Dragging is a blight on harness racing

Dragging is a blight on harness racing

March 26, 2022

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by Alan Leavitt

Dragging is the term used to describe the practice by racetracks of holding the field long after the official clock has reached zero minutes to post time. It is a blight upon our sport, and totally destructive of the integrity of harness racing.

If there is any hope of creating new bettors or new owners, dragging makes that impossible. Especially in this climate of Federal doping charges against both standardbred and thoroughbred participants, there is already a dark cloud hanging over our business. And anyone who has been in it for any length of time is well aware that the general perception of harness racing is that it is crooked.

Parenthetically, I was aware that many years ago there had been a smattering of harness races in Japan. So Morty Finder and I decided to scope out the possibility of getting it restarted there on a pari-mutuel basis. Alas, we quickly learned that harness racing had floundered and died at the one Japanese track that tried it, because it had “the appearance” of being fixed.

This perception had entirely to do with the fact that horses hitched to a racing bike had none of the flexibility of horses under saddle. Can one imaging the multiples by which that perception would be heightened if the races hadn’t gone off until six or seven minutes after the clock hit zero?

For me, the notion that betting will be enhanced by dragging is a self-fulfilling construct. If the track drags, the bets come in late. But it’s obviously a learned response, because the biggest single race handle in the civilized world is on the Kentucky Derby. In the Derby, when the clock hits zero, the horses are entering the gate.

How dragging came to be is irrelevant, and whatever defenses of it the tracks can muster is basically sophistry. One doesn’t have to be a Nobel quality economist to understand that there is a finite amount of betting money available for every racing program, and, drag or no drag, it is going to be bet.

This touches on another subject, the fact that most of today’s handle is bet off-track. For a hard-core bettor, he or she wants the off-times at the best betting tracks to be staggered so he or the unlikely she can get down on more than one track. It only stands to reason that if the published post times are observed, those times can be staggered, for the convenience of the bettors.

(Here I should disclose that I personally do not bet. Whenever I’ve been asked about it, my answer has always been: “I don’t bet on horse races. I’m a true longshot player, so I’m saving my money for my old age.”)

If some smart track operator would screw up his courage, there would be some good PR in a public statement that the published post times and the official clock would always be respected. It would be totally in character for Jeff Gural to take such a step and enhance the integrity of the racing at his three tracks.

The same goes for my three friends who own The Red Mile. George, Joe, and Frankie have already shown the world how committed they are to the best interests of harness racing. It would be totally in character for them to eliminate dragging and make The Red Mile a leader in this vital matter.

RE: The Red Mile, I have a personal interest here. I have a new partner in two 2-year-old trotters who, if all goes as planned, will be racing shortly here in Lexington.

When she and her husband come to their first harness race, I desperately do not want to have to explain that zero minutes to post time is a fiction. These are the kind of folks our sport desperately needs.

Please, my friends, let them and the world see that The Red Mile is totally committed to the integrity of this sport we all love.

 

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