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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sportswriters and Triple Crowns

Item: Sportswriters sometimes don't know what they are talking about.

Today in the newspaper I read criticism of Calvin Borrel. The sportswriter claims that Calvin should have ridden during the week at Belmont rather than making the talk show circuit. Mind you this writer is the same person who laments when thoroughbred racing misses the opportunity to take advantage of public relation opportunities. Huh? The way I see it Calvin was being an ambassdor for the runners; helping raise the interest and profile of his sport during the run up to the Belmont. Calvin may have made his move early but that is a judgement call. He could have ridden at Belmont forty times during the week leading up the Belmont Stakes and may have made the same move. He could have made his move latter and still lost. It is called racing luck. Calvin keep doing what you are doing. We in harness racing can only wish we get to the point where can worry about where Tim Tetrick will have to do interviews on the talk shows.

Item: Harness Racing's Triple Crowns don't work.

Being a traditionalist at heart, I finally recognize our triple crown races work don't work. If we ever wish to get the interest of the public, we need to develop a package of races over a six week period as the attention span of the general public requires a short window; it also acknowledges the fact many horsemen don'trecognize the need to compete in the triple crown.

Here is what I would take into consideration when reworking the crown:

  1. All the races need to be in the United States. Like it or not, the media is not going to cover a race in Canada. Canada will have its own triple crown series; we can coordinate that they don't conflict each other.
  2. One leg of each triple crown will be run at the same track the same day. This way if harness racing needs to pay to get these races on TV, we can save production costs.
  3. The series needs to be held over a six week period and in the same order each year.
  4. Races will be during the daytime on Saturdays to allow for maximum media attention and possible televising.
  5. Since harness racing is typically raced over a half mile, 5/8 mile and mile tracks, one leg of the crowns will be raced over each size track. A good stallion should be able to sire horses that can race over each size track and a good horse should also be able to race over each size track.
  6. There will be no eliminations; preference to starters will be based on earnings. This will make the races more exciting and provide more suspense for television.
  7. The crown will start in the middle of June (after the runners are done) thus allowing horses to get their 3yo campaigns started early enough to get the earnings to qualify. We can have our own road to the triple crown.
  8. You may make one payment to nominate to all three races (discounted) or you may nominate individually. If you win the first leg and are not nominated to the others, you may supplement. If you win the first two legs and are not nominated to the last leg, you may supplement.
  9. As an added 'incentive' to get our horses to start in all three legs is to be able to win any of the year end honors a horse must make at least one start in an open stakes race on a 1/2, 5/8 and mile track during that year. While this will not make you start in each triple crown race since you will need to start on each size track, a horse may as well start in a triple crown race on a half mile track to meet this requirement.

The question is which races to include in the Triple Crowns? I eliminate the Little Brown Jug and the Kentucky Futurity from the crowns. I am not disrespecting these races. The LBJ draws 50,000 people on a Thursday afternoon so there is no need to break something that works for Delaware. Both races are part of strong grand circuit meets and other than the Breeders Crowns, represent the end of the top tier stakes season. They don't need to be part of the triple crown; they can be harness racing's version of the Traver Stakes.

Picking the tracks I would use is not easy. Ideally, you would like to include tracks in various parts of the country, but it is not that easy as the situation is precarious in some of these areas.

These are the tracks I would use for the Triple Crowns:

Half mile track - I would nominate Yonkers Raceway. I would continue with the Yonkers Trot and would return the Cane Pace to Yonkers.

5/8 mile track - Chester Downs (provided they would be willing to reduce that 35% exotic takeout rate for the day). The Battle of Brandywine is a logical race for the pacers and for the trotters the Colonial Trot would be a good choice. Chester Downs has shown they will invest money into the racng program. Ideally I would have selected Scioto Downs in Ohio as a nod to the great harness racing tradition in the state (I assume the state will come through) but the company that owns Scioto (MTR Gaming) is not in great shape.

Mile track - I believe (hopeful) that harness racing in NJ will survive. Hence, I would select the Meadowlands. The Hambletonian and Meadowlands Pace would be ideal races provided the rules of the Hambo was changed so they adapted to the guidelines provided.

If you have ideas for different tracks and stake races to make up the triple crowns, let's hear from you.

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