By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Harness racing returned to Hoosier Park on Saturday as qualifying races were held in preparation for the track’s April 2 opener.
Some standardbreds that have not raced in a while or that have broken stride in recent outings need to qualify before making para-mutual starts.
This will be the first time, since the year Hoosier Park opened, that there will be just harness racing at the track. The thoroughbreds will run at Indiana Downs. But it is a change that the horsemen universally seem to favor.
“This will cut down on our expenses,” said driver/trainer Ricky Macomber. “We don’t have to move around from one track to another.”
Since each track was going to one breed, Macomber is glad the standardbreds are going to be the one that remains at the Anderson track. “We always liked Hoosier Park better (than Indiana Downs),” he said. “We always thought we got treated better here. But now that both tracks are owned by the same people, it will probably change at the other track.”
Rick Moore, General Manager of Racing at Hoosier Park, also sees reasons why harness racing will call Anderson home.
“Our motto for this season is ‘Setting the new standard in standardbred racing,’” said Moore. “All our focus can now be on standardbreds. Our heritage in this state is with standardbred racing.”
Part of the problem in switching between the two breeds is that each one requires a different racing surface. Making that change twice each year made it difficult to keep the surface in the best shape possible. That is no longer a concern.
Jimmy Shelton is the Track Superintendent and the setup of the track for this season has been aided by Greg Coon, who according to Moore is “world renown for working on racing surfaces.” The result is a better surface, which proved itself on Saturday even though there was rain overnight on Friday.
“The surface is nice,” said driver/trainer Don Eash. “I’m not a track man, but it feels different in a good way. I think it will be better for the horses.”
“The surface is good and it will only get better,” said Trace Tetrick, who is returning as the defending driver champion from 2012. “It held up nice today after the rain.”
“First, the horses’ safety comes before everything else,” said Moore. “Secondly, we found some brown limestone. I think makes for a more appealing color than the lime gray.”
There were 10 qualifying races held Saturday morning.
Indiana stakes champions ABC Mercedes, Dontfusswithruss, and Rustles Chip were among the morning’s qualifying participants.
Millionaire trotter and multiple Indiana Sire Stakes Champion ABC Mercedes returned to the track with a second place finish in 1:59.3. Driven and trained by Tetrick, the three-time Indiana trotter of the year charged home in: 26.3 but was unable to track down Jessejo and driver Ed Hensley who finished a nose in front. Dontfusswithruss finished just behind the top pair in third for driver, trainer Joe Essig Jr.
Indiana Sire Stakes champion Rustles Chip romped to a four length triumph in a 1:55.4 in his qualifier for trainer, driver Don Eash. The 4-year-old gelding won the $200,000 Indiana Sire Stakes final for 3-year-old colt and gelding pacers in 2012 and has earned over $200,000 in his short career. The son of Art’s Chip is owned by Eash Racing Stable.