07/15/2016 10:21PM

Giwner: Dispelling the added distance myth


With The Meadowlands carding multiple races at the odd (for harness racing in North America) distance of 1-1/8 miles, I’ve been hearing over and over again about whether a horse can “handle the distance.”

Let’s put this to rest quickly. The extra eighth of a mile means nothing; zero, zilch; nada.

This is not Thoroughbred racing where horses break from a gate and must travel shorter or longer distances depending on where the gate is placed. This is Harness Racing with a moving starting gate. The horses follow the gate well before the 1-1/8 starting point and are just about at full speed just past the 1-1/8 start and well before the mile start.

So, you see, Standardbreds, so called because they travel at a standard distance of one mile, actually travel more than one mile in every single race! It just so happens that we only time them for a mile.

Now it is true that the stress level of a horse likely increases from the moment the starter says “GO,” so a horse will likely exert a bit more energy during a longer race, but the actual distance travelled in a 1-1/8 race is no longer than a mile race.

The benefit of a 1-1/8 race on a mile track is obvious. Post position is quickly negated as outside horses have a much better opportunity to gain valuable early position prior to entering the first turn of the race. That said, horses starting in the second tier are at a decided disadvantage in an added distance race as opposed to a mile race because the likelihood of outside leavers ensures they will come away one to three positions further back along the cones.

While as a bettor I love the idea of the extra distance combined with the bigger 12-horse fields, I can see the major negatives of drawing in the second tier in these races. This really is a no-win situation. Owners, trainers and drivers are never going to like the second tier and bettors are never going to be satisfied with smaller fields.

And the circle just goes round and round, sort of like the horses we watch on the track.

Maybe the only fair answer is that in races which owners have to pay staking fees, fields are limited to the top 10 money earners on a mile track, and the experimentation with larger fields at different distances is kept to upper-level overnight conditioned horses. Though I’m pretty certain horsemen would be unhappy with that as well.

The only guarantee in this sport is that every solution leads to at least one unhappy party. But I guess you can say that about almost any area of life.