Passing lane at Batavia Downs now a thing of the past, making races more competitive
Batavia Downs started a trend in harness racing in New York in 1989 by creating a passing lane, which seemed like the right move at the time to give horses behind the leader a better chance to move into position.
But times change. Over the years, the passing lane came to give favorites an advantage so after Yonkers removed its passing lane and races suddenly became more competitive, Batavia Downs, for the 2018 season, decided the passing lane was, indeed, passé.
"Taking out the passing lane affects the race because there’s more movement in the race," said Todd Haight, GM of live racing for Batavia Downs. "Instead of horses staying at the rail and closing up the inside and never moving, the passing lane being gone, they have to move to the outside at some point, so you’re seeing more flow."
That makes for more exciting racing, Height said.
"You heard the track announcer few times tonight say three in, four out," Haight said. "Those are things he never said because very few horses ever left the rail because they were just lined up along the inside. Now they can’t do that."
Yonkers was the first track in New York to remove the passing lane and it's reduced the times the favorite wins the race by 9 percent.
That reduction increases the odds for race fans to place money-winning wagers.
A lot has changed at Batavia Downs, Haight said, since he first came to the track in the 1970s. Back then, Batavia Downs was just harness racing. There are now multiple restaurants, the sports bar Rush 34, video terminal gaming, and a hotel.
"This is a destination now," Haight said. "We are now a designation and you can see by the size of our crowd tonight on a Wednesday, I can guarantee you there were more people in our clubhouse tonight than in any track in the country. I can guarantee that. People are responding and that’s why we’re doing so well right now."
More changes are planned, including opening up 34 Rush to the track side of the main building.
The 11th race Wednesday night also had a touch of nostalgia. By the time the 11th race rolled around, the regular starters truck had developed a mechanical issue, so the track put into service the sedan it used in the 1980s. It was the same sedan that paced the legendary harness racing horse Niatross, with trainer and driver Clint Galbraith.
"Many people think to this day, Niatross is the greatest harness horse of all time," Haight said. "Niatross set world record after world record."
Top photo: Step Beyond, winner of the 11th race on Wednesday. All photos are from the 11th race.
Video of Niatross racing at Batavia Downs, Sept. 6, 1980.
I was at the track that night for that record breaking run. I couldn't believe my eyes on what I was seeing. Niatross accelerated leaving the rest of the field in the dust.