09/06/2012 11:39AM

Harness Racing Speed Barrier


Society has the need for speed. We like fast cars, constant action, and God forbid our internet connection forces us to wait more than two seconds to connect to a website.

For those paying attention, harness racing has provided fans of the game with that speed fix. Year after year horses pace and trot their ways to new lifetime marks. Take a look at the 3-year-old pacing division. Five years ago a 1:50 or 1:49 and change mile might net you a victory in the elite races. Not anymore.

The average winning time in the Meadowlands Pace for the last five years is 1:47 4/5. Looking back at the previous quintet, the average time falls to 1:49. Go back another five years and the average is 1:49 3/5.

It is not just the second-year performers which are breaking the speed barrier. It was considered a monster effort for a 2-year-old to break the 1:50 mark a handful of years ago. Well, if you did not pace in 1:49 and change in the 2012 Metro Pace, you failed to hit the board! And you needed a 1:50 1/5 mile to get a check!

Captaintreacherous, a rookie son of the co-fastest pacer ever (Somebeachsomewhere - 1:46 4/5), already has three winning miles under 1:50 in six lifetime starts. A Rocknroll Dance, a 3-year-old son of Rocknroll Hanover, has 10 consecutive sub-1:50 miles with five of them under 1:49. So much for the “These horses only have so many fast miles in them” line that I hear from trainers all the time.

Is it breeding? Advancements in equipment? Drugs? What is causing the speed phenomenon?

“The younger horses mature earlier than they did, but I’m not so sure they last any longer,” said Bob Marks, Marketing Director for Perretti Farms and breeding expert. “There’s no question, tracks are better, equipment is better, nutrition is much more advanced and the drugs, they are what they are. “

Increased speed is hardly limited to the younger horses. Veteran pacers and trotters are going faster. Overall the curve seems to have shifted one second. For whatever reason, horses might just be one second quicker than they were a few years back. But it is hard to attribute that entirely to breeding.

“The pedigree on Golden Receiver (Village Jove-Royal Gold by Towners Big Guy) suggests he could have been foaled in the 90’s but yet he’s going how fast in MARCH?” said Marks. “Traditionally there have been many old pedigrees that under contemporary circumstances tend to go as fast as the so-called advanced-breds. Invariably the fastest by many sires tend to appear in later crops, though they are hardly the best by those sires.”

While older horses are lowering their lifetime marks, the elite of the aged pacing ranks is hardly coming close to the heralded 1:46 4/5 race-record time or 1:46 1/5 time trial mark set by Cambest back in 1993. And we still have yet to see a trotter break the elusive 1:50 barrier on a mile or smaller track.

The records that are becoming commonplace for the younger horses have been out of reach for our older stars. Much of that has to do with the early retirement of many of the elite performers from the last 10 years.

“If Somebeachsomewhere, Rocknroll Heaven, Muscle Hill, Donato Hanover, and others stayed around they’d probably approach the levels you’re suggesting,” said Marks on the all-age records. “If Muscle Hill stayed around we’d have a sub 1:50 aged trotter. Other than the aged pacing mares, the aged levels tend to be made up of those survivors from years past. We Will See is an excellent Western Hanover-sired horse, but as Western Hanover’s go, he’s not Well Said.”

The landscape might be about to change with new rules now in place forcing sophomores to return for their 4-year-old season if they want their sons and daughters to be eligible to the top races in the sport. But are returning third-year performers prepared to race at the speeds required to set these records?

Chapter Seven is a stellar 4-year-old trotter who just tied the world record of 1:50 1/5 for a mile track. He also has the necessary top caliber rival in Mister Herbie to help spur him on to great heights. But, alas, no sub-1:50 mile.

Perhaps our horses just don’t race long enough to reach their peaks.

“I always thought it was 5 (years old), although some like Overcall, Whata Baron, Four Starzzz Shark, etc. wait until 6 to peak,” said Marks.

Golden Receiver set his lifetime mark of 1:48 in 2012 at the ripe age of 7, the same age at which the richest pacer of all time, Foiled Again, posted his best clocking of 1:48 1/5. Won The West hung a 1:47 2/5 mile as a 7-year-old.

Clearly horses are retiring prematurely.

Obviously some horses need to retire each year to inject new life into the breeding industry and keep the horse population strong, but maybe we are missing the boat and not allowing the horses a chance to show what they can do on the track. Even Sandy Koufax gave us a few years before calling it a career.

Top 3-year-olds A Rocknroll Dance, Pet Rock, and Sweet Lou are all eyeing a return to racing in 2013. Imagine if they are joined by current older division leaders Foiled Again, We Will See, and Betterthancheddar. What kind of racing will we get then?

“I’d imagine with more holdover 4-year-olds we’ll see faster aged races,” said Marks, who felt that we would definitely see a pacer go in 1:46 over the next 10 years.

If we don’t let the good ones stick around for a while, at the rate younger horses are progressing, you may see a 3-year-old pacer hit 1:46 or a trotter break 1:50 before an older horse does.

Mohawk/Woodbine Analysis is here

In a continuing effort to expand our harness content on DRF.com, we are adding daily full-card analysis from Mohawk and Woodbine to our handicapping offerings. Greg Gangle, writer and media relations staffer for Woodbine Entertainment Group, will be supplying his insight on the WEG circuit.

You can read Greg’s Friday Mohawk analysis right here.

Stay tuned for more content coming soon!


Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Inbreeding or linebreeding is the major reason for the speed/lamness issues facing these gallant horses. As the breeders continue to breed for "market" high end money sales, the resulting offspring suffer a miserable fate. Drugs also play a major role, most trainers try to get as much money from each horse before the poor animal goes south. Forget about the young colts and fillies that are not fast at two and three, they end up slaughtered for oversea human consumption, if they are not rescued and rehomed. It is simple math, if you breed within a closed bloodline long enough eventually the resulting breed is no longer as strong and diverse as the original family. Let us remember where the "Standardbred" came from, Draft horse, Morgan horse, and old time Thoroughbred blood was a very important factor in the building of the brave,hardworking Standardbred horse. Now thanks to so called Factory breeding farms we see the result of greed and short term goals. The present day Standardbred is a genetic nightmare. Oh, speed is nice, but so is having a horse that can withstand the rigors of racing and handle being a horse mentally. No hoof ,no horse; no mind,no way around the track. We need the sane, intelligent people in this sport to take control of the reins. Too many people are involved in this sport whose only objective is fame,fortune and speed. They have no respect for the horse, placing a bet and standing in the winners circle is all they desire.
Frank Jovine More than 1 year ago
Breeding, technology and you can't count out drugs as this has been the thorn in the sport of harness racing. I would like to see more harsher penalties when a trainer is caught. If I was the law maker, I'd suspend the trainer and any horse they own for 50 days from running on all tracks. Get caught a second time, lifetime banned, period! We shouldn't assume that the speeds have improved due to drugs as this is only in isolated incidence.
bobbyd664 More than 1 year ago
After following harness racing for years I truly believe the faster times are because of the racetrack surface. These tracks are packed and manicured like never before to encourage the times we are seeing today.
r t More than 1 year ago
oh my goodness, come on Derick. You and I both know and have known for many years, its the drugs. I have owned both trots and pacers, had several triaingers, one of my trainer was banned from the sport for administering drugs on our horses and other owners. My trainers who werent caught were always planning to drug the horses. We had horses for over ten years. Its all about drugs, the problem is, is, the people who make the rules in standardbred racing, own all the good horses and continue to make money and will for the forseeable future because they have a gravy train going on and always will protect their interest. Even drivers use drugs on their rides, heck thats why trainers use certain drivers,and owners request certain drivers. I am not saying that all of us did that but I will say every trainer and/or driver will use any drug to make a win. Elephant juice out of canada was big some years ago. Milkshaking will always be around. Some others I dont recall too. Come on Derick until the governing bodies are not allowed to own horses or until there is a failsafe way to detect drugs, the human element inthe sport will continue to use drugs, develop new drugs, try new drugs. In fact I have seen horses post race, who didnt win and nearly die and have to have a emergency vet save them from a bad drug or reaction. I will swear to you I never knowingly raced a horse that was on drugs. I love the sport too bad about the drugs.
John Esposito More than 1 year ago
Very True post...If anyone believes that horses are not juiced to go faster is out of their mind. When the harness racing industry starts getting serious about cleaning up the drugs in the sport people might come back to this game. I am tired of people saying..if they throw out all the trainers using the drugs their wont be any horses left to race. When the industry stops talking about cleaning up the sport and actually takes action and starts throwing out more trainers like Pena people will bet more money. It sickens me the animal cruelty in the game of harness racing. Juicing horses is just animal cruelty plain and simple. I would like more involvement from more people....Jeff Gural cannot clean up the sport by himself. Slots will make the rich richer and more people will be exposed to our sport but if the criminal element is not stopped people will stop betting the horses and the track will be removed to make more room for another casino. Mandatory drug testing is needed . If they have the money for the millions of dollars in purses then they can find the money for better drug testing....STOP with the overblown purse money we would rather see clean horse races for less money.
Carl Hiel More than 1 year ago
so you werent a cheater but your employees were you just looked the other way .are you on drugs ? your comments make no sense you never knowlingly sent out drugged up horses but you workers did. .the only word i can think of after reading this is mamaluke
David G. More than 1 year ago
How about the days when a trotter ran a mile under 2:00 at most half mile tracks. That was a feat in among itself.
Frank More than 1 year ago
Heck what about if you go back to the 80s. I remember when Nihilator had the world race mark of 1:49.3 just two ticks of his father's world time trial record of 1:49.1!
Rob Nicassio More than 1 year ago
I remember going out to Hollywood Park in1980 and watching Niatross just toying with horses. What would he be running now with the lighter equipment?!!