Let the shows begin – Harness Racing Update

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by Trey Nosrac

The first NFL draft began on February 8, 1936 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia. In the humble beginnings, 90 names were scrawled on a blackboard. Relatively few were interested in this process of selecting future sports stars. There was no media coverage. Who would care?

Eighty-six years later, many people care. Last year, 55 million people watched at least part of the three-day draft selection extravaganza. Despite the lack of sporting activity, the NFL draft has developed into an event. Other professional sports have followed suit and hold their own draft fests. Major League Baseball recently held its draft for players who won’t be on the field for years.

Rebirth and renewed hope are the engines that drive the train craze.

After your home team had a bad season, the draft is a bridge while you wait for next year. When it comes to trotting, we are very similar. After last year’s disappointments on the racetrack, we are holding our annual withdrawals in the form of various yearling sales. Hope is in the air as the latest generation of Standardbreds take the stage and we’re stocking up for next season.

Our current yearling auctions are fine. Videos and long-distance bids are popular additions for horse buyers. Still, distributors may wish to develop further by looking at the success of our athletic brethren in the future young star market.

In other drafts, there is an insatiable appetite for draft content spewed out by forecasters, blowers, gurus, analysts, and snake oil sellers. Our sport could benefit from more hype, people with robust options, predictions, mock drafts, pre-sale confabs and all the things that make other sports buzz before decisions are made with great fanfare.

The popularity of sporty designs has crept up on most of us. Few realized the psychological power in sports trains (and yearling sales) that leave everyone hungry to make a fresh start. The human psyche seems to enjoy making exciting decisions. Every year we believe that this year we will find that which changes everything, maybe the one that everyone else missed.

It’s human nature to take on prospects for emotional reasons. We enjoy being right with these tips, being right early and believing our choices have value. And of course, as with most things, the internet is a key factor. Anyone can research the data tsunami and find hidden treasures.

We need some of those people who are so confident they can’t keep their decisions to themselves to gain followers, start podcasts, and advertise their wisdom and forward-thinking. It’s fun listening to characters claiming to be the most brilliant guys in the room who have access to all the “secret” research. Everyone has an opinion that needs to be confirmed or destroyed. The selection process can be dramatic and entertaining.

I have a buddy who loves this family tree stuff. In my opinion he’s damn good at picking yearlings. When a yearling catalog comes out, every page is rigorously checked, with annotations, circles, yellow marks for emphasis, ratings, grades, and many other things I don’t understand. Then he watches the videos and rates them. He then searches for hidden material that isn’t on the hip side.

Last week Trey proposed a webinar with some family tree nerds. On the agreed day, he and another expert will examine the Lexington trotter foals. Then another day their webinar will cover the pacing stallions in the Ohio Select Sale etc. They’ll go page by page, rating each horse from A to D and learning where they agree or disagree as they educate and entertain.

In addition to these webinars, the distribution company should follow the lead of baseball, hockey, basketball, and even collegiate sports and step it up a notch. Produce shows before draft (sales) or hire people to produce and then add more sparkle for clients in the building and in the video stream. Auction companies could jump into the drama, perhaps considering more time before and between horses, more breaks in the bidding auction. Maybe some quick interviews after buyers sign the sale tickets, confetti cannons when a new sale stopper is sold, or draws for credit coupons and prizes every twenty sales. These are just a few ideas.

Why bother changing the formula?

People like a show, people like drama, and people enjoy fun. At its core, this will still be an auction with good yearlings selling at high prices and less stock struggling. Other sports harness the power of their designs for their business. You will learn ways to capitalize on hopes, dreams and data in a digital world. We can join them.

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