Of Mohawk (Woodbine) and Monticello

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

It’s the final countdown.  Woodbine Racetrack opened its 2017-18 harness racing season last night for the final time.  In April 2018, harness racing will move year-round to Mohawk Racetrack.  The track will be renamed Woodbine at Mohawk Park and most think this is a positive move.  Yes, Mohawk is not as close to downtown Toronto as Woodbine is, but Mohawk is fine facility and most importantly, has a “Standardbred First,” mentality.  Now, do not get me wrong; Woodbine has a fine harness track, but in the attempt to streamline and maximize, this will be good for the health of harness racing in Canada and North America.  Woodbine will be the place for thoroughbred racing with Mohawk Park the place for standardbred racing.

Speaking of Mohawk, its per-race handle increased by $12,279 this season from $140,629 to $152,908.  One would think with year-round racing and better branding, that number should increase next year as well.

-Last Saturday, I visited Yonkers for the International Trot and this past Monday (October 16) I checked out Monticello Raceway in Sullivan County, New York.  It was the consolations for the New York Sire Stakes and for the most part, the racing was good. Like many tracks, Monticello offers a racino with all kinds of video gaming machines.  That’s the main attraction for the visitors as they outnumbered racing fans by a decent margin.

The track is in very good shape, but the enclosed grandstand is closed and will remain that way for a long time–possibly forever.  There was a very small grandstand that featured a carport type roof.  Fans could sit and watch the races from there and on Monday, it was 45 and chilly.  I’m not sure how many would sit there when it is 25 in the middle of February.  There is talk of putting portable heaters there, but I’m not sure how much they can warm up snow and cold.

The people there were great.  Gerri Schwarz is the track photographer and when she noticed me snapping pics with my digital camera she welcomed me into the winner’s circle so I could get better shots of the winning drivers, trainers and owners.  Racing director Shawn Wiles also came over and introduced himself and was very friendly and accommodating.

Monticello is a grinders track.  Like Yonkers, it races 12 months per year, with 207 days of racing.  It runs a Monday-Thursday afternoon schedule and because of that, its total handle is good–most of the time, it’s better than Yonkers.  But, unlike Yonkers, it is truly for the grinders.  Purses hover in the $5,000 range and the feature is usually in the $6,400 to $6,900 range.  But, the horses don’t know, nor do they care what the purse is.  They run hard and unlike many harness tracks, they often run two across.  Many of the horses are stalwarts–they board there and when they’re healthy, they run weekly.  My favorite Monticello trotter, Small Bills ran on this Monday, but after scoring some wins earlier in the meet, finished out of the money.  He recently was claimed and since switching barns has struggled to find that winning form.  Maybe next week!

Overall, I would rate Monticello favorably.  The sight lines were great and the racing was compelling.  Being in the winner’s circle had some perks.  The winning connections were more than willing to talk about their horse and what was next for it.  Many of the winning owners were what we call fractional owners, meaning they own a small piece of the horse.  Some own 10 percent, but most own anywhere from 1 to 5 percent.  Marc Teffii was one such owner and after Cruising In Style took a Sire Stakes consy, he was more than willing to give me some details of his ownership experience and his hope that the colt might run on the undercard of the Breeders Crown, which commences on October 27 and 28.  He also told me that they will geld Cruising over the winter to reduce distractions and improve focus.

That’s why you go to the track.  If you like the sport, that is information you can’t get from an OTB parlor and certainly not by streaming it over your phone or computer.  You go there and you talk to people.  With texting, talking to people is becoming a lost art, but at Monticello, talking was very much in style at least on this day.


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