by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
Buffalo Raceway is in the news and not because of racing, which doesn’t begin until Wed. Jan. 29. The track has instituted a new whipping rule for its 2020 season, which runs through July 18.
Here is the statement from Buffalo Raceway.
Along with previous regulations, the track has modified the rule which states “drivers shall keep a line in each hand (except as may be necessary to adjust equipment, pulling plugs, dropping blinkers) from the start of the race until the top of the stretch and both hands shall stay in front of the body and cannot be raised above the shoulder from the start of the race until the finish. Continuous whipping is prohibited.”
The Raceway says that violators of the rule will be punished.
We all know that horse racing is under scrutiny, so it makes sense for harness tracks like Buffalo to be out in front on key issues. And, let’s be fair; “does incessant whipping really help horses—both the Standardbreds and thoroughbreds?
Once a horse is a tired, they’re done and whipping them incessantly doesn’t help. As for tapping, that’s another story. A tap can get the horse to refocus, something Joe Bongiorno told me at the 2018 Joe Gerrity Memorial Pace when he drove Evening of Pleasure to victory in that $260,000 event.
The horse had a big lead but started to lose focus and was looking for the other horses. Bongiorno tapped him a few times, the horse refocused won the race, breaking 1:50 as well.
It’s a good thing when the tracks and the sport take the initiative rather than wait for the activists to force them. This may never quiet those groups, but it might quell them for a period of time.
With the rule out of the way, it should be a fun and exciting 79th season for Buffalo Raceway. The track has new material and most of the horses that ran at Batavia from July to December will head to Buffalo its season. Batavia had record handle and attendance numbers last year and there is optimism that Buffalo can do the same.
The clubhouse has been spruced up with HD televisions and the All-You-Can eat buffet returns on Saturdays; for $19.99, you get the food, the racing program, a $5 betting voucher and $5 to use in the casino. So, for those that say that harness tracks do nothing in terms of promotion and marketing, I offer this.
The problem—how to get the message to the masses. People like you and I—harness racing fans—know where to seek this stuff out, but what about the non-racing followers. How do we get Steve and Melissa, two 25-year olds to do a date night at a place like Buffalo Raceway?
When you think about it, it’s not a bad date. You get dinner, some live racing and then you can head to casino for some more fun. And, if Lady Luck is in your corner, you might even make some money.
Buffalo Raceway will race on Wednesdays and Saturdays until April 3, when Fridays are added. This worked well for the track in 2019. They tried to go three dates in January, February and March in 2018, but struggled with horse shortages, shorter fields and bad weather. Two days allows more races each day and fuller fields; something the betting public likes. The Wednesday cards have always generated decent handle because other harness tracks are dark.
Between Buffalo and Batavia, Western New York offers approximately 137 days of live racing and it all starts on Jan. 29.