaffected?

The difference between the projected 2010 Standardbred revenue and those received in 2009 are only $3.8 million (a far cry from the Thoroughbred's $22.5 million shortfall). Would the shorted race season not account for part of this shortfall? (Shortened fall meet/cutting last weekend of racing / cancellation due to weather?)

http://www.eia.gov.bc.ca/gaming/horse-racing/docs/horse-racing-revitalization-open-meeting-2010-07-27-slides.pdf
Great Canadian shows increased profit margins in every other business sector but racing. How do we know that the numbers aren’t manipulated to show this (i.e. racing vs. casino cost)? How do we know that casino costs are not being written off against the racing side?

The slots were brought into Fraser Downs and Hastings Park to help the racing industry. Should the funds from these slots not be included in the racing sectors revenue?

If GC wants to state the Thoroughbred sector is so healthy that they do not need to reduce their race dates or purses then why are they not repaying the debt to the Standardbred sector?

It is rumored that Great Canadian could not account for three million dollars that was to be allocated to the Standardbred sector. Why is this so?
The first proposed racing calendar was ten months long (September to June) then before the end of the 2009/2010 meet the calendar was reduced to nine months (October to June). Many members of the racing community bought horses this summer understanding they had nine months to make a return on their investment. Do you plan to compensate these members of the racing community for their lost investment?

The Alberta Standardbred Horse Association has a long standing tradition of denying BC horsemen stalls. Also Bill Andrews of ASHA has already stated they have no interest in an inter-provincial race meet.
Even if this was possible, when Standardbreds used to not race during the overlap at Fraser Downs/Cloverdale Raceway there was still a long meet at Sandown Park. With the elimination of Sandown do you really think it is viable for horsemen/women to commute 1,300 km to Alberta? Do you plan to compensate the horsemen/women for the cost to relocate four months out of the year?

There are funds set aside to maintain the long standing tradition of racing in the interior (Princeton, Vernon and Kamloops). Why was nothing done to protect the long standing tradition of racing at Sandown Park?

Have you thought of the number of jobs this will affect and the economic impact? Have you thought about the number of horses that are now worthless? Have you thought of where these horse will go?

Sincerely,
Alina MacLeod


July 21 2010

More Praise For Kawartha

Again I feel a need to comment on racing at Kawartha Downs. In the few Saturdays I have been there this summer, I witnessed a phenomenon that I am not accustomed to.

All the tracks in Ontario need to send their marketing reps there on a Saturday night to take notes.

A packed house!   No stake races, yet a packed house, not talking about the slots.  I am talking about the grandstand and the tarmac in front.

Kawartha has the recipe to get the people to watch the races.  Contests, give aways, ride alongs in the starting gate.  There is entertainment in between the races.

While the handle may not rival WEG, KD does know how to put on a show.  Good job to the staff at Kawartha Downs.

Tim Bates,
Richmond Hill, Ontario


January 28 2010

Kudos To Kawartha

I had the opportunity to race at Kawartha Downs on Saturday. It was a good experience with mixed results.

First my mare had to be scratched due to injuring herself on the ride to the track, not a great way to start the day.  The injury was not severe, but enough to pull her from the day’s contest.  The race office and vet treated me in a way that any one would want to be treated.  Jim came out to the ship in barn to check on me and personally brought the vet to see the mare.  All in all they treated me so well that I felt a whole lot better about the lousy start to the afternoon.

Next the paddock judge agreed to watch my horse in the first race while I helped the vet with my mare.  The horse is not much trouble, but still, having the extra set of eyes was again a small but welcome relief.

Finally, my driver, Aaron Byron, took my only charge for the day to the gate, having listened to what I had to tell him, as he had not driven the horse before. Aaron gave me the drive the horse needed, and picked up a nice piece of the purse.

I left Kawartha with a great feeling about all the people involved.  This is the way I hope that every participant leaves after a day of racing, feeling like everyone was there to help, as there are certainly enough challenges faces each of us every day.

Tim Bates,
Richmond Hill, Ontario


January 4 2010

Do Not Put Restrictions On Conditions

Any restriction put upon race conditions cheapens the product on the track. Case in point is Delaware or Illinois where the racing product is definitely sub-standard and certainly behind that of Ontario's.

Ontario and Woodbine in particular have always been stalwarts of open racing. That is one reason it is arguably the strongest racing jurisdiction on the continent. Even outside province owned horses are based here probably 95 per cent of the time. So they will use Ontario-based blacksmiths, vets, feed stores etc. From a tertiary aspect Ontario wins either way. I don't believe the horse sale companies in Ontario want to be without out-of-province buyers either.  
                               
I have always thought this Ontario first sentiment has to be appeased to keep a certain faction of the industry (and I suppose the politicians happy. Have a few Ontario-owned or sired conditions if you like (it only helps me), but be careful not to go too far and lose sight of the bigger picture.

Protectionism or tariff walls inevitably lead to reciprocity. In the summer when all the tracks reopen there is often a shortage of horses. Nobody wants to bet on weak, small fields of horses.

Blair Burgess,
Campbellville, Ontario


Conditions In Ontario Need Changing

I am writing this letter with the hope of initiating some debate in the racing industry regarding a change in the Ontario-Sired allowance that most Ontario tracks put on their condition sheets. I believe that if we are putting any sort of extra allowance on conditions it should be for Ontario OWNED horses first. I do realize that the majority of horses racing in Ontario are Ontario-sired, however there are a number of horses that are not Ontario sired but are Ontario owned and these horses and their owners are put at a disadvantage with the Ontario-sired condition.

We need to remember that a large part of our purse monies come from Ontario slot machines and it is important to keep as much of that money in Ontario where it will go back into the Ontario economy for trainer fees, feed, veterinarians, blacksmiths, etc.

The Ontario-sired condition helps to inflate sire earnings which is good for the stallion owners (primarily owned by US citizens) but I don’t really think that the yearling buyers look at the Ontario-sired yearlings with the thought that they will be able to race in Ontario-sired conditions. When purchasing a yearling, they are looking at the Sires Stakes not at overnight races. I’m sure most people are trying to buy that next Gold series champion. I also think that with the slots contract with the government up for renewal soon that the government would be much happier to see that money staying in Ontario.

Two examples that we can look to are Dover Downs and The Meadows. If any restrictions are put on classes it is for Delaware or Pennsylvania OWNED or sired horses.

I think it is time for racetrack secretaries to step up to the plate and put Ontario owners first.
Karen Carroll,
Sheddan, Ontario


November 24 2009

Eric Cherry Is Right On

Your interview with Eric Cherry was inspirational.  Finally, someone who has everything in perspective; he's a brilliant man!  I couldn't agree more with everything he said.
 
That interview was the most intelligent and important piece of work regarding our sport that I have heard or read in a long, long time.  This man should be encouraged by all of us in the harness racing industry.  His approach is nothing more than common sense, it's straightforward and simple.  I hope everyone listens to his interview. Go get 'em Eric!

Doug MacPhee
Standardbred horse breeder

Industry Needs Long Term Action

I have opposed the new claiming rule ever since it was introduced and in my opinion all it accomplished was the total destruction of the number one business model in our industry.

Imagine being able to claim a horse on your own or with a partner or partners for $10,000 and being able to race that horse back immediately in the same class for a purse of $9,000 to $9,500! What did we do with this business model? We decided to destroy it forever by implementing a new claiming rule that made as much sense as a screen door on a submarine.

Imagine an investor on Bay Street interested in buying shares in XWZ Company being told he can buy the shares but if he does he has to try and sell them for a price 20 per cent higher than the original purchase price for the first couple weeks of his investment even if his original investment has gone down in value? How about a car dealer that took a lemon in on trade being told he could not sell it for a couple of weeks unless he tried to sell it for 20 per cent more? Who thinks these things up?

Now the powers to be have decided that our drivers were using too much whip getting to the finish line so that rule needed to be changed as well. Many were concerned that PETA would come calling soon and if they did racing would be doomed. Some even felt that our industry would see an improvement by bringing more fans out to live racing. Imagine?

This is the same organization I contacted a few years back after they came out in opposition to the Newfoundland seal hunt. I asked them how many of their staff was wearing leather shoes or carrying leather wallets or leather purses that day? I never received a reply but they still kept me on their mailing list, constantly asking for donations. It was only when I emailed them to make them aware that their financial statements were an absolute disgrace and not current that they decided to remove me from their mailing list.

Now that PETA has come out and announced to the world that they are completely and totally opposed to the killing of any animals on earth I am left to wonder what the next rule change is going to be?

Our industry needs a plan of long-term action not constant reaction and we need to hire people who are bright, intelligent and aware of today's consumers, what they are looking for and how we can give it to them. Should we continue doing the same old, same old, we will continue to receive the same old, same old.

Brian Hancox, Saint John

November 16 2009

The Time To Save Racing Is Now

I hope you will take some time to read this letter and the articles included. Over the last month it has really started to sink in to me that harness racing is dying and will never be the same within the next few years.

Those of you that know me personally know that I am an eternal optimist. My glass is always half full. I have devoted my life to harness racing since the age of 13 when I called my first race. Today I find myself doing what I love best, promoting our sport at Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs and I can't think of doing anything other than working in this industry. Our sport of harness racing has so many great aspects from the great horses to the wonderful people and it is hard for me to sit idly and watch our great sport crumble and do nothing.

I hope you read the October 15th "Michigan governor vetoes funding for racing" article on Harnessracing.com. Fortunately the Michigan Governor stepped in at the eleventh hour and saved the day, for the time being. "Harness racing in Quebec at a seeming end" appeared on the USTA website on October 20th and the recent article "Slots Revenue to Purses Reduced in Pennsylvania" on page thirteen of The Horseman and Fair World from the October 14th edition. I have to believe that other states will be reducing money to the horsemen in the very near future, like Pennsylvania has done.

Many of the recent yearling sales have seen declines. An exception is Ohio, which in my estimation, was up only because the number of horses being offered was down from previous years. The Morrisville Sale was down, the Lexington Select Sale was down (Wednesday down 13 per cent, Thursday down 14 per cent, Friday down 16.8 per cent, Saturday down 11.2 per cent and Sunday was down 24.6 per cent). One bright spot was the Harrisburg Sale that saw an increase this year after falling last year.

 One of the greatest racetracks to ever exist (in my opinion), the Meadowlands, is on the balls of their feet and is losing money each year. I can’t see the taxpayers of New Jersey footing the bill much longer, I could be wrong though. Have you seen the handle results from the Breeders Crown at Woodbine? In 2008 the Meadowlands bet $5,020,659 on 13 races, and in 2009 Woodbine on 12 races bet $2,686,982, over $2.3 million dollars down, and in 2006 when Woodbine hosted the Breeders Crown the handle was $3,813,910, down over $ 1.1 million dollars when comparing the event at the same place.

I think our customers have begun to speak loud and clear and they are telling us to change. Do we really believe that this sport would exist as it does now without expanded gaming in these jurisdictions? Is there a future in harness racing? Does anyone even care anymore? I have started to hear some chatter recently about moving forward and doing "something", but actions speak louder than words. The time is now. I read somewhere once that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

These are the issues I believe we need to work on, first and foremost we need to fix the problems within our industry. First, we need to quit arguing amongst ourselves. Who is correct and who is incorrect will not amount to a hill of beans if we don’t have an industry to work in or on. We need to work on and with our number one people, the "customer."   

There is a newly formed group you may have heard of known as "Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA). We need to sit down with them as I believe our customer must come first. This group, in my opinion, has a realistic view on how to solve some of our problems in the industry.

They identify one of the biggest problems as being the takeout rate at each track and rebating. We must embrace the concept of the "takeout rate" being too much and we must also embrace "rebating". Both of these topics come up numerous times on the HANA website www.horseplayersassociation.org . Please take a look at their website with a keen eye focused on what they are saying about the takeout rates and "rebating".

We also need to address racing dates. Why should Pocono Downs and Chester Downs go at the same time of the year and why should Chester race right along with the Meadowlands and Yonkers? Are we not defeating our purpose? The Meadowlands pools are the only ones large enough to accommodate a big bettor in the United States, as far as harness racing is concerned. This issue needs to be addressed.

We race way too much and to add insult to injury everyone races at virtually the same time. We are diluting our wagering pools to small amounts, offering the high players nowhere to bet the big money. The glut of racing results in horse shortages that cause small fields and produce an inferior product for the gambler, which in turn they don’t want to bet.

Next, I believe we need a marketing plan, but only after we fix our inside the industry problems like takeout rates, rebating, race dates, our integrity situations, cleanliness of racetracks, small wagering pools and programs being too complicated for beginners. Speaking of programs for beginners, I found it hard to believe (not really) that Tioga and Vernon were the only two regular users of the "beginners program" that the Marketing Committee at the USTA produced.

Dr. Joan Zilinksi has again been commissioned by the United States Trotting Association (USTA) to report on the problems in harness racing. Her first report was released on August 19th, 1991, now it is almost 2010 and I bet when this next report comes out it will say many of the same things it said back then. It may very well report that the state of harness racing is much worse than in 1991.

From her report in 1991 I took this part about marketing "in fact, the best way to kill a poor product is through a lot of good advertising." I simply think what she is saying we must fix our internal problems before marketing to the masses and I could not agree more. After we fix our woes we will need to address having a marketing campaign and I believe it needs to be not only grassroots but also nationally done through mass media, social networks and so forth.

 We also need to keep our stars (horses) on the track. It’s no secret I am a big fan of the drivers in our sport and the work they do, but let’s face it, people love the horses and that’s why they come to the track. We often retire our great horses far too early, just as fans get to watching them and giving the fan no chance to get involved and watch them race year after year to create a following.

Look at horses like Somebeachsomewhere, Deweycheatumnhowe, Muscle Hill, Explosive Matter, Well Said and Vintage Master. Would it not be awesome to see Well Said, Vintage Master, Somebeachsomewhere, Mister Big, Art Official, Shadow Play, Won the West and Shark Gesture battling it out against each other, at least for one year? If I had those horses at Tioga Downs or Vernon Downs we would pack the place with anxious customers who love the racing game.

Do you know what the sad part about this is? Casino operators don’t care one thing about horse racing and that seems ridiculous to me. At Tioga Downs we promoted the last night of racing in 2009 on Saturday, September 12 and we packed the place, and you know something, it was the biggest night we ever had on our gaming floor as well. The one thing casino operators don’t get or don’t understand is that 50 per cent of the racing customers will play on their gaming floor.

There are so many things I would like to address in this letter to everyone but these are only a few of my observations and thoughts on the future of harness racing. I am certainly not trying to upset anyone and be negative as I said my glass is always half full and it will continue to be but sometimes I think it is just about to get knocked over.
What I am trying to do is get the industry to wake up and encourage change. Seems like we have been in a deep coma for quite some time and we need to encourage everyone and encourage change in our sport that we all know and care about. If you have any comments or suggestions or if you have ideas you would like me to explore I would be more than willing to at least try them if nothing more than at Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs.

I am fortunate enough to work for a guy like Jeff Gural who has essentially taken the gloves off me and allows me to market and promote the racing side of our business. We welcome new ideas and thoughts at anytime. I certainly do have to say that the recent Blog written by Jack Darling "We Must Act Now" certainly does get it.
I am ready to step forward and encourage change. Who else is ready? Hope to see everyone in the winner’s circle!

Jason Settlemoir

To read the articles mentioned in Jason's letter, please click here.


September 17 2009

No Wonder We’re Losing Owners

Oh my, oh my! How goofy is this new whipping rule? I am the CO for a 'group' stable and I can just imagine what is going through the minds of the Danterra group and their trainer.
They finally get a break in an extremely competitive and expensive game and an absolutely ludicrous 'new' rule deprives them of all the fun they have been waiting for.

I support wholeheartedly the whole concept of reducing or eliminating 'excessive' urging and I am for the protection of the horse. But let's be realistic ... a healthy fine or even suspension would suffice for this type of offence. No wonder the business is losing owners.
Howard Pearce

September 16 2009

Responsibility Needed In Urging Rule

While I too feel very badly for the owners of the horse that was set back, you have to remember that owners sub contract out the driving of their horses to the catch drivers and at the end of the day we as owners are responsible for the people that we choose to work for us. This was not a case of Trevor Ritchie one handing his horse, however the rule is black and white and there can be no room for a judgment call on this rule, or the next time that this rule comes up the penalized parties will be able to debate the call.

I would also like to respond to your point that the urging rule is bad for the game. We in this business seem to forget that our live handle is supposed to support our purses, and fans have been telling us repeatedly that whipping is a problem. Without fans what relevance do we really have? We have lived in a cocoon for far to long and mainstream entertainment has passed us by. The ORC is responding to our fans concerns and I would suggest that not doing something would be far more detrimental.

Nobody in our society wants to take responsibility for anything any more; it is always someone else's fault. The bottom line here is that a rule was broken. The owners are part of the team involved with the horse and unfortunately they must suffer along with the rest of the members of the team.

I watched some replays from years gone by last night and in some cases I could count the driver hitting a horse 15 times in the lane and no one can tell me that that has not hurt our appeal over the years.

Joe Parkinson

Mad As Hell

As a breeder/owner of Standardbreds for over 30 years I have to say how discouraged I am with this “urging rule” that the Ontario Racing Commission has implemented. In short, it is proving to be hugely detrimental to our sport.

Why should the owner of a horse be penalized when the driver breaks this rule? I feel so badly for Danterra Stable over the incident on Monday night with Angostura in the Peaceful Way elimination.

On the assumption that driver Trevor Ritchie did break the rule, again I ask why should the ownership be penalized? Not only do they lose the $15,000 winner's share but they were placed last and therefore out of the final. Through no fault of their own they are denied a chance to race for a big pay day.

Being an owner of Standardbred racehorses is difficult enough with punishing veterinary bills, nickel and diming for licensing, increasing training costs, staking, etc. Now you run the risk of being disqualified because your driver took his hand out of the handhold? Have we lost all sense of common sense?

From talking to other people I know I am not alone in my concern. The Ontario Racing Commission is there to regulate and I am not in favour of abusive whipping but this carries it all too far. In the interest of applying a hammer instead of a fly swatter we are going to drive the investors (like myself) out of the game.

To the administrators of the ORC, I say wake up and be realistic. If you don't you soon could be out of work.

Guy Polillo, Brantford, ON


August 15 2009

Battle Of Brandywine Received 24 Entries, Not Seven

Chris Roberts greatly misspoke when he said that the Battle of the Brandywine had received only seven entries for Sunday's running of the event. In fact they received 24 entries.

The format for the race provides for the eight highest money winners participating in the final event; the next eight money winners participating in the next richest division labeled Brandywine (1) and the next eight participating in the third richest division labeled Brandywine (2). I cannot speak for the Confederation Cup, but the Battle of the Brandywine is thriving.

Murray Brown, Hanover, Pa.


June 19 2009

OHHA Members Look for Answers

Recently, the Ontario Harness Horse Association was forced to call a general meeting of members, to be held on July 8th at the Delta Meadowvale in Mississauga. As the lead requisitionist in the petition, I was very diplomatic in the wording of the petition and the agenda that accompanied the petition, so as not to embarrass anybody publically. The people who helped get the signatures have worked hard to get this meeting called. They, like almost every other member of OHHA, want answers. The president of OHHA, in calling the meeting, has said that no motions from the floor would be entertained or votes taken.

We have met every condition of the by-laws in getting the meeting called. The petition has called for a general meeting to address the current upheaval in OHHA. Over 10 per cent of the membership have signed the petition, and was presented to (OHHA President) Mr. Darryl MacArthur at the OHHA office. Along with the petition was an agenda with the general nature of the meeting, again very diplomatic.

Mr. MacArthur then says that his legal advice is that no votes are to be held, because of the vagueness of the petition. I then spent hours in the legal libraries to find a case that overturned his legal advice. He then suggested that I send the case history to a third lawyer that he suggested and his legal opinion on the case was appropriate in this question of the meeting. The case stated that "non-profit organizations such as the association should not be required to adhere rigorously to all the technical requirements of corporate procedure as long as the process is fair." Mr. MacArthur then proceeded to hire another lawyer who originally wrote the OHHA by-laws to give him the opinion that he wanted, but, If we wanted to, we could re-do the petition and jump through all the hoops again for their pleasure.

The agenda called for the following discussions: 1) to rescind financial support for Mr. Whelan's legal battles with WEG over the Access Waiver. 2) Question the actions of the OHHA directors to the determent of the association. 3) What is the plan of action for contract negotiations with the 8 tracks up for renewal this year? 4) A no-strike or boycott motion be made for these contracts. 5) Elect directors from districts not represented. There are by-laws that cover these agenda items, but again Mr. MacArthur hired a lawyer to give him the opinion he wanted again.

The board of directors want input from the members as long as it's the input they decide they want. Our ideas are not important as long as they can hire a lawyer to give them an opinion, or sue someone. The membership of OHHA has become complacent to the point we are now at. We do not have a contract with WEG, we are in jeopardy of losing eight more contracts because the racetracks do not want to deal with the leadership of OHHA and any group can be formed right now and as long as they are willing to work with their partners they will have contracts with these tracks. There is a lot of money at stake here and the horsemen need it to offer the programs that are offered and not to pay lawyers and sue people and groups.

The membership must take an interest in our future or look to the east and look to the west, because before long we will be in the same boat. Please show up for the meeting at The Delta Meadowvale in Mississauga on July 8th at 7 pm.

Robert Coole, Campbellville, ON


June 4 2009

Marvelous Molson Pace Night

After attending the Molson Pace (May 29, Western Fair Raceway) with a friend of mine I wanted to share this story with you.

First I have to go back to Thursday night when I got a call from a co-worker. He had just watched the local news on the A Channel and saw a story about the Molson Pace the following night and about a horse named Lucky Man. He decided that he wanted to go and see this race.

He has never been to the track before but knew that I was quite familiar with it so hence I got the call. Now this guy is a great kid, 22 years old and a really hard worker. He’s the happiest guy in the world and has a great outlook on life. Unfortunately for him he has CF which means that he has missed out on a lot of things, and considers every day a blessing.

Cut to Friday night. With plans made we set out to the racetrack. We went early so that we were able to partake in the free glass giveaway as one of the first 500 to arrive so he had a memento of the night to take home. With lots of time before the races started we sat down to get a bite to eat and go over the program.

I explained how it all worked and all he kept talking about was Lucky Man and how he wanted to bet him. Going over the whole card he was quick to evaluate all the races and pick who he thought was going to win. With the race delay (due to thunderstorms) we wandered and found the Molson girls and filled out the ballot and he got his picture taken with the girls. Of course he was in his glory with that so now he had two good memories on the night.
The card finally got started and we proceeded to bet on the first few races. He made some good selections, or so I thought yet wasn't having much luck winning. By that time we had made our way out to the grandstand to watch the races and were standing by the railing when the interview with Casie Coleman was taking place. He was right into listening being aware that she was the trainer of the horse he wanted to bet in the 10th. After the interview and more looking at the program he decided that he just had to bet both her horses (Lucky Man and Clowns Smile) in the race.

But that was a few races away and in between he had the opportunity to get to the winner’s circle. A friend of mine won a race and was quick to welcome us to come with him and then after that another mutual friend of ours from St Marys area grabbed him to go with for another picture.
By then he was grinning from ear to ear with the fun he was having. All this and still hadn't won a penny. I decided that I couldn't let the chance pass and headed with him to the picture office to see about buying one of the win photos. We were welcomed in and the guy there was more than willing to allow us to see both photos so we could decide which to pick. He was very polite and helpful in our choice.
We decided and purchased the photo and off we were to bet on the 10th race.

We didn't discuss our bets until after they were made and we were watching the horses post parade. But he was very excited to put $4 down on each of Casie's horses. I believe one to place and one to show but am not 100 per cent sure. Of course as all of you know it was an exciting race right down to the wire and when all the dust settled and he realized that both his tickets were winners he was dancing on air. He ended up winning $30.80 on the race which covered all his bets for the night and gave him a profit of 80 cents. He was tickled about it and couldn't have been happier and we were able to leave the track with a new harness racing fan.

I think this story shows how much is working for the track, which is often hard to see. From the interview on the news to the kind and courteous staff at Western Fair Raceway as well as live interviews during the races and extras going on (Molson booth) not to mention the kindness of trainers and owners to welcome people to come and share in their victorious moment even if they are strangers.

I know that a night at the races doesn't always work out this well but I'm sure glad that it did for Andrew. He is such a great guy with a raw deal in life that it is nice when something good goes his way. Thanks to all who made it happen.

Krista Lamont, St Marys, Ontario


May 12 2009

Quebec Horsemen Lose Again

North America's largest owner and operator of horse racetracks (Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Pimlico, etc.), Magna Entertainment recently filed for Chapter 11 court protection from bankruptcy in the USA.

“The company’s day-to-day operations will continue uninterrupted throughout the Chapter 11 process while it undertakes to sell its assets and implement a reorganization of the Company. As part of the Chapter 11 filing, the Company has sought emergency relief to ensure the continued payment of employee wages and benefits and horsemen winnings and its ability to honor existing customer programs.”

Coincidentally, Attraction Hippiques, the only operator of horse racetracks in Quebec, has filed for bankruptcy protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA – C36).

Not unlike Magna’s Chapter 11 filing, Attraction Hippiques day-to-day operations (VLTs, Simulcast Wagering) continues uninterrupted and they continue to pay employee wages and benefits and they continue to honour existing customer programs such as Paritel (internet wagering).

The major difference, however, comes in the fact that Attraction Hippiques does not continue payment of horsemen winnings, whereas Magna does (including the Preakness). As of May 2009, AH is behind by approximately $25 million on payments guaranteed by contractual agreements, with no payments being made in 2009 at all. According to judgments in the Quebec Superior court, Attractions Hippiques doesn’t have to make these payments under their CCAA protection.

Are the horsemen of Quebec being short-changed because the Canadian CCAA is less protective of their interests when compared to US Chapter 11 or has the Superior court judge misinterpreted the law?

Rick Karper
Vice President, Quebec Trotting & Pacing Association (ATAQ)


April 27 2009

Upset With Baymount’s Actions In Belleville

Regarding Baymount's failed ORC application for 17 race dates at Belleville; the story has now descended to farce.
Not only do they not have money for a new track or money to fix up the old track, they don't even have the coin for the application fee! Just the kind of folks horsemen need to be making contracts with.

Dan Mayo, Carp, Ontario


April 20 2009

Horse Racing Needs To Get On Tax Issue

What is being done to stop the upcoming tax harmonization (of the PST & GST in Ontario)? I don't think everyone understands how much money will be taken out of horse racing of any kind. As well training bills are going to go up.

The price of a horse is going to go up and anything else that the refundable GST applies to. Let's get the ball rolling now before it is too late.

Jim Ruhl, Tara, Ontario


April 14 2009

Slight Adjustments Needed For New Whipping Rules

The developments at Woodbine this past week look encouraging and in general the drivers are to be commended but I am compelled to make one more statement on this one-handed whipping issue.

At our last meeting with the Ontario Racing Commission there seemed to be a consensus in the room that one-handed whipping must be eliminated. The decision was made to have a two week trial at woodbine to allow the drivers to provide input on how a new rule will be developed, which will make it a requirement that a line be kept in each hand for the entire mile.

As of Sunday I have observed a lot of these races and it is great to see no one-handed whipping. I would say about 90 per cent of the finishes look good and the drivers are being responsible in putting on a classy show but I must say that a small part of it has been absolutely disgusting. I have seen some drivers throwing the lines in the air and getting a big swing with the whip. This looks terrible and drivers should know that it is exactly what we are trying to get rid of.

The other thing that bothers me is some of the drivers appear to be out of control at times flailing their arms and pushing their whips up between the horses legs and at times it looks like they are absolutely trying to rip the horse's tail off. These actions give the appearance of a complete absence of respect for the horse.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who is disgusted and embarrassed by this. As I have said before I don't want to villanize the drivers. I just feel that we must have rules in place so that these types of things don't happen. Most of the drivers seem to understand the problem and are showing a lot of class on the track and I really respect them for that.

What this experiment shows is that to put a respectable and classy product on the track we need to have a well thought out and complete whipping rule.

Dr. Ted Clarke's proposal to the ORC requires that a driver must keep a line in each hand - the driver's elbow must not be raised above the shoulder - contact of the whip must be above the shaft - the whip must not be used between the horse’s legs. Rules from other jurisdictions like Pompano Park and the State of Kentucky are roughly the same. Indiana's rule states that whipping must be restricted to wrist-action only.

The Maritime Provinces Harness Racing Commission has done a fantastic job and has come out with a rule that I believe is by far the best that I have seen. Here it is in its entirety:

1. During a race the driver shall hold one line in each hand by the handholds until the finish line is reached and the race is complete. Handholds must be tight ensuring adequate control of the horse with the driver's elbows in front of the chest. Whipping must be restricted to wrist action only. The placing of both lines in one hand to permit the necessary adjustment of the horse's equipment such as ear plugs removal is allowed. The driver shall not raise the elbow of the arm carrying the whip above the level of his/her shoulder.

2. There shall be no blatant or exaggerated movements of the whipping arm.

3. The driver shall ensure that any contact of the whip to the horse is above the shafts of the sulky and is not used between the horse's legs.

4. Whipping is permitted provided the horse appears to be advancing through the field. There shall be no whipping after the finish of the race.


I really like the rule that whipping must be restricted to wrist action only and I would like to see it in our rule as well. I believe this would eliminate the problem that we are seeing at times during this trial at Woodbine and make it easier for the judges.

I apologize for taking up so much space on this subject but I just feel it is so important that we implement these new whipping rule changes as soon as possible and that we do it right the first time.

We need to create a whole new generation of race fans and there is an urgency to start now. Getting this whipping rule in place will open the door to these possible new young fans. We are lucky in that most of our tracks realize this and are ready to aggressively go after them. This should be a great season of racing coming up with a tremendous array of stake races at a variety of tracks.
Standardbred Canada has come out with an exciting new promotion - ADRENALINE - 'Canada's Racing Festival'. I think this is just fantastic and I congratulate Ted Smith and everyone at Standardbred Canada for coming up with this to help re-energize the sport.
As Ted said "This is the dawn of a new day" and hopefully all of those young people who are standing trackside watching horse races for perhaps the first time will be happy with what they see and will become racing fans. Developments like this give us a good reason to be optimistic about the future of harness racing.

Jack Darling,
Cambridge, Ontario

p.s. As I was writing this letter I was watching the Monday night races at Woodbine. The finishes I saw were beautiful to watch. I realize that this is a substantial change for the drivers. It will naturally take a little while for them to make all the adjustments and after watching these races tonight I am very encouraged and I commend the drivers for their efforts. These are the top professionals in our sport.


March 30 2009

Concern For 2010 Breeders Crown

Dear Mr. Charters: 
I was thinking about writing to congratulate you on the decision to have all of the  Breeders Crown events on a single night however that will have to wait. 
As a lifelong fan, participant and someone involved in trying to promote the sport this move back to a showcase event is, in my view, long overdue.  However any positive I see from this is negated by your decision to schedule this on the same day as the Breeders Cup aka the world championships of Thoroughbred racing or racing's biggest day or the 10 or so other adjectives used by the major media to describe this spectacular.

Your organization should be working to maximize the press coverage for your event and forgive me but I'm thinking the mainstream media coverage for the Crown will be extremely limited if not non-existent. 

As well have you taken into account anything related to our wagering customers?  The handle for last year’s Breeders Cup at Santa Anita was approximately $155 million for the two day event with Saturday's card in excess of $100 million. Big money, big pools and big payoffs the Breeders Cup card will have it all, will your event be able to say the same? 

I'm thinking after a good six hours of wagering in the afternoon there won't be many horseplayers thinking about sticking around for another six hours at night and let's not even talk about the percentage takeouts at the host track another issue going forward for all serious players.

I think there is still plenty of time to change the date for the Crown and I urge the Hambletonian Society to do so.  I will speak and write to many of the participants involved in the Breeders Crown and all the industry people I know to contact you if they have the same concerns as myself since it is my sincere belief that this decision is wrong on many levels.

David Gilders, Peterborough,Ontario


March 17 2009

No One Handed Whipping Is No Big Deal

I am writing in response again to the ongoing whipping debate. I have been part of the "no one handed whipping club” since September.

I voted in favour of this rule and after about six months of this (at Pompano Park) it is now becoming second nature. I also have read that we will look like monkeys jumping up and down and that safety will be an issue but so far to date I just don't see it. You can still give one a little encouraging down the lane or anywhere else in the mile for that matter but as far as safety is concerned, whipping is not what I fear on the track.

If we are so concerned about safety then how some people get a license to drive would be where I would start but that is another topic for another time.
I feel just like the safety vest, drivers will get used to it and it will become second nature in my opinion.

For the past two years I have been surrounded by a bunch of drivers like Bruce Ranger, Wally Hennessey, Joe Pavia Jr. and others who have more wins then I can count and they go just as fast if not faster; you only have to look at the world record that was set here the other night.

Is whipping the rule that we need to draw a line in the sand about ? I think not...

Daniel W. Clements

March 13 2009

Time For New Leadership In Racing

I am in total agreement with Mr. Prakas's letter about there being large issues at stake for the survival of the sport. The whipping rule debate is a clear illustration and validation of a point I've been trying to make for far too long. There has been a total lack of leadership and direction, an inability by those in charge to foresee a problem before it becomes one let alone solve one even the smallest of ones. How can we have confidence they are able to tackle any of the major issues of the day?

Band-aid solutions and seemingly endless meetings, discussions, directives, announcements etc. are designed to make people believe or have faith that the regulators are in charge and have the situation under control. Frankly looking objectively by anyone's standards is this the case? I for one am tired of the patting themselves on the back attitude while this sport has floundered and all the while expanding already bloated bureaucracies who some might argue do little if nothing.

The time for new leadership in many quarters is now before it's too late. Everyone involved needs to stand up and question each and every decision made by the leadership we have as they continue to micro-manage it into the ground. Change is what is needed, new ideas, new thinking and new leaders.

David Gilders, Peterborough, Ontario

Simply Eliminate One Handed Whipping

From my perspective, this debate about eliminating one-handed whipping is not and should not be about villanizing the race drivers. Our drivers are doing their job which is trying to win races and get the most out of their mounts. They are using the tools that are allowed by the rules of today.

It is only human nature that in the excitement of the moment, excesses will occur. This is painful to watch on those occasions when it happens. As long as one handed whipping is allowed, abuses will continue. I do agree that the penalties being handed out for excessive whipping are not sufficient.

If we simply change the rules to eliminate one-handed whipping, I think most of our problem will be solved. The judges will have to strictly enforce the new rules and be aggressive in dealing with anyone who still uses the whip excessively or erratically.

There is great news out of Indiana today as the Indiana Horse Racing Commission voted unanimously to adopt whipping reform measures. The wording of their new rule is different than our Ontario proposal but it accomplishes the same thing. I especially liked the part that states "whipping will be limited to wrist action only." This would eliminate the exaggerated actions that we are trying to get rid of.

Jack Darling, Cambridge, Ontario

March 11 2009

Bigger Issues Facing Racing

After reading the article on your website regarding the current financial situation at The Meadowlands, it amazes me that the premier racetrack in the world is facing such dire problems and the only issue the industry seems to be able to consider is the whipping issue.

Of course anyone that cares for the horse would be supportive of new regulations regarding limiting the use of the whip, if the powers that be in this industry don't get busy on taking some proactive initiatives to stem the decline of the industry as a whole, the whipping issue will resolve itself.

Why can't the same enthusiasm that currently is being discussed by everybody and their cousins about the whipping issue, be directed toward the macro issues facing the future existence of the sport?

Michael Prakas, Boca Raton,Florida

March 8 2009

Another Example Of Overuse Of The Whip

Greg Merton was driving Fly Solo in the fourth race at Yonkers last night. There were six horses in the race, and one of the horses broke at the gate. Fly Solo went wide on the last two turns, and was backing up on the final turn to eventually finish fifth.

Greg Merton found it appropriate to whip this animal 21 times. I watched it on TVG and replayed it to get the actual whip count.
The acting judges need to decide what is the difference between trying and abusing. The betting public certainly wants the drivers to make every effort to win the race, however this display, and the one mentioned in Edward Martin's letter leaves a bad impression from the grandstand point-of-view.

Mike Sprague, Bedminster, NJ

Judges Also Need To Change

Whipping is not the only issue the ORC refuses to correct.

I can appreciate where Jack (Darling) is coming from but correct me if I'm wrong doesn't Jack use Jason Brewer on a regular basis. Didn't Jason pilot St. Lads Popcorn?  This is an individual who overuses his whip and feet in every race, to gain an advantage in my opinion. I can appreciate the need for change but that change needs to be a change in culture. With the amounts of money we race for now, the sport is becoming less and less about horses and more about performance enhancement.

Until the ORC has a complete review of their judges and starts enforcing the rules that are meant to protect the sport it will continue down the drain. Instead of finding judges that are has been trainers why not start outside the sport with a clean slate of opinions? This way the culture will change because there won't be the same buddy, buddy system that exists now.

Maybe Jack if you too practice what you preach, then maybe things will change. Until then it will be the same old, same old.

Mike Cooke

March 7 2009

Disgraceful Whipping

Whipping seems to be the buzzword of the day in harness racing, yet the ORC continues to turn a blind eye to the drivers who insist on going overboard with the whip.  When is the ORC going to get proactive and change the way whipping is enforced?

Take Friday night's Ontario Girls series at Woodbine raceway for example.

Mike Saftic won the race with a filly who took a new lifetime record.  She led by a substantial margin around the last turn and throughout the entire length of the stretch, yet he felt compelled to go crazy with the whip.  He used the whip at least a half dozen times, but it was probably closer to ten times if the truth be told.

This is the stuff that needs to be addressed.  Even if he did get fined, the traditional $100 shot to his pocket book isn't enough.  Not when you consider his five per cent of the $27,250 she earned for her effort amounts to $1,362.50.

And I don't want to hear "he was hitting the saddle pad" or anything along those lines.  He could have put the whip away half way down the lane.  He should be ashamed as should the ORC for not taking action on the matter.  And if they have taken action, then I apologize.

Thank you,
Edward Martin

March 3 2009

Take Away The Whip, Allow The Toe

Jack Darling has the right idea and his heart in the right place. I am not sure I agree with the "exact" proposal, but if nothing were to change, I would welcome it for sure.

I would like anyone to dispute the following:

I always go to the Hambletonian every year. Many times, if not every time, I end up outside with some friends and watch some races on the rail, or in the upper paddock. For many years now, I have cringed as I listen to the sound of the horses coming down the stretch.....followed by the sound of the whips cracking down on the horses. And if anyone wants to say that the sound is not the sound of the whip on the horses flesh, I will challenge them to a "whip off". You get between the shafts, and I will whip. When you hear the crack, tell me if it is the shaft or your stifle. It is just criminal. And not for a second am I blaming the drivers. I too did the same thing. But, when you take a step back, watch, listen, and be honest there is only one conclusion. It is cruel to a level that is sickening.
Now, what I would like to see, is the drivers allowed to "touch" the horse with their foot. No kicking, no stomping, not even for being able to bend the leg. Just a toe touching the stifle can do wonders. And, if you were a horse, what would you rather have, a foot touching your stifle, or a whip? There would need to be rules and a definition of what is allowed, but a touch with the toe, is very much humane. A whip is almost always cruel.

Steve Manzi, New Jersey

Bravo To Jack Darling & Whipping Stance

Firstly I need to say bravo to Jack Darling. I have spoken with Jack on several occasions regarding the whipping issue. He has told me that some people who he thought were his friends are no longer that, while others have developed a frosty attitude towards him. This because he has had the intestinal fortitude to persevere on a matter that he feels is of utmost importance to a sport to which he has devoted a majority of his life.

Will changing the whipping rules right the multitude of problems which pervade our sport? Of course it won't. It likely won't even come close. I believe that for perhaps the first time it will enable us to act proactively on an issue of great importance for the well being of our sport. It will be a great public relations coup. No longer will people, especially young people and women say "Why should I waste my time and money watching horses being torn apart?" Perhaps they are not being abused (sometimes they are), but a large number of people, especially first time race goers think this is happening.

It appears that the majority of drivers seem to be opposed to changes preferring the status quo. Their mantra is "If the judges upheld the present rules, then there wouldn't be a problem." There is a great degree of truth to this. I for one think that of all the participants in our sport, many of our drivers have the least invested. There are many and notable exceptions to this. But generally speaking this is the case. It's a case of the tail wagging the dog, in this case the horse.

There are parts of the world where our tolerance of whipping would at best not be tolerated. At worst it could result in jail time. Yet in many of these venues, the sport is doing better than it is in North America.

The majority of our judges are either incompetent or do not have the guts to punish the offenders, not only for abuse of the whip, but perhaps equally, if not more importantly for the granting of holes to their buddies.

Oh that all of our judges were like Tim Schmitz the presiding judge in Indiana. When a driver race at Hoosier Park or Indiana Downs, he is told up front exactly what will be tolerated and what won't. When he crosses that line, he suffers the consequences, regardless of his name or record. Unfortunately there are very few judges like Tim Schmitz.

Passing the suggested whipping rules will in effect take the rulings out of the judges' hands. What is now subjective will become objective.
So bad is the judging at some US tracks that that I will not watch the races from them. It's as though they feed the drivers raw meat before the races and turn them loose. It's akin to the Romans feeding the gladiators to the lions. In this case the horses become the gladiators.
I would be remiss if I did not say that at some tracks, especially the larger ones the perception of abuse has improved since this issue has received the attention that it has.

Will changing the whipping rules cure all the ailments that affect us? Obviously it will not even come close. If it does nothing else it will change the perception that we don't care and it will give immediate relief to the wonderful creatures that make it all happen.
I am now of an age where I know that I will always have harness racing. I sometimes have nightmares wondering whether my grandchildren will have the same.

Murray Brown, Hanover, Pa.

March 2 2009

Judges Need More Authority

Jack Darling makes a lot of sense in his well thought out opinion in regards to one-handed whipping.

I can understand how many in this industry are embracing a change in the rules so that horses don't get abused and the public is not witness to such abuse. What I think is missing is that no horsemen past or present want to face the initial and most painful reasons why our sport has gone as far south as it has.

During our so-called glory years fans and bettors were continually turned off by the belief (sometimes justified and sometimes not) that harness racing was fixed. Part of that belief came from the fact that our great drivers from the past barely needed a whip. This gave off the impression to many that horses were being held back. Combine that with suspicious payoffs and you've got a PR nightmare we have yet to recover from.

Changing the rules, in my mind, is just an admission that enforcement of driver's decorum on the racetrack doesn't exist. Whether we keep the same rules or modify them, nothing will matter if rules aren't being enforced. The same could be said about race-fixing. Despite the public's outrage to that, judges rarely did anything to stop the abuse. Until trainers allegedly became more sophisticated at medicating horses illegally, there was little outcry from the horsemen about altering the outcome of a race.

I agree with all in the industry who believe we need to put forth a product that we can be proud of and that doesn't involve abusing horses. Yet to ignore the core problems of what should be a competitive sport simply to change a rule doesn't seem like a first step at all.

Simply put, give the stewards and judges the authority to act and make sure they are of the highest standards and these little problems of perception will go away.

Jay Bergman

How Will New Whipping Rule Bring In Customers?

Why is the whipping rule disguised as an item that will supposedly bring in new/more customers? If someone is going to propose that the whipping rule should be changed because it’s for the good of the industry and it will bring in more people (which Jack Darling starts off by saying in his recent letter),then I would like to see how they came up with that conclusion.
How many more people do you think will become fans because a whipping rule has been changed? How many fans do you think walk away from the game because of the current whipping rule? What are the statistics, where is the research to base these opinions on? How do you come up with these numbers? Pompano's numbers aren't up because of their new whipping rule, Kentucky is a dying venue for overnights and hasn't been revived by their new whipping rule.

What are these so called experts talking about? As a business owner, we conduct research before implementing new policy or services. Where is the research on the correlation of bringing in new customers" and one handed whipping?

Let’s face it, the changing of the whipping rule has absolutely nothing to do with the industry's potential customers. It has to do with what one perceives to be abuse. Do the current rules allow/permit abuse? I don’t think so. I think if the current rules are enforced on a consistent basis this wouldn’t be a topic for discussion. It’s really that simple. Here's a word for the industry ENFORCEMENT. If someone is abusing a horse in ANY fashion, at ANY time, turn them into the local authorities, there are already laws on the books.

Vince Caturano

Feb. 28 2009

We Have Big Problems In Our Industry

We have lost customers and fans at an alarming rate and there appears to be no end in sight. We have several racetracks in Ontario that truly do have harness racing's best interests at heart and we must help and support them. We are all in this together and we are on the same side. We simply must attract new customers and racing fans to survive.

Why I bring this up now is because I feel that we can make the first step in attracting these potential new customers by abolishing one handed whipping. A rule change proposal has been put forth to the ORC by Dr. Ted Clarke of Grand River Raceway that would eliminate one handed whipping. They will be making a decision on this proposal shortly.

All of the racetracks that I mentioned previously have strongly supported this rule change as an important first step to open the door to attracting these possible new customers that we desperately need. Will this step alone save the industry? Probably not, but it will remove a big black mark on our sport and at least get things moving in a positive direction. As Brian Webster, a long time respected leader in our sport, has said, "If we can't change the whipping rule, which should be relatively easy and positive, then how are we going to deal with the real tough issues that we face?" Hopefully the tracks, with the help of all our industry groups can work on new and innovative promotions to attract new customers. We really need new and better ideas and I urge anyone who has ideas to put them forward.

Getting people to come out to the racetrack for live racing is imperative but the future seems to be in bringing harness racing into the home and setting up betting accounts so people can enjoy the races and place bets in the comfort of their own home. WEG and The Score do a great job of this and the productions are first class, but I must go back to the one handed whipping again. The whipping and slashing during the stretch drives are turning a lot of potential new customers off.

There are people who stumble onto The Racing Channel or The Score and see the whipping and turn the channel, just as they would not return to live racing at the track if they were offended by it. Surveys show that this is especially true among females and younger people. The up close-slow motion replays of the stretch drives with the one handed whipping can be very painful to watch. I believe that eliminating the one handed whipping would be an important first step in allowing this great new avenue to grow. Expanding this in-home entertainment experience is essential to our survival.

These comments that I have just made deal with the perception problem of the one handed whipping but I would like to give some thoughts on the actual physical problem. We have a lot of resistance to changing the whipping rule among the participants in our sport. We seem to have become desensitized to this one handed whipping. It is a very violent act.

As Bob Stewart said, "If someone whipped a horse in the barn area like they do in a race, they would be put in jail." I think if we are completely honest about it we must admit that as long as one handed whipping is allowed there will be a certain amount of abuse going on every night that we race horses. The answer to this problem up to now has been to make the penalties more severe for excessive whipping.

Everyday you can read on the SC website the new list of excessive whipping infractions. Virtually every time you see that a driver was fined, an innocent horse was abused. If one handed whipping continues to be allowed, these fines and abuses are going to continue. I strongly believe that adopting this new proposal where drivers are required to keep a line in each hand will eliminate these problems.

Drivers need whips for safety reasons and I personally feel confident that with a line in each hand the driver can urge the horse on sufficiently without abusing or giving the appearance of abusing the horse. I feel qualified to give an opinion on this based on my experience as a driver for 15 years and a trainer for 35 years. Drivers should know what we are trying to accomplish here. We all want safe, competitive, and first class events. Any unsafe actions, flailing of the arms, etc., will have to be dealt with by the judges. Most drivers appear to be against eliminating one handed whipping, but several high profile drivers such as John Campbell, Dave Palone, Wally Hennessey, and others are supporting and encouraging the proposed rule change for the sake of saving and improving the sport of harness racing.

One handed whipping is not allowed in Europe. Pompano Park has banned one handed whipping, as has the State of Kentucky. Leading industry groups and individuals in the United States have come out in favour of abolishing one handed whipping. Among them are The Hambletonian Society, The Little Brown Jug Society, Harness Tracks of America, Hanover Shoe Farm, Walnut Hall Farm, Blue Chip Farm, Stan Bergstein, who has devoted his entire life to the betterment of harness racing, Alan Leavitt, Jim Simpson, Murray Brown, Mike Kimelman, Art Zubrod of Brittany Farms, and many others. Ontario racing is highly respected by all other racing jurisdictions. I believe that if we can change this rule in Ontario, the other provinces and states will follow our lead fairly quickly.

John Hayes, one of the best minds in our business, has been way ahead of the curve regarding this problem. He has been passionately making the case to eliminate one handed whipping for several years and continues today. Please read his letter to John Blakney that is posted on the ORC website. At the same time, read the letter from Dr. Ted Clarke. It is very enlightening.

If we can eliminate this one handed whipping, I believe we will all look back in a couple of years and wonder how we allowed all that whipping to go on for so long. It is so important that we always treat our horses with compassion and respect. The harness racing community is full of people who truly believe this, including drivers, trainers, owners, grooms, breeders, veterinarians, blacksmiths, track management, vendors, etc.

The Ontario Racing Commission is on the verge of making a decision on this rule change. My assumption is that they will base their decision on what they feel is best for the industry and its future. I urge everyone who has feelings on this issue to let them be known by emailing the ORC. This could well be a first step to a better future for harness racing and for our equine athletes.

Thank you,
Jack Darling


Feb. 23 2009

Letter To Montreal Gazette Editor

Sylvain Filion, Colin Johnson, Jean Beaulieu, Richard Moreau, Simon Allard, Denis St-Pierre, and René Allard won’t be paying Quebec income tax next year. They were some of the many Quebecers forced to leave the province in order to earn a living. You see, they are amongst the best drivers and trainers of harness horses in North America and the industry in which they ply their trade is going down the tubes in Quebec due to government ineptitude and lack of concern.

These people have moved on to Ontario and the USA. The horse breeders in Quebec, however, don’t have the same opportunity because they can’t move their farms and the way the industry works, horses effectively have to be bred in the jurisdiction in which they race. Also, the owners who have purchased Quebec-bred horses in the past few years, will have no real venue in which to race these horses and recuperate some of their investment.

In her announcement on February 20, the Minister of Finance, Mme. Monique Jérôme-Forget, stated that the government has subsidized the industry to the tune of $400 million since 1995. She doesn’t give any details, but I imagine that she is referring to revenue from the VLTs and the return of taxes on pari-mutuel wagering.

Twenty-two percent of the profit on VLTs goes to the industry while the other 78 per cent goes into government coffers via Loto-Québec, in exactly the same manner of the thousands of VLTs in bars throughout Quebec, yet I’ve never heard a government official refer to it as a “subsidy” to the bars.

Also, returning the tax on pari-mutuel wagering is not a subsidy. It is, at worst, a benign exercise.

Most of the competing neighbouring jurisdictions have gone the “Slots or VLTs at Racetracks” route very successfully. This is true of Ontario, New York and Pennsylvania, to name a few. Ontario, for example, has 18 racetracks, all of which have slot parlours. The program is “win-win” for the government and the industry because the government has made the effort to make it work.

In Quebec, the Liberal government and the Finance Minister, in particular, have treated the industry and its 3,000 jobs as something that they wish would disappear. There was very little consultation between the government and the racing associations when they called for tenders to privatize the industry in Quebec. Further negotiations with the bidders and ultimate winner, were “confidential.”

Now that the deal between the government, Loto-Québec and Attractions Hippiques has fallen apart, the horsemen have yet to be invited to participate in any negotiations to revive the industry and restructure Attractions Hippiques. I don’t believe that the Minister responsible for horse racing in Quebec (Finance Minister) has ever met with the primary stakeholders, even though the future of 3,000 people are directly affected, not to mention the thousands of fans. What a shame!

Rick Karper
Former President, Quebec Trotting & Pacing Association (ATAQ)

Feb. 14 2009

An Open letter To The Horse Racing Industry

Our family has made a living in the horse racing business for more than 55 years. We never made the headlines like the Filion, Waples, Lachance or O'Brien, but behind the scenes Photo Lambert was always there to assist in any way it could. We were there when the sport was growing and we certainly can't stay idle now that it is, in Québec at least, fighting for its survival.

Like most of you, we have been endlessly discussing the woes and challenges that racing is currently facing. Over the years, we listened to what others had to say and were curious about what was being done elsewhere. We came to some conclusions that we decided to share with you, not necessarily because they are better than yours, but because they attack the situation from a different perspective. This reflection led to the following text:

Let's stop begging/ Arrêtons de quêter

I don't know about you, but we're fed up with the horse racing situation, particularly in Québec of course where it's on the verge of total collapse, but also elsewhere in North America. Are we going in the right direction when our growth or survival is linked to video lottery terminals, slot machines or even subsidies of all sorts requested from the governments? We seem to have forgotten the reasons why this business was thriving some 30 years ago: Horse racing was basically the only game in town and also people didn't have a very large offer of activities to choose from.

The creation in 1969 of Loto-Québec changed that picture forever. Slowly but surely that provincial agency developed products that, sold in areas accessible to everybody, (there are close to 10,000 outlets as we speak) became an alternative to "going to the races," a dull alternative, but one easily accessible and easily consumed. The arrival of casinos and the video lottery terminals completed the picture leaving little space for our sport. Ontario was kinder to the industry by giving it the means to survive through the monies generated by the slot machines installed almost exclusively at the racetracks. People are deserting those same racetracks throughout North America, but at least the machines are softening the blow, for now but everybody in the industry is rightfully worried. Thinking that we can regain some notoriety through aggressive marketing, as some have suggested also seems a lost battle as far as we are concerned, especially in Québec.

Are we condemned? No. But it won't be easy. Horse racing has to regain its place in people's lives. At least two countries, Sweden and France, have successfully done so, but they made the right moves when racing was still a major sport. Can we erase a thirty year late start?

The case of Sweden is particularly interesting. In 1974, they centralized racing in the hands of ATG, a government supervised structure that helped the horse racing industry generate an amazing growth. From $150US million dollars bet on the sport then, it grew to $2,200US million dollars by the year 2007, almost fifteen times more than when they started. From the 1960's to 2008, the number of horses exploded from 60 000 to 225 000. Can you imagine the number of jobs created? Can't we learn something from it?

(Source: http://www02.atg.se/cm/english/swedishracing/trotting)

Job creation is exactly what our industry should concentrate on. A friend was recently asking us why horseracing should survive in this cutthroat gaming industry. Why indeed? Isn't this the survival of the fittest? Jobs, one of us told him. But he argued that casinos also generated lots of jobs. Yes, was the reply, but with one major difference; the jobs created at casinos are basically the same ones lost at the tracks. Dying racetracks fire tellers, security and restaurant employees while casinos hire card dealers, security and restaurant employees. Nothing is really created and nothing is lost.

The only reason why racing should survive is that there is absolutely no other game, lotteries and scratch tickets included, capable of sustaining a completely independent sport or industry with grooms, veterinarians, trainers, drivers, judges, officials, etc. Better still, it creates jobs spread in rural areas. Those facts should weight considerably on decisions made by our politicians, but it's our responsibility to make them aware of it.

We have to be creative and prove them that horse racing is still a valuable asset and that it can have a strong growth potential.

How? A few comparisons between the situation in Ontario and Québec could be helpful. Did you know that for a population of 12.7 million, horse racing was providing about 60000 direct and indirect jobs to Ontario? In Québec, from 7.7 million people, we arrive to a grand total of 3000 jobs in the racing industry and believe it or not half of those could be in danger right now. If "La Belle Province" was to generate the same percentage of jobs in relation to its population than its Western neighbour, we would be talking of 36,000 potential jobs. Saving the 3,000 jobs in Québec should not be our ultimate argument; there is room for 33,000 new ones and although that total will never be reached, we can do much better and it's that message we have to relay to the strategy planners and to the decision makers. Also, there are seventeen racetracks in Ontario compared with four (maybe only three now) in Québec, several short here again and lots of space for development when viewed from that standpoint.

If we are looking for solutions, Sweden could again be a valuable example. Betting on horses there is available in no less than 2,000 agencies disseminated around the country. Even better, they have created a bet called V75 where you must select the winners of seven consecutive races (with twelve to fifteen horse fields) with bets starting at ten cents and a minimal jackpot of four million US dollars. Now we're talking about a real alternative to a 6/49 type lottery. Our industry certainly cannot guarantee such a grand prize, but Loto-Québec or OLGC certainly could. Will they want to? Probably not, but the final decision is not really in their hands. Also, prove them they can make more money with new games associated with horseracing and that will certainly lower their resistance level.

It's clear that we cannot copy what is done in Sweden and apply it here without major modifications, but there are many lessons to be learned. We don't need subsidies, we just need exposure. We have to convince "the powers that be" that horse racing has to occupy a special place in the gaming world solely because it's the only one that creates an industry parallel to the gaming activity itself. As long as it stays confined to hippodromes and betting parlours, our sport will at best survive, but if a way can be found to make it as accessible to people as lotteries and various scratch games are, it should prove itself more than competitive.

Should betting on horses become available at convenience stores or elsewhere? Someday, why not? But foundations have to be laid first and those could take the form of a game featuring horses and a grand prize worth millions of dollars. To make it more socially acceptable, it could even be based on luck alone. Here's an example of what it could be, keeping in mind that it's only a global idea that would have to be completely rebuilt to fit the rules of probability needed to make such a game profitable. And fun.

Imagine a race where from a pool of thirty horses, ten would be selected at random to participate in a special race held weekly. If the draw had selected in this particular case the numbers 3-8-11-13-17-18-21-23-27 and 29, those would remain the saddle numbers of the eventual starters. To win the grand prize (a million dollars and above), the game player would have to select in order the first four (?) horses to cross the wire. If nobody was to select the right combination, a large portion of that pool would be carried on to the following week race.

Since all bets would of course have to be in before the first twenty horses are eliminated, that draw would become crucial as a sizable portion of the original tickets sold would have, from that moment, no winning potential. That would add drama and excitement for the remaining ticket holders, especially if the draw was to take place one or two days before the actual race. Also very important, the elimination of those twenty eligible starters would make it virtually impossible for anyone to even think of fixing such a race. To eliminate any remaining doubts, it would even be possible to redistribute the remaining ten numbers between the starters at the beginning of the race, with drivers already on the sulky and unaware of what horse number they are driving. Such extreme measures may seem to be an overkill, but it may be necessary to offer customers and lottery operators complete peace of mind regarding such high stakes.

The game described above is of no real importance as something better can certainly be developed by experts in those matters, but it only goes to show that it's possible to develop a product featuring horses that could be of interest to everybody. There is no doubt that it would become very popular if sold through the usual lottery outlets throughout the country. It sure beats watching giant numbers fall from any machine, and with that kind of exposure, the interest for horse racing would certainly be revived. With that precedent, it would then become possible to introduce betting on some regular races similar to what is done in France with le Tiercé where you must select the first three to cross the wire or a version of the Swedish V75 described earlier.

We have a spectacular product that has to be sold differently and we certainly should not have to be on our knees in the hope that our governments will let us survive. They need the jobs associated with a healthy racing industry, but for that to happen, our society has to accept that betting on races should stop being confined to racetracks or betting parlours. Internet should eventually become a major contributor to the sport's growth, but, for now, it merely addresses those who are already racing fans. Let's request the chance to prove that horseracing, out of its present confinement, can compete against any type of game or lottery if given the same type of exposure. Is it asking too much? Maybe, but shouldn't we at least try?

Richard Lambert, Photo Lambert

Feb. 13 2009

Letter to Paul Massicotte, Owner, Attractions Hippiques

Dear Paul;

As you know, I was actively involved in welcoming Attractions Hippiques to the scene in 2006 as the then President of ATAQ and I worked with you for the betterment of harness racing in Montreal and the success of Attractions Hippiques.

I watched every minute of the Parliamentary Commission this past summer and in recent weeks, I have sat through several days of testimony in the Quebec Superior court and attended the meeting of interested parties at the Hippodrome de Montréal which you called.
My interest is to see that racing flourishes in Montreal. After listening to all the testimony and presentations, I have come to the conclusion that the Monitor’s proposal does not come close to meeting this goal and I have decided to take a public stand.

I understand your position. As a businessman, you are trying to avoid failure and hoping to save your company. I am truly sorry for the turn of events, however, as a horse owner and major harness racing fan in Montreal, I cannot accept the proposal on the table, which excludes any live racing in the Montreal area, even if it is blessed by the Minister of Finance.

At the moment, there isn’t any contract between Attractions Hippiques (Montreal) and any CPMA recognized horsemen’s group and you shouldn’t be operating pari-mutuel operations in the Montreal assigned territory. Also, because you haven’t respected the SONACC contract, your right to benefit from the operation of VLTs in Montreal should be terminated.


NO LIVE RACING – NO VLTs!
NO LIVE RACING – NO PARI-MUTUEL BETTING!

The villain in this situation has to be the Liberal government. The stated goal of the government in August 2005 when they released the “appel de propositions” for the takeover of the racetracks and OTBs operated by SONACC was to “revive and develop the horse racing industry in Quebec.” At the time, there was very little consultation between the government and the racing associations. Further negotiations with the bidders and ultimate winner were confidential. We, the horsemen, found out some, but not all of the details through the back door. Now that the deal between Attractions Hippiques and the government (SONACC, Loto-Quebec) has fallen apart, the government has, once again, chosen to resolve the situation without the input of the horsemen. Something’s rotten in the state of Quebec. Doesn’t the government know or care how much the victims are suffering?

We were promised a racetrack in the Montreal area and a share of the profit from 1,300 VLTs. That’s what we want. No more. No less.

Rick Karper, Saint-Laurent, Quebec

Feb. 4 2009

Exclusion Isn’t The Answer

About eight years ago, here in Quebec we excluded anyone from outside the province who bred to Quebec stallions from receiving breeders awards. Breeders who had been supporting our stallions were cut off. The consequence of that was they just stopped breeding here. Breeders from outside the province prevent one from getting complacent, and better competition is always good.

Now in Ontario, where the demand for breeding is greater, I am sure that there are many from outside the province who are having second thoughts.

Somebeachsomewhere might never have been born if this restriction had been in place then, as I am sure this breeder likes foaling out her own mares. Yes, foaling out the mares is stressful, but it's also the most rewarding part of being a breeder, and the last thing we want to do is ship our mares because of restrictions that have been placed on breeders from outside the province who want to keep breeding to Ontario stallions.

I am sure you will rue the day you made these changes. It's not always all about money - exclusion is never effective in the long run.

This is a double whammy for this Quebec breeder!

Judy Farrow, Quebec


Jan. 28 2009

Hit The Bike, Not The Horse

With all the opinions about whipping, I can't believe no one has come up with the simplest solution of all - weld a hallow pipe with a small target right onto the sulky shaft!

Everyone reading this knows that for the most part, most drivers are hitting the sulky shaft anyway, why not weld on a target, so every one in the stands can see it too, and make it hollow so it makes lots of noise. You MUST have whipping or even simulated whipping in harness racing.
We have so many ill conceived notions of our sport, it's bad enough that people think that drivers lying horizontal in the sulky is perceived as "not trying", imagine lying horizontal and not whipping! Like it or not, whipping creates the ultimate mental reinforcement of a driver doing his all to win a race, aka integrity.

Even better with this idea is that we can market ourselves as the horse racing sport that really cares about our animals. This could work out so well that we might even have local PETA chapters having their yearly banquets in our track dining rooms.

This is a win win for everyone. Of course the first thing people will say is it will cost to much to modify existing sulkys, maybe true, but let’s make any new sulky required to have it already on it when it is bought new. It may take time to integrate but once each track has one or two in each race and the casual or first time fan sees it and is told that it is a whipping target and that the drivers are actually hitting the whipping target/ sulky shafts and not the actual horses, maybe, maybe we can start to win over and or create some permanent new fans, maybe even grow the fan base, God forbid.

Tom Ryan, East Rockaway, NY


Jan. 11 2009

A Consistent Game

As the economy continues to show no sign of a short term recovery, harness racing will need to insure a unified and consistent message to the customers, media and politicians. This is not the time for drawing a line in the sand or taking my horses and going home attitude, nor is it good time to inform all MPPs that our one sided ideas on racing are not being adhered to by our biggest stakeholder WEG.

As horse owners we respect WEG's desire to promote the long term integrity of the sport as well as their ability to manage a declining game/sport or product in a new generation of gamblers. I had the luxury of speaking last year at the Gaming Summit in Montreal and came to appreciate that racing is looking for new opportunities, new ways of selling their game to future customers and new or incremental gambling dollars.

There were two things that had to be addressed to allow for a better game; one was the integrity of the product and some of the people in the game and the other was a consistent product/game that would allow new partners to develop your game. The OHHA has many strong programs in place for horse people but they may not be the best organization to sit at the table and negotiate a deal for all under the economic circumstances. Some may even say the OHHA could be part of the problem by continually fighting with our stakeholders, by defending the few bad apples at a cost to all good horse people and by changing their mandate to please their mission. At the same time we admire their passion and quick directional changes to stay at the table, but it may be time for a more professional approach with your stakeholders with a full realization that the world is and will continue to change.

Let's not send the signal to government that the slot money is an earned right and we want to use it as a negotiating tool with the understanding any directional change in government would probably damage the sport for many years to come.

Horse people need to realize that you must have a respectful relationship with your biggest stakeholders, 'the racetracks' and together we must develop the future of the game with the tools we have together and realistically the time for old fashion politics and threats in a declining game will not benefit trainers, owners, grooms or drivers.
Some recommendations could be asking the Owners Association group to intervene and work out a deal for all of us through the investors in the game; 'the owners' while keeping in mind that many of the above individuals are owners as well and hopefully we can sit at the table and decide if the benefits of a long term deal with WEG far outweigh any stand off for the future and perception of this sport.

Also let's not throw the baby out with the bath water as the OHHA plays a valuable role for all horse people in many areas as long as they can stick to what they do best and it has become apparent it isn't a high level negotiated settlement for all with a long term industry vision. I encourage everyone to race together, stop pointing fingers at each other and come together and seek the right organization and people to strengthen our financial well being.

This could be our greatest opportunity during some very tough times.

Dave Bryans, Oakville, Ontario

Jan. 8 2009

Agrees With Pelling

Brett Pelling was right. The industry needs a Czar who can co-ordinate racetrack management, horsemen, uniform drug rules, track conditions, racedates, etc., and who has the capability to communicate with and provide support for everyone. That would be an asset to the industry.

Kris Morgan, New York

Another Call For Change At OHHA

As a person formerly employed in harness racing, I am enjoying the humorous activities from OHHA. I have said for years that they are completely ungoverned and go to the bargaining table with that "shoot first-ask opinions later" attitude.

I also heard that the meeting was a vote by show of hands to boycott the entry box at Woodbine. I think that anyone who really had a problem with doing that was apprehensive to voice their opinion or suggest another course of action, at the risk of being bullied.

We have some very intelligent owners and trainers who can speak on behalf of the majority in future negotiations. Let's not turn this into another dog and pony show like some of the other jurisdictions within Ontario.

It's really quite comical to hear some of the bickering about liability insurance and RRSPs at this point in the game. More serious issues are on the table and need to be addressed in a professional manner by people that the horsemen trust.

While I'm on the topic - why must I, and several of my family who are either dead or no longer members, get those annoying phone calls? At some point can OHHA update their database-I'm not that interested in what they have to say!!!

Heather Hofacker, St. Catharines, ON

Response to McEneny Letter

I read Michelle McEneny's letter about horsemen not showing up for meetings about the negotiations for a new contract with WEG. Maybe, just maybe Ms. McEneny, horsemen got tired of showing up for meetings because they know they will not get told all things the executive of OHHA plans to do or are already doing.

They also know from experience that the executive of OHHA on many occasions has ignored what its own directors have voted for and went ahead and did something else. People get tired of being lied to and ignored. Maybe it is time the directors of OHHA got in touch with the people they represent and ask what these people truly want.

Also, I hate to bring bad news but not all the people who race on the WEG circuit live within one district, and many do not live within a reasonable commute of the planned meeting place. If OHHA truly acted in a professional manner towards its members, then each district would have a meeting chaired by its director(s), information would be shared, and the members could communicate how they felt. The problem with that, of course, is the track record of the executive thinking they have all the say and ignoring members anyway.

If OHHA is going to represent us in negotiations with WEG, they had better start acting professional and not like a bunch of school yard bullies.

Rodney Foulds, Owen Sound

Jan. 7 2009

Support For Kopas

Well said, Mr. Kopas.  Why did the members not see the letter before it went out to our members of parliament?  Is there somewhere that we can see it now?  
I'm assuming it is a letter from the OHHA, meaning the entire organization rather than just Mr. Whelan and Mr. Walzak.  

Too bad the membership didn't get to read it first especially when the majority seem to be unsupportive of the executive's recent statements and proposals and negotiating tactics.

I understood from the last meeting and the non-confidence vote that Mr. Whelan and Mr. Walzak were prepared to continue racing and to negotiate with WEG in good faith.  Then this letter goes out behind our backs. Who can we trust as an organized body of horse people?   

Lynne Magee, Wingham, Ontario

From The Other Perspective

Over the past couple of weeks I have heard from many around the racing industry regarding WEG, OHHA and 'Our Contract."  Even though harness racing is what I do for a living and have done so for some years now I consider myself on the outside.  

This industry is much like a "Good Ole Boys Club” and from where I stand the club is in some trouble.  There is a definite crack in the foundation "The Horsemen."  It would seem that many in our industry can't even be bothered to show up at the OHHA meetings to hear first hand from a lawyer and fellow horseman what the changes in the WEG contract would mean to our livelihoods.

There's a lot of rumblings and mud slinging going on.  Most of which is crap and from what I've learned, untrue.  I'm not saying OHHA is the be all and end all, but I haven't heard anyone willing to take the reins themselves, just a lot of bitching! Aren't the horsemen suppose to be OHHA?  If you've got something to bring to the table then SHOW UP!  

One should consider that we elected someone else to take care of "Our" business - we don't have time to deal with RRSP funds, insurance issues, health coverage, betting permits, race dates, purse and slot revenues, racing conditions, disability benefits and financial assistance to our fellow horseman that require it. This is only the first hurdle - Flamboro and Georgian's contracts are up for renewal next year.  If we don't stop all the whining and get our act together we'll all need more than a flak jacket.

Michelle McEneny, Waterdown, Ontario

Changes Needed At OHHA

I have grave concerns in regards to our current leadership at OHHA. If we allow Mr. (Jim) Whelan and his "disciples" to continue we are not going to have a business left. OHHA must stop its antagonistic approach towards racetracks, politicians and its members.

God forbid that anyone disagree with Mr. Whelan! I sat on the board of OHHA for six years and observed his bullying tactics first hand. It didn’t work with some of us but it did with the majority of directors. Unfortunately he tries to use these same tactics with racetracks to the point that not one of them wants any part of him or his organization.
If he continues telling our politicians how bad we in harness racing have it, after they gave us a deal that the rest of the harness racing world is envious of, we will be back to racing for what we did 30 years ago! Everyone in should see the latest letter sent to all our MPs by OHHA as recently as Monday. It is a disgrace especially in light of the fact that they received a vote of non-confidence by the District 6 Members in regards to boycotting WEG.

Might I add it was essentially the third such vote, the first two being when the entry box filled after two calls by OHHA for a boycott. Interestingly, when this happens in the REAL world, the president and board must resign.

Unfortunately, Whelan and the majority of his directors don't live in the real world.

We as horse people must rid ourselves of the OHHA as it presently sits.
Mark my words, if we do not the repercussions will be catastrophic to our industry.

John Kopas, Milton, Ontario

Jan. 6 2009

Ontario Horsemen Need To Look East

I agree with Mike Cooke's letter of January 4.

This is so deja-vu, especially for the horsemen in Quebec. The same propaganda goes on here too between AH and ATAQ the difference being we don't have any racing and the prospects are looking bleaker because everyone is fighting or suing. All interest groups, including the breeders, are just thinking about themselves, I believe, and not the overall welfare of horseracing.

Also in Quebec, we have Loto Quebec and they don't want racing any more, simple as that, and it seems if they don't want racing they can put a stop to it, just by non cooperation.

Ontario, we in Quebec look enviously up to your system as a role model, so quit the bickering!

Judith Farrow, Hemmingford, Quebec

Jan. 4 2009

OHHA Outdated

I am shocked that after the amazing seasons that both Somebeachsomewhere and Shadow Play enjoyed that someone would stoop to an all time low and try to connect them to doping rumors. They are tried, tested and true athletes. As for the drivers making statements I take nothing away from Paul or Billy O. They might be two of the most honest guys in the sport. As for Jody he is on an overdue holiday for excessive whipping and kicking, it was satisfying to know the WEG judges could stick to the rule book.

The OHHA/ WEG issue is one that should be fought for. We simply can't have "horse people" cheating for purse money while there are honest individuals making a living the honest way. Quite frankly the mandate of OHHA is one of days past. Their lack of affect on the sport is apparent with the full race cards during the first few days of the WEG circuit. Honest horse people will continue to race because that is what they know.

We the fans, track management, trainers, owners, grooms and racing officials should continue to demand the best and turn our backs on such outdated causes such as OHHA.

Mike Cooke, Oakville Ontario

Jan. 3 2009

Mr. Harkness..  as a reporter, I thought maybe it was a custom to check and re-check your facts before publication?

You are correct, Central Canada and North America treasured the exploits of Somebeachsomewhere and Shadow Play with their thrilling performances this past couple of years.

To even think that anyone in this area would entertain thoughts of integrity is simply ludicrous. WEG in particular has championed both of these outstanding performers along with the high regard they maintain for racing integrity as a whole.

The OHHA, with their insistence of having the authority to support and represent cheaters because they are members is one of the root causes of the current contract squabble. I believe our federal court system requires a qualified attorney to represent grieving clients under provision of private property rights.

Your reference to ‘bullying and banning members from racetracks’ ...  I don't know whether you are aware, but here in Ontario, you not only have to be licensed by the ORC, but must have a direct relationship to a horse racing in a pari-mutuel  event in order to be admitted by security into a race paddock, if this is the circumstance that you were alluding to.

Also, your January 1 card information ..  Mr. Jamieson was serving a short suspension, MacDonell and MacDonald as Mr. O'Donnell, who was visiting his family in Florida over the holiday, all were on pre-planned breaks.

For our future exploits, let's start looking at some positives that we can entice and encourage patrons to return to this sport and restore the friendly and co-operative ambiance that once existed. Integrity does matter.

Is our customer not #1?

Ron Durand, Paris Ontario

From The High To The Low

It is discouraging to find that after all the great publicity generated for harness racing by the exploits of Somebeachsomewhere and Shadow Play that harness racing in our largest jurisdiction is once again a battle zone.

One questions the intelligence of the WEG masterminds that they would push the envelope of integrity at a time when harness racing is basking in the limelight of Somebeachsomewhere and Shadow Play, two horses who have become icons in the mainstream media.

Not once during their brilliant campaigns was there a mention of using performance enhancing drugs. There was no need to.
Yet by promoting a dispute over the need to protect the integrity of the sport, WEG has been able to propel the doping issue to the industry spotlight.

Bullying the OHHA to relinquish its rights to represent its members is undemocratic to say the least. Banning OHHA representatives from the grounds is nothing more than a bullying tact.

It was interesting to note that while checking the results of the January 1 card at Woodbine that leading drivers such as Jody Jamieson, Paul Macdonell, Marc MacDonald and Hall of Fame driver Bill O’Donnell were not among the participants. One would suggest they were making a statement.

Doug Harkness, Atlantic Post Calls

Jan. 2 2009

OHHA Employees Should Not Have Been In Paddock

In response to Brian Tropea  and John Walzak trying to enter the Woodbine padock Sunday - if they were  not racing a horse that day, under ORC rules they could not be allowed in the paddock because they had no connection to a horse racing that day.

As far as Woodbine wanting to reserve the right to not allow certain individuals the right to race ther, it's their racetrack and good for them for trying to clean racing up when OHHA and the ORC can't seem to get it done.

Jim Ruhl, Tara, Ontario

Dec. 31 2008

Time To Be United, Not Divided

After a year in review I think that there are no smart people in a position of change for the industry. They would realize that with so many other outlets for racing they should consider themselves lucky to have the money they do and the dates they do.

OHHA has taken a stance that once again alienates the very people they represent. In a day and age where people are losing their homes, jobs and lives everyday we in the horse racing industry have individuals with their hands out saying give me more. It is a very sad day that these people who are considered smart and revolutionaries are going to be the very people who ultimately kill the sport. Please have a look at OHHA's great work with Windsor. How great is racing there? What about their great work at Flammy and Georgian? Nothing changed, people starved and not one thing happened. This is what they want at our world class facility?

We finally have a chance to all work together, track management, judges, trainers, drivers, owners, breeders and grooms. We can unite and make the changes necessary to have the industry survive. Only with everyone on side will the issues facing us today be resolved.

I encourage all those taking a stance to support OHHA to consider all the other GREAT ideas for ratification that OHHA has come up with and ask that you put your families and business first.

Mike Cooke, Oakville, Ontario

Dec. 30 2008

What are we doing to ourselves?  

This is the pertinent question our racing industry must ask of itself. Let's face it; the money we race for has never, ever been better yet the pervasive feeling throughout our industry is one of despair.
 
We should be celebrating our good fortune instead of lamenting, complaining and threatening to stop racing. In life, timing is everything. While most citizens of Ontario are suffering through one of the worst economic periods in our history now is not the time for the horse racing industry to indulge in rancour and discord. We should be promoting a sense of togetherness and look at the "big picture" instead of focusing on our own narrow agenda.
 
We are fortunate to have intelligent, committed, passionate people in the horse racing industry. They want to make a positive difference.
 
Making a difference means stimulating change without fear or favour. Regrettably, there are some within our industry who do fear change and resist change. The "whipping rule " is a good example. Some people (myself included) advocated changes to the "whipping rule" and as a result were treated with a contempt that bordered on character assassination. Because of my background in politics the vitriol did not bother me but others were perplexed and hurt. I don't blame them.
 
There are other important issues that need to be addressed such as drug offences (equine and human), race dates, private property rights, exotic wagering, potential track closures etc. If this resistance to change continues ....... well, you get the picture.
 
The people involved in horse racing must be more responsible for ourselves and for our most important commodity, our horses!
 
The slot deal gives us a lavish amount of money. It was put in place to promote, preserve and protect the horse racing industry in Ontario. Other than raising the purses to unbelievable levels, what else has it accomplished?
 
Currently, we see frustration, confusion, division and deception. Not a pretty picture.
 
Putting on my political hat for a moment let me say, "what the government giveth, the government can taketh away." Caveat emptor ..... be careful my friends, be careful!
 
The New Year is upon us. We want 2009 to be remembered for all the right reasons not the wrong ones. We have a wonderful opportunity to move onward and upward. The clock is ticking. It is up to us.
 
The question is "what are we doing to ourselves?"
  
Hector Clouthier

Owners, Not Horses, Sell Racing

As I read these letters day after day complaining that horse racing does not get press, I wonder if they really understand the issue.
Do you know that that a search on the Internet revealed 328,000 pieces of information that talks about Somebeachsomewhere, 425,000 pieces contained Shadow Play and 558,000 contained info on Bret Hanover and the list goes on.
I travel as part of my work in the Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton area and I constantly hear one overwhelming remark when a piece is written on the top horse of the day. Most of the remarks centre around the horse’s owners – ‘boy that Reg Pettipas is doing well’ or ‘that horse is owned by some guy from Bathurst who has a partner Serge Savard who played for the Canadiens.’

I can remember (in the old days around here) a nice horse by the name of Power Baron a $1,800 purchase that made Mike Doyle a household name. The horse was the first one to pace four sub 2:00 minute miles in Montreal history in a single season and he earned over $250,000. What made him surreal was that every one knew Mike or knew someone that knew Mike ‘a local boy done good.’

People came from miles around to see this wonder race but the track operator always built his press around whose horse might beat this pacing giant, not what horse. Would it be a Whebby horse, a Downey horse or a Ryan horse? People know people and for the most part they associate them with success. And every once in a while a great horse comes along that introduces a new player or reestablishes a familiar face.

Ownership is really what sells racing. Being from a small town, I am reminded not just because I'm horsey but we had numerous owners whose involvement in racing drew their friends and associates to the track because they knew them rather the horse. (Going to the track for them was an hour drive each way and they made it regularly.)

If you got a good one, there are many who would come to see him win and others who would come to see if he could be beaten. But ultimately people draw people to the business and when they catch the thrill it then becomes more about the horse.
Thrill is the area of our business that is hard to share. Look around the next time you're at the track. Track operators would be well advised to hire cheerleaders to build the murmur now that's the thrill I remember. It started when they left the gate and built till they hit the wire. Too bad trifectas came along, now most care less about who wins, everyone wants to know who finished third if they cashed the ticket or not.

And on a final note, newspapers today are like every other business, they have less and less to spend on employees and are cost cutting, especially writers. Usually if an industry provides well written copy the papers will use it, especially on days that are not dominated by the big copy sports of car racing, hockey or baseball.

Glen McEwen, Sussex, New Brunswick


Dec. 24 2008

Promotion Starts At Home

I would like to pose a question to everyone who depends on harness racing for a living, or part of their living. By this I include owners, trainers, grooms, breeders, feed suppliers, blacksmiths, vets, anyone employed by the racetracks, etc.

How many of you have taken someone to the races that have never had any previous exposure to our business? If everyone in Canada that depended, even partly, on Standardbred racing invited their friends, neighbours, kids’ teachers, dentist, investment advisor, etc. to the races for an evening I am sure that there would be a percentage of those that would have a great time and return, perhaps bringing new friends with them.

Why would business people not bring their clients to the racetrack instead of a regular restaurant? Take them to the track for a great meal, entertainment, and plenty of time between races to conduct any business that they have. What a novel idea!

Instead of pointing the finger of blame at what is not being done, how about everyone doing their part to try and make things better?

Liz Waples, Guelph, Ontario


Dec. 23 2008

Hard To Have Racing Recognized

I read with interest your recent letters pertaining to the media and why racing is not included in local newspapers, radio, TV and other media outlets.
 
As Carol Hodes is quick to point out, they don’t care. That may sound harsh but the sport of harness racing is a forgotten entity in the sports world. There is great coverage from track websites, racing publications and sites but that’s as far as it goes.
 
We had a great opportunity this year with the emergence of Somebeachsomewhere. He is the only story that mainstream media would even listen to but the problem is, what next? “Beach” is retired. Who next will have the impact that he had this year?
 
While I agree with Mr. Pearce that public relations could be improved in every area of North America, I am afraid you could hire the best salespeople in the world, the best writers, the best storytellers. At the end of the day, the media is not interested.
 
I worked as a Publicity Rep for the last few years in the Maritimes where I must say, the media does give some exposure. Nearly not enough as it’s usually a small 1” x 1” paragraph edited for size in the local paper. I have sent numerous human interest stories, feel good and success stories and they don’t use them. We have to count on websites and publications such as these to promote the sport. Trouble is, we are promoting it to people who already come to the track and our own people.
 
Sad to say, racing will continue to get lost in the shuffle with lack of local media coverage. Some provinces in the Maritimes do an admirable job of promoting racing in their papers but others do not. We can’t compete with Nascar, the National Football League, Major League Baseball, heck even the local dart league.
 
Very little money has been put aside to promote racing. If there was a certain percentage of the revenue in slot jurisdictions put towards marketing and promotions, maybe, just maybe we wouldn’t be in the shape we are.

Scott Waddell, Saint John, NB

Media Doesn’t Want Racing

While I would endorse Howard Pearce's proposal to support more publicity for harness racing, I am afraid that would not be a magic bullet for what ails the sport.  It will take a huge commitment of the industry to multi-media advertising to hope to crack the pages of general circulation publications and the airwaves of the TV and radio outlets.

The newspapers just do not care, no matter how endearing the story line. Unless it is a drug bust or a dramatic accident, the interest level is nil.  The newspapers have their own financial woes and have decided that racing is a marginal sport and will not staff events or even use that which is provided to them for free.  It is space on their pages that they simply won't give to racing.  
I am speaking specifically of the newspapers in the USA but I do not think this is much different in Canada.  

Most of these publications are on life support, racing is not the only business that is suffering in this era.  

Mr. Pearce, you are right about the complete lack of non-racing print media coverage, but I cannot imagine that changing any time soon no matter how hard working and clever the publicist.

But that isn't to say that a well-financed multi-media/advertising campaign would not have some true value because we are, indeed, at risk of losing a generation of potential racing fans simply because they do not know we even exist.

Carol Hodes, New Jersey


Dec. 22 2008

Better Public Relations Needed

We all know our industry is in trouble and we all know the main reason is rapidly declining pari-mutuel handles, people are doing other things with their gambling dollars. This problem will only be resolved when and if more people become aware and interested in harness racing and follow it as regularly as they do baseball, hockey and golf. I fear that we who are ‘inside’ the sport would be surprised to know how many people in North America don’t know much or care about harness racing.

Last June I attended a wedding banquet where the bride and groom would only kiss if a guest could stump the best man and groom on a sports trivia question. These guys were good! They told us what Babe Ruth’s batting average was in 1921 and who won the 1963 Grey Cup and how many assists Rocket Richard had in his career. There wasn’t much kissing going on. Finally, I went to the mike and simply asked ‘who won the North America Cup last weekend? Silence……….KISS!

I don’t have a magical solution to this problem. Nobody does or it would have been implemented by now. But I do have an idea that I think merits consideration.

Why don’t we (the harness racing industry) hire a well qualified Public Relations and Publicity person to promote all the good things about our sport? We are blessed with high quality publications and up to the minute websites that we ‘insiders’ read regularly but more people need to know about them and all the wonderful news they generate.

And why is it that local newspapers and TV stations cover so little about harness racing. My local newspaper covers my son’s high school basketball scores and standings twice a week but when my friends’ horse won the 2006 Canadian Trotting Classic it wasn’t mentioned by the local media. Why? Because they didn’t know about! Because no PR person phoned or emailed them to tell them the exciting story about a local horse. They can’t report something they don’t know about.

We need exposure, we need press releases, we need new promotions and we need the people of NA to know about harness racing heroes like Somebeachsomewhere and Majestic Son and Nebupanezzar and the breeders, trainers, drivers and owners responsible for their accomplishments.

So…where do we get the money to support a first class Public Relations person with a generous budget? Simple...from inside our industry…from purse money. If one per cent of every purse from every race from every track was extracted and plunked into a professional public relations program it might save harness racing. And it still leaves us owners with 89 per cent of the purse.

By the way. Where can I buy a ‘I luv harness racing’ bumper sticker?……….KISS!

Howard Pearce, Elginburg, Ont.

Time For A Four Year Old OSS?

I am not sure if too many people have watched the breeding numbers in Ontario. There will not be the abundance of two-year-olds in the Ontario Sires Stakes next year as in years gone by.

The numbers are something like 8,500 mares booked to Ontario sires around 2003, and 2,500 in 2006, meaning less than one third of the foals for the two-year-olds next year.

Since Ontario has been rather forward/progressive in racing (a.k.a. slots), before everyone else, why not a four-year-old OSS?  

It may not garner too much interest, but what a way to test the waters on having some racing for the Beach next year!

Tim Bates, Richmond Hill, Ontario


 


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