Harness - Track Size or Track Culture, The Differences in Driver Strategy Are Real

Harness racing is a unique bird when it comes to driving styles and driving colonies. Whereas in Thoroughbred racing, a jock does not race a turf horse too much differently in various states, in harness racing we see drivers do just that. It's something that's been talked about since forever, really.

At Yonkers - a half mile track - we'll see drivers wait until the half almost each race before pulling. Often they wait for cover so long, the leader has stolen a 57.3 and hasn't even started to race yet. It is antithesis to the colony to park on two turns.

Over at Northfield (another half miler), which many of us have watched lately, it's antithesis not to park on two turns. In about half the races, horses are starting to move just past the quarter, looking for cover at the 3/8's pole - directly on the turn.

On five-eighths like Scioto Downs and Dover we see similar. The flow is stacked on the clubhouse turn, almost each race. Greenwood, oh beloved Greenwood, in the 1990's raced like this as well.

Over at Mohawk, where the driving colony has long been labelled passive, sometimes the shoe fits. How many races have you seen in Campbellville with 30 second 2nd and 3rd quarters? Oftentimes we'll see drivers not want to park on a half of a turn, near the three quarters, where they wait, hoping to find a seam. At times the race is already over by then.

This style of racing also rears its head at Hoosier - where inexplicably, in my view, they have a passing lane.

At Mohawk - a larger track - the drivers don't attack for position.

At Yonkers -  a smaller track - the drivers don't attack for position.

At Scioto and Dover - smaller tracks - the drivers attack for position.

At Northfield - a super-small track - the drivers attack for position.

What's the main difference?

I think it's two part, but it has to deal with Prospect Theory - not wanting to give up what we have, even though we could get more EV with more risk. It's the case of the NFL coach not wanting to go for two or go for it on 4th down, even though the math say she should, because if he's wrong it sticks out and he can be criticized.

First, it's cultural. The drivers are used to the same style, they race the same style. Holes are given, sit wait and pounce rules the day - 5% is 5% for coming 5th. If a hole doesn't open up, so what. When the U.S. drivers come to Mohawk, they shake things up, and Prospect Theory goes out the window. Yannick or Tim are not sitting fourth with a decent horse in a 30 second 2nd quarter, and we see this regularly.

The second is purse size.  At Yonkers (and Mohawk) in my view we see a "take turns" mentality. When you're sitting fourth at Yonkers for a $24,000 purse, you think fourth place and racing next week, especially with the 4-5 shot on the lead. 8% of $24k is good money, why bother pulling and maybe come 6th?

At Northfield with a $4,500 purse you get a big piece or don't pay shipping. Ditto Scioto in a lot of cases; Harrington, others - go is the word. At these tracks the culture is to hit the board, not be passive, looking for next week. It shows each and every race.

Harness racing has always been an in and out game. Horses take a week off, then they're on go and vice-versa. It's why they instituted a rule in Australia and New Zealand where "tactic changes" have to be given customers beforehand. But it's more than that. Harness racing is regional. Drivers at Mohawk watch Northfield and lose their minds, while drivers at the Meadowlands and Scioto say, "a thirty second second quarter, what in the hell are you guys doing up there?"

Usually information is spread and things change, but in harness racing we seem happy with these regional differences. In a way it makes the game more interesting - prospect theory or not.

Have a nice weekend everyone.
 



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