Saturday night is the opening night at Tioga Downs and there is a lot of excitement amongst serious horseplayers who are looking for the biggest bang possible (low takeout) for their wagering dollar. Besides the lower takeout rate, Tioga Downs brings back a modified version of the classified system for almost all of their overnight races. Here is a brief explanation as to how overnight races will be carded this year.
Claiming races will be carded as before; the trainer gets to enter the horse in the appropriate claiming price. For races which normally would have been written as conditioned races, only three conditioned classes remain: NW1PMLT, NW2PMLT and W1-3PMLT (this class also allows for non-winners of $15,000 lifetime). All other horse wishing to race on a specific day will get entered into a pool to be classified into one of five classes (A, B, C, C1, or C2). The "A" horses will be horses which previously would have been classified as Open horses with the level of competition declining to "C2"; horses who previously would have raced in NW1500L5. Purses will range between $14,000 for class "A" to $3,800 for "C2" horses.
For each racing program, all horses entered for the evening’s classified races will be pooled together and each horse will be classified relative to the other horses entered in the pool based on various criteria. Each horse assigned to a specific class will be grouped together into sub-pools at which point race fields will be drawn with preference based on the last race date. From what is known, there are no plans, at least initially, to card mixed class handicaps (i.e., C1-C2 hdcp) to fill races. If a C race does not fill and there are C1 horses which do not draw in, the trainer of the C1 horse will be offered the opportunity to move up into the C race or skip the week; it will be up to the trainer to make the decision. In the unlikely situation where a higher class is oversubscribed and a lower class does not fill, a higher class horse will not be given an option to drop down to fill the race.
The stated goal of the racing secretary is for each race to have full nine horse fields with each race as evenly matched as possible. The result should be no horse going off less than 3-1 and the whole field finishes within a few lengths of each other.
Will there be horses that go off less than 3-1? Of course, there will. However, if the racing secretary does his job correctly, race fans should find exciting races and decent pay-offs instead of horses drawing off winning by open lengths and paying less than $4.00. Won’t it be nice to see fans screaming as the horses come down the stretch instead of sitting on their hands with a quarter mile of the race remaining? It would be a welcome change to what we are seeing at most tracks these days.
There is excitement in downstate New York Saturday night as well with the finals of the $237,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker and $460,000 George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series. The fields for both finals will be drawn Tuesday afternoon. Clearly, New York is the place to be Saturday evening.