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Drivers Question Seven-Eighths Experiment

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Published: December 3, 2008 2:12 pm ET

Last Comment: December 29, 2008 9:45 pm ET | 41 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

On Monday, December 1, Woodbine Racetrack hosted its first seven-eighths mile races since a similar trial period in 2005. Bettors and horse people have let their feelings be known via SC web feedback. Now Trot Insider has spoken to some drivers for their opinions.

The move to race overnight and claiming races for Woodbine's Monday cards in December has come because officials are looking to add more early movement to the races. With the start of the race closer to the first turn under the seven-eighths mile format, WEG officials are looking to see improved flow within the middle half-mile of the races. Stakes races on the Mondays continue to be contested at the traditional one-mile distance. After the trial period is over, WEG will be contacting horsemen and bettors for their feedback.

"I know why the people at WEG have made the decision to give this a try, but I'm not really too sure what they are trying to accomplish," said Luc Ouellette, Woodbine Entertainment Group Driver of the Year for 2004 and 2005. "I'm happy that they are trying some new things, but this isn't the answer. It's not going to accomplish what they are looking to do."

Racing shifted back to Woodbine from Mohawk Racetrack in early October. Woodbine has held seven full Monday programs since returning from Mohawk (the card on October 27 was cancelled after four races). The race dates of the cards with the corresponding handles numbers are listed below (note that numbers are not official CPMA information).

• Oct. 13 -- 11 Races -- $1,167,790
• Oct. 20 -- 11 Races -- $1,183,513
• Oct. 27 -- (card cancelled after four races)
• Nov. 3 -- 12 Races -- $1,334,741
• Nov. 10 -- 12 Races -- $1,366,070
• Nov. 17 -- 12 Races -- $1,298,164
• Nov. 24 -- 12 Races -- $1,142,414
• Dec. 1 -- 12 Races -- $1,394,857 (the first card with 7/8ths mile races)

The first night of seven-eighths mile racing, which featured 12 dashes in total, produced a $1,394,857 handle. The four previous 12-race Monday cards at Woodbine produced a high handle of $1,366,070, which took in $28,787 less than the first seven-eighths mile experimental program. The average handle from Woodbine's four previous 12-race Monday cards was $1,277,847.

"As a driver, it is very hard to have a pre-race strategy. If I'm on a favourite and I have Post 7 and there are two good leavers to my inside, I have no idea what I'm going to do heading into the race," explained Ouellette.

"If those horses (with the fast early speed) leave and get the front, I'm probably going to have to use my horse quite a bit to get to the lead through a hot first half -- I run the chance of not having any horse left by the time I get there," Ouellette continued, "but at that point I know that we're only racing seven-eighths of a mile and I'd better keep going, because I know that there will be all sorts of horses coming from the backfield. When it comes down to me handicapping the race from a driver's perspective or the public handicapping the race from a fan's perspective, it's impossible.

"I don't see this experiment as anything to even think of. I don't think the handle for the card will be any better next Monday. As a driver, I'm thinking 'thank god it's only for four Mondays.'"

"The people at Woodbine said that they wanted to get more flow into the races, but I think that the opposite has happened," Sylvain Filion told Trot Insider. "With the way that they have set up the seven-eighths mile racing at Woodbine, you get into the first turn so fast. With the horses rushing to get to the rail, you have to use your horse very hard to get to the lead. The chart doesn't properly indicate how fast the horse is actually going -- you have to put a lot of pressure on the horse in that situation. Those horses that are used so hard early are not going to be pulled out along the backstretch.

"In the end I think it is the bettors and the young horses that get the worst of it."

"I'm in the business of racing horses," said trainer/driver Anthony MacDonald. "At the end of the day, if I have a horse that fits a condition he's going to dropped in the box to race. It doesn't matter if it has to race at seven-eighths of a mile or three miles, he's going to race."

MacDonald takes a rather laissez faire approach to the trial period at Woodbine, but he still feels that the shortened races themselves are not optimal.

"It's their (WEG's) track. I'm there to race and I don't want to rock the boat, but I hope that this whole process is leading to something bigger. I personally think that you either change the track or you change the style of racing, but not the distance," MacDonald explained. If I've got a horse that wins a race at that distance and I then go to sell him, what do I say? He can't take a mark off that race. Do I say, 'well, he won in this time in a seven-eighths mile, so if you rate that at…"

"In terms of this process leading to something bigger, if this leads to the movement of the poles and the finish line, I can understand that. If not, I'm not too sure what they are trying to figure out with this. I don't have all the info in front of me like the people at WEG do, so it's not really fair for me to say."

The flow issues with racing at Woodbine have been discussed within certain racing circles for years now. One of the common solutions voiced with regularity is that standardbreds should be racing on the one-mile thoroughbred track during the winter meet.

"What they should do is find a way to get us on that one-mile track," said Ouellette. "We see the Meadowlands resurface their track all the time. People say that the Woodbine thoroughbred track isn't banked, so therefore we won't be able to race as fast. You just let us on that track and we'll show you something. Give us a chance on it. I think Woodbine would see its handle increase anywhere from 30 to 50 per cent."

December 29, 2008 - 9:45 pmI think that changing the

RC (not verified) SAID...

I think that changing the racing distance to 7/8ths of a mile is a very bad idea. I have been betting on Woodbine/Mohawk harness racing for 20 years now and frequent the races at least 2-3 nights a week. Since Woodbine came up with idea, I have not attended a Monday card just for this reason. Handicapping a mile race is tough enough...now everything you've ever learned about handicapping does not apply as much to 7/8th racing. I understand that the WEG is trying new ideas to improve racing flow, attendance, handle, etc. but 7/8ths racing is not the solution. Stiffer penalties for those who cheat, better drug testing, lower the pari-mutuel takeout, and have guaranteed pick 3 and pick 4 pools (just like the Meadowlands) would definitely help these issues. I truly hope there are some WEG executives reading these comments because if they continue to make changes without listening to us (the bettors of this sport) I will find another way to spend my gambling dollars and eventually lose interest in harness racing altogether. The next time WEG intends to implement racing changes, perhaps they should hold a discussion forum and take ideas from its customer base to see what we want and provide it...this is what successful companies do in order to keep its customers happy and coming back.

December 10, 2008 - 12:29 pmNot impressed with the 7/8

Sue (not verified) SAID...

Not impressed with the 7/8 mile racing at Woodbine. If the horse is a maiden and wins they still are without a lifetime mark. Woodbine mile racing is what it is and I prefer it to this new experiment.

December 10, 2008 - 9:25 amWell JR, raising any purse

WS (not verified) SAID...

Well JR, raising any purse would do that, or would it. The purses are higher in this era than they have been and the product on the track does not meet expectations. I believe this why we are having all these comments posted. The racing is actually worse than it was three years ago.

Dubblr, Luc is not right. Changing to the mile track will not change a thing. The 7/8 mile races are basically mile races, start finish in the same place. My opinion is that it has not changed the racing flow at all so why would the mile track? The only good thing about the mile track is that the fans would be closer, if there were any left.

There are a lot of cynical comments on this subject and also some very good ideas. What will it take to change the mind set so we can move this industry forward. It has been stagnant for over ten years. The mind set change has to come from the top down, show a little accountability and integrity. Enforce the rules of racing, most races look like an outtake from the movie "easy money". Have the people who hired the people to enforce the rules of racing do their jobs, make these people enforce them, and so on.

You all need to get away from the negative hype. We fans and bettors want to see that the bad apples are being weeded out, let us know when it happens. Start showing a little integrity and we will show you the money again.

Promote standardbred racing better. The best way to promote it is to show you all care about the bettor and fans, make it more exciting, have race secretaries change conditions so the races are tighter. Watch the racing from the states, these guys are racing and seem proud to do it. Things will only change if these things happen. There are more people over sixty than under in the stands, it will only get worse unless all of you look in the mirror and decide to make it better. My guess is at this rate we will have nothing to talk about in ten years as it will all be gone. Do you know where a person can bet on mouse racing?

December 10, 2008 - 8:15 amDid you accept the winners

Norm (not verified) SAID...

Did you accept the winners share of the purse?
If so, how do you still consider your horse a maiden?

December 9, 2008 - 7:17 pmIf they bumped purses up for

JR (not verified) SAID...

If they bumped purses up for 7/8 th racing drivers would be for it 100%. Anything to help the sport of harness racing is worth trying.

December 9, 2008 - 6:19 pmluc is right. put the game

dubblr (not verified) SAID...

luc is right. put the game on the thoroughbred track then you will see some racing.

December 9, 2008 - 4:19 pmi work with a 2 yr old that

tom colpitts (not verified) SAID...

i work with a 2 yr old that won the 7/8 event he has no mark for winning but now has to race nw of 2 im my mind he is still a maiden

December 9, 2008 - 2:58 pmReading through these a

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Reading through these a couple things ring clear. MacDonald says change the style of racing. Well Mr. MacDonald, Step up and lead the way. Luc Ouellette says let us on the mile and will show you racing. People are comparing Meadowlands flow. Mr. Ouellette came from the Meadowlands, maybe he can help Mr. MacDonald change the style of racing. Seven eights is not much different from a mile. Spend the money and change the poles, make the first turn closer, more like the Meadowlands and give these two the chance to show us and maybe it will catch on with the other drivers. Or just have the judges enforce the rules of racing, whatever, nobody seems to be taking this as seriously as they should. Changing the poles will help enormously and is cheap, easy and fast, more bang for the buck as they say.

December 9, 2008 - 11:30 amIf the intent of 7/8's

An East Coast fan (not verified) SAID...

If the intent of 7/8's racing is to increase the flow of the race, thus increasing the action, then the best way to accomplish this is to offer purse money to the leader at the 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4's. Let's face it, an owner who know's his horse is over matched is actually doing the industry a service when they show up to race. If he can some how lead at the 1/4 pole and at least pay his expenses, then that's a good thing. Some will argue that this will result in the favorite getting scorched by a horse who has no shot, BUT, that can easily be solved by the driver of the favorite as he handicaps the race and drives accordingly.

If this was adopted, all drivers would make the necessary adjustments in their strategy to compensate for the greater amount of flow and greater amount of front end speed.

Make the change before I get interested in spending my handicapping money elsewhere.

December 8, 2008 - 7:15 pmHollywood Park raced harness

Mark R. Rocovich (not verified) SAID...

Hollywood Park raced harness back some 30 years ago..and ALL of their hight priced claiming races went at 1 1/8 or 1 1/16 of a mile..You want flow??? you want form??? card the extra distance and then you'll see wich drivers drive with their Brains and which ones drive with their..well.you know....

December 8, 2008 - 4:09 pmin some places, the driver

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

in some places, the driver setting the slow fractions are fined for setting fractions not to the class of horse, and the REST of the field are also fined for not contesting the pace so...why aren't the judges doing their jobs and making these boys drive to the ability of the horses?

December 7, 2008 - 11:29 pmAre you kidding???The

Gary (not verified) SAID...

Are you kidding???The lifeblood of this sport is the gamblers.If there was no pari mutual wagering the tracks would be empty.

As for the casinos they are forced,using in part tax payers money, to prop up a sport that has done little over the last 100 years or so to solidify it's position in the gaming industry in spite of the fact that it has enjoyed a clear unopposed monopoly.

I would hate to think what would happen if another industry were allowed to compete for the gambling dollar such as dog racing. The lack of innovation and the well deserved poor reputation of the sport in general is the problem.

Having said that it is not too late to rebuild this sport but it is not going to happen by changing the length of the races.

December 7, 2008 - 10:54 pmI HAVE BEEN BETTING STANDARD

MR.C. (not verified) SAID...

I HAVE BEEN BETTING STANDARD BREDS FOR 45 YEARS: THIS TEST IS CRAZY. THE PROBLEM IS THE JUDGES YES THE JUDGES. GET RID OF THE OLD MIND SET. GET NEW JUDGES AND TELL THEM TO ORDER THE DRIVERS TO MOVE THEIR HORSES EARLY OR SUFFER BIG FINES. GIVE THE PUBLIC A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY. IF YOU DON'T THE BETTING POOLS WILL GET SMALLER AND SMALLER.

I WILL NOT BET A 7/8TH RACE SO YOU LOST MY REVENUE ON THOSES RACES.I RATHER HAVE THE HORSE THAT I BET TAKE A SHOT AT THE LEAD AND TRYING TO WIN EVEN IF HE FINNISHS LAST, THEN LAY BACK FOR 3/4 OF THE RACE AND TRIES TO MAKE IT LOOK GOOD IN THE STRETCH AND FINNISHS OUT OF THE MONEY. START HITTING THE DRIVERS WITH BIG FINES AND DON'T LET UP. THEY WILL SOON WAKE UP. THEY WILL CONFORM OR MOVE TO ANOTHER TRACK, WOODBINE HAS BIG PURSES, THEY WON'T FIND THAT KIND OF MONEY AT OTHER TRACKS.

December 7, 2008 - 7:49 pmCouldn't agree more. Can't

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Couldn't agree more. Can't blame the drivers because the judges let them get away with it. You can't even compare the racing at Woodbine to the Meadowlands. 7/8 mile racing is not the answer, but at least they are trying something before everybody stops betting on Woodbine racing. It has to be some of the most boring racing in North America.

December 7, 2008 - 9:21 amIs the reason for the change

Wayne F. Hayes (not verified) SAID...

Is the reason for the change in the length of the race to up the handle? if that is the case then it is working. But the cause of the decline in the Harness sport has little to do with the length of the race or for that matter the size of handle. The lifeblood of this sport has always been the OWNERS not the racetracks nor the wagering and especially not the Casinos.

Wayne F. Hayes

December 7, 2008 - 12:28 amThe distance is not the

Gary (not verified) SAID...

The distance is not the problem.Woodbine is simply populated with a high number of very,for a lack of a better term, conservative drivers.

If you really want to improve the flow stop rewarding drivers,trainers and owners for mediocre results.

Why in the world is a horse paid for a fifth place finish in a ten horse field.If it was up to me payouts would go to those horses finishing in the top three positions.

I know this idea would cause a lot of resistance so lets say that payouts would be to the top four positions in fields of 8-10 horses,top three positions in fields of 6-7 and top two in fields of 5 or less.

This would not only cause drivers to be more aggressive and thus create more flow but also force trainers to properly classify their horses and create more competitive racing.

Additionally owners will be forced to demand accountability from their trainers and drivers.

December 5, 2008 - 8:30 amI doubt that the change to

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

I doubt that the change to 7/8ths will solve the problem. Two or three persons have expressed the opinion that if the judges were more effective in calling EVERY infraction in regards to giving up holes, slow quarters, changing course in the stretch, starting violations etc. It would only take one or two weeks of consistent enforcement to improve the situation and improve the outlook of many fans.

Every night you can pick out 20 or more violations as mentioned above not including the "conference calls" (talking to each other) that the drivers have going on right up to near the starting point.

December 4, 2008 - 4:56 pmThe negative comments here

greenteeth (not verified) SAID...

The negative comments here clearly show that the harness racing industry attracts the most stubborn, unimaginative, fearful, complaining nay-sayers in Canada. Its no wonder to me why the public has voted with their feet and stayed away from harness racing: the horses are nice but the people are old, do-nothing farts.

To fix harness racing you have to get rid of people who can't see the fun in trying new things.

December 4, 2008 - 1:54 pmI love 7/8's mile racing.

Robert Leatham (not verified) SAID...

I love 7/8's mile racing. The Handles up 250 grand the first night. Tony MacDonald has got the right attitude a race is a race. Drive on my friend.

December 4, 2008 - 10:24 amA couple of drivers like

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

A couple of drivers like Brennan, Sears and Tetrick would shake the drivers colony up a bit...then you would see some flow!!!!!!!!!!

December 4, 2008 - 9:37 amShortening the distance only

Norm (not verified) SAID...

Shortening the distance only improved the already existing track bias to front end horses and speed.8 out of 10 winners were sitting in the top 4 and 2 winners went wire to wire. So I did not see any change from 1 mile racing results. If anything they should try 1 1/8 mile racing in order to get the backfield more involved in the race, which is the current problem. Presently if you get away 7th, 8th or more you have little chance to make up ground no matter how fast you come back your last 1/2.

December 4, 2008 - 7:28 amI do all my handicapping

George S. (not verified) SAID...

I do all my handicapping work based on traditional one mile races. WEG's move to 7/8 mile Mondays left me no choice but to drop Woodbine from the tracks I bet. Does WEG think 7/8 mile races will attract new customers? It might, but I would think not. One thing I do know is it will make them lose old customers...well at least one for sure.

December 4, 2008 - 7:17 amwhich racing do you like

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

which racing do you like better weg or meadowlands? tough question,at the meadowlands judges enforce rules to make good racing i.e.giving holes , horses on the gate ,and snap common sense decisions.what do we do ,change the distance and hope for good racing.

December 4, 2008 - 12:48 amI also agree with Luc

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

I also agree with Luc Ouellette. The racing on the mile track would be similar to the Meadowlands...and you could actually watch a race from the grandstand and maybe see the race!!!

December 3, 2008 - 9:29 pmwhy not the next 4 mondays

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

why not the next 4 mondays after this 7/8ths experiment try reducing the takeout by 10 percent. then the woodbine crowd will find out that the product is not the problem.

December 3, 2008 - 9:27 pmI agree with D.J. ... "I

R. Clark (not verified) SAID...

I agree with D.J. ... "I THINK IF THE JUDGES INFORCED THE RULES OF RACING (LIKE NOT GIVING HOLES AND SLOW HALVES) THIS WOULD NOT BE NECCESARY"

December 3, 2008 - 6:16 pmNo matter the distance

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

No matter the distance Woodbine will always be boring and single file due to the track configuration.The turns at Woodbine are to tight to allow any kind of forward motion two and three wide,the banks that were put in place also gives a huge advantage to the horses on the rail coming off the turns.Mohawk is bettable and more exciting because the last turn is not banked and is a true mile track turn which allows people to make a move or come three wide or not lose momentum when your off the rail.If WEG and the bettors and horsemen/women want to see real racing and bet on exciting racing, very simple let the s-breds race on the mile. It's there , it's not being used in the winter and it's the true test for horses, drivers and bettors

December 3, 2008 - 4:40 pmI WILL NOT WAGER ON MONDAY

marty (not verified) SAID...

I WILL NOT WAGER ON MONDAY NIGHTS AT WOODBINE UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. MR. OUELLETTE IS CORRECT IN SAYING THE BETTOR HAS NO SHOT.I DUMP 1000-1500 A WEEK INTO THIS PRODUCT.I'VE BEEN PLAYING FOR 30 YEARS AND WILL NOT BET ANYTHING THAT IS NOT AT THE STANDARD MILE DISTANCE.I DO LOVE EXTREME HORSEPOWER AT GEORGIAN DOWNS BUT ONLY TO WATCH.I THINK I MAYBE WAGERED 50 BUCKS ON THAT EVENT THIS YEAR.

December 3, 2008 - 4:38 pmChanging the race distance

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Changing the race distance to 7/8's of a mile changed nothing, all it did was show once again that weg simply does not get it and sadly probably never will. They have to do something with the mile track that the t'breds race on.

Even though they cut an 1/8 of a mile off the distance going into the first turn it appears to me that it is still much further into the first turn then it is at the m'lands. Now because there track is a 7/8's of mile they are unable to move the start point any closer to the first turn because then a mile race would finish entering the first turn which you can't have, so because of the 7/8's of a mile track configuration there is not much the can do about it. A track that is 7/8's of a mile is a disaster.

December 3, 2008 - 4:21 pmI don't think the races were

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

I don't think the races were any better, but I don't think they were any worse, either. I think the increase in handle may be because it was a good looking card to bet. However, I stuck to my guns and did not bet. Two questions,... why did the starting gate pick the horses up only 1/8 from the start instead of the head of the stretch like a mile track? And, shouldn't Woodbine look at getting another starting gate? I noticed every race that started in front of the grandstand that the outside of the wings bend back a considerable amount as the starting gate leaves the field. This must be the case in every race no matter what the distance. No wonder the very inside and outside post positions don't get away very good, they can't afford to have their noses right on the gate!

December 3, 2008 - 4:11 pmput us on the big track make

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

put us on the big track make things alot better...woodbine caters too much to the thorobreds why wont all of us horsemen and drivers stick together and get us on the big track if we all say we want the 1 mile thorobred track we will get it... i dont get it that 7/8 is stupid!

December 3, 2008 - 4:03 pmharness racing has a

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

harness racing has a standard of ONE MILE

all the important records and comparisons and handicapping are all based on that long tradition of one mile racing

this is a bad move by woodbine

December 3, 2008 - 3:51 pmWell I guess I will start

Dave Vicary (not verified) SAID...

Well I guess I will start wagering at Woodbine in January again, maybe.

December 3, 2008 - 3:48 pmi seem to hear the same

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

i seem to hear the same complaints everywhere no one wants any kind of change well if the public wants change then so be it the public pays for your livelyhood
try racing where purses are $2000.woodbine may not seem so bad and for that matter northlands may not be so bad either

December 3, 2008 - 3:42 pm7/8mile race will kill the

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

7/8mile race will kill the racehorse,speed kill and there not so many horse any way they should go longer not shorter

December 3, 2008 - 3:29 pmTHE 7/8 RACING NARROWED DOWN

D.J. (not verified) SAID...

THE 7/8 RACING NARROWED DOWN THE THE AMOUNT OF HORSES TO BET ON... THE 8,9,10 POSITIONS DID NOT WIN ANY RACES ... THE SEVEN HORSE WON ONCE, THE SIX HORSE WON ONCE. THE OTHER TEN RACES WERE WON BY THE INSIDE HORSES... THERES A TIP FOR NEXT WEEK IF YOU LIKE AN OUTSIDE HORSE THINK TWICE...IF YOU OWN AN OUTSIDE HORSE YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT SCRATCHING THEM...I THINK IF THE JUDGES INFORCED THE RULES OF RACING (LIKE NOT GIVING HOLES AND SLOW HALVES) THIS WOULD NOT BE NECCESARY.

December 3, 2008 - 3:24 pmMore fines for making holes.

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

More fines for making holes.

December 3, 2008 - 3:03 pmI think it's ridiculous to

Tom Reinhart - Goderich (not verified) SAID...

I think it's ridiculous to race race 7/8th's of a mile. For years and years horses
have been racing the distance of 1 mile. What is Woodbine going to do next? They might as well race 1/4 of a mile with quarter horses.

That's my opinion. I won't wager on a 7/8th's of a mile race.

December 3, 2008 - 2:57 pmNone of the increased handle

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

None of the increased handle came from me.
I know it was only one week, but I don't think this changes anything. The flow and speed favoring issues are still there. It just gives an even greater advantage to inside posts over outside.
It doesn't alter the fact that Woodbine is a 7/8 track with 1/2-mile turns.

December 3, 2008 - 2:55 pmI am a fan and a

Kevin Kobus (not verified) SAID...

I am a fan and a handicapper. I am adamantly opposed to the switch to 7/8 of a mile. I've spent 40 years as a "student" of harness racing. The 7/8 mile race renders all numbers and records as meaningless and destroys the tradition of the STANDARD mile. This experiment should be discontinued immediately. Any change in handle is more likely related to weather, program quality, and whether the Leafs are playing than anything to do with 7/8 mile racing. In my view, WEG is wasting four Monday nights because people like me will not wager a nickel on a 7/8 mile race.

December 3, 2008 - 2:34 pmVery interesting

Luis Willis (not verified) SAID...

Very interesting comments,but I definately agree with Mr.Ouellette regarding racing on the outer track ,as it is now almost useless to attend the races at Woodbine because you need a telescope to see the finish line or any part of the race for that matter.


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