Even as Auckland Reactor gears up for battle and impresses the locals, and even as the major stakes season starts in a few days at Freehold Raceway, it's fair to say it has been another relatively grim week along the harness racing front in North America.
Thank goodness the sire stakes circuits are starting this weekend and that the Berry's Creek Final and the Graduate Eliminations will be held Saturday night at the Meadowlands. Not a moment too soon to remind us why we have to fight all these other fights.
First, we learned that Standardbred Canada has selected a new leader, John Gallinger, whose previous ties to harness racing were quite tenuous. Gallinger comes to Canada's main harness organization from the Thoroughbred world, from the now-flailing Magna Entertainment Corp., where the former accountant was in charge of IT. To those of us who feel significant change is long overdue in the sport, Gallinger's initial public comments were uninspiring. He refused to share his vision for the future of the organization. Instead, he merely said he planned to spend the next few months listening to his constituents.
As a member of Standardbred Canada, and as someone who also expressed interest in succeeding Ted Smith there, I think the new CEO must quickly explain to horsemen and horsewomen where he plans to take the organization. What does he know about the Standardbred industry? What does he see as its biggest problems? What does he want to do first-aside from listening to the people he has been hired to lead? I'd like to know about his agenda and I'd also like to know from the folks who decided to hire him why they felt it necessary and advisable to go outside of the harness racing circle. I ask these questions without rancor. I'm just curious and I bet hundreds of others are, too. So far, Gallinger's "roll out" has been underwhelming.
Equally underwhelming was the photo in Hoof Beats magazine showing the current board of directors of the United States Trotting Association. The photo indeed says a thousand words. And most of those words should highlight the disturbing fact that only three women evidently serve on the board of an industry that supports the lives of hundreds and hundreds of women. Moreover, the photo reveals how generally old the USTA's board members are and how few younger leaders there are. There should be a mandatory retirement age for service on the Board. And its bylaws ought to be changed to encourage more women and more directors under the age of 40 no matter where they live.
Next, we learned that the United States Supreme Court would not interject itself into a dispute between the state of Delaware and the federal government over whether the state could expand its sports-betting offerings beyond football. The High Court's non-decision decision is a timely reminder of how complicated are the problems facing harness racing today. An industry that desperately needs help from states in getting its product to consumers now is blocked from doing so unless it can convince the Congress to switch direction and relinquish federal control. As you may imagine, federal lawmakers appear to have bigger dishes on their plates.
Then we learned that the top-ranked North American trotting colt, Il Villaggio, would be unable to race this year due to a leg injury suffered in his paddock. One minute his connections are reckoning they have a horse capable of competing well in the Hambletonian. The next minute they are issuing a press release announcing they are going to be monitoring the colt's progress to see if he has a future in racing. It's not enough to be good in this sport-you have to be lucky, too. Speaking of lucky, the poignantly-namednow moves up a spot as the pre-season favorite. He'll bang heads with , and others.
Finally, we learned that the Meadowlands Racetrack's operating agency, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has cut its payroll by $1.3 million over the past six months, undercutting even further the diminishing services and facilities at the Big M even as its stakes' season gears up. The place already looks like a ghost town on most nights. That the few dogged people still in charge at America's most important harness track-McKee and Silver and Koch and the rest of the gang-- do as well as they do with the limited resources they have is a credit only to them. The Big M will likely never be Churchill Downs. But the gulf between the two tracks has never been more apparent. And that's a crying shame.
We'll be distracted soon by all the great racing ahead but I hope it doesn't prevent us from finally dealing with the above issues and many more; the long-term problems that require long-term solutions. The only way to get through it is to go through it.
Andrew Cohen is a Standardbred owner, breeder and writer.