Sunday, May 3, 2015

Derby Doldrums

Yesterday, the Meadowlands had their first 40 minute Pick-4 interspersing races from Tioga Downs with Meadowlands races for the first four.  Trying to get it done was a bit of a challenge with the third leg of the sequence not done prior to the third race (leg 4) going off.  Wagering on the Tioga Downs races had to be disappointing;

1st race (Meadowlands)  - Race handle $114,517
2nd race (Tioga Downs) - Race handle $24,961(includes $8,129 in Daily Double wagers)
3rd race (Meadowlands) - Race handle  $72,941
4th race (Tioga Downs ) - Race handle $30,399 (race started before 3rd went official; includes handle of $23,493 in 40 minute Pick-4 wagers and $1,731 in Daily Double wagers).

The overall wagering for the evening had to be disappointing as well.  The handle for the evening was $2,636,839.  With the Kentucky Derby contested and the first four races ran before the Derby, one would have thought the handle would have been much higher especially when last year's handle was $3,287,734; meaning handle was down  $650,895 or a whopping 20% with one additional race this year.  What contributed to the huge decline?  Field size.  In 2014 the average field size on Derby day was 9.46 while last night, the average field size of Meadowlands-only races was only 8.42.  Clearly having many seven and eight horse fields didn't help the handle.

On a side note, last night was the first time I ate at Pink, the Meadowlands fixed price dining option.  The food was excellent, as good as anything I had the pleasure of enjoying, I recommend it to those who may visit the Meadowlands.  I also took the time to head to Victory Terrace on the roof of the track.  It was too cool (windy) to stay up there but I could see it is a great place to hang out on a warmer evening to watch the race.and enjoy the amenities.  If you live close to the Meadowlands, you need to check it out.

Habitat was an easy winner in the Dexter Cup at Freehold Raceway yesterday.  The Dexter Cup officially kicks off the road to the Hambletonian.  Only problem is by the time the Hambletonian is contested, the Dexter Cup winner tends to to an also-ran the first Saturday in August.  We will see if Habitat is able to change the bad luck. 

Harness Racing America has an interview with the NYGC regarding the Pena suspension and the reaction many had to it.  The word unapologetic applies here.  It is worth a read.

Harness Racing Update has a tongue-in-cheek letter (I hope) on the front page of today's edition calling for legalizing of the use of all drugs on race horses.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Four-Year-Old Racing

Jeff Gural’s campaign to promote four-year-old racing kicks into high gear during May. On Sunday the Miami Valley Trot and the Chip Noble Pace will offer attractive top dollar vehicles for new grads; however, there were few takers from that class. Last year’s Trotter of the Year, Shake It Cerry, will seek redemption against her older sisters, after being pummeled by them in the Meadows Maturity. And Dan Patch winner Color’s A Virgin will try her luck against a stouter field of mares than the ones she crushed at Hoosier Park in her first two outings.

The word “maturity” has come to be associated with stakes races for four-year-olds, but the Meadows Maturity Mare drew only two from that class, Shake It Cerry and longshot Sweetie Hearts. The same goes for tomorrow’s S&G Maturity, which drew three new grads; NYSS whiz Gural Hanover; early season success, Rose Run Parker (Jailhouse Jesse); and the Yankee Glide gelding, Madewell Hanover.

A week from Sunday the newly configured Confederation Cup at Flamboro Downs will cater exclusively to four-year-old pacers. Meadowlands Pace winner and world record holder He’s Watching, who finished second to Lady Shadow in a qualifier at Mohawk this morning, leads the list of those eligible. Burke Racing’s low profile success All Bets Off, who won the inaugural edition of the Milstein as well as the Messenger and Matron, is also staked to the new attraction at Flamboro Downs. He and Luck Be Withyou, another nominee, will face six tough older pacers in Saturday’s Van Rose Invitational at Pocono Downs. Big Boy Dreams, a $265,000 purchase from the Burke Brigade by Rene Allard and friends was acquired specifically to compete in races like the Confederation Cup and Prix D’Ete. He’s currently embroiled in a controversy over his eligibility to the Graduate Series at Tioga and The Meadowlands.

The first leg of the Graduate pacing Series will be held at Tioga on Memorial Day. Twenty-nine made sustaining payments. Division champ McWicked and North America Cup and Tattersalls Pace winner JK Endofanera, who qualified in a swift 1:50.2 for Yannick Gingras at The Meadowlands this morning, both passed on the Confederation Cup, but each has been nominated to the Graduate Series. McWicked is also one of 28 four-year-olds staked to the $200,000 Prix D’Ete on August 23 at the Hippodrome. He’s Watching, All Bets Off, Big Boy Dreams, Limelight Beach and Somewhere In LA are eligible to all three. JK End is skipping both Canadian races.

The most intriguing member of last year’s sophomore pacing class, Tattersalls Pace and Bluegrass winner Always B Miki, has not signed up for the Confederation Cup or the Graduate Series, although he is staked to the Prix D’Ete. The near millionaire son of Always A Virgin, who is now in the Takter barn, had surgery on his left hind long pastern after being scratched from the Breeders Crown. That may be a factor in him skipping the early four-year-old exclusives. He was expected to be back in action by March 1.

The early season exclusive options for newly minted aged S&G trotters aren’t as plentiful as they are for the pacers. They do have the Graduate Series, which commences on Memorial Day at Tioga. There are 27 staked to it, including division champ Father Patrick, who looked sharp qualifying at The Meadowlands this morning; Trotter of the Year, Shake It Cerry; Erskine, Galt and ISS winner, EL Titan; and Datsyuk, who beat Patrick in the Tompkins Geers. Nuncio’s relocation to Europe leaves a large void.

Legs of the Graduate Series for pacers and trotters will run through June, culminating in a $250,000 final for the pacers on Friday, July 3, and for the trotters on Saturday July, 11. By then the four-year-olds should be ready to roll with their elders.

Joe FitzGerald

Friday Briefs

I can't help but notice this year, after the programs were printed, a scratch in the Kentucky Derby came before scratch time and one of the also eligibles is moving in.

Canadian tracks often have also eligibles in stakes races who an move in as late as the morning of race day; racing under a saddle number assigned when the program is printed, typically racing out of the post position of the scratched horse.  With gamblers demanding the maximum number of betting interests, I don't know why every race in North America doesn't have AEs printed in the program as if it was a Canadian stakes race if enough horses are entered.  Being owners want to make money, the also eligible would be free to enter any other race they can get in; scratching out of the race they were designated as an AE without penalty.  I know with the horse shortage drawing AEs may not be that easy, but what's the harm of doing so when the situation permits it?

Today is the start of the Meadowlands Challenge.  If you don't sign-up today, you are out of luck.

What does the Meadowlands have to fight against in order to win an anticipated November referendum to get a chance to operate a casino (there are no guarantees in New Jersey)?  Here is a little back and forth between Jeff Gural and a columnist for the Press of Atlantic City.  It appears it isn't going to be easy to win the support of South Jersey, meaning Central and North Jersey will have to be in favor of the referendum in a big way.  If the referendum gets on the ballot this year and goes down to defeat, the New Jersey standardbred industry better have a Plan B ready because one would imagine it wouldn't be long after election day when the group headed by Gural tosses in the towel and gets reimbursed for construction of the new track as called for in the lease agreement.

Death Penalty for Racing?  Two congressmen have had enough with racing, proposing to kill the industry off by repealing the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978.  Were their proposal to become law, it would make wagering on horse racing by out of state sources illegal; could you imagine tracks living on what is wagered in state alone?  Realistically, the bill has no chance of pasting at this time, but it's not a good sign that someone is even trying this.

Have a great day

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

When Arbitrary is Not So Arbitrary

Yesterday I had a spirited discussion complaining how arbitrary it was for a racetrack owner in deciding which trainers were excluded from racing while other trainers 'perceived' cheats were allowed to race there, including a trainer the track operator uses.

I must admit, not living or working on the backstretch I decided to see how arbitrary these exclusions were so I went on Pathways to check these trainers out.  When making my decision on trainers, I went exclusively by the USTA record of fines and suspensions.  Not that some of the racetrack banter is incorrect, but in this country legal decisions are made on the official record, not rumors on the street.  Why?  There is no due process on rumors, due process is only on formal charges.

  • We have trainer A who is related to former trainer B who has a checkered record.  Stable is still racing at the track.
  • We have trainer C who is excluded from racing at the track.
  • Finally, there is trainer D who runs a major stable.  Trainer still races at the track.

Well, checking out trainer B, I was appalled by their record.  Truthfully, I wouldn't let this person take care of a hermit crab if it was up to me.  This person claims this former trainer is working for trainer A.  Trainer A basically has a clean record.  Any violations are minor.

Is Trainer B involved with the stable?  I can't say.  What I can say is the farm they train at is under control of their racing commission so they shouldn't be at the facility.  They could be working at a non-licensed facility  where the commission has no control, but they are far from the actively racing stock.  Even if Trainer B was more involved in the workings of Trainer A's stable, the fact is Trainer A is responsible should anything go wrong so odds are they are not taking advantage of the 'folk' medicating Trainer B was allegedly involved in.  Based on the 'record', why shouldn't this trainer be allowed to race at the track?

Trainer C has a relatively recent violation regarding a medication which another track says would result in the trainer being banned from that track.  If a cheaper track won't let this person race at their track, why should the this track allow them to race there?  This one is an easy call.

Trainer D runs a major stable.  A check of his record shows an incident involving a medication commonly abused by people.  It turns out a stable worker apparently had a drug issue involving this medication and that day managed to get their hands on the drug and then handled the horse later in the day.  So yes, the trainer was held responsible for the positive, the purse was forfeited, and the horse placed last, but the judges determined the positive was the result of contamination instead of an intentional drugging.  Forgetting about rumor and innuendo, why shouldn't the trainer be allowed ot race there?

Of course, we are talking about the Meadowlands and Jeff Gural.  It needs to be noted in addition of going with the official record, Gural employs a private investigator.  Since the track is often the judge and jury, and actions are taken in secret, it allows for a whole lot of speculation as to why someone is excluded and someone else isn't.  Complicating things further are the rumors regarding trainers which seemingly are ignored.  Well, you don't get convicted in a court of law based on rumors, you get convicted based on fact which is why rumors tend to be ignored (though Gural's private investigator may investigate those issues) and decisions are made based on fact.  Does this mean a trainer allowed to race at the Meadowlands can't later find themselves in  trouble?  Of course not.  This is not a perfect process.  The problem appears to be with the cynics who are not used to a person who will take advantage of the ability to exclude so freely.

Of course the person this was discussed with was not satisfied; you can't satisfy everyone.  They have their convictions and I respect their position and views.   The point is, if you go by the official record, and filter out the noise, it turns out these arbitrary decisions are not so arbitrary after all.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pena Postscript?; Food For Thought

With Pena being handed a huge fine and suspension, many in racing are getting satisfaction in Lou Pena's banishment, while a few still question the fairness of his penalty, of which I am one of.  It should also be noted that the case now heads back to the court and the press release issued by the NYGC has several inaccuracies, obviously for the benefit of the general public (grandstanding?)

Let's review the facts.  First of all, none of Pena's horses tested positive for any substances .  Where he got nailed by the NYGC (then the NYSRWB) was by reviewing the logs of his New Jersey veterinarian which showed the medications were given after the mandated withdrawal time in New York.

The problem is in every other state, withdrawal times are advisory, if you follow their guidelines, you should be okay, but ignore the guidelines, you don't get penalized unless the horse comes back positive.  As a result, what Pena had done would not have gotten him in trouble, even in New Jersey which gave New York the veterinary records.  The only reason why Pena got in trouble was he violated withdrawal times which were codified in the NYSRWB regulations.

The fact New York codified their withdrawal times gave the regulators what they needed to nail Pena, so based on what has been made public, the regulators got their man and there lies my main objection to what happened to Pena.  It is not a question of whether or not he violated the rules (that appears to have been settled), it is the fact the regulators were gunning for Pena; something even the regulators haven't publicly denied doing.  Why hasn't any other standardbred trainers been given the 'Pena' treatment?

But as a postscript, assuming there is no court overturning the decision, here are some questions to be considered:  Did Pena's horses have an unfair advantage even though they tested 'clean'?  How did Pena's horses test clean if we are to believe the vet's records?  Are there other trainers out there doing exactly what Pena has been found to have been doing, just in states where withdrawal times are only advisory?  Is racing's reliance on testing so flawed it should be tossed and replaced with the passport principle, having a horse's blood chemistry put in a virtual passport and when a significant discrepancy is found, it be considered a positive even without concern of what medication was used; in effect banning the use of any medications for the benefit of improving a horse's performance?

Some food for thought.