Jim Stewart, Ryan's counterpart at crosstown Hollywood Park, is one of a growing number of thoroughbred officials who recognize the enormous growth of harness racing without—as has so often been the custom—treating the rival sport as some sort of disease that must be banished by summoning the nearest witch doctor. Night harness racing at Hollywood, says Stewart, "was up about 20% in 1969 and I wouldn't be surprised, in the next five years, to see it grow another 50%." Lynn Stone, newly elected president of Churchill Downs, adds, "Some of our people feel that thoroughbred racing hasn't equaled the growth of harness racing and other professional sports." Indeed it hasn't in recent years, and one obvious reason is that flat racing, like pro football, is at near-peak acceptance and no longer can expect startling annual leaps in attendance. Trotting can.
"We are really thrilled about our possibilities," says Pres Jenuine, general manager of the Western Harness Racing Association. "We're not Chicago or New York yet, no instant success—but neither were they when they started. We have a way to go to approach Yonkers, for example, where the per capita betting is about $130 compared to our $75 or so."
Roughly at the same point, a continent away, is Phil Baker, general manager of the thoroughbred associations that lease Liberty Bell Park. When Neshaminy Park is completed in 1971, at a cost of $34 million, Baker will be able to offer 200 straight days of racing in the area, a strong inducement for horsemen to settle in one place and benefit from the increased purses almost certain to be available.
And then there is Marje Lindheimer Everett, who seldom finds things to her liking and who witnessed a drop of around 10% in both attendance and handle at Chicago's Arlington Park. Says Marje, "The horse-racing situation in the United States is critical. The saturation point has been reached. We are now in the same position as football and major league baseball because of overexpansion. Many states now have year-round racing, and this is unhealthy because of the shortage of horses. There are more racing operations and more days than ever before, and the supply can't keep up with the demand." Some horsemen could tell Marje that she may find herself in even shorter supply of good horses in 1970 if she is successful in obtaining any more night-racing dates. And, needless to say, many others simply do not agree with her. The two trotting meetings at Chicago's Sportsman's Park in 1969 showed increases in attendance and betting. Bill Johnston, president of both sponsoring harness associations, feels that the way to contend with more racing dates is to offer better competition and, obviously, he believes his programs are superior. He also views the possibility of recession with equanimity, or something close to it. "All I know," he says, "is that when the banks were closed in 1929, the racetracks were still running."
Well, the flat and harness tracks will be running full blast in 1970. If there is nothing as yet in prospect to equal the duels between Arts and Letters and Majestic Prince (the Prince is hurt again and may not race this winter) or the sight of Nevele Pride trotting away with all the records in the book, something will come along for sure. Meanwhile, how about a winter-book parlay of Charles Engelhard's Protanto to win the Derby and Johnny Simpson's Timothy T. to win the Hambletonian? Brother, can you spare $2?