The following is a blog from http://blog.trackmaster.com written by David Siegel, USTA director, TrackMaster president and amateur harness racing driver, who will be participating in the Sunshine Pro-Am Challenge. A recent press release announced the following:
"In a very unique format, Pompano Park has set the dates of its "Sunshine Pro-Am Challenge." A series of at least six races will be conducted over two race nights, Monday and Tuesday, March 12 and 13, at the Florida oval. Two amateurs and two professional reinsmen each from Cal-Expo and Pompano Park will do battle vying for the Sunshine title. While drivers race individually to win, team points are awarded using a standard amateur race series scoring system."
While I have been working with the folks at Pompano over the last six months or so to pull this event together, the credit for this novel ideal goes to Gregg Keidel, currently the racing secretary at Running Aces Harness Park and formerly the race secretary at Northfield.
Several years ago I got the chance to participate in a pro-am at Northfield with a "return engagement" at Cal-Expo and it was very successful.
Those who have read some of my blogs over the years have heard me speak about change for the sake of change. Of course, the poorer things are going, the less one has to lose by making changes. Businesses that sit still and don't make changes are doomed to fail.
Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." I have altered this quote before for business use, "All that is often needed to fail is doing nothing."
The pro-am format is one that has worked in a couple of sports. One of the most entertaining events of the PGA tour used to be Bing Crosby's Pro-Am, played at Pebble Beach and other nearby courses. Using handicaps for amateurs of reasonable, and in some cases not-so-great ability, an entertaining success was produced. With harness racing, the horse is still the primary determinant of success, so mixing amateurs and pros can work and the amateurs can actually win some races. In this event, the amateurs will be getting a slight edge drawing the four inside posts, which on average helps level the playing field, (though post five is the ‘winningest' post overall).
So, given our stature in the entertainment or sports world, and racing on a Monday and Tuesday night, I don't expect this event to rival the NBA all-star game, but it does provide for an interesting twist in what would normally be just another couple of cards of run-of-the-mill overnight races.
From a fan's perspective, there should be some great wagering opportunities given the mix of drivers and driving styles. Sure, the Floridians have a certain style of racing, but when 50 percent of the field does not race there, toss any regular "style" out the window. The Californians can determine the style of race just as much as the locals can, given the 50/50 mix of drivers.
From a personal perspective, all I can tell you is that this is "so cool." I still love the excitement of every race I am in, and given the random draw horse assignment, I have as good a shot as any of the drivers to get a really competitive horse. I have had the pleasure of driving with California guys with tons of wins (Rick Plano-approaching 6,000 wins, Ed Hensley-over 4,500 wins), but Bruce Ranger and Wally Hennessey have amassed over 16,000 between the two of them, so driving with them really will be an honor. Finishing ahead of them in any given race will be great, and of course winning a race will be off the charts.
Events like this also allow local fans to see other top drivers in action. I think they will be surprised how well our pros (Luke Plano and Steve Wiseman) will stand up against the Florida old guard and maybe we will get lucky and have some more fans follow our racing on the left coast. I really hope that the Pompano group will come to California soon to "complete" the home-and-home series. It was special when the Northfield group did that a few years back.
As I write this blog, TVG is considering showing these races on-air and I hope they do so other fans and tracks can see how well a series like this can work, for both wagering and general entertainment. At minimum, ADWs that carry the Pompano signal will broadcast them via the internet so interested folks will be able to see the competition unfold. I am sure it will be competitive and very interesting and feel fortunate to be a part of it.
To help support the wagering, TrackMaster will offer free Past Performances and selections, and I am planning on twisting the arm of TrackMaster Greg to do a special write up for the pro-am races.
by David Siegel