Dredging is a scourge for harness racing

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by Alan Leavitt

Dragging is the term used to describe the practice of racetracks holding the course long after the official clock has reached zero minutes to show the time. It is a blight on our sport and totally destructive to the integrity of harness racing.

If there is any hope of creating new bettors or new owners, dredging makes that impossible. Especially in this climate of federal doping charges against standardbred and thoroughbred participants, there is already a dark cloud hanging over our company. And anyone who’s been in it for a while knows well that the general perception of harness racing is that it’s twisted.

Incidentally, I was aware that many years ago there had been a handful of harness racing in Japan. So Morty Finder and I decided to consider the possibility of restarting it there on a pari-mutuel basis. Alas, we soon learned that harness racing had failed and died at the only Japanese track that had tried it, as it “looked” like it was fixed.

This perception was entirely related to the fact that horses hitched to a racing bike had none of the flexibility of horses under saddle. Can one imagine the multiples by which this perception would be increased if the races had only started six or seven minutes after the stopwatch reached zero?

For me, the idea that bets will be improved by dragging is a self-fulfilling construct. If the track lags, the bets come in late. But that’s obviously a scholarly answer, because the greatest single race handful in the civilized world is on the Kentucky Derby. In the Derby, when the clock reaches zero, the horses enter the gate.

It doesn’t matter how dredging is born, and whatever defenses the tracks can muster is essentially sophistry. You don’t have to be a Nobel-grade economist to figure out that there’s a finite amount of betting money available for every racing program, and drag or no drag, it’s going to be wagered.

This touches on another topic, the fact that most of today’s handful is off track betting. For an inveterate bettor, he or she wants timeouts on the best betting lanes to be staggered so that he or the unlikely can come across more than one lane. It goes without saying that if published publication times are respected, these times may be staggered, for the convenience of punters.

(Here I have to reveal that I don’t personally bet. Whenever I’ve been asked about this, my response has always been, “I don’t bet on horse racing. I’m a real longshot gambler , so I save my money for my old age.”)

If a clever lane operator screwed up his courage, there would be good public relations in a public statement that published post hours and the official clock would always be observed. It would be very much in the character of Jeff Gural to take such a step and improve the integrity of the race on his three tracks.

The same goes for my three friends who own The Red Mile. George, Joe and Frankie have already shown the world how committed they are to the best interests of harness racing. It would be right in their character to weed out the streaks and make The Red Mile a leader in this vital area.

RE: The Red Mile, I have a personal interest here. I have a new partner in two 2-year-old trotters who, if all goes as planned, will be racing here in Lexington soon.

When she and her husband come to their first harness race, I desperately don’t want to have to explain that zero minutes to show time is a fiction. These are the kind of people our sport desperately needs.

Please, my friends, let them and the world see that The Red Mile is totally committed to the integrity of this sport that we all love.

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