There seems to be a fashionable trend by some in the Industry (not for the first time) to move away from standing starts and go virtually all mobile, and I notice the Southern Harness are looking at following it.
I know what you’re thinking, an old traditionalist is going to spout off about how good stands are again, and you’d be right. First of all, every bit of research I’ve seen and heard from those who know, suggests that betting on standing and mobile starts is virtually the same, so that argument goes down the tubes.
Secondly, there is a big push for less odds-on favourites and there is nothing better to stuff that up than a horse that would be favourite anyway, drawing an inside marble so they just run to the lead and game over. This is written before the event, but the two Interdominion Finals are perfect examples of this. Whether the favourites win or not, they are still odds on, therefore discouraging some from betting against them. A few seasons back, the Auckland Club, the traditional home of mobile racing, changed the Auckland Cup from a stand to a mobile. Not long afterwards they found out that they had made a mistake and, to their credit, reverted to the stand.
My third point (and I won’t bother going down the track of the attraction of having different styles of races, which makes our harness racing far more interesting than say, the U.S.), is that we are forever hearing complaints about the starts of big standing start events. I wonder why it is that many of the horses involved are fractious at the barrier and often cause problems. Could it be that until they line up in races such as the New Zealand Cup and the lead up races to it, the Dominion Handicap, the Auckland Cup, the Rowe Cup, and for the sake of Southland, the Invercargill Gold Cup (all flagship events for their regions), they may have had very little experience in standing up behind the barriers.
Those races are almost certainly going to be standing starts for eh foreseeable future, yet we are going away from offering the participants in them, the opportunity to hone the skills of both the horses and many of their drivers in how to perform in them. Makes sense!
Yes, we can improve the standard of them with some work, as was proven in this year’s NZ Cup, but let’s keep the baby in while the bathwater drains away.