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Tomorrow's Fan

The View

I’m standing alongside the Gold Cup & Saucer parade route in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island with World Trotting Conference delegates from around the world. Within view I can see hundreds of children waiting for the floats to come by.

Announcers give the crowd the names of the drivers competing in that evening’s World Driving Championship final. The Gold Cup & Saucer entries are also announced to the thousands of parade watchers.

With executives from Australia, New Zealand and the United States by my side, they all tell me the same thing: They have nothing like this at home. The passion and knowledge of harness racing that is being cultivated among Islanders, begins from the days they can first stand. Whether it’s the parade, the midway at the track, farm visits or autograph signings, the next generation is being captured in this province – and it’s clear as day.

For these young people, participation in harness racing when they get older is an option. For them, the sport will always be a relevant entertainment choice – not something that Grandpa does on Friday nights. They will visit as children, gather as teenagers, and participate as adults. And they will not be lost in the entertainment shuffle. As options emerge with new things to do, they will fall back on our sport because of the impression it made on them many years earlier.

At the Gold Cup & Saucer parade, each of us witness many things. But to all of us, it is clear: The most important thing we see are the fans of 2037, not the fans of 2017.

When the international drivers and delegates walk around the track in awe of the knowledge and passion of those at Red Shores at Charlottetown Driving Park, they are not witnessing the work that has been done for the past 20 days or 20 weeks. They are viewing the work of the past 20 years.

It takes Hall of Famer, John Campbell two hours to get from the front of the track to the back of the grandstand. It takes that long because those people on track, who want to shake his hand or pose with him for a photo, care about John Campbell, and to them he is a star. And after the races, when the barns are filled far beyond capacity, the racetrack remains the place to be until well into the morning.

If harness racing is important to the people of Prince Edward Island, it will be important to the politicians of PEI as well. It will attract bright young executives and hard working horsepeople. It will spin off into tourism and cultural benefits, and support agriculture and community for decades to come.

But the lessons of PEI should not be lost on the rest of the country, or world, for that matter. You don’t make the sport relevant by simply increasing purses, or bolstering carryover pools. You don’t become successful by simply focussing on who shows up today. You get stronger by targeting those who are not there - the fans of tomorrow, next year and next decade.

Can our local racetracks start building Old Home Week celebrations in their communities? Can they design festivals of harness racing that target entire populations of young and old? Can we all see what works and begin to replicate these successes? Of course we can.

Like in PEI, it will take bold, brave leadership and a clear vision of the future.

Darryl Kaplan
[email protected]

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