10/05/2012 10:13AM

Harness Racing: Schnittker speaks out about Check Me Out, heat racing

Lisa Photo
Ray Schnittker won the Hambletonian in 2008 with Deweycheatumnhowe but is against the new two-heat format for 2013.

Ray Schnittker has a plan for Check Me Out this Sunday afternoon at the Red Mile. And that plan has nothing to do with tradition.

Sunday marks the 47th edition of the Kentucky Futurity for fillies. It’s a race that requires a horse to win two heats to be declared the champion. Check Me Out, the leading standardbred in North America and a world champion, is favored to win the $64,575 second elimination division of the first heat, race four on the card, then pack her bags and head out of town.

Schnittker has plans for Check Me Out’s future but as far as racing in heats that is strictly out.

“I want her to race in the Breeders Crown, American National and Matron and then bring her back next year,” Schnittker said.

The idea of racing two or more heats is something that might force him to alter his course and that’s not something he’s willing to do.

[THE RED MILE: Watch LIVE racing Sunday, analysis video, get PPs]

The trainer, who has earned a handsome living over the years because of his expertise with trotters, will have a dilemma next year when the Hambletonian reverts back to its former self in some ways. The sport’s premier prize will be contested with both eliminations and final to take place on the same first Saturday in August 2013, unlike the current format that separates eliminations and final by a week.

“I don’t know what they are trying to do,” said Schnittker. “I know Jeff (Gural) is trying to change the game but no one is going to be happy if some horse dies racing in two heats and PETA shuts us down.

“The only thing people know when you mention heats is whether their dog is in heat,” Schnittker said with a note of sarcasm.

But Check Me Out will race for the fans in Lexington on Sunday afternoon and face a field of six rivals as Schnittker and driver Tim Tetrick hope to bag some traveling money before they journey to Woodbine for the Breeders Crown at the end of the month.

Check Me Out, a daughter of Donato Hanover, set a world record in last week’s Bluegrass at The Red Mile trotting a 1:51 2/5 mile.

“She’s been perfect. I think she’s more relaxed now maybe than she was earlier in the year,” said Schnittker.

Sunday’s field, in which Check Me Out drew post five, includes Hambletonian Oaks winner Personal Style (post four), recent world record setter Bluff (post 3) and the extremely fast Win Missy B (post 6).

None of those fillies have been able to match strides with Check Me Out this year and all could have a much longer day ahead. That’s because they are not likely to defeat Check Me Out in the first heat and if any of them are fortunate to win the second heat it would force a third heat to be contested.

In the end Schnittker may have in fact softened up his future competition by bowing out of the Kentucky Futurity for fillies one or two races early.


Robert More than 1 year ago
I guess he was worried about his big horse dying but he didn't care about Real Babe.
Robert More than 1 year ago
When was the last time a horse died after racing two heats? Is this something that occurs often?
W.G. More than 1 year ago
Not that I remember. The Hambo cut back from four heats after Steve Lobell nearly died following his win in 1976 (when it was still at DuQuion, though that Hambo was run in extreme heat I believe), but that was the exception. It is rare enough to die from racing three heats (I can't remember that happening either) let alone two.
Robert More than 1 year ago
Four heats in 100 degree weather is a long way from two or possibly three on a crisp fall day. I remember reading about Tommy Thomson asking someone, I think it was Doug Ackerman, if changes needed to be made to the Jug format and his replay was, "If you can't get one to go two heats in late September, you're not much of a horseman." Ray pays for his horses and it's his business how he races them. I might suggest he keep them up in New York and go twice around for all the cash. The sport is dying a slow death and killing off its traditions and the things that made it great isn't helping. All but about four or five heat races have been eliminated. I think some decisions have to be made in light of this premeditated scratch and Bolt The Duer's Jug scratch after a close second in the first heat. I would suggest that in order to earn any purse money a horse must compete in all heats to which he is eligible. Then you can decide whether you want to enter or not instead of throwing a wrench into the works for other people. Race is so worried about PETA, maybe he should stop and think that his actions, while ensuring that once horse only races once, makes it very likely that two horses will race three times.
W.G. More than 1 year ago
Exactly Robert: If I were running the Red Mile, I would make it clear to Schnittker that his filly would be scratched unless he signs a sworn statement that he will race her in all heats, and failure to do so, especially after winning the first heat will result in a 15-YEAR suspension. That kind of suspension would make him think twice about what he intends to do. It's that kind of fear of PETA that in my view has helped create many of the problems we have in thoroughbred racing, and should be stopped.
Robert More than 1 year ago
The PETA statement is phony baloney. I hope Ray understands that PETA doesn't want him to have his job at all. And I really don't think the racing industry should be bowing to pressure from a few nutjobs anyway. I have no problem with a man managing his horse the way he sees fit. The answer is to enter a different race the way Linda and Jonas did with their top horses. Ray seems like he's on a one-man crusade to end heat racing. The truth is that there are many self-interested people that are simply going to end the sport for good. Look at the short fields in Lexington this year. I'd be more concerned about that.
Mike Bilinskas More than 1 year ago
You don't like heat racing, then don't enter the race..