USTA Home > News Home > Moving Alex

Moving Alex
Monday, August 18, 2014 - by Bob Carson

       Decrease Text Size    Increase Text Size   Print  Email

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.

Bob Carson

It wasn’t a fight, not an argument, nor a debate…it was just….frustrating. It always is.

Of all the people in my world, two, maybe three, care a whit about harness horse racing. Alex, the guy sitting next to me at the In the Bag Sports Bar and Grill, is not one of them.

When I tried to steer the conversation in the direction of a horse of mine that’s racing next week, he feigned interest for a few minutes and then suddenly found the Blackhawks game on the flat screen more interesting.

This lack of interest annoys me.

I said, “Do you ever even watch horse racing?”

“The Derby, with the big hats, it’s kinda cool.”

“That’s it?”

He nodded.

“Have you even tried betting on horse racing?”

“Office pools on the Derby.”

“That isn’t betting, that isn’t even my kind of racing.”

“I know, I know, you got the carts behind the horses, which, come to think of it, is probably the way to go.”

He snorts out a laugh, finding himself hilarious.

“You were never curious?”

He shakes his head.

“Why not?”

He shrugs.

“You gamble on football and basketball.”

He nods.


“Not really.”

“But not horses?”

He shakes his head again.

I sigh.

Our sparkling conversation concluded when Alex waved to Pam for another round. Not being a hockey fan, my attention turned to the 25 cent wings and thoughts of what would rouse Alex from his horse-racing apathy.

Autumn Ryan graphic

What concrete steps could convert souls like Alex to the sport of trotters and pacers? Nothing radical, no major make-over, nothing that would cost huge bucks or require a shifting of the universe, just simple stuff that could make people like Alex glance our way. I ask Pam for a pen and stare at the subject.

We have something to work with on the stool next to me. Don’t get the idea that Alex is some sort of Neanderthal; he is very computer literate and would rather lose an index finger than give up his I-phone. He texts, tweets and most importantly, using only his left thumb, he checks fantasy sports scores every five minutes. Alex has money. His sports statistical knowledge is savant-like. Handicapping would not be beyond his reach.

I get busy.


The napkin that held my notes is a crumpled, illegible mess as the morning sun creeps through the window, so let me work from memory.

After an hour of careful consideration (and one jumbo sized Bahama Mama), I recall that few of my efforts at converting Alex would go to the grandstands. The reason is simple; people don’t physically attend sporting events that much these days.

Alex is sports obsessed -- basketball, baseball, golf and football, any level, any time. But he rarely, very rarely, leaves the remote and travels to a sporting event. While a harness horse race is exciting, it doesn’t last long. While being close to the pounding hooves is a tactile experience, folks like Alex will not be trudging out to a harness race track on a regular basis. Hey, I love the sport and I rarely go.

Therefore, almost all of my effort would go into presentation. Here are a quick ten must haves:

  • Ultra high definition is a must because viewers like Alex are spoiled. His flat screen may be larger than some drive-in movie screens. After folks like Alex get used to high resolutions, regular definition TV or a middling computer feed is like watching through a dirty fish tank.
  • Non-stop talking with entertaining hosts would be a must. Alex watches tractor pulls and fishing derbies if the hosts make it sound like a must-see event. Guys like Alex need a little leading around and don’t like quiet time.
  • The split screen some tracks use is a must. Those floating numbers that show where the various horses are at every part of a race are great. If Alex bets on a horse and he only can see it for part of the race, he will be gone.
  • A good idea would be to show many more close-ups of horses and drivers, plus shots from the starting car.
  • Microphones on the horses would be great to get real sound and not fake canned stuff; let Alex hear the hooves and the drivers chirping.
  • Tons of pre-race and post-race analysis including slow-motion replays, stop action etc.
  • Host handicappers who give confident, clear choices well in advance of the race. They explain their thinking so Alex can learn the thinking and not just plunk down money.
  • At all times have directions clearly displayed and linked that show how and where to wager on the races that are being viewed.
  • Promote, promote, promote…energy, energy, energy…and feature happy winners and the money they win.
  • Audio cues, theme music, the standard background that Alex takes for granted must be implemented or he will feel like he is watching a PBS pledge drive.

Once the presentation is in place, it’s time to go to work on Alex.

Every connection to Alex should be carefully gathered and saved; twitter, facebook, instagram, e-mail and any another way to get our story in front of his sports loving mug. The material sent his way will be carefully monitored; the social media that pops up in his world will not be meaningless races. Very little of the content for a newbie like Alex will be found on a platform like the one you are reading; this content is great -- for us. Ninety-nine percent of the material on sites like this make sense to us, but for the unknowing and unconverted, it is merely races, numbers and people out of context.

The one percent of content with the potential to turn Alex’s eyes and mind in our direction is all he gets, material that is of high interest and easily digestible. What kind of material should this be?

  • A story about a guy from Montana who had an estate bequeathed to him from a distant relative that included a trotter.
  • Three barmaids who pool $20 each from their tips at ten o’clock each night and wager on a race.
  • The eccentric braggart who feels he has perfected a foolproof algorithm that will allow him to turn a profit at Hoosier Park.
  • The local industrialist who plays $500 on the sixth race at the Meadowlands every Friday and donates every penny of winning to a drug addiction clinic.
  • The addict who occupies his mind by deciphering the race program as part of his therapy to get through one more day.
  • Diary pages from a kid hired as a first time groom.
  • Discussion about the origins of horse names.
  • A mega-payout won by a first time customer at Woodbine Racetrack.

The price tag on these upgrades aimed at Alex would be minimal. Sports fans like Alex can be hooked if what they see on their screens is dynamic.

Harness racing has possibilities, serious possibilities; packaged properly we are more compelling than fishing, tractor pulls and 99 percent of the sporting drivel that Alex spends his time and money on.

There are a billion folks like Alex out there. If we are smart, we can get some of them to play our game. We have to.

Related Articles :

'Moonie' Svendsen captures 3,000th victory at Running Aces

Search Articles: