We should expect consistency, not perfection from drivers

We shouldn’t expect perfection from drivers…

March 27, 2021

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… but we should expect them to be consistent.

by Dean Towers

Last week, the Meadowlands Racetrack announced the creation of a committee to examine their on-track product, with the hopes of improving it. Management appears to be especially interested in the opinion of customers and participants regarding “the appearance of the post parades, drivers speaking while scoring, first turn courtesy tucks, half in and half out racing style and coming off the pylons at the top of the stretch essentially creating a passing lane where one does not exist.”

How the sport is presented is obviously a vital component to demand and fairness, and most of the issues being put under the microscope over the coming weeks are a big part of it. I commend the Meadowlands for diving into this sometimes murky pool.

As a horseplayer, there’s probably nothing more maddening than having a nice $20 exacta without the chalk and seeing the dying leader drift in the lane, letting the favorite up the rail to beat you out of hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Owners and trainers lament time and time again having their horse sitting seventh and wanting to go forward, while the drivers of three horses in front of him sit half-in-half-out in a dawdling 30-second quarter.

All of us – fans, owners, bettors – wonder why a driver let a horse in front of him before the quarter, when that horse was not used for strategic purposes (and ended up being only traffic to contend with later).

Some might say, “that’s harness racing,” but I disagree.

The Meadowlands once spawned a new phrase in the harness racing vernacular, “The Meadowlands Shuffle,” due to horses moving forward in the second quarter. Now we most often see the legendary shuffle is a maddening traffic jam. Stymying a horse behind a leader while in the pocket used to be the sign of a good tactical driver – “nice job pinning him in Herve!” — now it’s more of a quid pro quo.

There is little doubt the game has changed. And I, like many of you, don’t think it’s for the better.

The question is: What’s the fix? For most of these complaints, I am not sure there is one that’s equitable and fair, or one that doesn’t involve draconian fines from judges. Instead, what I’d offer is something much simpler – drivers need to be consistent.

If this sport is going to allow drivers and horses to pass on the inside, we need to ensure it’s consistently done. Drivers can’t just move over when Tim or Yannick is behind them, knowing they’ll get the favor returned in an upcoming race. They have to do it for Mike Simons or Ty Buter, too.

If drivers are going to use a horse tactically at the quarter, sure they can give them a tuck, but that hole needs to be given to the aforementioned Simons or Buter in addition to the Dexter Dunns of the world. It’s only fair isn’t it? Those owners and trainers deserve a shot at a piece of the purse, and should not be ostracized through harness racing’s version of Smoot Hawley.

There’s a reason a franchise like McDonald’s makes billions – we know a Big Mac will taste and be packaged the same in Fresno or Fairbanks; there’s a reason why a holding call is the same in Minnesota and Miami; why speeding is speeding whether in New York or Nebraska.Consistency in your product or service or league equals trust.

Harness racing – the way it is raced and presented by its drivers – needs to be consistent, too. I don’t think it’s that big of an ask, is it?

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