08/21/2012 8:21PM

The lost human experience


I spent nearly seven hours in the car last week driving to and from Harrah’s Philadelphia for Super Stakes Sunday. I like to think I’m a patient guy, but there is only so much road time and traffic one person can endure.

While at Philly, I spoke with a few horsemen who went over their recent itinerary.

Driver Brian Sears was in New Jersey on Friday; Canada on Saturday; Philly on Sunday. Then he had a trip to New York on Monday and Tuesday; Indiana on Wednesday; Philly on Thursday; New York on Friday.

Trainer Tony Alagna told me he drove to Canada on Wednesday; flew back to New Jersey on Friday; went back to Canada on Saturday; flew to Philly on Sunday. That’s a lot of frequent flyer miles!

Listening to their tough schedules made me feel a bit better about my trip, but not much. Clearly the life of a top horsemen isn’t all winner’s circle pictures and cashing checks.

It was nice to see a big crowd at Philly and listen to them cheer after Googoo Gaagaa and A Rocknroll Dance won. Those moments when the stands are filled are too few and far between.

What makes the track experience unique from other forms of wagering (outside of sports betting) is the banter and conversation. I went back and forth with Brett Sturman (Harness Racing Update contributor) on his selections and the reasoning behind my own. It is always fun talking about the puzzles in the coming races and how each event may unfold.

I also discussed trips and pace scenarios with a few trainers prior to the races. It always amazes me how two knowledgeable people can look at the same race and see two completely different things.

Speaking of trainers, Ron Burke was hardly upset about Sweet Lou’s recent performances and was hopeful that the colt’s 4-year-old campaign would be something special.

Racing is the one of the few wagering options which allows lends itself to pre-event speculation and chatter. You don’t see people hanging around a slot machine discussing how the next spin will turn out. And really, which table games inspire any conversation outside of poker? There is hardly much mystery tied to blackjack or roulette. Cards are inanimate and unpredictable. Races contain living, breathing animals which can be handicapped and often predicted.

There is a certain camaraderie which takes place at a racetrack. It is an experience to be shared. Maybe that is the problem. We live in a now world where people spend more time looking at their phones and iPads than having human interaction. I take the train to work all the time and all I see is people looking down at there phones. Hardly anyone is having a conversation. You’re probably reading this on a mobile device right now!

As an aside, in an effort to bring the track to your handiest device, there are quite a few pictures from Super Stakes Sunday on our facebook page. Check them out and don’t forget to LIKE the site.


I was disheartened to see only two others joined me with a first place vote on A Rocknroll Dance in the weekly Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown poll. I can’t argue with any of the other top vote-getters, but perhaps the ratio of 18 top votes for Chapter Seven and 10 for Check Me Out versus just 3 for Dance is a bit off. Sure, both of them have better records than A Rocknroll Dance, but he has arguably been competing in the toughest division of the three. And let’s face it, how many of the other 3-year-old pacers which competed in the grueling North America Cup are still rolling along against the division’s elite week after week?  Other than Dance, maybe Pet Rock, and he was never even involved in that 1:47 4/5 mile.

Driver Challenge

One of the better events of the year is taking place at Vernon Downs this Sunday. The annual Driver Challenge will see nine top drivers vying for a $25,000 first prize. The richest race in the sport is worth $1,500,000. That is a $37,500 payday for the winning driver. Winning the driver challenge nets a driver more than he would make in any race except the North America Cup and Hambletonian. Nice!

You can watch all the action, including the Zweig Memorial right here on DRF.com

Meadowlands meet ends

It was nice to see some positive wagering and attendance numbers coming out of the Meadowlands this year. Granted a lot of the positives occurred early in the meet, but overall the bottom line was good.

The best thing that may have come out of the first year under operator Jeff Gural was trial and error. Management put in place many new promotions and experimented with different wagering options. Those successes and failures should provide a good model for what works best going forward.

For those that call the Meadowlands their wagering home, it is time to find someplace new to invest their money. If you enjoy top quality stakes horses, you should have no trouble moving from track to track each week. Vernon, Tioga and Mohawk are the places to watch this weekend. Here is a brief listing at some top racing days and races (sorry if I missed any) through the end of September:

  • Next Saturday (Sept. 1) is a huge night featuring the $1,000,000 Metro for 2-year-old colts at Mohawk.
  • The Cane Pace for 3-yearold pacers is at Tioga on Labor Day (Sept. 3). It is the first leg of the Triple Crown.
  • Vernon will offer the Credit Winner and Muscle Hill on Sept. 7. Top trotter Chapter Seven is expected to start on the card.
  • Two rich events for 2-year-old pacers – Kentuckiana Stallion and Elevation – are on tap at Indiana Downs on Sept. 15 and the $1 million Canadian Trotting Classic highlights a mega-card at Mohawk on the same night.
  • Harrington hosts the Bobby Quillen for open pacers on Sept. 17.
  • Delaware, Ohio takes center stage on Sept. 19 and 20 with the Jugette and Little Brown Jug.
  • The Red Mile kicks off the Grand Circuit Bluegrass Series on Sept. 27. For two weeks, Lexington Kentucky is the place to be for harness racing.

Sire Stake finals dominate the September calendar.

  • The Meadows offers a nice program of Pennsylvania Sire Stakes and Invitational races on Friday, Sept. 7.  
  • Indiana Downs hosts their Sire Stakes finals on Sept. 8 and The Red Mile showcases Kentucky-sired finalists on Sept. 9.
  • The best in Illinois will hit the track at Balmoral Park on Sept. 15 for Super Night.
  • My favorite Sire Stakes event comes on Sept. 22 at Yonkers Raceway. The NY Night of Champions usually offers bettors a good mix of favorites and some juicy overlays.

Enjoy the action!


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