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Horse Racing: Meadows alters lightning lane

Sunday, May 25, 2003

By Pohla Smith, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The lightning lane at The Meadows has been shortened from 608 feet to 400 at the suggestion of the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association. Members of the racetrack committee thought the change might prompt more strategy on the part of drivers and make handicapping more interesting for the public.

The lane is an extra inside path used only during the stretch for home.

Trainer/driver Norm Parker, president of the MSOA, came up with the idea to shorten it.

"We were trying to change our driving style," said MSOA treasurer and racetrack committee memberRich Gillock. "Rather than sit back in the 2 or 3 hole, we wanted the drivers to be out and moving, make the race a little more active. With a longer lane [a driver] could [sit]. Sometimes, two horses would get up [the lane]."

That strategy is not in the spirit of the original idea of a lightning lane, which originated in Chicago.

"The original intent of the lane was to provide an option for a horse racing second or, really, for a horse boxed in," MSOA Executive Director Elmer Schweninger said. "Bettors were frustrated if they had a better horse boxed in."

"It was mainly to create a little more racing strategy than there used to be," Gillock said. "We think the betting public, what little we have, would like to have a little more movement."

So far, the change has resulted in fewer horses winning from the lightning lane, .according to statistics kept by Roger Huston, the voice of The Meadows.

Here's what he has come up with:

In the 852 races that immediately preceded the shortening of the lane, 135 horses -- or 16.1 percent -- won from it. Another 112 horses, or 13.4 percent, finished second, and 61, or 7.3 percent, finished third.

In the first 149 races after the lane was shortened May 1, there were five wins from the lightning lane. That's 3.4 percent.

Fifteen horses, or 10.1 percent, have finished second, and five have finished third.

"I don't think it's changed who's winning races," Huston said. "It might have shaken things up a bit the way they're driving."

The first driver to win a race from the lightning lane was Branch Buxton, who came from fifth at the head of the lane.

Migliore wins award

Fans, turf writers and jockeys have voted New York jockey Richard Migliore the recipient of the 2003 Mike Venezia Memorial Award. Migliore will be presented with a 13-inch bronze statue of a jockey during a ceremony tomorrow.

The Mike Venezia Memorial Award was instituted by the New York Racing Association to honor riders who "exemplify extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship." It is named for the late Mike Venezia, who was killed in a spill at Belmont Park Oct. 13, 1988.

Migliore was selected from a group of four finalists that included Patricia Cooksey, Aaron Gryder and John Velazquez.

Migliore, 39, won the Eclipse Award as the outstanding apprentice jockey of 1981, when he led all New York riders with 269 victories. He has won more than 3,600 races and earned $116 million in purses.

Milestones

Jockey Heberto Castillo Jr., brother-in-law of Jose Santos, won the 2,000th victory of his career May 15 at Belmont Park. He did so in the third race with long shot Letthefreedomroar. "I had some injuries earlier in my career, or this might have come sooner," said Castillo, 33. But, I'm still young and now I can shoot for 3,000."

Jockey Stewart Elliott scored his 3,000th career victory May 13 with Navesink Tide in the 10th race at Philadelphia Park.

A long, long shot

Mynameischase lit up the tote board at Arlington Park in the seventh race May 14 with a $242.80 win payoff on a $2 wager -- the largest payoff recorded at the suburban Chicago oval since the facility reopened in 2000.

The 4-year-old gelding paid $75.60 to place and $13.20 to show. The exacta payoff coupling Mynameischase with runner-up Spanish Mist returned $3,245.60, and the trifecta involving third-place finisher Bold America was worth $9,329.20.


Pohla Smith can be reached at psmith@post-gazette.com or 412 263-1228.

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