Harness Racing Keeps Churning

by John Furgele (The Best 228)

Last year, American Pharoah captured America’s fancy when he rolled to the Triple Crown.  Later, he capped a brilliant three-year campaign by romping in the Breeder’s Cup Classic and then, like most dominant thoroughbreds, was sent off to stud.

Last Sunday, another Triple Crown was won, when three-year old trotter Marion Marauder captured the Kentucky Futurity at the Lexington race course known as The Red Mile.  In thoroughbred racing, we have sprinters, distance horses, dirt and turf horses, while in Harness racing, there are two types—trotters and pacers.

The Trotting Triple Crown consists of the Hambletonian, the Yonkers Trot and the aforementioned Kentucky Futurity.  The Hambletonian is the most well-known and prestigious of the three.  Raced at the famed Big M (Meadowlands) before a national TV audience (CBS Sports Network), the Hambletonian is the Kentucky Derby for trotters.  Driven by Canadian Scott Zeron, Marion Marauder won the Hambo by the slimmest of margins.  He then cruised in the Yonkers Trot before needing a photo finish for his win in the Kentucky Futurity.

Triple Crowns in Harness racing are not as revered as they are in thoroughbred racing.  Because Standardbreds race much more frequently, winning a triple crown is not always planned for.  In fact, because Marion Marauder was not nominated for the trotting crown, his connections had to come up with $47,000 just to get him into the Futurity field.  Nevertheless, with the win, Marion Marauder becomes only the ninth horse—and first since Glidemaster in 2006—to capture the Trotting Triple Crown.

On the pacing side, there have been 10 horses to win their Triple Crown, the last being No Pan Intended in 2003.  Pacers, because of the running style can run faster than their trotting counterparts, but trotting, because of the Hambletonian is probably the more well-known of the two “sports-within-a-sport.”

Is Marion Marauder going to capture the attention of one, American Pharoah?  Of course not, but his win puts him in the history books forever.

Harness racing continues to make positive inroads.  The sport has been buoyed by the installation of casinos at most of its parks, meaning fans can do more than just watch pacers and trotters run.  In fact, at most racetracks, most of the people are playing the casino games, but every time they play, the sport of harness racing gets a cut. And, the sport has always had its loyalists.

This November New Jersey residents will vote to see if two casinos will be built outside of Atlantic City.  If the referendum passes, it will bolster the sport of Harness racing immensely. As of today, the polls indicate that the referendum will fail, but optimists claim there is still time.  Those in favor claim that most of the opposition comes by way of neighboring states that have casinos.  The casino owners in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware want those in New Jersey to keep making the drive rather than keep their monies in-state.   We know there is a more significant election on the cards in November, but as a harness racing fan, this is an important one.  And, it’s not only about racing.  Two casinos will greatly aid the breeding farms in the Garden State.

In racing, the International Trot takes place at Yonkers Raceway this afternoon.  This is truly an international affair with trotters from the United States, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Italy.  The American contingent consists of Resolve, Obrigado and Hannelore Hanover and the $1 million race will be run at 1 ¼ miles, longer than the classic distance of 1 mile.  In countries like Sweden, where Harness racing is revered, this is a big deal, hence the afternoon post time at Yonkers.

In two weeks, the best pacers and trotters will head to the Meadowlands for the Breeders Crown, where they will compete for $5.8 million in prize monies.  Like thoroughbred’s Breeder’s Cup, the meet will be contested over two days, with the older colts, gelding and mares competing on Friday and the two and three year olds on Saturday.  The four races for the older horses will begin Friday at 7:15, while the eight races for two and three-year olds will begin at 6:35 on Saturday.  Sportsnet NY (SNY) will have live coverage both nights from 9 to 10 pm, giving Harness racing a nice little boost.

Locally, Saratoga Harness (aka, Saratoga Casino Hotel) continues to churn, providing live racing through Sunday, December 18.  For most weeks, there is live racing Sunday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  By racing on Sunday, Saratoga Harness is trying to do what many tracks won’t—compete with NFL football-certainly not an easy task.

Like its thoroughbred counterpart, breeding and selling remains a vital part of the sport.  Morrisville State College, which offers both Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree programs in equine breeding and management, recently had its 2016 Morrisville sale.  There were 81 yearlings sold with the average price being $13,656.  The lowest purchase price was $1,700 with $55,000 being the highest, making Harness racing a sport that many more can get involved with.

Harness racing never sleeps and the month of October has been a good one.

 

 

 

 

 

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