New Year promises not to be a drag

New Year promises not to be a drag

December 22, 2021

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Scott Lishia explains The Meadows’ move to eliminate post-time drag

by Brett Sturman

When The Meadows resumes live racing on Jan. 5, it will do so with a different definition as to what “zero minutes to post” means. In a press release issued by the track last week, the starting gate will begin its customary process to start moving and pick up the horses as soon as the post time clock first hits zero.

The Meadows deserves a massive amount of credit for trying to buck the post-time drag trend that’s taken hold of the industry in recent years. The practice of mis-advertising the true start of a race by showing zero minutes to post for sometimes over 10 minutes under the notion that it increases handle is at worst unethical, and at best, annoying.

As post-time drag has become increasingly profound it affects not only horseplayers, but management at other racetracks – all of whom need to know precisely when races will go off. Scott Lishia was named director of racing at The Meadows earlier this year in March, and he’s taken notice of the challenges presented by post-time drag.

“When we go to zero minutes to post there will be times, I’m in my office and I look up and see that it’ll be zero minutes on the monitor. But I don’t really know when they’re going to go off,” said Lishia. “I’ve had some conversations these past few months with some people that are fans and handicappers, and the one thing that kept resonating is that one of the big pet peeves is that they never know when The Meadows is going to go. And it wasn’t just my track, it’s a lot of tracks.”

Lishia, who professionally hails from a thoroughbred background, though when he was younger visited the former five-eighths mile harness track Freestate Raceway, is very familiar with the concept of drags and utilizing that method to try to get each last dollar into the wagering pools. Despite that, he feels the practice may not be in the best interest of The Meadows. He says, “I just felt that in our situation, it seemed better if we could be a little more structured. So, at zero minutes to post we’re going to get the gate to start moving. There’s probably still going to be a minute and a half to two minutes until the race actually goes off, but when you’re on a bank of televisions somewhere or you’re an option on a computer screen at home, you need to make sure that people know that you’re getting ready to race because you can easily be missed. There’s a lot of signals out there depending on the day.”

Ultimately, Lishia said he feels that the idea is worthy of trying to make a go of it. “Only time will tell, but we never know unless we try,” said Lishia. “I guess worst-case scenario, if it’s a horrible failure after a couple of weeks, then we go back to what we were doing before. But, in general, it seemed hard for me to understand and for people to understand when we were going off, especially if you aren’t focused and fixated on the track. Honestly, if I were at Saratoga in the middle of the summer, then I wouldn’t really be too worried if I wanted to send them out as zero minutes to post and let them watch the horses run up for a few minutes. But I’m not in that position, so I think it’s maybe better to be on as close to a fixed schedule as you can be.”

With ambitious and noble intentions in mind, Lishia isn’t really even changing the amount of total time in between races; he’s just being more transparent and consistent about it. “I look at it as if I have a five or six-minute drag built in afterwards, that’s hidden time – I’m just not hiding it anymore, as much,” he said. “It’s not anything that different, other than that I’m just not hiding the time on the back end. I may be loading an extra three or four minutes (on the front end) to my post time to stay off somebody as opposed to having that time on the back end, it just won’t be hidden.”

Though not as sweeping, another positive change nonetheless will be in the form of The Meadows signal being broadcast for the first time in high definition. The higher quality signal will debut alongside the new post-time policy in a couple of weeks, and according to Lishia, the track was able to work through arrangements between vice president of racing for Penn National Gaming Chris McErlean and with Roberts Communications to make the new broadcast possible.

In continuing to try new things, Lishia will be tinkering with The Meadows’ Pick-5 wager. “We’re going to put a single ticket jackpot to see what interest it can generate. It’ll be like other single ticket wagers, but one thing we’re going to do is instead of a 70/30 split where 70 per cent goes back into the jackpot each day, we’re going to do a 50/50 split. One of the things I’ve always heard is that people who play the wager all the time are the ones who build the jackpot and then someone else jumps in and takes out. What we’re going to do is give them a little more back on a daily basis, to the people that are playing the wager every day. It’s another one of those things that we won’t know unless we try.”

In addition to the attempt to eliminate post-time drag and offer a fresh, new signal, The Meadows continues to offer complimentary full race programs through its website, which is yet another thing that horseplayers have long clamored for. Though still a work in progress to perfect its product, The Meadows has given more reasons than ever to pay closer attention.

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