Wednesday, October 22, 2014

2014 Report Card on Share The Delight

Sarah Thomas, a friend of VFTRG and a representative to the owner of former top class racing performer Share The Delight, 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Lot #45 - BRYWINS AWESOME - colt out of Brywinsallamerican, by Allamerican Ingot (Not Forward [Withdrawn]) 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.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Colonial Downs Aftermath and Food for Thought?

Now that Colonial Downs is shutting down, perhaps for good, at the conclusion of the current standardbred meet; the result of being unable to reach an agreement with the thoroughbred horsemen over the number of days of live racing and the makeup of the meet.

Unfortunately, the standardbred horsemen suffer in this disagreement though they are not a party to the dispute.  Without the ability to simulcast thoroughbred races at Colonial's OTB locations and at the track, it is not financially feasible for Colonial to operate the track for a standardbred meet; there is not enough money being wagered on harness simulcasts.

The dispute is a familiar one.  Virginia, a state without slots is unable to offer competitive purses which means they offer mediocre racing which doesn't draw the interest of simulcast gamblers.  While the Virginia horsemen realize a long meet is not feasible, they want to run a meet primarily geared to the Virginia bred horses with a few races geared towards out of state horses.

Jeffrey Jacobs, the man who pays the bills for Colonial Downs realizes the track can't survive with its usual fare of racing considering the abundance of racing in the Mid-Atlantic region.  What he wants to do is offer a boutique meet, a 'Saratoga South' where there would be race cards geared towards the national stables with fewer races for Virginia bred horses.  Jacobs correctly theorizes race cards full of horses of national importance would attract simulcast gamblers, allowing Colonial Downs to go back to its early glory days and return the track to a better financial footing.  Of course, to offer these purses, there is the need to simulcast thoroughbred races all year in order to build the purse account up.

While the two groups basically agreed on the number of days (26), they couldn't agree on how the days would scheduled and how much racing there would be for the local product versus imported talent.  When Jacobs attempted to form a new horse group, it was known the VRC would not accept them, hence Jacobs surrendered his license.

The dispute at Colonial Downs is of importance to the standardbred industry because the dispute in Virginia touches on issues facing harness racing.  There is too much racing content offered on most days when you consider the audience interested in harness racing.  You may say those slot states don't have such a problem since their purses are subsidized but that is not true in the long term.  Even if you disregard the states cutting the amount racing gets from slots or decoupling, you have the issue of over saturation.  Over saturation is going to cause purse accounts to shrink as less slot money will flow into those accounts, resulting in purses being cut as is the case of Delaware, a state where the tracks are in financial peril.  If subsidies are reduced sufficiently, horsemen and tracks are going to look at handle more seriously.

The only way tracks are going to be able to get handle up is by offering racing which people will be interested in wagering on.  The only way this will be possible is if tracks will adopt Jacob's approach of offering boutique meets.  The days of racing year round at one track or even a state is not going to be possible; we need fewer tracks running at the same time so those running will get a larger share of the simulcasting pie.  The question is what will the final solution look like to address this problem?

Perhaps we need to look at Monmouth Park, specifically the year they offered their 'super meet' when they offered inflated purses to attract horses from the top stables, getting some horses which would have headed to Saratoga to reside in Oceanport.  At the conclusion of the super meet which got national attention, Monmouth conducted a lower grade meet featuring NJ bred races.  Yes, Monmouth lost money that year, probably due to the fact the same number of tracks raced against them.

Harness racing would be best served to address the issue of how to reduce the number of race dates while things are going relatively well.  Failure to address the issue now may result in a Virginia-type standoff which has cancelled thoroughbred racing in 2014 and apparently in the future; at least until a game change moment occurs.