Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Experiment

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.


JL52 said...

I think your analysis of chaos is right-on. The Meadowlands has become a pale imitation of what it used to be, with short fields, and much less movement than previously. I, too, salute Woodbine for its experiments. I think the solution in North America is less race dates per track, which would increase the fields, and hopefully increase the purses, which, over time, would give owners a better chance of recouping their investment.

Allan said...

Despite what others say, I think a return to classified racing and the enforcement of the slow quarter rule (updated for modern speeds) would return the 'chaos' you are asking for. Actually, the chaos you are looking for is what they call in the NFL parity.

Keith - Triple Dead Heat said...

I spoke to several drivers on Friday night and each one of them said they appreciate the attemtps at changes but that the tight turns make it a front-runners game. Get the lead, slow it down and speed to the wire.

I posted a couple interviews on my blog.I wonder if I've ever seen you at Woodbine?! I'm there all the time.

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