‘Freight’ in post eight reignites open draw debate

Here’s a suggestion for a better way to work out post positions for stakes on half-mile tracks.

by Brett Sturman

In last Saturday’s Messenger stake eliminations at Yonkers Raceway, Jimmy Freight blitzed his overwhelmed competition to win by almost four lengths in a track record performance for 3-year-olds in 1:50.3. For his efforts, the standout son of Sportswriter—All American Summer who supplemented to the Messenger for $30,000, had the misfortune of drawing into the doomed outside post 8 for Saturday’s $500,000 final.

On half-mile tracks such as Yonkers where post position is paramount, should there be some type of post position preference given to those horses that win their eliminations? I believe that the answer should ultimately be yes, but, it depends.

I don’t think it’s “fair” for an elimination winner to draw post 8 for the final, but by the same token how fair is it for horses that draw outside posts in their eliminations, especially if a favorable post in the finals depends on it? In the case of Jimmy Freight, he could have started last week from the parking lot and it may not have mattered, but let’s look at the other Messenger elimination Saturday to better illustrate.

In the far softer elimination, Babe Digs Me drew the rail and led every step of the way to just hang on by a head over the next two finishers. If elimination winners get post preference, how fair is it that just because Babes Dig Me was lucky to land the rail in his elimination that he should once again be given a post advantage in the final? By that logic, I’d say the real unfairness would be to horses that draw outside in the eliminations since they’d have little chance to begin with of being able to compete for a subsequent post advantage in the final.

How’s this for a simple solution? In order to not penalize a horse for winning his elimination (even if they were aided by a fortunate post), they cannot be able draw into posts 7 or 8 for the final. At the same time, horses that started from post 7 or 8 in their elimination and thus couldn’t realistically compete to draw a favorable post, cannot draw posts 7 or 8 either for the final. This way, the only horses that could potentially draw into the outside posts for a final on a half-mile track would be those horses who had at least somewhat of a reasonable elimination post but didn’t win their elimination.

Fair or unfair, having at least a mostly open draw – or one where the most likely winner isn’t guaranteed post 1 – is still the way to go towards an overall good racing product. From a watch-ability and bet-ability standpoint, there is nothing worse than a 1-5 favorite from the rail on a half mile track. The sport’s signature half-mile track races should be competitive, and to that extent having the best horse draw to the outside isn’t the worst thing that could happen. But at the same time to an owner or trainer of a deserving horse, landing post 8 after winning an elimination shouldn’t come as a cost to make the race more exciting for others to watch.

Elimination races are a tricky business. Many times, the only purposes of an elimination is to eliminate just a small number of horses, or in the case of the Messenger eliminations last week – just a single horse per elimination. In these races, with little incentive to try to do anything than the bare minimum to qualify for the final, the bonus of having some say for post position in the final adds somewhat to the overall integrity of the elimination.

The good news for Jimmy Freight is that he appears so much the best that he should be able to overcome post 8. Not only did he win last out by daylight over his main dangers Springsteen and Stay Hungry, but his winning time was nearly two full seconds faster from the other elimination and it’s hard to see any of those horses staying within range. With the aggressive Louis Roy in tow as usual, it may only be a matter of steps after the starts where the feel good horse Jimmy Freight is able to make front and if he does so without much fight, it should be over. A win would be deserving for his connections that have now supplemented big money for the second time this year.

Looking underneath, Topville Olympian showed sharp early :26.3 speed last out and could have used the old passing lane, not having room to move inside last week until it was too late. A few of these Oakes horses have stepped up this year with the big money on the line in various stakes and the same may hold true for this one as Morrill gets a shot driving. Springsteen was Sears’ unsurprising choice over the latter and he should be more aggressive early after lagging in the beginning stages last week from the same starting position. Dangerous when at his best. Stay Hungry couldn’t fire off cover in his elimination but maybe will be better in his second go-around over the smaller track.

Race 7 Messenger Selections: 8-3-1-6

Also going for $500,000 is the race immediately preceding the Messenger, the Yonkers Trot. Hambletonian favorite Six Pack may seem vulnerable off a couple straight defeats, but this group is far different than what he’s been up against in every other start this year. After an ill-fated Hambletonian trip through no fault of his own, he got what could be described as a half-in half-out kind of drive most of the way in the Zweig before taking a first-over shot against eventual wire-to-wire winner Mets Hall. Still appears to be the class of the field.

Helpisontheway is on a tear and lands the rail to further aid his cause. The NYSS star charged impressively off cover on Hambletonian day to win in 1:51:4 and has since followed that up by jogging at Saratoga at 15 cents on the dollar. He gets the test for class, but goes for reliable connections of Toscano and Morrill. Mississippi Storm took went a first over grind last out against Hambletonian starter Zephyr Kronos and hung in there pretty well all things considering; gets Bartlett now. The Veteran has crushed in almost all of his recent NYSS starts including a near double digit length romp last out but will appear to be severely compromised by the outside post. Driver Stratton is having what appears to be the feel of a career year.

Race 6 Yonkers Trot Selections: 4-1-6-8