Harness Racing Today: Some Quick Notes

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

We all know the ebbs and flows of a Standardbred race.  Many times, the goal is to get to the lead and take the proverbial breather.  The opening quarter may be a quick 27.1, but then the leader slows things down and when none of the other drivers push the pace, the second panel is slow, sometimes 31 seconds.  When that happens, it makes it very difficult to beat that horse on the lead.

Yonkers Raceway has seen an increase in handle; a direct result of eliminating the passing lane.  But, when you eliminate the passing lane, this can be the result—slow second panels.  There is no elixir here.  The passing lane encouraged drivers to sit; no passing lane encourages horses on the lead to idle.

Everybody has an opinion, and to be honest, there is no such thing as a perfect race.  We all want the racing to be electric, but even if that happened, people would complain.  It doesn’t matter which track you watch, pacing is part of racing.  If your horse takes the lead, why wouldn’t you want to slow things down over that second quarter to fuel up for the final half-mile?  No horse did that better than American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown winner.  The way he would bolt out, set strong fractions and then shut things down to conserve energy would make any Standardbred proud.  All one has to do is watch his Preakness Stakes victory for proof.

I have followed sports for a long time, over 40 years and I have never seen fans of a sport complain about it like harness racing fans do.  The sport is far from perfect, but do fans get any joy at all from it?

The product at Yonkers is still evolving since the passing lane was taken away back in January.  The drivers are making adjustments and bettors seem to responding by—betting more.  Like everything, let’s give it some time.

Plainridge Park has canceled what would have been installment number two of the Spirit of Massachusetts Trot.  Plans were to include the Clara Barton Pace to the card, but now, there will be nothing special scheduled for July 26.

The reasons will surprise no one.  The track and the Horsemen’s Association couldn’t come up with an agreement.  As we all know, harness racing is provincial.  Those that toil at tracks like Plainridge, Buffalo and Monticello want the track to spend money on them, the day-to-day grinders.  The track, looking for some attention wants to host a big-time event with a $250,000 purse which of course, will attract shippers and invaders.  Trainers like Ron Burke will want to come in and take that money away from the locals.

The sad thing was how quick the decision was.  One week, there was a press release touting the two races; the next week, was one announcing its canceling.  One would think that there is still time to make a deal, but it appears that the track and its parent company (Penn Gaming) have moved on quickly.  Last year’s race, contested on Friday, July 28 was a sizzler that saw longshot JL Cruze win in 1:51.2 over the 5/8 mile track.

Tomorrow, Saratoga Raceway (now called Saratoga Casino Hotel) kicks off its 77th season of harness racing with an 11-race card, that has two $12,000 open handicaps (one for pacers, one for trotters).  The highlight of the 2018 meet is the Joe Gerrity, Jr. Memorial Pace for older horses that will be contested on Saturday, July 21.  The 2017 edition, won by Bit of a Legend N in 1:50.3 on the half-mile track, might have been the best contested race of the year.

Post time is 12:15 pm.

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