For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Time for the Harness Drivers League?

I read (yeah, this old geezer still reads the newspaper), that a new league is being established for Poker. This league will be set up in a PGA format with the majority of professional poker players needing to earn their ‘card’ to compete in the league. The expectation is there will be at four televised league matches. Famed poker player Annie Duke will be the league commissioner.

Relax, I am not calling for a league commissioner in this article so for those of you who hate the idea, your blood pressure may return to normal. Also, you will be glad that for one blog entry you are not going to read about “see how popular poker is, what did we do wrong” either. We have talked about this so many times and undoubtedly will again in the future that we are going to give this topic a rest today.

What I am calling for is the establishment of the Harness Driving League (HDL). The HDL will be a season-long competition of drivers at various tracks throughout the United States and Canada, where drivers will visit each week a different racetrack earning points towards a end of season championship, like NASCAR. No, this will not be like the Tioga Driving Championship where they invite the top money earners to drive in a series of races which would tend to have the best drivers in the country (read that primarily Meadowlands drivers); it would be a competition which would have interest throughout all of North America for harness racing fans; there would be an angle for each state/province. This is the way I envision how the league would work.

Each state and province (the Maritimes would be considered one province as would Manitoba and Saskatchewan) would select a driver to represent it. The driver will have to have had their ‘A’ license for at least five years, not be under suspension in any state or province, be eligible for licensing in each state or province, and must be willing to travel to each competition, be it in Alberta, California, or New York. If the driver was ever denied a license due to integrity issues, they would not be allowed to participate. The driver would be selected by having the highest UDR on a state-wide level (including pari-mutuel fairs), so in the case of any driver who drives in New Jersey, you would calculate a combined UDR for the Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway consisting only of pari-mutuel races provided the driver has at least 250 or more starts in that state/province (less if it is a limited opportunity state/province). If a driver would be the driver from multiple states, the driver would represent the state where he has the highest UDR. If the top driver who is willing to participate is already the participant for a different state, the next highest driver willing to participate would be the participant. An alternate for each state/province would be selected in case the main driver was unavailable to compete due to injury or illness. Under this standard, there would be representatives from:

California                   Maine                                   New York                     Manitoba/Saskatchewan

Delaware                   Maryland                              Ohio                             Maritimes

Florida                       Massachusetts                     Pennsylvania                Quebec

Illinois                        Michigan                              Virginia

Indiana                       Minnesota                           Alberta

Iowa                           New Hampshire (if racing)     British Columbia

Kentucky                    New Jesey                          Quebec

Now, realizing top drivers would not want to give up drives in stakes races, the season would start after the Breeders Crown and end the last week of March. With twenty-four competitors, each week would have four byes. The twenty drivers remaining that week will randomly draw into group one or two, with group one race at one track on Friday night and group two racing at a different track on Saturday night. The entire card regardless of group one or two will feature league races only and will have ten starters each, even on the half mile track. Horses and post positions would be drawn randomly with the exception of each driver getting the same number of second tier drives when racing on a half of five eighths mile oval each night. Each track will offer $10,000 in prize money to be distributed to the top five drivers for that night in the 50-25-12-8-5 percentages. Points depending on each races finish will carry over thorough out the season. Three quarters the way through the season, the top ten drivers would remain for the playoffs, with the points be erased. They would remain to race on Saturday nights at the various tracks under the same format and scoring. The only difference is at the end of the playoffs, there will be an overall prize fund of $100,000 where once again the prized would be divided in a 50-25-12-8-5 percentage formula based on the total points earned during the playoffs.

To encourage maximum exposure each week the league races would be available at all simulcast locations and contracts would be written so the races would be available to all ADWs. With these drivers from all racing jurisdictions competing, there will be local interest to stimulate racing and allow each track participating to get exposure. With racing in the league occurring during the off season, you may see drivers racing on all types of tracks and horses, with it possible that the HDL making a stop at minor tracks including tracks like Fraser Downs, Charlottetown Driving Park, Buffalo as well as tracks like Yonkers, Meadowlands, and Cal Expo and Dover Downs.

To help stir interest, before the first set of races, there could be future head-to-head wagering between drivers as well as weekly head-to –head wagering on the night’s competition, once you know who is driving who. You could not automatically assume the Meadowlands/Yonkers driver would win the championship because the drivers are the best. Yes, in a race of top money earning drivers, that may be the case, but when picked by UDR it is possible only one or two ‘star’ drovers get into the competition, making the racing more wide-open for the drivers.

No, we may not expand interest in harness racing with the HDL, but you we should be able to draw increased interest from our existing base during the sloer part of the racing calendar. It is a proposal worth exploring.

There has been a recent movement to bring American-type sulkies to Australasia. Those days may be coming to an end or slowing down with the recent death of Ghadasbest in Australia. It is alleged that driver Lance Justice used an illegal sulky due to its weight and size. Apparently, after the race was concluded while Ghadasbest was in the passing lane, another horse inside of him pushed Ghadasbest (wmv - not graphic) into the horse driven by Lance Justice which 'butchered' Ghadabest.  Horsemen have complained about the design of the passing lane at Melton Park and it appears that had a significant influence on the tragic accident.

Horsemen, Ahmed Taiba, whose horse had to be put down, claims there is no legitimate reason for American-style sulkies in Australasia as there is a big difference in the racing styles between the North American and Australia/New Zealand.  Taiba, has lawyers at the ready to fight for the outlaw of the American-style sulky if Harness Racing Victoria does not act.

No comments: