The new champion McMasters moved early and he moved late, but if you looked at the pivotal races that won him the context, the results could not have been more disparate.
What was interesting is that it appeared he had blown his 82 rivals away with the second race winner on the Meadowlands card.
How can you catch someone that cashed a $40 win, $50 place bet on a horse returning $75.40 to win and $21.40 in the middle?
And how crazy was it that McMasters needed a $30 bet on the winner of the finale, OK Fame, paying $4.20. Clearly, it takes all kinds. McMasters amassed a final bankroll of $2,968, good for $16,600 in prize money.
While Saturday’s event was the second annual as presently structured, it was the ninth edition of a national harness handicapping championship.
The night's 83 finalists had survived a gauntlet consisting of four live contests throughout the year at the host track, or needed to win one of five satellite qualifiers with partners Western Fair Harness, Pompano, The Meadows, Buffalo Raceway and Mohegan Sun. And, finally, the United States Harness Association that conducts 10 qualifying contests online.
Perhaps the worst contest player on the planet, I made four attempts to qualify online for Saturday night's event. I was buoyed by the first result in which I placed third, missing the top slot by about $3.
But after finishing, 178th, 254th, or thereabouts, over the next three contests, I decided to give my poor contest self-esteem a break and skipped the last few contests. It was better that way.
Maybe I should have contracted Bob” Hollywood” Heyden to ghost my selections. I saw Heyden between takes of the Meadowlands’ closed-circuit TV program which he’s been co-hosting for 31 years.
It might be 20 years since I saw him last and he was anxious to show me a pin commemorating his admission to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame. Heyden, celebrated many times within the industry, just happened to have the Hall of Fame pin in his pocket.
He could not have been more proud, or more deserving, harness racing’s best walking encyclopedia since the late Ed Binneweg of the late Long Island Press.
Harness racing, thanks to the recent success of the New Meadowlands under the stewardship of owner Jeff Gural, is trending upward. Given the new facility, and always accommodating staff, it’s not difficult to understand why.
It’s always fun to spot talent first hand and while I’m well aware of the genius of a Tim Tetrick and Yannick Gingras in the bike, I got my first look at Corey Callahan, who won two of the first three races on the Saturday program after having driven six winners the night before. Controlled aggression is always the key to good horsemanship whether on a horse’s back or behind one in a bike. Callahan seems to time his moves perfectly.
When I first met Hayden, the legendary John Campbell was in the bike winning a half-dozen races a night. But it’s good to know that if you’re looking for the next George Sholty or William “Buddy” Gilmour, you can go home again. Fun at the races; what a concept.