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Sunday, September 25, 2016

How Are The Top 25 Trainers Faring As Compared With This Point In 2015?

Here’s a look at how the top trainers are faring as we approach the last quarter of the year. I compared their stats for this past Monday, September 19, and those for September 19 2015.

Number one Ron Burke has made 165 (5%) fewer starts than a year ago; his win total is down by 67 (10%); he’s short more than $2 million (12%). His UTRS dropped from 0.338 to 0.321.

Second place Jimmy Takter has made 11 more starts, accounting for nine fewer wins. His earnings are off by more than $782,000, or 10%.

Rene Allard, who unlike Burke and Takter, doesn’t have a very big footprint on the Grand Circuit, has made 25% more starts this year (381). For all that extra activity he only shows 7 more wins, and his money has dropped by 10%--almost $430,000. Rene’s UTRS dropped from 0.396 to 0.336. So the top three, who were slotted the same in September 2015, are all at least 10% poorer in 2016.

Number four Tony Alagna was at seven a year ago. His win total is exactly the same, despite making 78 fewer starts. His earnings have jumped by 19%, or almost $679,000. Tony’s UTRS rose from 0.334 to 0.380.

Ake Svanstedt moved up from number 12 a year ago to number five. He made 16% more starts, won 14% more races, and earned 28% more money (almost $775,000) since Sept 19 of last year.

Erv Miller moved up from ten to six. He won six more races in 99 fewer starts. His money is up 14%, or about $366,000. His UTRS rose from 0.287 to 0.319.

Linda Toscano jumped from 11 a year ago to number 7. She made 16% more starts (91), won 10% more races and earned 18% more money--$462,000. Her UTRS dropped from 0.343 to 0.321.

Julie Miller is at number eight, the same place she was last year. She made 12% fewer starts and won 9% fewer races. Her earnings are off by 10%. Miller’s UTRS rose from 0.321 to 0.357.

Chris Oakes moves up from 17 a year ago to number nine. His starts are up by 37%; he won 35% more races; and his earnings jumped by 31%--more than $745,000. His UTRS rose from an already heady 0.405 to an other-worldly 0.448.

Richard Moreau is at number ten, up from 14 last September. He made 89 more starts (9%), and that generated only two more wins, but the WEG leader saw his earnings increase by $388,000, or 17%.

Jeff Bamond, whose top pacing mares have all abandoned him at once, except for Krispy Apple, dropped from number four to eleven. His starts are up by 10%, but he only shows five more wins and is short $1.1 million, or 33%. Jeff’s UTRS dropped from 0.321 to 0.312.

Gilbert Garcia-Herrera dropped from five to twelve. His starts are down by 12%; his win total is off by 36%; and his money is off by 35%. Gilbert’s UTRS dropped from 0.310 to 0.250.

Richard Banca has moved up from 19 to 13. His starts are up by 31%, while his win total stepped up 12%. Banca’s earnings jumped 23%. His UTRS dropped from 0.352 to 0.302.

Brian Brown dropped from nine to 14. His starts, wins and money are off by 8%, 14% and 20%, respectively. And his UTRS fell from 0.380 to 0.344.

Jim Dailey flew all the way from number 49 to number 15. His starts and wins are only up by 4% each, but his money rose by $780,000, or 44%.

Casie Coleman climbed from number 30 to 16 on the strength of 27% more money generated in 39% fewer starts. The trainer of Jug winner Betting Line only won one more race than she did a year ago to this point. Her UTRS rose from 0.315 to o.433.

Number 17 Thomas Milici wasn’t on the top 50 list a year ago. The sixty-year-old wunderkind has already chalked up 66% more starts than he made in all of 2015. Both his win and earnings totals are up by a mind blowing 82%.

Chris Beaver stepped up 18 spots to number 18. He has made 32% more starts, leading to 38% more wins and 30% more money.

Dylan Davis is another shooting star. He failed to make the top 50 a year ago but is currently at number 19. He has made 5% more starts than in all of 2015. He has just as many wins and his money is up 23% over all of last year.

John Butenschoen, who has several promising freshmen, jumped from 32 to 20. His starts are up by 9%, resulting in only 5 more wins, but his earnings have increased by $374,000, or 23%.

Tony O’Sullivan fell from 15 to 21. His starts are down by 149, or 27%. He has 19 fewer wins and has banked 15% less money.

Ohio trainer Virgil Morgan Jr dropped all the way from number six a year ago to 22. He has made 26% fewer starts, won 39% fewer races and earned 46% less money—that’s $1.3 million less.

Wiggle it Jiggleit’s trainer Clyde Francis is at 23. He was number 22 a year ago. He has made 65% more starts than he had to this point last year, but that still adds up to less than 100. Francis has 38 wins, as opposed to 18 at this point in 2015. His earnings are up 5%.

Carmen Auciello dropped from 16 to 24. He has made 18% fewer starts, won 16% fewer races and banked 14% less money.

Number 25 is Steve Elliott, down from 13 last September. His starts are down 10% and his wins are off by 12%. Elliott has earned about $562,000 less than last year. That amounts to a 28% drop.

Joe FitzGerald

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Risky Game of Speculation

With the main proponents of the NJ Casino Expansion bill ceasing to spend on advertising, resigned to letting the chips fall where they may, it would appear the referendum for North Jersey gaming will go down to defeat.  Thus, horsemen and others in the harness racing industry no doubt are wondering what this will mean to the Meadowlands.  Some people are claiming this is the end of the Meadowlands.  

With Jeff Gural already committing to keep on racing, albeit with a cut stakes calendar, it is too early to write the epitaph for the Meadowlands. Make no mistake, the quality of racing is likely to decrease further but talk of its death is too soon.  If referring to the end of racing as we knew it there; a different story no doubt.

So let's play a parlor game of Speculation, where we come up with what we think racing will look like next year in East Rutherford.  This is particularly risky because lets face it, I don't have the financials nor do I know what Mr. Gural has planned. Furthermore, we likely won't hear anything until after election day because lets face it, while highly unlikely, the referendum could pass.

While I am focusing on the Meadowlands, there is Freehold Raceway to consider.  I suspect things will continue on pretty much the same.  This means in 2017, roughly 110 days of racing will take place.

As for the Meadowlands, I suspect they will try to cut back on their 90 days of racing; probably more like 80 days.  Of course, under NJ law, the horsemen have to agree to the cut in racing dates

Were I to apply for racing dates, the Meadowlands would go back to its meat and potato days, racing the majority of dates in the winter, possibly on a three or four day schedule.  Then I would schedule a summer meet around the Hambletonian, with possibly ten weeks of racing twice a week.

Other than the Hambletonian, I would probably end the majority of stakes races; perhaps keeping the TVG Series races for older horse around as TVG sponsors the races.  Overnight purses would be cut a bit to allow for repayment of the purse account deficit so the bottom level would remain at the $7,500 claiming tag as was the case this year. only theses races would be contested more often.

Of course, what happens once the Meadowlands closes the first weekend in August?  This year there has been more harness racing taking place, I would imagine that would be out.  I wouldn't be surprised if the Meadowlands seeks a thoroughbred meet of their own, not just Monmouth Park at Meadowlands, in an effort to see if  the return of the runners for a longer stanza would result in more income opportunities to cut the losses.

So those are my thoughts.  Putting all this out here now is risky because while some of these ideas may actually come to fruition, there is a good chance of me ending up with egg in my face.  Time will tell.  

Do you have any predictions?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Unwelcome Guests and Yougurt

Jug week is over and I for one am sorry it didn't end sooner.  For a week which usually shows harness racing at its county fair best with some of the best horses racing, this is a week which will be known as the appearance of an unwelcome guest and in true American-theater, Yogurtgate.

The controversy started the day before the Jugette when persona non-grata Lou Pena was seen inside the stall of entrant I Said Diamonds which necessitated a scratch of the filly.  Pena is not licensed in Ohio and as such it was a violation of detention rules.  One can wonder what Pena was doing in the stall.  It is not my place to make any accusations, but being Pena is a person with a checkered past, his presence was certainly not welcomed by the vast majority of the race's participants.  It will be up to Ohio racing officials to determine what kind of relationship Pena may have with the listed trainer Matias Ruiz.

If that wasn't bad enough, then came Yogurtgate.  When a phone lost by one of Trainer Cassie Coleman's assistants was found, the person came upon messages which could have been considered indicative of wrong-doing, possibly suggesting treating the horse in violation of detention barn rules.  Coleman claims the 'treatment' talked about was yogurt though one has to wonder why the message didn't say "..get his yogurt into him.." instead of referring to a 'treatment'.  Maybe it was a poor choice of words but it certainly caused a lot of controversy with trainers threatening a mass scratch but thankfully voting instead not to post parade with the eventual Jug winner Betting Line and racing under protest.   To be balanced, it needs to be reported that Coleman's stalls, trailer, and car were searched by racing officials with nothing coming up.  Needless to say, even if completely vindicated, this will not be one of racing's proudest moments, one covered by the Columbus Dispatch for its readers.

Sadly, apparently Coleman uses any old yogurt.  Think of the commercial endorsements which could have been forthcoming if a named-brand was used.

One thing is for sure, Delaware needs to be more vigilant in the future when it comes to detention barn enforcement as this is something the Jug doesn't need to have repeated.

A positive (if there is one) is the fact named trainers went to the judges in both cases.  Maybe the wall of silence has been breached.  Of course, let's see if these trainers will go to judges when they see something in a $15,000 race.  If so, then this year's Jugette and Jug may be marked down as a turning point.  If not, then this will be a blot not soon forgotten.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Preparing for a Nuclear Winter

With news coming from the Our Turn New Jersey Campaign that they are ceasing all paid advertising in support of the New Jersey gaming expansion, defeat has been conceded by the pro-gaming supporters.  As a result, there is little doubt the referendum to expand gaming will go down to defeat.  If as promised by Jeff Gural, this means a 'nuclear winter' of sort is likely coming to East Rutherford, the cancellation of most stakes races as the pro-gaming forces wait the two years before another attempt to pass an expansion of gaming in New Jersey can take place.

Okay, nuclear winter may be a bit extreme.  There are enough stakes races thanks to racino revenue for horsemen on a national level, so horsemen will be spared from an immediate impact of the Meadowlands jettisoning most stakes (The Hambletonian would appear to be safe) would appear to be minimal.  However, the long term impact of this collapse of stakes racing is disconcerting.

Let's not kid ourselves, if stakes racing disappears from the Meadowlands, one must wonder what will happen to the overnight purses?  Will the Meadowlands become Freehold North or remain at the level of this past year's racing?  Without stakes and high-caliber racing, handle is likely to drop continuing pressure on purses, plus the absence of stakes racing will likely put harness racing out of the view of the New York and national media.  After this year, it will be a long time, if ever that the Breeders Crown will return to the Meadowlands.

Other tracks will be hurt as it is likely much of the simulcast wagering on the Meadowlands will be lost to harness racing, moving over to other forms of horse racing where gamblers will find pools large enough to wager on.  This means harness tracks which depend on their own customers to wager on the Meadowlands will find their revenue dropping.  Racino tracks may be able to sustain such loses but those tracks without racinos will feel an immediate drop on their bottom line.

New Jersey racing, already on life support, faces a severe threat to its sustainability as what little hope breeders were using to promote their stallions in the state has all but vanished.  Will the few stallions in state abandon the state further decimating the sires stakes program, leaving the NJ program surviving on state-bred horses?

No, nationally things won't collapse immediately, but if the cuts to the Meadowlands stakes schedule are as draconian as led to believe, the impact on harness racing will be reverberating underneath the surface, waiting to crack through.

Hmmm, maybe nuclear winter isn't that far off.

Atlantic City Can Drop Dead - Says Jeff Gural in an interview at the Little Brown Jug.  He predicts the defeat of the referendum will hurt Atlantic City and the next time around, he doesn't see linking any future referendum to supporting Atlantic City casinos.  Basically, Atlantic City made its bed and now it can sleep in it.  I tend to agree with him; this legislation would have helped to stabilize Atlantic City somewhat whereas the cannibalism of the market with new casinos coming online in New York continuing to eat Atlantic City's lunch.   It may be a race to the bottom between racing and Atlantic City.

Speech for the SAFE Act – Fred Hudson

The following is a speech being presented today by horseman Fred Hudson at the USDA as part of a national demonstration in support the SAFE Act .

His comments are presented in their entirety. 

September 22, 2016 at USDA, Washington DC

Thank you, everyone, who is here today – I know that many of you have made many personal sacrifices to be here today (thank you). We are here today to speak for the horses who cannot speak for themselves. As God’s appointed caretakers of them we are not doing a very good job – but today we can change that and we can send out a message that will change everything and end the shipment of our horses to other countries so they can be slaughtered. Today, together, we can end the slaughter of our American horses that also represent a symbol of who we are as “Americans”.

I am a third generation Standardbred horse trainer. I grew up with horses, and horses have always been a part of my life. At one time, I trained and managed one of the largest stables in the country. Today I act as a consultant and adviser to several horse owners and I coauthored the Amazon best-seller, Roosevelt Raceway. I am very active with the Standardbred Retirement Foundation and I am working with other Standardbred leaders on efforts to establish a Standardbred Aftercare Alliance*.

When I first started training horses, most horses raced on a combination of hay, oats, and water – adding some vitamins like B-12 and a little liver and iron and maybe a post-treatment of bute (Phenylbutazone), a pain and anti-inflammatory drug.

Today, horses are treated with legal medications for bleeding, anti-inflammatory drugs, wormers, drugs for infections, ulcers, allergies, sedatives/tranquilizers, steroids and many others. 70% of all medications used on horses clearly state on the label “Not to be used for treatment on animals intended for human consumption”.

Bute has been and is the most common medication used on horses – for that reason alone no horse should be in the human food chain. Even the pet food companies won't use horses in their feeds for it being so unsafe for pets to eat.

In the racing industry, we also have the illegal medications that the unscrupulous trainers use. The performance enhancement drugs with names like elephant juice, frog juice, milkshakes, the muscle relaxers, and the blood doping that increases the oxygen supply to the muscles. We have no idea of what they are using and they would be more likely to sell a horse to slaughter over an honest trainer/owner.

Last year Nancy Watson, one of the founders of Safe Food Safe Horses, asked me to speak here as she did this year. Nancy's family and mine go back many years . Her stepfather, Jim, is a good friend of mine and her grandfather, Cecil, in the 1950's won the American Trotting Championship twice and he was good friends with my dad.

Over the past year I, along with Nancy and many others, have been working behind the scenes contacting and meeting with many members of Congress trying to gain support and co-sponsors for the SAFE Act. We currently stand at 196 in the house and 29 in the Senate. The Bill is now in committees with both houses – We need to get this bill out of the committees and onto the floors for a vote.

The racing industries, Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, have taken great steps forward in trying to prevent their horses from this horrible death. The Thoroughbreds have set up the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. Some of their efforts include a $5 entry fee for all horses that race and that money is diverted to the TAA to care for horses. Also many of the tracks now bar or take the racing privileges away from trainers and owners that knowingly sell a horse to be slaughtered.

With the Standardbreds – a few months ago I was invited to attend a meeting that was held at the Meadowlands and arranged by Jeff Gural (owner of the Meadowlands) and Michelle Crawford (owner of Crawford Farms). In that meeting were industry leading trainers, rescue farms, a United States Trotting Association representative and at that meeting we took the first step in forming the Standardbred Aftercare Alliance. Jeff Gural and Michelle Crawford graciously offered the seed money. Crawford farms has also set up a section of their farm as a sanctuary for rescued horses and Michelle has saved many horses this year.

Also at that meeting was my good friend Judy Bokman, the founder of the Standardbred Retirement Foundation. I spoke of Judy last year when I told the story of how she formed the SRF by throwing herself in front of a truck that had a horse bound for slaughter, and how she saved that horse, and that horse became the first of her 2700 plus saves. A few weeks ago she saved 10 horses from a kill buyer and then the following week she went to another kill buyer to save one horse and ended up saving three and one of them so that the horse could be humanly put down to end his suffering.

The SRF is a role model for all rescues to follow. They never give up the ownership of the horses that are adopted from them and they constantly follow up with the adopters throughout the life of every horse that has been adopted. They currently have over 200 horses in their care.

I was privileged this year to work with Grammy winner, Trade Martin, as he produced a commercial for the SRF and wrote a song for them, titled “I can't Say How Much I Love You”.

The statistics show that 69% of the horses slaughtered in Canada come from the U.S. Last year we sent 40,000 horses to Canada to be slaughtered and we sent another 85,000 to Mexico to be slaughtered for a total of 125,000 – down 15,000 from the previous year. The European Union has barred horse-meat from Mexico. We import from Mexico hundreds of millions of pounds of ground-beef and through DNA testing 39% of meat tested – tested positive for horse. So I guess that Mexico has found a new market for the unwanted horse-meat that the European Union has rejected. I cannot imagine eating a horse – I find it repulsive and it just turns my stomach to think of it.

We need to start enforcing the laws that Congress has currently put in place. We cannot allow the kill buyer to continue to fill out his own paperwork – which he knowingly falsifies. We need to enforce the animal cruelty laws. We also need to hold the auction houses that sell these horses accountable for selling horses that they know are loaded with drugs that are not allowed in animals intended for human consumption.

To Congress and the members of the Senate Committee of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the House Sub-Committee of Livestock and Foreign Agriculture – 80% of the American people – I will repeat that - 80% of the American people want an end to horse slaughter. Get this bill, the Safeguard American Food Export Act on the floor for a vote. It is the will of the people. And it will end the slaughter of our American horses.

Thank you.

In my speech - I didn't mention who sat in on the meeting to form or start to form the Standardbred Aftercare Alliance - the two trainers that sat in were Tony Alagna and Nancy Johansson - The USTA representative was Ellen Harvey.