“B” track horses making inroads at Woodbine Mohawk

by Brett Sturman

Ontario harness tracks such as Flamboro Downs, The Raceway at The Western Fair District and Rideau Carleton Raceway are included in a group that designates them as a lower tier than Woodbine Mohawk Park. And rightfully so, based on the caliber of horses that race at each of those tracks.

For a long time, the general rule of thumb was that horses coming from a “B” track to an “A” circuit track (Mohawk and at the time, Woodbine) had little chance. These horses were often regarded as longshots and seldom did they make an impression on their move to the big track. Conversely, horses moving from an “A” track to smaller track were often walkovers when racing against overmatched competition. But things have changed in recent times.

Horses racing at Woodbine Mohawk can no longer be dismissed solely on the grounds that they show recent lines from a “B” track; especially in lower to mid race conditions. Just this past Monday at Woodbine Mohawk, three winners from the 10-race card were from horses coming off races at smaller tracks.

In the night’s second race, which was a N/W 1 or $8,000 life conditioned race, PL Lester came into the event with a 1 for 30 record and nothing but Flamboro lines going back to at least through last November. However, he had been racing in relatively difficult higher-level conditions there while pacing in times on the half-mile track that weren’t far off from those horses pacing at Woodbine. Despite the outside post 6, PL Lester sat fourth-over cover, made a sweeping move around three-quarters and won going away by over four lengths to pay $12.90 for the win.

A few races later, Cartoon Daddy was another off-the-pace winner and paid $22.70 for the upset score. He had raced at Woodbine in his most preceding start, but all three starts prior to that were third-place finishes in comparable conditions at Flamboro. Two races following that was another winner following the same type of profile. In this race – a claiming handicap – Shoe Shine fooled no one as the even money favorite. Shoe Shine was coming off a no-shot trip in his most recent at Woodbine, but he had raced five straight times prior at the small Western Fair track that was highlighted with a 1:56.4 win; a very fast time if you know how that track plays.

Similar examples can be given for almost every non-Saturday card at Woodbine, and the Monday prior card from Jan. 7 is more of the same. A filly named Springbridgevision paid $34 in a N/W 2 coming off lines almost solely from Rideau Carleton. Another longshot that paid $58 later in that week on Friday was Kim’s Desire, who came into Woodbine showing only recent lines from Western Fair and Flamboro.

The question is: What gives?

Conditioner Richard Moreau is a five-time O’Brien Award winner for Trainer of the Year and is currently gunning for his sixth in a matchup against Casie Colelman where the winner will be announced next month. Moreau was near the top of both the Woodbine and Flamboro trainer standings last year, and he says, “In my own opinion, a few years ago you needed a good horse to go to Mohawk or Woodbine. And right now there’s less and less horses in some of the classes and there are short fields and it isn’t as tough as it used to be.

“This isn’t to say anything bad about the horses at the small tracks – I go there often and I’m happy to go there and I try to accommodate when asked. Sometimes if you do the opposite though – go from the main track to a “B” track – it can be relief for a start or two as long as you get a half decent post and then you go back to the big track. But you do see more and more horses from the “B” tracks competing on Woodbine this time of year. Especially right now in the off-season with no stakes races and with no 2-year-old races. This time of the year makes it easier for everybody.”

Another observation between the races at Woodbine and at smaller tracks has to do specifically with the claiming ranks. Regardless of the track, most offer claiming races in the $8,000 to $10,000 to $12,500 range. In the past, a $10,000 claimer at Woodbine would always be higher regarded than a $10,000 at Flamboro just the same way a $15,000 claimer from the Meadowlands would be viewed as superior to its $15,000 counterpart at Freehold. But that isn’t so clear today.

Horses racing in claimers at smaller tracks seem to be able to make the transition much easier to the same priced claiming races at Woodbine, and this is an assessment that Moreau completely agreed with. He added, “I wish they had more (claimers). Not everybody is ready to gamble though (with the claimers).”

In addition to the claiming conditions, similar trends are developing for non-winners conditions that show horses racing in one condition at Flamboro can go with horses in the equivalent conditions at Woodbine. In the Cartoon Daddy example, he had been racing in N/W $2,000 L3 at Flamboro and raced very well when moving to race against the N/W $2,500 and N/W $3,200 L5 types at Woodbine.

As more trainers race their horses interchangeably between Woodbine at the smaller tracks, there’s been a blending of the horses that comprise each of the circuits. No one is questioning that Woodbine still reigns supreme in Ontario harness racing, but horses are better served from the smaller tracks than they had been in the past.

The ”B” type horses have been delivering at an increased rate and there is consistently value to be found in these instances. As can be seen at Woodbine, bettors should no longer be intimidated to bet horses just because they come from a smaller track if there are other positive factors.