I have been a harness racing fan for well over thirty years. I have seen the good times and the bad times. So much has changed in the thirty plus years, and it is hard to tell if these changes are good or bad. I know I have seen a few trends in the past few years that have me worried for this great sport that I love so much. So lets discuss some of the trends and you decide if these are good or bad.
The first thing that comes to mind is the drug problem. An honest horseman has no chance at succeeding if the powers that be allow so many cheats to rule this sport. I won’t name names, but if you follow the sport of harness racing, then you know who the cheats are. This adds another element to handicapping, as now we have to know which trainers are cheating, and which are clean. In today’s harness racing, a horse that has been drugged can pick up anywhere from three to five seconds. It is almost impossible to handicap for that. A handicapper almost has to handicap the trainer as much as he does the horse. Most tracks just turn a blind eye to the cheaters, which in my eyes means that the track owners don’t care about the gamblers at all. How quickly they have forgotten that without the gamblers, there would be no racing.
The next problem goes hand in hand with the drug problem. Beards, no, not what men have on their faces. Fake trainers employed usually by a banned trainer or by a trainer that wants to keep his name clean. These trainers usually find someone who is willing to take the glory when their horses win, as long as they know they are taking the fall when they get caught cheating. These beards know as much about training a horse as you and me. If harness racing ever wants to be great again, the powers that be must solve this drug problem. I believe there should be a one strike and you are out policy. If your horse tests positive for a banned substance, you are banned from ever owning or training a horse again. There also needs to be much more consistent testing for all levels of horses from a low claimer to a stakes quality horse. These horses deserve to have a better life once they are retired from racing. All of the drug use makes these horses into crippled horses when they get older. We need to care more about these horses, and do something before they get old and lame.
This next topic really bothers me, and I assume it bothers many others as well. All of the drivers today are friends, either with each other or the trainers of the other horses they are competing against. This makes for very poor racing, as the drivers are way too courteous to each other. Most drivers don’t want to park out their friend, or the other trainer that they drive for or hope to drive for. For example, Jimmy Takter is a prominent trainer, and he also drives a few of his horses from time to time. Lets say he has 3 horses in a race, which is another problem that I will discuss next. He will drive one of his horses, and he will have two other drivers driving his other horses. There will be no racing in this race, none of his horses will get parked, they will all get great trips. There is no way for the bettors to know which horse is going to win, unless we are at the track and see him place his bets. Oh wait he doesn’t bet, no trainers do, what am I saying. Of course the trainers bet, but we have no idea which horse he bet on, so our handicapping in a race like this is useless. We need more racing like they use to thirty years ago. Drivers didn’t like each other, they didn’t give other drivers holes. Racing nowadays, there is a sprint to the first quarter, then everyone sits inside, and they sprint home. Back in the day, horses leading the race didn’t get a breather. Drivers were hungry, they wanted to win, and most importantly, they didn’t care if they pissed off another driver.
The next topic is along the same lines. Trainers, all of the small farms or barns have no chance to compete anymore. The super trainers have all the money, they get the better horses, and get the best drivers as well. Harness racing really needs to find a solution for this. The beauty of harness racing was that anyone with any size farm would have a chance to compete. Just go back and look at most of the stakes races from this year. My guess is about 50% of the horses entered were from three or four trainers. Many of these races would have three or four horses from one trainer in the race. That is problem harness racing needs to fix as well. How is a small barn or farm supposed to compete? They can’t compete, so as harness racing suffers, a handful of trainers/owners get rich. There needs to be a limit on how many horses a trainer can have in a race. To stop trainers from changing the trainer’s name on paper, make the trainer the last time that horse raced the trainer for this race. If the horse really did change hands, show the ownership papers, and then that horse can race. Too often everyone just turns a blind eye to this, and the rich just get richer. I don’t know about everyone else, but I don’t want to watch a race that has three Takter trained horses, two Burke horses out of seven or eight horses in the field.
The last topic I am going to discuss today is the gambling aspect of harness racing. Why hasn’t harness racing become more popular like T-bred racing? To me it is very simple, people want a chance to win big amounts of money. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, there is no big money to be made betting on harness racing. More and more favorites are winning every year, as the big trainers have the best horses. Pick 4’s and Pick 5’s use to be very hard to hit. Now with the fifty cent wagers and more favorites winning then ever before, there is no money to be made on these pools. I am not sure how to solve this problem, my first guess would be to raise the bet back up to one dollar or even two dollar’s. I also believe that each track needs to program their race cards better. They need to have the most competitive and full races in the Pick 4 and Pick 5 sequences. Why not have a pick 6 as well? I don’t think I have ever seen a harness track with a pick 6 wager. It doesn’t have to be all six races from one track. Tracks can work together, like races 1,2,3 from one track and 4,5,6 from another. Having two different tracks should double the pool size without having to do anything at all. This would require people in the harness racing community to actually have to work together. They would have to make sure the races go off at the proper time, which as we all know is also a major problem with harness racing.
Harness racing needs leaders that are willing to take some chances to help improve the product. There needs to be more excitement in harness racing to attract new customers. There needs to be much more advertising as well. So many young people today, don’t even know what harness racing is. Adding more excitement could also lead to new owners. Harness racing needs to grow and expand, and not close tracks and get smaller. This is a critical time for harness racing, as there appears to be a horse shortage. Less breeding and fewer tracks is a sure fire way to kill harness racing. I love harness racing, and I will be a fan all the way to the bitter end. Hopefully that is a long way off, but things don’t look very promising right now. This is just the ramblings of a frustrated harness racing fan. I know many people that feel the same way, but we don’t have a voice.