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WTC Symposium Concludes

The 2017 World Trotting Conference Symposium concluded on Thursday with four panels addressing topics important to the future of harness racing worldwide.

Angel Suarez of Red Circle, an American marketing agency serving a racing and gaming-industry clientele, suggested ways in which tracks can bring traffic to their websites, and customers to their grandstands and simulcast signals. He said easy toggling between racing and gaming areas of racino websites was “extremely important.” Suarez said targeting the Millennial customer base was difficult, yet offered opportunity: “They don’t have money and they’re not interested in sitting at a slot machine,” but harness racing “lends itself to the Millennial mindset.”

Racehorse breeding experts took to the stage next, with Ryan Dupuis of Ontario Racing sharing recent developments in that province’s Standardbred industry. He explained how purse bonuses and benefits for mare owners and breeders were helping Ontario harness racing in its lengthy recovery from the end of the Slots at Racetracks Program in 2012. “we’re actually starting to see, in our Standardbred sector, stability and growth,” said Dupuis.

Christina Olsson of Sweden’s Svensk Transport opened her remarks by advising that “To promote breeding is very much to promote horse-owning”. She said that trotters of mixed Standardbred-Trotteur Français bloodlines comprised around 100-thousand of Sweden’s 350-thousand horses, with Coldblood trotters making up around 10 percent of racing stock. “The next generation is born in Stockholm and has to have an opportunity to meet horses,” she said, adding that programs like Rikstravet fractional ownership and the “Star Driver” program have helped keep harness racing popular.

Lisa Pfister promoted upcoming clinical trials of a specialized “milk analysis system” for mares, called Pfera. She said that better predication of foaling times reduces the mortality rate for mares and foals.

The “It’s a Small World” international simulcasting panel was led by PMU France’s Scott Finley, who identified three main barriers to the export of signals: data quality, pool size, and “time of day” that races are conducted. Arthur Cooper, a consultant to the Irish Harness Racing Association asked, “How do you change the image of trotting in Ireland?” to attract wagering. Andrew Kelly, the chief executive of Harness Racing Australia, credited the late Sam McKee with having “great confidence” in Southern Hemisphere racing, and “really delivering” by helping get Sky Racing World's simulcast Australian races to North American wagering sites and racetracks.

The last panel of the conference explored the question of “Is it time for whip-free racing?” Geoff Want, chairman of Harness Racing Australia, said the whip ban that would have taken effect in September 2017 was now on indefinite hold, and he was concerned about the popularity of racing in light of animal welfare activists’ growing influence. John Campbell, the new director and CEO of the Hambletonian Society, said that, in his driving career, he considered the whip essential safety equipment, especially for pacers. Whip rule enforcement in Ontario had not harmed speed or racing performance, said Brent Stone, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s director of racing. In fact, Stone said a number of horses had taken new lifetime marks shortly after stricter regulation became the norm.

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