10/15/2015 11:15AM

Pandolfo: Creating a better track experience


Last Saturday (October 10) the International Trot returned to Yonkers Raceway after a 20 year hiatus. The International has a rich history and was once front page news in the New York area. This year's revival, won by Norway's Papagayo E, lived up to the rich tradition of the prestigious race. It was an exiting race from start to finish.

The great trotter from France, Timoko, finished a gallant second. Timoko left and pushed the early pace, then settled back. He was looped by On Track Piraten, who made a huge middle move. Timoko followed that one then had to race three wide and he finished a brave second behind the winner, who rallied up the passing lane.

Yonkers did a good job of getting media attention for the race. It was covered in major newspapers including the NY Times, NY Post, USA Today, and the Wall St. Journal.

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I was attending a funeral so I wasn't able to go to Yonkers and I’ll admit it was disappointing that the race was not broadcast on TVG or any television network. Hopefully this will change. The management team at Yonkers Raceway knows that it will take time to re-build an audience for a race. Yonkers President Tim Rooney has always respected the history of the International and GM Bob Galterio shares that enthusiasm.

Yonkers also did an excellent job with the track, which was not speed favoring on Saturday. Five horses rallied to win off cover trips. Including the International, a total of four trotting races were raced at the mile and a quarter distance. In those four trot races, the payoffs on the winners were $10.00, $21.60, $28.20, and $12.80.

The exotic payoffs in the longer races were juicy. In the International, which was the 4th race, the superfecta paid $6,572.00. In the 5th race trot, the exacta paid $390.50. In the 6th race trot, the trifecta paid $2,088.00. The 6th race trot was the last leg of a Pick 3, 4, and 5. The Pick 3 paid $4,178.00, the Pick 4 paid $11,219.00, and the Pick 5 paid $18,750.00.

You want to solidify wagering on harness races? That's how you do it, with good payoffs and off the pace winners. On a half mile track, the mile and a quarter distance makes a lot more sense than one mile.

Trot races go at a slower pace than pacing events and they tend to be less speed favoring, anyway. At the mile and a quarter distance, it's not as difficult to leave from the outside posts. I believe that's because the inside horses can't just zoom out to the early lead. For example, in the International, the fleet Creatine had the rail and he left strongly. However, the first quarter wasn't that fast, just 28 4/5. If the race had been at a mile, driver Johnny Takter could have blasted to a quicker first quarter. But at the longer distance, the drivers have to be careful not to overextend their horses. The slower first quarter makes it easier for other horses to leave for position, which is a good thing. And, at the longer distance, the driver on the lead has to try to slow the pace down. It's not that easy to bottom out a field at the longer distance. With the pacesetter slowing down the middle-half, this allows the outside flow, and the closers, to get into striking position. The result is a more competitive and exciting race.

Of course, Yonkers only races trotters at the mile and a quarter distance so it's hard to say how well it would work for pacers. But it's worth trying, in my opinion. I actually think that half and five-eighth tracks should experiment with various distances longer than a mile to see what works best. With the passing lane, and the short run to the first turn, the one mile distance simply doesn't generate enough movement.

Yonkers isn't the only track that favors speed. Let's look at some races that were raced on Tuesday (October 13) at two half mile tracks, Yonkers Raceway and Northfield Park. On that night, a total of 27 races were raced, all at a mile. In those 27 races, 21 horses went wire to wire and 5 horses won out of the pocket (two-hole). One horse won from off the pace. This means that only one horse won that raced two wide. In the 27 races, 18 of the races were won by the favorite. That's 67% winning favorites. You tell me, is that good racing?

If you brought a twenty-something to Yonkers or Northfield Tuesday night, and it was their first time ever at a harness track, would they ever come back? If favorites go wire to wire in almost every race, is that exciting?

The payoffs, and the way the races are contested, is crucial to the long term sustainability of the sport. If a young person had attended the harness races for the first time on Saturday at Yonkers, they probably would come back. The mile and a quarter trot races in particular were entertaining, there was no speed bias, and the payoffs were enticing. That's the kind of exciting racing that creates new fans and keeps the old fans coming back for more.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.