by John Furgele Harness Racing 228
As we know, the sport of horse racing is going through some difficult times in light of the horse fatalities at famed Santa Anita Park. With racing suspended there until at least March 22, that leaves two other tracks to watch and wager on in the nation’s most populous state—Golden Gate Fields and Cal Expo, the former features thoroughbred racing, the latter, Standardbreds.
Cal Expo will never be confused with or be as grandiose as Santa Anita and Del Mar, but given the recent set of circumstances at Santa Anita, it might be a good time to shed some light on harness racing in the state of California.
The Expo meet runs 47 days, from November 10 to April 27 and the like the Meadowlands runs two days per week, Saturdays and Sundays. And like the Meadowlands and the Red Mile in Lexington, KY, features a one mile racing surface. That alone makes it appealing to bettors who often find it frustrating when betting on half-mile tracks.
They don’t race for a lot of money at the Expo; the Friday March 8 card featured 12 races and $43,000 in total purses. The Yonkers opens are currently running for $44,000. The Friday feature carried with it a $7,000 purse. Tonight’s feature is The Gary Budahn, a $10,000 race for non-winners of five races and less than $25,000 in earnings. Six fillies and mares vying for the $5,000 first place check. In truth, the only thing that makes this race a feature is the five figure purse.
Purses are important to people like me. For some reason, they draw me in, but in reality, they are not what draw in bettors. Purses at the Meadowlands have been low, yet the track is still the industry leader in handle. That said, with the recent purse subsidy additions, the track handled nearly $4 million on Saturday, March 2. The bigger money races can lure in some players to be sure.
Cal Expo is the only harness track in California and believe it or not, is the only harness track west of Minnesota. Harness racing has always been East and Midwest dominant and Cal Expo does give those who live in the Mountain and Pacific Time zones an opportunity to do some prime-time watching and wagering.
The track features $2 night on the last Saturday of every month with draft beer, wine, soda and hot dogs going for the $2 rate. In California, that’s a bargain.
The mile track can yield some fast times. The fastest mile paced there belongs to Eaton Road Kill, who stopped the clock in 1:49.4 back in November 2005. The fastest trotter goes to Pridecrest who tripped the wire in 1:53.2 back in November 2017.
Gary Seibel is the track announcer at Cal Expo and if you follow harness racing, you know that name. Each August, Seibel anchors CBS Sports Network’s coverage of The Hambletonian and for 12 years (1999-2011) was a fixture on TVG’s coverage of harness racing. Seibel is in the communications wing of the Harness Racing Hall of Fame, too. The horses may be a step below world class, but that is certainly not the case with Seibel calling the action.
Post time is usually 9:10 ET and most nights, features 10 to 12 races. We know that harness racing will not pick up the hopefully temporary void of not having Santa Anita, but sometimes, a diversion can be good.