In hindsight or even on paper, the Haughton was the race of the night and it didn't really disappoint. It was deep, interesting and filled with a lot of unpredictability. Pet Rock, who has been stellar this season, was let go at 9-1 from the outside, and David Miller on a speed track, took full advantage. He swept to the lead and never looked back.
What was most interesting in this race was pure harness racing, and pure harness race handicapping. It's one of the reasons why in my pre-race analysis I noted that we have to handicap ourselves more than the horses in the race itself for these deep, interesting races. Generally, you (and the drivers) can find themselves in a bad spot or a good spot based solely on what the other drivers do. It is rarely like this in thoroughbred racing.
Near the half, Cory Callahan driving the leader was likely going to push the button and keep David Miller and Pet Rock hung. This, in turn, would supply both Sweet Lou and Warrawee Needy with fantastic covered trips. After the race, if Jody got the job done for example, headlines about Jody "fishing out second over" would've likely been seen. But that did not happen. Cory let Pet Rock go and the race completely changed in complexion.
In the end it was a super race and four year olds came 1,2,3,4, proving once again that the breed or seasoning of horses have changed over the years, and/or last year's crop was marvelous.
In the big one we had another example of the race being dictated by others. The Captain brushed to the lead and the race was over. I surmised in my pre-race analysis the field was not deep. I don't know if that was correct or not, but the field did not act deep. The only other true leaver, who could've thrown a major wrench into the Captain's front end lollygag was Uncle Peter from the nine post. Pierce left and was hung, but when he saw Tim take the lead he grabbed leather. He was not going to go after a stablemate, even if the first quarter was going in a glacial 27.1.
I think Odds on Equuleus bounced a bit. He was not keen, and driver John Campbell had some real trouble getting him to keep the hole closed in a slow pace. As for the others, George Brennan was waiting on cover, which in a 54.1 probably wasn't stout either. With a last three quarters in 1:21, closers (unless they are a thoroughbred) have zero, zip, no shot.
Time will tell if this crop is a poor one, with one standout horse, or if others step up. Remember, Sunfire Blue Chip and Vegas Vacation were not in last night's race. And the aforementioned Odds on Equuleus has not had a chance to get his feet underneath him this season. I feel there is little doubt he will be a force when he does.
As for Pace night I was disappointed. A few weeks ago I wrote this:
Meadowlands Pace Night Litmus Test
The Meadowlands Pace card has always been a big one. Handles north of $5 million was seen with some regularity in past years. Of late, however, the handle has not been great while the Meadowlands brand was tarnished with shorter fields and smaller payouts.
This year will likely be different because the handles at the Big M have been much better. How good might depend on what horses are drawn not for the Pace, but for the undercard.
The purse pool is probably being stretched, but if purses were offered of a higher than average number, some Yonkers stock could be enticed to enter and better races could be written, one would hope. In the old days, high conditioned races with ten good horses, or super-competitive claimers made the card a must-bet. I wonder if they can return to that array this year.
They did not return to that this year. Probably through little fault of their own.
Instead they ran Sires Stakes Finals, with heavy chalk. The first pick 4 with a $16 winner paid $42. The first five races were pretty much unbettable. Next year I think more work, much more work, needs to be done on the undercard. In this day and age - even still with some old time thinking in the sport and turf press that horses and drivers and the size of the purse make handle - you need to work as much on an undercard as you have to in your stakes fields.
They did over $4M last night, which is good. However, when you look at the fact they've done $3M in a card with no purse over $10,000 or so on a not so regular Saturday with Mark Harder and Jimmy Takter as the driving stars, it's not as much as it could've been, in my opinion.
The next big event for the M is Hambo day. It's always a great day with large fields and plenty of handle. Let's hope we don't see a parade of heavy chalk and a big breadth odds board in too many races come Hambo Day.