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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Speed Hurts

Despite the emphasis on final times by breeders and racehorse owners, speed is hurting harness racing.  How can that be?  It is because there is a big disconnect as to what the industry participants want and what the wagering public wants.  It goes without saying why breeders want the fastest horses; it is what the owner wants as generally the fastest horses are the ones that win races most of the time.  Gamblers see it differently.

If racing was a sport like baseball, then all would be wonderful.  Speed would be valued by the public as batting averages and ERA are.  Unfortunately, few of racing's fans are there just to admire the horses and their speed.  Racing is a gambling sport and as such, if people are going to wager they want the potential of getting not only a decent reward for the risk and they want excitement.  To be perfectly honest, the way racing is so speed favoring these days, excitement is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind.  As for payoffs, we know from the parade of favorites that are winning consistently the payoffs, in particular with straight wagers, is lacking.

The problem with half mile track racing is not as much the size of the track, but the fact speed dominates racing these days; that is what makes the outside post positions more daunting than in the past.  If speed was not so dominating, we would be seeing horses making three wide moves in the backstretch and the race actively contested during the entire mile on a consistent basis.  Races are much more predictable, not just on the half, but on larger size ovals as well.

What can be done with regards to making the sport less speed favoring?  It would be nice to say let's go back to the old conventional sulky but it will never happen.  First of all, good luck trying to find enough of those old wooden race bikes; you won't.  Also, horsemen have spent so much money purchasing these sulkys that no one is going to want to just throw them in the scrap heap.  That being said, perhaps the USTA could pass a rule saying no further designs of sulkys will be approved, but it would still depend on the individual racing commissions to go along with it, plus the USTA must be willing to risk litigation by manufacturers.

So if little, if anything, can be done with the sulky design, what options are left?  Throwing in different distances to slow the races up would help, keeping races between a 1 to 1 7/8 mile range.  If nothing else, it would make races a little less predictable.  I would avoid sprint races because if racing is so speed favoring, what is racing shorter distances going to accomplish?

But perhaps the biggest problem contributing to harness racing's speed bias is too many tracks operating at the same time; basically we have diluted the horse population that it is very hard to put together competitive fields.  As a result, you have occurrences where you get one, two, or three horses that stand out in a race and the rest of the field can't keep up with them.  If you can't keep up with a horse, how are you going to beat it?  Fewer tracks operating at a given track will give a racing secretary a deeper horse population and allow them to card the most competitive races possible.  Unfortunately, horsemen prefer the diluted horse population as it means they can get their horses raced more frequently, which is real nice when you are at a track with slot-infused purses. 

Are horsemen willing to make a sacrifice to give the gambler the more exciting and competitve races they crave?  I'll let you answer that. 


Anonymous said...

How about a simple solution, have racing secretary's do a better job in making races more competitive. So many tracks have the exact same cards every day of the week with the same conditions. This makes the racing office's job very easy but with a little more imagination the races could be changed week in and out to force winning horses to move up more frequently and non competitive horses a relief. In my opinion Yonkers has the most boring racing with at least half of the races with 3-5 or lower favorites. They are the prime example of a lack of imagination.

Anonymous said...

Harness racing shouldn't just wave the white flag, yet. There are steps that tracks could take to ensure better and more competitve racing. Although it's true the new sulkies make the racing much faster, it's not the reason (or at least one of the primary reasons) that speed wins so much. The tracks are way too fast, and they are not designed so the outside paths are faster. If anything, most of the tracks are faster on the inside (Yonkers is ridiculous). You can not have inside biases on harness track, let alone bullring harness tracks. Steps should be made to slow down the inside like banking of the turns, adding more surface to the inside, and training regiments that keep horses off the inside. Just as important if not more important, eliminate the passing lane. If you can sit in and assure yourself good trips in the 2 hole and 3 hole, you're asking for trouble. Horse who should leave and come first over are not and it makes it nearly impossible to have the proper flow in any of these races. Finally, create incentives for these drivers to leave and enforce drivers who don't leave when they obviously should be, regardless of post position. I know racing is not known for its creativity and enforcement, but they don't even try. If the mile is going to go in 156. 29-58 is WAY too slow fractions for these races. We see faster and faster final times, but we don't necessarily see faster fractions. 54 and 55 halfs and with the miles they are going nowadays should be the norm, not occurring 1 in a 100 races. If you continuously have races with slow paces, with one leaver and no flow, over a track that has an inside bias, you are obviously going to have a lot of speed winning.

Pacingguy said...

I personally have a problem with the bull ring characterzation. Racing has been racing on these size ovals for years before the Meadowlands. Remember many people didn't like the mile track at the Meadowlands in the beginning. As for trying to attract people, the half mile is the best size track to get people interested in racing.

That being said, I also agree with the need to get rid of the passing lane.

Pacingguy said...

As to race secretaries doing a better job carding races, they need an ample supply of horses to work with. When you are busy hoping races fill, you only card races that will get horses.