Down Under, Monkey King won the Miracle Mile in an Australasian record time (1:50.8) racing with a newly developed AdvantEdge Pro II Australasian Model sulky. Whether or not this attributed to Monkey King’s performance is unknown. What is known is there will be a lot of horsemen down under looking to upgrade their racing bikes.
Prior to the introduction of the modified sulky, standardbred races were much slower than they are now. Did it hurt the sport that our horses were pacing in 1:56 instead of 1:48? I don’t think so. Are breeders improving the breed or are the new race marks being hung on new stallions the result of the latest generation of race bikes? My suspicion is race bikes have more to do with the new generation of world record holders than improved breeding. However, horsemen are look for whatever edge they can get over their competition so they look to the latest and greatest race bikes.
Now a days, there is no one race bike, there is (in no particular order) the X-factor, Flex-Lite, Advantage 6.3, multiple varieties of Black Jacks, Razer Os, 4-Stars, Reactor bikes, and a slew of others. Just to give you an idea as to how many sulkies are legal for racing in the United States, you may check this list.
One has to wonder if the sulky arms race is doing more harm than good in the long run. In some aspects, harness racing is becoming like NASCAR, races are often being won in the labs of race bike manufacturers, who develop new generations of bikes that are more aerodynamic and faster than their predecessors. The manufacturers get their bikes approved and wait for the orders to come in from drivers and trainers. With some of these bikes costing as much as $5,000 each, what happens?
The leading drivers and stables go out and buy the new bike. They start winning a higher percentage of races forcing the other drivers and stables to buy a new bike if they can afford it with the cost of the new bike passed on to the owners. Can’t afford the new bike? Continue to struggle and eventually you will see an owner leaving the sport and a driver/trainer searching for a new career. Then a newer revolutionary bike gets introduced and the same thing occurs again. The end result is while harness racing wants to attract new owners; we make it tougher for the small time horsemen and owners to stay in the business.
Recognizing new bikes will continue to be developed, racing needs to take some steps to slow down the influx of new race bikes. While the USTA will continue to approve race bikes as applications are made, race commissions should only allow sulkies which were available to the public at the start of the first race meet in the state; any new bikes released mid season would not be allowed to be used until the following race season. This will level the playing field somewhat between the larger and smaller stables; at least for the current year.
We want new owners, yet we stack the cards against them. Let's slow down the introduction of race bikes and give potential owners a fighting chance against the stables with deep pockets.