History will be made on Saturday night, March 22, when Shark Fantasy competes in the seventh race at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.
Not because the 4-year-old pacer, co-owned by Burke Racing Stable, Weaver Bruscemi LLC and Frank Baldachino, is trying for his third straight win, but because he will be the first horse ever in racing history to have been entered into a race electronically.
With the USTA's new, online entry program, harness racing becomes the first of the racing breeds to have the capability to enter horses electronically. It allows trainers to enter their horses via the internet from computers or mobile devices days ahead of the current system.
Shark Fantasy was the first of 15 electronic entries made for races Saturday at Pocono Downs by Ron Burke, the 2013 Trainer of the Year.
The online entry project was spearheaded by T.C. Lane, the USTA's director of registry and member services, and Sherry Antion-Mohr, USTA director of information technology.
"Trainers can now map out their racing schedules at their own leisure, a week or more in advance,” said Lane. "It also makes things much easier for race secretaries at the tracks.”
Trainers can start to enter horses electronically as soon as the condition sheet is made available from the race office, typically seven to 10 days before the races.
The system is currently in the beta testing phase at six racetracks – Balmoral Park, Dover Downs, Maywood Park, The Meadows, Northfield Park and Pocono Downs. Among the many trainers involved in the early testing are Ron Burke, Mark Ford, Homer Hochstetler, Julie Miller, Virgil Morgan and Jimmy Takter.
The list of racetracks and trainers is growing every day during the test period and there have been rave reviews from those utilizing the system.
"What I really like is the convenience,” said trainer Julie Miller. "I set the timetable of when I want to look up my horses, what tracks they fit, what conditions they fit and to be able to submit it online is going to be really a key advantage that I know my horses are entered and I know I've done my homework properly.
"What it really is going to do is allow me to come in and focus on my horses because I won't have to focus on office work from 7:30 in the morning until noon,” added Miller.
Peter Koch, race secretary at Meadowlands Racetrack, said he is looking forward to the project's rollout after being introduced to the new system at the race secretaries' meeting in December 2013.
"Most tracks are in the situation without a barn area so everybody is calling in entries now,” explained Koch. "If that is alleviated some, it will clearly let us do some other things in the morning to get ready for the draw.
"Basically, anybody who races here is racing at multiple tracks,” added Koch. "So if you are racing at multiple tracks and they have different draw times, it's really going to be beneficial to people to be able to enter all of their horses at one time on the internet and then make adjustments as the week goes along.”
The system will be fully operational beginning in April.
"Mike Tanner, the USTA's executive vice president, told our board of directors last year that we would have an online entry system ready by this year's meeting at the end of March, so we went to work,” said Lane. (USTA)