09/03/2015 8:50PM

Giwner: Saturday stakes conflicts

Michael Burns
Mohawk offers six stakes races on Saturday night.

It is of the utmost importance to see things from multiple viewpoints in life. As we approach perhaps the busiest night of harness racing in this calendar year, it begs the question, is having multiple stakes on the same day/night at separate tracks as big of a negative as publicly viewed?

I have been firmly against the notion of stakes conflicts for many years and despite the vast majority of horsemen seemingly voicing the same concerns, we get nights like Saturday (9/5), where major stakes are scheduled at Yonkers Raceway, Mohawk Racetrack and Pocono Downs. That doesn’t even take into consideration the pair of NY Sire Stakes races at Tioga Downs that may have lured a top driver or two if on the right night.

It is an obvious inconvenience for trainers and owners when there is a traffic jam of stakes on the calendar. Owners get into the game to not only make money but win races and have the opportunity to smile in the winner’s circle. Obviously it becomes difficult when you have elite horses racing at separate tracks on the same night.

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Trainers can’t be on hand to get a final look at their horses before they head to the track and are left to rely on assistants in instances when they would prefer to be hands-on. A trainer is also forced to choose which top horse they will accompany and risk the chances of negatively affecting a relationship with the neglected owner. Don’t both Jimmy Takter and Yonkers Raceway suffer because the trainer almost has to drive at Pocono (or accept a catch-driver he is not comfortable with) instead of watching Hambletonian winner Pinkman in the $500,000 Yonkers Trot?

Drivers are also placed in a sticky situation having to choose between some of their best regular horses. Yannick Gingras had to decide between sticking with Pinkman in the Yonkers Trot or venturing to Mohawk for multiple elimination races and ultimately the finals the following week. He chose Pinkman. Tim Tetrick was forced with a decision between Habitat in the $500,000 Yonkers Trot or Wakizashi Hanover and other PA Sire Stakes drives at Pocono. He chose the latter. Corey Callahan drove in eliminations at Mohawk last Saturday and elected to pass on any drives in the finals to stay with his top sophomore pacer Dude’s The Man in the Messenger at Yonkers.

You also have the issue of trainers who have used one driver throughout a young horse’s entire career and are now forced into finding a replacement on one of the biggest purse races of the year.

But what about the flip side?

Yes, some people are being inconvenienced, but others are benefitting. George Brennan lucked into an assignment behind Crazy Wow at Yonkers when Tetrick elected for Pocono. Jason Bartlett also benefitted from Pocono’s Sire Stakes final card because David Miller could not drive Dealt A Winner in the Messenger. Miller’s absence also came into play north of the border as Randy Waples gets to drive the top older pacer in the country, State Treasurer.

What about those drivers a notch below the top-10 in the standings? Guys like Andrew McCarthy, Simon Allard, Marcus Miller and Anthony Napolitano are getting the opportunity to drive in $350,000 races at Pocono because of the conflicts in the schedule.

We save the most important for last—the bettors.

I can make a legitimate case that they are winners and losers in this situation. Everyone’s time is precious and having many major races on one day can offer a handicapper the opportunity to block off the date for racing while allowing free time on other days to focus on varied interests. It is a night of non-stop action and one that can really entice a player to bring his bankroll in full force.

The negative side is in the scheduling behind the scheduling. It is one thing to have 10 elite races on one night, but quite another when they all go off in a 70 minute window. Did you know that the four $350,000 finals from Pocono are scheduled to go off approximately between 8:55 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.? Guess what the scheduled post times are for C$685,000 Metro Pace and Canadian Pacing Derby? 9:17 p.m. and 9:43 p.m. The Yonkers Trot and Messenger have preliminary off times of 8:52 p.m. and 9:35 p.m.

So, eight of the top nine purse races on Saturday will likely be contested between 8:52 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. If you told me that all eight races were being televised and the post times would be staggered every eight minutes, that would make sense. But we all know that there will be at least one occasion where the horses are lining up behind the gate for two of these must-see races at the same moment.

At least it seems that the two Triple Crown races at Yonkers will not conflict with any of Mohawk’s major stakes. Though, scheduled post time for the sixth at Mohawk is the exact time as the Yonkers Trot.

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Wouldn’t it be great if all 10 races could be spread out over two to three hours? That never happens because there is this recent infatuation with placing all the stakes races in a row on the program. I guess it makes some sense when they are combined in a multi-race guaranteed wager. But what is the point otherwise?

The bottom line is that while many, myself included, might prefer a schedule were stakes are aligned to avoid as much congestion as possible, there are some pluses and beneficiaries to having a few days during the year when the action is packed on one night. That is assuming tracks work in tandem to present the best product for the industry as a whole.

As for this Saturday, at the very least, there will be plenty to discuss and write about on DRF Harness Live beginning at 7 p.m. Whether you are watching from your favorite track or the comfort of your home, check out our opinions, insights and commentary on all the action