In Defense of The Open Draw

By Darryl Kaplan

Trainer Jimmy Takter is having yet another stellar season. He was placed on the ballot this year for consideration for the Harness Racing Hall of Fame, and See You At Peelers has the potential to be among the best that ever raced.

While impressive, Takter is also raising eyebrows with a recent comment he made.

Following an elimination win in the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial Stakes, Takter’s Pastor Stephen drew post eight for the final. “You shouldn’t get handicapped like that if you win your elimination while a horse that finished second gets a better post,” he said later. “It’s not fair to the guy winning the (elimination) race.”

With his credentials, it’s tough to discount Takter’s comments. The philosophy of giving an elim winner an incentive is sound, as elimination races always seem to come under scrutiny for their intensity or lack thereof. It has long been argued that elimination races are the only ones where the drivers battling for fifth seem more interested in the outcome than the drivers in the lead group.

But do the ends justify the means? Yes, we want elims to mean more. And yes, bettors should be putting their money down knowing that each trainer and driver is trying to win. But the greatest effect of allowing elim winners to choose their post positions is the watering down of our biggest events. Especially on half-mile and five-eighths mile tracks, where giving elim winners the inside posts is a punishing sentence for any competitor on the outside.

When top horses receive outside posts, big races have new meaning. Rivals who control fields week in and week out are challenged by a new set of circumstances. Handicappers were recently rewarded with good prices when Dreamfair Eternal and San Pail won the Roses Are Red and Maple Leaf Trot, respectively, both from post nine.

It’s difficult for me to say, but the biggest let down of Little Brown Jug day is most often the second heat. By giving the winners of the first heat the inside posts, the race often loses much of its luster. In recent years I’ve found myself cheering for the best horses to finish second or third in the opening legs, to set up a classic match-up in the final. We love harness racing, after all, because of the speed and unpredictability, the last to first wins and the epic stretch duals. Surely that’s something we can’t afford to lose.

While Jimmy Takter was disappointed that Pastor Stephen started the Beal final from the eight hole, he did draw the rail in the elimination, a race he won as the 1-to-9 favourite. While it’s fair to blame his runner-up finish in the final on the racing gods, it’s also fair to say that those on hand that night saw a better race. Isn’t that what we’re striving for?

If we want elimination races to be more hotly contested, perhaps tracks should hold back 10% of the final purse to award as a bonus to any elimination winner who also captures the final. If an elimination winner doesn’t win, disperse the money evenly.

Regardless of the means, the racing product must win.

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