RSS Feed for this Blog

Monday, July 21, 2008

Why They Lean Backwards

- A commenter wrote:

I admittedly know nothing about Harness Racing, so perhaps you can shed some light since this is the perfect example.

Many, including myself, claim the riders "put the brakes on" in the stretch sometimes.

This perceptions is driven by the odd riding style of leaning back in the sulky, which makes it appear the rider is holding the horse.

While obviously no one is holding anyone in a million dollar race on an undefeated colt, Some's rider is in this exact position that usually draws so much skepticism in the stretch.

What exactly is the rider doing at this point, leaning backwards?
I'd like to have a few bucks for every time over the years I've heard someone going "Did you see? The guy was pulling the horse back!" And I have to admit that I never really knew the exact reason, though I didn't (usually) suspect that there was any foul play involved. I always figured that the drivers were perhaps trying to keep their horse on stride as they approach the wire.

So I made an email inquiry to a knowledgeable source, and before I knew it, I was on the phone with Joe Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York. He's been mentioned on several occasions here on this blog, in his role as an attorney for various local horsemen groups, in disputes with Jeff Gural, Yonkers and Monticello Raceways (all of which were ultimately settled to the horsemen's satisfaction). Faraldo is a former driver, and he currently lectures at the US Trotting Association's annual driver's school. So I put the question to him.

He first asked me to recall the feeling you get if you're running down a hill as fast as you can, and you feel like you're going to fall, so you slow down (if you don't fall). "The horse's head is his fulcrom point. And the horse needs to know that you're supporting it." Otherwise, Faraldo explained, the horse may similarly feel as if it may fall, and accordingly slow down (if it, in fact, doesn't actually fall). "The horse will go as fast as it can as long as you're supporting its head. The biggest mistake guys make is throwing the lines at the horse when it's finishing, not supporting its head." He also emphasized that it's a safety issue as well. So this is why we see the drivers leaning back in the sulky, pulling back on the the lines at the finish. It certainly gives an unfortunate appearance, and I know for a fact just from listening at the track that it regularly raises suspicions.

- The local Truro Daily News described the heartbreak in the Somebeachsomewhere's hometown, where 300 fans gathered to watch at Truro Raceway.
Stunned quietness and nervous whispers filled the room at Truro Raceway on Saturday as a large crowd waited for official results of the Meadowlands Pace.

When it was declared hometown favourite Somebeachsomewhere was inched out by Art Official, a collective gasp was heard by shocked race fans who had hoped to witness another big payday for harness racing’s hottest horse.

“He’s still the better horse,” one person quipped as the large crowd began to disperse. [Truro Daily News]
The colt is back in Canada and is scheduled to race in an Ontario Sires Stakes at Mohawk in two weeks. Art Official will next race at Indiana Downs. Hopefully their paths will cross again at some point.


SaratogaSpa said...

thanks for the clarification.That race the other day was so thrilling and know I appreciate the sport much more. For the casual fan or for someone who knows little about the sport, there is the perception that the races are sometimes "funny". I know as a kid my Dad used to always tell me that Harness racing is different than the flats as it is predetermined who wins. I think he was going on the same theory of everyone else-it always looks like they hold the horses back when they lean backwards.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, thanks Alan (and Joe Faraldo) for the explanation.

I have no reason to doubt the fairness of the Harness races any more than I do Thoroughbred races at similar purse levels (the lower the purse, the more incentive to try and get an "advantage"), but this makes me feel a little bit better about wagering on them at least on the major circuits.