Last November, Racing and Wagering Western Australia implemented a new business model for Harness Racing in the state.
The business model was introduced with a view towards ensuring there would be long term sustainability in the code.
The new model, as a conditioned handicapping system, ensures horses that are successful as juveniles don’t enter the open class system as maidens and they race against horses in a similar class.
While these horses that performed well at juvenile level can’t drop back to maiden races, the system still allows them to slowly work their way into open class.
As a result, the new model looks to ensure competitive racing and a reduction in short price favourites.
The new model looked into race circuits, stakes tiering, meeting schedules, race programming and handicapping and internal business systems and practices.
Colin Smith, a former handicapper of the West Australian Trotting Association who also helped in the creation of the new model, said it tried to ensure an even playing field for all participants.
“We introduced the new system looking to reduce the number of short price favourites and spread more of the money around to the participants,” he said.
“We wanted to increase the number of first time winners as well as the number of three and four-year-olds that win races.
“In Harness Racing, we had some horses that would be five or six classes better than other horses, but come September 1 and the new season they would become even.”
According to Smith, in season 2003/04 there were 248 different thoroughbreds that recorded their first win, while there were only 101 Standardbreds that matched that feat, despite there being more than 400 additional Harness Races held.
Trainer-driversaid juvenile horses dropping back to race in significantly easier races had been a problem for Harness Racing for some time and felt the code could learn from Thoroughbred Racing.
“In the gallops, if you win a race, or run well in a good race, you get weight on your back,” he said.
“In the trots, you often see good quality horses dropping back and winning maidens.
“A lot of trainers would work the system, even I did too.”
Cortopassi said it was important for Harness Racing in WA to keep evolving and embrace the new model.
“I don’t mind the system because I have a range of different horses,” he said.
“You really have to study the nominations and work out what race is suitable for your horse.
“Harness Racing has been stuck in a holding pattern for a long time now.
“This is a major evolving system and, like any system, it has a few glitches and some areas of it need tweaking.
“For the most part, you have a lot of horses of the same calibre racing against each other.”
As well as the improved standard of racing, Cortopassi said the new model could have a positive effect on the breeding industry.
“The old system had an impact on the breeding industry,” he said.
“People would hold on to their horses for a long time and they didn’t have to buy new horses.
“They wouldn’t look interstate or to New Zealand to buy horses because they knew the horses they had in their stable would be able to drop back.”
From the perspective of up and coming trainer-driver Kyle Harper, who won the Group 1 Golden Slipper with Franco Edward last year, the transition to the new model was never going to please everyone.
“Nobody likes change, especially when it comes to business,” Harper said.
“I was against it to start with, I didn’t like it at all and the most part of that was because I didn’t understand it.
“Until you go through the motions of it, it’s pretty hard to understand.
“I’m getting a pretty good grasp of it now and I’m actually not disliking it.
“As time goes on, it’s getting better and better.”
Harper said Kaptain Kenny was one horse in his stable that had benefitted from the new model.
The gelding won just five of his first 56 races, but in a prosperous period between December and February he was able to win three races in four starts.
“Under the new model, Kaptain Kenny has essentially been able to win what would under the old system be an M0 race twice,” Harper said.
“He’s no world beater, but he’s been able to find the right races.”
Despite the success he’s had with Kaptain Kenny, Harper said he had faced some problems finding suitable races for his star three-year-old Franco Edward.
While Harper acknowledged it was important not to let juvenile feature race winners drop back too far below their class, he hoped there could be room for some concessions for them in the new system.
“The biggest issue I have with a horse like Franco Edward is there’s no real penalty free two and three-year-old races,” he said.
“In a sense that is good because it stops the Derby winner dropping back.
“There still needs to be more incentive for the younger horses and a bit more opportunity for them in the new system.”
Cortopassi said he had also been involved with pacers who had started to reap the rewards of victory as a result of the new model.
“A horse I drove for Matt Henwood at Narrogin last month Baron Jujon has been an example of one who has benefitted,” he said.
“We have seen a lot of hobby trainers who have been able to get their horses into races they can win without having better quality horses that can drop back.
“You have to find the races and go to them.”
Veteran Henley Brook trainer Mike Reed said he was also an advocate of the new model, despite his best horses not necessarily the ones best suited by the model.
Reed identified turnover as the key long-term measure as to whether or not the model was working.
“If the turnover on meetings has improved, then I think the model is working,” he said.
“We need to be able to get turnover up.
“Before we changed to the new model, we couldn’t get full fields.
“The good horses are the ones that are impacted more by the new model, but they well find ways to win.”
More information on the new business model can be found on the following link: https://www.rwwa.com.au/home/racing/industry-feedback-on-new-harness-business-model-7118.html