Buzzworthy: Sun Stakes reignite passing lane debate

by Garnet Barnsdale

The topic of passing lanes – as happens every so often – was buzzworthy last week at least on one Facebook thread, likely a direct result of two of the four Sun Stakes winners taking the inside route down the stretch to take the winner’s share of $500,000.

Last weekend, horseman John Kopas sparked some lively conversation on Facebook with this post: “Anybody out there besides me that thinks passing lanes should be done away with??”

While Keystone Velocity and Devious Man took the passing lane route to win the Ben Franklin free-for-all and Earl Beal Jr. Memorial Trot respectively, it could be argued that their drivers knew exactly what they were doing by blasting off the gate and putting their horses in the best position to win the race.

In fact, in the Ben Franklin, driver Simon Allard made two moves to the front with Keystone Velocity in the first quarter, no doubt thinking 3-5 favorite Mel Mara would be brushing for the front early in the mile and his best shot would come from the pocket.

Similarly, Devious Man’s best shot facing heavy favorites Ariana G and Long Tom would require a similar strategy and Andy Miller made sure he would be in a good spot by blasting Devious Man to the front right away, carving out a :27.1 opening quarter. When Long Tom brushed to the front in the second quarter, and Ariana G was forced to press the issue first-over for the entire back half, that dueling played right into the overlooked Devious Man’s hand and he brushed up the passing lane to register a 1 1/4 length win and a 15-1 upset.

So these two winners in these cases weren’t exactly rewarded for doing little in the way of work as they had to get used a bit early to get the trip they wanted. Still, they were the beneficiaries of the passing lane that many on Kopas’ thread seem to despise.

In response to Kopas’ question, several prominent names in the industry agreed:

“ASAP” – Moira Fanning

“Yes” – Bob Marks

“I do. I think they change the flow of the race” – Bill O’Donnell

“They don’t change the flow, they ELIMINATE the flow” – Bob Boni

“Yes, especially on half-mile tracks. You don’t want the outside flow to start to develop off the third turn. The earlier, the better, actually” – Bob Pandolfo

“They are clearly an abomination” – Art Zubrod

While there were a couple of people that chimed in that they didn’t want to see them eliminated – the most notable being The Curmudgeon, Murray Brown — the prevailing theme of this thread was that passing lanes limit movement and reward horses and drivers that stay covered while their foes do the heavy lifting for the majority of the race.

This is a topic that will likely never go away, unless of course the passing lanes do.