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Monday, February 7, 2011

Space Invasion: Buffalo Raceway

On Saturday night, I made my inaugural Space Invasion to a harness racing track, which happens to be in my own hometown. It was an invasion of different sorts for this thoroughbred racing fan who trekked through the snow flurries blowing around on the New York State Thruway on his way to the Erie County Fair Grounds, where Buffalo Raceway is situated, 14 miles south of our fair city. The night started out on a good note, once I reached my destination, given the free parking and free admission. Free is good for the racing fan.

I grabbed a cheap $2 program and was met by track COO James Mango and Publicity Director Sam Pendolino and broke bread with them while watching a few races in the Restaurant right in front of the toteboard where we broke bread and chatted about the difficult weather conditions that the track was facing that evening. We had an enjoyable meal and if not for a slip by a horse in the 4th, I would have cashed a nice exacta on my first ever harness bet.

Sam helped me with reading the past performances, which are very similar to the thoroughbred's racing lines, including the different race conditions at Buffalo. Most of the races are run at a mile distance, which happens to be exactly two trips around the half mile track first opened in June 1942. The races had mostly eight to nine starters in each race and I learned about the Niatross series, which cut down 64 entrants to 32 entrants for next week's races. The series will culminate the last weekend in February with a $31,000 purse structure.

We then headed upstairs to meet the racing secretary, Robin Burns, who doubles as the track announcer for the call of Race 6, which had a shipper taking most of the money at 4/5. I definitely have respect for race callers after watching Robin call the sixth, with a blustery snow falling and difficulty seeing the leaders, but he did an unbelievable job. I thanked him for letting me watch the race upstairs (a terrific vantage point) and I was off.

I next ventured downstairs to meet with a local business owner who was treating his office to a "night at the races." He had 50-60 employees and spouses for a buffet dinner and drinks and the track named the fifth race after their group. He had contacted me earlier in the week to ask me if I could help his group out (somehow he thought I was an expert of sorts). I helped explain the running lines to those who sought out my advice and how to structure some simple wagers. It was fun and the people seemed to be enjoying themselves. I'll definitely be jonesing to bring my firm or one of the charitable groups I'm involved with out for a night at the races. Or better yet, an afternoon with the boys playing the simulcast in the nice bar area leading into the night harness racing.

Some things that I noticed were different from the thoroughbred experience:

1 - The inside posts definitely have an advantage, particularly the #1 spot (and the program stats backed that up).
2 - I was initially confused by the saddle cloth covers (for example, the 2 is blue and the 3 is white).
3 - The time between races is much quicker, I found that they would be going off while I was still looking at my form.
4 - Many more races than your normal t-bred card, 13 races in all were run on Saturday night.
5 - Maybe it was just the night, but a 40-1 (in the sixth - he beat the odds on rail horse/shipper) and a 17-1 both hit.
6 - The BRIS cheat sheet I brought was pretty good and had some good information to bet my wagers on. I never bring selections to the track with me, but as a newbie I thought all the info I could have the better.

I didn't bring my camera, but will next time as there are some cool seating areas and vantage points throughout the clubhouse. All in all I had a great evening and look forward to going back and learning more about the harness game as the meet goes on. It didn't hurt that I walked out in the black, either! Who knew the harness game was so cool?


The_Knight_Sky said...

We get Buffalo signal piped in to the Big M on Wednesday-Friday-Saturday nights.

Now how many harness tracks are in the state of New York anyway? Just wonderin'.

About the "reversed" 2 and 3 saddlecloth cloth colors, I've been pulling my hair out wondering why that is so.

Pacingguy said...

For the record, standardbred racing used color saddlecloths first. It was the thoroughbred industry that swapped the colors.

Anonymous said...

Robin Burns, now there is a great guy. I met Robin years ago when he called Laurel in the afternoon and then the trotters at night. I had seen Robin on TVG several years ago. In fact I thought Robin worked for TVG when it was just an idea and stuck around when it first started. Robin should have been one of the on air hosts. How in the heck did this very talented race caller end up in Buffalo during the winter?


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