What about a North American Inter Dominion?

07:21 AM 09 Mar 2014 NZDT
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2014-02-27_HRNSW Racing Wrap_Inter Dominion Logo.jpg

On Sunday, March 2 the famous Inter Dominion series was contested at Tabcorp Menangle Park, a 7/8 mile racetrack just outside the heart of Sydney, Australia.

Entering the race as the $4.90 favorite, the Tasmanian speedster Beautide, who paced away from the field in the final 200 yards and became the first horse to win the Inter Dominion and Miracle Mile in the same season since 1997. In doing so, Beautide also set a race record with a mile rate of 1:55.5 over the 3009 meter (about 1-7/8 miles) race, which can be found here. He stamped himself as a true champion in winning one of the world’s most unique horse races in a dominating fashion. But what really makes this series so different from any other Standardbred race out there? Let’s dig deeper.

The Inter Dominion series was first raced in 1936 in Perth, Australia after a meeting between racing delegates from Australia and New Zealand the year before in what was known as the Australasian Trotting Conference. Resuming in 1947 after World War II, the race was held at different racetracks across the Oceanic region and has produced a long list of great champions over the years. Multiple winners over the past 20 years include Our Sir Vancelot (3 wins), Blacks A Fake (4 wins), and most recently three-time champion I’m Themightyquinn.

North Americans might be most familiar with 1963 winner Cardigan Bay, and maybe most notably the 2009 series winner Mr. Feelgood. The list of champions alone shows how great of a race the Inter Dominion is, but it is the setup of the race and the excitement leading up to the grand final that is really the most intriguing aspect of the event.

Most major races in North America are held with an elimination race the week before the final, with the top horses (depending on how many divisions there are) returning for the final race the following week. It’s a pretty standard setup that hasn’t really been changed over the past 20 years. The Inter Dominion series, however, showcases a format that is not seen anywhere else in the world. In 2014 the series was set up with six elimination races held at five different racetracks within 90 minutes of each other across Australia and New Zealand. The heats were as follows:

  • Heat 1: Alexandra Park, NZ (top 2 finishers qualify for final)
  • Heat 2: Tabcorp Park Menangle, NSW (top 2 + 1 wild card qualify for final)
  • Heat 3: Tabcorp Park Melton, VIC (top 3 + 1 wild card qualify for final)
  • Heat 4: Tabcorp Park Menangle, NSW (top 2 qualify for final)
  • Heat 5: Albion Park, QLD (winner qualifies for final)
  • Heat 6: Gloucester Park, WA (top 2 qualify for final)

Overall 14 total horses qualified for the final which was to be race two weeks later. Something notable about these races is that they were all raced at different sized racetracks and were not all raced over the same distance. The distances ranged between 2100m to 2600m (or 1 5/16-miles to around 1-9/16 miles). Tabcorp Park Menangle then hosted the Inter Dominion final, as well as six other Group 1 races, in a nearly 2-mile race that featured the best horses across the region. All of these different elements added that extra bit of anticipation to the series and made it something that racing fans across the country just had to follow.

Races like this generate an incredible amount of interest and buzz around the harness racing world, but a race like this doesn’t only have to occur in the Southern Hemisphere. Would it be possible to have such a format for a series here in North America? Would it generate interest from racing enthusiasts across the country? How would the whole thing be set up? Here’s a brief description of how this can all be done:

Six racetracks could be designated as the six locations where horses would have to go to qualify for the big final. For instance, these racetracks could include Balmoral Park, the Meadowlands, the Meadows, Pocono Downs, Saratoga Raceway, and let’s say Woodbine Racetrack.

To qualify, a horse would have to finish in first or second place. These races would all go off on the same night within a certain time frame. The Inter Dominion had all of their qualifying heats go off within 90 minutes of one another, but a two hour time frame would suffice. Strategy would be involved for owners as they would have to decide where they should race their horse to have the best chance at making the final.

With this in mind, the top horses wouldn’t all flock to the same racetrack because the competition might end up being too tough. After all the qualifying heats were completed, the final field would be drawn for a final race two weeks later. It might make the most sense to hold the final at The Meadowlands to start, but the hosting track could change hands every year.

Accompanying this final race would be a number of other stakes events for different ages, gaits, and sexes. Horses that had finished in third or fourth in their heats could even be brought back to race in a consolation race so there is more of an incentive to enter your horse in the series. The day in general would be created to resemble the likes of Hambletonian Day and the night of the North America Cup in Canada. It would be one of the most exciting nights to look forward to each and every year.

This might not be the easiest thing to accomplish, but it would certainly add a one-of-a- kind twist to the stakes season here in North America. Right now the only ‘exotic’ types of races are those with heats and the final on the same day, such as the Little Brown Jug and now the Hambletonian. There aren’t many other races that stand out when looking at the stakes calendar. This can all change by adapting our style of racing to that of the European and Australasian racetracks. Change like this doesn’t happen overnight, but trying some new things certainly can’t hurt the racing infrastructure that has been dominant here for some time. New ideas might introduce new fans, something this sport desperately needs. It can all start with the creation of a North American Inter Dominion.

By David Janes, for Harnesslink.com

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