If you were able to catch the Messenger Stakes elimination race last Saturday, you saw two races. One was Downbytheseaside racing the clock, the other was for second place and the accompanying $10,000 check that went with it.
In racing, sometimes running for second, third, fourth and even fifth is what you have to do. Bettors might not like it and the critics will point out that not trying to win means the sport is rigged. In harness racing, the horses race much more than their thoroughbred counterparts, so attrition and preservation plays a part.
If a Keystone Velocity has a bad race, he can be raced the next week to cure the ills, whereas if Arrogate falters, we often have to wait six to eight weeks to see if he can bounce back. The point is, in harness racing, sometimes settling for third (and cashing a check) might be the better strategy than going all-out for the win and finishing last. There is another race a week or two away to try again.
Can Downbytheseaside duplicate his elimination performance in the $500,000 Messenger final? The one undeniable truth about racing is that it always takes something out of a person or horse. I was a distance runner at a Division III college and we knew the difference between a workout and a race. Workouts were bank deposits; races, bank withdrawals — and the amounts of these “transactions” varied. One workout might be a $50 deposit, but a race was a $200 withdrawal, meaning you better have more deposits (workouts) than withdrawals (races) in your account. As easy as Downbyseaside made it look last Saturday doesn’t necessarily mean he will be fresh and flying in the final.
What about the others? They certainly looked outclassed, but did a few of them take it easy so they can rev things up for the Saturday final? Art Scene was running forwardly at the end, closing with a 27.3 final quarter to finish second, but he was still 1.3 seconds behind the winner. In the end, they will be hard pressed to beat Downbytheseaside come Saturday at Yonkers, unless Seaside’s bank account is low on funds.
There were two Yonkers Trot eliminations, each with six entrants with the top finishers advancing to Saturday’s final. Yes Mickey followed up his upset victory in the Zweig (Tioga) by winning his elimination, nipping Devious Man with a 27.3 final quarter. In the second elimination, Guardian Angel As bested Money Macintosh in what was the weaker of the two races and because two horses (Di Oggi and Southwind Hydro) dead-heated for fourth, nine trotters will go to the post in the final.
Getting back to the bank principle of deposits and withdrawals, one might wonder if Yes Mickey is due to flatten out in the Yonkers Trot final? He ran big in the Zweig and again in his elimination — is it possible for him to do it again for a third consecutive week? His supporters will say he is maturing; his detractors will counter by saying he is due for a clunker.
Standardbreds are known for going to the post. The good ones manage to stay healthy and can make anywhere from 25 to 45 starts in a calendar year. But only the great ones — Niatross, Nihilator, Somebeachsomewhere — can win week after week after week. We have seen the ebbs and flows with each and every horse.
Last year, Resolve was hot, then he cooled and is now hot again and, right now, Yes Mickey is hot. That said does he have enough in the bank for a third straight stellar performance? Did his last two performances leave him in the red? The same can be said for Downbytheseaside. In the end, it will come down to what’s in the bank. The more you have in the bank, the more you have in the tank, and the best thing about harness racing is that we won’t have to wait long to see who is flush with racing cash.
As a kid growing up in the Buffalo suburbs in the 1970s and 80s, the radio was one of John Furgele’s best friends. In the evenings, he used to listen to a show on WBEN radio called “Free Form Sports,” hosted by Buffalo broadcast legend Stan Barron. The show ran weeknights from 6 to 11 pm and featured every kind of sport you could imagine. One minute, Mr. Barron was interviewing a Buffalo Sabres player; the next, he was giving high school field hockey scores.
But there was always one thing that caught John’s ear. During those five hours, Barron would give the results from Western New York’s two harness racing tracks — Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs. This is where John learned what exactas, quinellas, trifectas and daily doubles were all about. From then on, he always paid attention to harness racing, and when Niatross (a legendary Western New York horse) hit the scene in 1979, his interest began to blossom.
John believes harness racing is a sport that has the potential to grow and he will explore ways to get that done via marketing, promotion and, above all, the races themselves.
When he’s not watching races, John is busy with his family and his job in sales. Like the pacers and trotters, he does a little running himself and you’ll occasionally find him “going to post” in a local 5K race.