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Setting A High Standard

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If you are an avid fan of NHL hockey, you probably understand the majority of its rules. You watch each game with a basic knowledge of what is allowed and what isn't.

Whether the game takes place in Ottawa, Edmonton, San Jose or Boston, the rules are the same.

In harness racing, not so much.

Whether on-track, watching on the Internet, or wagering at a teletheatre, even the most seasoned fans and customers are often left to ask, "What now?" When horses are gapped behind the field at the start, trotting inside of pylons, setting a slow pace, or off-stride at the wire, what now?

The nervousness associated with seeing the inquiry sign flash up is universally felt by participants and customers alike, because rules do differ across jurisdictions.

Frankly, questions about what a ruling will be are just one piece of a more complicated puzzle. Even before the start of a race, questions linger. Does the 9-horse trail at this track? Does the Hi-5 pool pay out if there are multiple tickets? Do they use a staggered starting gate here? Do I get the payouts advertised on the screen, or does a different takeout rate apply because of where I'm betting?

We live in a racing world where standards differ from track-to-track and from region-to-region, pertaining to announcements, dissemination of information, rules and rulings.

For the past year I've been part of a National Rules Committee aimed at a common set of rules for harness racing across Canada. It has been a huge undertaking, but with very willing parties at the table, the work is getting done, and completion is inching closer.

One of the most satisfying parts of working on an initiative like this is proving, "It'll never happen" to be untrue. It is not acceptable for us to exist in a culture of "It'll never happen."

Can every track stick to advertised post times for races? Can late scratches be displayed on a simulcast screen for a standard amount of time, in a clearly identifiable format, at every track in North America? Can track configurations, takeout rates and local specifications, like staggered starting gates, be identified on every racing website and racing program, in an established and common format across all tracks?

Rather than "It'll never happen," the answer to every one of those questions is "Of course. How do we solve it?"

A customer can make a wager on multiple breeds of races, at tracks around the world, within seconds. He or she should be able to expect, and understand a set of standards, regulations and rules by which those races are conducted.

In a world of simulcasting and live streaming, this issue is not going away, but the only way to solve it is by breaking down barriers, starting a dialogue, and setting standards - one by one.

That means having regulators, tracks, associations and customers at the table, setting out some basics that every racetrack in North America should adhere to. Ideally, many of the areas of common ground should be extended to thoroughbred and quarter-horse racing as well. Ideally, the standards are global, as the racing customer bets across borders.

Horse racing is not the first industry to face these challenges. Many of them have overcome "It'll never happen" and have stories to tell about how chaotic it used to be. Now, it's our turn.

Darryl Kaplan
[email protected]

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