Friday harness racing musings

by Dean Towers

Here are a few items that I’ve been thinking about this week. I hope you’ll give them a read, and share your thoughts for Sunday’s feedback section if you agree or (more likely!) disagree.

Lockdown those dangerous horsepeople

I was perusing the betting menu in my ADW this week and I could bet on Irish racing, racing in every U.S. state, and in dozens of other jurisdictions. Meanwhile, I could not bet Mohawk, or Western Fair, or Flamboro. As most know, Ontario harness racing – a big engine of this sport – has been shut down with no real timeline on its return.

Lockdowns in Ontario are curious things. We can visit Tim’s for a coffee, work at hundreds of ‘essential’ services, shop at Home Depot or Costco, visit the grocery store, and do seemingly lots more. But bringing a horse to the track, outside on a spring day for a training mile? No way.

It’s easy to throw rocks from the peanut gallery, and I understand that, but in my view, it’s just gotten silly at this point. There’s just no consistency, and a labor intensive, time sensitive industry like horse racing is unfairly caught in these capricious crosshairs.

Can we show Yonkers some love?

It seems a day doesn’t go by without seeing someone criticizing Yonkers about their perceived lack of focus on the racing product. I am the first to admit I am not privy to the inner workings of the place, but I don’t really get it. They upgraded the television feed with awesome graphics, have a crisp HD picture, and it may be the nicest viewer experience in all of racing. They eliminated post drag, which is much more comfortable for fans. They invested in Trakus, showing us where each horse is during the race. They created bets that encourage carryovers at a not-so-horrible takeout. They’re doing some good things, and I hope they keep it going.

What’s up is down

I’ve been watching a little more Northfield Park lately and it feels like I’ve been transported to Mars. Drivers at this oval move before the 3/8ths almost every race, regardless of class or the betting board. There are few soft fractions, and it’s not uncommon to see seven claimers light it up :27, :55, 1:24. Horses tend to come from everywhere.

Back over at Yonkers, the drivers tend to sit and sit until past the half, and most races are a back half sprint.

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom. We’re told time and time again that higher purses encourage more contentious racing. We should see that at Yonkers when compared to Northfield, but the opposite happens. The purse variable is important in this sport, but it appears that on-track it’s a whole different ball game.

Post position experiments

Neil Goldstein wrote an interesting letter to HRU last week with regards to spicing up the racing at the Meadowlands. He had a couple of interesting thoughts.

We all have our harness racing ‘wishes’, and to me, assigning the most-capable horses outside posts (say, the class droppers) while ensuring they’re driven by drivers who love to win would be a fascinating test. Yannick, David, Tim, Andrew and Dexter 6 through 10 with solid stock would be worth tuning in for, and it would surely create some value for the bettors. Regardless, like Neil, I feel some experimentation should be tried, at least on a limited basis. Harness racing is so much better to watch and wager when they mix it up.

A Brennan Saturday night

When April comes, the racing at the Big M seems to get kicked up a notch; better horses are qualifying for stakes season, and drivers like Tim Tetrick and David Miller move north to begin their year. This spring, however, I think the addition of George Brennan has been an added dose of oxygen. George – who has been driving the last few Saturday nights — tends to be aggressive, and he’s a driver the regulars have to deal with, especially when he’s on a live one. I hope he makes these Saturday night swamp sojourns a regular habit.