No Sunday racing at Yonkers in 2019
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
Sunday racing at Yonkers offered something unique. The so-called French trots were part of those Sunday cards with several races trotted at the Euro-friendly distance of 1 ¼ miles. The races were broadcast live to France and for the most part, generated higher than usual handle at Old Hilltop.
Sadly, the trots are gone for 2019, in fact, so too, is Sunday racing at Yonkers. The deal between Yonkers and their French partners was not renewed and when the track released its 2019 schedule (pending NY Racing Commission approval), Sundays were gone.
I can’t blame the track for not wanting to run on Sundays. Like many tracks, Yonkers races on Saturday nights and with those cards lasting to 11 pm or later, the turnaround is tough. On the other hand, if harness racing ever wants to get young people and families to experience live racing, Sundays are far from a bad thing.
Yonkers is a churner; they will race 234 times in 2019 and for the most part, will follow a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday schedule. That in itself is commendable, and with the highest overnight purses in the game, Yonkers does well for harness racing fans and those that make their living in the sport. The racing sometimes can be questioned and despite making some changes such as eliminating the passing lane, the track still struggles to generate strong handle.
The one thing I do hope the track does is retain some of those 1 ¼ mile trots, and while they’re at it, why not add some 1 ¼ mile races for pacers, too. This is unlikely to happen because in the harness racing world, the almighty mile always wins out, but the longer distance races many times have more action and more movement, despite the horses circling Yonkers’ half mile oval 2.5 times.
One thing thoroughbred racing has over harness racing is variances in distance. There are sprints, races on turf, distance races, and even a steeplechase race once in a while. We have seen Pompano try a 5/8 mile sprint, but for some reason, they—and others—have been reluctant to try racing at 1 1/16, 1 1/8 or 1 ¼ miles . I’d like to see some 1 ½ mile races as well to give the racing cards some flavor.
I’m not asking for radical changes here, but why not take two races on a 12 or 14-race card and increase the distance? Many of the French-trotters at Yonkers were the same horses that ran 1 mile trots on other days, so getting the distance is not a challenge for the Standardbred.
This apparently was a French decision according to Frank Drucker, the Publicity Director for Yonkers Raceway. No reason was given and without French support, the decision to pull the plug on the French trots was sealed.
On the plus side, Yonkers did announce in its 2019 schedule that the International Trot will be back in mid-October. That race is truly international and is contested at 1 ¼ miles. In 2018, horses from seven nations competed with Cruzado Dela Noche winning in stirring fashion.
Yonkers will also change ownership hands sometime in 2019. The track was sold by the Rooney family to MGM Resorts last May and once the state approves, it will be the dawning of a new era for the facility that began racing in 1899.