Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Falling on Deaf Ears

I was on Standardbred Canada this afternoon looking for some news that would interest me more than whatever class I was in at the time. I was in luck, as the first article was a letter written by Robert Burgess to John Snobelen. Mr. Burgess is a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame who loves writing letters. Mr. Snobelen is one of the three members of the Ontario Horse Racing Transition Panel. If you've followed the situation in Ontario at all, you probably know who they are.
     Burgess' letter is essentially a warning to Ontario horsemen to not fall for a "false sense of hope" and that the "many positive advancements" made by the industry are to be taken with a grain of salt. Basically, purses are no longer inflated and we don't have four B-level harness tracks running at the same time, so the industry is failing.
     One thing I remember hearing many horsemen at Woodbine & Fort Erie talk about before SARP was cancelled was how "nobody goes to the races anymore" and that "everyone plays the slots." They all seemed to miss the good ol' days when the grandstand was packed and people loved playing the ponies. Now that we no longer have slots cash and we need to get people betting on the racing product, the horsemen aren't providing any good solutions. All they seem to be able to say is "We need SARP!" Burgess is worried that the industry will end up racing for "blankets, ribbons [and] accolades." What he fails to consider is that by growing handle, purses can be kept at a reasonable level for horsemen.
     An interesting comment on the letter said "Kudos to Mr. Robert Burgess for his continuing fight for horse racing in Ontario and standardbred racing in general, unfortunately it continues to fall on deaf ears." The deaf ears part of this comment, in my opinion, is a very accurate statement. The Transition Panel and the industry participants who are working to advance the industry and make it self-sustaining are deaf to this whining, as they should be. Kudos to Western Fair for lowering takeout, putting together competitive race cards, and succeeding in growing handle. Kudos to the Transition Panel and OHRIA for putting together the Alliance between the eight biggest southern Ontario harness tracks, and for getting $8 million/year of transitional funding for smaller regional tracks that need it. Kudos to Ajax Downs for realizing that no one will bet their product on a Sunday afternoon. There are plenty of people in the industry doing good things. Kudos to Mr. Burgess for trying to pull the industry back into our state of slot welfare and complete dismissal of the importance of a playable racing product and a strong customer base? No way.
    The Ontario Horse Racing industry is being fixed. The broken state we were in during the slots era will hopefully be replaced with a self-sustaining, customer based industry. Let's grow handle. Let's get people back into the grandstand. Let's make horse racing a big deal to people. Hopefully those comments don't fall on the deaf ears of Robert Burgess and the many people in the industry who share his views.

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