Dragging is a drag

by Alan Leavitt

Having read through the proposed USTA rule changes twice, I still can’t find a word about dragging.

Dragging, for those remaining few unfamiliar with this accursed term, is holding the field long after the clock has hit zero minutes to post time. The tracks do this to create more betting, but the reality is late betting becomes a learned reflex.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t. The biggest betting race in the world is the Kentucky Derby, and when the clock at Churchill Downs hits zero, the runners are being loaded into the gate.

I note that Mark Loewe, who is now a very big dog at the USTA, mentions the issue of misperception being a threat to the viability of our sport.

Please forgive a personal note, but I was years ahead of Loewe here, and I actually did something to change public perception for the better.

During an eight-year term on the Kentucky Racing Commission, I passed a ban on one-handed whipping. That has now become the norm in virtually every harness racing jurisdiction in North America.

This occurred during Steve Beshear’s two terms as governor. For the record, Beshear had only honest, decent people advising him on racing matters.

Back to dragging and Loewe, it should be a concern that holding a race for as long as seven minutes after the clock hits zero clearly raises the question of the integrity of our sport.

Many of our tracks are now adjuncts to casinos, and they would love to be rid of us. I hope and pray that none of them will wise up and use dragging as a pretext to get rid of us, once and for all.

Now to the yearling sales season, and the action videos that are essential to getting a good price for your stock.

Here at Walnut Hall, we use Hammond Communications Group, and I have them shoot with three cameras, one at each end of the video strip and one in the middle.

Coming up under the great horseman Howard Beissinger, I shoe everything the way Howard started his trotters, with a 5/8’s half round and a ribbed white rubber bell boot. In my early days the bell boots were solid pieces of rubber, and you pulled them on and off. To make that a little easier, you’d keep them soaking in a bucket of warm water.

Because we shoot our pacers on the trot, I hang them up just like the trotters. Actually, when you put the right shoe and boot on a pacing-bred yearling, they often will hit a good trot even better than the trotting bred ones.

I know I could put our pacing yearlings on the pace if I thought it would enhance their value. Just leave them barefoot in front, put a side weighted shoe on behind with a light pair of show horse chains, and voila.

But there’s no reason to think it would result in higher prices, so why bother?

A yearling looks better with its mane pulled. All you need is a mane comb and a dollar bill for the length.

My dear friend Larry Cohen from back in the days of his lovable dog Spot, calls his videos “films.” And his are, although not everybody goes to the lengths he does.

We don’t put any music on our videos, and neither does the Hanover Shoe Farms, who set the bar for everybody else in our biz. I do, however, still have a vivid memory of one of Tad Egloff’s videos playing to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Tad and I go back together for a good 60 years. In the days of the Harness Breeders Sales Co., Tad was my backup if an irate buyer or seller was threatening violence and was a lot bigger than me. Such a great guy, then and now.

And speaking of great people, I spent two delightful hours with Dr. Bridgette Jablonsky last Sunday as she checked out some of our yearlings.

In the course of conversation, Bridgette brought up a terribly important point.

Because our Kentucky Sire Stakes program is open to every sire in North America, there should be a separate division of the Sire Stakes for the progeny of stallions standing in Kentucky.

Jablonsky is right in spades, because we have oodles of money and we could easily do this right. I don’t know who the committee members are who control this, but whoever they are, they should fix this, and fix it for 2024.

And as a final question: Who can tell me what is the single most important thing you must do when riding or driving a horse?

Answer next week, maybe.