It doesn’t take a Harvard or McGill graduate to understand that growing the harness racing game in Atlantic Canada, Ontario or in the United States is all about increasing the ownership ranks, whether it’s the younger set or those looking to spend some quality time with the youngsters.
Atlantic Canada like everywhere else is going through an ownership shortage but I see the situation improving as more and more partnerships in horse ownership are being formed, bringing new faces into the sport. Marc Campbell has been successful in attracting new owners, multiple owners in a single horse, into the ranks as has Brendon Curran and other similar groups. The other key issue hampering growth in our sport throughout Atlantic Canada is the increasing costs to operate a public stable, especially vet costs, feed costs and equipment while at the same time purses have not increased. I see improvements in that area this upcoming season, as governments in the region have realized that to sustain and grow harness racing, the purses must increase. This being an election year on Prince Edward Island, and the economy on PEI booming, I am certain better days are ahead for harness racing.
Harness Racing in Atlantic Canada should be seen as a partner in tourism, not just on Prince Edward Island, but everywhere because it plays a significant role in attracting tourists to our shores for Old Home Week and the Gold Cup and Saucer race. It can be marketed similarly elsewhere in Atlantic Canada. The Gold Cup and Saucer is one of the great events in the world of harness racing like the Little Brown Jug in Ohio, the Hambletonian at The Meadowlands, and the Elitlopp in Sweden; it’s a “must see event” in the harness racing world.
I have been told by reliable sources that the Nova Scotia government understands the need to work with the harness racing industry and that is evident with the return of the Nova Scotia Yearling Sale. New Brunswick has stability for the first time in a decade and a new three-year plan in place at Exhibition Park is a step in the right direction.
I also like the idea that Brett Revington is here as the new Atlantic Provinces Harness Racing Director and that’s a step in the right direction. This is a great hire and I see a cohesive working relationship among the three Maritime provinces, and that’s another a step forward.
The key to a very successful 2019 season is a much-anticipated increase in purses, especially the stakes and overnights because we all know that as it stands, it is almost impossible to even break even with a full-time trainer. Unless your horse is 1-2-3 in the Atlantic Sires, the Lady Slipper or the O’Brien events, the PEI Colt stakes, the Donnie Turner or other on the stakes calendar, you cannot break even. It’s worse with overnight or conditioned horses, thus the necessity for the purse increases and the rise of fractional ownership.
Seeing it, feeling it, and enjoying the race for what is, will attract fans to our sport, that’s been the success of the Gold Cup and Saucer. The excitement will attract the fans, and more than likely today, it will be groups of owners that will reawaken interest in the horse game.
I read with interest the comments from the annual United States Trotting Association meetings last weekend in Columbus, Ohio but I cannot agree with the message that the president of that association sends to the membership. Russell Williams believes that new racing-based products offered through the internet “is where our future horse players and fans will reside”. “To find them, we will have to use marketing”, says Williams.
I doubt if the Williams plan will attract the type of new owners that we need to sustain growth in harness racing long term. We want people who love horses, would love to visit them at the farm or build a farm and have them at home. We want fans who will fall in love with pedigrees, and attend the yearling sales, and watch the young horses in stake action. Our game plan should be about attracting new owners, like the ones I talk about above, not so dependant on gamblers who will only last in our sport as long as the money holds out.
The best way to maintain the fans we have and to attract new ones is by offering quality harness racing cards. This summer, I would like to see: Post parades must be professional and in order, on track service must be as one would expect from a tourism related province (s), and race cards confined to within a 2 ½ hour time limit. Post times should be strictly adhered to and each race should have a full field of eight horses; also, eligible horses must be located on the grounds so that if a horse is scratched, full fields are maintained. Young fans and older ones as well don’t want the race cards to be drawn out to nearly four hours; it is a sure way to lose customers. Bettors young and old will bet into full horse fields, but money stays in their pocket when forced to watch five and six horse fields.
By the time you get this edition of the Atlantic Post Calls, Bill O’Donnell will have been to Truro Annual Awards Night and Banquet and headed back to Guelph, Ontario. The Truro event was a huge success, enjoyed by all.
The next two big events: Jody Jamieson at Summerside, Credit Union Place, April 5 and Wally Hennessey at Murphys Rec Centre in Charlottetown, April 13 will be just as enjoyable. Don’t be disappointed, get your tickets right away and don’t miss out.
See ads below for banquet details.