Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Forecast: Heat(s) at the Meadowlands on Saturday
There will be heat this Saturday, not temperature but heat racing because for the first time in many years, the Hambletonian returns to its roots with heat racing. Not the two in three, best in summary format where the winner of the Hambletonian had to win two heats meaning a horse had to race two or three times (elimination, final, and race-off if needed) on a hot August afternoon, but two heats and out; the eliminations and a final with the winner of the final being crowned Hambletonian champion.
No doubt there will be trainers who will keep their horse out of the Hambletonian because of heat racing, likely not even making the payments to keep their horse eligible. Others will reluctantly enter their horses into the Hambletonian because of the two heat format. Some may even scratch out of a second heat because they draw poorly in the final. But heat racing in the Hambletonian is a good thing.
I acknowledge heat racing is in danger of disappearing from harness racing and that is a shame. The fact the Hambletonian Society went back to heat racing pleasantly surprised me. I will be the first to acknowledge the days of racing heats multiple times during a season is a sure fire way to ruin a horse; even the two in three format once a season is too much for the modern standardbred. But to be asked to race in heats once or twice a season is not asking too much for these horses, especially when they are spaced out and trainers often give their charges three weeks or so between starts.
The thoroughbreds have the Belmont Stakes as their ultimate test of champions with its 1 1/2 mile distance. How often do thoroughbreds run 1 1/2 miles? Even a mile and a quarter is atypical these days. Well the Hambletonian is trotting's Belmont Stakes, the ultimate test of champions. Even at $1.2 million, the Hambletonian was in danger of becoming just another stakes race where eliminations are raced the week before and the final is raced the following week. With the return to the elimination and final on the same day, the Hambletonian has once again become something special and unique, a throwback to harness racing's roots where stamina is valued as much as speed is yet realizing the changing character of the modern American standardbred.
Welcome back old friend. Let the heats begin!