Editorial by Kimberly Dawn
Layout Design by Paulina Perzynska
Published in Trot Magazine
6 YEARS. 11 QUESTIONS. 5431 RESPONSES. LITTLE PROGRESS
In 2005, we launched our State of the Industry concept by creating a nationwide report card. We polled our thousands of readers on eleven separate segments of standardbred racing and compiled the responses into a larger database to analyze the results. We gave each segment an overall grade and then examined its marks on the basis of both region and industry involvement — the grades given specifically by owners, trainers, drivers, grooms, bettors, fans, track employees, tradesmen, and officials.
We shared your praise, your criticism, and your suggestions for improving each of these eleven areas, alongside offering recommendations of our own and highlighting the best and worst from each region.
Today, some six years and a handful of successful State of the Industry issues later, we decided to revisit this concept. We wanted to know how much things had changed, and how much things had stayed exactly the same. In essence, things stayed very much the same. So much so that as we flipped through the pages of our original report, it soon became clear that we almost could have reprinted your suggestions and our recommendations verbatim, as so few were considered, adopted, or implemented and are still (if not moreso) relevant in 2011.
When we need to survive, we will. When we need to innovate, we will.
If anything, the big picture changes we saw in the last six years have been in the provinces we ranked near the top of our overall grading scheme. In 2005, Alberta was on top and British Columbia ranked third… two regions seemingly on the right track. But since then, the circumstances in these jurisdictions have changed drastically. Horsemen racing in our western-most provinces have dealt with growing unrest and instability for some time as seasons have shifted, race dates have been cut and then reinstated, and rumors have swirled about tracks being built and tracks being closed and everything in between.
In other racing markets, though — Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan, for example — horsemen seemed to be breeding innovation and creativity through necessity. Running their industries off the backs of their fans and bettors, these regions have been forced to increase wagering and as a result received solid grades for their treatment of bettors and the work of their horsemen’s groups. Small markets like these must cater to customers and engage their local community, because they race for the money they bring in through the tills — and that alone.
It’s hard work, and tiring. They are eager for the government support we see in the richer racing provinces. But for now, they have no choice but to do what racing writ large needs to do, or they will disappear. Mediocrity is not an option. Sitting still is not an option. Why can’t the whole industry get that message? Why can’t we boost our grades across the board? Because until you really need to, it’s tough to see the forest for the trees. But what you can see today is the incredible passion of these people in the have-not racing regions across our country. Look at the cooperative racino model launched in Prince Edward Island that has horsemen working alongside all the entertainment stakeholders to improve their customer experience. Look at the new track built — truly, physically, hammer and nails built — by the horsemen in Saskatchewan who want to train and race there. Look at the regrowth of the standardbred population in Newfoundland and the near doubling of their handle since a well known Ontario horseman rescued the province’s only racetrack from bankruptcy.
Each of these individual stories, and the hundreds of others out there, should give us pause; they should give those in the wealthier jurisdictions the opportunity to be thankful for what they have been given, but also to see the potential in the future. There is no doubt that the cloud of inevitable change lies ahead. Our unwillingness to address our weaknesses and plan for the future has dropped us smack on a surefire path to losing what scare resources we have available to us today. Harness racing will falter. We will lose the customers we haven’t catered to, and the financial support we’ve become reliant on. Our sport will change. Your lives will change. But when the dust settles, we will have hope. Even in anticipating this, we do have hope.
Thanks to the foundations laid by these tiny racing markets — like the 92 horsemen in Saskatchewan, the 70 horsemen in Newfoundland, the 670 horsemen in Prince Edward Island — we see the functiong team become. We see what cooperation, dedication, and initiative can accomplish on scant resources.
When we need to survive, we will. When we need to innovate, we will. When we need to get together and decide to treat our owners with respect, pay our grooms a healthy wage, support our breeders, clean up our backstretch, develop our product, offer a unique experience, build strong relationships with our governments and regulators, and cooperatively launch a national campaign to promote that progress to the broader public, we will. The little guys will have shown us how.
It’s too bad all our competing interests don’t seem to allow us to bring this about today. But regardless, it will happen. And hindsight is 20/20. But can’t we have the foresight to look around and see the success already built from adversity? Think of it as a special assignment to boost a less than stellar grade.