|We agree with your letter Gordon Banks!
This letter to the editor was submitted by prominent owner and breeder, Gordon Banks, and the staff at Harnesslink agrees 100% with what he says. We applaud Mr. Banks for taking the time to “tell it like it is” and we encourage everyone to please read his letter and act on it before it is too late.
Having a significant presence and investment in harness racing in both hemispheres, I find myself continually bemused and frustrated by the incredibly poor industry management exhibited by industry leaders. It seems as if anything that can be mismanaged, will be!
No doubt it is difficult to manage events within a fractured industry rife with self-interested participants who value their interests above general industry interests, but all should see the handwriting on the wall. Without proactive, focused and intelligent navigation harness racing worldwide will be just a footnote in the history books. Fragile international economies, lack of sufficient funding for police, firemen, and a variety of social causes, competing gambling and entertainment opportunities, governmental restrictions limiting industry flexibility and effective control over wagering platforms, and a dangerously aging customer base portend a very limited future without unified and incisive industry leadership!
In North America, racing has become monotonous, stake races have become generally unbettable and overly predictable because of small fields and seeding of horses, the Meadowlands has metastasized from a great racetrack built around top stake and late closer races and top drivers to a purveyor of racing mediocrity held together only by deals with betting syndicates that deprive horsemen and the track of a viable purse structure and profitability, owners are leaving the industry in frightening numbers, and chemical warfare is so rampant that only judges, racing commissioners, and track operators fail to get angry enough to act! Certainly fans, bettors, and horse owners are running away with alacrity!
In the southern hemisphere, harness racing is also in decline. Southern New Zealand harness racing is financially and competitively dysfunctional. Horses can't race frequently enough and, when they can race, a socialized purse structure has insured that only the winner can leave the race remotely contented. A system in which the winning horse earns approximately 53% of the purse, with 2nd getting only 15% - so that all starters get 2% - is doomed to cause the owner exodus that it was created to forestall. Throughout New Zealand, the dominance of a few large and well-funded trainers give them tactical advantages that are preventing effective competition, and leading owners and trainers to give up, move operations to Australia, or look at dubious ways to better compete. Recently, the NZ tote announced that they would limit the amount a major wagerer could wager on a daily basis - a
strange concept if ever I heard one!
In Australia, continuous integrity based scandals have effected industry growth, purse increases have not kept up with cost increases, and lack of an American veterinary type support has led to most horses being unable to hold together going the times horses are now going. Owners just can't make enough money to willingly stay in the game hoping for the lottery winner we all dream of, especially since it seems that the industry expects owners to always subsidize other industry participants!
I could easily identify an almost endless list of issues negatively affecting the harness industry worldwide, most prevalent in both hemispheres, but most of us are well aware of that list. We need to stop letting this industry we love fall apart at the seams because of our inactivity, no less than because of the poor leadership that has led the industry into the mess it's in. We need to recognize that those who have mismanaged in the past will inevitably do so again in the future! If we really care enough to right the sinking ship we all have to become proactive and FORCE industry change! There are more than enough brilliant business minds, open minded and flexible thinkers, well connected owners, horsemen, and track owners to cooperate effectively in reshaping this international industry into a competitive business/sport for the 21st Century. The existing industry leaders are not,
and have not, and will not lead this industry they have crippled into the light. Rocking the boat is never fun - but this industry we love is fun, and can be more fun, but we have to overcome our time constraints, our fear of becoming pariahs, of losing friends, of opposing friends who are old industry stalwarts, and speak up about the many obvious actions and inactions that continue to cripple this industry on a daily basis.
Trainers know which trainers are breaking the rules, racing authorities and track owners know which trainers are breaking the rules, owners even know as evidenced by the many owners who switch to obvious drug barns!
All of us are to blame, and only all of us together - each risking something - can help fix the situation. Without an even playing field, without enabling more competitive racing by ending short fields in stake races, without forcing great horses to earn their greatness the hard way instead of handing them prestigious wins by separating top seeds and having 5 and 6 horse divisions, without returning the meadowlands to greatness created by being the best rather than pretending it still is, harness racing is unsalvageable.
This is written in the hope that it will be effectively received as the call to arms it is intended to be. Nothing I have written is unknown to anyone, yet we all let harness racing drift away. The USTA and other racing organizations cannot, and will not, fix the situation. Racetrack owners cannot and will not fix the situation. Owners, trainers, drivers, and customers cannot and will not fix the situation....working together, and only together, can the industry be salvaged. What mechanism can help push and effectuate this cooperation and the actions that must follow is unknown, and not presently in existence. We must create this! I am more than willing to dedicate some of my time for this cause, I hope that many others will too!
I have already cut back heavily on my international broodmares, have limited my investment in yearlings, racehorses and stallions because of my perception that, without significant short term industry change, this industry will totally fail as a viable business (and fun) option. I am hoping that we can intercede to save the ship, otherwise sooner than we all wish, there will be only the shell of an industry to muddle around in!