As regular readers of my blog know, I am in favor of eliminating the condition of the Hambletonian (and any other stakes race) which allows elimination winners to choose their post positions as it gives them an overwhelming advantage over the rest of the field. With the elimination of heat racing, in 1997, the Hambletonian Society went to eliminations where the winners were allowed to draw for the post position of their preference. Here is a list of Hambletonian winners since then (if nothing is listed after their name, they won their elimination):
1997 - Malabar Man
1998 - Muscles Yankee
1999 - Self Possesed
2000 - Yanke Paco
2001 - Scarlet Knight
2002 - Chip Chip Horay
2003 - Amigo Hall (3rd in elimination)
2004 - Windsong Legacy (3rd in elimination)
2005 - Vivid Photo
2006 - Glidemaster (2nd in elimination)
2007 - Donato Hanover
2008 - Deweycheatemnhowe
2009 - Muscle Hill
Out of the thirteen years since heat racing was eliminated, only three races were won by a horse that did not win an elimination; elimination winners won 76.92% of the time. Granted, not each of the elimination winners got their first choice for post position; they may have lost the draw among elimination winners but rest assured, none of them were saddled with an onerous post position.
Make no mistake, Muscle Hill could have started in the third tier yesterday and probably won the race, but giving the winners of eliminations preference in the post position draw is not just an incentive to win an elimination, you are virtually handing the victory of the Hambletonian to one of the elimination winners.
We bemoan how attendance at the Hambletonian does not reach the levels it once did. A good part of it is the general malaise that has hit racing in general; what we don't want to admit is part of it is the Hambletonian has become just a race with a large purse. Publicizing a race with a forgone conclusion does not attract people; they want suspense.