The’re Back and They’re Blazing

Scioto, Northfield, Buffalo, Meadowlands, Woodbine Mohawk back racing!

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

While MLB, NBA and the NHL continue to struggle getting back on the field, court and ice, harness racing is back and back with bite.  We live in amazing times; while sports have been greenlighted to resume, our big three—and MLS—is still trying to figure out proper protocol. Even though barbers are back cutting hair and places like Wal-Mart never closed, the big sports remain idle.

Harness racing was shut down in mid-March, but as soon as states lifted restrictions, many tracks quickly returned. Ohio got back first with Scioto and Northfield opening things back up right before (Scioto) and right after (Northfield) Memorial Day.

In New York, it looked like harness tracks were going to have to wait until Phase 4, but believe it or not, somebody convinced Gov. Andrew Cuomo that harness racing should be labeled as agriculture and thus be allowed to open in Phase 1. Cuomo agreed and right before Memorial Day, he announced that horse racing could resume June 1.

It didn’t take too long for two tracks—Buffalo Raceway and Belmont Park to resume. Both began racing on Wed. June 3 and so far, the action at Buffalo has been better than expected.

The one thing we know about the Standardbreds is that they have been training and training hard. There were two opens at Buffalo Saturday evening and in the first, a $10,000 pace, China Dream broke alertly from the five-hole and wired the field. He had to hold off a game Brookdale Fletcher, and did so in 1:55.2, cutting fractions of 29.0, 58.1 and 1:27.3 along the way. Even more impressive is the negative splits—out in 58.1 and back in 57.1.

The other feature was the $11,000 Open Pace and this one had lots of drama for the half-mile track. When the car sped away, Mr. Euroman and Andy’s Ideal fought hard to get the lead with the latter gaining control while setting fractions of 28.3 and 57.2. When hit three-quarters was reached in 1:26, both had given way to Percy Z Tam, but coming five wide for Ray Fisher was Iluvtomakemoney who used a 28 second final quarter to prevail in 1:54.

The times are impressive; let’s remember these horses haven’t raced since before St. Patrick’s Day. Yes, they have been jogging and training, but one might expect some slower race times at least for the first couple of weeks.

Even the $4,400 Class D races saw winning times well under the 2-minute mark. In the finale, Shadow Moon led from start to finish and stopped the clock in 1:56.3

Of course, if you thought times would be slow, just look at what Kissin In The Sand did at the Meadowlands on Friday evening. She beat a quality field that featured Caviart Ally and did so in 1:47.4. That’s a spectacular time and even more so considering that’s her first race back.

Buffalo Raceway races again on Wednesday evening and Tioga Downs kicks off its 2020 season with a 12-race card on Sunday beginning at 4 pm ET. The feature is a $10,000 Open Pace for Fillies and Mares that drew seven starters.

With the Tioga casino closed for now, purses are down, but still, $67,000 is on the line over at the 5/8 mile facility in Nichols, NY. Once the casinos open, the purses should gradually rise, but the good news is that harness racing continues to see more tracks getting back at it.

The bettors have noticed, too. Buffalo handled over $617,000 on Wed. June 3 and considering the track seldom touches $300,000, I’d say they had a pretty good re-opening night.

Let’s hope it continues.

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