01/29/2015 11:59AM

Pandolfo: Going the extra distance at Yonkers and everywhere

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Mike Lizzi
The race starts on the backstretch during 1 1/4 mile races at Yonkers.

Yonkers Raceway has scheduled more matinee cards featuring mile and a quarter trotting races for 2015. While these races make for a nice change to the norm, they do not offer fans/handicappers a key element that has been a staple of harness handicapping—final quarter times.

The good news is that the USTA is currently working on trying to remedying that issue, but in the meantime, let’s look at some comparisons between the mile versus mile and a quarter distances.

From the chart below, a trotter that goes a mile and a quarter in 2:28 would have trotted a mile in 1:57. These numbers are based on extrapolation and research.  I looked over the results carefully and compared the final times that horses went at both distances over the track.

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These are estimates. There's no way to know exactly what mile time a horse that races a mile and a quarter would have earned.   

MILE TIME MILE AND A QUARTER TIME
1:55 2:24
1:56 2:25
1:57 2:28
1:58 2:29
1:59 2:30
2:00 2:31
2:01 2:32

 

POST POSITION ANALYSIS

Since they started on November 9, there have been 33 races at the added distance at Yonkers. Posts 1 and 2 produced four winners each. Post 3 had three winners. Post 4 produced six winners. Posts 5 and 6 had five winners each. Posts 7 and 9 have yet to produce a winner. Two horses have won from post 8, and post 10, which is in the second tier, had three winners. Both winners from post 8 left the gate and won on the front end.

There haven't been enough races at the mile and a quarter distance to make a strong evaluation of the post position, but based on the early results, it seems that post 1 does not have as much of an advantage as it does at one mile, which is good.

To be honest, I'm surprised that any half mile track still races one mile races. With harness racing more speed favoring than years ago, post 1 has too big of an advantage in the one mile races. A driver who has a fit horse can leave strongly and take control of the race much too easily. This creates a severe inside post position and speed bias which has hurt the popularity of half mile racing.

But at the mile and a quarter distance it's a different story. If a driver blasts out of the gate in 27 2/5 forcing tucks, that strategy, which can be so effective at a mile, is not going to work at a mile and a quarter. Therefore, the first quarters will be slower in the longer races.

The drivers know that they can't just gun. And, since the rail doesn't have that advantage, it's easier for the other horses to leave. Ideally, this is what you want, and that's one of the reasons why the mile and a quarter distance is better racing than the one mile distance.

Overall, so far it seems that the post positions were much better balanced. Post 6 won five of the 33 races, which is more than double its win percentage at the one mile distance. Of course, this is a small sample. We'll know more, eventually.

MEADOWLANDS DISTANCE RACES

I was going to include similar charts for mile and an eighth races at the Meadowlands, but they just announced that those races will be discontinued, and all races will be raced at a mile. The most important thing at the Meadowlands is 10-horse fields. I don't think you need more than 10 horses in a race. I'm not a fan of racing horses in the second tier. I like a race where all horses have the opportunity to leave the gate.

But I liked the mile and an eighth races. As Derick Giwner pointed out in his column, at the mile and an eighth distance it's much easier for outside posts to leave the gate. This makes for a better race because the early fractions are quicker and the outside horses have a better chance. Anything that's done to make a race more balanced, fair, un-biased, and competitive is good.

What's interesting is, going a mile and an eighth, even if a horse from post 9 or 10 doesn't leave the gate, it still has a better chance of winning than it does at a mile because the quicker early pace and more tiring distance will give the horse a better chance of rallying from off the pace. A mile and an eighth is an ideal distance for harness races around two turn tracks.

On half mile tracks, the best distance may be a mile and five sixteenths. At that distance, the horses would start near the beginning of the backstretch (off the one mile first turn). With the longer run to the first turn, that would make for exciting half mile track racing. The one mile distance is something that should be permanently shelved.

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If more harness tracks do try racing longer than a mile, the distance they choose is important. You can't go too long. For instance, if you raced at a mile and three quarters, the drivers would just sit in for most of the race and the racing would be boring. Ideally, you want a distance where the first quarter is hotly contested and there is movement throughout, plus an exciting, close finish.

It's taken North American harness tracks a long time to wake up, but finally, we're getting some distance racing.  I don't know how long it will take, it could be several more years, but in my opinion, the one mile distance will eventually become a thing of the past on both half mile and five-eighths harness tracks. It simply doesn't work anymore.

Harness tracks are finally starting to realize that it's all about the product.

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.