In a recent interview about the Jug and the state of harness racing, John Campbell stressed increasing the purse of the Little Brown Jug, saying repeatedly that the most pressing issue is getting the Jug's purse over one million dollars.
Essentially, other ideas, such as getting the Jug on TV, creating a triple crown bonus, and others, were shot down for being too expensive. In my opinion, this is completely backwards and will be detrimental to the sport in the long run. While I understand Campbell's points and I see why he said the things that he did, simply raising purses will not help harness racing. This is an absolute fact and is the main point I want to get across: raising purses from slot welfare did not help us in the past, it is not helping us now, and it will not help is in the future. We have been fueling purses with slot money for a decade, and we have absolutely nothing to show for it. Handle is dismal at best at most tracks, attendance is terrible, and the general public still has no idea what harness racing is. Why then do so many people think raising the purse of the Jug to one million dollars make it any better?
Frankly, I think the slots money is better spent elsewhere for many reasons. First of all, if people are really keeping their horses out of the Jug for the welfare of the horse, why would we think raising the purse would attract those horses? Is that not like saying the horse's welfare is worth more than the current purse, but less than a future purse? What does this really say about us if we think a higher purse will encourage those to race who normally would not. If it is really in the horse's best interest not to race, then a ten million dollar purse should not change that.
Another reason a one million dollar Jug purse will not help harness racing's problems is our failure to market effectively. We can raise our purse to ten million, but if no one knows about it, does it matter to anyone other than the horsemen? No, of course not.
Outside of Ohio, how many people even know what the Little Brown Jug is?
How many people know who Captaintreacherous is? Virtually no one.
It will not make any difference if the best horses show up if no one knows who they are.
The money to increase the purse would be much better spent developing a solid marketing campaign that focuses on exposing harness racing, specifically the Little Brown Jug, to new markets. This is currently being done on the thoroughbred side with the America's Best Racing tour. A small group of young horse racing enthusiasts has been traveling around the country in a specially designed RV to promote racing in locations where people may not know much about it. This tour is focused on educating people about horse racing and showing them how exciting and how much fun racing can be.
It is embarrassing that harness racing does not have a similar program devoted to promoting our sport.
Another alternative to simply raising the purse would be to offer a bonus for winning all three legs of the triple crown.* This is an idea that has been tried before, but died out due to lack of funding. Now, with slots money, I think it could be a viable way to increase participation and fan interest in the triple crown races more than a straight purse increase of the Jug.
It would work like this. Instead of raising the Jug purse, that money (or a portion of that money) would be offered as a triple crown bonus. Any horse to successfully win all three legs would collect the bonus. In the event no horse swept all the races, the bonus could still be paid out based on a points system. In each triple crown race, the winner would earn 10 points, the second place finisher would earn 5 points, and the 3rd place finisher would earn 3 points, the 4th place finisher would earn 1 point, and the 5th place finisher would earn half a point. The bonus would be paid out to the top 3 point earners in the series, with the distribution being 60%-28%-12%.
A similar system has been used in the thoroughbred world and could go a long way to increasing field sizes in key races and increasing the excitement factor for fans who follow their favorite horses in the series.
*I am working on the theory of the "new" triple crown that was proposed recently: the North America Cup, the Meadowlands Pace, and the Little Brown Jug.
The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of www.harnesslink.com