Nothing But Trotters

There was no room for pacers on the March 12 card at Yonkers Raceway, which made history when it carded 11 trotting races as part of a matinee program sent to France’s PMU.

by Tom Pedulla

Racing secretary Steve Starr did not intend to write what is believed to be a historic all-trotting card last Sunday (March 12) at Yonkers Raceway. It just sort of happened.

Starr focused on attracting as many trotters as possible going a mile-and-a-quarter for races three through nine as part of a matinee aimed at appealing to those wagering overseas through Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU), a French simulcasting hub.

Starr initially contemplated two races for pacers, one for $20,000 claimers and the other at the $12,500 level. When those did not fill, he had what he and other Yonkers officials believe is the first all-trotting card since the track was established in 1899 as the Empire City Trotting Club.

As inadvertent as it was, Starr was encouraged enough by the results that he might have landed on a helpful approach moving forward.

“I don’t believe it will be a one-time deal,” he said. “We’d like to do it again.”

The action proved to be rewarding for non-chalk players. Favorites, often difficult to beat at Yonkers’ half-mile oval, were unable to deliver in eight races. The winners of six races produced double-digit payoffs.

The New York-New York double, a wager Yonkers is attempting to build in conjunction with the New York Racing Association, also generated an encouraging result. Those able to combine the winner of the third race at Aqueduct Racetrack with the winner of the sixth race at Yonkers were rewarded with $82 for a $1 wager.

“From a gambling point of view,” Starr said, “it was a better Sunday than most.”

Joe Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, also liked what he saw.

“I think it’s a great step at the right time for the industry, especially when you consider the interest of the French and Europeans in American trotting,” Faraldo said.

Yonkers had also been sending races to the PMU on Tuesdays. But that ended with the new year, when it was decided to focus on the greater interest that Sunday draws overseas.

Starr estimates that he puts together as many as 18 trotting races a week, which represents a significant departure from the past.

“It used to be that we tried to avoid trotting races,” he said. “I’d say in the past 10 years we’re putting out more trotting races than most tracks in the country.”

Purses, boosted by casino revenue, continue to be robust. Yonkers recently announced a purse increase ranging from $3,000 to $5,000 for all overnight events, beginning the week of March 19. That improved the range in purse structure from $11,500 to $14,500 and, at the top end, from $50,000 to $55,000.

Starr said he hopes that will help to attract even more trotters. “There is every reason for people to come to Yonkers to race their trotters,” he said. “There is a lot of opportunity.”

Starr said that domestic handicappers are more comfortable wagering on trotters than ever before.

“They did make breaks in the past, but today’s horsemen are sharper than they were,” he said. “They have different equipment, trotting hobbles, and they are shoeing differently. People aren’t afraid to bet on them as much as they used to.”

The time difference will always be an obstacle when simulcasting overseas. Faraldo hopes the all-trotting card indicates that perhaps a bit more can be done.

“I think it is very important to at least demonstrate to them that Yonkers has the ability to give them more product than they currently receive,” Faraldo said.