For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Monday, August 29, 2016

Regulatory Doings and What's Wrong with this Picture?

Some regulatory news of note this past week...

First in California, the CHRB has decreed California Horsemen will need to follow the same rules regarding whipping as in many states, including the inability of whipping more than three times in a row without giving a horse a chance to respond.  For the complete rule proposal, you may open this file and go to page 304.  Of course, as in other states, a rule is only as good as the judges officiating so it remains to be seen what will happen once racing resumes at Cal Expo

Also in the Golden State, and this one may be more painful to trainers as the rule changes pertain to medication violations.  For one thing, the rule now uses a twelve month rolling calendar for determining penalties.  A trainer who ten months ago had a lower medication violation and has been tagged once again for a more serious violation will have the earlier penalty considered as an aggravating circumstance in determining punishment.  If a trainer gets a lower grade violation than another one within the twelve month period will have the higher penalty count just as another occurrence of the lower grade violation when determining penalties.

The big difference comes with the transferring of a horse from a stable where the trainer is assessed more than a thirty day suspension.  In this case, a horse will not be able to be transferred to an employee of the trainer as anyone who was employed by a trainer within the past twelve months will be unacceptable as the new trainer.  

On the other coast, the NJRC has published for public comment a rule which will change the way claiming races work.

The rule allows for an exemption from claiming when a standardbred (a thoroughbred version of the rule is also being proposed) last race was a claiming event and has been off at least 180 days.  As long as the horse is entered into a claiming race with the same or greater price tag as the last race, it will be exempt from claiming provided the owner of the horse files a request for exemption.  A horse dropping in for a lower tag will be ineligible for the claiming exemption.  A horse who returns in a conditioned race will not be able to claim the exemption if then dropped into a claiming race.

The purpose of this exemption is to encourage owners to allow a horse to fully recover from an injury instead of racing the horse prematurely.  The thinking is an owner may be less willing to allow a horse to fully recover if it has the potential of being claimed away in the first race back; thus not giving the owner a chance to recover the expenses of rehabilitation.  Hopefully, with the claiming exemption, an owner will have a better chance of recouping rehab costs, thus willing to provide such treatment.  The exemption goes with the horse, so it doesn't matter if the horse was claimed in the previous start or if it has a new owner since the last start.
The rule change also clarifies the allowable instances for a claim to be voided.  The instances which help protect animal welfare is when a claimed horse dies during the race or, at the direction of the State Veterinarian, has to be euthanized; the philosophy being since the horse races for the old owner, the title shouldn't pass to the new owner until the race is completed.  Also if a horse is vanned off and the claimant notifies the Judges, they have one hour to decide whether or not to void the claim (though they must make the decision without having physical contact with the horse).

What is Wrong with this picture?  

This was a six horse entry in the first race at Tioga Downs yesterday.  How can any racetrack put a race like this on their wagering card?  It's an insult to the racing public.  This Geers event should have been carded prior to the day's racing card or there should have been a condition requiring so many wagering interests before the race would have been carded and the race cancelled with the fees refunded to eligible horses.

For the record, the winning entry went of at 2-5, with the #2 being 8-5 and the #3 off at 6-1.

Hopefully this will be fixed so it will never happen again. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Oh No, the Gold Cup and Saucer Going Big Time?

I recently came across an article from a local paper on PEI calling for the purse of the Gold Cup and Saucer to be raised to $100,000 in an effort to get the best horses in North America to make an appearance at Charlottetown Driving Park.  The article is correct to note at the current rate of exchange, a horse could race in the Open at Yonkers Raceway and come out ahead of winning the Gold Cup and Saucer.

Well to be honest, a $100,000 purse likely wouldn't induce top horses to come up to Atlantic Canada.  Heck a $100,000 race in the United States in August likely would get a field of second and third tier horses with the value of stakes at slot tracks so much higher; the chance of top horses heading to the Maritimes is unlikely.  But this call for a purse increase can mean only one thing.

The Gold Cup and Saucer is becoming more commercial and this is a sad thing.

Look, the idea of a large purse race is hard to argue against but the fact is the charm of the GC&S would be diminished, the same way the charm of the Hambletonian lost a lot when it left the cornfields of DuQuion for the Big City charm of the Greater New York region.  Right now, it is the dream of every horseman from PEI and other parts of Canada to win the closing race of Old Home Week.  How much of this charm would remain if you see the big city trainers from the American East cluttering the entry box, looking at the race as a place to race their second tier horses?  It wouldn't be beyond the realm of possibility for the race to take on the complexion of a race at Yonkers Raceway.

Yes, the owners cashing a check after the race will be better off, but at what cost?  I think it may be a cost those in Prince Edward Island may want to think twice about.

As the Meadowlands Approaches 40 a Look Back at the First 25

by Pete Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor

Here's a promotional film about the Meadowlands ...


.. from 2001, produced to comemorate the track's 25th anniversary.

It lays out the roots of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, which originally operated the track as a daily cash source to carry the overall sports complex.

It features a little profile of David "Sonny" Werblin, the NJSEA's original chairman, along the backgrounds of and interviews with, Bob Quigley, the track's original GM and, as he puts it, "first employee," Joe DeFrank, the Meadowlands' original director of racing, and Allen Gutterman, the track's original PR man.

(I guess he'll let me know if he was the original. I don't exactly remember.)

The announcer is Dave ("... and DOWN the stretch they come ...") Johnson, who lends the proper flavor and gravitas to the film.

The thing that really hit me in watching it was - and not to take anything away from the current management team, which is pretty good and which saved the place from a one-way trip to Palookaville - but look at the crowds and the excitement, and the out and out specialness, of the Meadowlands its early days.

And the racing six days a week, 200-plus cards a year - I added that part, but it's true - and the formerly million-dollar Meadowlands Pace.

Migosh, what in the world happened to the mecca of harness racing?

Yeah, I know, things and circumstances happened, racinos in Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware happened, the Atlantic City purse subsidies stopped happening.

And Chris Christie, the present New Jersey governor who put a knife into horse racing's back, happened.

Oh, well ... enjoy the film, and enjoy the Meadowlands' glory years.

Maybe, just maybe, they can happen again.

Hey, sometimes it doesn't seem that way, but I'm an optimist.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Overachievers And Underachievers Eight Months In

This is a good time to scope out some of the overachievers and underachievers of the 2016 season. We’ll start with the former.

Indiana bred Hannelore Hanover, a daughter of the Andover Hall stallion Swan For All, has banked more 2016 money among the trotting set than all but Southwind Frank and Marion Marauder. She went from being a three-year-old regional queen to arguably the best aged trotter in North America. The Burke trainee has already won the Armbro Flight, Hambletonian Maturity and Miami Valley Distaff. She is favored in Friday’s Muscle Hill and will no doubt receive an invitation to the million dollar Yonkers International on October 15.

The six-year-old SBSW gelding Shamballa performed very well on the WEG circuit last year, winning eight times for almost $360,000, but he couldn’t quite get there when he stepped up to the Quillen, CPD, Dayton Pacing Derby or BC. This year trainer Rick Zeron’s statement that his charge would go whatever the likes of Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit went in the Franklin, Haughton and USPC was greeted with derision, but Shamballa was second at 39/1 in the Haughton and then stunned the sport with a win over all the division studs in 1:47.1 in the USPC for Scott Zeron. He then finished in a dead heat for third in the Dan Patch and is now prepping for a start in the Canadian Pacing Derby, where he will not be taken for granted. Shamballa has earned $304,000 in ten starts.

Rockin Ron, a four-year-old Real Desire gelding from the Burke Barn, has upset Wiggle It Jiggleit twice this year, in the Confederation Cup and in the Prix D’Ete this past Sunday. After spinning his wheels in the Indiana program last year, Ron has generated 11 wins good for $375,000 in 2016.

Musical Rhythm, a four-year-old Cantab Hall trotter based in Canada, won six times for $66,000 at three for Tony Alagna, but has really blossomed this year under the care of the Baillargeons. His earnings are up over $300,000 and he has a dozen wins, including the Graduate Series final.

The underachievers are plentiful and spread across all classes, but the aged pacing mares in particular stand out. Suffice it to say, they have not compensated for the premature retirement of JK She’salady. Division winner Divine Caroline, who won the BC and Garnsey last year earning $667,000 on 8 wins and 19 board finishes, has one win in 13 starts, good for $44,000.

Sassa Hanover, who earned $523,000 and won the Jugette, Adioo Volo and Courageous Lady, has won twice in 17 starts for $40,000.

Joe Holloway’s Bettor’s Delight filly, Bettor Be Steppin, banked more than $468,000 last year, with wins in the Valley Forge and the Lynch, but she’s gone the other way in 2016. She is winless in ten starts and has barely cracked $10,000 in earnings.

Mosquito Blue Chip is another disappointment. She came on strong at the close of 2015. After her win in the Matron, upping her seasonal earnings to more than $373,000, it looked like she’d be a force in the aged ranks for Rene Allard. However, the Bettor’s Delight mare has left that promise unfulfilled, with a one for ten record and a slim $26,000 bankroll.

Among the four-year-old pacers, Wakizashi Hanover, who banked more than a million dollars in 2015 on wins in the Cup, Jenna’s Beach Boy, PA Championship and Keystone Classic, got started late due to sickness and is winless in five starts with only $12,000 to show for his effort.

After winning 15 of 17 starts in 2015 Freaky Feet Pete, who took the BC, Monument Circle, Circle City and American National, has come up short in the open ranks. The fact that he no longer has access to all that sire stakes money has cut into his $854,000 earnings from last year and three of his five wins are in the Hoosier Park invitational. He was on the losing end of a spirited battle with Wiggle in the Graduate final. Pete is not staked to the CPD. The Big Three has been reduced by one.

The Well Said pacer Lost For Words didn’t put together much of an open stakes resume last year for Brian Brown, but he hit the board in 15 of 18 starts and made a name for himself chasing Wiggle around the track at Delaware Ohio, and even winning a heat there. That and success in the PASS added up to $695,000. He’s two for ten in 2016 and has only earned $34,000. The prospect of him becoming a productive aged pacer is on hold.

The Rocknroll Hanover sophomore Boston Red Rocks has disappointed on the Grand Circuit. He took the division last year thanks to wins in the BC and Governor’s Cup, but he only has a pair in 11 starts in 2016, with one being in his Cup elimination. Steve Elliott’s charge entered the season second on the Hoof Beats Predictive Ranking.

At least Boston Red Rocks has earned $267,000; the Kadabra sophomore Tony Soprano, who won four Golds as well as the Super Gold final in 2015, has only banked $29,000 thanks to a winless season thus far.

Dog Gone Lucky, from the second crop of Lucky Chucky, is another three-year-old trotter who hasn’t lived up to expectations. He sports the same zip for five record as Tony Soprano, with earnings of $10,000. This after taking the Valley Victory and Matron in 2015 and banking $506,000.

Zero for five seems to be a theme with four-year-old trotters. Pinkman, the division champ at two and three, who earned $1.8 million last year on wins in the Hambletonian, Beal, Stanley Dancer, CTC and Kentucky Futurity, has one win in Sweden, which brought in $59,000, but none in NA, where he has failed to crack $20,000. The aged trotting ranks are mighty thin. We could use the Explosive Matter gelding in last year’s form.

Three- time division winner Anndrovette has fallen on hard times. She only won three times last year, but that included the Golden Girls and Lady Liberty and she banked $363,000. This time around she’s one for thirteen with $80,000. While stablemate Venus Delight, who took the Matchmaker, Milton and Artiscape in 2015, has won twice for $171,000—far short of the $603,000 she took in last year.

Color’s A Virgin is another mare with an accomplished past who has faltered in 2016. She won eight times last year, including the BC and Allerage mare, for $$302,000. This year she’s one for ten with less than $23,000 in the bank.

Joe FitzGerald

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Novel Solution to the Declining Foal Problem

In an article for the DRF, Bob Marks discusses the problem with the declining foal crops facing standardbred racing (it is also a problem for thoroughbreds but we'll let them solve their own problem).  With all apologies to Marks, allow me to simplify what I deduce from his reporting (though I encourage you to read his article):

  • Buyers want stakes-caliber horses
  • Few of the foals turn out to be stakes horses so the future progeny of sires who don't produce stakes horses in one year get sold cheaply

  • Many horses turn out to be nice raceway stock
  • Breeders produce lots of nice raceway stock
  • People don't go to yearling sales looking for nice raceway stock
  • These raceway stock foals get sold cheaply, often below the cost of production
  • When costs of most foals exceed the prices foals receive, breeders go out of business
  • Fewer breeders mean less foals 
  • Less foals means less race horses (aka horse shortage)
  • Horse shortage means less races, racing dates, and eventually less racetracks
A solution would be to divert money from stakes and claiming races to conditioned overnights in order to make it easier for owners to recoup costs from those foals which don't turn out to be stakes horses thus promoting prices for these raceway foals.  Unfortunately, as Marks states, there has been only modest changes to purse structures at too few tracks.  Clearly this is not working fast enough.  Changes need to be made.

First of all, while breeders supposedly are seeking to the 'next great horse', the fact is not every breeder can produce champions; many breeders are at best are fortunate if they can improve their breeding relative to their prior breeding attempts.  

Secondly, the industry needs raceway stock, more so than it needs stakes-caliber horses.  After all, with the exception of sires stakes races, how many stakes races are conducted at tracks like Pocono Downs and Yonkers Raceway when compared to their overnight events?

Hence, I would argue there is nothing wrong with being a breeder of raceway stock.  If the costs of raising horses is so prohibitive and the horsemen are unwilling to adjust purses to give bidders a chance to recoup the costs involved in getting a horse to the track which punishes breeders and puts the whole industry at risk, something needs to change.  The answer is 'subsidies'.

Yes, subsidies.  While some money goes to breeders for awards, breeders need subsidies.    Subsidies not too great to reduce the incentive to improve the breed, but enough to give them a fair chance to come out ahead.  Where would this money come from, racino revenue.  Divert some of the money going to purses to breeders.  

You may be asking what makes me think breeders would be able to secure more racino funds when they can't get horsemen to agree to a shift in how purses are allocated?  Breeders have more political clout at the statehouse than they do at the racetrack.  They can make an argument breeder subsidies remain in state while purses are more likely to be spent out of state.

Let's have stakes companies report to the state where a breeder comes from the sales prices of each foal sold along with the name of the breeder.  For each foal crop, the state would determine the cost for raising a horse.  The only horses which would qualify for a subsidy are ones raised in the state.  Based on the total loss for a breeder of eligible horses, the breeder will get a proportional share of the breeders subsidy.  

Depending how much is dedicated to the breeder's pool, a breeder may end up with a profit at best or at least have part of their loss absorbed with slot revenue, enough to keep the breeders in the game.  To make sure this subsidy doesn't become welfare, breeders would be penalized if the average sales price of their yearlings doesn't improve by having their share of the slot revenue decrease.  Hence the expectation is breeders will improve their stock.

With the use of subsidies breeders will have more incentive to remain in the business and possibly increase the number of foals the will raise, thus supplying the horses needed for race tracks.

It's worth considering.