07/09/2014 12:04PM

Marks: Time for the U.S. to go under saddle

Derick Giwner
The Meadowlands hosts a race for under saddle trotters on Hambletonian Day.

Of late there has been an increasing phenomenon known as RUS (Racing Under Saddle) in which standardbreds—strictly trotters thus far—are raced with jockeys under saddle as opposed to the conventional style with sulkies and drivers.  While this is kind of new in North America, it has been practiced in Europe for quite some time under the heading of Monte Racing.

Actually, some major European superstars like Ourasi, Revenue, and Bellino II have won Monte-style events. One horse in particular—Jag de Bellouet—won not only the Prix de Cornulier, considered the premier Monte event in Europe, but also the coveted Prix D Amerique (2005) in conventional style with a driver and sulky.

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Among the better Monte horses in Norway these days is an American bred Angus Hall trotter named Bullchip. He recently won the Biri All Around, a two-heat affair in which he was under saddle one heat and pulled a sulky the second heat. Here the rules stipulated that the same person performed as rider and driver for Bullchip.

Already in North America there is a series of exhibitions for RUS horses at various tracks which will culminate in the $25,000 RUS final on August 1. Last year, long time harness trainer-driver Ray Schnittker won that $32,800 event aboard his own Flex The Muscle.

Derick Giwner   Ray Schnittker aboard Flex The Muscle.

Sooner or later somebody will get the idea to put these racing under saddle exhibitions on the betting programs at the various racetracks. Actually it has been approved in Canada.  They key factor here is when this actually occurs it should present some unique handicapping challenges, especially in terms of trip handicapping.

As we all know, a huge differential between conventional harness handicapping and thoroughbred handicapping is the impact of cover.  This has been known to throw thoroughbred players out of whack since the uncovered and covered harness horse are essentially going the same distance of ground while one is getting a good second-over trip and the other is laboring first-over.

Now this applies to conventional harness racing in which the horses are pulling sulkies and drivers in which the wind and/or lack of it can play a major role in determining who has the most energy for the stretch drive.

In thoroughbred racing, cover plays a much more minor role. It’s the covering of additional ground by being wide on turns and speed bias that gets primarily factored into the equation.

Now here we’re heading into unchartered waters.  It remains to be seen if harness horses (trotters) being ridden will act more like their thoroughbred counterparts under saddle or will still require that comfortable cover when moving up on the outside as they would when pulling sulkies.

I personally have not seen enough of these RUS events to formulate a conclusion but my inclination is that trotters under saddle will act more like thoroughbreds under saddle in terms of not overly benefitting from being “covered”.

Then of course will be the question of jockey weights, for in adherence to our thoroughbred cousins, it is well known that weight will indeed stop a freight train. At present there are 60 licensed RUS riders on these shores.  Undoubtedly the weights will be listed should an RUS event be on the betting program.

 I can remember the likes of Kelso and Forego toting 136 or more pounds in handicap events often spotting 15 or even 20 pounds to less accomplished rivals.

Therefore, one has to wonder what the eventual significance of rider weight will turn out to be.

We’ll leave the actual handicapping nuances that racing under saddle will present to esteemed DRF colleagues Derick Giwiner,  Bob Pandolfo and Jay Bergman, though I’d imagine when these RUS events are programmed alongside of conventional races, the probabilities will be fascinating.

Good of the whole

It’s long been debated whether individual dictates are more important than what appears to be those of an entire group. 

From what we hear, the participants in that 14-horse mile and one eighth Hambletonian Maturity were not overly thrilled with the pure bulkiness of the field.

However, it does appear that the event was very well received by the constituents or spectators as the race produced a huge betting handle—far more than is customary for that number race on a Saturday night.


All of a sudden thoughts about what’s good for the whole supersede what may be good for the individual when one considers how major sports are actually contested.

To a man, one would imagine that no professional football player prefers to play in Green Bay on a January evening when obviously conditions might be more palatable at one in the afternoon. At that time there’s a chance the sun could temper the cold to some degree.

However, television dictates that these things occur in prime time when the viewership is at its optimum so for the good of the whole that’s what happens.

It’s the same in every sport where spectator accommodation takes precedence over participant preferences.

Consequently if fuller fields and added distance prove more appealing to the betting public then it would appear that for the good of the whole, that’s what needs to occur.

[DRF HARNESS: Watch the Meadowlands Pace and a stakes-filled card on DRF!]


Stephen Mercier More than 1 year ago
Jugheads should all be named Jerry Garcia with a number denoting the individual horse.....
Joel Weiner More than 1 year ago
Between the good old boys driving colony at Yonkers Raceway and the inept drivers who pollute the Meadowlands on many a night and the crooked trainers who one week their horses can barely pace and the next week they're wiring fields, and the :59 half miles at Yonkers while the favorites don't come off the rail, I must say after 40 years of heavy betting I have had it!!! Good luck to this so called industry. I as a loyal fan, am totally turned off.
Joel Weiner More than 1 year ago
PS: Watching Ray Schnittker sitting on a horse's back does not entice me to come back and bet
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There is a direct correlation between number of horses in a given race and how much is bet on said race. The racetracks know this, so blame the horseman. More horses means more movement, and therefore a more exciting race, like they have in Europe and down under. The majority of races in NA are predictable and boring to watch. Perhaps race distance could be tied to field size: Ten horses entered, race a mile. Twelve horses, race 9 furlongs (1 1/8 miles). Fourteen horses, mile and a quarter, etc.
Steve More than 1 year ago
North American harness racing desperately needs more races like the Maturity. Large fields are great for betting and the longer distances gives the 2nd tier horses more of a change to get into the race. 12 signed up for the Maple Leaf Trot. Why on earth would they have two 6 horse elims? Give 2 byes and have a single 10 horse elim. Better yet, put all 12 through to the final and make it that much more exciting.
WORLDTROT More than 1 year ago
Hello Can you invite one time at Meadowlands, 3 or 4 french jockeys...@worldtrot