By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Even if the weather hasn't exactly cooperated, harness racing returns to Hoosier Park tonight with changes in place at nearly every turn.
The changes do occur in every turn on the seven-eighths mile racing surface, which received an extensive overhaul in spite of a harsh winter that made the changeover difficult.
The turns now have some banking and it is uniform on both ends of the track. This has an immediate benefit for the horses and will take a bit of adjustment to fans who handicap races and place wagers.
"We rebuilt the track from the base up," said Rick Moore, general manager of racing at Hoosier Park. "There is a nice transition from the straights to the turns and back again. I think this will level the playing field a bit. Horses will be able to get through the turns easier and that means they will have more left for the stretch run."
With Hoosier Park already being known for long straights, that could ramp up the excitement of the final few strides. The horses coming from off the lead might have more pace as they make up ground, but also the horses at the front might have more left in the tank to hold the latecomers off.
The biggest change for wagerers might be that the horses who draw the outside post positions will no longer be required to give up as much stamina getting to the inside for that first turn.
Another change concerns the first post time. The past several years it has been 5:45 p.m. This year the start will be at 5:15.
"We felt like our sweet spot (for the simulcast attention) has been from 5:30 to 7," said Moore. "We are able to get in races before a lot of other tracks get going. By moving it up to 5:15, we can get another race into that time frame."
To protect against the risk of bad weather this early in the spring, the track will have an abbreviated schedule for the first two weeks. This weekend the racing will be just today and Saturday. Next week, racing will be held Thursday through Saturday. For the rest of the meet it will be Tuesday through Saturday.
Live harness racing continues through Nov. 15.
There are other changes as well. There are stations where patrons can watch races from a variety of tracks and place wagers without leaving their seats. Plush theater-style seating has been added in the grandstand. A new car powers the starting gate around the track. Thirteen suites have been added to the area near the stage and just north of it that feature a TV, a couch, a table and some chairs for casual enjoyment of the racing. Those suites are available by reservation.
The menus in the restaurants have been changed and will likely change again three or four times during the meet.
"I just couldn't be more excited to get started," said Moore. "It's been a long, hard winter and we're ready to go racing."