01/18/2013 1:05PM

Meadowlands: 12-horse fields and Garcia-Herrera thoughts

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Amidst all of the early season success at the Meadowlands, one thing has been eating at me. I just do not understand the need or reasoning for carding 12-horse fields at the distance of one mile.

For a short time last year while Freehold was closed, the track experimented by carding 14-horse races at 1 ½ miles for $7,500 claimers. While having four trailers (when Meadowlands gets more than 10 horses they must start from the second tier) and racing cheaper horses at the longer distance wasn’t ideal, those races provided some visually exciting on-track results.

The decision to pare down to 12 horses is a nice compromise and the track using higher quality horses in these races make perfect sense, but why are they racing at the one mile distance? These races have added nothing to the wagering totals (about average compared to other races) or excitement factor.

In the 9 races with expanded fields raced so far at this meet, the horses from posts 11 and 12 have finished in-the-money twice in 18 opportunities. And some of them have been either favorites or lower odds.

Of the 35 horses which have come away 9 through 12 at the quarter in these bulky fields, only 2 have rallied to finish in the money. That leaves about a 5% chance of coming away at the back of the pack and hitting the trifecta ticket in a 12-horse field at one mile. Conversely, of the approximately 100 other races contested (only about 85 have gone to post with 10 horses) during the meet, 25 horses have rallied from 9th or 10th at the quarter to hit the board; with many winning races. That equates to approximately a 15% on-the-board rate.

While I see some value in these 12-horse fields at a longer distance where horses will have a greater opportunity to get into the action, driver Tim Tetrick has been outspoken in his desire to see every horse have a spot on the gate.

“When you start from the second tier you just don’t have a fair shot,” said Tetrick. “From post 11 you have to do whatever the 1 does because you have the 12 right to your outside. The 12 is a little bit better because at least you have no one to your outside and can start behind the 2, 3 or 4.”

Tetrick also brought up a safety issue of horses jockeying for position into the first turn and the number of horses which are losing their air because they have to race parked the entire mile or are trapped with no place to race after getting fired up early to secure position.

“If Golden Receiver draws into the second tier, what happens then? Things would be very different,” said Tetrick referring to the classy speedball pacer who rarely races from behind.

While I applaud the 12-horse one-mile experiment, I’m ready to see something new or old. Either give me a longer distance race (1 ½ or 1 9/16 or 1 5/8) where horses at the back of the pack will have an improved shot at getting involved, or let’s go back to the traditional 10-horse one-mile races which have worked very well for all these years.

One final thought

I just don’t get why trainers like Gilbert Garcia-Herrera can’t race at the Meadowlands (he isn’t the only one, by the way). Sure, he wins an inordinate amount of races and he is suspected of being involved with the currently under investigation Lou Pena, but don’t we live in a society where you are innocent until proven guilty?

Obviously the Meadowlands is free to ban who they want, but absent cold hard facts, I’ll never agree with it. I’m not saying Garcia-Herrera is currently doing everything by the rules, but he also hasn’t been caught doing something wrong.

Garcia-Herrera called the Meadowlands ban “very unfair” and talked of numerous times when he went out of his way to help fill the Meadowlands box in 2012.

“I don’t understand why they let other trainers coming out of positives race while my last positive was probably 15 years ago,” said the trainer.

On a side note, Garcia-Herrera was simply out of the country during the previous month tending to family matters and plans to start entering his horses again by the end of next week.

”Last year when I tried to race in January I kept training my horses but they would only get in once a month,” said Garcia-Herrera. “I decided to give the horses some time off this year and have them fresh for the end of the month.”

Garcia-Herrera, one of the top trainers at Yonkers and Philadelphia in 2012, added that he has a little more horse power right now and hopes to come out of the box strong.

 

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