Good news racing fans, this weekend there is a good betting race in the Meadowlands Pace eliminations (if you bet eliminations) as ten horses go to the starting gate seeking one of the seven positions available for next week's final. Having ten horses in an elimination is welcome to horseplayers who are used to seeing five to seven horse eliminations where you can't make a good wager.
The bad news is that three horses get a bye this week and advance automatically to the Meadowlands Pace Final (though by doing so give up the right to possibly choose their own post position). The trio of horses, Captaintreacherous, Wake Up Peter, and Twilight Bonfire are getting a free pass to the big dance although their trainer, Tony Alagna plans on qualifying Wake Up Peter to give him a tightner.
Granted, a ten horse race where there are only seven slots to the final is certainly preferable for horseplayers instead of six and seven horse fields battling it out for five slots each in the final. But while this is better for the gambler, this is a lousy way to determine the field for the Meadowlands Pace final as it gives an unfair advantage to certain horses not available to others.
Let us consider the fact the trainer of a horse being offered a bye has an advantage over the other trainers in that he gets a choice to race in the elimination or give his horse a week off; something not available to others. This means come next Saturday, the Alagna trainees will have a week off whereas the others havee to race this week; a big advantage as standardbreds get more like their thoroughbred cousins. If a trainer knows his horse races better with a week off, he has a huge advantage over his competition (though to be fair, he runs the risk of drawing post ten in the final).
I understand for publicity purposes having Captaintreacherous in the Meadowlands Pace is a big marketing coup so the publicity department must be tickled pink that Alagna has chosen to skip the elimination but is this fair to everyone else?
Horses are living beings so there is no such thing as a guaranteed win (one need only to look at Niatross going over the rail at Saratoga as an example) as a horse can have a bad week, be it illness or bad racing luck (again, see a video of the hatchet job Safe Arrival did on Niatross in their Meadowlands Pace elimination). The ten horses racing this week run the risk of not advancing because they had a bad week whereas those who have received a bye don't run that risk, hence they have a big advantage.
Yes, the byes are given to horses who most likely would advance from an elimination and the offer of a bye doesn't come to them without earning it based on their lifetime or seasonal earnings but instead of giving certain horses an advantage over the others, wouldn't it make better sense to do what they do with The Battle of the Brandywine or something similar, perhaps determining the starters based on a point system as they do with the Kentucky Derby? Wouldn't it be better to offer starting spots to those with the highest earnings, weighting the dollars earned in their sophomore season so they are worth more than the money earned in the freshman season? Under this scenario, the best horses are ensured of making it to the big dance with everyone making it to the final on equal footing.
Eliminations are the bane of harness racing. When is the industry going to recognize it? Perhaps more accurately, the industry knows eliminations are a tradition that needs to go; when are they going to do something about it?
Please note I am not criticizing Tony Alagna. He is the beneficiary of a rule and would be foolish not to take advantage of it if the racetrack is offering it.
Bill Finley over at ESPN writes about the current state of racing in Ontario and how the tracks lost their way and the path it needs to take to get back to normal, meaning caring about the customers. It is good reading.