Indiana Downs hosts an innovative race on Saturday night (Oct. 20) when a field of harness racing trotters races under saddle on the track's turf course.
This is a follow-up to a similar race for saddled trotters at the track earlier in the month. Saturday's race is believed to be the only such turf race held in North America in many years.
Standardbreds normally race pulling a sulky over a dirt track. Races with riders on trotters are extremely rare in North America and contesting one over a turf course is an added challenge.
"We're doing this because we believe in trying new ideas at Indiana Downs," says Scott Peine, the track's racing secretary. "It will be something different for the racing fans that come out. I think they'll really enjoy it."
The Oct. 6 race under saddle was won by Celebrity Playboy with Angel Eyes Hanover second and Rock With It third. Only Rock With It will be in the Saturday night race, which has five horses and will be contested for a purse of $10,000. No betting will be allowed.
"This is just a start," admits Peine, "although there is an emerging trend to racing trotters under saddle in the United States. It's just going to be some time before we can allow betting on them."
The other starters in the event, known officially as Racing Under Saddle, are Indiana Downs regulars Felipe Makaay, Dakota Dancer, NF Soaring and the Kentucky invader Chinese Cuisine.
Tina Sundqvist, a 31-year-old native of Finland, owns Rock With It, and will be in the saddle when the 6-year-old gelding starts on Saturday. Rock With It is expected to face strong competition from Chinese Cuisine, ridden by 30-year-old Tina Duer, a Swedish native. Chinese Cuisine won a race under saddle for Duer at the Meadowlands in New Jersey in mid-August.
France, which has the strongest harness racing program in the world, regularly schedules trotting races under saddle on its turf tracks. "Monte" racing, as it is called in France, is a traditional and historic part of French trotting.
Racing trotters under saddle was popular in America in the 1800s, but fell out of favor as Standardbreds raced primarily to sulky in the last century.
Innovation is nothing new at Indiana Downs as the Shelbyville track has hosted a "Dash and Distance Challenge" with races as short as one-eighth-mile and as long as 1-5/8th miles. Virtually all harness races are contested at the one-mile distance, but Peine began the mixed distance program, which is unique in America.
Peine's only concern as he looks to the Saturday event is the weather forecast, which calls for rain. That may alter plans for the race on the turf.
The trotting under saddle event will be held at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday evening, with the regular racing program beginning at 6:55 p.m.
by Dean A. Hoffman, for Indiana Downs