09/06/2012 10:39AM

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!