01/29/2014 5:37PM

Harness Racing: Ohio ready for a resurgence

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As someone who started following racing in the early 1990’s and was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Ohio racing has never played a major role for me—personally or professionally—outside of the Little Brown Jug or the rare stakes race at Northfield Park. But with Ohio now joining the slot-infused harness world, my attention (along with many others) seems bound to expand into the Buckeye state.

Much of my 17 years at Sports Eye, and now DRF, have been spent watching drivers and trainers head east for greener pastures (by green, I mean the color of money). With the biggest name perhaps being Hall of Famer David Miller, the exodus from the Midwest have stripped states like Ohio and Illinois of many of their most talented horsemen. But that is starting to change.

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Recently on Facebook, trainer Christy Pantaleano announced she was heading back to Ohio with her husband and driver (Jim) to take advantage of the revitalized purse structure at tracks like Scioto Downs, Northfield Park, and the new Miami Valley Gaming.

Pat Berry, an Illinois native, is also planning on testing the waters out in Ohio.

“Right now I’m just going for the month of February to feel it out,” said Berry, who owns pieces of about six horses. “It is too hard to get horses raced in New Jersey. I like it here, but it is hard to make money.”

Racing at Miami Valley is set to commence on February 7 and the condition sheet shows purses will start off between $3,000 and $12,500. That range exceeds the $2,750 to $7,200 currently offered to Berry and Pantaleano at Freehold. Plus the cost of living is much higher in New Jersey than Ohio.

Miami Valley Racing Secretary Greg Keidel is expecting a strong contingent of drivers for the upcoming meet.

“I've also had an inquiry from Eric Goodell, but no confirmation that he is coming yet,” said Keidel. “Other former Ohioans who have been at least splitting duty out of state who may race here consistently now are Dan Noble, Greg Grismore, Randy Tharps, Tony Hall and Tyler Smith. Ronnie Wrenn Jr. plans to race here on weekends. Add all those to old Lebanon leaders like Kayne Kauffman, Jeremy Smith and others and I expect we will have a very formidable colony.” 

Perhaps the best place to race in Ohio during 2014 from a monetary standpoint could be Scioto Downs (opening May 9). When the track concluded its 2013 meet in September, purses ranged from $5,000 to $20,000 and track records fell as some of the top pacers in the sport visited the track for the first time in decades.

Of course, the crown jewel of Ohio racing is the Little Brown Jug at the Delaware County Fairgrounds. This year’s edition is slated for September 18 and for the first time in my memory, Scioto will still be open for live racing during Jug week, with a card scheduled for Saturday (9/20). One week later they will host the $200,000 Jim Ewart Memorial Invitational Pace for older horses.

In addition, Dayton Raceway will have its grand opening in October and has announced a pair of Grand Circuit events. Northfield Park, the only year-round option in Ohio for racing, has raised purses twice so far in 2014 and will host the $400,000 Carl Milstein Memorial for 3-year-old pacers on August 15.

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The rebirth of Ohio racing can also be seen from the breeding side. Only two horses—Art Official and Dejarmbro—were standing stud in Ohio for over $4,000 in 2013. The price of breeding has gone up this year, with Pet Rock ($6,000), Manofmanymissions ($5,500), Dragon Again ($5,000), Dejarmbro ($5,000), Yankee Cruiser ($4,500) and We Will See ($4,500) eclipsing the $4k plateau.

The increase in stallions and price is undoubtedly connected to the rise in Sire Stakes purses. Ohio Super Night at Scioto Downs on September 27 will offer eight $200,000 races for 2- and 3-year-olds, an amount that compares very favorably to slot-rich states like New York and Pennsylvania. Final purses are up $50,000 per race over 2013. Even the legs leading up to the final will go for an additional $10,000 each.

After years of taking a back seat, it appears obvious that Ohio racing is ready to reenter the national scene.

New look for Harness Eye PPs

Beginning with past performances dated Wednesday (January 29), we launched our “new look” Harness Eye PPs with larger print and bolder fonts to make the experience of handicapping even more enjoyable. It won’t take more than a glance before the fractional calls, conditions and times jump off the page. It is said that bigger is better and these PPs live up to that statement.

You will also notice some subtle font changes throughout each page to highlight the most important information. Even the little things, such as spelling out the track name instead of using an abbreviation, was put in place to make indentifying pages easier.

Rest assured that all of the Harness Eye features which you have grown to love are still very much in place. Our exclusive past performance race commentary, ‘Eye’ Rating, track variants and individual fractional times continue to highlight what is widely considered the elite handicapping product on the market.

I am confident the new format and upgrades will enhance the player experience and I encourage your feedback as we strive to provide the best harness racing content available.

Click on the links and print to see it for yourself:  Old Format vs. NEW updated version