by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
On Sunday, Yonkers Raceway opened its 2018 racing season. And, at 238 days, it’s a long one. But this season, things could be a bit different at the Hilltop Oval. Gone is the passing lane, which if you ask 100 people, you will likely get 100 different opinions about it.
Many liked it because it gave the boxed in horse a chance to run free in the stretch. On half-mile tracks, being boxed in is commonplace with the tight turns. Others hated it, claiming the racing was dull and all-too predictable. In addition to dull and predictable, other descriptions include stagnant, lack of movement and too much single-file style racing.
One person who really didn’t like the passing lane was newly hired Director of Racing Cammie Haughton; who hated it so much it was removed. Sunday (January 7) marked day one of the “new track.”
So, what does this mean? Tracks that eliminate or don’t have a passing lane are banking on the idea that there will be more action in a one mile pace or trot. They hope that single-file racing will give way to drivers pulling their horses out and making more moves, or as they say, going for it. There are too many races where a horse wires the field. Racing two or even three wide is tough because the horse has to cover more ground to win a race, but, what’s the purpose of racing single file in eighth place, 10 lengths behind the leader at the half-pole?
Will it work? Well, that depends on whom you talk to. Jon Cramer is the Director of Operations at Buffalo Raceway. When asked if they are considering eliminating the passing lane, he was quick to reply.
“No, it is not being considered,” he said. “It makes no difference.”
Cramer may be right, but if you watched Race 11 at Yonkers Raceway on Monday, January 8, you might beg to differ. The race was typical for a Monday evening in January, a $20,000 race for non-winners of 20k over their last five. When the gate rolled back, all eight houses were attacking or gunning for that lead, at times racing two and three wide to get the quarter and then the half. With the buffer of the passing lane gone, drivers had to take their horses to the outside in any hope of getting a place-and the check-that goes with a top-five finish. In the end, Mach Time, who started in the dreaded 8-hole and was eighth at the quarter, eighth at the half and seventh at the ¾ pole went to the far outside to win in 1:54.3
That was an example of how harness races should be conducted. Let the horse do the work, let the horse show us what they have. Even track announcer John Hernan had some extra zing in his call because it was that great of a race and a reason for people to get on board and watch some harness racing.
But, that was just one example, Horses wired the field in races 1, 4, 6, 8 and 12, or 41.6 percent of time on the 12-race card. There is still work to be done and the goal of Haughton and Yonkers is to make the races less predictable and most importantly, to increase overall handle. More Race 11s could do that because if bettors think all the horses are trying to win, why wouldn’t they wager more?
Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Haughton thought Yonkers needed an injection–an injection of new methods, new ideas and new thinking. He has made a change and we will see if it bears fruit. If he was watching Race 11, he had to be smiling from ear-to-ear. The goal is for him to have that smile 238 days per year.