by John Furgele
In January, sometimes the pickings are slim if you’re looking for high quality races on the harness racing calendar, but Yonkers Raceway is offering pretty solid cards this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Yonkers will offer $6.35 million in total purses, with $1.84 on the line Friday, $2.28 million on Saturday and $2.239 million Sunday. Nearby Meadowlands has $1.304 million on Friday and $1.221 million on Saturday, so clearly the money, at least for this weekend, is at Yonkers.
The feature race on Friday is an Open Handicap Pace for fillies and mares with a purse of $45,000. In harness racing, the winner’s connections get 50 percent of the purse, second gets 25 percent, third 12 percent, fourth 8 percent and fifth, 5 percent. And, with a field of six, all but one will get something for their efforts this evening. The morning line favorite is Tessa Seelster at 2-1. Handicap races in harness racing are quite different than those in thoroughbred racing. Weights are not assigned, but post positions are and that is how the racing secretaries handicap the race. In handicap races, the goal is to get all the horses to finish at about the same time, so with thoroughbreds, the longshots get assigned lower weights, while the better horses get higher ones. With harness racing, the favorite may get assigned the far outside post and in the case, Tessa Seelster has to come from the outside 6, but with only five others to contend with, she should be okay.
On Saturday, there is an Open Handicap Pace for colts and geldings, which also carries a $45,000 purse. Limelight Beach is the early 2-1 favorite. A $35,000 Preferred Handicap follows with Giveupdreaming the 2-1 favorite.
Last Sunday, the feature race was a $75,000 Open Trot at a distance of 1 ¼ miles. The race was won by Red Hot Herbie in convincing fashion. In another race on that Sunday card, Rubber Duck cruised to victory and these two will now square off in a $56,000 trot at 12:15 pm. Also in the field is Rock of Cashel, who is one for one this winter, as well as eight other starters.
A $44,000 Preferred Trot is also featured this Sunday with 10 horses entered and Kelsey’s Keepsake is the early line favorite. Yonkers continues to beef up its purses and with over 230 racing days in 2017, there is incentive to keep a stable there.
In contrast to Yonkers, Buffalo Raceway has a 10-race card tonight with $555,000 in total purses. That is not a knock, as there has to be tracks of all shapes and sizes when it comes to purse offerings. There are tiers of tracks in New York, with Yonkers being at the top, Saratoga in the middle and places like Buffalo, Batavia, Monticello, Tioga and Vernon somewhere in between.
On a down note, Buffalo Raceway canceled its Saturday card due to lack of entries. I was told that this has been addressed with the drivers and trainers and should be resolved going forward. In fairness, Buffalo Raceway just opened its 2017 campaign on Wednesday.
Hope to see you at the races!