by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
There once was a time when the Dexter Cup held significant importance; many times the winner was pointed to the Hambletonian, the premier race for 3-year old trotters in the United States. Over the years, the race has lost some of that luster, but still, when $130,000 is on the line, attention must be paid.
This Saturday, Freehold Raceway will host a Dexter Cup elimination race. There were 11 horses entered this year and Saturday’s race will see a field of eight. Three horses—Don, Maxus and Perlucky—received byes into the finals based on career earnings. This Saturday’s trot carries a nice purse of $44,600 with 60 percent of that going to the winner (the norm is 50 percent).
On the first Saturday in May, most of the attention will be given to the 3-year olds in Louisville in a race they refer to as the Kentucky Derby, but there will be some 3-year old stakes action at the nation’s oldest race track.
The Dexter elimination field includes Lindy’s Big Bang, Don’t Press Send, Midnight Express S, Vic’s Winner, Chucky De Vie, Credicone, Thrust Control and On The Ropes. The top five advance to the May 5 final. Chucky De Vie, Don, Don’t Press Send, Maxus, Thrust Control, and Vic’s Winner are eligible to the Hambletonian. Of course, just because they’re eligible doesn’t mean they will be behind the gate on the first Saturday in August, but eligible they are.
The Lady Suffolk for 3-year old trotters is also part of the Freehold’s May 5 card and up north, the Meadowlands will host the $200,000 Cutler Memorial Trot for older trotters, which last year was won by Resolve.
Elsewhere, Yonkers Raceway recently concluded both the Matchmaker for mares and Levy for colts and incredibly, there was an 18-minute post drag for the Levy final. That means, 0 minutes to post read 0 for 18 minutes. That is astonishing. We know why harness tracks do this; they want to give the bettor time to wager and watch more races. If three tracks are scheduled to run at 9:45, they will drag the starts out to get more wagering. Economically, it makes sense, but some harness racing tracks are treating the sport like thoroughbred racing, where 30 minutes between races is commonplace.
Who knows what the solution is? Yonkers starts its cards at 6:50 pm and it is well after 11 pm before the final race goes off. That is over 4 hours for 11 or 12 races! The one great thing about harness racing was that races were fast and frequent, usually 12 to 15 minutes in between. Now, some harness racing tracks are mirroring their thoroughbred counterparts.
Yonkers has the numbers to back the drags up. Handle is up significantly and last week’s Levy final saw $137,000 in all-source handle. Last year, Yonkers was getting $30 to $35,000 in per race handle and the fact that they are getting six-figures for races this year means something is working. Some will say that the elimination of the passing lane has contributed to this, but obviously the post drags are helping, too.
Tracks cannot be forced to start on time and in a sport that relies—and needs—wagering, they have to what they think is best. Tracks no longer care about the people that are there; it’s all about who is watching on their ADW and how much they are betting. Some tracks, like Buffalo move through their cards while others drag on and on. Northfield Park used to take the cake, but Yonkers has now taken the lead, but when Cammie Haughton was hired to be the racing director, one of his jobs was to increase handle and thus far, he has made good on that—drag or no drag.