Editor's Note: The USTA website is pleased to present freelance writer Bob Carson and his popular "Outside the Box" features. This monthly series is a menu of outlandish proposals presented with a wink -- but the purpose behind them is serious. The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.
New faces at harness racing auctions are as rare as dreadlocks on bald men. Breeding farms desperately need more customers. This proposal is one of those win, win, win deals; farms find new customers, people unfamiliar with our sport find a fun lottery-type opportunity, and a charitable organization will find a nice donation on their doorstep.
It goes like this.
After the final yearling has been sold at Harrisburg (or a similar venue) and the owners and yearlings are on the way home, there will be a drawing. It is important to remember, this post-sale drawing has nothing to do with the parties who have purchased the horses. This is a completely separate game where the names and the hip numbers of yearlings that have been sold are dropped into a pool.
For demonstration purposes, let’s say that we are looking at 1,000 yearlings. Each sold yearling will be entered into a random, stand-alone drawing where the players will pay $100 for a chance.
Let’s put down our money and draw a ticket.
#759-Bettor’s Promise (New York Eligible)
|Autumn Ryan graphic|
If Bettor’s Promise finishes the season on top of the earnings of the 2-year-olds in this group, the party who holds ticket #759 (Bettor’s Promise) will be a very big winner. Any person who draws a yearling that finishes in the top 43 money earners in this pool of horses will also be a big winner.
An association of breeding farms will run the program. It will cost them nothing. The task of the breeding farms is threefold:
1. Find people willing to pay $100 for one of the 1,000 yearlings that are part of the pool.
2. When racing season begins, post a weekly chart updating the official earnings for each of the 1,000 horses.
3. Pay the winners and make a nice donation to equine rescue organizations.
The primary question is, “Would people, especially non-harness racing people, fork over $100 for a horse to follow through the racing season?”
In my case, the answer would be, absolutely yes; heck, if my fiscal winds were blowing favorably I would spring for several tickets. Of course, there is a troubling gap between a harness racing fan like me and normalcy. For saner souls and non-horse racing fans, the answer would be…perhaps.
The odds on a positive reply from people outside of the harness racing world would improve if the opportunity was framed suitably.
“Hey Joe, even though harness racing is not your thing, here is something fun you might want to try.
“There is a pool of 1,000 young horses that have just been sold at auction. Nobody knows which ones will be make money -- but many of them will make a lot of money for their owners. There is going to be a drawing. For a hundred bucks you get one of the horses and then you wait and see how much it makes in the first year of racing.
“Should you draw one of the good horses (they will be picked at random) and if “your” horse turns out to be the horse that earns the most official money at the end of the season, you will win $50,000. Second place is $20,000. Third is $5,000. And the next 40 horses on the official money list will receive $500. Those are good odds.
“Horse racing is a game that takes patience, for many of us this is part of the fun. Like March Madness, this drawing is a process that takes a while to complete. These young horses will practice for several months and the racing season begins in July and finishes in late October.
“This is unlike many games you have played. With your computer you will have the opportunity to learn about “your” horse and learn about our game. If and when “your” horse races, you can watch almost every race on your computer or even take trips and watch the races in person. A website will be updated each week to show where “your” horse ranks in the standings.
“And, a portion of money will be going to horse rescue organizations.
Here is the point where some traditionalists will start looking for loopholes, potholes and manholes. Perhaps a few will see a possible hand hold to help harness racing climb. Tweaking may be needed; for example, this should probably be classified as a non-profit, so some adjustments in the benefit recipients and amounts may be necessary. The money would need to be held in escrow. A spreadsheet and a bit of bookkeeping would be in order.
Once the framework is in place, the business of selling tickets should begin. The sales force will be the breeding farms. If a farm consigns a dozen yearlings, they need to move a dozen tickets. This does not seem like a heavy lift.
To my mind, the key is not selling tickets; it is who you sell the tickets to that will move our needle. Obviously we can look to the choir, it is easy to see some big hitters buying a hundred tickets just for fun, fringe fans of harness racing would likely take a chance, but these should be the last on our sales wish list. The targets should be outside the choir, those who know little about harness racing.
Imagine that the “ticket” for Bettor’s Promise is in the hands of a non-horse racing fan. We have a year to draw this player into our world. The farm that bred Bettor’s Promise could contact the player via e-mail. Updates, visits, promotions, future sales -- all the pillars businesses are built on are available. At minimum we add a thousand names to databases for our future.
The winners from the first year, donations to charities and testimonials would be terrific advertisements as the program moves into subsequent years. Our angle for this lottery should be education, charity and logic. This drawing could trample other types of drawings in several areas.
People spend mega-bucks on lottery tickets. Even those of us who failed remedial math can calculate that your chances of holding a mega winner ticket are about the same as being hit by an asteroid in the convenience store parking lot. Traditional lottery tickets provide as much excitement as a ball of lint. Scratching wax off cards will add zero information to ones reservoir of knowledge.
Many lottery-type drawings are tools to raise money for band uniforms, charitable organizations, soup kitchens, and countless other worthy causes. That’s fine, but this yearling horse idea is not to raise money, it is to raise interest.
We must constantly try to lure lethargic non-racing fans into our lair. Getting new folks to look into our strange world is difficult. Because of the computer, for the first time in recorded time, should a person wish to unearth the wonders of harness racing they can do it in the privacy of their own home, or from an island in the Aegean Sea. We just need to find ways of nudging them to harness racing information that is just a click away.
A lottery drawing that gives new people “ownership” of their own yearling just might be a stimulus.
The bottom line is this. If a dozen players out of 1,000 become intrigued and eventually raise their hands at a future auction and enter our game, it would be worth the cost -- because, after all, the cost of such a program for the breeding farms would be zero.