by Peter Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor
I've attended every Hambletonian from 1980 to the present (except '81); that's a given. Yes, even one in DuQuoin.
But there was a stretch of a few years that I missed a few Meadowlands Paces and watched them either from home or at a simulcast location.
Then came 2008 and Somebeachsomewhere, and I made it a point to attend live. I would've felt like a dolt if he, or another horse, won and I'd missed some seeing some crazy wild mile time.
The 1:47 victory by Art Official over SBSW, and especially the way the race went, made that edition of the Pace an instant classic people still talk about.
More recently, the Franklin FFA at Pocono Downs about three weeks ago was on the docket, with Wiggle It Jiggleit, Freaky Feet Pete and Always B. Miki all together and threatening to pace in the 1:46 neighborhood.
I was dead-tired from a day that was already long that evening. It would've been easy to watch it from home, I was already planning to be in Goshen the next day, and I was looking for a good excuse to not drive all the way to the Pennsylvania mountains.
But I would've felt like a dolt if one of those three great pacers, or some other, had won and I'd missed seeing some crazy wild mile time.
Always B. Miki won it on the initial meeting of the Big Three, but no 1:46 and change or better, "only" a 1:47 flat. Still, quite an event on quite a card, I had a good time and I'm happy I made the trip.
Round two of the gathering of the same Big Three this past Saturday in the William R. Haughton FFA, but zero chance of a crazy wild mile time.
The race, traditionally a one-mile affair, was stretched out to a mile and an eighth.
I had no idea, still don't, still don't care, what a good time even IS for a mile and an eighth.
Always B. Miki won again, recording a 2:01-1/5 final time off a 1:48-1/5 mile split.
Is that a good or bad final clocking?
As far as I'm concerned, we missed a fantastic chance on Saturday to see history, a 1:46-3/5, a 1:46-1/5 mile - or even a 1:45 and change - yet I was considerably less excited about this race than I was about the one at Pocono.
Will the Big Three convene again in the upcoming U.S. Pacing Championship, the Canadian Pacing Derby, the Allerage or somewhere else?
Springfield, DuQuoin and Syracuse are no longer options. (Well, technically, two of them are, but there's no way.)
Will all three titans still be in peak form, will the weather cooperate, will the fractions be conducive to 1:46 or faster if and when they compete together again?
I dunno ...
My European friends, and some, maybe many, here in the U.S., may agree or disagree with me on the odd-distance vs. mile question.
But count me as one voice against the mile and an eighth.
Notes: The primary argument for the goofy distance is, I think, that track management wanted 12 horses competing in various races (a valid aim, if it increases handle, I guess; though if I was betting, I wouldn't want a bigger field and more horses to beat). But haven't M'lands stakes been raced with 12 or so horses, at a mile, plenty of times before? I seem to recall the 1980 Oliver Wendell Holmes result being something like 12-10-11, Niatross, Storm Damage and Royce. I also think the M'lands Pace was raced, at a mile, of course, with 12 horses, every year for a while.
Charts and program past performances aren't set up for harness races at longer than a mile. Look at the charts on the Meadowlands and USTA websites. No mile times listed, and no last quarter times figured.
Here's a thought; didn't Roosevelt Raceway "start" races several steps before the official start and before the clock started? Maybe M'lands could do the same with larger fields. I think I've seen thoroughbred races start steps before the clock began running, too. Maybe that's what "about" means in some t-bred listed race distances.
In any case, added-distance harness racing leaves me cold.