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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Time to Pass on the Passing Lane?

Many handicappers and racing fans don't care for racing on the half mile track.  People feel racing has become boring and predictable on the half mile oval which results in a lot of short priced favorites winning.  Perhaps it is time to follow the lead of the Eskilstuna race track in Sweden which eliminated their passing lane.

The passing lane was introduced as a means to stimulate wagering as it was felt people were being turned off by seeing their horses getting locked in along the rail full of pace with no way to get out.  By adding the passing, lane, these horses would get a chance to challenge the leader in the stretch.  With respect to eliminating horses getting trapped along the rail down the stretch, the passing lane has been successful.

But at what cost?  Has the passing lane made our races boring to watch, especially on the half mile ovals?  The feeling here is yes.  Nowadays, you often see horses failing to challenge the leader, being more concerned with sitting to make their move in the passing lane at the end of the race.  As a result, you have less movement in races.  If we eliminate the passing lane, you would see more movement during the race as drivers would need to be more aggressive otherwise risk getting trapped along the rail, not only losing the race, but failing to earn a check.  By eliminating the passing lane, racing becomes less predictable and pay offs better for the gamblers, stimulating wagering interest and providing more excitement to fans and gamblers alike.

Not ready to give up on the passing lane completely?  Another option is to put the 'dogs up' and race at times with the passing lane closed to add another variable to the handicapping mix.


JLB said...

I agree that the passing lane should be eliminated. Even better would be if half-mile tracks were eliminated. Since that isn't possible, I think that half-mile tracks must place their finish line so there is ample distance to the first turn. That alone encourages early movement. The "old" Yonkers had more movement because outside horses could leave. By contrast, when Yonkers lengthened the stretch by virtually putting the finish line on the first turn, it effectively eliminated alot of early action. Very few horses outside the four post leave unless they have excellent gate speed. With appropriate banking of turns, horses can stage wide last-turn rallies and sustain their moves. It is ludicrous for high-class, high-purse races at Yonkers to have so little movement.

Pacingguy said...

Well, I must confess I love the half mile oval. It is a great way to introduce new people to harness racing. Spectator-wise, it is the best way to view a race.

I also don't care for the way Yonkers is configured is poor. You leave on the outside and within a few yards you are out in right field. Unfortunately, can you put the start/finish line back where it was when the 'grandstand' is in the first turn?

Pacingguy said...

One more thing. If Yonkers had added distance races that I have been championing in order to get more betting interests, they could get the starting line moved further up the stretch which would solve teh problem of outsiders not being allowed to leave.

JLB said...

You may recall that YR did card 1 1/16 mile races with some frequency some years back. Even now, the starting car lets the field go well before the start, but as you pointed out, the outside tier ends up in right field. It is my understanding that the main reason the finish line has not been moved back is because it would supposedly be expensive for the judges' stand to be moved, as they want to be located right on the finish line. Given the slots profits the Rooneys are making, I do not think it would be outlandish to contemplate such a change. While the Rooneys should be given ample credit for not converting the track into a real estate development some years ago, it also should be pointed out that they showed less than great management expertise with such now-defunct racetracks as Liberty Bell and Green Mountain.

Pacingguy said...

You are correct that the judges require their stand to be on the finish line. Unfortunately, the cost involved in moving it would be 'substanial' (in the words of the SOA of NY). It would require the building of a seperate structure or an addition to the current casino building (perhaps the equivalent of two or three floors to get the correct height). I think it will get done eventually.

Liberty Bell was closed when Garden State Park opened up. There was no way the area could have supported two harness tracks that close to each other (with Brandywine not that far away either). Alternative gaming was not even thought of back then.

As for Green Mountain, they tried to make the place work. First they tried the runners, then the trotters and finally the greyhounds. It was not for lack of effort. BTW, after all those years (it closed in 1992), Green Mountain is still standing.

JLB said...

I did not mean to sound too harsh re: the Rooneys, but Green Mountain holds a special place in my harness racing career as a fan, as I spent many a Saturday there for their Winter/Spring doubleheaders, despite a 320 mile round-trip from central Westchester. Saw Mickey McNichol start his career there, Harold Story work his magic with bet-downs, and then 17 YO Kim Crawford wage battles with a local favorite named Rebel Aaron vs. the Foxboro invader Miami Beach, driven by Jim Doherty. At times, their Open ranks were so short that they carded Trot/Pace Opens, and at times the track was so muddy, esp. during the Spring thaw, that the fields raced in the 6-path, with mile clockings above 2:40 (alternatively, sometimes the conditions were so tiring that they raced 3/4 mile dashes, which took literally 2:00 to complete).

Pacingguy said...

No problem. My younger days were spent visiting my Brother and taking in racing at Liberty Bell Park (a 240 mile round trip).

I remember my weekly 120 mile round trip visits to the old Freehold Raceway (pre-fire) seeing My Bill Forward and Ultreya. The old grandstand had character; the new grandstand is horrible and sterile; the place lost its character. The temporary bubbles after the fire were better than the current grandstand.

JLB said...

I agree about Freehold, although, with Winter racing, occasionally sterility trumps character, as the old grandstand was not enclosed. On the final day of 1973, I attended a Freehold/Brandywine doubleheader. Winner of the final race at Freehold-Don Pierce (Ron's father). Winner of the first race, in the snow, at Brandywine that night-Don Pierce.

For nostalgia's sake, in the early 80's, I did a Hinsdale-Green Mountain doubleheader, though, sadly by that point, both were greyhound tracks. A good thing, for both of us, that gas was cheaper then !