Responses to Towers and Leavitt columns

HRU Feedback (2021-04-04)

April 4, 2021

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Thoughts on Towers’ article

Dean Towers’ article (full story here) was one of the few I have read that hit many of the issues I also have.

He is correct about the courtesy hole left for the top drivers and the cold shoulder to the lesser ones. Given more space, Dean might have included that knowing this the lesser drivers are more reluctant to leave with a horse knowing no holes would be there for them.

Where I might disagree is on horses drifting in the stretch. I would like to point out that after racing 3/4 of a mile horses often get tired and drift off the rail from tiredness. Also, not all horses benefit from going up the rail in the stretch. Some horses do not like to pass on the inside and after a few races, the rail might be dull and harder for a horse to close.

I have 2 major suggestions to improve the sport — one from the owner’s point of view and the other from the racing aspect:

1. I think it is time we did away with the draw. Mathematics and algorithms could replace the draw by averaging which horse should get which post position. As a thought, take the average post position of the last three races, add a provision for class hikes and drops and the highest number gets inside of those with lower numbers. Fair for all owners at all times.

2. Give an incentive to outside horses to leave. I know this was tried with a staggered starting gate and probably for some good reasons was abandoned for the most part. I would understand why this would not be feasible on a half mile track but on a larger surface, not as much. The danger going into the first turn on small tracks is well known.

How difficult is it for a horse from the 10 post at the Meadowlands to get the lead or at least a forward position? With our racing season being a long one, which owner/trainer wants to gut their horse for just one race? It might be better to take back, come at the end and get a piece of the purse while waiting for a better post position (see 1 above). I dare any owner/trainer to deny this is not a prominent discussion when the outside post is drawn.

True this would probably cause fast 1st quarters and may favor closers, but with so much front end bias in racing today, I am not sure what would change?

Love HRU, and look forward to the email with new articles. Great work!

— Neil Goldstein / Silver Spring, MD

Dean Towers is wrong

I simply have to disagree with Mr. Towers’ comment (full story here) that “Speeding is speeding wherever it occurs in the United States.”

Back around 1983 I received a speeding ticket by CHIPS while going from around San Diego to Las Vegas. The ticket was for speeding in the slow lane on Highway 15 at 28 miles per hour. Cars were whizzing by me in the 2 faster lanes. “How can this be?” I asked the trooper? He saw the plates on the RENT-A-WRECK my wife and I had rented in Las Vegas to go to a pal’s wedding. I had to pay the fine because New Jersey had a reciprocal arrangement with California. But, I’m quite sure most of your readers have similar stories to agree that speeding is not always speeding, unless you have out of state plates. The ticket was only $40 if memory serves me. But I always thought speed traps were to catch smugglers coming back from Florida? I still can’t believe a state trooper would give a ticket for going 3 miles over the speed limit on a state highway, and laugh about it. Can you top that true story?

— Al Gatto / Roselle Park, NJ

My passion for the Big M is waning

A few comments if I may about the Meadowlands. I love the Meadowlands. It is the best harness racing track in the country, and the track I mostly bet and follow. But my passion for it is waning.

First, let me say that the 6 p.m. post time is not good. It’s too early. It seems that they want to cram in 12-13 races in a night. On Friday and Saturday nights I’m just starting or finishing diner at 6 p.m. They should be able to get three races in in one hour. So if you start at 7, you get 12 races in in 4 hours, that’s 11 p.m. Still one hour before midnight.

Second, WHAT DOES ZERO MINUTES TO POST MEAN? Is this the same trick that you set your alarm 15 minutes before to wake up so you won’t be late. If you know its 15 minutes early doesn’t that defeat the purpose? The horses aren’t even in the post parade and the clock is at zero. This subject has been discussed 4,750,000 times and it doesn’t change. When I see the car, and the wings spread open, that’s when I know the race may be starting within the next millennium.

Third, the racing itself. I’ve been keeping an eye on how the races are run. Friendly tucks, half in and half out are just a few issues, but here is my main gripe. The races are boring and it seems that half the field isn’t even trying.

Last night (Sat, March 27) at the Meadowlands) nine of the 13 races were won wire to wire. Four races were won coming off the pace and in two of those the horse was second at the top of the lane. The 3rd quarters are pedestrian. There’s no one parked to the quarter. No battles for the lead. Just sitting on the rail third or fourth watching the world go by. Are you trying to win or is this just a public workout? Are you trying to just pick up a check for the week by finishing fifth or better? This situation is not unique, it happen night after night. This is the style of racing that turned me away from half-mile tracks.

That’s all folks, a Porky Pig reference, or has he been banned too?

— Bill Hartenstine / Farmingdale, NY

Thank you to Alan Leavitt

Editor’s note: This letter was initially sent to Alan Leavitt directly and forwarded on to HRU.

I just wanted to say thank you and give a shout-out to Mr. Leavitt for the excellent article and HRU regarding the ongoing issue of OCDs in standardbred foals (full story here). As a veterinarian who works with primarily standardbreds and a small-time breeder in Pennsylvania, it is incredibly refreshing for a large scale breeder to discuss epigenetics and how important the health of both the foal and the mare prior to foaling are.

When I was an intern at the University of Illinois, I participated in some of the research being done on the genetics of OCDs in all breeds, but the more I am in practice, the more I recognize the significance of external factors, such as mare nutrition. In one of our own broodmares, I’ve had to get creative with her nutrition — she foundered about five years ago while in-foal with our now 4-year-old racehorse. This horse struggled with OCDs and other growth and soundness issues through her 3-year-old year, and I’ve always believed that her mother’s founder issues (from being a metabolic syndrome horse, I might add) have significantly contributed to her issues… truly, the “epigenetic factor”. Since then, she has been on a modified diet, and the only grains that she eats are low-starch high-fiber feeds (most recently, I changed to Purina Ultium Growth). Her most recent filly is a prime example of the importance of the mare’s health… she is more proportionate, stands more correct, is appropriate size for her age and growth rate, and truly is the opposite of her older sister.

As I said, it is absolutely refreshing to hear someone else within the industry recognizing not only the issues with OCDs (and the complex challenge that they are), but also the importance of mare health and management. Keep up the good work!

— Megan R Darragh, DVM / Magnolia Run Equine LLC

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