I was born with the sport of harness racing in my blood. I love it, everything about it. My passion for the sport originated from my mother, who has owned Standardbreds with her father since she was just a little girl. Although my grandfather has been gone for almost 10 years, his legacy lives on in the magnificent Standardbred he left to my mother who is now retired and lives a happy life on our trainer’s farm. We continue to own a few pacers, and I believe as long as my mother is able to, she will own and one day, I will, too.
I love everything about the sport of harness racing. I love the smell of the paddocks and the barns, the sound their hooves make when pacing and trotting around the track, the sounds of heavy breathing through their nostrils as they are determined to pass the horse next to them, the thrills of watching the horse I wagered on crossing the finish line first, the race calls that give me chills down my spine; all of it. So, I pose the question: how is it harness racing is slowly wilting away?
I have been to the racetrack for some of the top events in harness racing such as the Hambletonian Stakes and the Breeders Crown. These are two of many extremely important occasions in the sport, yet, the crowds are not… crowds. The scarce amount of people who do attend are.. well.. old. Older than me, I should say. I acknowledge that it is very rare for someone in my age group, the millennial generation, to be a fan of harness racing or even horse racing in general. But…. why?
Where has the sport gone wrong?
I’ll tell you.
Harness racing.. is its own worst enemy. I don’t mean the sport itself.. but.. what helps the sport stay afloat, is the same thing drowning it. Harness racing’s biggest challenge comes from within. That “crowd” I told you about earlier? They have been watching the sport for years. Old mindsets continue to run the show. Harness racing has not been able to keep up with changing times. It has almost become a habit of sorts. People don’t like change, I get that. However, the sport needs freshness… air… breathing room for new ideas and creativity.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein
I see the same concerns surfacing time and time again with no real solutions. Band-Aids have become the way of “fixing” things in the sport. These Band-Aids are worn; the wounds always re-open and soon enough, the sport will bleed out.
I have seen wonderful ideas for the sport surface in the last year; ideas that make total sense and would do wonders for harness racing’s success. However, when you have old minds saturating the outlets that would be utilized, the ideas do not seem so sensible. Sure, you need experienced people; people who have played the game for decades. Let’s face it: experience is what everybody wants. It is next to impossible to get a decent job and make a decent living without some sort of experience, regardless of your title or degree. But, experience isn’t always the answer! In this case, I believe harness racing needs newcomers, new faces and new ideas to change people’s way of thinking about the sport. We need a younger crowd to become engaged and enthralled in the sport, just as the older crowd had been when they were younger. Harness racing is facing an impending doom without this support. What happens when that older crowd is no more?
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The sport needs to adopt a more open-minded approach than it has. We need to come together as a harness racing family to fight for the sport that we all know and love, even if it means that things will get worse before it gets better. “All great change is preceded by CHAOS.” Too many times in my life have I seen an idea proposed and automatically shot down by naysayers: “that won’t work” “it’s too much work” “nobody will agree” “it’s useless”.. etc. Meanwhile…. what is currently being implemented IS NOT WORKING.
I am tired of hearing the same stigmas over and over again about harness racing…
“It’s all chalk.”
“Only losers wager on harness racing.”
“There’s nothing to gain.”
“Why would you own a trotter when you can own a thoroughbred and make more money?”
We need to stop turning a blind eye to these phrases and work on regaining the trust of people who have tried our sport and failed to gain interest. There are so many ways to achieve this goal, but it cannot be done solely by one person or one group.
I will continue to advocate for the sport I know and love so very much, as one voice is more than no voice. My ultimate hope is that in the next generation of fans, there will be those who can tell their story of how they were born with harness racing in THEIR blood… like I was.
Megan Maccario joined the Pick Insider team in the Summer of 2016 to cover the New York thoroughbred racing scene, but her passion and knowledge of the sport of harness racing was quickly evident. Megan’s role with Pick Insider quickly evolved into being our lead harness racing correspondent, while still covering thoroughbred racing in her home state. In order to learn more about Megan and what fuels her passion for racing, here are “Five Questions with Megan Maccario”.