by Bob Pandolfo
Something I feared was happening is happening.
As most of you know, I’ve written a lot about how faster modern sulkies hurt running. Sulkies are longer, staggered (twisted), and riders sit much further behind the horse, with long grips. And, the riders lean far into the bike. The longest distance between horses is about half a length. When you extrapolate that, it means that the horses running at the back of the pack have a lot more ground to catch up. In a 10 horsepower field, for example, the trailer is about 30 feet further than it would have been in one of the old bikes. By now, anyone who understands racing knows that this is the main reason outdoor posts win half as often as before, and why you don’t have so many exciting arrivals from behind horses. who run third or fourth. . Heck, on most trails second place isn’t even a good trip now. The modern sulky also causes clogged and blocked outflow from the outside, which greatly helps the starters and makes the race a lot less exciting while also contributing to low gains.
But that’s not what I was afraid of. When riders started to sit far behind the horse and lean fully back, veteran riders and many racing fans contacted me with questions such as, “Is this safe?” Can drivers react quickly enough when a horse breaks?
In my opinion, the answer is NO. Let me start by saying that I don’t have statistics on the average number of track accidents in a typical year. I really don’t know how to compare it. My point of view is based solely on observation. And what I have observed this year is what appears to be an unprecedented number of track accidents.
I don’t have all the dates and information on all the crashes this year, but here are a few:
May 11, Saratoga harness spill, broken ribs from driver Jay Randall… June 5, Hippodrome 3R, David Pilon injured, operated for a fractured tibia and fibula… August 15, Batavia, Red Roll was euthanized, three drivers fell but were fine… 28, accident at The Meadows, Chris Shaw injured… October 9, Red Shores, pilot Gilles Barrieau, bone fracture… Century Downs Daryl Thiessen fractured collarbone and femur, Nathan Sobey, concussion, Dave Kelly , concussion… March 11 Woodbine Mohawk, pilots James McDonald and Doug McNair were involved in an accident, both were fine… On November 5th, Bob McClure and Doug McNair were involved and McClure suffered a broken arm. The horse, Witness The Shadow, was euthanized… There was also an accident at Mohegan Sun Pocono last week, Jim Pantaleano had broken ribs.
Accidents that occur during races are brutally difficult for drivers and horses, and very upsetting for racing enthusiasts. And I think the sport is moving in the wrong direction, as accidents seem to be more frequent in recent years.
I often hear things like “these bikes ride so well” or “the horses look better now”. Well, almost every track accident has happened after a horse has broken its stride, and there seem to be a lot of breakers. I remember attending the Breeders Crown at Mohegan Sun in 2013, and that Saturday night 19 horses broke strides on the same map. It’s a lot.
It seems to me that when horses break stride, the riding style of lying flat in the sulky can delay riders’ reaction time. All it takes is an extra fraction of a second – it can be the difference between grabbing your horse, getting out of trouble, or cramming into the breaker. I also wonder if those off-center, longer bikes, with longer grips, make it a little harder to ride rough. I remember a few years ago when the first off-center bikes came out, Hall of Fame rider John Campbell said he thought they could be dangerous because they were harder to get around.
Either way, it’s something the industry should be looking at. Are there more accidents? If so, why and what can be done about it? There is nothing worse for sport than breakages and accidents. Nothing.
I know people may think I’m stacking up because I don’t like modern bikes. But, hey, modern sulkies make racing less fun, and running is a form of entertainment. And that drives out customers and fans. And, now it looks like bicycles can be dangerous.