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Anthony MacDonald's Blog


Issues that need addressing; who will do it?

Published: July 22, 2014 1:29 pm ET

Last Comment: July 26, 2014 12:28 pm ET | 16 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

As a husband and a father raising a family in this industry, it's hard not to be concerned about our future.

We are now subsidized.

With our province paying out more revenue every minute, hour and day than it brings in, how are we supposed to have any confidence we will have a stable future?

Hard work is needed from both sides if we are to grow into what we need to be and what the government expects us to be. But I can't for the life of me think of one thing we have done in the last two years that would constitute a forward step and show that we are getting up and dusting ourselves off since the falling out we had with Dalton McGuinty and Dwight Duncan.

I sincerely hope Premier Wynne has every intention of honouring her agreements to this industry we all call home.

But on the other side of that coin, when will we start honoring ours? We have done nothing to curb the exodus of horses and horsemen to other surrounding markets. We don't seem to have any plan to bring in new gamblers, or satisfy the ones we have? Although I'm obviously not privy to closed-door meetings, there hasn't been any chatter of any solid integration with the OLG.

As horsemen we can only change what we have the ability to change. Our product, the way it looks, and the way it is received by gamblers is definitely one of those things.

I have asked permission to form a small advisory committee for condition sheets so we can have some constructive dialogue between our trainers and our race offices.

I would like to collaborate with our horsemen's groups and tracks so we can better suit the current needs of our horsemen. Help them cope with racing their horses and navigating our industry better, so we can potentially spur reinvestment and hopefully new investment and begin to rebuild what is so badly broken.

Some concerns when I talk to trainers are usually:

1) The absolute lack of ability to make ends meet racing on the "B" tracks. Some trainers used to use these tracks as spring boards into WEG or class relief and a solid "B" track horse could still make decent money.

Those days are gone and what used to constitute a "farm team" mentality just looks to investors as a losing proposition. The lack of room for growth in this area is troubling because many of our investors used to come from initial grass roots investing.

Our horses, trainers, and investors need a starting point. The rough waters of WEG are sometimes too hard to handle and with not much in the way of viable options otherwise people are simply staying away.

2) We have people who will/would invest in Ontario, but with no stable claiming races being filled at WEG (at present we have an $8,000 and a $15,000 filling weekly) it makes it hard to have much economic churn throughout our industry.

Many of these owners have horses racing in other jurisdictions and are being forced to invest elsewhere or have simply give up. When Ontario horses and Ontario owners race in other jurisdictions, we all lose.

3) Also of great concern is the loss we will soon be faced with, when many of our three-year-old horses are sold in Harrisburg sale.

Typically every year we see this trend, but over the next two years we will have drastically fewer Ontario-sired horses and if we can't curb the exodus of our OSS graduates, the effects will be devastating on our overall product.

We certainly don't want to become a secondary product to US markets. We need to give people a reason to stay here, and invest here, or they simply won't.

By working hard to fill fair competitive claimers and finding new ways to keep our Ontario-sired horses here, we will be taking positive action ourselves that will pay dividends down the road.

This will only happen with open positive communication.

We can't keep waiting for people to fix things for us. We have an opportunity to help ourselves and it would be a shame to once again wait for a hand up, when we have the ability to get up on our own, right now.

Call it baby steps, but any step forward is a good step at this point.

I hope you agree and speak up, or what we have left, will hardly be worth saving.

Anthony MacDonald

The views presented in Trot Blogs are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Standardbred Canada.

July 26, 2014 - 12:28 pmLots of great points made by

Kevin Jones SAID...

Lots of great points made by everyone. The only people doing good in the industry are the drivers, trainers, vets & feed/equipment suppliers. The owners are getting killed for the most part & the fan base are taken for granted. Personally I think it's time for the product to's BORING especially to the newbies. I had a group of friends over last weekend & convinced them to watch & bet on the races. The complaints from the NOVICE watching, was they lined up single file EVERY race & lagging post times. The Meadowlands which I convinced them was so great they did notice a little difference (probably because I convinced them it was) but it was still not a lot of action & again the LATE POST TIMES turned them off. They got tired of waiting for the races to start.

The big tracks need to have larger fields & race different distances. Makes for more betting options and hopefully more action packed & competitive races. Racing needs to create something like they have over in Sweden with the V75-V65 lotto style wagering to create a more visible presence to the general public.

Somehow the owners ( without who there's no racing) have to be taken care of also. Maybe give the drivers & trainers their % based on their finish....5% for win, 4% 2nd- 3% 3rd- 2%4th & 1% for all remaining spots. At least that would help a little & gives the drivers & trainers more incentive?

July 25, 2014 - 2:15 pmHi Anthony Glad somebody is

Hi Anthony
Glad somebody is addressing the crisis in harness racing.
I have read all the comments so far; but no one has addressed an issue that perhaps you and your fellow drivers have some control over; and that is how to make the product on the track more exciting. There is excitement at the start and the finish, but sooo little in between. As an example, in last Saturday's preferred pace, the 1st 1/4 was in 28 seconds and there was a huge gap left somewhere in between horses, which meant the horses behind the gap were never really in the race-how boring(if you bet on a horse that trailed, you might as well tear up your ticket at the 1/4 mark). Drivers should be fined for giving out holes, which will often result in constant action in the race. Also, when a driver does pull out, he often gets blocked by other horses edging out or pulling out and going nowhere, until they get cover. I understand that giving out holes by and for the top drivers is a good tactic, because it will be reciprocated in the future, but it makes for a dull product and a sense by the betting public that the driving colony is a little too cozy.

July 24, 2014 - 5:52 pmSo if you want more owners,

Georg Leber SAID...

So if you want more owners, stop charging HST on everything. If you buy a horse in the USA you save 13%. Also, HST is in every facet of every bill associated with racing. I can't think of any one item that hurts the sport more than this. Only those who have a farm corporation or a corporation where the primary source of income is from racing can get it back, but even then it's a process that is really needless.

A US owner comes to Canada and has a huge advantage from every tax angle.

Georg Leber-ICR Racing

July 24, 2014 - 1:43 pmAnthony, I agree with the


I agree with the points you have risen, however I feel that there are far bigger issues facing this industry. Since the announcement that Slots At Racetracks was ending the horse industry has not come to terms with what exactly that means. Many racing horses are hanging on to the way things were versus the way things are.

For example we have far too many tracks racing in the province of Ontario. How can we justify as an industry a track that is paying out $32,000 in purses and bringing in a handle of $19,000 and deem that a success. In no other business model would that poor return ever be allowed to exist. By reducing the number of Ontario tracks the purses would then be increased and the overall product would be better.

We as an industry need to be open to diversifying the product and moving around racing. With Fort Erie and Ajax racing live race dates why not make the one time capital investment into up grading those facilities into multi breed racing facilities. People in Fort Erie currently have to drive over an hour to Flamboro or Mohawk to witness live Standardbred racing. It is over a three hour drive to experience live Quarter Horse Racing. On the flip side people in Ajax drive over an hour to watch live Standardbred racing and Thoroughbred racing. Our product is NOT FOCUSED ON THE CUSTOMER but the convenience of the horse supply. By spreading around the product and offering new forms of racing in communities people will come to the track. Simply because it is new.

We need to look at the owners we currently have in the industry and build off of their networks. Various high profile athletes and business people own horses but what are they doing to promote and encourage the growth of horse racing? They haven’t stepped forward to save the industry. So why not have them mentor prospective new owners. Statically speaking most young people (19-30) would be drawn to an opportunity to partner with an NHL, NFL or other sport celebrity mentor if it meant owning a small share of a horse, racing every week, having their picture taken and their name in the program.

So few of our Ontario racetracks make going to see live racing part of their business model. Grand River, Hanover and Rideau Carlton are among the few who truly understand what the customer experience is all about.

As an industry we have a few quick wins but the problem is we are still too focused on crying foul over what we have lost instead of looking at what we have to gain. We are still very much a siloed industry that rarely allows for new, innovative thoughts to be implemented for the greater good. Our industry needs to pull together to focus on the positives and not just within our own breed groups but amongst all the breed groups since we are all fighting for existence. We need to develop committees populated by horsepeople, bettors, public and government to ensure that together we build the road forward. We need to stop whining about what we had and be grateful for what we have. As an industry we need to shift our focus onto making ourselves sustainable with our own product before we have no product.

July 24, 2014 - 9:14 amSo right Robert. Our last

So right Robert. Our last horse was a 50/50 ownership with the trainer (can no longer do the physical work ourselves). E.G. racing for a $3200 purse finish 1st - 1,600 less 10% for driver and trainer leaving 1,200. 50% gives us 600 but our monthly bill is $900. Had to get out but wanted to be in racing for much longer.

July 23, 2014 - 2:14 pmMore creative marketing of

Bill Harris SAID...

More creative marketing of horseracing in this province is an absolute necessity. I had someone I know who has no interest in horse racing send me the following.

These are the kinds of ads that stick in people's minds.

July 23, 2014 - 1:04 pmI think that the best way to

Peggy Powell SAID...

I think that the best way to help the B tracks is to involve the community in which they are situated. Advertise the races as a community event and have ongoing contest that even the kids enjoy. Have exciting contest in between races and also shorten the time between races in order to make the races a little more family friendly.I and many others used to take our children to the races and make it a night out but now it is to late for the kids to be up. Have a volunteer to explain the ins and outs of racing and the program. Show everyone how and why we love our animals so much and that the horse also love to race as well. Many people think that we are cruel to our animals ,let's show them that they are wrong.
Most of the horsemen and women are in the business because we love the horses so much, some how we have to teach the public to love them as well.
There is a saying " That people who think diamonds are a girls best friend Never owned a horse." I only have one diamond ring and I would rather buy a horse.

July 23, 2014 - 11:17 amMr Riga and Mr Wright appear

Will Yamakva SAID...

Mr Riga and Mr Wright appear to see the problem.

When 9/10 horseman comment, "without slot money our game cant improve", its a clear indication they do not get that handle on the races they are in is the ONLY justified reason to get any slot help. No sound business should rely on the income made on a totally separate business. I cant understand a much more balanced look at it. If your handle was xxx dollars, you get xxx dollars from slots.

Over $100k in purses at Clinton.
less than $25k in handle. No win pool over $500.

Over $34k in purses
just over $20k wagered

hanover raced for $43k but took in less than $20k in bets.
Sarnia raced for over $30 k but took in less than $20k in bets.

those figures look bad dont they? Well horseman, those figures leave out one HUGE GLARING OMMISION. The handle does not reflect money returned to bettor. Realistically.... Sarnia raced for
$30K of which maybe $5k came from bets. Its been like this for a decade. Anyone that thinks SARP worked, must not have majored in business. No partnership should EVER have one partner getting 90% of its take home money from work the other partner did


the betting dollar is spread way too thin. Too much racing. Too many favorites winning at low handle tracks will never bring bettors out.

Why is harness racing 5 hours long each night? No sporting event should be that long. Fans arent gonna stay. You arent gonna have lil kids happy while mom and pop bet for 5 hours.

Why is horse racing the only NON televised sport on a weekly basis?

all that money was raised to show your corner stone races. How did it work out? It did little. In order to make new fans, gamblers, harness needs to be on TV. Not entire cards. Not just stake races. Not shows full of harness jargon that casual fans won't get. It needs to be on a major sports network at a regular time, and hosted by people that can catch the interest of young viewers.

10 years from now.....many of the aging horseplayers will have passed on, if no new blood pays attention to horse racing now or bothers to learn about it, who will be betting your races?

July 23, 2014 - 10:38 amHi Anthony I applaud your

carlo renon SAID...

Hi Anthony

I applaud your efforts and what you say is 100% true I have many ideas to improve the game I love but no one seems to want to listen or change the models of the business have to change, purses at B tracks must be increased , and the overall image of the game must be improved.
I would love to share these ideas with you as I believe you truely care and would act on them!


July 23, 2014 - 9:20 amGood that MacDonald

Ted Decker SAID...

Good that MacDonald recognizes that the industry has done abosolutly nothing in the past year to move forwrd ...........except to pass the buck.

July 22, 2014 - 10:43 pmFor starters the races have

Brett Wright SAID...

For starters the races have to be run in a quicker fashion if we want to attract new gamblers. Gamblers want action. Last Saturday night I had a horse out in the 13th race, he didn’t race until Sunday morning, and the schedule post time was 11:25. How in the world do we expect anyone to be hanging around the track for 5 hours. The races should be run every 15 minutes. Its proven over and over again gamblers want action.

Secondly, if we want to attract new customers, the track needs to be customer friendly. The cost of the food, the quality... half the time there is nothing to buy, unless you are attending one of the restaurants.

Hopefully it’s not too far gone.

July 22, 2014 - 10:10 pmI heard one of the best

I heard one of the best comments ever from an owner who like me has given up. He said,"we don't have a shortage of horses, we have a shortage of owners"!! I could add to that a shortage of fans. The most simple and basic changes have not been made including the one that sticks in my craw the most. The fair/unfair start pole disaster for bettors!!

July 22, 2014 - 7:54 pmTrainers need to be highly

robert erie SAID...

Trainers need to be highly regulated whereas there should be a monitoring process put in place. If my horse is in the care of a prominent trainer and the horse is a 10,000 claimer, im being charged the same amount as if he were a high conditioned horse. Trainers need to address the class of the horse and the track the horse is racing at and "THEN" price the bill accordingly. Purses are going down, but every other juncture of the sport is not adjusting their prices to keep the one thing that makes the sport go, and "THATS" the owners, who are investing the money. Without the investors you have no stock. Every aspect of horse racing needs to gravitate in relation to the purse structure or horse racing cannot and will not survive.

July 22, 2014 - 4:33 pmAnthony Glad to see you are

Joe Riga SAID...

Glad to see you are trying to do something about a sport I used to love. As an avid fan (and once owner of a couple of harness horses) the number one thing you need to address is getting the gamblers back. Horse racing by it's very nature is a betting game and unless you have bettors you're dead in the water. There is no need for bigger purses,claiming races, new onwers etc. if you don't have anyone who is going to gamble on your races. The gamblers are the engine that drives the machine. As hard as it will be because you are competing with so many other forms of gambling now the horse racing industry needs to understnad one thing. There are a lot of people like myself out there who would prefer to gamble on horse racing instead of slots, sports etc. However we have been alienated from the game for a number of reasons. Races at B tracks not worth betting because a $100 bet on a horse will kill your odds big time. Races at B tracks not worth betting because most B tracks are 1/2 milers and inside 4 horses win most of the time at very low odds. And what happened to the days when going to the track was fun and there were outdoor barbecues and you could munch on a sausage while watching the races.

Unless fans and gamblers keep coming back the purses will stay low. Low purses means cheap racing and terrible returns for bettors along with no new investment from owners.

Just like any economy revolves around jobs (ie no job=terrible economy) horse racing revolves areound betting. No bettors, no horse racing.

As I said, there is no point in addressing ownership,etc because there is no point owning a horse if no-one is betting on them.

I applaud you for at least admitting there is a problem and trying just like I applaud Mr. Gural for trying. I don't have an easy fix for you. Perhaps one does not exist. But one thing I do know is that the fix is directly and intrinsically related to the bettors.

July 22, 2014 - 3:49 pmDear Anthony, After reading

Dear Anthony,

After reading your blog, you have every right to be concerned. In fact, everyone connected with the racing industry in Ontario should be concerned. The hand writing was on the wall when McGuinty and Duncan conspired to curtail the horse racing industry with the end of the SARP. A lot of horse people, including us, left Ontario because we felt that there would be very limited opportunities to prosper in Ontario. We now reside in Kentucky and have bred almost all of our mares to American sires, except for one. Many small breeders have either closed their doors or re-located to other jurisdictions. As a subsidy, the horse industry will be the target of budgetary cuts in the future, especially when the gov't starts closing schools and hospital beds due to lack of funding. The general public will not stand for subsidizing horse racing when this is happening. This spells ultimate disaster for horse racing unless there is some form of a revenue sharing agreement....much the same as we had with the SARP. The OLG Has been instructed to integrate racing into it`s gaming plan but that hasn`t happened. Like you, I`m not optimistic. WEG will do fine as they have the population base to work with but the smaller "B" tracks will be relegated to "fair" racing. You are also right when you say there will be a shortage of horses to race. But as an investor and a breeder, how can I justify raising and/or racing horses in the Prov. when purses are dwindling. We don't always have WEG caliber horses to race. It is an endless circle. I sympathize with all the horse people in Ontario but unfortunately have no answers. The voters chose to elect the same gov't that ruined racing and the breeding industry. So now, your only alternative is to live ...... or die with it. The only suggestion that I can offer at this point is the industry needs to hire a professional lobbyist in an attempt to persuade the gov't to re-think it's position on re-instating the SARP. There is a saying and that is.... the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Good luck to all.

July 22, 2014 - 3:32 pmHi Anthony: I agree with

Hi Anthony: I agree with every thing you say, even if we could fix the problem 100% things are not going to change at the "B" track. Purses are to low and cost for a owner are to high. If you are a trainer/owner you mite be able to survive. With purses dropping did any trainer, Vets, Blacksmiths, feed companies, ets. do any thing to lower the cost to a owner. I don't think so. We need to look at ways to lower the cost to a owner and I know that is very hard to do. But why should any one invest in a industry that looks like there is no future.
We do need a group of Horseman, track people, owners & OLG to get together and try and make some decisions that mite help.

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