05/02/2012 11:45AM

Sorting through the news


As much as I believe that harness racing should be the dominant equine sport, even I have to yield when it comes to the Kentucky Derby. I’d like to say it is Graduate elimination night, but that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

A bunch of press releases hit my inbox yesterday and rather than just post stories that have at least as much fluff as practical content, I figured let’s cover it here with a bit of commentary. But before I get started one other item jumped off the page at me.

Many of you know that the Art Rooney pace for 3-year-old pacers lured only six entrants last year. So, I checked this year’s list of eligibles and found a whopping nine horses. Many would argue that the $20,000 it costs to start in the final scares many horses away. But the Yonkers Trot has the same fee and 42 are eligible, and the Messenger, also for 3yo pacing colts at least drew 26.

Once again, and I believe I have said this at least a dozen times, the Rooney is poorly placed on the stakes calendar! It is the same night as the Somebeachsomewhere series at Mohawk, a major prep for the $1.5 million North America Cup. If the series was moved back two weeks they might actually attract a couple of horses. Perhaps the potential divisional leaders won’t come, but at least you have a shot to attract more than nine horses.

Welcome Back Tioga: One of the more exciting occurrences on Derby Day is the opening of Tioga Downs in upstate New York. Some might say, “C’mon, why do you care if Tioga is opening?” Well, I had a nice meet at Tioga last year and I’m happy to see them return.

The track has attracted two good drivers to compete. Dan Noble, who won the most races in the country in 2011 (773) and Mark Macdonald, who recently came down from Canada to try his luck in the States, will both be Sunday regulars. Post time on Sundays is 1:30 PM.

Meadowlands Schedule Change: Due to a preseason football game across the parking lot, New Meadowlands will conclude their Championship Meet, which begins Friday (May 4), on Friday, August 17 instead of the following day. The William Haughton final for Free For All pacers and the New Jersey Sire Stakes finals for 2-year-olds will move from the August 18 to the August 17 card. The Haughton eliminations and the second leg of the NJSS will also move from Saturday, August 11 to August 10.

Yonkers Purses Rise: In what has become a spring ritual, Yonkers Raceway will increase their purses by 10 percent beginning with races on Monday, May 7. The bottom level horses ($12,500 Claimers / Non-winners of $5,000 in last 6 starts) will race for $9,500 and the best standardbreds on the grounds (Open Handicap) get to compete for $36,000.

It is worth noting that the current bottom class was racing for a purse of $12,000 and the Open types $43,000 at this same time in 2011. Are the VLT’s generating less revenue or is the track saving money for a rainy day?

North America Cup: Eliminations for the North America Cup are just over five weeks away (June 9) and 53 horses remain eligible to the $1.5 million event. Sweet Lou leads the star-studded list that also includes A Rocknroll Dance, Simply Business, Warrawee Needy and others.

No Hambletonian Telecast: I read where New Meadowlands operator Jeff Gural was not going to spend his half ($100,000) of the money needed to televise the 2012 Hambletonian on August 4.  While my first reaction was negative, the gears started turning inside my head and ideas popped out.

What if everyone who attended the races live on Hambo Day could spend $30 for a chance at $10,000? If you sign up for the Big M club (current members are also eligible) and wager at least $2 on each race using your card, you are entered into the contest for a chance at the $10,000 grand prize. There can also be consolation prices. Even better, only require customers to wager on the first 12 races and hold the drawing before the final race.

I’ve always liked the mystery voucher idea, but people really want the chance at a huge score. How about giving people the chance to win $1,000,000 if they can correctly pick the complete order of finish in the Hambletonian? I would imagine the wager could be insured.

I always hear talk about how too many people leave the Meadowlands right after the Hambletonian. What if there was a guaranteed double pool using the Hambletonian and the last race on the card? On-track patrons would either have to stay until the end of the card or come back on another night; win-win.

What if all paid attendees were entered into a drawing for a new car? At $5 a pop to get in, you only need to increase attendance by 10,000 to purchase a well-equipped Lexus. I would even pay $5 for a chance at a new car. Or maybe they could give away three $17k cars?

How about giving away an iPad after every race?

Maybe I’m just good at spending other people’s money.

Northfield Pick Four Carryover: There will be a $35,000 guaranteed Pick Four pool on Friday (May 4) at Northfield Park. The USTA Strategic Wagering-backed guarantee is a result of a $9,574 carryover from Tuesday. The wager begins in race eight and Harness Eye Past Performances for the card can be purchased here.