Day At The Track
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Ryan Clements reports that Clinton Raceway management is excited to unveil a new way of sharing your horses harness racing victory’s! For the 2021 racing season in Clinton, Ontario, each winning owner will receive a social media ready action shot with all the details of the big win. Sample photo with story. From #RyanClementsPhotography

The Standardbred Canada Board of Directors would like to announce the appointment of Ryan Clements of Ontario as Active Director. Mr. Clements grew up on a horse farm in Uxbridge, Ontario and horse racing has always been a part of his life. With a computer science degree Mr. Clements is steeped in knowledge of programming software and developed a racing app called "Off and Pacing" which has been played by more than 100,000 people around the world. “We wish to congratulate and welcome Mr. Clements to the Board, and his knowledge and experience with computer technology and love of horse racing will be a wonderful asset for the Board,” stated Mr. Bill McLinchey, Chair of Standardbred Canada. Mr. Clements' appointment to the board is effective immediately. From Standardbred Canada

The US Harness Writers Association (USHWA) Canada chapter held its annual meeting via Zoom call November 18, with a change of leadership highlighting the well-attended virtual session. Garnet Barnsdale, the incumbent chapter president, opted not to reoffer for 2020/21, meaning that first-time nominee Ryan Clements was the only person offering for the position of president. Clements received unanimous support and accepted his nomination. Incumbents Dave Briggs and Sydney Weaver were both acclaimed for another year in their respective positions of chapter vice-president and chapter secretary. Melissa Keith was unanimously voted the chapter director for upcoming USHWA National meetings, scheduled for the upcoming Dan Patch Awards Banquet weekend, February 21, 2021 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando, Florida. Barnsdale helped the Canadian USHWA chapter organize popular initiatives like the Leamington Raceway Youth Handicapping Challenge and the "Miami Madness" betting challenge to break a Manitoba fair track's record handle; he also hosted live prize draws for 2020 USHWA National handicapping contests with son (and USHWA Youth member) Nick "Ace" Barnsdale on Facebook Live. His decision to step back from the leadership position was due to work: "Due to the increasing demands at my full-time job due mainly to the pandemic, I feel I don't have the available time to fulfill the president role to the best of my ability. I am happy that someone like Ryan stepped forward to assume the role of chapter president. He has already shown that he has many fresh and innovative ideas, and it's easy to see the passion that he holds for the industry. I have no doubt whatsoever that he will do an outstanding job." Ryan Clements is well-known as the developer of harness and Thoroughbred racing games Off and Pacing, Catch Driver, Turf Dynasty, and Top Jockey. He is active as a Standardbred owner, trainer, horseplayer, and member of the USHWA Youth Membership Committee. "I am honoured to take on the role as president of USHWA's Canadian chapter," he said. "As someone who has grown up in this industry and having straddled the lines between technology, media, and horse racing industries throughout my career, I value the significant role USHWA will play in the future success of the sport that I love. Our chapter is full of bright and energetic minds, all working towards that same goal of the sport's ultimate success, and I am beyond excited to be a part of the effort."   by Melissa Keith for the USHWA Canada Chapter  

Although its 2020 harness racing season concluded September 6, Clinton Raceway instantly comes to mind when Ryan Clements is asked about the most youth- and family-friendly tracks he's visited. Known for developing games like Off and Pacing, Catch Driver, and Top Jockey, he's also a Standardbred owner/trainer who enjoys harness racing as a betting/spectator sport. Introducing his nearly-four-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to the game he loves is important to him.   And the ideal track for that is Clinton Raceway, an Ontario half-mile landmark that conducted its first extended pari-mutuel meet back in 1970. This COVID-19-impacted year, Clinton was able to accomodate a limited number (100) of fans each race day, starting in July. The Huron County track still hit an all-time-high handle on closing day, as bettors sent $118,041 through the actual and virtual windows.   "I guess for me, the best time for family racing is summer, weekend, daytime racing," says a slightly-nostalgic Clements. "That's truly the best chance to get out as a family, because weeknights after school and after work, we're not going out to the track as a family. Maybe on a special occasion, once a year or something, but really, summertime weekends are when we plan it: 'Hey, let's drive out to Clinton and watch the races!'" Recalling previous years' visits to the small-town track, he describes what makes it special: "I just love their environment. You can sit on the grass and pull out lawn chairs. It just makes for a great atmosphere with the young kids."   Hopefully 2021 will bring opportunities for Clements and family to get back to Clinton Raceway, alongside many others who share their high opinion of the venue. "It's a very casual experience," says the member of the US Harness Writers Association (USHWA) Youth Membership Committee. "We go there to spend the day, just being able to get the food from the food truck or whatever they've got there and enjoy the weather. For my daughter, she loves the horses, but they won't keep her attention all day. The fact that she can run around on the grass and play and have a fun day outside keeps her entertained. She'll see the horses a little bit, get a high-five from a driver, but it's a part of keeping her happy for the day."   Clements' photos from Clinton trips in 2017-2018 illustrate what makes the track a welcoming attraction for fans old and new. "As far as young kids go, one day we were there, [well-known harness racing artist] Michelle Hogan was there with her twins," he notes. "There's a lot of families in that situation, enjoying it. A lot of times, it's three generations: The grandparents are there in their lawn chairs, and everybody's just out for a casual day at the races."   Charlotte shares her dad's enthusiasm: "She's always loved the horses. We were living on a horse farm when she was born, so we'd always walk out, see the horses, see the baby horses in the springtime. [...] When we go to the track, she's pretty happy to watch the horses run by."   Why bring children to the racetrack, when it's become a challenging or even forbidden practice at some, even pre-pandemic? Clements is clear: "I've always taken the stance that you can't introduce someone to horse racing through the gambling; they have to have an interest in the sport first. I think that's true whether people are betting on the NFL or any other sport; the interest in the sport comes first, or they'll end up betting on something they enjoy more. It's true of really any sport: You go to a hockey game, it's at a totally different level than experiencing it on TV. But our sport in particular, with these majestic animals... When you can stand right beside a 1000-pound animal running down the stretch, and you can hear it and feel it, it really is totally different in real life than watching it on TV."   The technologically-minded horseman admits that accommodating youth in grandstands is "a difficult problem to solve" in fall and winter, when some of the sport's most family-/youth-oriented locations have concluded their annual meets, and those that remain open must designate some indoor space as off-limits to the under-19. "I don't think a lot of the tracks are trying to solve the problem right now. I don't think it's at the forefront of their minds," he observes, noting the reality that COVID-19-era restrictions mean limiting even the number of wagering-aged customers permitted indoors during colder months.   "I think that once we get back to some sense of normal, and you can be at the track and in the grandstand, it's just about making it somewhere that can be fun for families and can feel welcoming for them, not jammed in a corner, feeling like you're out of place there," continues Clements. "These kids, they don't want to be in the simulcast area. That's not going to appeal to them at all, so it definitely is harder when the weather gets bad, but [it's possible to make] it something fun, like the dining room giving them a place where they can actually enjoy it. We brought my daughter to the dining room at Mohawk and she really enjoyed watching the horses from up there."   He sees the business case for not excluding kids, or fans in general, from racetracks--even racinos. "The primary purpose of casino companies is to run casinos, and they have to run racetracks in order to operate their casinos, so that's obviously going to be their focus," says Clements. "It's unfortunate the way that the situation is right now, we're sort of put at odds with each other rather than being able to help each other in a lot of different places. So it's definitely an unfortunate situation, and I don't think it's in anyone's best interest to be restricting who can be at the races. A lot of times it's not just the restriction, it's the fact that it becomes very clear whether kids are wanted there or not; whether or not they are banned is a different story, but you can tell when you're at a track that has no interest in having them. And it goes beyond kids. You can tell when you're at a track that has no interest in people being there to watch the races. You can tell by the way you are treated and what's available for you, if they want to make it compelling to bring people out or not."   Harness racing's most compelling places could be called "destination" racetracks. Clements names another favourite that's well worth the drive: "Hanover [Raceway] in the summer, for example. Prior to COVID, they had plans this year for putting in a patio-level spot for young adults to go and have some beers and have live music. Tracks in Ontario can make a lot of revenue from casual racing fans." With colder weather settling in, tracks with ongoing race dates can still make their dining rooms as appealing, inclusive, and socially-distanced as possible to draw present-day revenue and create customers for the better years ahead. "I think there's opportunities all over in that area," he says, describing how a good grandstand restaurant can be a successful business- within-a-business. "People are looking for entertainment options right now, while they are limited, and I really thought that this was an opportunity, when [tracks] re-opened."   Do you know a harness track that's open to children and young adults attending live races in the late fall/winter, at least in a regular year? What are some of the ways it provides a comfortable and memorable afternoon or evening at the races? Please contact USHWA Youth Committee Chair Melissa Keith with your recommendations: mkeith71@gmail.com.   by Melissa Keith with Ryan Clements, for the USHWA            

Columbus, OH — Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ryan Clements, a harness racing fan and video game developer, has been doing his best to make sure the sport continues to be “off and pacing.” Clements created an app by the same name (Off And Pacing) in 2017, and in 2018 he added Catch Driver to his arsenal of racing-related entertainment apps. His goal was to use modern technology to keep racing relevant and help attract a new, younger audience to the sport. Now, in the absence of live racing, Clements is working overtime to help provide compelling content for harness racing fans all over the world. “Initially after everything settled in and people were stuck at home, we saw a pretty significant uptick in our daily users and the amount of people who play our games,” said Clements. Clements and the four others who make up The Farm Ventures — Mathew Corey, development manager; Nick Smilovic, junior developer; Landon Mulhall, marketing coordinator; and Alexander Wong, 3D game artist — saw a silver lining in the COVID-19 shutdown and wanted to help. They’ve ramped up production and have been offering specialized content. “Our games have been built in a way where they weren’t going to crash,” said Clements. “Servers aren’t going to have any issues dealing with the extra traffic; things were smooth on that front. What we needed to react to quickly was planning special things for the games, because they were getting more attention. We’re doing some things with the USTA, simulated races, and some stuff with Catch Driver and some races there. So, planning these events took a lot of our attention.” One of these special events included partnering with the USTA. When USTA Social Media coordinator Michael Carter approached Clements with the idea to create simulated stakes races he immediately said yes. It was something The Farm team had considered but hadn’t done before. “We knew we could do it, but unless we have a partner that wants to put a broadcast together, it was just something we didn’t really have time to focus on,” said Clements. “So, when I heard that the USTA wanted to put together these broadcasts and call the races, and have a guest handicapper, I just thought it sounded like a ton of fun and we put it together.” In effort to continue to bring racing to fans during the quarantine, Clements and his team have worked with Carter and USTA Digital Brand Strategist Jason Turner to create virtual races that simulate actual real-world races. Using the Off And Pacing software, Clements and his team were able to give virtual horses real-life character traits such as gait, speed, stamina, and heart. “It’s a fun way to stay tuned into racing,” said Carter. “My guest and I handicap it like it’s a real race, using past performances and performances in other virtual races if there are any. It’s our way of helping fans see what may have happened in certain stakes races even if they were postponed or canceled.” The Farm’s plans for growing harness racing’s fan base extends beyond the current pandemic, however, with plans in the works to create a virtual reality experience for current and prospective fans. Recently they received funding from the Central Ontario Standardbred Association to develop their first virtual reality unit. The original plan was to launch the first model at a track in May, but plans came to a halt with the onset of COVID-19. “Obviously, I don’t think there are going to be any racetracks open to spectators by then, but as soon as the tracks are open, we are going to have that geared up, ready to go,” said Clements. “It’s going to be basically Catch Driver but you’re going to be able to sit in the sulky, hold the real reigns through the VR (virtual reality) headset and be put right into that virtual world. So that’s our next thing to come. We are hoping to roll that out around the world, hoping to have that at as many racetracks as possible.” by Skyler Kraft, Hoof Beats Intern

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