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Running Down a Dream
Bob Carson takes new owners from sales ring to turnout
written by Bob Carson

Chapter 11 - Heading Towards A Real Race
'Start Me Up'
By Rolling Stones, 1981

Photo Source: Wikipedia

We are on the verge of our first race, which is very exciting after a long spring of waiting.

Every racehorse has a story that begins with birth on a breeding farm. We, as owners, enter the story when we buy the baby horse.  We usually leave the story when we sell the horse or find it a good home.  Being part of the story, not knowing what will happen next, is what makes harness horse racing so interesting (at least to me).
The story of our two horses has reached a very important chapter.  Last week they both qualified to race for money - this is no small feat.  Remember that huge book of yearling horses for sale ten months ago, well over 1,000?   About half of them will never qualify.  Assuming no setbacks, in a little over two weeks our horses will be in a race.  The question is what race?

• On June 29, there is a Sire Stakes race.  I tried to explain this level of racing earlier...A Sire Stakes race is our hope, racing against the best horses for big money.
• On June 25, there is a Fair with harness racing in Meadville, Pa. 
• On June 28, the Stallion series begins for horses in Pa.
• Or we can enter a Condition Race at a local commercial racetrack.
The Fair Circuit is the lowest level of racing for money.  The fairs are the grassroots level, the Minor Leagues.   Racing on the fair circuit has lots of good things.  Sue and I find it a lot of fun traveling to these small county fair racetracks, you get to mingle with some very nice folks.  Fair races do not go nearly as fast.  Often you will be in a race with only five or less horses, so you will earn some money (horse racing always pays money to horses one through five).  There are a lot of fair races - almost one every week, all summer long, but some are too far to haul a horse.  The purse money at the fairs in PA is better than most states.  It varies with how many horse come to each fair, but normally the purses average around $2,000 - $3,000 at the fairs where we have raced.
Another option is the Stallion Series. Think of this level as halfway between the very fast, very high purses of the Sires Stakes...and the low level of the fairs. Every Stallion Series race has a purse of $20,000.  Sometimes Stallion Series races go VERY fast, sometimes moderately.

Our final option is a Condition Race. These are the weekly races hosted by the various racetracks across the country.  I will explain this a few paragraphs later.
Every owner of 2-year-old horses in PA that have qualified to race is wrestling with this question, "Which of these three levels is the best place for my horse to race?"  You can only pick one level at this point in time.  Where will Fantail and Mariko go? To be determined (rather quickly).
June 12, 2011

Show time…almost,

Jim visited with Marty and watched the horses train this morning.  They trained well. 
Marty has made some shoeing adjustments and some equipment adjustments with Fantail; he said, “She has done everything we asked."  Fantail does not have any races this month with the possible exception of the Meadville fair.  This is probably good.  It gives her time to improve.  Marty plans on putting her back in a qualifier on Wednesday.  We would like to see her go in about 2:04 - 2:05.
As for Mariko, Marty was shocked to see her head cocked like it was in her qualifier because she had never done that before.  This makes the fact that she stayed flat and clocked a 2:04 mile even more impressive.  Today she trained with a head pole (a sort of stick that runs along the neck of the horse to keep it from swiveling it’s head around) and her head was much better. 

This is the TENTATIVE plan for this week (with horses, every day is a new day).

Marty is going to try and get Mariko in a race on Saturday (June 22).  It will be a race for 2YOs only.  The purse is $7,500.  If she draws in she will race, if she does not draw in she will go to another qualifier next week.  The draw for the Saturday race is on Tuesday.  Drawing? Entering? The Box?  I know, this is a bit confusing.    Let me walk you through how horses get into various races.  Entering a horse in a race is one of those things that appears simple, but actually the process has several steps.

Go the USTA site and search for the word “Horsemen.” (You will find yourself spending a lot of time roaming the USTA website), if you click on horsemen you will see the link to "Condition sheets," Click on condition sheets and scroll down to our racetrack “The Meadows.”  A sheet will appear.

About a week before the race, the racetrack posts this.  Think of this as a menu of upcoming races that will be raced.  The condition sheet lists the conditions (terms) your horse must meet to try and enter one of these races. They are kind of complex, but look at race #15.
The conditions for race #15 are,
Trot (Mariko is a trotter)
2Y0 maiden (maiden means has not won a race, Mariko is 2 years old and has not won a race) Mariko is PA Sired (Mariko’s father (Cantab Hall) is a PA sire.  Only horses that meet these conditions will be in the race...  Mariko does.  So what now?
If you look back at the condition sheet, you will see that for this race on June 18 - HORSES MUST DECLARE BY 9 A.M. ON TUESDAY, JUNE 14.
This means that before 9 A.M. on Tuesday the trainer must contact the race office and say, "I want to enter Mariko Hanover in race 15"  ...  In racing lingo, this means Mariko is "dropped in the box"  - it really is a closed box with a slot on the top where slips of paper are dropped in.
Does this mean we are in the race.....?  Not yet.
At 9 AM the box is closed to entries.  The racing department opens it up.  If only 7 or 8 horses are entered in #15, they draw for post positions and everyone gets into the race.   However, what can happen is that perhaps 12 horses have entered this race - not all of them can be in the race.  In this case, all 12 go back into the box, they shake it up, and randomly draw out entry forms.  The first eight drawn will race, the others will not get into the race...they have to wait until another race with their "conditions" is written.
So....around noon on Tuesday, we will see if Mariko is racing on Saturday.
I'll keep you "posted."

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Editor's Note: The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.

Bob Carson
Hoof Beats Magazine About the Author
Bob Carson's award-winning freelance writing has appeared in more than two dozen national publications. He is a steady contributor to Trot Magazine, The United States Trotting Association and Timeline Magazine. After more than 200 magazine articles and stories, his first novel, The Voyage of Mess (humor) was released in 2009. In 2005 he produced the documentary film, Touching Home (Minor League Baseball). In 2006 he received the Hervey Award for Journalistic Excellence and Best of Ohio Fiction awards. He has published Minor Trips (Minor League Baseball) since 1991. Bob Carson has owned harness horses for more than a decade, including a stint as a weekend trainer. He lives in Strongsville, Ohio, with his wife, Sue, and daughter, Katie.
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