Woodbine's experiment with moving the poles down the stretch a couple hundred feet has been interesting, but perhaps uneventful. The racing is not a whole lot different as many handicappers suspected. Not suspending the judges rulings on hole closings I believe completely defeats the purpose anyway. If you leave hard and are toast because you can not get a hole on the turn, all that does is stop drivers from leaving and chewing their mount. But despite that, I must say I do kind of enjoy seeing something different. Maybe it is just me?
I think the reason that these things tend not to make a difference too much is because harness racing, since about the early 1990's has become a game of pure speed. If you race on a half, on a mile track or on a straightaway, speed wins races. What tends to kill speed is one thing only, fast fractions. And fast fractions do not occur with just a racetrack configuration, or closing a hole. Fast fractions occur because of field depth.
Jcapper is a thoroughbred handicapping program that I use. There is a number associated with each thoroughbred tilt at the bottom of each sheet - the chaos number. This number is related to race volatility. If you have a 12 horse field where 8 horses speed figs are all within five of each other, and there are six horses capable of 21 opening panels, you have a high number. If you have a short field with two contenders and three doddlers, the number is low. Almost without fail, the high number guarantees a fast pace, or an interesting race.
For my 2009 database, a volatility number of under 100 yields 40% winning chalk at a high impact value. The race is a snore fest and the best horse wins. For a volatility number of over 180, faves went 134 for 609 - 22% winning chalk - pure chaos.
In harness racing, at Woodbine, there are very few chaos races. Take a field of nw2 trotters. There is one horse with speed, one decent closer and eight fillers. You will not get movement no matter what you do. The horses are incapable of movement. In a short field FFA with one speed horse, like Ramegade Bruiser, you will not get chaos, ever.
What breeds chaos? Horse population and imagination. Before Yonkers opened, the Meadowlands was chaos. Now, not so much. When Yonkers steals 40 horses a night from your roster, this is assured. Here at Woodbine we do not have the population to breed chaos, and to get it, hard choices have to be made. Choices that might not even be good for this business.
I think we need much more to make movement in harness races the norm, not the exception, and moving poles will not do the job. However, I admire people trying things like Woodbine has. If you are not at least trying to move forward in today's gambling environment, you are moving backward, so kudos for giving this a shot.
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