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Anthony MacDonald's Blog


What Racing's All About

Published: August 26, 2015 12:41 pm ET

Last Comment: August 28, 2015 9:17 am ET | 11 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

Most of us on a cloudy day can easily picture our lives with no harness racing. As our industry shrinks, and our investors look for exits, our faith sometimes becomes shaky.

I often look up at the stands at some race cards and wonder if anyone really watches or cares about racing anymore?

Can we really grow our fan base? and if

If you think no one cares, or racing is "dead", you may want to take a trip to Prince Edward island in the third week of August and you will witness a spectacle that is shocking.

FANS....actual race fans, in the flesh at the half-mile oval. People who love horses; people who love racing them; and lots that love watching them.

I was lucky enough this year to be a part of something you will rarely see, let alone participate in.

If you haven't seen the Gold Cup & Saucer on TV or live then I'm afraid I may not be able to paint a proper picture...The lights, the fans, the thickness in the air, it really is something.

It isn't just the horses, it's the atmosphere. The racing fans in the Maritimes that come out for Old Home Week, and especially the Gold Cup, are a rare breed.

Imagine having the North America Cup or the Meadowlands Pace scheduled to go off at 11:50 p.m. and at 11:40 p.m. you receive one of the most vicious rain storms you could imagine.

Within minutes the track is destroyed and the race simply cannot go on.

If you had 25,000 patrons attending that Saturday night card and decided to hold that one last race the next day at 3:00 p.m., how many people would you expect would show up?

Because that's exactly what happened this year on P.E.I.

I know when I walked up to the fence Sunday at 2:30 p.m. I didn't know what to expect and when I saw the size of the crowd, I was never so proud to be an Islander.

The place was packed. The same electricity from the same fans almost 15 hours after the town virtually flooded.

That's love, and we don't see it very often.

The track crew was top notch and they pulled off the unthinkable. The track was transformed over night from what looked like the remnants of a tractor pull to a lightning fast half-mile track.

When the horses paraded for the only race on that Sunday everyone was on their feet and your heart wasn't beating if the hair on your arms wasn't standing at attention.

That should always be horse racing's "end game". We need people to gamble and bring their friends to the track. We need to grow our customer base and be as interactive as any prospective fan needs us to be. But above all else we should always want people to love this sport.

Not because it's a great way to pass time or because you can drink and watch your money run around in front of you, but because this is a fantastic game and it is woven into the thread of rural towns across North America.

I know Ontario is not P.E.I., but we should surely hope Ontario fans find the love P.E.I. fans have for our industry because without the fans we have nothing.

Congratulations to Red Shores for pulling off a great Old Home Week but from the bottom of my heart I'd like to say thank you to the fans that showed up on Sunday to make the Gold Cup & Saucer the race that it is.

If you haven't been before, you should all try to go to that small little island the third week in August to see what harness racing is really all about.

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

August 28, 2015 - 9:17 amAlthough I may not always

murray brown SAID...

Although I may not always agree with most of Mr Yamakva's posts, he is usually right on the money.
It is we, the participants who hold the solution(if there is one) to our destiny.
The unfortunate truth is that many, if not most trainers, drivers and even the horse owners look upon the fans and bettors as a necessary evil.
Let me clue you(including me) in. We need them a whole lot more than they need us. As many of them have already done, they have the option to just walk away.
There are other pursuits which most people find more enjoyable than going to a race track that has a high takeout and so much unnecessary time between races.
We need to make the fans feel more appreciated and have a more enjoyable experience at the racetrack.
How much does a whip cost a driver? Its probably priceless to a kid getting one from a top driver.
If someone like Sylvain Filion(or any other driver) wins five races on a card, what is the cost of five whips? As Mr Yamakva has said decades later he still remembers receiving goggles from the jockeys of that time.
I don't have the solutions. Perhaps I never will.
Here's something just off the top of my head. Instead of driving his horse back to the paddock, let's suppose the winning driver walks back through the grandstand and interacts with the fans. It wouldn't work at Woodbine, but its certainly doable at Mohawk and like chicken soup, it might not help, but it certainly cannot hurt.
I'm sure that there are dozens, if not hundreds of ideas out there. Some might be ridiculous, but all it would take is one or two to improve things.
What we are doing now(next to nothing) isn't helping, so why not try something new.

August 28, 2015 - 9:02 amCongratulations to Anthony on

John Findley SAID...

Congratulations to Anthony on his fine blog. More publicity should be given to the horses, drivers and history of the sport. A friend, who at the time was stationed in Nova Scotia, said to me " If they ever get oil here this will be the world capital of harness racing".

August 27, 2015 - 10:59 pmI have said that what would

Sean DeMarco SAID...

I have said that what would be appropriate to save the harness racing industry is to have sportsbooks at all the tracks around Ontario. Horses racing around a track trying to win is closer to sports than slot machines and card playing and therefore the casinos should not get the sportsbooks. Also when putting this in place make sure the drinks and food available are in line with what you can get at a fast food restaurant but also have available more expensive dishes too. Have something for everyone. Also in regards to seeing more people out at the track well at Hiawatha Horse Park recently attendance has been good with one promotion to get people out being free corn on the cob night and then on another night it was busy because of OSS races and maybe some people were drawn out to see the Hunter brothers (NHL) who had a horse in to race. Honestly on that night I really don't know what had people out at the track. I think people want to come and have a good time but there has to be more to do than just bet. Music, good food, even free food, rides for the kids around the track are what I have seen draw people but these things need to be done on a more consistent basis. You have to put something into a business to get something out of it. Anyway I still say the answer is sportsbooks at the tracks. Get it done whoever can make it happen.

August 27, 2015 - 10:52 amAnthony..... You were in PEI.

Will Yamakva SAID...


You were in PEI. How much competition was there on that day for the entertainment dollar? How many Canada's Wonderland's, concert, professional sporting events, pan-am games, theaters, major downtowns like Toronto or Ottawa has, megaplexes, casinos, go-kart tracks.... and other things like that is there to compete for the entertainment dollar?

You are naturally able to pull off monster crowds like that when the options of events of things to go to, is less.

Mr. Murphy is exactly right, the game needs to treat the players a ton better. I was at Mohawk in June, and I actually spoke to you (unbeknownst by you), on a Friday night, and the place was dead after the 8th race, well, the casino wasnt.

Let me tell you, I stood by that winner's circle, and that was the worst display I have seen in years. Driver after driver rushed away with the winning horse after a 2 second pose with the horse and shaking the trainer's hand. Little kids were all lined up waiting for any response from anyone. I also went to see the runners. After each race, the jockeys dismounted and walked back to the jock's room, but went right thru the concourse and shook kids hands, and posed for pics. Some didnt look impressed, and others were steamed about the results of the race, but let me tell you that they made fans of the game that day.

Id love to see the game improve.... but it is small things that will go a long way to your future. For the record, I got goggles from Larry Attard, Jimmy Fazio, and Hugo Dittfach on my first trip to the track and will NEVER forget that moment when they put them on my head.... that was over 30 years ago.

You are part of the equation, and you can lead the change. Waiting for others, is digging you a further hole

August 27, 2015 - 9:03 amWhat you see here is not

Shawn Murphy SAID...

What you see here is not reality. Yes it is great that so many turn out for a festival or a specific race but this is not the day to day reality of the industry. If I am an avid horseplayer why would I want to leave the comfortable confines of my house to bet a few races at the local track. Why would I drive an hour to a B track to watch the horse I want to bet drop from 6-1 to 3-1 after I bet $50 to win on him? The harness industry in particular needs to reward its gamblers with VIP service. The odd time send the top players a dinner for 4 at the dining room, free Valet Parking, have a seating area for VIP guests, make it an experience. The industry is what it is, on big nights with top names you are going to fill the stands with casual fans, on all other nights you are going to get the hardcore fans and locals that want to plunk $2 on their favorite pony. It is not racing that has changed it is everything else.The entertainment and gambling world will keep evolving, horse racing will stay the same and the strong will survive, the track owners and operators do not care if people actually show up at the track, they care about revenue. When single game wagering comes into place over the next few years you will see another decline in handle at the race track. This is reality and it is not good for the racing industry.

August 26, 2015 - 7:36 pmGreat article Anthony well

Great article Anthony well said and written. Be great to see you in the winners circle!!

August 26, 2015 - 5:28 pmYou need fans there but

John Carter SAID...

You need fans there but attendance doesn't always translate into handle but i do understand the importance of at least being able to get them to attend. Until the race game is willing to try to become more competitive with other low vig forms of gambling they will continue to struggle. The race game gives gamblers no real incentive to play. Long wait times between races, inconsistent judging, the unfair start pole and last but not least, excessive takeout. With this failed business model does the race game really expect to attract the next generation of gamblers. If they do good luck to them.

August 26, 2015 - 4:00 pmI agree - much thanks to all

I agree - much thanks to all harness racing fans.

August 26, 2015 - 3:19 pmAnthony Many posters are this

Ted Decker SAID...

Many posters are this site are always looking for answers on how to re establish the game. How about the industry as a whole stops sitting on their hands looking somebody else to figure it all out and do something. Yesterday the OLG announced that Mr Bricker was joining them as Sr VP of horse racing. How about a group of the racing industry set up a meeting with Mr Bricker and find out what his intentions are going forward as far as OLG and Ontario horse racing integration is concerned. Best time to speak to this gentlemen is now not later.Grab a group of touted ambassadors of our sport and get to it. The industry has to stop passing the buck and waiting for everyone else to fix the problems.

August 26, 2015 - 2:09 pmI myself have often felt that

John thomas SAID...

I myself have often felt that horse racing is dropping off year by year...When Sackville Downs was open I was part owner of 3 race horses..then, the unthinkable, they sold the track and now in place is a Sobey's..what I don't understand is why? There was always 3 race cards per week and believe me, it was always packed..back in 81 you would see the total betting of $100.000 per race!!

I have always felt we are not doing enough to get horse racing going again...For instance, I strongly feel unless we get a track in Halifax, racing in NS is pretty well done with. I use to go to Truro frequently but on a good card, your lucky if $5000.00 is wagered for the entire day.

I now am part owner of 3 race horses in PEI and the people support the track.

How can be make our industry grow in the coming years?

-Through media, start promoting horse racing. Educate the public
-Get people to start buying a percentage of a horse, for example, buy a yearling for $8000 and then get 5 to 10 people to come in on the purchase.
-Educate the public on the fun there is at the races
-Advertise fan nights to get new comers to the track, give the new fans a $10 CHIT to bet on the races
-Get the support of a lot of companies, get them to buy a horse and have a special night for the newcomers. Tell them about a nice dinner.
-We should go after the younger people in Canada, get them involved, excited.
-Get the local newspapers to put in free ads, list some of big winners (no names)as to how much they won in a race.

I could go on writing here for hours with ideas as to how to get our business going and bring back the crowds we use to get.

As for Nova's time that the directors of horse racing really get involved....go after the Government, show them the employment they would bring into their areas by assisting us to get a new track.

Over the years I have heard so so many people say, I sure do wish there was a track in NS, and that track has to be in Haifax would have over 300,000 people that just might go to the track and find out how much fun it is

There, enough of this...thanks for reading.

August 26, 2015 - 1:49 pm"Love" is grand but it does

"Love" is grand but it does not pay the bills!!

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