The curtain rises on the 2010 harness meet at Saratoga Raceway this Friday, March 5. As the region awakens from the long winter, horsemen will be happy to get back into action. For fans, they would be best served to wait awhile. Wagering on many of these races will be an exercise of wagering blind. Like many of the upstate New York harness tracks, Saratoga Raceway operates under special rules during the early part of their race meet. Rather than operate using the standard 30 day qualifying rule, the NYSRWB allows a horse whose last race (a satisfactory effort) was September 1, 2009 or later to enter at Saratoga without qualifying.
The policy of waiving the thirty day rule is bad policy when it comes to protecting the interests of the wagering public. While qualifying races are not meant to be competitive, at least a qualifying line gives a handicapper something to base a wager on. By not requiring a qualifier, handicappers will be forced to guess how a horse may race off a long layoff. An example would be Bubba McGee in Friday's 12th race that is kicking off his 10 year old season after last being seen on the track on November 27. It might be one thing if you were dealing with only one horse coming off a long layoff but when you get a race like Friday's 11th where half the field shows no lines in 2010, people won't be looking at the program; they will be watching the tote board looking for inside money. When a horse that last raced more than three months ago beats a field of horses that have been racing recently, we are ripe for questioning about our integrity even if such assertions are undeserved.
I know the main argument for allowing horses to start without a qualifier is to ensure racetracks have enough horses to fill their cards; something which may be hard to do without modifying this rule. However, if other trainers were able to get their horses qualified at Saratoga, last week, there is no reason why the others could not qualify (Saratoga could have scheduled an additional day of qualifiers if needed). If there is a reason why a horse needs to show a satisfactory line within 30 days in the summer, the same need exists in the late winter. The racing fan should not be required to pay for the inability of the horsemen to have their horses properly ready to race.
With the possibilty of the thoroughbreds vacating the Meadowlands, Bob Marks of Perretti Farms suggests the Meadowlands would be the ideal location for an end of year championship series; perhaps a modified Breeders Crown where horses earn their way into the championship races as with the runners Breeders Cup. The idea has merit. I would love to see horses get into the Breeders Crown based on points they earned on the Grand Circuit. Not only would we revive the Grand Circuit in stature, we would have our best horses racing at more tracks over different sized ovals. If we did that, then maybe we would have true champions, not just horses that can handle a mile oval.