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Some tracks may eliminate passing lanes

December 14, 2017

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Cammie Haughton, newly appointed director of racing at Yonkers, has announced that the track has requested permission from the New York Gaming Commission to eliminate the track's passing lane.

In addition, the three Pennsylvania harness tracks—The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, Harrah's Philadelphia, and The Meadows—are also considering eliminating the passing lane.

According to U.S. Trotting Association records, in 1991 only four racetracks in North America had a passing lane—the half-mile ovals at Freehold, Maywood (where the trend started), Northfield Park and Yonkers. Today many tracks, and nearly all half-mile tracks and most five-eighths tracks, have passing lanes. Among those without passing lanes are the Meadowlands, Mohawk, Woodbine and The Red Mile.

Last year Hoosier Park, a seven-eighths mile oval, added a passing lane.

In a story published in May 18, 2016, edition of The Horseman And Fair World, Roger Huston, the announcer at The Meadows, shared that he had kept statistics on the passing lane—it's called the "Lightning Lane" since it was installed in 1992 at The Meadows. His record through May 10, 2016 showed that 85 of 1,047 winners had come up the passing lane. Huston noted that the 8.9 win percentage was lower than in the past, with his records show had averaged between 10-11 percent.

Past performance lines do not indicate if a winning horse won by coming up the passing lane or closed on the outside.

John Campbell, president and CEO of The Hambletonian Society since July, said he believes passing lanes should be eliminated at all tracks.

"I made suggestions to people in Pennsylvania and at Yonkers that I thought they should be eliminated," said Campbell. "Racing has become too predictable at tracks with passing lanes. I just don't see any risk with making this move."

In the May 18, 2016, story published in The Horseman, Dave Palone, who has topped the drivers' standings at The Meadows for more than two decades and is the sport's all-time winningest driver with more than 18,000 victories, shared his thoughts about the passing lane's effect on racing.

"I think it took away a lot of strategy," said Palone. "It probably took speed favoring to an even greater degree because you don't see the old style of a guy backing up in the last turn trying to work the guys that are inside. It's why everybody looks for position early.

"Speed is so important because it's much easier if you can get through on the inside than have to go three and four wide when the guy on the front end hits the gas. There really isn't any strategy in working the guy in the two hole; it's just an all-out sprint to the wire. So the inside horses are going to have a much bigger edge on the guys who are flipping three and four deep."

Palone gave an example of being in front with a 10-1 longshot with the 3-5 favorite tucked behind in second.
"You're defenseless," said Palone. "You know they are going to go left to pass you, and you don't want to take your horse out of gear because there is the fear of three or four coming from the back. So you hit the gas and pray the 3-5 is basically no good. Before, you could work that 3-5 behind you and make sure he didn't get out and then hold the others off."—By Kathy Parker
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