08/21/2012 9:21PM

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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Robert Clayton More than 1 year ago
In case you didn't know this Derick.....Tony Alagna and Brian Sears make a lot more money than you do for their travels
John Esposito More than 1 year ago
"We live in a now world where people spend more time looking at their phones and iPads than having human interaction." Very true and Sad... Need more face to face.... I met a very nice gentleman at PHL last sunday...we talked for quite awhile about the old days of harness racing.. Hey AL if your reading this...whats up buddy I would be very interested in starting a Big M fan club.....lol T shirts and everything.... it could replace Bowling night...;) hehe
MaryAnn Donahue More than 1 year ago
To Derick Gwiner or the DRF.com editor: There is a typo in this sentence-- "We live in a now world were people spend more time looking at their phones and iPads than having human interaction." The word WERE should be WHERE. It's a well thought sentence so thought you'd like to make the correction :-)
John Esposito More than 1 year ago
a progam ,deck of smokes ,and the starter callin the trotters to the gate live on a saturday nite the only way to go with the eternal question heard thru out the track who do you like? So true Carl !! I miss the Meadowlands... I will never go to Yonkers again ( too many beards) and I will most likely make some trips to upstate NY and visit the holy trinity of tracks up there ! AMEN !
John Esposito More than 1 year ago
I was at Harrahs PHL on Super Sunday. It was not packed ! They had a "good" crowd.. But only about 3/4 of the yellow seats outside were filled. They had a driver meet and greet that was nice. I think the track should have offered the guests a free HAT or something. They have all that slot money and huge purses....and they give their fans a big NOTHING The racing was great ....no doubt.... But that track does nothing to make the fan feel comfortable ,,,they make it too obvious that they just want to take you're money without offering a coupon for a free soda . Pathetic ! The only reason I went is because I love harness racing :)
Carl Hiel More than 1 year ago
that is pathetic john harrahs and yonkers do almost no promoting to bring in new fans .i think the meadows and pocono due try with promos and giveaways .just imagine if jeff gural had slot infused purses the show he would put on.side thought brennan doesnt seem to be as dominant as he was inthelast 2years wonder if that has to do with lou pena benching?
John Esposito More than 1 year ago
Hi Carl, I have no doubt that Gural is in Brennans head.. He is allowed back...but the damage is done.. I am so glad Gural is trying at least to make the product cleaner. Yonkers and Harrahs should just close their doors. They are running races....thats all they are doing. They do not care about live handle. Simulcast is all they care about. I go to the Meds almost every Fri and Sat night... at least Gural uts on a show.. and makes you feel that you are out for the night having a good time....Freehold is another track that could care less about the customers. I am there on saturdays because I love harness and its close. Feel free to say Hi if your around ! John
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can't wait to go into the parimutual pools. The 20% takeout is a little to much to fade.
Carl Hiel More than 1 year ago
a progam ,deck of smokes ,and the starter callin the trotters to the gate live on a saturday nite the only way to go with the eternal question heard thru out the track who do you like?
Mark McFarling More than 1 year ago
Yeah, we get to discuss which horse got the high test juice such fun! I've got a much better chance in the poker room.
kingsailor2 More than 1 year ago
Who was the English lord that said the best friends he ever had were racing comrades . . .