Rules, Regs, Polls. Closing a Hole?

There is some industry buzz this past week about some of the things judges should be calling, and how drivers act on the racetrack. Standardbred Canada has a poll, asking for people's opinions. The harness edge has been getting much mail about the subject.

We have discussed some of the things here before and most certainly the betting public needs to see consistency, but one area that I think voters and bettors are dead wrong on, is the outcry to "close holes". 20% of respondents have said this is their #1 issue. I (unfortunately) think that the handicappers have not thought this one through.

Leaving a hole open for strategic reasons is a staple of our racing. If someone leaves from the ten post, is 8-5 and grabs a four hole in front of Mark MacDonald, that is not an advantage to the other horses - it is an advantage to Mark - because he suddenly gets second over behind the chalk. Taking that away not only disallows drivers to think and get the job done, it also prohibits flow, which is something we don't need.

Think about it, what if there were fines for this and every driver closed a hole. That means if four horses leave at least three won't get a hole and we are stuck with probably two or three horses, dead, on the outside screwing up the entire race. Then what is the result? Less drivers leave and they get away in post position order, because they do not want to get hung the mile and bring a half lame, torched horse back to the owner. This leaves our game more unbettable and the outcry of closing holes is replaced by "they only get away in post position order and no one tries" - obviously not something we need.

There are times when closing a hole is strategically good, and should be done. Not closing a two hole in a slow pace and letting a buddy in it should not be tolerated as good racing, for example. But we can't throw the baby out with the bath water and treat every driver that leaves a hole open the same.

With racing falling so far down the tubes this year (and last) in terms of fan interest, we will see a lot of sentiment involving hard and fast rules. This is not uncommon. If a community has a rash of theft, there is always a push to throw everyone in jail who commits theft. Fortunately the fairness of the legal system allows for us to treat a one time offending, homeless 12 year old who stole a bun in a bakery because he was hungry, much different than a six time thief who stole a $800 ring - eventhough they are both theft under $1000 offences. That is fair and makes the system work. I hope we never do away with this in racing either. Some things are fineable and should be, other things are not. We must look at circumstance, intent and the big picture in racing, just like everywhere else. Hard and fast is not going to make our game better, it will make it worse.

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