Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Briefs

There was an interesting interview with Jeff Gural about the casino site selection decision in the Finger Lakes/Southern Tier region after he had time to reflect on the decision.  Tioga Downs is safe, Vernon has at least two years before its continued profitability is determined and possible closing may come.

On the Thoroughbred side, negotiations between horsemen and Suffolk Downs broke down so it looks like there will be no racing in 2015 in East Boston.  Suffolk Downs is lobbying the state to have them change the law to allow simulcasting without live racing.  Good luck to them on that for even if the state legislature goes along with it, how many horsemen groups are going to allow their signal to be exported to the track?  Most likely any simulcasting will be primarily greyhound and standardbred.

While Brockton Fairgrounds is willing to host a thoroughbred meet, the HBPA has told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that they don't want to race on a 5/8 mile track.  While I can understand their preference for a mile track, beggars shouldn't be choosy.  Racing on a bull ring is better than nothing.

Congratulations Spider M who is finally retiring from racing at the age of 15.  That's right, while the mandatory retirement age is 14, Spider's connections managed to get a one year extension by the judges at Fraiser Downs after the horse went through a physical because he loved competing.  Granted, his extra year has not been successful, a record of 12-0-1-1, earning $1,447.  One has to love a competitive horse who keeps on racing.  Best wishes on your retirement.

While Spider M has not been successful with his extra year, one has to wonder if the rules need to be changed in an effort to fight a shortage of horses.  If owners wish to race their horses past retirement age, there should be a way for judges to approve an extension on an annual basis after an extensive physical.  However, to protect the public, the judges should have the ability to rule off a horse if they feel it is not competitive even if they meet qualifying time.  To even things out, race secretaries should card races for the senior circuit, horses aged 10 and up.

The current edition of Trot magazine celebrates its 40th anniversary and highlights the biggest events of the last 40 years which occured primarily in Canada.  One thing which struck me was how many tracks closed over the last 40 years.   How it must have been going to tracks like Garden City now a memory.  Windsor Raceway an 'A' track along with Flamboro Downs.  If racing in Canada was like what we had back then at Yonkers and Rooeveilt, it must have been a great time.  A time which unfortunately will never come back due to the change in the public's preferences.

Have a great Saturday.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Shafter (California) Memories

by Peter Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor

If the audience isn't already tired of the many mentions of my time as Hall of Famer Joe O'Brien's administrator - I signed on for that at age 22! - here's a little more.
The main stable "wintered" in Shafter, California for some six, or more, months a year (hence the "winter" quotes), roughly October through April, and a highlight of that sizable stretch of time was our matinee barbeque and race day, a charity event held in conjunction with the local Lion's Club.
I mention all this since I recently found a program from the 1980 edition, along with (how unbelievably handy?) some photos from that day.
It was on a Sunday, Feb. 24, and we had a huge crowd at the farm. Some were racing industry people, but most were "regular" people from the community.
Guests included Pres Jenuine and Lloyd Arnold, our main owner Thurman Downing, most likely Charlie Armstrong, and maybe Jack Baugh.
I served as clerk of course ... code for a little of everything behind the scenes.
(I forget if Baugh attended in '79 or '80. Maybe it was both.)
We put on six races - okay, they were really training sets, but without pre-determined winners - plus a race for pacing ponies at five-eighths of a mile, once around the track.
FFA trotting mare Ima Lula was the day's star, as she was many times in her great career, and she won for driver Chan Bayless - Joe's stepson and Stan's brother - in 2:05.2, unofficially home in :30.1.
(Yeah, those times do sound pretty quaint today, don't they?)


Classified System on the Way Out?  - The classified system being used at the Meadowlands was supposed to be used for a year and then be evaluated.  As part of that process, the SBOANJ commissioned a survey regarding the use of the ABC system.  Based on the results of the survey, it looks like the classified system will be on the way out as most trainers who responded claimed the classified system was not working for them for various reasons.  The survey lists some of those reasons.

Vernon Downs on the Ropes - Earlier I had made comments which may have suggested Vernon Downs would be closing shortly.  Truth is it appears Jeff Gural will wait until the Tyre casino opens and evaluate the impact.  If Vernon can support itself, he would be willing to keep it open but if it loses money, it will be history.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Go Figure...

In the first time in Dan Patch Awards history, the Horse of the Year was neither the Trotter or Pacer of the Year.  JK She'salady becomes the first two year old filly pacer to be named Horse of the Year, defeating Sweet Lou who was named the Pacer of the Year and Shake it Cerry who was selected as Trotter of the Year.

The voters had to select from one of their choices of Pacer or Trotter of the Year which permitted this victory.  Sweet Lou beat out JK She'salady by one vote for Pacer of the Year, but lost the Horse of the Year because more of Sweet Lou's supporters defected in favor of their Trotter of the Year selection.

The SOA and standarbred horsemen from the other associations were handed a defeat by the highest court in  New York who by a vote of 6-0 determined the NYSGC may mandate Out of  Competition Testing.  Since the rule was modified since originally issued in an attempt to address horsemen's concerns, the court didn't rule on the specifics of the old 2009 and new 2014 rules but they ruled the NYSGC has the right to propagate such a rule.  Hence, barring anything absurd, I find it hard to believe the 2014 rule will be knocked down, despite the fact the SOA has instituted a new lawsuit regarding the rule.

However, it was noted in the decision that the thoroughbred horsemen also had an out of competition rule passed but they never challenged it.  While the standardbred horsemen have the right to challenge their version of the rule, does one have to wonder why some people have a problem with harness integrity?

Vernon Downs Days are Numbered?

In an initial response from Jeff Gural, he indicates Vernon Downs is now living on borrowed time as a result of the decision to build a casino in the Finger Lakes.  He further goes on to suggest the Lago Resort and Casino proposal probably means the end of racing at Finger Lakes as well.  As quoted“I’m probably going to stop. It’ll hurt me at Vernon eventually. I wouldn't be surprised if Finger Lakes closes". Elsewhere it is reported that Tioga Downs will go on as it currently is.  

As smart as the selection board was by not authorizing a casino in Orange County, for the possibility it will cannibalize the downstate casinos and cripple a casino in Sullivan County, it seems at the surface it hurts the Indian casinos upstate as well as two racetracks.  I must admit, I wonder how they can get it so right in the Catskill-Hudson Valley Region and get it so wrong in the Finger Lakes-Southern Tier region?  

It will be interesting to read the site selection board's full report on their selection process due a month from now.  One thing which hurt Tioga's proposal was the fact it had done so much development ahead of time in anticipation of a casino as the board mentioned a big factor was the amount of money to be invested in developing a casino which makes the amount of money to be invested at Tioga a lot less than the other proposals.  

So the question must be asked how much longer does Vernon Downs have?  One would imagine the track will remain open until the Lago Resort opens up.  Will someone seek to purchase the track, probably not.

So with Vernon Downs on life support, the question becomes what happens to the race days at Vernon?  As you are aware, Vernon Downs opens before and closes after Tioga Downs' meet which is oriented to the summer months.  I fear short of the NYGC mandating Tioga to pick up additional race dates, those dates will be lost.  Tioga's per capita is anemic to be polite and with the economic condition of the area, there seems little which can be done to stimulate wagering on track; any gain will have to come from those who take the exported signal.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Will Split Vote Determine Horse of the Year?

In recent years the Horse of the Year race has been singularly lacking in suspense and drama. Last year the undefeated trotting filly, Bee A Magician, won the award with 78% of the vote. In 2012 it was world record holder Chapter Seven with 64%. San Pail dominated with 85% in 2011, while Rock N Roll Heaven swept the vote in 2010. Muscle Hill received 97% in 2009 and the previous year SBSW crushed Dewey with 77% of the vote.

Some years, and this was certainly the case back in the day when there were many more voters, the votes were cast in what one could call a splash pattern: the winner benefited from the fact that so many horses were deemed worthy of consideration. Geography played a pivotal role in the voting at that time.

 In 1954 Stenographer was designated the eighth Horse of the Year and the first sophomore trotter to receive that honor. The filly established six world records and won 23 heats. Oddly enough, Scott Frost, the sport’s first two-minute two-year-old trotter, received one more first place vote, but lost the election on points. Adios Boy, Kimberly Kid, Red Sails, Katie Key, Philip Scott, Adios Harry, Pronto Don and Phantom Lady all received first place votes in 1954, and hence contributed to the win by Stenographer.

In 1974 Delmonica Hanover, who won the Prix d’Amerique and Roosevelt International that year, won Horse of the Year honors with 25% of the vote. Armbro Nesbit, Handle With Care, Armbro Omaha and Dream Of Glory each ate up a large chunk of votes below her. Those four split 54% of the votes, allowing the five-year-old Speedy Count mare to take the crown.

In 1977 Bill Haughton’s oddly gaited Speedy Rodney trotter, Green Speed, took Horse of the Year honors with 50% of the vote. He had won 16 times and took the Hambletonian and the Yonkers Trot. The following year he was syndicated for $3.2 million, but Hambletonian winner Duenna was his only top tier issue. Governor Skipper, who set a world record in the Jug got 33%, while seven-year-old Rambling Willie received 12%. Nine others also collected votes that year.

In 1984 we saw another example of the Horse of the Year—in this case, Fancy Crown—benefiting from the fierce competition for votes down below her. The Three-year-old Speedy Crown filly had won 13 of 21 starts, including the Kentucky Futurity, and she had trotted the fastest mile ever—1:53.4. She won her Horse of the Year crown with only 39% of the vote. Sophomore pacer On The Road Again had won 18 times and set a single season earnings record for the sport; he garnered 26% of the vote. And right behind him was two-year-old Nihilator, who won 12 of 13 and set a world record in the Wilson. Baltic Speed, Colt Fortysix, Dragon’s Lair and Davidia Hanover also got votes in 1984.

This year the favorite is the freshman pacing filly, JK She’salady, The winner of all 12 starts, with a 1:50.1 world record taken at Mohawk to her credit. She may become the first in her class to capture Horse of the Year honors, thanks to splash voting. For much of the season it was assumed that Sebastian K, the world record holder thanks to a 1:49 mile at Pocono Downs, was a shoe-in for that title. But then Sebastian, the first to trot four winning miles in under 1:50.3, lost his last four starts. Some voters will stay with him.

And Sweet Lou will also get votes. He set a world record of 1:47 on Sun Stakes Day at Pocono and at one point won ten in a row. Six of the ten consisted of consecutive sub-1:48 miles. It’s a foregone conclusion that Lou will win his division. He’ll be the first pacer to win his division at two and five. Sweet Lou earned $1.3 million this year. He’ll get votes.

Three of Jimmy Takter’s trotters, Father Patrick, Shake It Cerry and Nuncio will also draw Horse of the Year votes. Patrick won more money than any other in 2014. He won 11 of 15 starts and set a world record of 1:50.2 at Pocono. Stablemate Nuncio won the Kentucky Futurity and the Yonkers Trot, and many thought he would take the division if he had taken the Breeders Crown. And Shake It Cerry won 15 of 17 starts and more than $1.2 million. I believe all of the above will chew up votes allowing the freshman filly to emerge triumphant from a split vote. Regardless, a splash voting pattern will no doubt help determine the winner.

Joe FitzGerald