It has been a long winter hasn’t it? Since my last column, there have been many things that have happened in both horse and harness racing, so let us recap and look forward.
-In harness racing, the legendary colt, Somebeachsomewhere lost his battle with cancer. He raced 21 times in his career and won 20 times. As a sire, he was even better. His offspring dominate and the good thing is that there are several of them running–and racing around. The bad–there will be no more new ones.
Aqueduct got rid of its inner dirt track replacing it with a second turf course. Gone are the famous 1 mile 70 yard races, replaced with one turn miles. I haven’t followed the winter season enough to tell you about biases, but the Big A, like most venues in the Northeast struggled with bad weather this winter. Sure, everybody bets from OTBs and their computer, but what were the crowds like in the bitter cold this year?
-Speaking of weather, one wonders is thoroughbred racing is even viable in the Northeast in the winter. Other than the Big A, the only other track that races during the winter is Parx in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Most of the winter action takes place in warmer places like Gulfstream (FL), Sunland Park (NM) and Oaklawn Park (AR). The Oaklawn meet continues to gather steam. Despite not having a turf course, the track has many high purse overnight races and its path to the Kentucky Derby–Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby–is formidable. We all know that’s the route that American Pharoah took and before that, Smarty Jones did it in 2004.
-The Kentucky Derby is only five weeks away and as I often say, we are entering the deep end of the pool with the prep races. This Saturday is the Florida and UAE Derbies. That is followed by the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derbies on April 7 and then the aforementioned Arkansas Derby on April 14. After that race, the waiting game begins.
-The Wood Memorial is the New York path to Louisville, but the last time a Wood winner took the Run for the Roses was Fusaichi Pegasus, way back in 2000. Don’t get me wrong, there have been many Wood winners that went on to be outstanding horses and graded stakes winners, but 17 years is, as Wayne Lukas would say, “a long time between drinks.”
-Noble Indy took last week’s Louisiana Derby and leads the field with 110 points. Usually 30 to 35 points is safe for one of the 20 coveted spots in the race, but the next three weeks will tell us everything we need to know. He ran a game race, but he and the others were gassed at the end, struggling to get to the finish line. I haven’t been blown away by any horse yet, but that could certainly happen over the next three weeks.
-The Kentucky Oaks is also just five weeks away. This week’s major prep is the Gulfstream Park Oaks. Chocolate Martini, with 100 points is the leader in the Road to the Oaks.
-Yonkers Raceway made harness racing news when it hired Cammie Haughton to be its Director of Racing. One of the first things he did was eliminate the passing lane to encourage more action earlier in races. The change seems to be working as handle is up significantly at the Hilltop Oval. On Saturday, March 24, Yonkers handled over $1 million and 18 miles away, the Meadowlands handled over $3 million. That’s not a bad night for harness racing.
-Finally, we know how many look forward to Opening Day at Saratoga, but let me remind you that Saratoga has already opened. Saratoga Casino Hotel opened on February 18 and run four days a week into December. So, there is no need to wait until July 20 to see live racing in the Spa City.
It’s good to be back. See you soon and more importantly, enjoy the races.