A passing lane – one of harness racing’s most divisive subjects – is coming to Tasmania.
It will be in operation at the Hobart track from the first meeting of the new season on Friday, September 1.
At this stage, there is no suggestion that Mowbray will follow suit – but it has been considered.
The Launceston Pacing Club has confirmed that the possibility of having a passing lane at its venue has come up during discussions with Tasracing.
But it hasn’t gone beyond that and is unlikely to.
There is a big difference between the two tracks that makes it much more difficult to have a passing lane at Mowbray.
The Hobart track was built with a passing lane – it’s there now. Move the pegs in and it can be up and running.
The one problem is that there are now some dog starting boxes on the inside of the track that will impact on available space but this will be remedied at a minor cost,.
In Launceston, there is a drain on the inside of the harness track so the pegs can’t be moved in.
They would have to come out, lessening the width of the track in some places.
Passing lanes do evoke mixed emotions among dedicated harness racing enthusiasts. Many are either strongly in favour or vehemently opposed.
Former Sydney racecaller, media personality and harness trainer Johnny Tapp was always a vocal opponent.
When a horse he trained won a race using a passing lane, Tapp reportedly donated his entire winnings to charity.
In an official statement, Tasracing said the decision to introduce a passing lane in Hobart followed a proposal from the Tasmanian Pacing Club and consultation with the industry.
It will be for a 12-month trial when its impact, especially on betting turnover, will be assessed before a permanent decision is made.
Details of its “consultation” with the industry haven’t been disclosed.
Interestingly, in 2012, when considering the merits of passing lanes in Hobart and Launceston, Tasracing said that “recent polls’’ had indicated punters were in favour of them.
It also said that interstate authorities had reported increased wagering on tracks that had passing lanes.
Tasracing then called for feedback from local participants who could reply anonymously if they wished.
The results were never made public – but the passing lanes did not eventuate.
The only time that a Tasmanian venue did have a passing lane, at least in the modern era, was at the old Hobart Showgrounds track in the 1990s.
It lasted only a short period probably because the track was too small for it to be totally effective but some harness racing officials believed it wasn’t done correctly.