There has been a lot written lately by the harness racing crowd regarding what they need to do to grow their customer base. I'm a hardcore thoroughbred guy, but I've dabbled into the harness racing side of gambling at various times in my life as well. I just couldn't win consistently enough, and the few big payoffs that were attainable, eluded me. I think my biggest hit I ever had was a $3,000 tri one time. I've had many 3k+ hits on the thoroughbred side as my handicapping angles tends to seek big hits outs. This is probably the biggest reason I've pretty much focused only on thoroughbred handicapping.
The USTA Strategic Wagering initiative has opened me up to dabbling a bit on the jugheads for two reasons. One is that the races are part of a guaranteed pool, which means the individual races will tend to attract higher handle and the second reason is because of the free past performances with track variant adjusted speed numbers. I believe TrackMaster has put in some good effort coming up with speed figs.
Still, I have a problem taking harness racing seriously because if the best looking horse gets the 1-3 post position, you almost have to hope it breaks for it not to hit the board at a sub 3/4 mile track. This means that in order to get a well deserved score, you need to hope for an accident.
So here are the two ideas. First, they need to increase the average mutuel payoffs. Solution? The horses with the top two finishes at today's class or better get to draw for the worst post positions. If three horses finished first last time (and none are moving up), they all get in the draw. Also added to the draw, the horse with the best raw time last race (of course, adjusting for different track sizes if the horse is shipping in). This would penalize a horse either coming from a superior race with perhaps a not so great finishing position who is dropping down, or a superior horse on the improve, moving up.
This will completely change the nature of game. The best horses in the race will have the 6,7, and 8 post almost all time. There will be very few 3-5 shots and higher payoffs will become the norm.
The second idea. Free past performances with track adjusted speed figures.
Canadian harness race tracks have free past performances at their websites. Problem is that they just have raw times. Maybe back in the 70's raw times would have created crossover, because the that is all the thoroughbred crowd had to go on unless they made their own speed figs. But almost all of today's thoroughbred gambler relies on speed figs, pace figs and/or trainer angles. The raw time crowd is playing slot machines.
When I was younger, I often heard that speed doesn't matter in harness as much as thoroughbreds. Well, that was when harness horses were 5 seconds slower than they are today. Now that they, like thoroughbreds are running at or near their possible highest speed, track variant matters. I'm not talking the -2 or -4 bs harness tracks put up when it rained, or whatever they did. I mean a real variant adjusted speed fig that is based on averages of final times during the course of a card using the class of each winner and then dividing by the amount of ratable races. And since all the races are a mile, it isn't as complicated or prone to error as it is on the thoroughbred side.
A free harness program with only raw times is like Shakespeare to me. I'll read a couple of lines, scratch my head, and put the book back in the bookshelf.
The industry should just pay an info provider like TrackMaster for their past performances. Put them out there for anyone and everyone who wants to look at them. I think a decent handle increase will be inevitable, but if the harness industry wants handle to really improve, they need to incorporate both of my ideas.
I also believe free past performances would increase thoroughbred handle and attract new business, but this blog post was about crossover, so we'll leave it like that.
Related Reading: Why Don't Thoroughbred Fans Embrace Harness Racing & Can Anything Be Done About It? Part One Part Two