Buzzworthy: Head numbers cause second incident in a week at Mohawk

by Garnet Barnsdale

Does harness racing really need to use head numbers anymore?

Following the second incident in two racing cards at Mohawk Racetrack involving head numbers on the track causing incidents in the stretch drive, the driver involved in the one that occurred Tuesday answers “no” to the question.

“I don’t see why we need them,” said veteran WEG driver Phil Hudon, who was driving Powerful Mission on Tuesday night when she trotted over a head number and broke in the stretch. “I don’t think anyone can see them anyway and people just look at the saddle pad number during a race.”

Powerful Mission – sent off as the 3-1 second choice by the betting public – was trotting strongly in second place when the incident occurred. She finished fourth, but was placed fifth due to being lapped on while off stride at the wire. Trotting over top of the head number clearly caused the break in stride and cost the Kevin St. Charles trainee a top three finish. “She was going to win or be second,” Hudon said. “She was trotting so powerfully.” Being that this was a Grassroots race, the loss of placings could be costly for Powerful Mission later in the year as the final nears.

This incident follows a similar event that took place last Saturday during heavy favorite Fear The Dragon’s North America Cup elimination win, in which he jumped over a head number, landed off stride and was deftly brought back pacing by driver David Miller just in time to preserve his win.

That event got social media buzzing. Amy Hollar – Ohio Harness Horsemen’s association representative – posted on Facebook: “There is literally ZERO reason to use head numbers in the game any more! Kudos to David Miller for keeping Fear The Dragon together.”

The subsequent discussion on Hollar’s thread raised several good points. The head numbers are required because sometimes in close photo finishes, that is all that can be seen that identifies the horse, says Judge Mike Hall. Hollar replied that the driver of the horse can still be seen in the photo which would identify the horse.

Mark Deutsch, who is a regular WEG bettor, says there is no need for head numbers anymore and as I write this column, he messaged me that another one just went flying off the #6 Dominum Deo, in Mohawk’s 9th race.

“From someone who used to train and now bets, I see no value in having a head number and I think the saddle pad is antiquated and comes loose far too often,” Deutsch said. “The Europeans have it right. Just as they did when they had pylons long before we did.”

Has the time come to get rid of head numbers? Many think so and you have to wonder why it is even debatable when you see them coming off during races causing potentially dangerous situations for the drivers and horses and yet another X-factor that bettors needn’t have to worry about during a race.