A 5/8 mile race scheduled for December 28.
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
In thoroughbred racing, the distances vary. Some cards feature races from four furlongs to 1 5/8 miles, but in harness racing, 98 percent of the races are one milers. There are exceptions with Western Fair using 1 1/16 miles for their high-five races; Yonkers using 1 ¼ miles for the what they call the “the French trots,” and the Meadowlands 1 1/8 miles for races with more than 10 starters.
This Thursday, there is a new wrinkle taking place at Pompano Park. Race 3 features a 5/8-mile “Dash for the Cash,” as a field of six will sprint one time around the 5/8 mile oval at the Broward County facility.
I have followed harness racing since the 1980s and I don’t remember ever seeing a race like this. I have always wondered why shorter races have never been tried to add a little variety. Seeing one-mile trots and paces 12 to 15 consecutive times can be a bit repetitive, but I always thought making the horses go longer made the most sense. At Yonkers, the 1 ¼ mile trots sometimes have more action than the usual one-milers. The International Trot at Yonkers requires horses to race 1 ¼ miles and we all know that Standardbreds can run the longer distances. In Europe, some races are two miles and I am still surprised why there aren’t some 1 ½ mile races on harness tracks across North America. We know they can run long, but can they run short?
I must say this 5-furlong affair (I know, we don’t use furlong in harness racing) caught me by surprise. But, I am intrigued. It’s not impossible, but it’s very difficult to look up every race that is being run each day of the year. Believe it or not, I try—ask my family!
My normal routine is to search www.ustrotting.com and look for the feature races and open races that each track offers, or the highest purse race. The 5/8-mile distance immediately caught my eye. Because it did, I will do my very best to watch it live and certainly will review it via replay at least once. How fast can they go? Will we see a 24 or 25 opening quarter? A 50 second half? What is a good final time for a 5/8-mile race?
When you watch races from Woodbine and Mohawk, the 1/8-mile split is provided. Often, the opening eighth ranges from 12 to 14 seconds. Will we see that from Pompano on Thursday? I am curious to see and hear how track announcer Gabe Prewitt will call this Dash for the Cash, which features a $6,000 purse? I also hope that if one of the horses struggles to get to the gate they will restart rather than let them go like they do in normal one-mile trots and paces.
The field is veteran-laden. The six horses have made 33, 40, 25, 32, 31 and 21 starts in 2017 with earnings ranging from $16,901 to $39,831. And, to no one’s surprise, three of the six have last names of Hanover. Because they are wily old vets, they should be able to handle this event with great ease.
What can we make of this? I don’t think shorter races will become a trend; however if wagering triples, then you never know, but why not do this more than once in a blue moon. Northfield Park often cards 15 races in an evening; would it hurt for one or two per month be run at a distance like 5/8, 3/4 or 7/8 of a mile?
On a half-mile track, one lap would really be something. All drivers would gun it from the beginning and there could be some anxious moments. I would probably limit these sprints to six, particularly on those half-mile tracks. We all know that going forward, it will take some out-of-the-box thinking to increase both interest and handle in harness racing. I believe the sport is in better shape than others. Fractional ownership has created interest, and new bets like the High-Five have generated a buzz as well. A 5/8 mile sprint in December certainly can’t hurt. If it generates that buzz, great, if not; then so be it. It’s only one race, one experiment, maybe it moves the needle, maybe it doesn’t.
The Dash for the Cash—a welcome surprise for the final week of 2017, which can be trying for those who follow harness racing. Many tracks are taking mini-breaks, waiting for 2018 to begin. In the Northeast, temperatures are hovering around 0 degrees, which is certainly not enticing anybody to come and watch the races live. As for bringing a picnic basket…….
Pompano has some things going for it. One, it’s warm. Two, it’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s, a time when many people are off from work. Three, it’s Florida, a state that many retirees call home. Four, retirees are older and older people like harness racing. Given the time of the year and the locale, there could be some people watching and wagering on Thursday’s Dash for the Cash.
As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained, so let’s give the Dash for the Cash a shot and see what happens.