The Stars Are Beginning To Shine

Summer time means the big names are out and running

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

On Saturday, June 15, Captain Crunch took the Pepsi North America Cup, a $1 million race for 3-year old pacers and did so in an impressive time of 1:47.2 for one mile over the inviting 7/8 mile racing surface at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

I never accuse anybody of doping or drugging horses even though we all know that it takes place in harness racing.  That said, I don’t accuse; I wait to see when there are positive drug tests before I make conclusions.  There are many that think all trainers drug their horses and I don’t want to be one of those guys.

I will say that it is important to keep our eyes on a pacer like Captain Crunch.  We have seen performances like this in the past and then for some reason, that performance is never duplicated.  Dr, J Hanover blazed a big performance at WMP in 2017, and has never been the same since.  Those that are suspicious will point to this and say, “drugs,” and while that comes off as cruel and unfair, it might not be wrong.

Captain Crunch looks like the real deal and with all the big races still to come, let’s watch him and see if he can sustain the greatness he showed last Saturday.

Shartin N may be as good a horse in training that there is.  The 6-year old mare dominated the $330,000 Roses are Red in 1:49.  She could have run faster, but there was no need to do so.  She beat a good field, too, with Tequlia Monday, Caviart Ally and Better Joy finishing second through fourth.  Like all the great ones, Shartin went to the lead, cut a 25.4 quarter and then rated a 29 second second quarter, before buzzing a 27.3 third stanza to take total command.  That’s what the great ones do and that’s what Shartin N is.

Last year’s Hambletonian winner, Atlanta took to the track in the Ambro Flight Final and didn’t disappoint.  The 4-year old with Yannick Gingras in the bike nipped Weslynn Dancer in 1:50.1 to win the $256,000 race. After a tumultuous winter where she was sold  the mare looks ready for a big 2019.

McWicked came into the Mohawk Gold Cup as the reigning Horse of the Year, but only managed a third.  We don’t like to make excuses, but he hasn’t raced much this year and there is reason to believe that McWicked will get in going as the season progresses.  Jimmy Freight won the race, but Jimmy has raced a lot this year so he came in a bit more race ready.  On paper, McWicked is twice the horse that Jimmy is and that is no knock on him.  Onion was a nice horse; he beat Secretariat, but Onion was no Secretariat.

The premier event for 3-year old fillies was the $454,000 Fan Hanover Pace and Treacherous Regin overtook Warrawee Ubeaut in the stretch, stopping the clock in 1:48.3.

Once June comes, the stakes races are fast and furious and before we blink, the first Saturday in August will be here and for harness racing fans, that means the Hambletonian with its 10 stakes races.  Many who you just read about will be gearing for the big day at the Big M.

Pocono Downs gets into the stakes action act this Saturday with its Sun Stakes.  On Saturday, eliminations will be contested in the Ben Franklin Free-for-All Pace; the Earl Beal for 3-year old trotters; the Max Hempt for 3-year old pacers and the James Lynch for 3-year old filly pacers. The finals will be held on Saturday, June 29.

The great thing about harness racing is once the stars are out, they stay out. As long as the stars stay healthy, they’ll race from now through the Breeders Crown at the end of October.  It can be tough to keep track of, but oh, is it fun to see.


Getting To Know The Preakness

by John Furgele, Special Thoroughbred Edition

It’s the third Saturday in May and that means it’s time for the Preakness Stakes.  While that doesn’t resonate like the first Saturday in May—Kentucky Derby Day—there are many reasons why the Preakness Stakes may be better than the more famous event in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Preakness got its name when a colt named Preakness won the Dinner Party Stakes in 1870, the year the track opened in the Park Heights section in Northwest Baltimore City, which is how the town is referred to by the locals.  Local media also refer to it as Charm City.

Pimlico is the second oldest thoroughbred track in the United States, behind only Saratoga Race Course, which opened in 1864.

Pimlico runs just a 12-day meet in 2019.  After today, there will be five more days of racing remaining at the place they call Old Hilltop. That wasn’t always the case, but Pimlico continues to fall apart before our eyes.  The only thing keeping the old track open is the Preakness, which according to Maryland state law, has to be run in Baltimore as long as the race is run in Maryland.  Laurel Racetrack sits 30 miles to the southwest and runs 168 days this year.

The race is run at the unusual distance of 1 3/16 miles.  That’s a distance you won’t see too often and is 1/16 mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby and 5/16 shorter than the Belmont Stakes which will be run on Saturday, June 8

What does that mean in terms of time?  The Derby winner usually finishes the 1 ¼ miles in slightly over 2 minutes.  The average winning time usually falls in the 2:02 to 2:04 range. The Preakness is usually run 6 to 9 seconds faster.  Last year, Justify won the Derby in 2:04.20 and then won the Preakness in 1:55.93.

The Preakness Stakes record is 1:53.00 by the legendary Secretariat in 1973, but that comes with some controversy.  There was a supposed clock malfunction in ’73 and for years, Secretariat’s recorded winning time was 1:54.40.   In 1996, Louis Quatorze won the Preakness in 1:53.40. That was the official record for 15 years, until the historians did some research and gave it to Secretariat.

We’ll never know if Secretariat actually ran 1:53; he certainly was good enough, but it’s tough to re-time a race from grainy old video.  There are some—and I might be one of them—that believe a movement began to ensure that Secretariat would have the records at all three Triple Crown races.  His Derby time of 1:59.40 still stands and his Belmont time of 2:24.00 may never be broken.  While the Belmont time appears safe, his Derby time might be, too.  Only two horses have won the Derby in under 2 minutes.  Monarchos clocked 1:59.97 in 2001.

Assuming his 1:53.00 was indeed legit, that record time may also stand for eternity. Since 1988, only four horses have broken 1:54 in the Preakness.  Sunday Silence ran 1:53.80 in his epic duel with Easy Goer in 1989; Summer Squall ran 1:53.80 in 1990; the aforementioned Louis Quatorze, 1:53.40 in 1996 and Curlin came home in 1:53.46 in 2007.  Unlike humans, horses seem to have plateaued time wise in these modern times.

The Preakness, because it’s in the middle will always be relevant.  It can set up the Belmont for a day dripping with anticipation, or it can make the Belmont nothing more than a classic American stakes race.  This year, the Preakness doesn’t have the Derby winner due to illness, but it still drew a 13-horse field and seems on paper like a wide open, anybody can win affair.

Unlike the Derby which allows a bloated field of 20, the Preakness is limited to 14 starters.  And, it doesn’t use a point system.  Horses that are nominated to the Triple Crown as 2-year olds are eligible.  In addition, there are a few “win and you’re in,” races where the winners were automatically guaranteed a spot in the Preakness field.  This year, there were three such races; the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in California; the Frederico Tesio Stakes at Laurel and the Oaklawn Invitational at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, AR.  All three winners—Anothertwistafate, Alwaysmining and Laughing Fox took their spots for this, the 144th renewal.

It’s relatively inexpensive to nominate a horse to the Triple Crown.  The last I checked, the cost was $600.  For many horse owners, that doesn’t cover dinner for family and friends.  But what if you don’t nominate a horse and then decide to run in one of the races?  Well, the cost is a bit more—$150,000 and we saw that this year when the owners of Warrior’s Charge decided to “pony up,” the 150k to get the colt into the race.  Will it pay off?  We’ll know by 7 PM tomorrow.

The total purse for the Preakness is $1.5 million.  In thoroughbred racing, the winner gets 60 percent, second 20 percent and third 10 percent with the remaining 10 percent divided among the other runners.  For those struggling with the math, that means 900k for first, $300k for second and 150k for third.

The Derby is known for elegant style while the Preakness proudly proclaims itself as “The People’s Race.” Both races allow patrons on the infield, but the Preakness takes it to a different level with live bands and yes, some debauchery.  Attendance for yesterday’s Black Eyed Susan Day was a record of 51,000 plus.  If the weather holds, we could see 130,000 today.

The Belmont has never opened its infield and caps attendance at 90,000.  When you think about it, horse racing, warts and all, still can draw over 300,000 to three races in May and June.  Americans may not love horse racing like they once did, but they still respect it.

The Preakness is a fun day of racing.  It may not be as regal as the Derby or as royal as the Belmont, but as an American classic race, it owes an apology to nobody and no one.




Confederation Cup Time In Canada

Venerable Flamboro Downs hosts a big race for 4-year old pacers.

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

While most eyes will focus on the Preakness this Saturday, there’s a great harness racing event on Sunday north of the border at Flamboro Downs in Dundas, Ontario, near Hamilton.

The Confederation Cup will run on Sunday, May 18 with nine 4-year old pacers behind the gate.  The purse is $150,000 and as you might expect, some of the big names are there.  Ron Burke leads the way with three in the final.

On Sunday, May 12, there were two eliminations, each with 8 starters.  In the first, Done Well took off from the start and wired the field in an impressive 1:51.4 on the half-mile track, prompting announcer Gary Guy to use his signature, “giddy-up.”  He was followed by The Downtown Bus, Pretty Handsome and American History.  The fifth place finisher, This Is The Plan, drew into the final and will line up behind the one in the that final.

The second heat was much more contentious with Dorsoduro Hanover staying back before commencing a rally in deep stretch to win in 1:53.4.  Rockin Speed was second and credited with the same time and the other two to advance were Ghost Dance and Jimmy Freight. 

The draw takes place on Wednesday, May 15.  Here are those nine finalists.

Done Well

Dorsoduro Hanover

The Downtown Bus

Rockin Speed

Pretty Handsome

Ghost Dance

American History

Jimmy Freight

This Is The Plan

The Cup is for four-year old pacers and as we know, year in and year out, the 3-year old group of pacers is usually quite good and seeing them run as 4-year olds always makes for an exciting race.  And, a $150,000 purse is not a deterrent.

Without getting into specific detail, all nine have had big moments in their three years of racing.  That said, they all can be unpredictable.  Lather Up came into the elims as the one to watch, but faltered badly.  He will be better on another day, but Mother’s Day evening was not his time to shine.  

Done Well looked unbeatable in his elim; can he carry that over in one week?  This Is The Plan finished fifth in the first heat, but was clocked in 1:53.4 which matches Dorsoduro Hanover’s winning time in the second heat.  We know that time only matters when you’re in prison, but 1:51.4 is 1:51.4 and that’s impressive.  You can make a case for all eight in the Cup final. And, with any race on a half-miler, the draw will play a big role.

Unlike some tracks, you can run two-wide at Flamboro, and while it’s not recommended, it seems easier to do it there than say, at Yonkers, but the race to the first quarter will be quite interesting.  The draw is crucial; if Done Well gets the 8 post that will make things even more interesting.  He’ll want to go from the start, but as we know, sprinting to the lead and cutting over takes something out of any horse.  They can look good for most of the race, but sometimes, the last eighth can be a laborious one.

Like most harness races, the second quarter is crucial to those who leave at the race’s start.  Can they get the old breather so they can summon something for the final lap?  Last night, Done Well went 26.4, then 28.3, still fast, but slow enough to help him.

All this will be answered, Sunday evening, May 18 at Flamboro Downs. It should be a good one.





Where Are The Ladies??

It would be nice to see some fillies in the Kentucky Derby

by John Furgele, Special Thoroughbred Edition

She was tough. She was rugged and she was a fierce competitor.  Her name was Genuine Risk, one of horse racing’s great fillies.  Heck, why even bother with the gender reference; she was one of the sport’s best horses.

She was born on February 15, 1977, the daughter of Exclusive Native.   You never know the reaction when fillies are born.  Are people happy?  After all, fillies are often more durable, less precocious and unlike colts, never have to be gelded.  Or, is there disappointment knowing that as great as this little filly may be, she will likely never win the Kentucky Derby and certainly won’t win the Triple Crown.

While that may come off as sexist, it isn’t meant to.  Horse racing is strange like that; in fact all of sports are.  For some reason, we devour men’s sports, but not women’s sports. The US Open golf tournament is covered by all the outlets while the US Women’s Open barely gets noticed.  There are some exceptions—women’s tennis gets good run as does the US Women’s Soccer team.

Horse racing does try.  The Kentucky Oaks is a great race, situated the day before the Derby, but what if it wasn’t?  Would it still garner national attention?  After the Oaks-Derby double, most can’t recite which filly race accompanies the Preakness and even fewer the complement to the Belmont.

But when the girls run against the boys, America takes notice.  In 1979, Genuine Risk began her racing career.  She got off to a good start, winning her first three races at Belmont and Aqueduct.  She then entered graded stakes action and took first in the Demoiselle Stakes and after winning her first two starts in 1980, the winning streak was now six.

Trained by the Hall of Famer, the legendary Leroy Jolley, it was time to see if Genuine Risk was the real deal.  She was entered in the Wood Memorial and now we would see how she would do against the boys in graded stakes company.  She would finish third, but the connections were not deterred.  The next stop:  The Kentucky Derby.

She didn’t get a lot of love in Louisville.  In a field of 13, she was set off at odds of 13-1 and was able to stalk the slow pace nicely.  By the top of stretch, she had it, taking the lead and bolting to a four length lead. Rumbo came at her late, but the filly had it all the way, stopping the clock in 2:02 to become only the second filly to win the Run for the Roses.  Regret did it first, 65 years earlier in 1915.

The intrigue was just beginning.  Two weeks later, the scene shifted to Old Hilltop, Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Preakness offers new shooters; horses that didn’t run in the Derby and one of those shooters was Codex.

Codex wasn’t supposed to be there.  His owner thought the grind of the Triple Crown was too much, so he wasn’t nominated for the Derby and was entered in the Preakness by mistake by Jeff Lukas, the son of the horse’s trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.

Despite those concerns, Codex was more than a nice horse.  Prior to the Preakness, he had won the Santa Anita and Hollywood Derbies, so he was certainly ready for the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

In the race, it was the new shooter, Codex, against the Kentucky Derby winner, Genuine Risk.  At the top of the stretch, it looked like the duel was on with Codex on the inside; the filly charging on the outside.  Then, it happened.  The filly went to make her run and Codex veered to his right.  The two bumped; the filly seemed startled while Codex was able to right himself and win by four lengths.

The crowd gasped as the “objection,” sign appeared at Pimlico.  Replays showed that Codex veered into the path of the filly and all three ABC broadcasters—Howard Cosell, Jim MacKay and Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Arcaro believed that there was going to be a disqualification.  Arcaro was asked point blank by Cosell:  “If you were a steward how would you rule?”  Arcaro’s response was a swift one:  “I’d take the number down.”

After several agonizing minutes the results were made official with Codex the winner of the 105th Preakness.  There were some boos as Codex made his way to the winner’s circle.  As we know, stewards are reluctant to take down a winner of any race, let alone an American classic like the Preakness and it didn’t appear that they had the stomach to do so in Baltimore on the third Saturday in May.

Many thought that would be it for Genuine Risk, but three weeks later, there she was running in the Belmont Stakes.  Codex was there and so too, was Temperance Hill.  By the top of the stretch, the filly had put Codex to bed, but Temperance Hill, ridden by Eddie Maple surged to win with the filly settling for second. Three races: a first, a controversial second and a “regular” second.  Genuine Risk certainly proved that the fillies could not only run well against the boys,  but they could also beat them.


She will go to the front.  When she tires, we’ll get her.  That was the strategy going into the 1988 Kentucky Derby when another filly, Winning Colors, decided to take on the boys.  But unlike Genuine Risk, she beat the boys in the Santa Anita Derby, no doubt striking at least some fear with her competition.

Those that guessed Winning Colors would catapult to the lead were right.  The filly, ridden by Gary Stephens led through the quarter, the half and three-quarters, but unlike what many suspected, she didn’t tire and prevailed by two lengths with Forty Niner second and Risen Star third.

The filly then headed to Pimlico and tried to do what her filly counterpart from 1980 couldn’t do; win the Preakness and head to Belmont for a shot at Triple Crown glory.  But, it was the third place horse from the Derby that was just getting started.  His name was Risen Star and he was the son of the sport’s greatest horse, Secretariat.  Secretariat went to stud in 1974, but 14 years later, none of his offspring had won an American classic race.  That was about to change.  In the Preakness, Risen Star lived up to the hype, cruising by about three lengths.  For the filly, a solid third.  She was there, in striking distance at the top of the stretch; she just lost to a better horse.

In the 1973 Belmont, Secretariat put on a show, winning the race by an astounding 31 lengths in 2 minutes, 24 seconds, a record that may stand forever.  Now, 15 years later, it was the Derby winner and Preakness winner squaring off in what is called “The Test of the Champion.”  Winning Colors took the lead and through three-quarters it looked like she had a chance, but like his father did in ‘73, Risen Star rose to the occasion.  He took the lead right after the 6-furlong mark and in the stretch, ABC broadcaster Dave Johnson compared him to his Daddy as “Star” won by 18 lengths in 2:26 1/5, which at that time, was the second fastest time in the Belmont.  Winning Colors was third and like Genuine Risk competed admirably in all three Triple Crown legs.

On Saturday, they will run the Kentucky Derby for the 145th time and once again, there will be no fillies entered. Why is that?  Why don’t more fillies take the chance against the boys?  We saw in 1980 and 1988 the power of the filly, but today, it’s rare indeed to see the girls take on the boys.

We had the superfilly, Rachel Alexandra win the 2009 Preakness, we saw Rags to Riches score for Todd Pletcher in the 2007 Belmont and of course we saw two epic races with Zenyatta winning the 2009 Breeder’s Cup Classic and then miss by a whisker the next fall at Churchill Downs, but other than that, we just don’t see it as much as we should.

One reason is fear.  For some reason, trainers like to keep the fillies away from the boys.  Why run against them when there are plenty of “women only,” races to choose from.  The Kentucky Oaks runs for $1.25 million, so why not seek the glory there?

Second is the point system.  Right now, the only way a filly can get into the Kentucky Derby is by earning points and the only way they can earn Derby points is by running in Derby prep races.  The powers that be could change things by designating a race or two for fillies and giving them Derby points, but right now, for a filly to make the Derby field, she would have to do what Winning Colors did in 1988:  win a major prep race like the Santa Anita Derby.

We all know running the girls against the boys makes for great theater.  We saw that with Rags to Riches, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta and those old enough saw it with Genuine Risk and Winning Colors.  The Derby is the most watched race in the United States; adding filly intrigue only helps television ratings.  We haven’t seen a filly run in the Derby since Eight Belles finished second in 2008.  Even though she suffered a life ending injury in that race, she proved once again that fillies have a place on the first Saturday in May in the big, bad Kentucky Derby.

Three fillies have won the Derby and based on what we’ve seen recently, it doesn’t look like we will see a fourth for a very long time.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.

A Romp In The Levy; A Romp In The Bluechip Matchmaker

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

We all love a great upset and we all love drama when it comes to sporting events.  But sometimes, that doesn’t happen and last night was a classic example as the two feature events at Yonkers Raceway—the Bluechip Matchmaker for fillies and mares and the Levy for colts and geldings—went the favorite’s way.

In the Bluechip Matchmaker, the favorite was Shartin N—she romped.

In the Levy final, the favorite was Western Fame—he romped.

We will start with the Levy final.  In my earlier piece, I was wondering what tactic Ideal Jimmy would take from the unkind 8 post and to my surprise, Jimmy went for it.  He darted out strongly, tucked in nicely and then made a real attempt in the third quarter to win the race.  For that I commend him.  He ended up fourth, good enough to collect over $53,000 for his efforts, but driver Brent Holland certainly could have settled in and moved up late to get a third or second.

The race was never in doubt.  Western Fame, who looked the best in the five legs leading up to the final, was, as they say, much the best.  He secured the lead at the quarter, where he sawed off a 26.4 and was never headed.  As we stated, Ideal Jimmy gave it a whirl on the backstretch, but the Daniel Dube driven/Rene Allard trained 6-year old rambled home in a stakes record time of 1:50.4.  Rodeo Rock sat back and was able to pass tiring horses to get second, with More The Better securing show honors. At $664,000, the Levy is the richest race to date on the harness racing calendar and here are your cashers.

Western Fame           $332,000

Rodeo Rock               $166,000

More Than Better     $79,968

Ideal Jimmy               $53,120

The Wall                    $33,200

The $100,000 Levy Consolation featured a stirring stretch drive between the mercurial Somewhere in LA and Pacing Major with ‘LA” prevailing in the shadow of the wire.  Say this about the 8-year gelded son of the legendary Somebeachsomewhere; when he wants to run, he can still run.

The Matchmaker final was no contest at all as Shartin N became the first lady to repeat in the race’s 11-year history.  She took her time at the start and sat fourth through an opening quarter of 27.2, then went to work.  After a 55.2 half, she cruised home in 57 seconds to win by almost a full second.  Bettor Joy N was second with Apple Bottom Jeans the show horse.  The envelope collectors….

Shartin N                   $201,300

Bettor Joy N              $100,650

Apple Bottom Jeans  $48,312

Don’t Think Twice    $32,208

Seaswift Joy N           $20,130

In the $75,000 Bluechip Consolation, Newborn Sassy wired the field to win in 1:54, collecting $37,500 for the effort.

If you like to see greatness, you saw it in both of the big races.  The Levy was a man against the boys and the Matchmaker was woman against the girls, and often that’s a good thing.  A dominating performance can be good for any sport.  Moments like these resonate and if you watched on Saturday evening, you saw greatness in dominating fashion.

We will see a lot of Western Fame going forward.  Trainer Rene Allard told Yonkers PR man Frank Drucker in the Winner’s Circle that the horse is “pretty much staked out everywhere this year.” That is good to hear and will be even better to see.

Shartin N has been on the scene and dominating for a few years now.  She was great in 2018 and with five wins in six starts this year, she is just getting started.  In 42 career starts, she has 30 wins and $1.39 million in earnings.  Can you say Superhorse?

It was good day at the betting windows as Yonkers cracked the often elusive $1 million mark with $1,047,856 handled over the 12-race card that featured $1,531,600 in purses.

The next big stakes race at Old Hilltop is the $300,000 Art Rooney Pace on May 25.


Big Night at Yonkers with Bluechip Matchmaker and Levy Finals

Two races, $1,066,300 in purses

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

It’s a big night in Harness Racing with Yonkers taking center stage with two dandy races—the Bluechip Matchmaker final for fillies and mares along with the George Morton Levy final for the colts and geldings.

Any time one looks at entries and sees numbers like $402,000 (Matchmaker) and $664,000 (Levy), you have to take note.  In addition, there’s a Matchmaker consolation ($75,000 purse) and a Levy one that runs for $100,000.

Both series had five legs.  The top eight finishers over the legs advanced to the finals.  Horses got 25 points for making a start and then 50, 25, 12, 8 and 5 points for finishing first through fifth.  This is harness racing at its best.  Because these fine animals are durable, they can run five races over five weeks and then put on a good show in the final.

The best horse in the Matchmaker is Shartin N.  That certainly doesn’t mean she will win, but in all honesty, she should.  She gets the 6 post, which is neither ideal nor a detriment.  Tim Tetrick will drive for Jim King and with three wins in her four starts, I have a good feeling that the $201,300 winner’s share will be hers. The wonder from Down Under has excelled just about everywhere—here, the Meadowlands, Pocono–and should have no problems doing her thing at Yonkers this evening.

The Levy final on paper is more wide open, but I think Western Fame has done the best work and the 5 post won’t hurt.  Driver Daniel Dube and trainer Rene Allard won this race last year with Keystone Velocity and I like Fame to prevail here.  In six starts, he has four wins, a second and third with $114,300 in earnings.  Ideal Jimmy is the most tested; tonight will be his 14th start of the season.  He has six wins, four seconds and one third but drew the dreaded 8 post.  Driver Brent Holland and trainer Erv Holland will have an interesting decision to make.  Do they send him out to the lead and try to win or do they sit back and try to get top five money?  Jimmy comes in with $145,694 in 2019 earnings, and a third place finish would net $79,680 and even a fifth would garner $33,200.

One would think that with such a great card that handle would increase significantly at Old Hilltop and while there is a slight spike, it is never what I thought it could and should be.  The old biases often rear—the half mile track, the slow and often dawdling second quarters and so on and so forth.  That is disappointing because both races are designed for horses that have been around and done well for years.  In an era where horses retire too early, both the Levy and Bluechip Matchmaker feature horses that have been around and done nice things on the race track.

The good thing is that when these races are over, the horses will move on to another race in a week or two.  It would surprise no one if tonight’s Levy winner was entered in next week’s $44,000 open pace, because that’s what harness racing does and does best.  They send their horses out for all of us to see and the Bluechip Matchmaker and Levy are rewards for horses that have done what most of us love to see——race.

It’s Time To Lift The Lid At Plainridge Park

20th season begins Monday

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

It is on.  Now that April is here, the winter racing season has officially ended.  From now through October, the harness racing season is in full bloom.  Horses that were rested over the winter are now preparing to run.  Evidence of that comes with Pinkman, the 2015 Hambletonian winner, who makes his ’19 debut in the Preferred Trot at the Meadowlands.

On Monday, Plainridge Park kicks off its 108 day racing season with a nice 10-race card.  The lidlifter is a $12,000 pace for 6-year olds and younger that have not won more than six races lifetime.  Passport Art comes in with eight races– two wins, two seconds, and one third under his belt to go along with $14,570 in 2019 earnings.  Listed as the 6-5 favorite he will be driven by veteran Shawn Gray.

Plainridge is also using Trackmaster to write some of its races and there are two on the Monday card.  Race 9 will run for $5,800 and is open to horses and geldings that have a TM rating of 74 or less.  If you haven’t won a race in 2019, you can enter with a TM of 78 or less.  Race 10 is a TM race for horses that have a rating of 70 or less; 73 or less for non-winners in 2019.

As we have discussed before, some like using Trackmaster, some don’t.  For some racing secretaries, it takes some skill and thought out of writing races, but others see using the Trackmaster ratings as a way of keeping horses of similar ability classed together.  Freehold racing director Karen Fagliarone has just started writing some races using Trackmaster.  Perhaps a mix of both TM and tradition might suffice going forward.

For those struggling to understand, Trackmaster is like the Beyer Speed figures in thoroughbred racing.  I don’t know how they are computed, but horses run and some type of formula is used to calculate a TM rating.  A 1:56 mile on the half-mile track at Buffalo might not be rated the same as a 1:56 mile on the half-mile track at Yonkers.  Of course, the 1:51 mile on a 5/8 mile track might not rate as good as a 1:53 mile on a 1/2 mile track.  Thankfully, there are computer wizards who can figure all this out so races can be written.

Plainridge also has a nice Open Handicap Pace for $15,000 with six entered in the mile pace.  Dapper Dude comes in with five wins and four seconds in 10 starts to go along with $61,900 in the bank account.  The six entrants have combined to make 38 starts in 2019. The Monday card has $97,700 in total purses.

Plainridge will run Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays for much of the year.  There are six Sunday cards—July 28, September 29 and then October 6, 13, 20, and 27.  The July 28 card is the big one of the year as the $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts Trot returns.  The trot debuted in 2017, but was not run last year.  In addition to that race, the $100,000 Clara Barton Pace will be also run on that Sunday.  The 2019 calendar can be found here.

The 5/8 mile track can yield some fast times.  The fastest pace belongs to Maltese Artist who stopped the clock in 1:49.2 back on September 5, 2005 while the fastest trot belongs to JL Cruze who clocked 1:51.2 to win that inaugural Spirit of Massachusetts Trot back on July 28, 2017.  And, just for nice, JL Cruze won that race at odds of 60-1.  Here are the track records.

Unlike many states, Plainridge is the only horse track in the Bay State, so the horse colony should remain strong throughout the 2019 season which ends on Black Friday, November 29.

Post time for April, May and June will be 4 pm.