view counter
view counter

Jack Darling's Blog


Seeking Answers On Purses

Published: July 8, 2016 9:17 am ET

Last Comment: July 13, 2016 7:26 pm ET | 24 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

The harness racing industry in Ontario needs a boost in purses to be the strong and viable industry that we and the government want and there is a certain amount of urgency to it.

As we all know, expenses are high and purses have to be at a certain level to justify investment. A lot has been discussed recently about developing ways to attract new owners to the business. The best and only way to do this in my opinion is to make the purses adequate enough to give them a chance to make a profit. WEG needs to have purses big enough to keep the best quality horses here in Ontario so they can continue to provide the best quality of racing in North America. Purses at the signature tracks are at a level that allows for a break-even situation at best. The purses at the smaller tracks are not economical at all and basically ensure failure.

The reason I bring this up now is this: I was recently asked to participate in the writing of a letter to the Alliance, Government and the old OHRIA requesting a purse increase for horsemen. This was eight weeks ago and unfortunately we still have not received a proper response despite marking the letter URGENT. There is a province-wide underpayment of several million dollars, money that is desperately needed by horsemen and owners. This money is ours and we shouldn't have to go to these people begging for it but that is what we are faced with. This money has been just sitting there doing nobody any good and should be released right away to stimulate our industry as well as the Ontario economy. Getting this money in circulation is what we all need.

After several meetings and still no satisfactory response, Bill O'Donnell, Jim Wellwood, Mark Horner along with Sue Leslie are meeting with John Snobelen and Ontario Racing next Thursday to try to get some action on this. We are talking about a significant increase to purses here and I hope we have overwhelming support from horsepeople and I ask Mr. Snobelen and OR to act quickly on our request.

It would be helpful if you let your feelings be known to Ontario Racing and Mr. Snobelen.

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

July 13, 2016 - 7:26 pmPerhaps the government needs

Perhaps the government needs to keep cash on hand to pony up for the new execs that are needed to run your sport. Ontario Racing and OLG will need to hire the best and brightest to figure out how you guys got in such a mess. This won't be cheap just ask Mr.Cook I'm sure his contract is guaranteed and has a bonus clause as most do and a substantial expense account. Now good for him can't blame a guy when government money comes a knocking. Too bad your industry leaders along with the government sold you a bill of goods as to what their game plan was, is , will be etc. No clear vision, no idea just drag things out and consolidate the product to a couple of venues and then wash their hands of you all saying we tried but the industry failed to attract a new customer base or some other excuse.
Now excuse me while I start shopping for my electric vehicle since I hear I can get up the $7000 back from the government and free charging stations for four years.
Horses might be more environmentally friendly maybe with this current government so green hungry somebody should've made that argument.

July 13, 2016 - 3:55 pmI agree that Jeffrey is right

I agree that Jeffrey is right on the money with his ideas.
We need races on TSN with better production. Hi-def with backstretch cams, starting gate shots, cameras on drivers etc. And sound! You should be able to hear the thunder of the horses going by just like you were at the track.
Most tracks that I watch online you can hardly make out the saddle pad color.
Attracting new fans is almost impossible the way we are set up now. Watching and betting on other sports is so much easier. I've tried to get friends interested and bring them to the races, but after, i got the impression they'd rather have a colonoscopy then go again. But the same friends loved watching the NA cup, the queens plate and the kentucky derby on TV.

We need betting to be available at the corner store like proline.
A weekly jackpot hi five race on TSN, where you could buy the tickets at your local convenience store would probably out handle the rest of the card combined.

There is no shortage of great ideas that would advance harness racing in Ontario, but the question is who is going to implement them?

July 13, 2016 - 2:32 pmWell said Jeffrey. You are

Jay McMullen SAID...

Well said Jeffrey. You are bang on. Couldn't agree more.
I would like to add that we NEED to keep our best and brightest on the tracks longer. This is the sport of horse racing not horse breeding. This is one of the reasons I don't follow thoroughbreds. Just look at what Miki, FFP and WiJi can do for this sport.

July 13, 2016 - 11:23 amToo much product and NOT

Norm Brunet SAID...

Too much product and NOT enough demand.Even if they streamline Ontario tracks to 4 or 5 they will still have to compete against the many tracks in the U.S Australia N.Z. Sweden...via the internet.
As far as I am concerned, the day horsemen left tracks for training facilities was the day harness racing started its demise. At least 20% of an owners expenses now comprise shipping to tracks to race and stall rent which was relatively inexpensive on site.Tracks offered supervision and security which training facilities have none.
Owners have no benefits to being at Training facilities but carry the financial burden. Now I'm not going to get into the integrity problems of being off track but they do exist.
In brief, if you want to attract more owners concentrate on lowering an owners expenses that are out of control.

July 13, 2016 - 1:12 amSince Jack i listening here,

Will Yamakva SAID...

Since Jack i listening here, I might pipe back in. A few of us have been saying this for years, and no big name voices ever reply to us.

Mr Courchesne is on the right track.

The only issue with I have Mr Courchesne's idea, is the implementation of it. It will be almost impossible to trick the sportsnet or tsn to have that 2 minute segment on gambling, and even bother to include anything on horse racing out of it. Daily Fantasy has surpassed harness wagering and would eat up the bulk of the time, and it would be no doubt have the sharks with the big bankrolls sponsoring those segments, OLG themselves, or Draftkings or what not would no doubt take those on.

I recall The Score used to have a big thing on gambling each day where they made picks on whatever sporting events with Gabe Morency and the Ragin Red Head Cam, and they occasionally touched in on horse racing on their daily show. The trick to being relevant on TV is the idea has to be done with a long term game plan in mind. Simply getting to air and thinking it is good, is a total mistake. Look how excited people were that people raised money to broadcast the Hambletonian or something like that last year.

This is something that would need a national kickoff and something drastic that would catch the attention of fans.

This is just the ROUGHEST of ideas, but some form of national contest that can be won at any track. Something that culminates into a MASSIVE payday for fans and tie it in with a kickoff to your initial broadcast of a regular, weekly show. For example, each week at certain tracks, a free ballot be given away with your program. Simply pick the most winners. (or use the 3-2-1 points method) and the top X amount advance to a provincial or national or regional like thing until the final 10 contestants are found. Fly them all in to Toronto. Create a spectacle, "$1,000,000 being handed out to the best handicapper". Treat it like poker does to its players. It hypes them up, creates a scene, and it is something that every joe blow at home can aspire themselves to be doing.

Simply having a show that shows racing, wont help a lick because people cant relate to the people involved. Non-gamblers wont sit and watch a few hours of racing but certainly will pay attention if it is in a "reality tv" or "competition like format".
You are more likely to see the casual viewer tune in to watch who they can relate to, rather than just start watching the races and what not.

Any ad you have ever seen for any racetrack anywhere, always features people with big smiles jumping up and down and winning at the racetrack. Why? Because it is believed that could be anyone of the viewers.

What I am explaining is in the ROUGHEST of forms and could be tinkered with in many ways....... but the idea that giving more money to the winners of races will fix this industry wont help or save it. You desperately need to re-invent the wheel here, and Mr Couchesne is on the right track and I hope you actively listen.

He is bang on and saying what many of us gamblers have been telling you for a few years here, in that you need to work on your branding and need a much better connection to teach the new gamblers how to do that. I see so many opportunities here, and it would take investment by the horsefolk to lead the way and take the gamble with that money. You would be gambling on yourselves. Are you worth the investment into yourselves? I know I took some giant risks to be in the business that I am, and invested in myself because I believe in the product/service that I provide, and now I stand alone, with no subsidy or help from any government. I would hope this industry has the same drive.

We are all standing here with you, Mr Darling, Please listen to us the non-horseman that dont want to see your sport fall even further behind.

July 12, 2016 - 1:57 pmGreat points Jeffrey. I think

Jack Darling SAID...

Great points Jeffrey. I think you are right on the money.

July 12, 2016 - 12:52 pmThe industry tried to take a

The industry tried to take a page from the Maple Leafs, no matter how poor the product, the seats will be filled. Seems we have more hockey fans than race fans. The SARP was good in many ways and I agree like most, should have never been discontinued. That being said, horseman treated it like it was a never ending buffet. They made no plans or goals for the future, got very complacent, didn't care about the product, for the fans who are betting the money. The purses were good so no one cared about marketing strategies, and then the ceiling caved in. Now they have become the masters of their own demise. I count 11 tracks that house harness racing at some point in time each year. The condition sheets are dismal and not conducive to any serious betting. Sadly, of those 11 tracks maybe 5 can be bet on the rest with their very low handles cannot be bet on. What happens when they release that money and goes as fast as it came. How do they plan on sustain that flow? You don't fix gashing wounds with bandages.

July 11, 2016 - 6:56 pm- Exchange wagering online

- Exchange wagering online and on smartphones through BetFair.
- Fixed odds wagering through OLG outlets.
- Once a week V75 jackpot wager distributed throughout OLG outlets and HPI in partnership with one of Canada's major sports broadcasters. (Sportsnet and TSN have 5 channels each and are starved for content)
- All tracks work together to create a singular recognizable brand for Canadian Harness Racing.
- Production and Presentation similar to what you'd expect at a any major league sporting event (MLB,NHL,NBA etc)
- More insight into not only how to wager but wagering strategy.
- A two minute recap/preview of last nights racing and tonight on Sports Center or Sports Net that is focused on GAMBLING.
- FREE online statistics like

IMO the slot era is coming to an end (Vegas is actively trying to find ways to engage young customers since they just aren't playing the one-armed bandits like their grandparents did) and racing has a big opportunity here. Young people are looking for social activity and a challenge not just random numbers in front of a blank screen.

It will take investment and change but all the ideas are out there, just have to look at what's being done throughout the world in places like France, England and Australia. Not only in Horse Racing but also in Daily Fantasy Sports, Online Poker etc...

July 11, 2016 - 1:45 pmIn order to increase the

Sheldon Rose SAID...

In order to increase the handle, take some of the money and use it to send out the video signal from ALL the tracks. You can bet offsite on their races but what good is it if you can't see them? Just look at what Northfield has accomplished.

July 11, 2016 - 12:33 pmDoug et al, First thing the

Tim Bates SAID...

Doug et al,

First thing the horse racing industry needs to comprehend is the voter base is too small and divided to have any government genuinely care about weather or not you are profitable. At the peak what was there 11,000 ORC licenses in Ontario, when the population was 11 million? That is one tenth of one percent. This group is not large enough to swing an election to cause the law makers to care. This, as sickening as it sounds to you, is the truth.

Once you accept that, you need to push for changes going forward that will help you, you can use the past to help make a case, but accept that the past is gone, and you will not likely get that slice of the pie back ever.

One key may be in single sport betting being made available thru the new "partner" the old OLG, or what ever they are going to re-brand themselves as. There is literally thousands of locations for people to make a bet that otherwise may not have access, alternatively make it web accessible thru your smart phone.

Another key will be to generate a renewed fan base. Remember that the only piece of the pie you can bank on will be wagering, long term. It has been about two years since I have been to the races in Ontario, and the tracks need to modernize the product in some way (I don't know how). Maybe tie it in to the smart phones with something that patrons can access and interact with between races as this is what the younger generations do.

Best of luck, I hope that things turn the corner for the industry, but new ideas to increase wagering are going to be needed.

Kind regards.

July 10, 2016 - 4:26 pmDoug, Without the government


Without the government we would not exist... we made bad decision after bad decision, never promoted our sport/bad leadership... took advantage of the slot program and now we are stuck begging. That's the reality.

We still want to go back to the past... we need to react and change based on our present clients... not the one in the 70's when horses were the only way to gamble.

July 10, 2016 - 4:14 pmVery good comments.

Very good comments.

July 10, 2016 - 2:53 pmGary, I agree with you but

Gary, I agree with you but once we hire the lawyer to get the money, what do we do with the money?

We would need to work a plan of action to re-structure our sport, invest more money in B tracks and abolished some stupid conditions races to introduce more claimers to get new blood.

It's not only about getting money.....we've had tons of money when we had a share of the slots income... but did nothing to help our sport/industry.

Lack of leadership... I would say... No leadership.

July 10, 2016 - 2:49 pmGreat job Jack. Our

Great job Jack.

Our representatives are now doing their jobs... plain and simple. When was the last update we received from Sue Leslie? To give us an update on the progress? Is she still in her position?

My view:

Purses at Mohawk/Woodbine should be competitive enough to be able to keep our best attraction horses. We are not that far off... there are more issues with B tracks

Need to invest with B tracks, no purses should be lower than $6,000, if not you will not continue to have trainers/owners which is not good for our sport.

OSS structure is good.

We need to change our structure....wayyyyyyy too many condition classes. Dummy claimers should be abolished. Only straight claimers.

So conditions would be NW 10K, NW 25K NW of 50K NW of 100K lifetime... no more NW of races, (some trainers uses that to get cheap money by finishing 2/3/4 with purses of 14K when in reality the horses should not be racing in those conditions). Once this is done or if horse not good enough, you have claimers 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, 25, 35, 50K (can add 6, 7K and 8K at B tracks) claimers no more nw of 3K, 5K, 7K, 10K, 15K last 3/5... put those horses in claimers and lets get more people/investors/fans/clients in our games. Introduce more claimers series, not dummy claimers like we are seeing at B tacks... who wants to see that??? Who wants to claims these horses???

I would also add a clause that if horses are claimed, the sames horses can not race other than within Canada within 6 months of the claim. No matter if track is closing or not. US interests are buying our horses way too cheap, adding claimers will also take auctions out of the equation, where US interests are buying our horses and our tracks are short in horses.... auction should be used for yearlings only.

We have been talking about those changes for years... what going on???? Ms. Leslie, can you inform your members? Are we getting money invested in B tracks? Will a new structure be implemented to introduce more claimers to get more outside people/new money/new fans in our game?

July 9, 2016 - 4:26 pmEveryone should be forwarding

Kim Ahern SAID...

Everyone should be forwarding this to their MP and MPP in their riding. If it will help as they were the ones who decimated this industry in the first place. The purse money is probably spent already.

July 9, 2016 - 10:46 amI dont get it. So lets just

Will Yamakva SAID...

I dont get it. So lets just say they release that money, and it all goes into B tracks. When that money runs out, what are you going to do next? Putting it to the B tracks will only lead to you ending up in the same place you are right now, but just down the road.

When are Ontario horseman going to realize there is too much racing in Ontario for the amount of gamblers/fans there are. So many tracks are not even getting close to being sustainable. If this was ANY other industry where the income does not equal the expenses, you shut down. The pie has been sliced so thin in this province, that everyone will soo starve.

Let this sink in for a minute....... Ontario has more harness tracks, than the entire state of NY has tracks of any variety. 13 harness racing tracks in Ontario, and 11 tracks of either variety in NY. There are 13.6 million people in Ontario. 19.7 million people in New York. Mr Darling, it is admirable that you want to save harness racing in Ontario, but until you realize that it is too spread out, there are too many tracks, with too many races with purses, spreading the money out too far.

Not every industry is going to remain the same, some are going to have to downsize, and fast. You are expecting an old business plan to work in today's economic climate, and that isnt realistic.

Let's just say you are going increase purses, that does not increase the handle. It does not lure new bettors. You are far better off investing that money in getting people back to the track!

The lack of looking down the road, has killed your industry...... and wanting this money to go to purses instead of getting people back to the tracks and pumpin that money thru the wickets, your days are numbered and many of these tracks are going to close.

The last thing I want, is to say "I told you so"...... but over the few years that I have been on this site, things have pretty much gone as I have said they would. You would have less dates, slots would leave, and a few tracks will close.

You might wanna pay attention sooner than later.

July 8, 2016 - 7:43 pmJack I respect what you try


I respect what you try and do for this industry but if this industry had the proper representation then a lawyer would already have been hired to launch legal proceedings to access the funds immediately. The present leadership in OHRIA lacks the motivation to go in and do what is needed for the survival of this industry.

July 8, 2016 - 6:19 pmThanks for trying to

Thanks for trying to communicate with our government, Jack. Good luck.
I do so on a daily basis to try to get funding for a Hospice in Alliston that we are saving the Gov't about $1.75 Million a year and I don't get any response. Our operating budget is $1.1 Million and we get $36,000 in funding from our Ministry of Health.

I remember vividly being told by the former Owner of Windsor Raceway, Bill Rowe, that we would rue the day we turned over our Racing rules and Administration from the Canadian Trotting Association to the Ontario Racing Commission. He was right.
Secondly we used to have 17 race tracks that were privately owned who had a contract with the Ontario Lottery Corporation and the horsemen. It was a partnership with our Government.
Since $1.1 Billion wasn't enough, the Gov't told us that they were finished subsidising our Industry and cancelled the Slots at Racetracks Program.
Now we are subsidized... and we have to ask or plead to get back what used to be our own money. Unfortunately not any more. We are subsidized and we don't control our destiny anymore like we thought we used to. Again Thanks Jack for getting involved. I wish you nothing but Good Luck and I'm here to help in anyway that I can.

July 8, 2016 - 3:53 pmMessage to Ontario Harness

Message to Ontario Harness Racing:

Purses at B tracks stink.
Owners cannot pay bills and race at them, its a guaranteed loss.
Have an Ontario Harness Racing Festival yearly and promote it

Message to those wanting to race for more money:

Elect your own group to truly represent you
Quit crying poor me when the majority (not all) did nothing for years to promote harness racng, except take slot money
Do something to try and promote the industry
Take take take era has ended, its time to give

Message For Government:
Elect a Commissioner of harness racing in Ontario
Stiffer drug penalties for drug abusers
Hire a competent marketing group to promote this industry
Close tracks whose handle cannot support the purses they offer, This isnt charity
Make harness racing its own brand and end the OLG partnership.

Message to Race Secretaries:

Drop bottom claimers to reflect the true value of those horses to promote more claiming. I.e 5 claimers worth 3
GET RID of condition claiming races.
When a horse is in for 12.5 or 18 with the allowance and is really worth 6, how does that make sense?
Offer claiming series regularly and have them more then one leg and a final, that's a joke

July 8, 2016 - 1:46 pmMy first question would be

Geoff Maltby SAID...

My first question would be that if you write about the underpayment, please elaborate as to where and what these purse monies were for? Also where do you feel these funds should go?
Please don't start an uproar without providing facts. I do applaud the work you Jack and others are doing, but please give whole facts and truths. If you are talking about the stranded purses at the closed tracks, should that money be handed to WEG to use? I personally do not think that would be proper use of those funds. It should in all good conscience be given to the grassroots tracks to boost them! That's the level that these monies were generated at.

July 8, 2016 - 11:45 amOur current Government

Our current Government converted a lucrative business into an expensive hobby. Now we have to beg for survival? How can we convince them that they made a mistake?
Jack, I want to thank you for your efforts. Its not an easy job.

July 8, 2016 - 11:40 amTypical bureaucracy. When

Typical bureaucracy. When they want their money you pay on time or get charged interest. When they owe you money you wait! Thanks for your efforts.

July 8, 2016 - 9:51 amThree things guaranteed in

terry gudz SAID...

Three things guaranteed in life... paying taxes, death and fighting to get the money owed/promised to you by the government!

July 8, 2016 - 9:38 amWhy does it have to come to

Why does it have to come to this?

view counter

© 2020 Standardbred Canada. All rights reserved. Use of this site signifies your agreement and compliance with the legal disclaimer and privacy policy.

Firefox 3 Best with IE 7 Built with Drupal