For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

If I Can Dream and Muscle Hill Corner the 2YO Sire Stakes Market in New Jersey

On Friday night the first leg New Jersey Sire Stakes splits for freshman pacers and trotters will take place at The Meadowlands. As a result of a myriad of issues we don’t need to get into, we’ve gotten used to this program being stocked by a very limited number of stallions—primarily Rocknroll Hanover and Muscle Hill. The former passed in March of 2013 and his last crop of 44 will race in the PASS this year. Muscle Hill, on the other hand, is in his final year of two-year-old eligibility in New Jersey; his freshmen will be eligible to the PASS in 2017.

All 25 trotters competing in the NJSS on Friday are by Muscle Hill. That’s not radically different from last year, when that one’s sire Muscles Yankee, who was exhausting his eligibility in New Jersey, also contributed some. And the fact that Muscle Hill and Muscles Yankee are premier trotting stallions seemed to make it OK.

On the other side, all ten fillies and all seven colts are by the marginal stallion If I Can Dream, who stood at Deo Volente Farms for four years. The winner of the BC, Messenger and Tattersalls Pace had a distinguished career on the track, but he’s no Rocknroll at stud, so looking at a program page fully stocked with his progeny is a shock to the system. Forty Five Red won the Sheppard while Big Boy Dreams took the Matron and the Windy City, but the son of Western Hanover hasn’t exhibited the credentials needed to carry a major sire stakes program. He stood two years in New York, followed by four in New Jersey. If I Can Dream stood for $5,000 last year in the Garden State, and is standing for $2,500 in Ohio in 2016. His current two-year-old class is drawn from 45 registered foals.

What happens next year when the Muscle Hill freshman class is no longer eligible in New Jersey? Trixton was received like royalty last year, breeding 140 mares, but the resulting issues won’t come online until 2018. The diminutive Conway Hall stallion, Wishing Stone, who won the Kentucky Futurity and accumulated more than $2 million on both sides of the pond, was doing double duty He has 16 yearlings who will join the fray next year, but he moved on to Ohio in 2015, so there won’t be much help from him.

The journeyman Credit Winner millionaire Calchips Brute has also been doing double duty in New Jersey, but he only bred 19 mares in 2014 and 2015 combined, resulting in ten foals, so that’s eight more to add to the mix next year. Obviously things are going to be stretched to the max until the Trixton offspring shows up, and that will put the program back into the same old one stallion funk it’s in right now.

Things are even less promising on the pacing side, where there is no Trixton to overcome geography and whatever other obstacles are placed before him. After five years in Ontario, Lis Mara, the fastest son of Cambest, the winner of the BC, Franklin and CPD, and the sire of speedball Mel Mara, emigrated to New Jersey for the 2015 season, but he only bred a dozen mares. And the American Ideal pacer Great Vintage took up residence at Walnridge Farm last year, but the record only shows him breeding nine mares. Also, Rocknroll Heaven, who stood five years in New York and has failed to live up to expectations, was relocated to Deo Volente this year. It will be 2019 before he adds to the mix. So, considering that there will only be a handful of If I Can Dream freshmen around next year, things are going from bad to worse.

A residency based program for mares has seemingly been in the works forever. And this year a new SDF (Standardbred Development Fund) program will commence for two-year-olds and the offspring of mares that have resided in the state for 150 days, regardless of the sire’s location. While all of the Premier Division races will continue to be held at The Meadowlands, the SDF races will all take place at Freehold, beginning September 23. This will help, but it doesn’t solve the problem of a Premier Division stuffed to the gills with If I Can Dream stock.

Joe FitzGerald

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Benjamin Franklin Blues

On one of groups I belong to, I came across a posting which struck me as being quite poignant.  I come from the days when the grandstand and racetrack apron were full on weekends and during the week, a respectable crowd still gathered.  I cringe at what I see today. 

My thanks and appreciation to Gill Winston for allowing me to share this post with everyone here at VFTRG. 

I was at Yonkers and then Roosevelt for the two most anticipated harness races in history - the memorable clashes between Cardigan Bay and Bret Hanover.  The tracks were packed with tens of thousands of screaming fans, some with signs, some wearing buttons extolling their favorite.  The coverage was national and blazed on the back pages of every newspaper.

How many people will trek up in to the mountains for this race?  I can promise you that of all the people gambling at Pocono Downs on Saturday night, there will be more people at the slot machines than on the apron when the race goes off.  What percentage of Americans knows or even cares about this race?

Three honest-to-goodness champions going head to head to head for a half million dollar purse.  Will you be one of the few, the proud, who actually goes to see the race live?  A few more people will watch the race at a simo venue or on their personal viewing devices.  A lot more people will be screaming for 7-7-7 or for Willie Wonka to anoint them with free spins.

Remember that old TV commercial with the Indian with tears in his eyes looking that the end product of a forest fire?  Some may be offended by referring to a Native American as an Indian, or comparing the devastation of a forest fire to a horse race -- but you get the analogy.  This is a sad day.

As for the race, all 3 champions are razor sharp. The draw is in and WIJI (post 3) gets the advantage of the draw.  He has shown superior early speed and draws inside of Always B Miki (7) and Freeky Feet Pete (6).  Will ABMs entry mate, Sunfire Blue Chip, be sent on a suicide mission to take down Wiggle It Jiggleit?

Mel Mara has the rail, and can definitely be a factor if he trips out.  However that last losing battle with ABM might have taken the fight out of him the way Rockin Ron seemed to lose his edge after his losing battle with Wiggle It Jiggleit.

 A great race anticipated, for the few of us who still care.

So happens, today Darin Zoccali's post on the DRF Harness website is about harness racing's perceived decline or untapped potential depending on how you look at things..  He acknowledges if you look at racing as a spectator sport you may be right, but if you look at it as  gambling activity, there is a lot of potential there for an upward turn. Needless to say, Zoccali is a 'gambling' activity man.

Well, I am a sport first person.  While I hope racing does take advantage of its untapped potential, I feel sorry for those who haven't spent time at the track for they have missed something.  I consider myself blessed for having had the chance to experience the crowds.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Gural Holds Gun to Vernon Downs Horsemen Head

I know a few of the readers of the blog have been wanting to see how I respond to the report of Jeff Gural threatening the horsemen at Vernon Downs with closing the track unless they manage to get the horsemen associations who oppose changing New York law to allow him to race his horses at tracks owned by him in New York, in particular Vernon Downs.  Some believe I give Jeff Gural a free pass when he does things wrong.  Well, they are wrong, and this instance proves it.

After pondering this for a few days and getting confirmation from a third party regarding the letter's contents, let me put it this way (delicately), this was not Jeff Gural's finest moment.  In fact, Gural should take back what he wrote in the memo sent to horsemen stabled on the grounds at Vernon; a letter which any enforcer would be proud of. 

To threaten closing Vernon Downs if Gural's arch-nemesis Joe Faraldo doesn't change course and stop blocking the passage of a bill which would allow him to race at Vernon or Tioga as per conditions in the horsemen' contract is plain wrong.  While Gural has had problems with the horsemen's association at Vernon for a long time (as he puts it, "being treated like s**t"), they have not been the stumbling block in this fight; his foes are the horsemen at tracks not owned by him whose horsemen association wrote letters opposing the bill.  Truth be told, it may not even be the horsemen at the other tracks, but the leaders of their associations who are sympathetic to Mr. Faraldo's positions.

I'm not going to argue the pros and cons of this regulation; my personal opinion is closer to Faraldo's regarding this bill, but I don't have a bias against Gural.  In reality, this battle is all about two strong-minded people having another battle, using this legislation as another skirmish.  Unfortunately, the Vernon Horsemen stand to be collateral damage.

Look, any track operator has the right to close a track which continues to lose money year after year, but any decision on closing it should be done based on financials and yes, how your relationship is with your horsemen association overall.   Want to send them a letter telling them unless they are more flexible when you want to try initiatives you will be forced to close?  Fine.  Telling them you are going to close unless they get your arch-nemesis to fold is just so wrong.

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.  We shall see.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Buying Into Promising Colts Prior to the Classics

Harness Racing Update recently reported that Tara Hills Stud had engineered a syndication of the Well Said colt Control The Moment, which would give them 13 % of the horse and the inside track on standing him, but no guarantee of breeding rights.

Down through the years many colts have been purchased in whole or part prior to the classic races. Some of these deals have been spectacular successes, others have failed miserably, while most have fallen somewhere in between.

Control The Moment won an O’Brien last year off of an 8 of 9 record and wins in the Metro and Nassagaweya. He finished fourth as the 7-5 favorite in his Cup elimination, and was third from the nine post at 8-1 in the final, after making most of the mile. He’s staked to the Pace, Cane, BC, Matron and Progress, among others. While it wouldn’t have summarily stamped him a success, a win in the Cup is a huge plus for any horse destined to stand in Canada.

Cup winner Betting Line isn’t staked to the Pace and is taking a two-month holiday from the Grand Circuit to concentrate on the OSS, so he has a leg up in that one. Control The Moment starts from the four in Saturday’s first Hempt elimination against Boston Red Rocks and JK Will Power.

One recent example of this practice gone wrong is Go Daddy Go. The son of Ponder won four races, including the Battle of Waterloo, at two, earning more than $365,000. That inspired Adam Bowden of Diamond Creek Farms, a Ponder fanatic, to buy into the colt in March of last year. He was rated fourth in the Road to the Cup Ranking shortly before the race, but things didn’t go well for Go Daddy Go in 2015 as he won only once and earned less than $75,000. He was ultimately sold to Rene Allard for $80,000 at the January 2016 Mixed Sale and has won twice in ten starts since, earning only $21,000 for his new connections. A mainstream stallion career is probably out of the question.

Control The Moment’s uber progenitor, Meadow Skipper, was purchased by Norman Woolworth from Hugh Grant for $150,000 after impressing Woolworth’s trainer Earle Avery in the Commodore Pace at Roosevelt Raceway in June, 1963. It was money well spent. Three months later Skipper upset Overtrick in the $163,187 Cane Pace; Woolworth got a big chunk of his money back right there. And it goes without saying that Skipper proved to be a very lucrative property as a stallion.

Meadow Skipper’s first crop son Most Happy Fella, who was purchased for $12,000 by Stanley and Rachel Dancer, was sold by the pair to Blue Chip Farms for a million dollars. The agreement was entered into prior to Happy’s Jug win and one stipulation was that the Dancer’s race him and retain all of his earnings. MHF earned $387,000 at three. Blue Chip made out just fine on this deal, as Most Happy Fella became one of our greatest pacing sires. He passed prematurely after an accident at age 17, but he’d reshaped the breed by then.

The Dancers and Mac Cuddy sold Bonefish to Castleton for a million dollars right after the son of Nevele Pride beat Yankee Bambino in the Hambletonian, which turned out to be his final start. He stood in Kentucky for a dozen years before being exported to Sweden. While he failed to extend himself, Bonefish was a very productive stallion. His broodmare credits include: Valley Victory, Moni Maker, Supergill, Winky’s Goal and King Conch. He was well worth the million dollars.

 A Dancer deal that didn’t work out—for them—was selling Oil Burner and Afella Rainbow to Bill Brooks for $80,000 in May, 1976 when Oil Burner was three-years-old. Dancer felt the son of MHF was too moody and impulsive. Difficult demeanor notwithstanding, he went on to earn more than $530,000 for Ben Webster that year and the next, and while he was no great shakes as a stallion, he did give us the game changing No Nukes.

No Nukes’ first crop son Jate Lobell, who won all 15 starts at two, was syndicated for $12 million at three when Tom Crouch bought 25% of him for $3 million. He earned $1.6 million as a sophomore and won his division for the second time, but he dropped 10 of his 25 starts. Run The Table beat him in the NJSS; he lost to Frugal Gourmet in the Pace and the Messenger; and he was beaten by Call For Rain in the Slutsky and BC. He was very good, but no Niatross or Nihilator as some had projected him to be. The competition made a solid run at him, introducing him to heat the N Boys never felt. Riyadh was Jate’s greatest son, and his only sub-49 offspring. Jate Lobell stood at Kentuckiana Farms for two decades, most of the latter part of that time for $5,000. He didn’t live up to the lofty expectations couched in that $12 million syndication and failed to extend himself, but he was far from a bust.

Sonsam won 14 of his 17 starts at two and was syndicated for a record $3 million after that season, an amount that was subsequently upped to $8 million when the Guida Group purchased 5 of the 40 shares for $200,000 each. He won the Pace on a much acclaimed backstretch sweep, as well as his division the following year, and earned almost $575,000. Sonsam fit the stallion template for the sons of Albatross: some early success, then a precipitous drop from relevance. Champion two-year-old Till We Meet Again was his only millionaire.

Hot Hitter (Strike Out), from that same crop, was also caught up in the syndicating frenzy that gripped the sport during that era. His three owners sold 60% of him to Guida for $3.6 million in August of his sophomore season, but the deal wasn’t made public until late September. He captured his division off wins in the Jug, Messenger, Adios, Prix d’Ete and Confederation Cup, but Herve Filion’s charge was an abject failure at stud.

Barry Abrams paid $100,000 for Guts in the fall of his two-year-old form, when he had won once in seven starts and earned $11,000. This proved to be a great deal. The big, deliberate son of Raven Hanover did battle with shifty little On The Road Again all year, losing a neck to that one in the Pace but beating him in the Holmes. He also won the Battle of Brandywine. Guts banked more than a million dollars on 14 wins at three. He had as much interest in covering mares as he had in jumping over the Moon, but he earned $1.6 million on the track at ages three through nine.

Peter Heffering, Irving Liverman and associates scored a knockout when they purchased Kadabra for $800,000 early in his three-year-old season. The Illinois bred wasn’t staked to the Hambletonian, but he won 15 times at three and four, including the BC, CTC and Stanley Dancer, earning $1.4 million and is now a prolific stallion. He stands for $12,000 (US) in Ontario.

Harmonious was on sale prior to winning the 1990 Hambletonian. The asking price was $850,000 plus another $500,000 if he won the big one.

Grades Singing proved to be a steal when she was purchased for $13,000 at two.

Lawrence B Sheppard bought Dashing Rodney for $125,000 two days prior to the 1964 Kentucky Futurity. Sheppard’s diminutive son of Stars Pride, Ayres, won the race, completing his quest for the Triple Crown, but Dashing Rodney finished second for Harold Dancer Sr. He went on to win several European stakes, so that one worked out just fine.

We could judge the success or failure of the Control The Moment deal off of what he does in this year’s classics, but we really need several years after he retires to assess his value as a stallion. That’s assuming he doesn’t fall flat like Go Daddy Go did and put a breeding career out of reach.

Joe FitzGerald

Thursday, June 23, 2016

One Last Share The Delight Update

Those of you who have been long time followers of this blog know I have had a soft spot for Share The Delight (1:48.4,4, $540,952), a tough campaigner who raced in the States against the likes of Art Official and Somebeachsomewhere.  During his five year old campaign, he was sold and exported to Wales to begin a new career as a sire; his new owners had hopes of him becoming a major sire in the United Kingdom.

How time flies.  Share The Delight is now 11 years old so I decided it was time for one last check-in to see how he has done on the other side of the pond.

Unfortunately, it became clear STD is not destined to become the sire of stakes-caliber horses there as I got this message from my acquaintance in the UK:

Sorry for the late reply. Llwyns Delight has won a race this season, Cavendish won last year.

Brywins Mayhem won once last year and Greenhill Lillian has won in the amateur racing.

That's it. I'm afraid he has been a bit of a disappointment despite serving some good mares. I wish it was better news!

Then today, ten days later, I received the following e-mail:

Just to let you know that last night Llwyns Delight (Share The Delight-Bon Sian-Master Scoot) won my local meeting's heat and final. He's a half brother to one of the UK's top racehorses, Bon Jasper, who has been racing (and winning) from 2 to 12 (and continues to race this season).

Llwyns Delight is the horse I said had been one of the most successful by S-T-D and he was impressive last night on the half mile turf track which suited the staying horses. It was soft in places with a stiff incline on the run in and the horse handled it easily in his heat and overturned the heavily backed favourite Coalford Tetrick in the final as well as other fancied horses.

He's a homebred, owned, trained and driven by brothers Robin and Lee Price who live a couple of miles from the track at Cilmery, mid Wales. Lee is one of my fellow directors on the board for the Standardbred as Trotting Horse Association of Great Britain and Ireland (STAGBI) which is the recognised breed society and passport issuing organisation for Standardbreds in the UK. He was my successor as Secretary for a short time and has been involved in racing all his life, having also ridden in saddle races (monte style) in his youth. He's now encouraging his two young sons to take part in pony races this summer at some of the turf meetings.

Brywins Vincent was also a maiden winner last night (Share The Delight-Vociferous-Dragons Lair). He showed promise at Monmouth last week on the turf and perhaps the bigger track last night helped him.

Cavendish (Share The Delight-Ayr Quality-House Of Cards) runs at Musselburgh on Saturday. Musselburgh is one of the four premier meetings in the UK calendar and is staged tomorrow night and Saturday afternoon.

Who knows, while he may not be the sire of champions, perhaps Share The Delight may make it as a raceway sire?