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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cutting the Winter Season

This weekend, I couldn't believe it.  A thoroughbred racetrack was holding a Kentucky Derby Prep race.  A what?  Here we were the first weekend of February and the thoroughbred media and even the regular media to some extent are talking about a Kentucky Derby Prep race.  Now, I realize thoroughbreds have a lot more time between starts, but a Derby prep race three months before the big race?  In harness racing, a prep race is the last start before the big race.

Now make no mistake about it.  If you were not heavily interested in horse racing, these preliminary races would be likely ignored.  To make things even more frustrating, about a week after the Belmont Stakes has been run, these people are talking about the Breeders Cup.  Of course, thoroughbred racing is blessed by having a virtual lock on racing in the Southern states which allows tracks to keep racing quality horses all year whereas harness racing is for the most part relegated to the typically frozen tundra of the Northeast United States and Canada..

Now make no mistake, I am not suggesting the top three year olds standardbreds should be racing already; those that are lucky are enjoying their time in Florida or Georgia.  Those smaller stables have their horses wintering up North which realistically has not been that bad this year.  But we collectively have a problem with our winter racing. It goes on too long.  Basically from November through April, six months, we are in what we call winter racing season.  I understand the business issues, but let's not kid ourselves winter racing is like watching reruns on television.

That being said, I think this down time needs to be reduced.  There is no reason we can't get the top three year olds heading North in March and start the stakes season in April.  It would mean a little less off time for the horses and an accelerated prep schedule, but it would allow us to get out of the tedium of the winter doldrums much sooner.  We can't do that?  That's not true, as top standardbreds are being treated like the runners with fewer starts and well managed seasons, many harness tracks now have the 45 day rule before requiring qualifying instead of the traditional 30 day rule.  This would allow harness racing to get out of the winter doldrums much sooner, with only four months of down time.  It would also allow time for horses to earn significant winnings so the major stakes can eliminate elimination races and restrict entry to more stakes towards highest money earners, if they choose.

If we insist on racing all year, we need to get more quality racing and eliminate the not ready for prime time racing.  Starting stakes season earlier is imperative if we ever hope to get more attention for the standardbred sport.

Meadowlands-DRF announce strategic partnership for 2012 - Details available here.

The Raceway Pick 4 Guarantee Increases - Starting next week, the Raceway at Western Fair District will be increasing their Pick 4 Guarantee for daytime cards from $4,000 to $5,000.

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