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Sunday, November 3, 2013

What the Messengner Stakes Tells Us

On a mailing list I am a member of, someone brought up an interesting point.  During this past week, not one message was posted regarding the Messenger Stake (which was won by Ronny Bugatti in 1:51.4).  It certainly is a sad commentary.  Is it a case of our sport falling so low that our most dedicated fans abandoned a major harness race for the Breeders Cup, so much that no one could make a single post on the race?  Or is it a case this race, the last leg of our battered Triple Crown, has become so insignificant despite its $450,000 purse that it has no place being part of the Crown if we seriously are looking to have a series of races of importance?  I suspect it is both.

The fact is harness racing has become a shadow of its former self in the eyes of horseplayers.  That being said, where is the genius in scheduling any stakes race on the night of thoroughbred racing's greatest day?  At Hoosier Park, they had the good sense of moving all stakes races scheduled for Saturday evening to Friday night, recognizing if they are spending good money on stakes races they may as well move them to a night where they would get more attention.  By last night, serious horseplayers would have been tapped out or fatigued  to the point where there is no interest in any racing that evening.  Just because you are racing for slot money doesn't mean you should spend it on a night where there will be little interest.

To be fair, with the Breeders Crown, the Messenger Stakes has become an after thought, while HOY honors are still undecided, for the most part divisional honors are decided.  To most horseplayers, the harness season is over; the slogan can be 'It all ends (the season) with the Breeders Crown' (We will see if the Meadowlands Classics have an impact).  Truth be told, with the exception of the Breeders Crown, stakes season ends in Lexington at the Red Mile for most horsemen.    Hence, any race which is to be part of a Triple Crown needs to be contested prior to The Red Mile meet. 

Of course, one can't get past the fact the Messenger is being contested over the half mile track, perhaps one of the worst ones as the horses head almost immediately into the first turn.  Of the eight horses who contested the Messenger, two were legitimate Grand Circuit caliber horses and they drew the two outside posts.  If you can't get a horse like Captaincourageous to Delaware, good luck g6etting them to Yonkers.  This particularly pains me as I am a big fan of half mile racing.

What needs to be done?  Here are some suggestions. 

  1. Stretch the season - The season is wrapping up with the Delaware County Fair, The Red Mile, Breeders Crown and Meadowlands Classic.  We need to get all important races in before we wind down the season.  Perhaps move The Jug and Lexington to the second half of October  and allow the time freed up to be used for other races.  
  2. To make sure those races get completed before Delaware, change the conditions to eliminate eliminations.  Determine a standard to qualify for the final.  Win and you are in, money earnings, and/or other qualifications.  Time is short, make the most of it.
  3. The Breeders Crown and Meadowlands Classic need to be contested after the Breeders Cup.  Face it, the racing press (as geared towards the horseplayer) is geared towards the runners.  We can't out market the runners so why try?  Race our season ending races once the thoroughbred stars are shut down for the season.
  4. This one pains me the most.  Half mile ovals are for overnight horses.  Most stakes horses for whatever reason will not compete on a half mile oval.  We can fight and fight this battle, but unless you are offering $1 million purses, they aren't coming.  It is time to revamp the Triple Crowns to accept this fact and either move the existing races to other tracks larger than a half (perhaps changing an existing race like the Pepsi North American Cup to the Pepsi Messenger Stakes) or simply accept the fact other existing races need to become part of the Triple Crown.  
  5. While we are doing this, we must remember the average racing fan has an attention span of a flea.  Get these races contested over a two month period.  There is no reason the Trotting Triple Crown should have started in late July and finished early in October.


Anonymous said...


Good points and others can probably offer more ideas to help improve the harness situation.

My question is why fans and bettors seem to be the only ones talking?

USTA, track managers, racing commissions, breeders, owners, trainers, drivers....Hello, anyone there?

Marv S. said...

This apathy gets to the meaninglessness of the triple crown. What meaningful harness stake is raced in November? Does the industry even promote the TC anymore? Does anybody even care? Our stakes races have become just another race with a larger purse. Sad.