Thoroughbred racing is the “Sport of Kings”. In the early years of thoroughbred racing only royalty and the elite could afford the cost of breeding and racing these horses. It was an expensive hobby then and is still an expensive business today. Harness racing has a more humble beginnings. It is said that the early harness races were between farmers having friendly competitions during picnics after Sunday morning church. The horses were multi-purpose, they took the family to church on Sundays and were used around the farm the rest of the time. From these humble beginnings, the standardbred was born and the current harness racing evolved. In many ways the two sports still reflect their beginnings. A thoroughbred horse will generally only race about a dozen times a year, while it is not uncommon for a standardbred to race three times as often. However, it is how the horses have been breed. A thoroughbred needs at least two weeks to recover from a race, while most standardbreds are out there training in a few days. While thoroughbred racing is much better known, my view is that the standardbred racing fan is more dedicated. They also seem to know the horses better, since the horses race more often, fans have favorites that they see race a few times a month. This fan base also finds that it is easier to become an owner and to enjoy that aspect of harness racing. It is from this fan base that the new owners come from. However, the fan base seems to be shrinking and the cost of entry into ownership is rising. To lower the cost to become an owner, the concept of fractional ownership has evolved.
Trainers Anthony and Amy MacDonald run a fractional ownership stable, “The Stable”, out of Ontario Canada. They focus on getting owners in at the
early stages of a horse’s career as a yearling. Purchasing a yearling is without a doubt the riskiest investment in the racing industry. There are so many factors involved getting a yearling trained and to the track, many never make it. The fractional ownership limits the risk, however, it does not limit the fun and excitement. An owner can purchase a 1% share of a horse and pay a set fee of about $20 per share a month until the horse qualifies. “The Stable” is currently working on their second crop of yearlings, that are now two years olds, and preparing to qualify. The stable has two hundred fifty one clients in six countries world wide.
I was one of about three hundred people that spent their Mother’s Day at the Tomiko Training Centre near Puslinch, ON. The event was called the 2017 Spring Showcase and was held by The Stable. Thirty nine horses were showcased, spread over seven sets of either five or six horses. Owners and their families came out to meet each other and see their horses train. The day was bright and mostly sunny with a breeze that kicked up every now and then, a perfect spring day to be outside. My first impression was that it reminded me a little of the first harness racing I saw. That was at a county fair many years ago. I enjoyed those races decades ago and back then never dreamed that today I would still love harness racing. A grill was set up track side serving up hamburgers and hot dogs, there were coolers filled with soft drinks, and people set up their lawn chairs to watch the action.
While the event had a comfortable laid back atmosphere, the environment has very polished. The event was streamed lived so that the owners who could not attend could still be a part of the action. Before the each set of horses came on to the track, two “track” commentators introduced them. This was done in the style we are all used to from any parimutuel event. The commentators discussed the pedigree of each horse and what they liked about them. The drivers, some of the best reinsmen from the area, had the honors of guiding the horses around the track. The horses entered the track one at a time and slowly walked near the outer rail so that the visitors could get a good look at them. When all of the horses for the set was ready, they jogged together around the track and past the spectators. They then formed up and did a heat.
The stable uses drones as a part of their training program. Every few weeks they will video training sets and post them to their website so that owners can watch the development of their horses. This “race day” was no different. A drone followed along above and to the side of the horses. It allowed the remote viewers and those watching on the television sets the ability to observe the horses the entire distance. A cameraman on the front stretch captured that close up action as they approached and went pass. There was even a driver cam on one of the jog carts. Of course the track commentators called the “race” as it was happening.
After each set, a “reporter” with a cameraman would head to the barn and interview one or two of the drivers that had just come off the track. The drivers would give their evaluation of the trip they just took. Jody Jamieson was interviewed after taking Lawmaker, a by Muscle Massive colt out in the 4th set, he said: “I won a heat with a muscle massive colt who can flat out get it!! 2:08:3 29:3 on the end”. I am very sure the connections of Lawmaker were thrilled to hear that.
Between the sets you could head down to the barn and look around, watch the normal activity after a training session and watch the next group getting ready. There was a pony cart for the smaller children and a double seated jog cart for any adult who wanted to feel being behind a trotter. There were also some workouts on the track with horses racing under saddle. Overall it seems that everyone had a great time.
The Stable Ca
I had heard about The Stable last year and went to the open house they held in early December. I had a wonderful day and was impressed with the operation and the horses. Before driving the almost three hours to the training facility, I had looked over the pedigrees of a few of the horses. I had told myself that if I like what I saw when there, I would buy a share in one horse. So, I left owning a one percent share of a New York eligible filly. After being home for a few days, I realized I had made a mistake. I should not had limited myself to one horse. A fast email and I now have a one percent on two horses. It may not be much and each months training bills is less than a nice dinner, but I am an owner. When I stood by the rail on Mother’s Day and watched my horses enter the track, there was a sense of pride. It may only be one percent but they were my horses. When they go for their qualifiers in the next month or so, I will be there. When they race in the NYSS, I will be there. At first, I had thought that the distance I am from the farm would lead me to lose touch with the development of my horses. However, the wise use of live broadcast, updated web pages and social media has kept me and the other owners updated. www.thestable.ca is just a click away. I am looking forward to an exciting racing season and some winner circle photographs.