by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
There is one truth if you follow Harness Racing. It’s hard to follow. There are so many races, so many tracks, some many features, stakes and everything else in between. In one word—dizzying. If you love harness racing, you try to follow all the big races; if wagering is your priority it is best to focus on a few tracks. Many concentrate on The Meadowlands, which races Friday and Saturday nights and routinely handles anywhere from $2 to $3 million each evening. Others dump their monies into Woodbine Mohawk Park, the 7/8 mile track in Campbellsville, Ontario, Canada which on Saturday, March 30, handled $2.8 million.
My favorite races of the week are the open trots and paces at Yonkers Raceway. The schedule can vary each week, but for the most part, there are usually three opens. On Fridays, it’s the open pace for fillies and mares. On Saturday, there is an open trot and pace with all three races carrying a $44,000 purse. For an open, that’s big money and what I like about it is that each week, the same horses go at it. For some, that may sound boring, but when you race against the same horses each week, rivalries can develop. And because these are handicap races, a win one week usually relegates you to an outside post the next. While that may seem unfair—shouldn’t the winner get rewarded with the better post—the goal of the race secretary is to generate as much handle as possible, hence the handicapping.
The pacing opens have been altered a bit in March and April as both the Levy and Bluechip Matchmaker Series has taken centered stage. These are free-for-all paces and most of the horses that routinely run in the opens are competing in these two series. Both are elimination series—there are five legs with various divisions and the horses with the most points will contest the $200,000 Levy final on Saturday, April 20. The next highest point getters will run in a consolation for a few bucks less. The mares have a $125,000 final set for Saturday, April 20 as well. Each leg of the Levy runs for $50,000; each leg of the Matchmaker, $40,000. In essence, these are the open paces in March and April.
Yonkers does a good job of building its race calendar which can be challenging for a track that runs 12 months a year. The Levy and Matchmaker are prime examples of the track doing its best to spice things up a bit.
In the Levy and Matchmaker if a horse makes a start, they get 25 points; for a win, its 50 points, followed by 25 for second; 12 for third; 8 for fourth and 5 points for fifth. The top eight point-getters advance to the final, while the next eight run in the consolation. It’s simple, easy and in a word, awesome. To me, this is the one thing that harness racing has over its thoroughbred counterparts; they can race more often and series like these are entertaining and fun. And, unlike many big races, the Levy and the Matchmaker reward the older horses, geldings and mares. Series like these keep horses running. If your horse is talented enough, they can bring home the bacon. If a Levy competitor won all six races, they would pocket $225,000 in earnings. For many that is not the goal, but it’s serious money to shoot for. Most horses will not run all six legs, which creates some strategy and gamesmanship. Which leg does one sit out and if a horse is already assured of a spot in the final, do they run all out in a leg or is it merely a timed workout? While many don’t like to read that some drivers and trainers aren’t always trying to win every time out, it is a reality, so as they say buyer, or in this case, bettor beware.
Saturday’s Levy action was more than good and proves that when drivers actually make their horses race the second quarter, the action is fast and furious. Here is the recap for the 3rd leg.
Division 1: Pacing Major shocks the field at 65-1 in 1:52.3, with 27-1 The Wall coming home second.
Division 2: Western Fame wires the field in 1:51.4
Division 3: Lyons Steel surprises at 10-1 in 1:50.4, the fastest mile at Yonkers this season.
Division 4: More The Better wears down frontrunning Anythingforlove in 1:52.1
Division 5: Mac’s Jackpot holds off fast-charging Ideal Jimmy to win in 1:52.4
Pacing Major, Western Fame and More The Better are all six year olds, while Mac’s Checkpot is five and Lyons Steel is the baby of the group at age four.
The current standings can be found here.
The Levy resumes on Saturday, April 6 with the fourth leg, but the raceway continues to churn with cards scheduled Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday in addition to Saturday evening.
We will give the mares their due later in the week as they prepare for the fourth leg of the Bluechip Matchmaker series.