Finding Good Friends Abroad
Working with our international racing counterparts enriches and strengthens our sport back home
by Joe Faraldo, USTA Chairman of the Board
Often, our perspectives can be rather centric, conditioned by our individual experiences and exposures. In the height of the domestic stakes season, it’s easy to think about harness racing as something happening solely within the borders of the United States and in the Canadian provinces.
While understandable, this somewhat myopic view fails to afford our industry the global breadth it should capitalize on. Recognizing this shortcoming is important; it’s refreshing, simply because it provides each of us with a point of comparison when pondering all of the varied problems and challenges North American harness racing confronts on a constant basis. Clearly, American Standardbred racing and breeding can only be strengthened if we look to learn from—and partner with—the many countries where the sport thrives and is revered.
In Europe, where amateur racing has always been held in high esteem, many years ago the North American Amateur Drivers Association (NAADA) managed to expand its reach to competitions overseas and, in doing so, fostered lasting relationships with our foreign counterparts that culminated in the amateur clubs’ exchanges we find spreading. Since then, the United States has sent drivers to and also hosted World Amateur Driving Championships, with the added benefit of further expanding our reach to Australia and New Zealand. It all helps to promote and foster our global relationships.
Similarly, the USTA participates in the biannual professional World Driving Championships, as well as the World Trotting Conferences. These proceedings are held on multiple continents, providing valuable opportunities for the cultivation and establishment of vital global industry relationships. These associations go far beyond the important camaraderie among individual participants. Aside from critical educational networking, significant economic benefits to our domestic industry are often realized.
Consider how MGM Yonkers Raceway was able to capitalize on years of dealings with industry leaders in France to become the first United States venue to simulcast full cards to European markets through the Pari Mutuel Urbain’s (PMU) distribution network. Commensurately, because our pari-mutuel takeout was larger than provided for in France, it made sense for PMU’s wagering to be commingled into Yonkers’ pools, increasing handle.
In the sales realm alone, all our developed relationships have proven to be mutually beneficial in a number of ways. We have observed many foreign buyers, as well as an increasing number of foreign-bred yearlings, appearing at our sales, and we have seen a sharp increase in Americans buying very competitive Australasian-bred pacers.
On the trotting side, the Standardbred Owners Association of New York (SOA of NY) organized a series for 24 French trotters doled out in a lottery-style assignment and thus attempted to build a new market. Since then, and in the middle of last year, 13 French trotters went through the Preferred Equine Online Sale, with five sold here in the U.S. Through the middle of July, this group earned in excess of $237,000 to date this year, with Melissa Beckwith’s topping the earnings ranks with $96,000. These foreign horses help fill our race cards in the face of a demonstrable domestic horse shortage.
Consider still, the return of the International Trot to Yonkers Raceway in 2015 and the importance that event commands around the world. Inaugurated in 1959 at Roosevelt Raceway, the then self-styled World Capital of the sport, the International was brought back after a two-decade hiatus. Our global brethren view the International as the equivalent of the World Trotting Championship, and the fact that many horses and enthusiasts travel thousands of miles to compete is testament to their belief.
This year’s International, as of this writing, shapes up as a stellar event because of those horses already invited to the Sept. 9 afternoon card—the Swedish phenom in Jiggy Jog S, Etonnant (France), Aldebaran Zeus (Australia), Vivid Wise AS (Italy) and Get A Wish (Denmark)—paired with the New York Sire Stakes Day of Champions.
The Danes want to bring something else to the table this year, which may or may not materialize, and that is an idea to improve both handle and visibility of the International Trot to the European audience, as well as a week’s worth of betting opportunities driven by a European-centric company. The concept has one or two different European drivers shipping over for a few drives per night to add foreign interest, and wagers will be accumulated in advance of our betting windows opening. That money will be commingled with our pools on each of seven days leading up to the International.
The SOA of NY would seed the Pick-5 pools to help encourage foreign betting as we did for the home market. Selections in Europe would be made by an expert and bettors would buy a fractional interest with the expert of their choosing or wager on their own. All this, as well as altering our post times to accommodate the European market’s time zone, is subject to grants of approval from the New York State Gaming Commission. It may or may not materialize, but it is worth exploring.
This past month, as chairman of the USTA board, I was in Berlin as a representative of the United States at this year’s World Trotting Conference. While always seeking to put our best foot forward, I never cease to be amazed at not only how well received we are, but also how tremendously passionate men and women from faraway countries are about this sport and the American Standardbred.
Harness racing is conducted at all hours of the day and night. It’s a worldwide industry, and we can continue to learn from those that we never think so much about. Our survival is dependent not on our isolation or perceived self-importance, but on our collaboration and interaction, not only at home, but abroad.
The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association. To comment on this column, email us at email@example.com.