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Calling it How He Sees It

Vision for the Future - Ben Wallace

Ben Wallace, longtime horseman and COSA board member, is no shrinking violet when it comes to his opinion on the current state of Ontario horse racing.

The 66-year-old Milton resident was recognized as the O’Brien Award winner for Trainer of the Year in 1999 and has conditioned a number of racing stars through the years including Blissfull Hall, winner of the Pacing Triple Crown (Cane, Little Brown Jug and Messenger Stakes) in 1999, millionaire Breeders Crown winner Totally Western, $1.9 million winner Camotion, and more recently on the WEG circuit, stable stars Apprentice Hanover and American Rock.

Wallace has watched the industry ebb and flow while simultaneously holding down a variety of responsibilities as owner, trainer, driver and executive over a racing career that spans decades.

In the following excerpts from an hour-long interview, Wallace pulls no punches as he strives to, ‘be real’ and demand change in an industry he finds resistant to the type of outside-the-box thinking required if the sport is to establish a foothold in the mainstream.

TROT: Where do you think standardbred racing currently stands in the eyes of the public?

WALLACE: We’re not relevant to the sports public and the reason we’re not relevant is that we don’t showcase the best of what we have to offer. We let ourselves settle for mediocrity. I appreciate the other situations (including the demise of SARP) encroached upon us to bring us to this point, but there are ways to develop our best horses and participants to make us a relevant sports entity again. We’ve let racing dwindle into a subsidized, supposed entertainment vehicle that offers nothing to the client.

TROT: Where do we stand when it comes to competition with other sports industry in the GTA?

WALLACE: We’ve got our sport watered down to the point that it’s of no consequence to the general public. We have pockets of small situations that employ and entertain small groups, which we need to a degree, but we fail to really promote, shine and polish our best. People in the Toronto area will not be satisfied with anything but the highest level… that’s why NHL (the Maple Leafs) sell out - because it’s the best hockey market in the world. We have the ability to create the best market in the world here, but we’ve let our industry settle on second best.

TROT: How can we go about showcasing our best?

WALLACE: I think we should have a $100,000 Open Pace every Saturday night at Woodbine, to attract the best horses in North America, and the same on the trot. We should have a 10-horse field of the best of the best, but we tend to be regional, wanting to keep it all in house. If we want to create something worthwhile that can be coupled with a major league gaming integration we need something to suggest we are a worthy partner.

I mean a whole program, not necessarily one race. We need to pull up our bootstraps right from the maiden paces up to the open.

TROT: Do we do enough to get people out to the racetrack in person?

WALLACE: As far as attendance at racetracks, it’s a double edged sword. We’re trying to put it (our signal) into homes (over the internet), but we’re also trying to get people to the races. I think it’s been proven that the only thing that sells now is event-based racing. We need more of those types of events, not just a Breeders Crown or North America Cup. We need some kind of weekly interest for the general public and we can do that if we can give them something to be interested in, but right now we don’t have that.

Let’s face it, who is going to drive out to Mohawk on a November night to watch a $10,000 claimer, it’s not going to happen. And who is going to go to some of the smaller venues, given the dates they have, with any real appreciation of the entertainment they’ll receive.

Our model of racing has lost contact with what society is asking for. There’s not a quick fix, but there’s things we can do to massage it. You have to remember, we’re excitement every 18 minutes and the world may have gone past that, they want slot action every second and gambling with every roll of the dice and flip of the card.

Your hard core gambler who can study and get involved and understand the program, he can use that 18 minutes, but we’re losing those types of people.

On a weekly basis, it has to be racing and something else. With event type racing you can only draw if you put a world stage to it. I’m not suggesting it has to be all the bells and whistles every weekend, but we need more interest week to week.

TROT: So, where do you see Mohawk Racetrack in fifteen years time?

WALLACE: To begin with, let’s hope its still there! I hate to sound negative, but I am. I have to look at a bigger picture to answer that question. It (rebuilding) has to start with Woodbine Entertainment as they are the people with the wherewithal to put on the type of entertainment that could be construed as positive and entertaining and possibly house alternative gambling to attract and keep people there.

In the future, if there is Mohawk, other that being extremely employment sensitive, we’ll be nothing more than a roulette table or a craps table. We’ll just be giving the people another gambling option that can be sold as a different type of gambling, but not significant enough to stand on its own two feet.

TROT: That’s pretty bleak…

WALLACE: I’m not trying to say there will be no horse racing, I’m just saying horse racing will be another tool in a bigger gambling picture rather than expecting racing to stand on its own as a viable entertainment entity. I cannot see it. The horse has left the barn as far as horse racing being an everyday type of gambling entertainment.

If it’s a weekend event card, you can sell it as that, but to simply sell an overnight card as it exists now and expect people to show up and bet solely on the horses is not going to happen. That’s already happening now.

TROT: Can we follow the model of another sport to success?

WALLACE: We’ve tried to equate ourselves to NASCAR, which is now a mega sport, but they’re not dealing with the horse. NASCAR is high tech, high speed, serious action that the younger crowd, which we have to somehow captivate again, is aligned with. The horse is passé.

On the basic overnight races, younger people have not grasped that as entertainment – at all.

TROT: So, what is left, in your mind that is exciting about the sport?

WALLACE: I would say that horse ownership is highly entertaining. There’s a tremendous amount of excitement in owning a racehorse, but the gambling product is so watered down across the province that it lacks any pizzazz.

Racetracks have far too big of a takeout to give back the overnight punter any chance of making money and they’re betting into pools, at the rural racetracks, that can’t substantiate any kind of bet because they’re so low.

TROT: How do we go about engaging the public again?

WALLACE: A real key would be somehow connecting any kind of gaming / lotteries we have to racing. Rather than watching bouncing ping pong balls come up with our lottery numbers, and this has been suggested, get the regular Joe Public to figure out his lottery numbers by handicapping the last three races at Woodbine or Mohawk and make gambling on the lotteries directly link with the numbers on a specific race program. That would force Joe Public on the street to have some interest in horse racing.

TROT: As it currently stands, what stresses you out most about the industry?

WALLACE: Integrity. We have a very two-faced industry where we scream integrity at the top of our lungs but we don’t practice it. I don’t put it all on the horsemen or management or the owners, I just suggest there’s a feeling about our industry that is so wholly accepted that it’s just a matter of time until something transpires and the public’s (negative) perception of horse racing will no longer be just perception.

TROT: What sticks out in your mind, when you go to the track, of something the industry is doing right?

WALLACE: There are a tremendous amount of good people in this industry. I love being part of that collection of people, and when I see places like Grand River Raceway, which is a well run facility, clean and upstanding, providing opportunities for lesser horses, I really feel good about that.

My dismay is that it’s an uphill battle for the publicity departments of those racetracks. It’s a tough sell.
I see attempts being made to amalgamate the lotto with horse racing or the attempt at integration; I see that as an attempt at a situation that going forward the game could be stronger because it’s now in conjunction with something else. There’s hope there.

TROT: It seems that what gives you hope are ideas outside the scope of what has been tried before.

WALLACE: Yes. That is our only hope. We have young minds in and outside of the game that we could somehow go forward, but it would be a totally different package from what we have right now.

Unfortunately, we have people that refuse to let go. They think more of a bad thing is a good thing and that’s foolish thinking. You cannot go backwards to go ahead.

We need a tighter, more competitive type of game. I’ve been a little involved with thoroughbreds of late and there’s something interesting when your horse only races once a month. It becomes an event. More racing opportunities do not create a better product. To race a horse 30 times a year, which we do, how can that be exciting?

The idea of once a month, and I realize we can’t do that or it would kill the game, but if we’re trying to sell it as entertainment or even as a gambling vehicle, it blows itself up. Short fields, huge takeouts, who really with any gambling capacity, will play that game?

At Greenwood back in the 70s there was a buzz all day. Even during the week, you’d have to line up to get in. After the seventh race, admission was free and people on the way out would sell their programs for 50 cents but that was a different world. We need the industry to be run by twenty and thirty-year-olds not fifty and sixty-year-olds and you can print that.

TROT: What keeps you excited about horse racing at this stage of your career?

WALLACE: I started in this business in 1970. I’m long in the tooth, but I’m still chasing another Triple Crown winner, another good horse. And a good horse doesn’t have to be one that makes the cover of the magazine, just one that every time you put the bridle on it goes out and does its work to the best of its ability.

We all want that type of horse and that’s why I think horse ownership can really be great. It can also be tremendously heartbreaking but there’s nothing like winning a horse race, at any level.

26 Comments

June 3, 2015 - 4:13 pmyou keep talking about $100k

John Jackson SAID...

you keep talking about $100k invites, Willow Wiper on the weekend, Shady Hill Pride, etc.,

People who know the sport have a clue what you are talking about. You want to promote the sport and assume that everyone knows about these great horses, great races etc., THEY DONT

You have to promote the game and the gambling element at the same time. All the $100k invite is going to do is possibly bring better horses to the one track - but to peform for the same crowd. The only ones getting a better shake this way are the owners of those in the invite.

Figure out how to promote and publicize the game first, get involvement (either on track attendance or even some form of off track wager), then figure out who gets the 8 hole for the invite.

If you are adamant about this $100k invite, then make it a winner take all event. They will all be out and going the entire mile.

June 3, 2015 - 12:32 pmAnd again..... the government

Will Yamakva SAID...

And again..... the government would have no choice but to listen should an important group get together and take a stand. Again.... there are LOTS of top drivers at WEG. There are lots of top trainers at WEG. Them getting together and saying "we wont race until we get a voice", it might hurt the industry short term, but you will get that seat with those that can make a difference. "We want to be part of the marketing at the track we race at" and I assure you, WEG will have no choice but to listen.

I recall you saying that gamblers profited from slots by getting free admission and parking. I counter with the majority of money is simulcasted in from the betting hubs and the internet, so people like me, received nothing from slots.

I get the impression that you do not want to be part of the change Mr Hill. In my industry, the talent has no choice but to be part of the solution. The bands/acts I deal with just simply do not show up and play. They are involved in this whole process. They do not sit back and say, "the venue is responsible". They are out doing the media. They are the ones that go online and pump their own stuff. They are the ones that are I touch with merch and they are involved at every level. Until you horseman realize that you need to organize yourselves, and QUIT WITH THIS OHRIA is our rep stuff, and REALLY get together on a smaller but more important scale, you will continue to have others speak for you. Get it straight Mr Hill, there are reasons unions and organized groups get change in the work place, and that is because they banded together.

Be a part of the change, instead of waiting for others to make that change and complaining about it. You have Mr Wallace and others talking about it, be the one to suggest it. Be the one to organize the "Owners of (insert track) Association" and approach that track as a group. Forget the Ohria.... be the change.

June 3, 2015 - 10:04 amMr Yakavma you have many good

John Hill SAID...

Mr Yakavma you have many good ideas but the majority of them are out of the horsemens hands. The government appoints whomever will do their bidding as "commissioners" and transition panels and we have seen how helpful they are (not). The same goes for reducing takeouts and introducing new betting products. As for your marketing ideas they are at the discretion of track owners who are happy collecting millions of rent $ from OLG and have little or no desire to grow the industry. As a horseman I know very little about balance sheets, profit and loss statements,promotions and marketing and I am sure the majority of other horsemen are in the same boat. We know what to do if our horses are sore,sick,hitting its knees or bearing in or out, that is what we do. We partner with track owners to take care of the business side of the industry. Also in the pre slot era there were parking and admission fees for extra revenue.

June 2, 2015 - 10:17 pmThe problem is that most

Sheldon Rose SAID...

The problem is that most track operators don't want to run horse racing as a corporate business. All they want to be is landlords and just collect the rent they receive from the slot casinos.

June 2, 2015 - 4:13 pmDoes it have to be all about

Will Yamakva SAID...

Does it have to be all about gambling? That is the biggest question. Some track in the US had a food truck festival at it's track. That not only brought out the non-gamblers to the track, revenue could be raised from a tiny admission of even $2 or $3. Places like Meadowlands and a few other thoroughbred tracks have "night clubs" now built into the venue, and if the track owns that, no reason why an arrangement cant be worked out that percentage of profits go to the horseman.

Gambling is a large part of this.... but a LOT of other ideas could be included. Many of the tracks like Western Fair and others have the space and parking lots for these type of events. Even a large scale car show in the parking lots of these tracks with the drivers having an interactive role in the situation can lure people out to the venue. Money can be made/lured in other ways, and even a percentage of revenue can go directly to purses, with a large share going to the track for costs/improvements.

This is where a "commissioner" would come in handy, to better work with each track, and each group (owners-drivers-trainers-gamblers-fans) and the cities to make this happen.

Gambling can lower the take out, and that will help to a point. At this point, bodies in the stands is paramount to even having people consider betting this sport.

Great to see ideas being bounced around that actually favor the bettor and the fan. This sport BADLY needs fans

June 2, 2015 - 6:54 amAs Mr.Riga correctly points

John Carter SAID...

As Mr.Riga correctly points out, Mr.Adler is spot on that horse racing is all about gambling. In this day and age people are not interested in going to the races to be entertained, they want to gamble and they want to have a fair shot to win and as Mr.Wallace correctly points out the average punter knows they have no shot at winning because of excessive takeouts. In this day and age people are not looking to the races for there entertainment as there are all kinds of ways to be entertained. All the race game is able to come up with is band aid solutions like the super high 5 which is fine if there is a massive carry over and it is mandatory payout night then gamblers get interested but that does nothing for the other 99.9% of the nights when this situation does not exist. The race game needs to give gamblers a reason to play on the overnight cards and that will only happen if people feel they have a fighting chance to win. I know of all kinds of winning poker players, I also know of some winning sports bettors but I have been around the race game a long time and I don't know a single winning horse player. Lots claim to be but they are generally speaking the ones trying to borrow $20 to bet the last race. The race game needs to change this perception and they can do it by lowering takeouts, fixed odds wagering and betting exchanges and so on.

June 1, 2015 - 4:20 pmHere are my two cents for

Joe Riga SAID...

Here are my two cents for what they are worth.
First off I think many people on this thread are smart, compassionate people who truly love horseracing in general and harness racing in particular and I include myself in this group. If we didn't care we wouldn't be wasting our time making comments although unfortunately I beleive these comments go mostly ignored by the people who can actually effect change. I think many comments that have been made here hold truth to them and combined are all part of the reason for the demise of horseracing. First and foremost, regardless of whether there are slots, promotions or what have you, racing is facing an uphill battle to begin with for the simple reason an earlier writer on this post mentioned. There are only so many gambling dollars to go around and there are now many more ways and venues to gamble at. Having said that I believe Mr. Adler hit the nail on the head and I have also been saying the same for years. Racing is primarily for gambling. Period. Very very few will come to take advantage of any promotions or gimmicks or whatever simply to see horses run around a track and have no stake in the outcome. It simply wont work. Racing only exists so that people can bet on the outcome. Unfortunaletly that is not the case for any other sport even if there are huge amounts of dollars bet on them (ie. NFL, NBA). Therefore whereas people may go to take in a game simply for the excitement of the game itself, with racing most people will go for the excitement the betting provides, even if like myself and many others we do actually enjoy watching good quality racing. So no matter what, the solution has to involve getting gamblers back. Gamblers being people who will watch and wager (and here's the main point) on a regular basis. Promotions and all that are nice but will these people who come to these events come back in the middle of winter? Will they come back on a Monday or Tuesday or Wed when there are no stake races? This is what racing needs and the trick is the product. Quite frankly I have been saying for may years that after having been a fan and gambler (large one at that) for 40 years the reason I left is because harness racing at many tracks quite simply is boring at best. There is no flow to the races at Canada's largest tracks, nobody moves, nobody pulls and I can't make any money betting on these races so I don't. I bet on the Meadowlands where at least I got a shot if I'm not on front. I have experienced so many promotions and so on over the years. I have collected many hats and t shirts and $2 vouchers etc. etc. That is not enough to keep me. What would've kept me would've been being able to bet $100 across on a horse at decent odds and actually getting a race for my money and sadly that rarely happens. So why would I bother when I can bet a proline ticket and have a better shot at actually cashing. I also think Mr. Wallace has a good point about having a $100,000 Open pace. Back in the day at Greenwood I used to be very excited every Saturday about going to watch a good free for all with the likes of Banker Fretz, Armbro Turk, Willow Wiper etc. I knew I was going to watch some top pacers each of who actually belonged in the race and it would be a good race. Today there is no longer a free for all and in the Preferred Pace only 2 horses usually belong and the rest are fillers. Many dollars are bet on slots and it's not because people enjoy watching the slots. It's because of the shot they think they have at winning. The irony is that they have less a shot at winning at slots then they do at horse racing. However at slots they don't feel like another human being could be cheating them.
Racing has lost a lot of its credibility. I do believe that if people felt they had a shot the handle would increase. It may not increase to the point it was 20 years ago but it can increase. But it all starts and ends with the gambler. Whether anyone believes it or not. That's the fact.

June 1, 2015 - 3:35 pmIf you think the government

Will Yamakva SAID...

If you think the government is your main competition for the "entertainment" dollar, you are sadly mistaken and likely unable to really identify the problem. For both gambling and entertainment, the dollar has a lot more places that it can go and the government has no part of it.

And also, you were NOT complaining for over a decade that the government was in your business. Lots of people got quite rich over that time.

June 1, 2015 - 3:21 pmIf you listened to Mr Wallace

Will Yamakva SAID...

If you listened to Mr Wallace and the other people, the competition isnt the government. You are competing with sports betting, lotteries, and many other entertainment dollars. The day needs to come where you need to realize that your sport one day, will need to stand on its own. If the government is your major competition, then they must see that the gambler wants to go to other avenues, and they are just providing that avenue to go down. It seems you want the other competition to shut down to force the gamblers back to horses.

Lets look at that for a second. I play horses daily. I, like many other gamblers, can and do bet the ponies. I dont spend more than $3 a race on harness tracks other than WEG and Western Fair and Meadowlands. It is not worth my time. The pools are terrible, and the winning favorites under even money is so common, that I just goof off in those pools.

Remember this Mr Hill, and it has been explained to you many times, without the government intervening, your sport would long have been done. Only 3 tracks might have survived without slots. You can pretend that is not the case, but that is reality. This same government that saved you, has had enough of carrying you.

Many businesses have competition, and yes, my industry does have competition from the government as well as other private businesses.

Your saviors are people like Mr Wallace and others that want to make a difference, instead of looking at politicians for answers. If the government turned over the sport to the tracks and got out of it, you still DO NOT HAVE FANS. You DO NOT HAVE TELEVISION BROADCASTS.... and most importantly, you will not have any money to survive.

I applaud Mr Wallace for not making a "boohoo the government screwed us" post, and looked at this in a realistic way. Mr Hill, you seem to only care about the horseman, but if you dont start caring about us the fans, you are not gonna have a sport. Enough with complaining that your industry isn't getting a helping hand. My industry does not. My parents' industry doesnt, my gf's industry doesn't. Maybe you might wanna realize what many others have...... its time to make yourself relevant to the general public.

Go to Mohawk tonight and look how empty the grandstands are now. The game needs to change, and the comments below and MR Wallace, are a big indicator of this.

June 1, 2015 - 9:49 amMr Yamakva the other major

John Hill SAID...

Mr Yamakva the other major sports do not have the government as their main competition. How would you feel if the government suddenly got into your business and decided the competition must go ? The people you mention are exceptional businessmen and our appointed " saviours" are out of work political party faithful who will do as told!

May 31, 2015 - 4:57 pm"Just A Race Fan Calling It

Jim Brown SAID...

"Just A Race Fan Calling It Like I See It."

Mr. Ben Wallace, I have a great deal of respect for you but, I can tell you how and when you will get your $100,000 wish. I will start out with the $100,000 or should I say $200,000 which you wanted for one week of racing for two different invitational class races. Without fans, there is no racing, so here's how we are going to spend your money. The first $100,000 is going to be paid out through a fan appreciation handicapping contest which will run at EVERY track throughout Ontario. A selected amount will be paid out per night depending on the number of tracks involved. When the qualifying part of the contest is over there will be a final to be held annually in Woodbine. The winner would receive $50,000 and second place $30,000 with third and fourth getting $10,000 each. Anyone participating in this contest will need to come to the tracks PERSONALLY to enter. This will create more of a fan base for these tracks. I think a 2 year trial run would ensure if it will be successful or not.

If it fails, the only other option would be for the Woodbine Entertainment Group to gain control of all slot and gaming activities at Woodbine and Mohawk, and make arrangements with the government and OLG to pay them a percentage of this revenue. Monies created from this should go to supporting the remaining functional tracks.

Mr. Marty Adler seems to think the answer is bringing back slots to all tracks. This would be nice, but I can't see it happening. I really can't see my other two suggestions happening either. It's going to be a sad day for all the smaller tracks by 2018-2019. I think we will be down to 5 or 6 tracks only. The Woodbine Entertainment Group will have the majority of control over racing. I believe the goal they were striving for in 2012 to enlarge their facility will come true for them in 2020. Also in 2020 the few remaining tracks will have larger purse earnings. Mohawk and Woodbine will have their $100,000 invitational.

This is where racing in Ontario is heading unless we seriously start looking for answers now. A great deal of racing history will be lost.

May 31, 2015 - 11:25 amMr Hill, the guy that saved

Will Yamakva SAID...

Mr Hill, the guy that saved hockey from losing even more money, Bettman, like him or not, had no experience as a player, coach or owner. The Commisioner of all 3 major sports, also had no experience in that field. Richard Branson had no musical experience, but look at the business he built.

As far as placing a bet in the slot parlour, the trick is to lure people out of the slots and a few feet away to the wickets.

It is funny, I have been saying the same things as Mr Wallace, but get told to beat it, or hacked at because I do not actually own a horse or pay vet bills, and now Mr Wallace comes along, and says the exact same things I have..... but is getting praise?

Mr Wallace, I hope more people like you speak up on the game itself and quit the complaining that the poor government isnt saving the sport. People talk about the money lost from spending on horse related things and how the industry needs that spending. If the money being generated to give to you to spend isnt as high as what you need, that industry would be shut down in the private sector. The fact the government didnt let you die off, is amazing.

I applaud you speaking up, and not whining how unfair the government is to you, Mr Wallace. I really wish more in the game could see it as you do, and only then, will things take off

May 30, 2015 - 2:04 pmMr. Adler, what you say about

John Carter SAID...

Mr. Adler, what you say about Greenwood is only partially true. Even if Greenwood was still around today they would not wager anywhere close to what they wagered in the 70's, 80's and 90's. The big m had the highest wager of any racetrack including greenwood and there wager is only about 50 to 60% of what it once was. The handle has fallen at racetracks right across North America because of increased competition for the gambling dollar and Greenwood would not have been the exception. The ever falling handles at racetracks right across north america is a result of the people running the tracks failing to adjust there business model thru reduced takeout, fixed odds wagering, betting exchanges and so on. They
are still blindly running the tracks like they are the only game in town, they have failed to react to the competition and as a result the race game is dying a slow but certain death.

May 30, 2015 - 10:15 amCalling it as I see it. The

John Hill SAID...

Calling it as I see it. The way I see it is we are being set up to fail as the government has hired people to "save" the industry who have no previous racing industry experience and we have track owners doing as told by the government (the competition) for fear of losing OLG "rent" money. You cannot bet on a horse race in any slot parlour or casino in Ontario that's how concerned OLG is about helping, 3 years later and still no integration plan only lip service. Maybe I am wrong and it is only gross incompetence either way it looks grim. Lots of good ideas are emerging as to how to improve the industry but ultimately the government has the final say on most matters other than giveaways or freebies.

May 29, 2015 - 11:11 pmSend a group of people who

Ted Decker SAID...

Send a group of people who are in charge of Ontario racing to Hoosier Park . I attended the races there today (Friday) and the place was electric. Promotions galore. Cheap food and drinks. Great competitive racing. Young people made up much of the crowd. Even after the races were done the place was still rocking with live music. You want ideas of how to promote the sport I suggest you come to Hoosier and take notes.

May 29, 2015 - 10:13 pmPeople who LOVE this industry

Marty Adler SAID...

People who LOVE this industry just do not get it - horsepeople and fans alike!
The downfall of the sport in the GTA came when racing left Greenwood.
Back in those days the TSN on-air talent were told not to mention gambling, but I say THAT is exactly what we are all about. GAMBLING! To think otherwise is to fool yourself.
No idea yet has come from anyone who can think in or out of the box that will turn this sport around, bring back the fans, and increase the value of the overall horse racing industry - well no idea but one....and we lost it - Slots at racetracks. SARP brought out the fans increased the bet, and brought up the value of the stock in racing. It was a win-win for all, with the only downside, the third partner, track owners... many of whom failed to keep up their end of the deal.
So now you may say those days are gone. I say the leaders have given up, and like most in this game take what has been handed us. Subsidy.
I have given you the answer, now show me a leader who can deliver!

May 29, 2015 - 3:07 pmBen is right on the money. We

Robert Coole SAID...

Ben is right on the money. We are dead-set against anything other than what we have done for generations. When you go to the track, the average age is 50-60 years of age or older. We need to focus on the future not the past. Our fan base is dwindling and we are doing nothing to bring people back or into the game. Grand River and Western Fair do great publicity and the age of the fan acknowledges that. They are willing to try new things to bring people in. When Racing Under Saddle is on the program, there is a major influx of families, women, young people, and children. This is the future and we have to change to meet the needs of the new fan and not just the "regulars" that are here.
Having recently been to the new Meadowlands, they have changed their model to accommodate the new fan, trendy seating arrangements, big screen TV's hosting a variety of sports, along with the races, buffets and private rooms for groups. They get it. Why can't we?

May 29, 2015 - 1:29 pmJust to add to my previous

Just to add to my previous post....

If you want to know what it would take to bring the younger crowd.....ASK THEM!!

Survey the people of all generation and ask them a very difficult question... WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO BRING YOU TO THE TRACKS?

If you get the same answer from 75% of the people from 25 to 45....I'm not a genius, but build it ...they will come.

As far as purses, I would increase the purses in the track B way before adding purses to a preferred field that is already running for $34k.....and believe me it's not for me...I have a horse in the preferred and not in the B track....can't afford to have a horse on B tracks......cause purses are too low....only trainers can afford to have them. Not very good to introduce new owners with purses that can't even pay the bills at the end of the month.

May 29, 2015 - 1:24 pmSwoop you are the man.

Swoop you are the man. You've got a great career history and can tell it like it is. As someone who is often ostracized for speaking my mind on issues I truly appreciate when someone of stature steps up and you have time and again.

May 29, 2015 - 1:05 pmI would like to add that i

John Carter SAID...

I would like to add that i have seen a few other horse people speak out about track takeout and other issues such as Anthony Macdonald and Jack Darling but the silence is deafening from so many other top trainers and drivers. If they won't speak out to help change the direction of the race game who will? Do they not speak out because they don't get it, or worse yet don't care or sadly, are they happy with the status quo? There are so many ways of increasing handle. The amount that is gambled these days has exploded world wide and the two forms of gambling that can't get there fair share of the pie is racing and bingo. For years these were the big two because they had a monopoly and both are in a state of complete confusion as how to compete in today's modern gaming world. For the race game there are several ways to go about it such as reduced takeout and several years ago someone from Standardbred Canada (Trot Magazine) suggested several options such as fixed odds wagering and betting exchanges and so on. Yes change is not easy but at some point you either have to embrace change to move forward or die the slow death you are surely dying.

May 29, 2015 - 12:53 pmI personally don't think

I personally don't think purses of $100K a week for preferred pacer and trotter would bring people to the track (long term. The problem is the people running our business try to run the business the way it was ran 30 years ago.....it doesn't work like that. Any other business not subsidized by the government would have filed an assignment in bankruptcy way back....

I remember in the 70's when horse racing was the only game in town....$2,000 claimers were racing in Aylmer and the place was packed. The place looked like s#@t and the food was terrible....and forbid if you needed to go to the bathroom after the 4th race....whheewww... With the lotteries, Casinos, slot machines and online gambling (poker etc)...., the pie is split.....the people still have the same $200 a month to spend on their budget but with more options.

Now the Industry has to re-invent itself to the new generation and their interest and values. The average age of people going at the track is approx. 50 to 60 years old....why???? Why would a 25 to 30 year old go to track??? What fun can they have if don't win any money gambling????

This is what I believe should be done:

Make it fun at the track: Bring music, tents in the summer in the infield with beer, coolers and other drinks for the kids and BBQ's Hot dogs hamburgers....Food trucks would make a fortune in this kind atmosphere... Let the doors open at the paddock, with security, for the people to see the horses. Blue Bonnets used to open doors twice a year and the people used to come 3 hours before post time. That would bring the new generation, girls and boys and families.

Introduce more claiming events to get more people involve in the ownership of horses....That will bring more owners, families and friends to attend. Now we have all kinds of n/w of everything and the same horses are claimed week after week. Make it more exciting for new owners to come in....more owners equals more fan equals more owners buying yearlings....the whole industry would benefit.

Reduce the take out so the gamblers have more bang for the buck. Introduce different races (longer shorter) to make it fun for the gamblers to handicap. Introduce new bets where people can bet low and get high return... Example...can people to bet on all races with a point system for 1st 2nd 3rd place etc... and have a winner every night for the most points....

Stiffen on penalties for using of drugs on horses. You get caught once its a year, twice its lifetime ban. No more chances. Now its a real joke, horses are transferred to the kids, brother and friend and it's business as usual.

The game as changed and the people from each generation changes......our industry needs to make the appropriate changes to reflect same.

We have such a wonderful sport with all kind of great people involve...lets think outside the box to get the most people to enjoy our game.

May 29, 2015 - 12:11 pmWhile Mr. Wallace may

Eddie DeRosa SAID...

While Mr. Wallace may consider himself long in the tooth, his view and understanding of our certain demise is right on. When the top level decision makers vote to stay the course it tells me they need to go. We need new blood that understands our situation that works their hind ends off. Change is needed to revive our beloved sport. Horse ownership needs to be made easier to get more involved. What happens when gentlemen like Mr. Wallace move to runners. We need to wake up everyone to save our future in The Sport of Harness Racing.

Ed DeRosa, Owner, Breeder and Lover of Harness Racing

May 29, 2015 - 12:09 pmGreat comments!! However we

Great comments!! However we should take it one step further. Harness racing in Ontario is very silo-ed. The Thoroughbreds vs. the standardbred argument needs to subside and we need to look at diversify our product. The lowest priced claimers at our Premier track should not be $8,000 claimers. It should be $40,000 or 50,000 claimers with a great condition card or horses not maidens. Once horses are ready for Mohawk and Woodbine they should have graduated from NW of 1 and NW of 2 so that as Ben said we can showcase our best. Even if that means only racing a few nights a week. If we can't fill cards with all the tracks currently operating downsize!!! That is a no brainier but for horse racing it's viewed as a slow death. Have the government invest in fewer tracks so that we can introduce new racing products to the communities that don't currently offer them. Why not race Thoroughbreds at Mohawk or Flamboro or Georgian Downs. Transition tracks like Clinton, Dresden, Leamington, Sarnia, Woodstock, Kawartha into active summer fair tracks with a decent circuit of horses to race at each and have the RUS product highlight and promote that. It will encourage weekend cottagers to go to the track. Reduce the time between races so that the younger crowd can stay engaged and entertained. Reintroduce live bands and better giveaways. Reduce the on air commentary from "racing analysts" who are boring and not at all entertaining. These are all quick wins that this industry could do to get the customers back to the track. People from Toronto won't drive to Mohawk for the sake of watching horse racing. Especially when it requires sitting in traffic for over an hour. If there was something new to see like Quarter Horses at Mohawk maybe. The sport doesn't promote itself and the sport isn't interested in new outside the box ideas. The OHR is supposed to be assisting in the marketing of racing??? Where are the radio, print and TV ads showcasing our product. Pan-AM is coming to Ontario and it is a perfect opportunity to showcase this talent too but no one is jumping at that opportunity.

May 29, 2015 - 10:58 amBen Wallace, thank you, thank

John Carter SAID...

Ben Wallace, thank you, thank you, thank you. If i was in ontario i would be more then happy to sit down with you if i could and buy you a few beers and chat about your views of the race game with you. There are so few people connected to the industry that gets it and it is so refreshing to see a top trainer that speaks his mind and really does get it. I have been preaching for years that excessive takeouts and short uncompetitive fields are killing the wager. What incentive do serious gamblers have to play the races when there are so many other low vig options out there. Like it or not they have chased the whales away and until they address the takeout issue no amount of bells and whistles will attract old players back and they have no chance of competing for the new breed of gamblers. The race game is dying and the ones who have the power to make the necessary changes are doing nothing but sitting back and letting the industry die a slow death.

May 29, 2015 - 10:15 amWow Ben your spot on with

Tony Basile SAID...

Wow Ben your spot on with your thoughts especially on the gaming side of things. Industry leaders should take notice.

May 29, 2015 - 9:56 amRight on.Move harness racing

Right on.Move harness racing from Woodbine to Mohawk and run it 8 months of the year. Or do what Meadowlands does and run two nights.

Wood/Moh bills itself as the racing capital of Canada but but don't have enough "A" track horses anymore. Most nights the cards are made up of "B" horses dressed up as "A" track horses.

One team sports betting and daily fantasy are coming to Canada and Harness racing in it's present format will be in trouble.

Evolve or Perish


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