Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reporting Lines

Give RUS-Ontario credit for advertising on a low budget as they put out a promotional video showing Norway against Canada in two upcoming RUS (wagering) events.

Of course a more important question is being horses which compete in RUS events will tend to race with a sulky as well, how does one report program lines?   So far, there seems to be two methodologies.

In the United States, the USTA is treating RUS racing as if it was the same as a horse changing gaits (i.e., from trot to pace); it is as if the horse never raced other than at that day's gait.  True, the conditions a horse will race in is determined by their performance at that gait or in the RUS world, racing style.  Of course, the problem is a horse may look like it hadn't raced in six months when it may have raced three days earlier nor is there any indication of class.

In Canada, Standardbred Canada is showing RUS lines interspersed with their regular race lines.  This is more accurate and gives gamblers a more complete picture; just as the DRF will show steeplechase or hunt meet lines along with regular races on the flat.

Were I to have a say, the program pages would show both sulky and RUS starts in the program for each horse.  In addition, depending on the type of race, the record for the past two years would reflect the style of racing in the day's event; a RUS event would show RUS records; a sulky race sulky records.  The lifetime summary would reflect a combination of all starts regardless of style of racing.

Why should the program show both type of lines together?  First of all, it will show a horse has been racing recently instead of looking like it hasn't raced in a while.  The two sets of lines will show the class of horse you are dealing with.  If you were dealing with a maiden event for RUS participants, wouldn't you want to know the horse last raced in A-2 company versus C-2 when using a sulky?  Neither has a record to speak of under saddle so it make sense a higher class horse would have an advantage.  Wouldn't you want to know if the horse raced under saddle in 1:57 versus 2:02?

The bottom line is the horseplayer is entitled to as much information as possible when making their wagers.  As long as the gait is the same, there is no problem with showing races of different styles in the program.

And Now For Something Completely Different

You know I believe racing has to try innovative things and this past weekend, Canterbury Park tried something different.  A twenty horse race spanned over the turf and dirt course.  Twenty horses in one race with 12 starting on the turf and 8 on the main track.  There was a slight difference in distance to accomodate a perceived advantage of turf horses.  Well, here it is.

Certainly not my cup of tea, but give them credit for trying.  No charts are available of this twin race so I can't tell how well received it was.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Early Peek At First Crop Trotting Stallions

Three trotters from the sophomore class of 2010 have come online with their initial crops this year; Muscle Massive is standing at Hanover, Lucky Chucky at Winbak in New York and Holiday Road in Ontario. Pilgrim’s Taj is a fourth, but he only spent one year in Canada, after which he was relocated to Ohio and ultimately exported to Finland. That being the case, we’ll look at the first three. To this point restricted races have provided the only basis for judging them, but the open portion of the season commences this week with elimination rounds for the Peter Haughton and Merrie Annabelle at the Meadowlands as well as several splits of the Arden at The Meadows.

Much of the focus has been on Muscle Massive and Lucky Chucky, beneficiaries of generous state bred programs who finished one-two in the Hambletonion. The former was a $450,000 yearling who was lightly raced at two but managed to win the Hambletonion as well as the Dancer at three, while Chucky was a precocious freshman, showing wins in the Valley Victory, Matron, ISS and Bluegrass. He was the 3/2 favorite in the Hambletonion and appeared on his way to victory when 6/1 Muscle Massive, piloted by Ron Pierce, ruined his day. Regardless, Chucky did win the Canadian Trotting Classic and Colonial at three, and he earned more money than Muscle Massive both years.

Both sold close to seventy yearlings last year, with Chucky’s brood averaging quite a bit more. Both have seen their stud fees fluctuate before their first crops hit the track. Muscle Massive started at $10,000, only to have his fee cut to $7,500 and $6,000 in successive years. Cantab Hall, Donato Hanover, Andover Hall and Explosive Matter all command higher fees than their younger stablemate at Hanover. Chucky, on the other hand, started at $7,500 in New York, was dropped to $5,000 during a year spent in Pennsylvania, and came back up to $7,500 when he returned to Winbak, where nineteen-year-old Muscles Yankee stands for $2,500 more. Muscle Massive has benefited from the success of his older brother, Muscle Mass, sire of O’Brien winner Riveting Rosie and the successful OSS colt Muscle Matters.

Thus far Muscle Massive has given us some outstanding fillies. Gatka Hanover, a big rugged gal out of the Conway Hall mare Girlie Tough, from the Ron Burke barn, has left many wondering where her ceiling is. Gatka rolled through a couple of baby races and has now chalked up three wins in the PA Sire Stakes, one each at The Meadows, Pocono and Harrah’s. Matt Kakaley steered her to an effortless four length win in 1:57 in her latest. She leaves from the five for Matt K in Friday’s first Merrie Annabelle elimination. Gatka takes on Lucky Chucky’s daughter, Lock Down Lindy, who drew plenty of attention with a very strong first over win in a Merrie Annabelle Prep at the Meadowlands Friday for Scott Zeron and Tony Alagna.

Another Muscle Massive star in the making is Jimmy Takter’s Speak To Me, an $80,000 Harness Breeders purchase by Myron Bell. She is also three-for three in the PA Sire Stakes and has trotted in 1:55. Last time out, in a $57,000 sire stakes division at Harrah’s, Speak To Me gapped the field by ten on her way to an easy win at a stingy 1/5 price. Unfortunately this filly was not staked to the Merrie Annabelle and will be missing from the fray on Friday night.

Blessings Counted is another talented filly by Muscle Massive. She was second to Speak To Me in a PASS race at The Meadows a couple of weeks ago and won a $57,000 race at Harrah’s in her latest start. She is not eligible to the Merrie Annabelle but is entered in a split of the Arden at The Meadows on Friday. Missive and Youth Gone Wild, both winners in the Stallion Series, will also race in the Arden. Jersey Strong, a talented filly with a win in the PA All Stars and a second in the PASS, isn’t entered at The Meadowlands or The Meadows on Friday.

The top colt by Muscle Massive is Ake Svanstedt’s Lima Pride, who beat Jimmy Takter’s 1/9 favorite The Bank in a split of the Hickory Pride when The Bank went on a run at the three-quarters. Lima Pride, a $25,000 yearling purchase, was not nominated to the Peter Haughton.

The priciest freshman trotter by any first crop stallion is Mr Lucky Luke, a $450,000 Lucky Chucky half- brother to Muscle Massive, Muscle Mass and 2010 Merrie Annabelle winner, Thatsnotmyname. The Cancelliere brothers, of Detour Hanover fame, purchased him at Lexington in the fall. He has yet to make a pari-mutuel start; let’s hope he generates a better ROI than Detour has.

As for the Lucky Chucky colts and fillies that have raced, there is no eye popping Gatka Hanover out there, but there are plenty of good ones. I already mentioned Merrie Annabelle candidate Lock Down Lindy, who possesses the same rugged demeanor as Gatka. She is a half-sister to 2006 HOY in Canada, Majestic Son. He has sired Harper Blue Chip, Murmur Hanover and Charmed Life.

Ray Schnittker has Gabe The Bear Dean, a $105,000 Harness Breeders buy, who has an impressive wire-to wire five length win in the NYSS at Buffalo.

Jonas Czernyson has a few Lucky Chucky youngsters in his barn and he’s high on all of them. At the end of June Hot Start, a half-sister to Religulous, won a $27,000 NYSS split at Vernon Downs for Corey Callahan. Next time out, at Tioga, she cut most of the mile from the outside post only to lose to paternal sister My Twisted Sister, from the Paul Kelley barn. Hot Start is entered in the second Merrie Annabelle elimination on Friday.

Nunkeri is another very promising Lucky Chucky filly from the Czernyson barn. She finished second to the Muscle Hill filly Josie’s Joy at the Meadowlands the other night, race timed in 1:57.2 as the second choice. Nunkeri won her start previous to that one, a $28,000 NYSS division at Tioga. George Ducharme’s sharp looking Conway Hall filly, Concentration, pressured her all the way home in a 1:59.3 mile.

On the male side Mal and Janet Burroughs’ Mambo Blue Chip, a $40,000 Harness Breeders buy, won a $28,000 split of the NYSS in 1:57.2 at Tioga last time out.

Holiday Road, a $115,000 yearling who is a full brother to Ken Warkentin, was lightly raced, making only ten lifetime stars. While staying on the track was an issue, speed wasn’t; he won the Peter Haughton at two and a split of the Dancer at three. He opened his stallion career for $4,500 at Seelster Farms and now stands for $3,500.

This week the Holiday Roads started to turn heads and earn respect at Mohawk as they performed admirably on the various OSS platforms. John Bax’s Hemi Seelster was long and tough winning a Grassroots division in 1:58.4 at 2/1. It was noteworthy that the gelding engaged in a head to head battle the length of the stretch with Pilgrim’s Joy, a son of first crop stallion Pilgrim’s Taj.

Tony Alagna’s filly Gee O’Keeffe logged a very strong second in a $53,000 OSS Gold leg at Mohawk for Jody Jamieson, losing a length to the highly regarded Kadabra filly Juanita’s Fury. And Keith Jones’ gelding, It’s Huw You Know, was an upset Grassroots winner in 2:00.3 on Monday at 75/1, paying $159.60. And Ontheroad De Vie made a very impressive brush on the back as he came from the 10 post to finish second for Rick Zeron in a Grassroots leg. The Holiday Roads are looking good.

Rock N Roll Heaven and Sportswriter are lighting it up in the freshman pacing division, but it’s expected that the trotters will take a little longer to get their bearings and hit their stride. Muscle Massive, Lucky Chucky and Holiday Road will all be prospering when they do.

Joe FitzGerald

You Got to be in it to Win it

The Hambletonian Oaks drew eleven entries this year, meaning there will be no eliminations; all eleven horses will meet the starter next Saturday.  With the dominance of the Takter trio, there is talk not enough horses will enter the Hambletonian next week, meaning the Hambletonian could be a one race dash for the cash.  Some will attribute the lack of entries on the dominance of Takter's stable but there was a time when owners practically died to have a horse to enter in the Hambletonian, if nothing else to be part of the experience.  If there was even a chance of picking up a check, they showed up in the entry box.  I suspect if we don't have eliminations, it is more likely due to the feeling you can't beat the big boys.

Granted, the Takter trio of Father Patrick, Nunzio, and Trixton looks very tough with Father Patrick being the pre-race favorite but there have been upsets in the past, perhaps the most famous was in an elimination when Delvin G Hanover lit up the tote board at $126 for the win in the 1984 classic.  Let's not forget Shiaway St Pat, the Michigan bred gelding who had his moment in the rain-soaked 1981 Hambletonian; the debut of the classic at the Meadowlands.  The point is if you go to the gate you have a shot; staying in the stall doesn't.

Ironically, the biggest threat to the Takter trio may be the fact they will scare away competition, but not enough.  If 11 to 14 horses drop in the box, the second tier comes into play and with no choosing of post positions, the possibility of drawing into the second tier could be a nightmare to whomever gets the backseat. .

Meanwhile, in the John Cashman Jr., Intimidate, the Maple Leaf  Trot winner is racing in the first elimination while Sebastian K will be racing in the second elimination.  If both advance to the final, we may be seeing a rematch of the Maple Leaf Trot combatants on the first Saturday in August.

This Friday, Cat Manzi is being honored at the Meadowlands.  Granted, it has been a while since  Manzi was a factor at the East Rutherford oval, but in the Meadowlands prime, Manzi was one of the prominent drivers there and afterwards he was the successor to Herve Filion at Freehold.  Here's hoping he gets a proper send-off.

A theme of late is the question of stables starting multiple horses in a single race so you can imagine a chuckle I got when I see the thoroughbreds are having a problem in Mauritius.  It would appear they are having lots of problems regarding integrity there.  What had me chuckling was an edict from the Prime Minister, including this gem:

Any stable will now no more be allowed to have more than two horses lined up together for one race.

One could imagine why this decision was made.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When is Someone Going to Step Up and Do Something?

Friday night's second race is the elimination for the Peter Haughton Memorial and a field of ten trotters will be going to post.  Three byes were handed out meaning seven of the ten contesting the tilt will advance.  Okay, you may not like byes, but it sure beats six and seven horse fields which make elimination races unattractive to gamblers.

Of course, this ten horse field will be pretty unattractive wagering-wise.  For while ten horses are scheduled to contest the race, there will be only five betting interests as Jimmy Takter and Brittany Fams sends four horses coupled into the race while Ake Svandstedt and Courant AB sends out a three horse entry, meaning only three horses will race solo.

Yes, the fact owners are forming partnerships to manage risk has reduced the number of separate ownership units and fewer trainers get quality horses, resulting in these mega-entries.  As a result, these eliminations have become problematic.  While people are aware of the problems these entries cause wagering-wise, no one seems to want to take the initiative to do anything about it.

First let me address the issues of byes.  While it would be best if every horse entered to race in a contest  went the elimination route and not get a free pass, I understand the logic; to avoid having six and seven horse fields competing (though having the three highest earning 2yos in July is kind of ridiculous).  Being the industry has such an aversion with a second tier, if only 13 horses enter and betting will take place, they the bye process makes sense.  Not that the bye process is without risk.  A horse who wins their elimination typically gets to pick their post in the final.  Availing yourself of a bye opens you up to the open draw meaning you may be starting from the dreaded 10 hole.

With eliminations, assuming the state allows it, you may have all the horses race uncoupled but that leave us open to the possibility of an assist being given to a stable/entrymate.  Does the industry really want to endorse a method which may present an invitation to suspicion?

Perhaps the best way to handle this situation would be to card these eliminations as non-wagering events to be presented during the evening race card.would be the best way to go.  No need for byes; the 13 horses would race in two elimination races presented between the regular races.  Everyone starts, no one gets a bye.  These races would go during  the regular wagering card and those astute gamblers will watch these as any other race while those less interested will look ahead to the next wagering race.  Yes, purse money would be spent on these non-wagering events, but don't tracks already put those races they find 'below standards' on their non-wagering card?  This assumes the racetrack may replace the elimination with another race, something which may be hard to do at those tracks lower on the feeding chain.

Someone needs to take this issue and own it.  This person needs to organize a meeting with race secretaries and come up with a standard which best serves the interest of racetracks, horsemen, and gamblers alike.