Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wednesday Afternoon Briefs

Martin Panza, SVP for Racing Operations at NYRA spoke this past weekend to an industry conclave in Saratoga Springs about what NYRA has done to improve the racing product.  While his comments are made in the context of thoroughbred racing, they apply to standardbred racing as well.  For those who are in a rush and don't have the time to read the article, here is a very brief summary.  Too many racing dates; too many races each day at the track; increase field size; racing is spending too much time on creating customers that they forget to fix the product.

Sebastian K continues to amaze; this time merely by announcing he will be tackling the half mile oval at Yonkers Raceway on October 25 in the inaugural Yonkers Invitational Trot.  No, this trotter has never raced on the half mile oval before but his connections are giving it a try in an effort to hopefully get some more foreign horses to race in the Invitational.  Now if we can get some top American horses to accept invitations we could be in for some humdinger of a race.

The experiment at Desert Park in British Columbia where there were two standardbred non-wagering events went off successfully, so much that they are talking about bringing back the trotters for 2015.  Of course, next time there will be wagering.  Expect track officials to seek racing dates next year.

When was the last time you saw harness racing on your evening news?  Thanks to Racing Under Saddle, CTV in Barrie had a story on RUS racing on their news program.  You can see the clip here. I',m sure this story raised the curiosity of some to check out the racing.    The winner of last night's event was Radical Dreamer, ridden by Marit Valstad in 2:00.4, who went wire to wire, defeating Hetties Honey by a head.  Radical Dreamer, the also eligible who drew in paid $16.10 for the win.  Wagering on the RUS event was respectable with a combined handle of $9,540.  Certainly not the highest race handle of the night, but more than $2,000 higher than the third race a week earlier which was a traditional harness race.

No, we haven't gone back in time but today, Mack Lobell and John Campbell were reunited at Solvalla, Sweden.  Mack looks as good as ever.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Look At Rock N Roll Heaven The Stallion

Due to the premature death of Rocknroll Hanover, in March of 2013 at age 11, Rock N Roll Heaven is a significant stallion. The latter, a member of his sire’s first class, is his premier offspring, having been voted HOY at three and earning more money than any other son or daughter of the accomplished sire. He went a second faster than his daddy, although the old man did maintain a $5,000 edge in career earnings.

Due to his relative youth when he passed, Rocknroll Hanover doesn’t have much of a track record as a sire of sires. Pet Rock and A Rocknroll Dance are standing their first season in Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively. Breeders Crown winner Rockin Amadeus is also starting out in Ohio, although he is currently back on the track. And that one’s brother, Rockin Image, as well as World Of Rocknroll currently have their first crops racing. Unlike Heaven, whose charges must regularly negotiate half mile tracks, almost all of Rockin Image’s progeny ply their trade within the Indiana Sires Stakes program at roomy Hoosier Park. Freaky Feet Pete, who is out of a Pilgrims Punch mare, has three wins in that program and has earned almost $70,000. And several others, including Heyhey Mahanah, Camturo Rock, Glitter Rocks and Rockin Good have either one or two sire stakes wins. Seventeen of the Rockin Image colts and fillies have earned $10,000 or more.

That being the case, one would expect much better results from the richly supported Rocknroll Heaven, and he is producing outstanding fillies. Heaven stood his first season at Blue Chip Farms in New York in 2011 at a fee of $12,000. That fee remained in place in 2012 but was subsequently reduced by 15% to $8,500 last year and this. His pedigree is as solid as his on track resume, being a brother to FFA mainstay Clear Vision, who is a mere $12,000 short of double millionaire status and currently slots as the third richest son or daughter of Western Hanover, with only Well Said and We Will See heading him. The one knock on Heaven was his smallish size, but that has apparently not been an issue.

Heaven’s first NA crop topped 100 foals, which is 34% smaller than the first crop of rival Sportswriter, but a healthy size, nonetheless. He currently ranks sixth on the two-year-old list, among all pacing sires, and is second behind Bettor’s Delight, who left New York after the 2011 season, among the New York Sire Stakes crew, with $600,000 in earnings. Heaven is a very popular shuttle stallion in Australia but his performance there is not reflected in the numbers cited herein.

Aside from that lofty second place slot on the two-year-old money chart, above Art Major and American Ideal, Heaven also produced the top two fillies in the program—Band Of Angels and Sassa Hanover. You won’t necessarily find flashy speed marks attached to these two, or any of Heaven’s other progeny for that matter, since much of the NYSS business is conducted on small tracks. Rockin Image’s son Freaky Feet Pete sports a sub-1:51 mark, taken at Hoosier Downs, but none of the Rock N Roll Heavens have breached the 1:52 line.

Band Of Angels, a $100,000 Lexington purchase, who is a half-sister to Romantic Moment, is a perfect four for four with earnings in excess of $133,000 in the sire stakes program for Ron Burke and owner William Donovan. She matched the track record for her class in winning a leg at Saratoga. Sassa Hanover, another Burke charge, has won four of five and earned more than $100,000. Bin N Heaven won a sire stakes leg at Buffalo and She’s Heavenly won one at Monticello. Zip Code Envy, Heavenly Bride, Heaven On Earth and two time Excelsior winner Rock Me Gently are other promising fillies.

The colts are way behind their sisters to this point. One is always on the lookout for that first crop extender; Heaven himself, as well as Captaintreacherous, may fall into that category. Heaven’s sons Rockntouch and K-Rock each won NYSS splits at Saratoga, but there isn’t much on the male side to get excited about. There are three high dollar NYSS splits for freshman pacers at Yonkers tonight, and the Rock N Roll Heaven contingent is less than inspiring. Time will tell whether or not the colts eventually step up

Bob Marks, who knows Rocknroll Hanover better than anyone, sees no cause for concern. He believes that Heaven should be to Rocknroll what Jate Lobell was to No Nukes, and that this is exactly what is playing out. Both Heaven and Jate were first crop stars, born when their sires were five-years-old. Jate took a back seat to paternal brother Western Hanover in the breeding game, but he was a very productive stallion, nonetheless. Marks cites Most Happy Fella, who produced the all-time great filly duo Silk Stockings and Tarport Hap in his first small crop of 53 foals, but was slow to come up with top shelf sons. Yes, Oil Burner, the sire of No Nukes, was from his second crop, but he’s more famous for that than he is for his prowess on the track. Tyler B didn’t appear until Happy’s sixth crop, and Cam Fella was a product of his eighth crop.

The Rock N Roll Heaven offspring will be afforded every opportunity to succeed on the Grand Circuit; 42 of them are staked to the Breeders Crown and 22 to the Matron. Contrast this with Sportswriter, who has a much larger first crop, and only has 17 staked to the BC and three to the Matron. Rockin Image has four Breeders Cup eligible colts and one staked to the Matron. Only one of Heaven’s daughters raced in the Eternal Camnation on Saturday and one colt started in the Nassagaweya. There are two sire stakes legs left for each sex (one of them Tuesday, Aug 19) prior to the final on September 13 at Yonkers. After that date participation in the open realm should markedly increase.

Joe FitzGerald

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Genesis of Race Day Medicating?

The subject of race day doping of horses is one of the major topics in racing these days but one must wonder where does the problem begin?  According to a guest editorial by Carlo Vaccarezza, a horse owner and trainer of thoroughbreds in Horse Racing Insider, the problem begins with 'sales ring doping', where yearlings are bulked up to hide injuries or physical inferiorities.  Vaccarezza claims bleeding and breakdowns start with this type of behavior in the sales ring.

The case is made that trainers are forced to use illicit drugs to keep these horses, purchased often at a high price due to the use of steroids, racing once they deflate and the trainers finally get to see what their owners actually purchased in an effort to recover their investment.

Amazingly, some of the major sales companies allow these drugs to be used on the horses going through the sales ring and they objected when an effort was made to ban the use of these medications on horses within 45 days of their sale.  Why do the sales companies object?  A bulked up horse brings more money, hence larger commissions.

While this article deals with thoroughbreds, one must wonder if this type of 'sales ring doping' occurs in the standardbred industry?  Being standardbreds tend to bring lower sales prices, I tend to doubt it happens as often in harness racing, but if it happens at all and people have been burnt buying drugged up yearlings, is there any surprise why there are fewer owners in harness racing and more interest in ready-made horses?

Sales companies should band the use of steroids to close to sales time and there should be testing done to make sure these horses are 'clean'.  Failure to ensure this may mean bigger profits in the short run but in the long run an industry so decimated that there will be no profits to be made at all. 

There were plenty of surprises this weekend in racing action but nothing was as surprising as the defeat of Father Patrick in the $36,036 Arthur Tompkins Memorial at Tioga Downs yesterday, being defeated by Datsyuk in a mile of 1:53.1 track record.

You could argue that Father Patrick needed the race, this being his first start after the Hambletonian but these days racing two weeks between starts is nothing.  Clearly this race was supposed to be an easier tightener with a purse but it turned into a disappointing effort. 

Yes, Datsyuk was not a patsy, having finished 2nd to Trixton in the Reynolds (by 6 lengths) at the Meadowlands and being in the money against Nuncio and Father Patrick in the Beal at Pocono.  However, until yesterday, his only wins have come in Pennsylvania Sires Stakes events; not a horse you expect to defeat Father Patrick if he was 100%.  Time will tell if illness, being short, or the campaign has caught up with the son of Cantab Hall.

Let's have a race!  In Sweden, they love their trotters, so much that this past week at their Culture Festival, a race course on the streets of Göteborg and the trotters went at it.  What a great way to bring the sport to the people.  If the people won't go to the track, we'll bring the track to the people.  Wouldn't it be great if someone was able to do that here.  You may see the video of the day's activity here (unfortunately, it is in Swedish, so the video will have to tell the story).  What we can show you is the final heat of the day.

Part of the race can be seen on the video screen on the right side of the picture.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Boutique vs Extended Meets

An acquaintance of mine decided to visit Saratoga Racecourse before heading over to the harness track.  One thing they noticed is the attendance at the track.  In the following photo you can see what they saw.

The crow at Saratoga Racecourse

Not quite what you are used to at your local harness track is it?  I think the last time I saw a crowd similar to this at a harness track was back in the early to mid 1970s at Yonkers Raceway and most likely when the Meadowlands first opened back in my 'youth'.  Now you are more likely to see a crowd like the following picture from Saratoga Raceway at your local harness track?

Saratoga Raceway and Casino.  

Well, if something good is to be said about the attendance at the Raceway, it is you can stretch out and you can find your friends without much trouble.

All kidding aside, where did all the gamblers go after the day at the runners?  For sure, some went bust during the afternoon and decided to call it a day.  Others decided to avail themselves of some of the other entertainment options in the region while others did go over to the harness track but never found their way from the slot machines to the track side of the facility.  Then there are those who will decide to just go another night because they trotters are 'always there'.

Would you believe at one point harness racing was the more popular sport of the two forms of horse racing?  No one disputes the runners are the more popular form of horse racing in 2014 so barring extremely rare occasions such as the Little Brown Jug, you'll never see a grandstand packed to the rafters at your local raceway.  Make no mistake, the scandals which have hit harness racing in the past has had 'legs', the consequences of real or perceived acts of malfeasance has spanned generations.  The number of odds-on favorites and low priced exotics when compared to the runners has also made it harder for a gambler to come out ahead playing the trots.

Some of these factors we can't do anything about but there is one factor which can be controlled; limiting the length of race meets but horsemen could care less; their adage is the 'more the better'.  The race meet at Saratoga Racecourse runs this year from July 18 through September 1; a total of six weeks.  The race meet at Saratoga Harness runs from mid-March through mid-December; a total of nine months; closing only during the coldest and snowiest time of the year.  The thoroughbred track benefits from being a boutique meet, people make a point of getting out to the track because if you miss it, you have to wait a year before you get another chance.  As for the harness track, it's basically there all the time so there is no impetus to get to the track because it is always available (in the grand scheme of things).

Clearly there is no demand for those many racing days for while the running fans have a pent-up demand, the standardbred fan is more likely suffering from exhaustion, leaving too much product product for the amount of demand there is.  Even in the old Yonkers/Roosevelt days, while there was a year-round circuit, it was a case of tracks alternating between being open/dark on a three month.  Of course, as mentioned earlier, horsemen want to race all year, creating too much product than the sport can naturally support but with the band-aid called slots, horsemen can get away with it.

What should happen is tracks should go back to seasons so racing becomes an event again and instead of spending the purse account as money flows in from simulcasting, build up the purse accounts during the dark period and spend it during the live racing meet for bigger purses.  Unfortunately, with slot revenue, economic logic can and does get thrown out.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Saluting Bluestone Farms; Support RUS in Your State

We often hear about the problem of unwanted horses and horse slaughter, often discussed here in fact, but admittedly little attention is given to the 'good' ones.  Well, today we salute one of the good ones, Bluestone Farm.  In case you didn't read the article on the USTA website, let me direct your attention to this article which highlights the special care given to the late broodmare Swiss Queen who finally succumbed to her illness of the last fifteen years, giving her fifteen years of quality where others would have euthanized her when the problem first started.  Thanks to Bluestone Farms, Swiss Queen got a good 20 years of life.

Thank you Bluestone Farms for all you do for your horses.  May you be rewarded for your compassion.

I had shown you in an early blog entry the final of the Hambletonian RUS late closer, but here is another view of the race with the use of a helmet cam.

While Canada has embraced parimutuel wagering on RUS events, it is important that the barriers to parimutuel wagering in the United States be broken through as you can only depend on donations so long to keep fund purses; access to purse accounts is necessary.  It is expected that the USTA will approve at the next annual meeting rules to formalize RUS racing, but it is important to get the individual states to approve RUS racing so it can flourish.  If you like what you have seen this year of RUS thus far, petition your local racing commission to adopt rules for RUS racing (I'm sure a copy of the draft rules of the USTA can be obtained) and let your local racetrack and horsemen groups know you want to see RUS at their track.  

With the introduction of RUS, we are getting riders from other disciplines joining the standardbred world, purchasing their own horses for the RUS racing, introducing their followers to the sport, and adding an exciting new demographic to harness racing's fan base.

Overall, the response to this year's series has been favorable. But with over fifteen states to get approval from, it will take a group effort to get RUS approved; it can't be done all by one small group.  Don't leave it to someone else to voice their support.  Do your part.

Drug Free in 2015:  Kudos to Gulfstream Park which has decided there will be drug-free racing in 2015 for two year olds, including banning Salix.  This is the first track in the United States of any breed declaring drug-free racing.