02/13/2014 3:38PM

Meadowlands: Going the added distance

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Starting Friday, the Meadowlands will once again experiment with added distance racing and more bulky fields. Each night going forward, the tenth race on the card will be contested at the distance of 1 1/16 mile with a field of 12 signed up for competition (FYI, only Harness Eye past performances list the mile times on these races).

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From a handicapping perspective the change only adds intrigue at the start of the race. Drivers are going to have the opportunity to secure better position and more importantly avoid racing wide around the first turn. Another wrinkle could be a faster opening quarter. With much of the first quarter being contested in the straightaway, we are likely to see faster early fractions.

From the first turn on, the change in distance is unlikely to mean much at all. Even though officials seem to be carding the lowest level of conditioned horses (C-2) in these added distance races, I don’t expect the sixteenth of a mile to make a major difference in who wins or loses the race. Horses that are sharp on any given day are more than capable of pacing or trotting an extra sixteenth.

The track contested races at the added distance with 12-horse fields last winter and the results were somewhat interesting because it provided bettors with more options, especially in the pick four and superfecta, where players now had to use two extra horses if they wanted to press the ALL button.

While I applaud the decision to try one race a night with the new parameters, I can’t back the decision on the distance of the race or the level of the horses that have been chosen so far.

If you are going to ask horses to travel extra distance, why not choose more accomplished and in most cases sounder horses. Certainly drivers would feel more comfortable handling horses at the B-2 or B-1 level in longer distances races than C-2 horses which are usually in poor form and have been struggling.

On the distance matter, why not make the races 1 1/8 or 1 5/8? A 1 1/8 race would allow a long straightway before the first turn but also add enough distance to the race that early speed horses may actually get tired at the end of the mile and set the race up for more closers. Now, a 1 5/8 mile race would be the most interesting for me. Horses would have plenty of time to jockey for position down the backstretch straightaway prior to the first turn (current second turn). You would also have the added element of whether horses could “get the distance” and it should create more strategy as drivers would have to time their moves properly.

While “baby steps” are nice when trying something new, why not aim for the stars and see if you can catch lightning in a bottle?