Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Old News

First of all, thank to Joe FitzGerald for contributing to VFTRG during my extended 'absence'.  While Joe tends to look at harness racing from a different angle than I do, it is certainly opinions worth hearing.

With my return from my enforced 2 1/2 week hiatus, it is time to briefly look back at some old news that took place during this period.  Some of it may be done and over with, but some of the news is somewhat disturbing, especially with slots at the Meadowlands.

News Item - Meadowlands Holds Owner Responsible for Misplaced Loyalty.   Owner Richard Berthiaume has been banned from the Gural tracks due to his loyalty to trainer Corey Johnson after he was given an indefinite suspension in Ontario.  It turns out the two horses Johnson started in the Breeders Crown for Berthiaume apparently raced with excess Cobalt in their system.  Since then, the owner has changed trainers, but it is apparently to late for Berthiaume; at least for the foreseeable future.    I can see giving an owner a pass if the suspension was for a first time medication violation, but according to records, Johnson had a medication violation earlier in 2014.  While owners are certainly entitled to maximize their profits, it is about time they are held to a 'know who you employ' principle.

All being said, while I support Gural's usage of exclusion, it needs to be consistent no matter who may be ensnared.

News Item - Nuncio Goes Continental.  There will be no Father Patrick v. Nuncio duels this year baring a return for the Breeders Crown as Stefan Melander has decided to send his horse over to Sweden where he can race an entire season against 4 year olds instead of having to step up against older horses later in the year.  Is it a lose for racing?  Time will tell but it's Melander's horse so he is free to do what he pleases; hopefully done for the benefit of the horse and not a temper tantrum.

Gural and others are attempting to bring back more races for 4 year olds but they can only do so much; other tracks need to step up to the plate.  Perhaps then we can keep our four year olds racing against their own all year.

News Item - Atlantic City Race Course Packs it In.  Yes, it was thoroughbred racing and they raced only six days a year but the closing of ACRC is somewhat disturbing in that a facility which was primarily a large OTB couldn't make it go any further.  Some would say with Favorites in Vineland being open, it would serve the same market but it is a 40 minute drive between the two facilities.

News Item - Michigan Horsemen Pay to Race.  At Northville Downs, the upcoming meet requires horsemen to pay a 1% fee to start in a race.  Granted, a $25 to $75 fee isn't huge but in a state with limited racing opportunities, it is going to hurt some horse,men.  On the positive side, purse money will be paid through sixth place.   All is not bad.  Come March, late closing events exclusively for MI sired and bred horses will be contested; something sorely needed for Michigan horsemen.  Also on the plus side is a willingness to add 26 additional race dates to the 44 day meet if the purse account holds up.

News Item - Virginia Horsemen Unite.  With thoroughbred and standardbred horsemen in Virginia now out of a racing venue, the horsemen have formed an alliance which seeks to race at alternative sites (and possibly lease Colonial Downs) for a race meet geared towards Virginia breeding.  Of course, it is easier said as state law will need to change in order for this to happen.  While such alliances between the two breeds tend to be temporary, it is good to see they are able to work together to get their respective industries back up running.

Of course, Colonial Downs is looking to open on a limited basis with historical racing which would allow them to take the balance of the purse account remaining and spend it on high caliber races which will do nothing for Virginia racing and shut the standardbreds out.

News Item - Maven Bombs at Vincennes.  I know there is criticism about the attention being lavished on Maven and to some degree it is concerned.  That being said, few people decide to take on the expense and risks to compete against Europe's best.  For that reason, Maven deserves some accolades.  Besides, if the sport is going to continue to grow, horses need to head both ways over the Atlantic for the future is global.

News Item - End of Classified Racing at Meadowlands.  It was good while it lasted, but after consultations with the SBOANJ membership, the Meadowlands is scrapping classified racing and returning to conditioned racing.  Also, the trainers preference for those who supported spring and summer racing at the Meadowlands has been scrapped.  The changes should be reflected starting with racing as of February 5 with horsemen having a meeting Friday night.  As much as I personally loved classified racing, it was clear it was a struggle filling cards.

Sadly, the days of 12 horse fields and 1 1/8 mile races are concluding as well.  While the Meadowlands is not sending races to France, it is clear abandoning these races is a blow for making the Meadowlands product desirable overseas where overflow fields are welcomed.

Also of note is the purses for the lower classes has dropped with open $12,500 claimers racing for $7,000 with $10,000 NJSO claimers competing for a paltry $8.125.

News Item - About Slots at the Meadowlands.   Being a resident of New Jersey, pardon me for being cynical when it comes to slots coming to the Meadowlands.  Should slots come to the Meadowlands?  Yes.  Is the Meadowlands a logical location for a casino?  Yes.  So what is the concern?  The recent deal to shutter the Izod Arena at least through 2017 if not longer or permanently.  Granted, most concert events in Northern New Jersey have headed to the Prudential Arena in Newark, NJ and the Izod Arena has been losing money, but along with deciding to close the arena, it turns out the NJSEA made an agreement with the Newark arena which will limit the size and type of shows allowed at a reopened Izod Arena.

The point is don't underestimate the political power Essex (and Hudson) County holds sway over the state legislature so a casino in either of those counties over the Meadowlands i not out of the question.  Bergen County politicos need to be on their toes unless they want to see slots elsewhere.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

How Did Maven Get To Be The Star Of Stars?

Maven has been the darling of the harness racing press and a hefty chunk of the sport’s fan base for the past few months. She’s taken the crown from Foiled Again, who held that distinction for a couple of years. The six-year-old daughter of Glidemaster—the only top tier trotter that sire has produced in NA—only won four races during 2014, and only one of those was a grade one stakes race. She set a track record in winning the Muscle Hill at Vernon Downs in November. Her other three wins came in the Miami Valley Distaff in mid-May, a preferred trot at Pocono in August and the BC elimination at the Meadowlands.

Maven finished out in three legs of the Miss Versatility Series, which she won in 2013, and was third in the final at Delaware, which division champ Classic Martine won. She earned $333,027 between her dozen starts in NA and a pair in Europe. So what’s all the fuss about? Why is Maven the flame of the Twittersphere and the horse harness scribes have elevated to the top of the pile? Her pedestrian numbers during the past year scream journeyman in a slump—not superstar. Racing in Europe adds some panache to her resume, but she has one third place finish to show for five European starts last season and this.

Maven’s popularity obviously extends to the sales ring as she brought a record $750,000 bid from Herb Liverman at Harrisburg in November. And he already owned a piece of rival Bee A Magician. One of Maven’s problems is that Liverman is determined not to have the pair go head to head. That means Maven is stuck in Europe, or destined to take on the boys back home. Neither of those scenarios looks promising at the moment.

Contrast Maven’s overseas performance with the much less celebrated Arch Madness, who made eight starts in Europe during 2011, 2012 and 2013. He won two of them, the 2011 Oslo Grand Prix and a heat of the Elitlop. He finished second in the latter twice and was third three times in European races. Arch got some publicity for all of this, particularly in Canada, but Maven seems to be leaving him in the PR dust despite a much shorter record of accomplishment.

Something similar has been happening on the pacing side. Eleven-year-old Foiled Again is still the most popular pacer in NA. He was second to Sweet Lou in division earnings in 2014, thanks to making the board in 19 of 26 starts, but he had no grade one stakes wins. The Quillen was his only significant victory, and that one isn’t very important at this point. He won four legs of the Levy, then went winless for the season except for his Quillen elimination and final. In 2013 he was wildly popular and a candidate for Pacer of the Year, despite suffering 18 losses.

Foiled’s hook is excellence over many years, consistency and the money record for pacers that he holds. Maven was good at two and three, winning 15 times and earning more than $900,000, but she took a back seat to Check Me Out until the late fall of her sophomore campaign. She was the standout in her division at four, winning 10 times and banking more than a half million dollars, and had an off year in 2014. This exaltation on the part of fans and the press is curious. Some of it has to do with her newsworthy passage from Jonas Czernyson to Ron Burke to Jimmy Takter. And participating today in the premier race in France for last year’s trainer and driver of the year doesn’t hurt. But with each non-competitive loss on the Continent, we should get less cheerleading and more questions about why she has been placed on a pedestal.

Joe FitzGerald

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Stallion Relocation And Stud Fee Adjustments For 2015

The game of musical chairs involving stallions moving from one state or country to another for the 2015 season is just about over. And the same goes for stud fee adjustments. Here’s a rundown of what has transpired thus far.

It was just announced that fourteen-year-old Western Terror, a grandson of Delinquent Account and full brother to BC and Messenger winner If I Can Dream, will relocate within Pennsylvania at a reduced rate. He moves to Nandi Farms and will command a $5,500 stud fee, $2,000 less than last year. More Western Terror offspring were sold in Lexington than from any other stallion, but more isn’t always better. The 41 yearling consignment brought an average a shade over $15,000. Lots of red ink there. Tomy Terror (sic), Hall Of Terror and Do Your Job were his best young offspring in 2014.

Up The Credit, the richest son of gyno-centric Western Terror, will take another shot at the stallion game in 2015. The seven-year-old NA Cup winner, who mined the low to middle NW class at Mohawk until mid-summer, first stood at Seelster Farms in Ontario for $5,000 in 2012. It wasn’t long before he was back racing. He’ll now be offered for $3,000 at Casimir Farm in Ontario.

Six-year-old Heston Blue Chip, 2012 Dan Patch winner, and five-year-old Sunfire Blue Chip will be the first high profile sons of American Ideal to embark on stallion careers. Neither one of them lived up to their colt promise in the aged ranks; Heston won four races and earned $216,000 in 2014, while Sunfire won five and banked $168,000. Heston will stand for $4,500 at Winbak, New York and Sunfire will get $4,000 (Cdn.) at Tara Hills.

Twenty-year-old Dragon Again, who now resides in Ohio, has a penchant for producing hard hitting pacers that last a long time, but he has no record as a sire of sires. His son Aracache, who ground out $1.7 million in six years of racing, will stand at Ivy Lane Farm in Indiana for $2,500. Seventeen-year-old Real Desire, the sire of Tell All and State Treasurer, will also stand at Ivy Lane in 2015. He moves from Midland Acres, where he sported a $5,000 fee. He now stands for $3,500. Lots of fee reductions for lower end stallions this year. The Well Said four-year-old Tellitlikeitis, who didn’t earn enough to be covered by Gural’s stallion rule, will also stand in Indiana, at Victory Hill Farm for $3,000. So, Indiana, which hit the lottery with Always A Virgin and Rockin Image, doesn’t get a whole lot in the way of reinforcements. The latter two stallions remained at $4,000 and $3,500, respectively.

Ohio, which was already bursting at the seams, found room for a few more. The casinos in the Buckeye state are the best job plan in NA for Standardbreds. Uncle Peter, a son of Cantab Hall, will be the most expensive trotting stallion in the state at $6,000. Fifteen-year-old Broadway Hall, still one more expatriate from Pennsylvania, will stand at Midland Acres for $5,000. That’s a third less than he was getting last year. And 2015 BC winner Rockin Amadeus will stand at Cool Winds Farm in Ohio for $3,500.

Western Vintage, who only won once at three after showing much promise during his freshman campaign, will stand at Abby Stables in Ohio for $3,500. Mister Big, who failed to impress in Ontario, will also be at Abby. He stood for $4.500 at Tara Hills in Ontario last year, but will only get $2,500 in 2015. Jurgen Hanover, the Credit Winner five-year-old who looked like a budding star early in his sophomore season, also goes to Abby, for $2,500. What’s their motto, “Give us your wretched castoffs”?

Wishing Stone leaves Deo Volente in New Jersey, where he stood for $5,000, for Sugar Valley Farm in Ohio, where he’ll get $4,500. Trixton will take his place in New Jersey for a $12,000 fee. And of course Father Patrick will serve a one year residency at Walnridge Farm in New Jersey, at a hefty $30,000 per.


Archangel, who stood in New York for $4,000 in 2013, but drew so little interest that he returned to the track this past year, makes another run as a stallion at Winbak Canada for $4,500 (Cdn.). Betterthancheddar also relocates to Winbak Canada from New York. As is the case with just about all of the repositioned stallions, his fee takes a 22% hit, dropping from $4,500 to $3,500. Sportswriter made a splash in the Ontario Sire Stakes and saw his fee jump 38% to $6,500 (Cdn.) Kadabra’s fee has been cut 20% to $12,000 (US). E L Titan will stand for $8,000 and race as well.

Ten-year-old Crazed returns to New York from Pennsylvania. He stood for $6,000 at Hanover in 2013, $4,000 in 2014 and is back up to $5,000 at Blue Chip in 2015. Gural Hanover and Crazy Wow were very good in the NYSS last year and Tirade Hanover is racing very well right now. Lucky Chucky, who didn’t overwhelm us with his first crop, had his fee reduced 20% to $6,000 for 2015. Chapter Seven, whose first crop sells this year, had his fee dropped a thousand dollars to $7,500 for 2015. Twenty-year-old Artiscape drops 20% to $4,000.

The high priced stuff goes to Pennsylvania, where Captaintreacherous and Sweet Lou both have full books--$15,000 for The Captain and half that much for Lou. One bright spot in Pennsylvania is Muscle Massive jumping 20% to $7,500 off first crop performances by the likes of Gatka Hanover and Speak To Me. Twenty-one-year-old Yankee Glide, who has struggled of late, had his fee dropped from $12,500 to $10,000.

Still, $15,000 is lower than folks expected The Captain to slot in at prior to his unsuccessful four-year-old campaign. Modest increases for Sportswriter, Muscle Massive and Crazed don’t a positive trend make. Father Patrick will get $30,000, but that’s for an abbreviated book and many of those bookings are for syndicate members. Somebeachsomewhere had his fee dropped $5,000 to $25,000 and his book is still open. Muscle Hill’s fee is unpublished. Maybe he went up. Overall, the trend is not positive.

Joe FitzGerald

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Top Race Mares Don't Always Make Top Broodmares. How Will Rocklamation Do?

The top price at the recent Tattersalls Winter Mixed Sale at the Meadowlands belonged to the 2014 co-winner of the Dan Patch for older pacing mares, Rocklamation. She went to Gene Kurzok and Jerry Silva, two members of her previous ownership group, for $360,000. They intend to breed her while continuing to race the daughter of Rocknroll Hanover, probably until August. She would have an opportunity to earn back part of her purchase price in the Blue Chip Matchmaker, which she won in 2012, the Betsy Ross, Roses Are Red, Golden Girls and Lady Liberty. Rocklamation won the latter two stakes in 2014. The seven-year-old mare has made 97 starts and earned $2.2 million.

That brings us to the age old question: How much faith can one have in a broodmare that has a busy past as a race mare? Some have succeeded, but it seems even more have not.

Armbro Flight, who was Horse of the Year three times in Canada, produced Colonial winner Armbro Regina at 11, but she didn’t really hit the breeding jackpot until she dropped her 13th foal at age 25. That was Armbro Goal, the winner of the 1988 Hambletonian. Elgin Armstrong labeled the anti-social daughter of Stars Pride, “the greatest horse raised in 100 years,” but she threw a lot of blanks as a broodmare.

Fresh Yankee raced for eight years, winning 89 of 191 starts. She was the first Standardbred born in North America to earn a million dollars. However, the daughter of Hickory Pride didn’t come remotely close to matching those numbers as a broodmare. One son, Mac Breton, was OK, but overall she failed to produce.

Money Maker and Peace Corps also failed to put all those miles behind them and be successful as broodmares. The great French mare Une de Mai, who raced until age 10, winning 71 of 141 starts,  and was retired in foal to Nevele Pride, only left one offspring, a surviving twin, before dying. Roquepine did produce the Starts Pride stallion Florestan, but not much else.

Classical Way, a daughter of Hambletonian winner Kerry Way, sold for $400,000 as a broodmare at age ten. But the winner of the Kentucky Futurity, Roosevelt International and Prix de France had no luck as a mother.

Hambletonian winner Continentalvictory brought $760,000 as a broodmare but she failed to impress. Panty Raid, the first winner of the World Trotting Derby, was of little value as a broodmare.

That’s not to say all of the long distance mares have come up short. Delmonica Hanover made 112 starts, winning 48 of them. She won her division three times and was voted Horse of the Year in 1974. Delmonica was a prized broodmare prospect, selling for a record $300,000 at five and $ 1 million at age 13. She produced the outstanding filly Delmegan as well as Hambletonian winner Park Avenue Joe.

Impish, the HOF filly who opened eyes with a 1:58.3 win as a two-year-old in 1961, produced Canny Imp, who only won twice but proved to be a seminal broodmare, as well as the accomplished trotter Pay Dirt.

Winky’s Gill, who sold at auction for a record $800,000, did give us Supergill and Winky’s Goal.

Glad Rags, a FFA pacer by Greentree Adios who mixed it up with the likes of Bret Hanover and Adios Vic, presented Nevele Pride with Zoot Suit, who went on to be a very successful sire in Europe. She also threw the fine Bret Hanover pacer Saville Row.

On the pacing side, Handle With Care retired with a slew of very tough miles in her, and she had no success as a broodmare. The same goes for Shady Daisy. Fan Hanover, the only filly to win the Little Brown Jug, threw blanks. Mistletoe Shalee is another. And add Miss Conna Adios to the list of no shows.

Little Robin Dundee, who paced the fastest mile ever by a mare in Australia or New Zealand when she won the Miracle Mile in 1:59 at Harold Park in 1967, raced through age 11. She retired at 12 in foal to Adios Butler. That matchup didn’t work out, but at age 19 she dropped the top notch Meadow Skipper pacer Genghis Khan, who earned almost a million dollars.

Rainbow Blue, Horse of the Year in 2004, only started 32 times, so she doesn’t qualify as a high mileage mare, but she has already produced 2010 freshman division winner Somwherovrarainbow.

Delinquent Account gave us Artiscape as well as Arterra, the dam of If I Can Dream, Western Terror and Cinderella Guy.

A number of top mares have been retired in the recent past. Idyllic was sold as a broodmare for $140,000 two years ago at the Winter Mixed Sale. Big McDeal was sold at last year’s Mixed Sale for $125,000. I Luv The Nitelife brought something in the $300,000 range when she was sold in September. See You At Peelers and Put On A Show are a couple of more low mileage high achievers that were retired to the breeding shed in 2012.

Check me Out was retired after her four-year-old campaign and bred to Credit Winner. Eight-year-old Frenchfrysnvinegar, who started 144 times and earned more than a million dollars, was retired in 2013.

Buck I St Pat retired in the fall of 2011 with 105 miles in her. She had earned two free breedings to Muscles Yankee for winning the Matchmaker. Rocklamation is entitled to a free breeding from a Blue Chip stallion for winning the same race, so they could hook her up with Art Major for free or go the SBSW route like Peelers and POAS. Regardless, it will be interesting to see if this high mileage mare is a successful mother.

Joe FitzGerald



Monday, January 19, 2015

Standardbed Canada Polls Horsemen On HOY Vote

Standardbred Canada asked a dozen driver/trainers to weigh in on who should be the 2014 Horse of the Year in Canada. Eight of them—Paul MacDonell, Sylvain Filion, Lorne House, Scott Young, Kyle Reibeling, Dustin Jones, Doug McNair and Blake MacIntosh—chose JK She’salady. Makes sense. Overall she was undefeated, and she won all her starts in Canada, including the Eternal Camnation, Three Diamonds and Shes A Great Lady, setting a 1:50.1 world record in the latter. The award is based on a horse making the greatest contribution to harness racing in Canada. She distances the field in that regard.

Chris Christoforou and James MacDonald chose the brilliant freshman trotter Mission Brief. As talented as she is, this is a curious choice. She set a 1:52.1 world record in her Peaceful Way elimination, to go along with her 1:50.3 world record in the ISS at The Red Mile, but she broke stride and finished out in the finals of the Peaceful Way and Goldsmith Maid, both raced in Canada. You’re going to make Mission Brief HOY in Canada when all she won up there were eliminations? Crazy talk.

Some don’t believe any horse based south of the border should win this award, and I suppose Jody Jamieson and Trevor Henry fall into this category. Both picked Intimidate. The now six-year-old won five of 14 starts, including the Maple Leaf Trot and the TVG final. He won the former at 47-1 and the latter at 14-1. Intimidate won four of his six starts in Canada, three of them over preferred trotters. He finished out in the BC, Crawford and Cashman, so while the son of Justice Hall stepped up at the right time and won the two top dollar stakes for aged trotters, he didn’t exactly light up the world wide marquee like Sebastian did. Intimidate will win his division in Canada, but in light of the success JK She’salady had in Ontario, a HOY designation would be far-fetched.

Joe FitzGerald