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Embrace change
Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - by David Siegel

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I write this as another counter-point view to Tim Bojarski’s “Fractional Logic” Hoof Beats blog from February 14. He discussed some of the negative implications of 1-1/16-mile racing. I would like to look at the other side of the coin.


In my 14 years of involvement in the industry, one of the most common themes I hear is people clamoring for change as long as nothing changes. Sounds ironic, but it is so true. The industry has so many challenges facing it that I have to applaud any group that tries just about anything different. So my hat is off to Yonkers for at least giving this chance.


One thing I am certain of is that if we keep doing what we are doing, we are doomed to ultimate failure.


While I understand the history of the one-mile standard, we have to balance historical purity with the need for modern-day change. Interleague play and the use of the designated hitter in baseball were huge departures from this purity, and both are still debated today. The fact that these changes are still debated makes them valuable in and of themselves. The baseball powers obviously thought long and hard about these major disruptions to the historical “purity” of the game and came out on the side of change.


The lesson here is that nothing should be considered 100-percent sacred.


Tim also discusses the change from the handicappers’ perspective. He refers to looking at split times and final times in the program. Thoroughbred horses have been racing at different distances and different surfaces forever, and handicappers deal with the change. Most Thoroughbred wagering professionals would tell you that horses changing distances and shipping in and out of different tracks present great wagering opportunities and variety in the program offerings. Moreover, speed and class ratings have been around in harness racing now for 13 years and work for handicappers dealing with varying distances and racetracks. Handicappers that still focus on pure times are frankly not taking advantage of what today’s technology has to offer.


I agree with Tim about programs being difficult for newcomers. That said, the use of times in the first place is hard given different track oval sizes and shapes. New Thoroughbred fans use speed ratings or other even simpler forms of what he calls “programs.” There are other alternatives to programs for newcomers. The USTA offered one last year to tracks (at no charge) and others could be developed.


Finally, one note about times. The times that TrackMaster or any other displays are constrained by what is entered into the central database. The tracks must have timing beams wherever a “reading” is desired and the USTA must have the field in its database to place such information. The reason the final quarter time does not appear is that the information at 13/16-mile into the race is not recorded. Right now, the USTA only can record four fields of information for time. This, of course, is something that could be augmented.


Let me conclude in the same place I started. It is very, very easy to criticize change, and if you criticized every change or new concept, your criticism will turn out to be right 80 percent of the time. Most new ideas fail. Most new businesses fail. But without creativity and innovation, wheels would still be square. One of the easiest times to take risk is when your back is against the wall. And that is where we find ourselves. So while I may agree or disagree that 1-1/16-mile races is a good thing overall, I think at this point any reasonable innovative change is positive.


I give Yonkers credit for at least attempting to shake things up a little. I just hope they give it a fair chance.


Editor's Note: 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.

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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.

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