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Is a new Triple Crown the answer?
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - by Frank Cotolo

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Once again, the notion of reorganizing the harness Triple Crown races is stirring up industry opinions. Many people think changing the order or constitution of a Standardbred Triple Crown (for both pacers and trotters) is the means for making the sport more appealing to general sports fans that are candidates to be harness racing fans.


In a recent editorial in Harness Racing Update, Bill Finley wrote that keeping the current harness racing Triple Crown is “the latest chapter in an ongoing fiasco where the sport fails to capitalize on what could be the single greatest marketing tool and its best opportunity to reach the general sports fan who pays no attention to harness racing.”


I am not in that camp. I don’t think any altering of Triple Crowns in harness racing will attract one more wagering body, nor will it secure more recognition in the corpulent sports press.


The Triple Crown argument is an old one and it is a chimerical solution.


There have been many attempts at finding ways to attract people to the sport and perhaps some of them can be accountable for creating a few fans here and there. But in my opinion, there is only one way to attract fans to the sport and that is to market the wagering aspect.


Our sport is not baseball or football or hockey or any professional competition that plays out specifically for entertainment. The engine of business in all of pari-mutuel racing is wagering. The conflict between wagering and the traditional grandeur of equine competition has been married from the beginning and yet has a history of shame and moral impairment. So, what is never tried in the hope to lift the horse racing business back into the black is to sensationalize on the ability for those in the stands (and at home) to wager on horses and make money when they are correct.


Casinos have games that attract players. Once exposed to the games, players can learn which games to play and they may even study how to best play those games. However, they are lured to the casino because they smell money and they covet the experience of winning money. All in all, it’s all they want.


So casinos advertise the notion of winning. Pari-mutuel racing doesn’t market itself this way. It continues to sensationalize on the champion horses, the talented horsemen and it even has the audacity to insinuate that its storied and colorful history are enough to draw business. Though those elements are somewhat beckoning and have always been there, before there were countless forms of legal gaming everywhere, most people went to the track to gamble because it was the only game in town.


The Triple Crown suggestion may work, but only if it has a Barnumesque [sic] feature about it. For example, suppose the sport were to entice the general public with a bonus if it were to handicap the Triple Crown? Imagine ads pumped through all the electronic media about three, $1 million dollar races that offer one (or some) pari-mutuel player $1 million for picking the winners? Certainly we can come up with a $1 million “game pool” that can entice people who don’t ordinarily play the horses.


The player-pool bonus can be used by tracks for any events of their choice. Sponsors could partner to raise the money to award the bonuses and pay for the kind of media advertisement that reaches the general public.


Bettors want to wager and they do so in singles, in cartels, in the privacy of their home, in transit on their mobile devices and anywhere else action is available. For the most part, getting new gamblers means attracting people with whatever gene might be part of the chemistry that attracts them to taking risks.


It doesn’t matter if the risk involves a horse that runs, paces, trots or scuffs along at a dilatory rate—as long as the bettor gets the “action.”

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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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