Confederation Cup Time In Canada

Venerable Flamboro Downs hosts a big race for 4-year old pacers.

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

While most eyes will focus on the Preakness this Saturday, there’s a great harness racing event on Sunday north of the border at Flamboro Downs in Dundas, Ontario, near Hamilton.

The Confederation Cup will run on Sunday, May 18 with nine 4-year old pacers behind the gate.  The purse is $150,000 and as you might expect, some of the big names are there.  Ron Burke leads the way with three in the final.

On Sunday, May 12, there were two eliminations, each with 8 starters.  In the first, Done Well took off from the start and wired the field in an impressive 1:51.4 on the half-mile track, prompting announcer Gary Guy to use his signature, “giddy-up.”  He was followed by The Downtown Bus, Pretty Handsome and American History.  The fifth place finisher, This Is The Plan, drew into the final and will line up behind the one in the that final.

The second heat was much more contentious with Dorsoduro Hanover staying back before commencing a rally in deep stretch to win in 1:53.4.  Rockin Speed was second and credited with the same time and the other two to advance were Ghost Dance and Jimmy Freight. 

The draw takes place on Wednesday, May 15.  Here are those nine finalists.

Done Well

Dorsoduro Hanover

The Downtown Bus

Rockin Speed

Pretty Handsome

Ghost Dance

American History

Jimmy Freight

This Is The Plan

The Cup is for four-year old pacers and as we know, year in and year out, the 3-year old group of pacers is usually quite good and seeing them run as 4-year olds always makes for an exciting race.  And, a $150,000 purse is not a deterrent.

Without getting into specific detail, all nine have had big moments in their three years of racing.  That said, they all can be unpredictable.  Lather Up came into the elims as the one to watch, but faltered badly.  He will be better on another day, but Mother’s Day evening was not his time to shine.  

Done Well looked unbeatable in his elim; can he carry that over in one week?  This Is The Plan finished fifth in the first heat, but was clocked in 1:53.4 which matches Dorsoduro Hanover’s winning time in the second heat.  We know that time only matters when you’re in prison, but 1:51.4 is 1:51.4 and that’s impressive.  You can make a case for all eight in the Cup final. And, with any race on a half-miler, the draw will play a big role.

Unlike some tracks, you can run two-wide at Flamboro, and while it’s not recommended, it seems easier to do it there than say, at Yonkers, but the race to the first quarter will be quite interesting.  The draw is crucial; if Done Well gets the 8 post that will make things even more interesting.  He’ll want to go from the start, but as we know, sprinting to the lead and cutting over takes something out of any horse.  They can look good for most of the race, but sometimes, the last eighth can be a laborious one.

Like most harness races, the second quarter is crucial to those who leave at the race’s start.  Can they get the old breather so they can summon something for the final lap?  Last night, Done Well went 26.4, then 28.3, still fast, but slow enough to help him.

All this will be answered, Sunday evening, May 18 at Flamboro Downs. It should be a good one.

 

 

 

 

Where Are The Ladies??

It would be nice to see some fillies in the Kentucky Derby

by John Furgele, Special Thoroughbred Edition

She was tough. She was rugged and she was a fierce competitor.  Her name was Genuine Risk, one of horse racing’s great fillies.  Heck, why even bother with the gender reference; she was one of the sport’s best horses.

She was born on February 15, 1977, the daughter of Exclusive Native.   You never know the reaction when fillies are born.  Are people happy?  After all, fillies are often more durable, less precocious and unlike colts, never have to be gelded.  Or, is there disappointment knowing that as great as this little filly may be, she will likely never win the Kentucky Derby and certainly won’t win the Triple Crown.

While that may come off as sexist, it isn’t meant to.  Horse racing is strange like that; in fact all of sports are.  For some reason, we devour men’s sports, but not women’s sports. The US Open golf tournament is covered by all the outlets while the US Women’s Open barely gets noticed.  There are some exceptions—women’s tennis gets good run as does the US Women’s Soccer team.

Horse racing does try.  The Kentucky Oaks is a great race, situated the day before the Derby, but what if it wasn’t?  Would it still garner national attention?  After the Oaks-Derby double, most can’t recite which filly race accompanies the Preakness and even fewer the complement to the Belmont.

But when the girls run against the boys, America takes notice.  In 1979, Genuine Risk began her racing career.  She got off to a good start, winning her first three races at Belmont and Aqueduct.  She then entered graded stakes action and took first in the Demoiselle Stakes and after winning her first two starts in 1980, the winning streak was now six.

Trained by the Hall of Famer, the legendary Leroy Jolley, it was time to see if Genuine Risk was the real deal.  She was entered in the Wood Memorial and now we would see how she would do against the boys in graded stakes company.  She would finish third, but the connections were not deterred.  The next stop:  The Kentucky Derby.

She didn’t get a lot of love in Louisville.  In a field of 13, she was set off at odds of 13-1 and was able to stalk the slow pace nicely.  By the top of stretch, she had it, taking the lead and bolting to a four length lead. Rumbo came at her late, but the filly had it all the way, stopping the clock in 2:02 to become only the second filly to win the Run for the Roses.  Regret did it first, 65 years earlier in 1915.

The intrigue was just beginning.  Two weeks later, the scene shifted to Old Hilltop, Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Preakness offers new shooters; horses that didn’t run in the Derby and one of those shooters was Codex.

Codex wasn’t supposed to be there.  His owner thought the grind of the Triple Crown was too much, so he wasn’t nominated for the Derby and was entered in the Preakness by mistake by Jeff Lukas, the son of the horse’s trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.

Despite those concerns, Codex was more than a nice horse.  Prior to the Preakness, he had won the Santa Anita and Hollywood Derbies, so he was certainly ready for the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

In the race, it was the new shooter, Codex, against the Kentucky Derby winner, Genuine Risk.  At the top of the stretch, it looked like the duel was on with Codex on the inside; the filly charging on the outside.  Then, it happened.  The filly went to make her run and Codex veered to his right.  The two bumped; the filly seemed startled while Codex was able to right himself and win by four lengths.

The crowd gasped as the “objection,” sign appeared at Pimlico.  Replays showed that Codex veered into the path of the filly and all three ABC broadcasters—Howard Cosell, Jim MacKay and Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Arcaro believed that there was going to be a disqualification.  Arcaro was asked point blank by Cosell:  “If you were a steward how would you rule?”  Arcaro’s response was a swift one:  “I’d take the number down.”

After several agonizing minutes the results were made official with Codex the winner of the 105th Preakness.  There were some boos as Codex made his way to the winner’s circle.  As we know, stewards are reluctant to take down a winner of any race, let alone an American classic like the Preakness and it didn’t appear that they had the stomach to do so in Baltimore on the third Saturday in May.

Many thought that would be it for Genuine Risk, but three weeks later, there she was running in the Belmont Stakes.  Codex was there and so too, was Temperance Hill.  By the top of the stretch, the filly had put Codex to bed, but Temperance Hill, ridden by Eddie Maple surged to win with the filly settling for second. Three races: a first, a controversial second and a “regular” second.  Genuine Risk certainly proved that the fillies could not only run well against the boys,  but they could also beat them.

 ________________________________________________________________

She will go to the front.  When she tires, we’ll get her.  That was the strategy going into the 1988 Kentucky Derby when another filly, Winning Colors, decided to take on the boys.  But unlike Genuine Risk, she beat the boys in the Santa Anita Derby, no doubt striking at least some fear with her competition.

Those that guessed Winning Colors would catapult to the lead were right.  The filly, ridden by Gary Stephens led through the quarter, the half and three-quarters, but unlike what many suspected, she didn’t tire and prevailed by two lengths with Forty Niner second and Risen Star third.

The filly then headed to Pimlico and tried to do what her filly counterpart from 1980 couldn’t do; win the Preakness and head to Belmont for a shot at Triple Crown glory.  But, it was the third place horse from the Derby that was just getting started.  His name was Risen Star and he was the son of the sport’s greatest horse, Secretariat.  Secretariat went to stud in 1974, but 14 years later, none of his offspring had won an American classic race.  That was about to change.  In the Preakness, Risen Star lived up to the hype, cruising by about three lengths.  For the filly, a solid third.  She was there, in striking distance at the top of the stretch; she just lost to a better horse.

In the 1973 Belmont, Secretariat put on a show, winning the race by an astounding 31 lengths in 2 minutes, 24 seconds, a record that may stand forever.  Now, 15 years later, it was the Derby winner and Preakness winner squaring off in what is called “The Test of the Champion.”  Winning Colors took the lead and through three-quarters it looked like she had a chance, but like his father did in ‘73, Risen Star rose to the occasion.  He took the lead right after the 6-furlong mark and in the stretch, ABC broadcaster Dave Johnson compared him to his Daddy as “Star” won by 18 lengths in 2:26 1/5, which at that time, was the second fastest time in the Belmont.  Winning Colors was third and like Genuine Risk competed admirably in all three Triple Crown legs.

On Saturday, they will run the Kentucky Derby for the 145th time and once again, there will be no fillies entered. Why is that?  Why don’t more fillies take the chance against the boys?  We saw in 1980 and 1988 the power of the filly, but today, it’s rare indeed to see the girls take on the boys.

We had the superfilly, Rachel Alexandra win the 2009 Preakness, we saw Rags to Riches score for Todd Pletcher in the 2007 Belmont and of course we saw two epic races with Zenyatta winning the 2009 Breeder’s Cup Classic and then miss by a whisker the next fall at Churchill Downs, but other than that, we just don’t see it as much as we should.

One reason is fear.  For some reason, trainers like to keep the fillies away from the boys.  Why run against them when there are plenty of “women only,” races to choose from.  The Kentucky Oaks runs for $1.25 million, so why not seek the glory there?

Second is the point system.  Right now, the only way a filly can get into the Kentucky Derby is by earning points and the only way they can earn Derby points is by running in Derby prep races.  The powers that be could change things by designating a race or two for fillies and giving them Derby points, but right now, for a filly to make the Derby field, she would have to do what Winning Colors did in 1988:  win a major prep race like the Santa Anita Derby.

We all know running the girls against the boys makes for great theater.  We saw that with Rags to Riches, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta and those old enough saw it with Genuine Risk and Winning Colors.  The Derby is the most watched race in the United States; adding filly intrigue only helps television ratings.  We haven’t seen a filly run in the Derby since Eight Belles finished second in 2008.  Even though she suffered a life ending injury in that race, she proved once again that fillies have a place on the first Saturday in May in the big, bad Kentucky Derby.

Three fillies have won the Derby and based on what we’ve seen recently, it doesn’t look like we will see a fourth for a very long time.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.

A Romp In The Levy; A Romp In The Bluechip Matchmaker

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

We all love a great upset and we all love drama when it comes to sporting events.  But sometimes, that doesn’t happen and last night was a classic example as the two feature events at Yonkers Raceway—the Bluechip Matchmaker for fillies and mares and the Levy for colts and geldings—went the favorite’s way.

In the Bluechip Matchmaker, the favorite was Shartin N—she romped.

In the Levy final, the favorite was Western Fame—he romped.

We will start with the Levy final.  In my earlier piece, I was wondering what tactic Ideal Jimmy would take from the unkind 8 post and to my surprise, Jimmy went for it.  He darted out strongly, tucked in nicely and then made a real attempt in the third quarter to win the race.  For that I commend him.  He ended up fourth, good enough to collect over $53,000 for his efforts, but driver Brent Holland certainly could have settled in and moved up late to get a third or second.

The race was never in doubt.  Western Fame, who looked the best in the five legs leading up to the final, was, as they say, much the best.  He secured the lead at the quarter, where he sawed off a 26.4 and was never headed.  As we stated, Ideal Jimmy gave it a whirl on the backstretch, but the Daniel Dube driven/Rene Allard trained 6-year old rambled home in a stakes record time of 1:50.4.  Rodeo Rock sat back and was able to pass tiring horses to get second, with More The Better securing show honors. At $664,000, the Levy is the richest race to date on the harness racing calendar and here are your cashers.

Western Fame           $332,000

Rodeo Rock               $166,000

More Than Better     $79,968

Ideal Jimmy               $53,120

The Wall                    $33,200

The $100,000 Levy Consolation featured a stirring stretch drive between the mercurial Somewhere in LA and Pacing Major with ‘LA” prevailing in the shadow of the wire.  Say this about the 8-year gelded son of the legendary Somebeachsomewhere; when he wants to run, he can still run.

The Matchmaker final was no contest at all as Shartin N became the first lady to repeat in the race’s 11-year history.  She took her time at the start and sat fourth through an opening quarter of 27.2, then went to work.  After a 55.2 half, she cruised home in 57 seconds to win by almost a full second.  Bettor Joy N was second with Apple Bottom Jeans the show horse.  The envelope collectors….

Shartin N                   $201,300

Bettor Joy N              $100,650

Apple Bottom Jeans  $48,312

Don’t Think Twice    $32,208

Seaswift Joy N           $20,130

In the $75,000 Bluechip Consolation, Newborn Sassy wired the field to win in 1:54, collecting $37,500 for the effort.

If you like to see greatness, you saw it in both of the big races.  The Levy was a man against the boys and the Matchmaker was woman against the girls, and often that’s a good thing.  A dominating performance can be good for any sport.  Moments like these resonate and if you watched on Saturday evening, you saw greatness in dominating fashion.

We will see a lot of Western Fame going forward.  Trainer Rene Allard told Yonkers PR man Frank Drucker in the Winner’s Circle that the horse is “pretty much staked out everywhere this year.” That is good to hear and will be even better to see.

Shartin N has been on the scene and dominating for a few years now.  She was great in 2018 and with five wins in six starts this year, she is just getting started.  In 42 career starts, she has 30 wins and $1.39 million in earnings.  Can you say Superhorse?

It was good day at the betting windows as Yonkers cracked the often elusive $1 million mark with $1,047,856 handled over the 12-race card that featured $1,531,600 in purses.

The next big stakes race at Old Hilltop is the $300,000 Art Rooney Pace on May 25.

 

Big Night at Yonkers with Bluechip Matchmaker and Levy Finals

Two races, $1,066,300 in purses

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

It’s a big night in Harness Racing with Yonkers taking center stage with two dandy races—the Bluechip Matchmaker final for fillies and mares along with the George Morton Levy final for the colts and geldings.

Any time one looks at entries and sees numbers like $402,000 (Matchmaker) and $664,000 (Levy), you have to take note.  In addition, there’s a Matchmaker consolation ($75,000 purse) and a Levy one that runs for $100,000.

Both series had five legs.  The top eight finishers over the legs advanced to the finals.  Horses got 25 points for making a start and then 50, 25, 12, 8 and 5 points for finishing first through fifth.  This is harness racing at its best.  Because these fine animals are durable, they can run five races over five weeks and then put on a good show in the final.

The best horse in the Matchmaker is Shartin N.  That certainly doesn’t mean she will win, but in all honesty, she should.  She gets the 6 post, which is neither ideal nor a detriment.  Tim Tetrick will drive for Jim King and with three wins in her four starts, I have a good feeling that the $201,300 winner’s share will be hers. The wonder from Down Under has excelled just about everywhere—here, the Meadowlands, Pocono–and should have no problems doing her thing at Yonkers this evening.

The Levy final on paper is more wide open, but I think Western Fame has done the best work and the 5 post won’t hurt.  Driver Daniel Dube and trainer Rene Allard won this race last year with Keystone Velocity and I like Fame to prevail here.  In six starts, he has four wins, a second and third with $114,300 in earnings.  Ideal Jimmy is the most tested; tonight will be his 14th start of the season.  He has six wins, four seconds and one third but drew the dreaded 8 post.  Driver Brent Holland and trainer Erv Holland will have an interesting decision to make.  Do they send him out to the lead and try to win or do they sit back and try to get top five money?  Jimmy comes in with $145,694 in 2019 earnings, and a third place finish would net $79,680 and even a fifth would garner $33,200.

One would think that with such a great card that handle would increase significantly at Old Hilltop and while there is a slight spike, it is never what I thought it could and should be.  The old biases often rear—the half mile track, the slow and often dawdling second quarters and so on and so forth.  That is disappointing because both races are designed for horses that have been around and done well for years.  In an era where horses retire too early, both the Levy and Bluechip Matchmaker feature horses that have been around and done nice things on the race track.

The good thing is that when these races are over, the horses will move on to another race in a week or two.  It would surprise no one if tonight’s Levy winner was entered in next week’s $44,000 open pace, because that’s what harness racing does and does best.  They send their horses out for all of us to see and the Bluechip Matchmaker and Levy are rewards for horses that have done what most of us love to see——race.

It’s Time To Lift The Lid At Plainridge Park

20th season begins Monday

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

It is on.  Now that April is here, the winter racing season has officially ended.  From now through October, the harness racing season is in full bloom.  Horses that were rested over the winter are now preparing to run.  Evidence of that comes with Pinkman, the 2015 Hambletonian winner, who makes his ’19 debut in the Preferred Trot at the Meadowlands.

On Monday, Plainridge Park kicks off its 108 day racing season with a nice 10-race card.  The lidlifter is a $12,000 pace for 6-year olds and younger that have not won more than six races lifetime.  Passport Art comes in with eight races– two wins, two seconds, and one third under his belt to go along with $14,570 in 2019 earnings.  Listed as the 6-5 favorite he will be driven by veteran Shawn Gray.

Plainridge is also using Trackmaster to write some of its races and there are two on the Monday card.  Race 9 will run for $5,800 and is open to horses and geldings that have a TM rating of 74 or less.  If you haven’t won a race in 2019, you can enter with a TM of 78 or less.  Race 10 is a TM race for horses that have a rating of 70 or less; 73 or less for non-winners in 2019.

As we have discussed before, some like using Trackmaster, some don’t.  For some racing secretaries, it takes some skill and thought out of writing races, but others see using the Trackmaster ratings as a way of keeping horses of similar ability classed together.  Freehold racing director Karen Fagliarone has just started writing some races using Trackmaster.  Perhaps a mix of both TM and tradition might suffice going forward.

For those struggling to understand, Trackmaster is like the Beyer Speed figures in thoroughbred racing.  I don’t know how they are computed, but horses run and some type of formula is used to calculate a TM rating.  A 1:56 mile on the half-mile track at Buffalo might not be rated the same as a 1:56 mile on the half-mile track at Yonkers.  Of course, the 1:51 mile on a 5/8 mile track might not rate as good as a 1:53 mile on a 1/2 mile track.  Thankfully, there are computer wizards who can figure all this out so races can be written.

Plainridge also has a nice Open Handicap Pace for $15,000 with six entered in the mile pace.  Dapper Dude comes in with five wins and four seconds in 10 starts to go along with $61,900 in the bank account.  The six entrants have combined to make 38 starts in 2019. The Monday card has $97,700 in total purses.

Plainridge will run Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays for much of the year.  There are six Sunday cards—July 28, September 29 and then October 6, 13, 20, and 27.  The July 28 card is the big one of the year as the $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts Trot returns.  The trot debuted in 2017, but was not run last year.  In addition to that race, the $100,000 Clara Barton Pace will be also run on that Sunday.  The 2019 calendar can be found here.

https://www.plainridgeparkcasino.com/-/media/png/east/plainridge/pdfs/racing/2019-plainridge-live-calendar.pdf

The 5/8 mile track can yield some fast times.  The fastest pace belongs to Maltese Artist who stopped the clock in 1:49.2 back on September 5, 2005 while the fastest trot belongs to JL Cruze who clocked 1:51.2 to win that inaugural Spirit of Massachusetts Trot back on July 28, 2017.  And, just for nice, JL Cruze won that race at odds of 60-1.  Here are the track records.

https://www.plainridgeparkcasino.com/-/media/png/east/plainridge/pdfs/racing/track-records-new-6418.pdf?la=en&hash=C4B5DEB97C094493C275E7D9E913EC226074281E

Unlike many states, Plainridge is the only horse track in the Bay State, so the horse colony should remain strong throughout the 2019 season which ends on Black Friday, November 29.

Post time for April, May and June will be 4 pm.

 

 

 

 

Kudos To Yonkers For Levy and Matchmaker

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.

http://ustrottingnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/2019-Levy.xls_.pdf

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cal Expo Keeps Rambling On

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.