by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
The great thing about harness racing is that horses race and race often. Sometimes, the bad thing about harness racing is that the horses race and race often.
Saturday is arguably the biggest day of the harness racing year as the Breeders Crown takes place at Pocono Downs in Northeast Pennsylvania. Don’t get me wrong, to have 12 world class races with world class horses, drivers and trainers is a treat to be sure. That said, what is really proven/determined at the Crown? In other words, does the frequency in which the big guns race against each other dim the event just a tad?
Unlike the Breeder’s Cup, which takes place next weekend, the horses running in the Breeders Crown have been racing against each other all summer. The one thing that the Crown does do is add to a horse’s earnings and in harness racing, collecting envelopes is critical to a horse’s legacy. For proof, we can cite Foiled Again. Every time the gelding is referenced, so too is his over $7.6 million (the most all-time) in career earnings. That’s not a bad thing, it’s the thing thing.
The 3-year old trot for fillies figures to be an amazing race as all of the Queens are entered. There is Atlanta, who beat the boys in the Hambletonian final; there is Manchego, the Hambo Oaks winner; there is Plunge Blue Chip, who in most years would be dominant; and there is Phoetosive, who on any given day can beat anybody.
Now, this should be a classic race, but the fact remains that this is not a fresh race. In thoroughbred racing, horses race much less frequently and when they do race, the top dogs can avoid each other like a husband avoids his in-laws at holiday time. Because they can do this, the BC Classic offers more intrigue. This horse won here, that horse won there and here they are colliding—finally—at the big race worth the most money.
In harness racing, many of the top horses have raced each other enough times to take away some of that novelty. That doesn’t mean that the races will be duds, but if Manchego nips Atlanta, does that mean Atlanta is not as good? Does it taint her Hambo victory?
Again, to be crowned a Breeders Crown champion means something to be sure. Every trainer, driver and owner wants that moniker—Breeders Crown champion. It means something; it helps with stud fees it helps get horses, drivers and trainers into the Hall of Fame. In addition, it helps the bank accounts; but sometimes, a win can be hollow depending on how the season has gone. If Plunge Blue Chip pulls the upset, can we accurately say that she is better than Atlanta and Manchego?
On the other hand, that’s the good thing about harness racing. In 2016, there were two camps/rooting interests when Always Be Miki squared off against Wiggle It Jiggleit in the Breeders Crown pace at the Meadowlands. I was in the Wiggle It Jiggleit camp. I don’t know why honestly; maybe it’s because he won the Joe Gerrity Memorial at Saratoga that summer. Others were in the Miki camp and the two horses didn’t disappoint with Miki prevailing in a stirring stretch drive. The fact that these horses raced each other several times over the summer made things fun and certainly added to the buildup of that Breeders Crown on that Friday night at the Meadowlands.
With the thoroughbreds, the BC Classic winner will get a long break, maybe even a permanent one with the breeding shed beckoning. In harness racing, it’s on to the next big race. That’s the difference in the two breds. One is a violin meant to be played sporadically, but when it is played, the sound is a thing of beauty. The other is a rock guitar. It doesn’t sound as sweet, but it can be played and played regularly; its durability never in question.
Charles de Gaulle said that “Prestige cannot exist without mystery for one reveres little what one knows well.” In horse racing, that rings true. In thoroughbred racing, there is too much mystery; in harness racing, perhaps there is not enough.