CHARLES TOWN – Although the two tracks may seem to have little in common at first glance, both Charles Town, a thoroughbred oval gradually approaching 100 years of existence, and Harrington Raceway, a half-mile harness racing oval near the Delaware beaches, would appear to have little in common.
But both have traveled similar paths over the past 25 years, emerging from virtual extinction through the help of slot machines on site that have bolstered purses and kept thousands of people in racing from poverty.
Charles Town hosted both the Grade II, $800,000 Charles Town Classic and the Grade III, $400,000 Charles Town Oaks on the same night in late August and recently presented the West Virginia Breeders Classics, a nine-race sequence offering purses of $1 million.
Coincidentally, Harrington hosted the Governor’s Day card in late July with purses exceeding $600,000, and last Monday night it hosted the $150,000 Bobby Quillen Memorial Invitational for aged pacers, a race comparable in quality to the Charles Town Classic.
Although novice harness racing fans often refer to the sport loosely as “the trotters,” there are actually two gaits, trotters and pacers. Purists enjoy watching the trotters, horses that aim for the sport’s signature event the Hambletonian.
But roughly 80 percent of the harness races are designed for pacers, which, on average are roughly three seconds faster than their trotting counterparts. Harness horses are also designated as standardbreds, a term derived because over 95 percent of all races are contested at the standard distance of one mile.
Last Monday when the eight pacers went behind the mobile starting gate for the Bobby Quillen Memorial—another noticeable difference in the two sports is the starts since thoroughbred break from a stationary gate while standardbreds follow a moving one—much of the attention focused on Tattoo Artist (Tim Tetrick), who had shipped down from Canada for trainer Chris Ryder of Bettor’s Wish fame, was made the 4-5 favorite from post five while exiting the $475,000 Canadian Pacing Derby.
Local pacing star Jack’s Legend N (Pat Berry), a winner of his last two over the oval and blessed with the coveted rail in the post draw, was the 3-1 second choice while Nicholas Beach (Vincent Ginsburg) was the 9-2 third choice from the dreaded eight hole. Only one other pacer, Bronx Seelster (Montrell Teague) was single-digit odds at post time and was sent out as the 7-1 fourth choice.
When the gate wings folded at the outset of the Quillen Memorial, None Bettor A (Mark MacDonald) and Tattoo Artist were both away rapidly and got around Jack’s Legend N to occupy the top two spots on the first turn. None Bettor A reached the backside first, but he gladly yielded the top spot to the odds-on choice before reaching the opener in a quick 26.4.
With an uncontested lead, Tattoo Artist strolled by the halfway station in 55.2 and continued to show the way down the backside and by three-quarters in 1:22.2 with None Bettor A tucked comfortably in the pocket and Jack’s Legend N looking for racing room with Bronx Seelster stalled first over, compromising any horses looking to rally from well off the pace.
At the top of the lane, Tattoo Artist was put to modest urging as None Bettor A angled outside for the drive and Jack’s Legend N advanced along the inside with ample pace. Tattoo Artist was under serious urging from Tetrick to complete his task as the odds-on choice, but None Bettor A responded to MacDonald’s urgings in the lane and wore down the favorite at the line for a head score in 1:49.4.
An eight-year-old Bettor’s Delight gelding trained by Andrew Harris for owner Joe P Racing LLC and Oldford Racing LLC, None Bettor A recorded his fifth win in 15 starts this year and now owns a solid 34-22-18 slate and over $685,000 banked from 103 career outings.
Tattoo Artist settled for second as the odds-on choice, while local stalwart Jack’s Legend N easily secured the show spot while beaten just over a length.
“I wanted to get out of there quick and sit a trip behind Timmy if I could,” MacDonald said. “Once my horse made the lead I let Tattoo Artist and just stayed right on his back. I felt Jack’s Legend N bumping my helmet down the backside, so I knew he was going to be tough if he got out. When I angled out turning for home I knew I had a shot. He really responded that last 100 yards.”