The Illinois Harness Horseman's Association (IHHA) this Friday will unveil unprecedented between-race interviews that promise to revolutionize the way that fans handicap and understand harness racing in Chicago.
"I hope racing fans tune in to the Maywood Park signal on Friday,” said IHHA president David McCaffrey. "There are no other horseman's associations or racetracks going behind the scenes like we are, doing immediate post-race interviews with drivers and trainers.”
The IHHA board decided during the summer to pursue post-race interviews with drivers in order to help fans understand why drivers make certain decisions on the track and to explain extraordinary circumstances.
"If a horse is the favorite to win a race and he races terribly and finishes last, I think fans want to know what's going on,” said McCaffrey. "It could be something as simple as a piece of paper in the track that spooks a horse and causes him to break stride or a knee boot that comes loose and impedes the horse's gait. Either way, the fans deserve an explanation.”
By bringing the drivers into the living room, the IHHA hopes that the public will become more engaged and will use the interviews when they handicap races. The board also hopes that the interviews will bring more transparency to the sport. To that end, fans will eventually be able to submit questions via Facebook and Twitter.
"There are a lot of factors on the track,” said IHHA board member and driver Marcus Miller. "A driver might get boxed in or there could be an equipment malfunction. Drivers make mistakes sometimes too. But the public needs an explanation. We need them to know that we're honest out there.”
The concept is similar to what fans of other sports are accustomed to seeing in post-game interviews. Jeremey Day will be conducting the post race interviews. Day is co-host of the North American Harness Update and a Daily Racing Form Harness handicapper for Balmoral Racetrack. Drivers will be asked about their performance on the track and given the chance to explain what happened.
"We want to address the questionable parts of the race,” said Day. "If a driver's strategy seems questionable or there was an equipment malfunction, we're going to look at the replay and talk about what happened on the track.”
For the past month, the IHHA has been conducting generic interviews with trainers and drivers. A collection of these interviews can be found on the Illinois Harness Horseman's Association YouTube channel. IHHA board member Bernie Paul said that these interviews will be different.
"These aren't going to be fluff interviews. We want the tough questions,” said Paul. "We ask NFL quarterbacks about why they threw an interception or ran a specific play. Racing fans deserve that same kind of transparency.”
The first driver interviews will be conducted on Friday, Dec. 7 at Maywood Park.
"Fans are going to be surprised,” said Paul. "This is a whole new approach to the sport. We think this will really help with handicapping and give fans a better understanding of the entire game." (IHHA)