03/12/2015 8:46PM

Giwner: Tracks need to work in concert

Derick Giwner
Saratoga Raceway switched to a 4 p.m. post time on Thursdays and so far handle is up.

Nothing beats evidence when trying to make a point. On Tuesday, Yonkers Raceway handled $1,014,980, nearly double its four-week Tuesday average of $543,328 and more than $400k above the previous week. How did they pull off this miraculous feat? One word: competition. Or lack thereof in this case.

Due to a 20-30 degree rise in temperatures across the northeast and central states, many tracks are having issues with thawing. Monticello Raceway and Northfield most notably cancelled racing on multiple days because of the amount of moisture from melting snow and ice soaking the racing surface.

With Monticello out of the picture on Tuesday afternoon, half-mile track bettors were left with one option—Yonkers. As much as many people in the industry don’t want to hear about contraction, the easiest way to increase handle at tracks is to have fewer options or at least schedule the races properly.

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On Tuesday 3/3 there were three harness tracks racing in the afternoon—Monticello, Meadows and Yonkers. Eight times during the action a race went off at one track within two minutes of another race at a different track. An amazing 14 times races went off 4 minutes apart. Five times races went off one minute apart and once a race at The Meadows and Yonkers went off at exactly 2:01 p.m.

Isn’t it simply logical (R.I.P. Mr. Spock) for the three tracks to keep a 6 minute buffer between races throughout the afternoon? Is that too much to ask? Yonkers, which goes with about a two minute off-time drag, even prints its post times on the past perfomances. It shouldn’t be too hard to avoid a conflict with them. Yet, not only did they conflict within two minutes five times on 3/3, but also had a race go off against The Meadows at exactly 1:51 p.m. on Tuesday 3/10 when they were the only two harness tracks racing!

Quite frankly, every harness track in the country should work together to schedule post times and racing dates. Why can’t the top 15 tracks race at different times and different dates? That would create an environment where bettors could watch and wager on the maximum amount of races.

When Yonkers simulcasts across the Atlantic Ocean it is given set off times to coincide with the schedule from France’s PMU or Australia. Everything is planned out beforehand to maximize exposure for races and ultimately profit.

Saratoga deserves some credit for logical thinking. Rather than continue the same ol’ Thursday night racing at 6:45 p.m., they took a shot with a 4 p.m. post which only puts them up against Freehold and Monticello for a race or two and then Dover from 4:30 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. when Northfield starts. On March 5, the first Thursday of the new experiment, Saratoga handled close to $400,000, approximately double what it would do on a normal Thursday night (though there was less competition as Dover cancelled that day). On 3/12 while head-to-head with Dover, Saratoga handled $273k, still about $100k better than with a later post time.

I understand that many tracks want to be in action on Friday and Saturday nights. There is room for everyone, just maybe not in the spot they ultimately desire. On Saturday 3/7, 11 tracks were racing in the U.S. and only one (Freehold) in the afternoon. Why wouldn’t one of the lower handling tracks join Freehold and race every 10 minutes or so in tandem to form a strong one-two punch for harness bettors? Maybe Saratoga is a good fit for this slot or a late afternoon start during the weekend?

In a perfect world, if every track wanted in on the Saturday action we would have a pair of tracks starting 10 minutes apart every 2 hours or so. That would give each track a chance to race without ever having more than four tracks racing at one time for too long.

We need more cooperation between tracks. Can’t we all just get along?

Odds and ends . . .

It was sad to hear that Shebestingin has retired but refreshing that rather than watch her struggle to beat inferior foes, she will be sent to birth potential future champions. We wish her all the best in her new career.

We also wish driver Ron Pierce well as he will undergo back/neck surgery. The Hall of Famer is likely to be on the shelf for two months.

With Pierce out of commission and Yannick Gingras and Tim Tetrick setting up shop at Yonkers Raceway for the Blue Chip Matchmaker and Levy series’ starting next Friday, it will be interesting to see who picks up the slack at the Meadowlands. Obviously Corey Callahan, Brett Miller and David Miller will lead the way, but that should leave plenty of live drives for guys like Jim Marohn, Jr. and others.

Speaking of Marohn, despite a small selection of horses to drive, he has really held his own with 14 wins since the year began and an 11% win rate. The young reinsman has won from on and off the pace while often showing extreme patience and charging home for the victory. He certainly deserves some credit.

Finally, how about Aaron Merriman, Corey Callahan and Ronnie Wrenn, Jr. all being on a current pace for nearly 900 wins in 2015? Merriman and Callahan were actually tied with 158 wins through Tuesday action.

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