04/16/2015 12:04PM

Giwner: Around the Flying Turns

Derick Giwner
Northfield Park provides some of the most exciting half-mile racing in the country.

It had been more than 15 years since my last visit to Northfield Park in Ohio. Now known as the Rocksino at Northfield Park, the track is almost equal parts old and new as it sets the pace among Racinos in the state of Ohio.

As you enter the grounds, the vintage Northfield Park sign catches the eye just as much as the Hard Rock Café-branded guitar outside the casino, which is in a separate building to the right of the grandstand. The entire first floor of the track is a simulcast player’s heaven, with countless individual TV carousels to watch and handicap your favorite track. The majority of the first floor has clearly been renovated recently.

Walk on the apron and it is obvious that few dollars have been spent to spruce up that part of the plant. The toteboard and outer façade of the building looks dated, but considering the current state of racing, with on-track attendance at an all-time low, who can blame a track for ignoring a part of the facility which doesn’t get the usage that it received in its heyday.

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The mammoth seldom-used second floor seems to go on forever. The dining room was closed on my Tuesday evening visit, but the entire level has to seat thousands of people. Too bad the second floor is typically closed because people are kept from seeing the track’s Wall of Fame with pictures of some important people from the past.

The racing product is second-to-none as far as half-mile tracks go. Despite catering to some cheaper horses, these warriors of the night battle week-in and week-out while putting on a great show for the betting public. Line-up races where horses settle in and don’t move are a rarity as most of the races are hotly contested. This action spurs on some of the best handle figures in the country. The night before I attended, handle was in the $1.2 million range.

Let’s not forget the Rocksino, which is just a short two minute walk from the track. The inside is very nicely laid out and contains a Steakhouse, Buffet, Hard Rock Café, and my absolute favorite, outside smoking VLT areas. No, I don’t smoke, but it seemed like an ingenious idea to have mostly enclosed heated outside areas for players who wanted to smoke and play.

Derick Giwner      Northfield currently races Monday-Thursday.

According to Dave Bianconi, V.P. of Racing and Simulcasting, the slot facility has been outperforming the other seven Racinos in the state, with March ranking as its best month ever. Having already made multiple increases to the purse account since the casino’s inception in December 2013, Bianconi expects another increase of about 10% in the near future.

Ohio racing is making a comeback and Northfield remains front and center. In addition to a full-time schedule with 214 programs in 2015, the track will host some of the stars of the sport. The Cleveland Trotting Classic on June 12, Battle of Lake Erie on July 3, Carl Milstein Memorial on August 14, and Courageous Lady on November 27 form a strong stakes schedule.

So, if you are looking for a track to play at night from Monday to Thursday, check out the Northfield Park’s simulcast and be sure to bet top catch-drivers Aaron Merriman and Ronnie Wrenn, Jr. They win a lot of races!

Final leg of the Levy

The fifth and final preliminary leg of the George Morton Levy Memorial at Yonkers Raceway will be contested Saturday night and the field for the $529,000 (estimated) final is still very much undecided.

P H Supercam, Beach Memories and Take It Back Terry can punch their tickets for the Saturday April 25 finale, and Fat Mans Alley and Windsong Jack are both all but in the big dance. That leaves three spots for a host of pursuers.

Michael’s Power is currently fourth in the standings at 200 points, but sitting out this week is probably going to cost him a seat at the final table. He has to hope none of the current top eight get a check and that none of the horses outside of that group win, or in many cases even finish second. Polak A and Sapphire City (both in the first preliminary) have their fates in their own hands. A first or a second by either cinches the deal.

After that it is anyone’s ball game. Domethatagain, Heez Orl Black N, Bettor’s Edge and Lucan Hanover would seem to need a win to get in, but could conceivably sneak in with a second-place finish. Frankies Dragon, Mach It So, National Debt, Mach’s Beach Boy and Clear Vision would need a win and some luck to have their opportunity for the big bucks.

All of the above adds up to what should be three interesting seven-horse races come Saturday night.

Final thought

With this entire column focusing on Northfield Park and Yonkers Raceway, I thought it was an interesting tidbit that former driver Walter Case, Jr, who competed very successfully at both tracks, has a growing following on Facebook. With 1,912 members, the “Bring Back Harness Driver Walter Case Jr he did his time” page has the support of a large portion of the harness community.

Will Case ever get a chance to hop back into the sulky?