by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
Let’s give credit when credit is due. There are many who think harness racing is stuck in the past, that the sport needs more marketing and that it needs to force its way into the stream of American conscientiousness. That is easier said than done, as the American sports fan has become more discerning than ever. Other than football, what other sports really draw massive audiences? Baseball is down, as his basketball. Baseball has their Division Series’ going on right now, and I’m sure the ratings will continue to trend lower.
Plainridge Park deserves kudos for a clever concept that will take place this Sunday; aka Columbus Day weekend. Yes, we all know that Chris Columbus was a mean guy; a guy who treated people poorly and for that, some believe the holiday should no longer exist. That said, most Americans will go to work that day, so it’s not like Columbus Day will ever be confused with Thanksgiving Day in the United States.
In case you didn’t know, our Columbus Day is Thanksgiving Day in Canada, so while most of us work Monday, Canadians will be home eating Thanksgiving dinner.
All right, back to the concept. When Columbus “came to America,” he used three ships—the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria—and in honor of that, Plainridge Park is introducing three stakes races this Sunday named after those three ships.
The Nina will be for trotters; non-winners of $25,000 this year who have made at least 10 starts at the Massachusetts harness track. Leg 1 goes this Sunday, with leg 2 on Oct. 20 with the final slated for Oct. 27. Legs 1 and 2 run for $10,000 with the final going for $20,000. The purses are modest, but it’s a nice way to do something fun and clever for the horseman who toil at the track.
The Pinta follows the same format; it’s for filly and mare pacers, while The Santa Maria is for colt and gelding pacers. The Sunday, Oct. 27 card will feature the three finals which is easy to hype that week, that morning and that afternoon.
What makes this fun is that the track is thinking of ways to gain attention. We know that there will be nothing in the Boston Globe or the New York Times and we know that ESPN, NESN and FS1 won’t be broadcasting but let’s think about how harness racing grabs attention.
Fans of harness racing know where to go to get their information. I assume that most start with www.ustrotting.com and then move to other sites like drfharness, harnessracing.com and perhaps someday, www.harnessracing228.com.
When you visit these sites, you see the usual recaps, some fine previews and some excellent feature stories. But a headline like “New Columbus Day Series Announced for Plainridge,” it does make you take notice. That’s what the sport needs more of.
There will always be discussions on how to expand the harness racing fan base and that expansion may or may not happen. People wake up early go to fishing, but most do not. Sometimes, the key is to take care of your own. Plainridge Park is doing that. They’re looking to grab some attention; instead of just running three non-winners of $25,000 races, they came up with a gimmick—a clever one—to see if harness racing fans would notice. This one did.
The purses aren’t blowing anybody away, but that’s not the point. It’s a nicely designed series that will attract a solid field, eliminate some of them and have three finals on a Sunday afternoon. We know that football fans aren’t giving up a Sunday to watch and see who will win The Nina, The Pinta and The Santa Maria, but if you’re a harness racing fan, you might want to check and see when the post times are.