Breaking Stride

Speed is relative

March 4, 2018

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by Trey Nosrac

Recently, forward-thinking people in the harness racing world posted some interesting information and data. They opined that a shortage of racehorses looms. To me, this reading riveted my attention. Of course, my literary tastes are somewhat unusual. They include race programs, Oscar Wilde, and Mad Magazine.

Speaking of unusual, allow me to toss out a concept that could result in harness horseracing having more owners, more gamblers, and address the racehorse shortage. Consider the following four bullet points.

• As an owner, I once had a four-year-old trotter. His lone win was in an N/W of 1 trot, at a pari-mutuel racetrack, in 2:10.3. My joy was unbounded, the celebration long.

• As a gambler, I once cashed a $2 win ticket for $66. I did not care in the least that the pacing race went in 2:02 and was classified something like – four-year-olds and under, non-winners of $1,800 lifetime,15 starts required. Again, my smile was wide.

• As a gambler, I once wagered an amount outside my comfort zone on a horse in a big stakes race. My horse raced within a second of the fastest recorded time in the history of the sport. Alas, in a blanket finish, he finished 6th. This was not a happy day.

• As an owner, I once had a horse that could barely qualify. I kept her for three years without finding a single race written where the filly had the remotest chance of being competitive. The sadness of paying years of bills without action was long, deep and ill-advised.

A win is a win. A competitive race is a competitive race. Feeling good does not require warp speed. I love slow races. Somehow, I prefer slower races. In my somewhat warped mind, the connections of slow horses are underdogs having a day in the sun. Not to mention, my gambling money lasts about ten seconds longer.

We have herds of slow horses in the sport of harness horse racing. I have owned several. Why can’t race secretaries create competitive races regardless of speed? Does anyone agree with me that an exciting race with a blanket finish in 2:01 is much more entertaining than a 1-9 shot romping by 10 lengths in 1:50.1?

Speed is a killer. Speed takes a toll on horses. Speed impairs longevity. Speed requires high maintenance. It is a universal belief that harness horses race too fast, too soon and too often. What is the rush? Where is the perspective? Under certain conditions, slow can be good.

The Cleveland Indians have a major league starting pitcher on the staff with a fastball that tops out at 88 MPH. They also have three pitchers on the staff that can throw close to 100 MPH. While chatting at the local pub, my pals all agreed it was much more fun watching the pitcher with the slow fastball. There is an audience for slow. My must-see sports menu consists of golf, snooker and harness racing.

The big money, the fame and the glory in harness horseracing will always go to the swiftest. The suggestion is not that we breed for mediocrity or encourage mediocrity. However, there always will be relatively slow horses in every racing crop, borderline racehorses that currently have no place, especially in states without viable fair circuits.

Trey does not want to go crazy with this slow horse theme. We do not want owners to hang on to slow horses and stop trying to buy fast horses. But let me add a catch, a caveat, a loophole, a stipulation and a qualification.

The window for slower races should only be open until a horse turns five years old.

We want to ease the horse shortage but we do not want to encourage tardiness. We want to give owners some excitement and a minuscule monetary return on their investment, not live in the world of eternal slowness. The idea is that letting a 2:05 trotter race competitively for a year or two is a much more positive experience than not racing at all for an owner, especially a new owner.

The crux of this proposition is not to suggest slow horses flood our marketplace and racetracks. Rather, the idea is to give a few hundred borderline trotters and pacers an opportunity to race for a limited amount of time. The owners (and trainers) will not get rich racing these horses. Powerful stables and owners will likely have little interest in keeping these slower horses. Still, some owners, especially new owners, could avoid total discouragement and racetracks would have a slightly larger pool of horses that can drop in the box. A slow race or two each night could ease shortages.

If we give a select group of slightly slower horses more room to run, who loses? What prevents a race secretary from writing a race with conditions along the lines of – open to pacers 4yo and under, who have started ten times and have yet to post a race time of under 2:02. Salute the sort of slow.

If a race is competitive, people will place a wager no matter what the speed – bet on it.

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