Small purses, fast times
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
Harness Racing can be a strange sport. Yonkers has the highest overnight purses in the game, yet doesn’t always produce the fastest times. Pompano has some of the lowest purses, yet often, produces blazing fast times.
On Sunday, February 11, eight horses were behind the gate for the feature race—the $11,000 open pace. Fritzie Pic Up Man, a regular in these Sunday night affairs roared to the lead, hitting the quarter in a staggering 26.2. Pompano is a 5/8 mile track, a bit more forgiving than the ½ mile track at Yonkers, but 26.2 is moving. He would continue on, taking them through the half in 54.3 and ¾ in 1:21.4, before softening in the stretch to finish third behind winner Waikiki Beach and Hollywood Sign A. Now, these horses are not world class, so they did slow over the final half to finish in 1:50.2, but still, a 55.4 back half is nothing to sneeze at.
Race 1 was nearly as fast with A Cool Card getting every call to win in 1:51.0 in a race that carried a purse of just $6,500. Race 4, won by Barbarian in a pedestrian 1:54.0 was the slowest time of the night on the eight-race all pacing card.
How does Pompano do it? How do they get average horses to run so fast? Is it the warm, conducive South Florida weather? While the Northeast and Midwest battle well-below freezing temperatures, balmy Pompano checks in with temps in the 70s. Is it the white-stone track that allows horses to skim the surface? Are the horses “on something?” Are trainers giving their athletes some type of formula that makes them run faster?
These are just times. For some, times mean a lot; for others not so much. Just because a horse runs a fast time doesn’t mean they’re a great horse. A horse could win a preferred open in 1:48.4, but enter him in the Meadowlands Pace, he’s outclassed. When Twister Bi won the International Trot, he set a world record for 1 ¼ miles on a half-mile track when he ran 2:22.1. His trainer, Jerry Riordan was not impressed, saying that “Time only matters when you’re in jail.”
The bettor wants to see action and for them, time hardly matters. They would rather see horses mixing it up in 1:58.4 than a horse wiring the field in 1:51.2. Most that watch harness racing have some coin on it, so the more action the merrier.
I have always been fascinated by times. It’s one of the reasons I was drawn to both horse and harness racing. I like to see pacers go under 1:50 and trotters under 1:54. That said I prefer seeing four or five horses pacing to the wire together in 1:57.3, because I like to see racing and drama as well as fast times.
Pompano Park is an enigma. The Sunday card had eight races with purses totaling $56,700; an average of $7,087 per race. Monday’s card has nine races for a combined $56,000 in purses, an average of $6,222 per race. Yet, despite this, the times will be quick.
Is it the water? The warmth? The track surface? Or drugs? I’ll take the high road and say that the times are fast because the horses like training and racing in the warm Florida weather. I may be naïve, but I’ll go with that—for now.