Dreaming of new directions – Harness Racing Update

“It’s never too late to be what you could have been.” – Georg Eliot

by Trey Nosrac

Winning a $1,000 stake in a horse race is nice, but not a big dream. The reward is fleeting. money comes and goes. Raising or selecting a yearling that will develop into a good racehorse is a much more fulfilling dream. The best future for our sport may be to shift from pari-mutuel gambling addiction to participants pursuing long-term dreams.

Reality will force our hand. The battles for sports betting dollars are fierce and our horse racing warriors face long odds against the giant invaders. References to Custer’s Last Stand, The Alamo, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia are tempting, but let’s stay positive. And we should be positive. The attack can force us into an exciting and joyful future.

We didn’t ask to change course, but complete reliance on pari-mutuel betting for a slow-moving sport in a universe where anyone can bet on anything is beyond challenging. Should the flow of money dry up, where do we go? Who will lead us out of the trotting wilderness?

A consortium of our breeding operations taking the reins for planning and implementation could be one answer. We should emphasize that each racehorse is a personal franchise and relies heavily on stakes racing. Of course, we’re clinging to every dollar available, including casino funding. Perhaps we should reallocate the money to a new trotting structure and create a self-contained ecosystem where individuals and groups compete for the best yearling. Many are already playing this game, and rebuilding may just throw away the segments we don’t need.

Make a mental list of the aspects of our sport that you enjoy the most.

Here is my:

• The birth of a foal.

• Signing the sales slip for a yearling.

• Attend a training session in winter and spring.

• Qualification Day.

• Buy or sell a horse online.

• Reading sales catalogs in search of a hidden gem.

• Ownership interests.

• Compete for a check in a stakes race at any level.

• Planning and dreaming of a yearling’s career.

• Being part of a unique sport with great people.

• The opportunity to own and manage a young harness horse.

• Long-term dreams.

On the other hand, this is a list of things that reduce my enjoyment of our sport:

• Night Race.

• Winter races.

• Claim races.

• Monotony.

• Races full of horses that are meaningless to me.

• Smart game heads that will crush me in a pari-mutuel world.

• Artificial intelligence betting conglomerates.

• Boredom and treadmills.

• Empty circuit grandstands.

• Old racehorses who earn a living.

• An endless racing season.

• Sale of an obsolete product.

We have to sell something to dreamers. Ask yourself, would you rather watch the same movie 10 times or try your hand at making a movie? Would you rather watch a golf tournament or play a round of golf, visit a vacation home or build a cabin, or read or write a book? Would you rather bet on a trotting race or own a trotter? Many people are passive in their pleasure activities, but a solid core longs to be in the game. We have one of the few pursuits that offer deep immersion through ownership. Property is a unique asset, a unique niche.

The ability to customize spending allows individuals of all budget sizes to play the game of horse ownership, perhaps our sport’s best selling point. Many of you know the joys and frustrations of raising, buying, selling, training, dreaming, studying and exploring the career of a young harness horse. It’s exciting to calculate what level of racing your horse should compete at and meet friendly competitors in the same world. Sure, it’s heartbreaking, but ownership is fun and could be more fun in an age of high technology and instant communication if we focused on that part of our sport.

The last five years have been my favorite years of my involvement with harness racing because I’ve focused on the items on the first list and avoided the second. My financial situation was not good, several horses never made it to the track, but my overall experience was positive. I’m looking forward to the next racing season for one reason: there is a place in this sport where I can actively dream.

Let me approach my topic from a different direction: the future.

Think of me as a canary in the coal mine. My horse racing gambling days have dwindled to almost nothing. They all understand the internal, external, monetary and demographic indicators that point to the likelihood that our traditional betting machine will falter.

However, if the current purse structure for stakes racing at any level remains relatively stable (improvements welcome), people like me will keep playing. If the stakes payments and other revenue streams that support expanded stakes racing are acceptable in my state or any other state where we race, if we have enough opportunities to race our stakes horses, anything can others disappear.

Participants in a new, condensed structure could find a fun little sport. We could become a boutique sport, a niche sport and a pay-to-play sport. But we will have a future and have fun racing and paying for our dreams. If someone builds this friendly little sporting universe for racing our horses, we will come and maybe create a situation where new people with active sporting dreams will want to join us.

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