Thursday, October 23, 2014

Trés Bon Yonkers et des Cavaliers

We are two weeks away from the grand experiment, perhaps the most exciting thing to happen to harness racing wagering-wise in the last ten to twenty years; the expansion of American harness racing into the European market, primarily into France via PMU.

While I would have thought another track would have been the first one to make the move to conquer Europe, it is Yonkers Raceway and their horsemen's group, the SOA which stakes its claim to being the first track to make a serious attempt to enter the market.  Sure, there have been special events such as the Hambletonian and Breeders Crown which have been simulcasted to Europe, but those were special occasions and even then, it would be a few races at a time because Europe doesn't permit wagering on pacing events.  On many occasions, they would have separate pools so the North American gambler would not have the advantage of that money flowing into our domestic pools.

Unlike those special event occasions, these six Sundays (starting November 9) represents a new approach to taking the American sulky sport to Europe.  All trotting cards and distance racing will be the name of the game on these Sundays, something which up to now has been the bane of American handicappers and horsemen, (the distance racing), all done to appeal to the European market.  Racing at 11am so to make the product available in Europe at a reasonable time (5pm in Paris) requires a very quick turn around for those racing on Saturday evening.  Developing social media and websites in French to help promote the sport and simulcasting in France is essential to acclimate French gamblers to the American sport.  Yes, a lot of effort is being expended but the potential reward is great, for tomorrow Europe and if successful. who knows where next?

Of course, the bending over has all been American at this point.  Hopefully, if the program is successful, more convenient post times will be a possibility, and dare I say, getting the Europeans to accept a few pacing events for their consumption on these cards?

For American bettors, the possibility of larger pools so odd changes are not as drastic so we don't see last minute odds plunging awaits them.  Whales being able to bet with confidence that their 4-1 play doesn't turn into a 2-5 proposition as well as the little guy not finding themselves collecting their $3.20 payoff when wagered at 5-1 is an exciting possibility.  

Who knows, the simulcasting highway can go two ways.  Now, the races will be going from New York to Europe; one day the races may come the other way.  It may not be important at present but as horse shortages continue to deepen, tracks may need to cut race dates out of necessity, and these imported races may give gamblers product to wager on and allow track and horsemen purse accounts to grow on forced dark days.  

Yonkers and its horsemen are blazing the path.  Hopefully other tracks will be able to join the export movement so this doesn't become a one-off experiment but the start of a new beginning.

One thing I can't help but wonder is if we can develop social media and web pages to attract French speaking horseplayers abroad, why can't we develop the same for our potential Spanish speaking customers here at home?  In certain markets, such as the New York metropolitan area and in Florida, the market is bilingual.  To not attempt to reach out to the Spanish market is ridiculous.  Even the New York Mets has recognized this with their Los Mets website.  If other companies can run bilingual advertisements, what makes racing think it can market only to the English speaking market?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

2014 Report Card on Share The Delight

Sarah Thomas, a friend of VFTRG and a representative of STAGBI (the breed registry for Great Britain and Ireland), provides us with a final update on how Share The Delight's initial crop of 2yos performed in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom now that their racing season has concluded for the year.

Here is her update....

The final update is very much as per my last update - Kentucky Rocket remained the sole Share The Delight to race, his best performance was a third place in the North Wales Standardbred Association 2YO colts staged at York Harness Raceway. Overall his first crop has been very lacklustre.

Brywins Magician (Share The Delight - Lifes Magic Girl) was third highest yearling sold (£5000) at
 the annual yearling sale at York Harness Raceway on October 4, 2014 (photo courtesy of Janet Cockburn)

However, the annual sale at York Harness Raceway was held a fortnight ago (Saturday 4th October) and the sole Share The Delight yearling put forward made £5000 (third highest priced yearling sold). BRYWINS MAGICIAN (bred by Brian Davies, Powys, Wales) out of Lifes Magic Girl [Life Sign] is a half-brother to one of the top Free For All horses in the UK, Brywinsmagicpotion (Camotion), who has won numerous FFAs this season all over the UK and Ireland. This, in my opinion, is the best chance Share The Delight has and I will keep you updated of his progress 

The annual Standardbred sale at Builth Wells, mid Wales, is being held on Monday and the following horses were entered. 
For reference, the top yearling price at the sale was £51,000 (new British sale record) for a Hasty Hall colt out of Tonda Star (Albert Albert). The total number of yearlings forward was 41; 34 of which sold for an average price of £3,967.94. 

Lot #13 - GARTHS SHAREGAR - colt out of Garths Landscape, by Artiscape (£800)

Lot #24 - BRYWINS LARGO - colt out of Brywins Largesse, by Laag (£1,100)

Lot #25 - BRYWINS MONALISA - filly out of Art Connection, by Artsplace (£600)

Lot #44 - BRYWINS DELIGHT - filly out of Playfull Bunny, by Precious Bunny (£950)

Lot #45 - BRYWINS AWESOME - colt out of Brywinsallamerican, by Allamerican Ingot (Not Forward [Withdrawn]) 

Lot 46 - BRYWINS MALALA - filly out of Maple Hanover, by Dragon Again (£850)

Lot 47 - BRYWINS RUBY - filly out of Lifes Treasure, by Life Sign (Not Forward)

Lot 48 -  BRYWINS DANA - filly out of Duckwork, by Arturo (£600)

There are less Brywins yearlings by him this year as Brian [Davies] has used his other stallion, Star On The Beach (half brother to Somebeachsomewhere) on a few of his mares [Share The Delight stood stud at Oakwood Stud, County Offaly, Ireland in 2014 before returning home after the breeding season].

Clearly, it was a disappointing season for Share The Delight's first crop of two year olds.  While only one horse made it to the races, others showed promise before being turned out for the year at various points in their training.  It may be the case this crop may make its mark at the age of three, but as in North America,  horsemen are looking for horses to race at two.

It will take another year or two before the final verdict is in for Share The Delight.  When it comes to breeding, you never know what will happen.  As long as someone is willing to breed to a stallion, there is always a chance a really good one may come along.

If you are interested in harness racing in Wales and Great Britain, allow me to recommend the Welsh TrottingBritish Harness Racing Club, and the Standardbred and Trotting Horse Association of Great Britain and Ireland websites for your perusal.  In addition, the Wales & West Harness Racing Association has a presence on Facebook.   

Others have noted the growth of racing in the UK and Ireland., has introduced a page dedicated to racing in the two countries.

"They Stopped Mowing the Grass Probably During the Ming Dynasty"

The year's not over yet, but I think we have heard the best line at a racing commission meeting this year.  "They stopped mowing the grass probably during the Ming Dynasty", which can be attributed  to KHRC member Alan Leavitt when referring to the operators of Thunder Ridge Raceway.  Leavitt further stated "There have been reports of people actually being bitten by snakes."  These comments were made when arguing the harness horsemen should be compensated in any deal to transfer the license of Thunder Ridge from Appalachian Racing to Keenland Association which would result in the track being moved to another part of the state to run quarter horses and, you guessed it open an instant racing parlor.

Of course, one could argue while it is true harness horsemen have put up with a lot at Thunder Ridge over the years so they should be compensated now that the license has value, one may ask does the KHRC ever visit the tracks it licenses and if so, why didn't they put the hammer down on Appalachian Racing and demand track operators keep the facility up to a minimum level of standard?  After all, if the place is in such a state of disrepair, is there any wonder their total handle for the past racing season was $950?  Then again, it being Kentucky, does the commission really care what goes on with the standardbreds and their horsemen?  

I have a couple of bones to pick with Harnesslink's Insider Access (Edition #15) this week.  One issue is the use of embryo transplant in harness racing.  They oppose the use of ET as being unnatural such as cloning and plain wrong.  The idea someone can flush an embryo from a racing mare and implant it in a surrogate while they continue on racing indeed is wrong on the surface.  If we are talking about racing horses, you shouldn't be credited with a foal if you don't carry it and if there is something with your broodmare which keeps it from carrying a foal successively to term, is that something we want to pass on to the next generation?  While we are at it, if we are against unnatural things, they must be against artificial insemination and advocate the return of natural cover, after all taking a stallion's semen and adding extenders and the like servicing more than one broodmare at a time certainly isn't the way nature intended.

The other issue with Insider Access this week is their problem with races restricted to drivers of certain racial, ethnic, or gender backgrounds.  The question they pose is if these are novelty races or racially insensitive events?  While they are talking about Australian races in particular, I will give them wide-birth as I am as qualified to speak about race relations in Australia as I am talking about quantum physics.  

That being said, I would suggest it is a question of context.  For example, if you look at Monticello Raceway's Heritage Series, where there is the Lady Godiva Pace (open to women only), the Martin Luther King Day Pace (open to drivers of African-American descent), Mayflower Pace (open to those of British ancestry), etc. where the winners of these races meet in a championship race it is neither a novelty or racist; it is a celebration of the American tapestry and in fact allows some groups who are often passed over when it comes to driving a chance to showcase their abilities. 

Despite my criticisms this week, Insider Access is a good read for those interested in harness racing.  You may not agree with everything they say, but it gives you something to think about.  If you are not a subscriber, I would suggest you do so, after all one edition every two weeks is not going to clog up your email.  Sign-up is easy; just click here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Always B Miki And Freaky Feet Pete

Last year He’s Watching became the first freshman to win his division while racing exclusively in restricted races. None of his classmates stood out and, as a $3,000 bargain of diminutive stature, he carried a Cinderella story with him that none of his contemporaries could match. He got 68% as many votes as the other nominees in his class: BC winner Luck Be Withyou, Governor’s Cup winner JK Endofanera, Arthur Blue Chip and Western Vintage. None of those colts came close to capturing the imagination of the public.

This year’s outlier is Freaky Feet Pete, a first crop son of the well-bred stallion, Rockin Image, who stands in Indiana for $3,500. Like Rock N Roll Heaven, he’s from the first crop of Rocknroll Hanover. Unlike Pete, who has raced exclusively at Hoosier Park, primarily in the ISS, He’s Watching did the circuit in the higher profile NYSS, setting a 1:50 world record at Tioga in the process. This time last year He’s Watching, whose season had ended a few weeks earlier in the NYSS final, drew 38 points in the Top Ten Poll, enough to secure the number 11 spot. His crush job in the Super Final notwithstanding, Freaky Feet Pete got a single vote in this week’s poll. As was the case with He’s Watching last year, Pete is not staked to the BC and can’t be supplemented. However, he can buy in to the Matron, which is three weeks from now, for $20,000.

Always B Miki, the mighty sophomore by Always a Virgin, is a more interesting case. While he did win four legs of the Indiana SS at Hoosier, as well as the high dollar Super Final, he does have quite a bit of experience in the open realm. On the up side, he won a split of the SBSW; he built a cult following on an overland second place finish in the Pace; and he won a split of the Bluegrass in impressive fashion, in addition to taking a division of the Tattersalls Pace. Miki also raced in eliminations for the NA Cup and the Hempt.

Can Always B Miki win his division? In this week’s poll he’s 11th—same place He’s Watching was this time last year—with 35 points. In 2014 He’s Watching won the Pace, a split of the SBSW and the EBC. He disappointed in Delaware and went backwards in Lexington. He’s beyond being on shaky ground. McWicked, who drew the four post for Saturday’s Messenger, has dropped four in a row. Like He’s Watching, he was a disappointment in the Jug, and he skipped The Red Mile meet altogether. He’s badly in need of a win this week if he wants to stay in the race for division honors.

The other guy, JK Endofanera, is the reason it would be difficult for Miki to get the nod in the division. JK End blew Miki away in the Elevation at Hoosier in early November of last year and he beat Miki at his home track again this year, running him down in the Jenna’s Beach Boy. He won the other split of the Tattersalls, and he won the Cup. Throw in the Am-Nat, SBSW and Simpson and he has the broadest resume in the class. McWicked has earned a little bit more money, and that will be a lot more money if he wins the $500,000 Messenger.

Miki’s owner, Joe Hurley, and his group are apparently mulling over writing a $25,000 check to supplement their boy to the Matron on November 6. And they have pretty much made up their minds to fork over the $62,500 supplemental fee for the Breeders Crown. A win in both races, in tandem with a few missteps by the competition, may indeed elevate Miki to a leadership role in the division. Of course, pounding the big boys in the TVG final at the Meadowlands would seal the deal.

Joe FitzGerald

Heather's Fabulous Irish Adventure; How Accurate is Race Timing?

A story came out on how North American timing of thoroughbred races is inherently wrong thanks to the 'run up', the point between when the starting gate is opened and the horses reach the point timing begins.  Another reason why not to play thoroughbred racing because you don't know if they are timing a race at  6 1/2 furlongs 6 furlongs, 5 3/4 furlongs or somewhere in between at various tracks.

Unfortunately, we have the same problem in harness racing where tracks use the quick release method to give horses a better chance when the first turn would come up too quickly.  By releasing horses early, they are racing at full speed by the time the timer is tripped on versus starts at tracks where a quick release is not used.  Timing is only accurate when you are looking at races at the same track.  However, when you have horses shipping in from other tracks, let the handicapper beware.

This past weekend, Heather Vitale presented a feature on her Post Time Show about her trip to Ireland to cover Ladbroke's Vincent Delaney Memorial which was conducted at Portmarnock Raceway near Dublin.  It is always interesting to see how harness racing is presented elsewhere around the globe so this video is educational as well as enjoyable to watch.

As Heather says, a trip to experience harness racing in Ireland should be on everyone's bucket list.

Most of the time we hear about county fairs dropping harness racing due to lack of interest, insurance costs or other reasons, but it is unusual to hear about a county fair bringing harness racing back.

The Delaware (Indiana) County Fair is returning harness racing to Muncie for the first time in 20 years.  The fair board is working with Hoosier Park in this effort.

A horse races at Freehold on October 2 and ends up at New Holland on October 20.  How does this happen.  Is anyone at Freehold Raceway doing anything to make sure horses competing there don't end up at these grade auctions?  If they are, it must be a token effort.  Most tracks don't have any such policies and welcome horse dealers on the grounds on qualifying day.  When will harness tracks really work to keep horses safe once their careers end?

To no one's surprise, the sports leagues have filed for an immediate injunction to Monmouth Park   taking bets on sporting events this weekend.  A hearing will be held today in  Trenton in Round 1 in the battle for sports wagering (aka, the absurd battle).  Meanwhile, State Senator Lesniak sounds as optimistic as ever about NJ's effort to circumvent the previous federal ruling.  They needed someone as inspirational as Senator Lesniak at Little Big Horn.