11/09/2011 12:45PM

History repeats itself at Yonkers Raceway


For a decade that began in the late 1980’s, Walter Case Jr. began his domination of the driving colony at Yonkers Raceway. He never won less than 25 percent of his races and even eclipsed the 35 percent mark when he reached the winner’s circle a miraculous 1077 times in 1998. 

Case, who has only driven 25 times since 2004 due to a prison term and probation (ended Oct. 27 of this year) which would not allow him to leave the state of New York, was a master at making horses go faster. He would take horses that appeared lifeless on paper and make you realize that they don’t race on paper. He made speed and kept horses going until the wire that other drivers could barely get to finish fifth.

The problem with Case, as some people saw it, was his horses were almost always favored. Race after race he would be listed to drive half of the horses in each race and would get first pick of the best horses. So, Case’s charges were always heavily backed at the windows.

In 2011, Yonkers Raceway has a new version of Case. Veteran driver George Brennan, 44, came to Yonkers full time in 2010 after winning the Meadowlands driving title. Immediately upon arrival he began winning races at a high rate. After years of being a very good driver while sparring against the best at the Meadowlands, he came to Yonkers and became possibly the best driver in the country.  He is winning almost 29 percent of his races at Yonkers in 2011 and 27 percent nationwide.

Where the comparison between the two upper-echelon drivers really hits home is driving favorites and lower-priced horses. Like Case, every horse that Brennan steers takes plenty of tote action. Over the past five racing nights at Yonkers (11/3 – 11/8), Brennan has driven 20 winners in 59 races (33 percent). Of those 20 winners, 10 were odds-on (even money or lower), and his horses went off at 5-1 or lower in 50 of his 59 races (84 percent). So, you are hardly getting rewarded when he wins.

Like Case years ago, Brennan’s horses are being over-bet on many occasions. This zest by the public for betting Brennan opens up opportunity for savvy handicappers. Those who are willing to pick their spots and are not blinded by Brennan’s success can benefit 70 percent of time when he fails, and they will be nicely rewarded in the form of a big win price.

To be clear, I’m not saying you should avoid betting Brennan’s horses. Rather, ask yourself a few questions first:  1) Is Brennan’s horse a deserving favorite?  2) If another top Yonkers driver (Sears, Bartlett, Dube, Gingras) was driving the horse, Would the horse be a similar price? 3) Are you getting value on another possible contender because Brennan’s horse is taking too much action?

Brennan and Case are uniquely talented drivers. They are both capable of tapping into a horse’s hidden potential. That said, we should not be running to windows on name alone. Make sure the reward is worth the risk.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to answer.

Rocco Gannascoli More than 1 year ago
Will walter case ever come back? is George Brennan helf as good as walter case?
Pat Doyle More than 1 year ago
It is sad that so many jockeys and drivers have problems with substance abuse. It seems that they have a higher incidence than people in other professions. I would hope that the race tracks have help for these folks on hand, perhaps AA meetings and counselors available on track. This year we saw two Baze family members lives in turmoil over substance abuse, one, Mike Baze, was found dead in his vehicle at Churchill Downs race track. Tyler Baze, a very talented jockey, suspended due to alcohol abuse. They put their lives, other jockey and drivers' lives and horse lives at stake when they drink or use drugs. I hope that Mr. Case gets his life together again. Starting over in tracks that know of his past is a very hard thing to do. I wish him well. Pat Doyle
jay More than 1 year ago
Again i sit and watch Brennan get yet another courtesy tuck from post 7, while my two picks finish 2nd and 3rd for those of you who want to share in my misery watch the replay of race 5 on thursday night 11/17/2011 @ yonkers. signed misery loves company
jay kurtz More than 1 year ago
It is getting so frustrating to try to play yonkers. Brennan simply outdrives them night after night after night. The courtesy "tucks" he gets are simply ridiculous, especially the ones he gets from post 7 or eight. How refreshing it would be to see some of the other drivers play a little hardball and park him out once in a while. Dover starting to look better and better each night
hal More than 1 year ago
I did not know about the Case prison story. if anyone else does not know the story, there is a short summary from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, written when he was released in 2008 at http://blog.cleveland.com/sports/2008/11/walter_case_out_of_prison_back.html
Rick More than 1 year ago
Agree there's still value out there you just have to pick you spots......and hope they are the right ones LOL. Drivers are overbet in this game which is a big mistake. Great drivers don't win with bad horses, but great horses can win with "bad" drivers. Anyone remember Malabar Man. Not knocking Mal but he's definately was never considered a top driver. You still need the horse no matter who's driving. GB is having a fantastic year & I'm sure his confidence is at an alltime high, but he will even tell you he's driving good horses.
robert malewski More than 1 year ago
I echo the earlier comment about DRF covering harness racing...I truly appreciate it. I was weaned at Sportsman's Park during it's heyday in the 70's, 80's, and 90's...second best racing in the country only to the Big M. There was a terrific driving colony with no real standouts, although Magee and Morgan were great, to say nothing of Busse and Banks and Hiteman and Jacobs and Curran...always a price shot with credentials to win. I see how Brennan wins so often at YR but a bad trip can do him in or a stubborn front runner who doesn't surrender the lead so easily can also doom him. DG makes a point about whether other driver wins with Brennan's horse but I look for the other great drivers to "out-trip" him at a much better price most of the time. While I know the value of working out a garden trip If I had my way I'd see the drivers playing hrdball more often so guys coming up early for the lead will not just assume no resisitance from leader and get to the top too easily...I guess when you need a favor from another driver you KNOW when you'll get it...but if I am on a price shot I most likely NEED them to beat each other up on the front end but rarely see it at YR or the BigM...Come on drivers...make them work for the lead ONCE in a while Bob
Tom More than 1 year ago
Derick, first like to say love the harness talk and I absolutely agree with you. I think George Brennan is a great driver and does amaze me how he makes speed with some horses and just keeps going but the value just isn't there and as a handicapper thats what its all about. I think there is another driver that may fit into that category as well Dave Palone at the Meadows is usually overbet although very talented with a good pick of horses.
Ray More than 1 year ago
I was a regular at Yonkers during late 80's & early '90's, and Case was one of the reasons I made the change to thoroughbred wagering. Prices at yonkers were never good, and when you have such a dominant driver, it makes it even more difficult. I understand your point, you can get good prices if you bet against an underlayed Case or Brennan horse, but your timing has to be right on. It's been kinda like that at No.california throroughbred tracks with Russel Baze. I'm glad I'm based in So Cal, where there are always 2or3 at the top of standings, but jockey colony is fairly well balanced..same at NYRA tracks.
Dave More than 1 year ago
It's nice to see the Daily Racing Form doing a little more for harness racing, and they've got the ideal guy to cover it! Derick is a harness "lifer" and he usually has great information and useful handicapping tips for both the novice and expert follower.