Westwood scores in Freehold preferred while Buffalo Raceway prepares for 2019.
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
Clint Eastwood is 88 years old and is still acting as evidenced by his recent performance in The Mule. Clint Westwood is also still performing at age 9. Eastwood does his thing in Hollywood, while Westwood plies his trade at historic Freehold Raceway. In addition to sharing first names, both continue to perform and perform well.
With the impending storm, many tracks decided to cancel their Saturday racing cards. Freehold, which runs in the afternoon, was able to get their races in and like most Saturdays, the card was headlined by two $8,000 Preferred Handicaps; one for trotters and one for pacers.
Freehold doesn’t offer big purses so we know the big name horses will not be there, but the track offers a solid cast of characters. Westwood was dismissed at 7-1, but he went to right to the front and cut all the fractions—good ones too. He took them through the quarters in 28, 57.2, 1:25.3 before finishing in a very quick 1:54.2 on the half-mile oval. In his last three starts, the son of Western Terror has a first and a second to go with today’s win. He adds $4,000 to his 2019 bankroll and if he comes out healthy, he’ll likely be in next week’s Preferred Handicap pace.
In the $8K Preferred Trot, Big Bill Breeze swung three wide to rally late in 1:57.2 to stun at 21-1. He returned $43 to win for driver Vinnie Ginsburg, who won both preferreds. One race saw a wire-to-wire winner; the other a from the clouds winner. That is harness racing in a nutshell.
Both Freehold and the Meadowlands are waiting for the New Jersey State Legislature to pass a purse subsidy that would pump up purses at both facilities. The Meadowlands is expected to get $6 million, while Freehold would get $1.6 million. That could see the preferreds offer purses over $10,000, which would be welcome news. But here it is January 19 and the legislators haven’t moved to get it passed. Is that a surprise?
In other news, Buffalo Raceway will begin its 2019 season on Wednesday, January 30. That’s 19 days later than 2018, a winter that was plagued by horse shortages and bad weather. Because of that, Buffalo often cancelled its Friday cards and this year will race on Wednesday and Saturday until April when Friday night racing begins. The track throws in two Sunday afternoon cards on June 16 and 23 and races through July 20 when the action moves 35 miles east to Batavia.
The track added 5,000 tons of material and improved drainage which led to some of the cancellations last winter. When tracks thaw, it makes for risky conditions and as a result, cancellations.
The track is also sprucing up its menu with made to order food and table service. Like many harness tracks, Buffalo Raceway is attached to Fairgrounds Gaming which offers video gaming machines and what many call, “instant gratification.” Fresh food could lure some to the track.
Drew Monti, who won the 2018 driving title at Buffalo and Batavia is back as is last year’s top trainer, James Clouser, Jr.
The 66-day meet will feature 5 pm post times on Wednesdays and Fridays with Saturdays going at 6 pm. The three exceptions are Triple Crown days with 7:15 pm post times on May 4, May 18 and June 8. The two Sunday cards will start at 12:30 pm.