Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Briefs

While not a fan of thoroughbred racing, I am glad to see, pending legislative approval for the diversion of funds dedicated to the purse account from casino proceeds to help operate the meet, Suffolk Downs will be racing for the next two years wile track management explores alternatives for their property.  Two years is not a long time but it gives the Massachusetts horsemen more time to come up with alternative plans to continue to race in the Bay State.  I have no problem with the legislative changes provided the proposed amendment only concerns the diversion of funds for the thoroughbred horsemen and doesn't alter the currently legislated formula for standardbred interests.

You may have seen press about a Michigan Indian tribe wishing to re-develop Great Lake Downs, a failed thoroughbred track it purchased back in 2008 into a casino.  The track raced from 1999 - 2007.  Not too many people outside of Michigan may realize before becoming Great Lake Downs, the facility was a harness track called Muskegon Race Course which operated from 1989-1997.

The Indians can operate casinos in Michigan, Non-tribal casinos were allowed to open casinos.  Racetracks continue to struggle due to its inability to compete with its racing product or expansion of alternative gaming.  Unless something changes, Michigan racing, of all breeds, will continue to be on the ropes.

Two hundred mares have registered for the New Jersey Standardbred  Development Fund (SDF).  To qualify for NJ SDF designation, a mare has to foal and spend 150 days in New Jersey which allows their off-spring to raced in SDF races along with NJ-sired horses.  Two hundred mares may not mean much, especially when the first SDF races for two year olds are raced in 2016, but for breeding farms, it means board bills from 200 mares which may not have been in the state in the first place.  This program brings needed revenue to farms which may have been hurting from the lack of breeding activity in the state as it provides for an alternative revenue source,

This has been a tough winter in the Northeast in particular and I don't know about you, I long for the days tracks had backstretches.  When there were backstretches, it was 'snow be damned', you raced anyway because you had an off-track audience ready and willing to wager on your product; it didn't matter customers may not be hardy (or foolish) enough to come out.  As long as the horsemen were there, racing took place, albeit with a few scratches

Now, with the lack of backstretches, some tracks cancel racing the moment the first snowflake falls.  For sure, with horses being at farms instead of tracks, there is a safety issue to be considered for the horses and horsemen but some tracks cancel too early (typically slot tracks), and sometimes a little too late (such as the Meadowlands last Saturday).  I understand the need for safety, it is paramount, but being the racinos never seem to close their slot parlors, I can't help but wonder if some of those cancellations are more an excuse to cut a money-losing racing day off the racing calendar than anything else.

Have a great Saturday everyone.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Presss Release: Meadowlands Statement on Simulcasting Dispute

East Rutherford, NJ - Meadowlands Statement on Simulcasting Dispute

As the simulcasting dispute between Monarch Management and the Mid-Atlantic Co Op enters its fourth month, we wanted to update our fans and bettors on recent developments.

In 2011 when the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park were privatized, we hired Monarch Management to handle our import and export simulcasting agreements.  In today’s world, it’s almost a necessity for a track to be part of a larger group or co-op such as Monarch, Churchill, or Mid-Atlantic to have any negotiation leverage when it comes to simulcast host fees. With the exception of NYRA, almost every track is part of a larger group simply because they don’t generate enough handle to have any pricing input.

Monarch and their management team have represented us in a competent, professional manner over the past few years and we have a strong relationship with them.

We felt it reasonable that tracks pay a little bit more for our signal since (a) we do not have slots and (b) offer the number one harness signal with the largest pools from a wagering standpoint in North America. It’s our understanding that the Monarch/Mid-Atlantic dispute is no longer about host fee rates. The issue is an in-state conflict in Maryland between Rosecroft Raceway operated by Penn Gaming which is the largest member of Mid-Atlantic, and the Maryland Jockey Club operated by the Stronach Group which is Monarch. We felt the Maryland issue did not involve Meadowlands in any way nor should harness racing fans and players be impacted by it.

Earlier this week, Meadowlands instructed Monarch to offer the Mid-Atlantic a separate deal for us in an effort to get the Meadowlands harness signal back in their network of tracks.  The Mid-Atlantic executive committee rejected that offer.

Most of the major players wagering significant dollars play through ADW’s because of generous rebate structures.  The people that are hurt by this dispute are the harness racing fans who enjoy watching and wagering on the Meadowlands product at places like a Northfield Park in Ohio, in the State of Delaware, or at a Mohegan Sun Pocono OTW in Pennsylvania.  This dispute has certainly cost the Meadowlands some revenue but, unfortunately, it’s also cost us the goodwill and support of many loyal fans over the years who wager at the impacted locations. That’s the real shame.

If you feel strongly about the situation, please let your respective track or wagering facility know and ask them to press for a solution to this issue. 

The Meadowlands...

WDC Thoughts, What Can Be Brought to North America?

Watching the World Driving Championship (WDC) races from New South Wales, Australia it has become clear; we are too provincial in our thinking, unwilling to change to improve the product.  Not that these suggestions will take care of things such as post time drag, the amount of time between races, and the integrity issues real and perceived, but we can make the racing more exciting to watch, less predictable, and increase wagering as people will be enticed by larger payoffs.

For example, let's take a look at this race from the WDC yesterday.

No one can watch this race and say it wasn't exciting despite the length of the race.  What did this race have that we don't have in the North America?

  1. Added distance (2,125 meters equals 1.32 mile)
  2. A second tier 
  3. A lot of movement through out the race

You probably are saying, well these WDC races feature some of the best drivers in the world,  what about regular overnight racing?  Well,, let's look at another race from the same card at Penrith, a conditioned  race for winners of 1 or 2 races at a country meet, with typical drivers racing.

There may hve been a little less movement, but more movement than we typically see; horses are not strung out single file.  You have horses racing three, four wide.  By the time they head into the stretch, everyone is close, and in this case they all came flying at the wire.

Penrith is a half mile oval, starting five across with five in the second row.  Admittedly, when you start five across the horses in the back row have it easier to get involved than in the states where you typically start eight across.  I would never suggest we put eight horses in the back tier on our smaller tracks, but what if we started six across with six in the second row?

Now a track like Menangle, a metropolitan track which is a 7/8th mile oval, starts them 10 across and doesn't have an official second tier but they have standing starts with horses being handicapped as far back as 70 meters (291 feet).  I am not suggesting we move to standing starts but instead of having standing starts we can handicap races by moving horses to a second row even if we cut the number in the front row to even things out (say seven up front and five in the second row).

Some will say it's a different style of racing in Australia.  No doubt about it, a style necessitated by the varied distances of races; something which would develop here.  The point is we can learn something from Australia and from the rest of the harness racing world.  We just need to take the blinders off and look.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Needed Amendment to PA Senate Bill 352.

Legislation is working its way through the Pennsylvania Legislature to modernize the racing rules in the state which have not been updated in over 20 years according to the bill's sponsor, State Senator Elder Vogel.  SB352  merges the thoroughbred and harness racing commissions into one, mandates medication rules, and well a lot of technocrat jumble which comprises this bill of 168 pages (to which you are welcome to read).

One thing I see here is  the opportunity to get RUS recognized.  Currently standardbred/harness racing is defined in this bill as racing with a sulky.  Now would be the time to get the bill amended to include RUS as part of the definition of standardbred racing and where else it may need to be updated.  If not updated, it may be not be possible to have parimutuel RUS events because the bill does not allow standardbred and thoroughbred track operators from having a license to conduct racing of the other breed.  The reason the bill would need to be amended is the bill has passed out of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

If RUS racing is not added to the racing code now, when would it happen?

As if we didn't see this coming, Pennsylvania is proposing Internet Gaming for their casinos.  Governor Christie was counting on out-of-staters coming to New Jersey to gamble within the state.  Should Pennsylvania adopt online gambling, rest assured Pennsylvania gamblers will go home to gamble, reducing some of the revenue being received in New Jersey.  As mentioned initially, once one state has online gaming, it is just a matter of time till other states adopt it, once again making a product a commodity.    

Dunn Clinches Championship, Race on for Silver and Bronze

While Canadian Jody Jamieson was the driving star at Penrith Harness Racing Club for the three heats of the World Trotting Championship, New Zealander Dexter Dunn has clinched the gold in the WTC going into the final heat at Menangle Sunday.  Jamieson won Heats 17 and 19 to earn the driving double while Denmark's Knud Monster picked up the victory in Heat 18.  However, a third and second placing by Dexter Dunn, coupled with Tim Tetrick's throwing in a bad day today (best finish was fifth place), put Dunn out of reach of the rest of the drivers, allowing him to go into Menangle triumphantly.

While first place has been decided, we have a real horse race for second and third place as four drivers are within nine points of each other.  France's Tony Le Beller moved into second place while Tim Tetrick dropped into third place.  Currently in fourth place is Finland's Mika Forss while thanks to tonight's performance, Jody Jamieson moves up into fifth place.  So while the champion has been crowned, it will be a real horse race in the final heat as these four will be looking to take up residence in the place and show spots.

Tonight, all three races were contested at 2,125 meters (approximately 1 1/3 miles) and Jamieson drove Strawberry Courage NZ to catch Emerging Art at the wire in 2:38.6 (2:00.1 mile rate) over a track listed as 'good'.  Finishing third was Just Pit Boss NZ driven aggressively by Dexter Dun from the fifth position in the second row (saddle cloth #11).  If you watch the video watch the bold move he made going into the backstretch the first time.

Just an observation here.  If anyone says racing extended distances with a second tier (the place and show horse both come from the second row) is boring, they need to watch the race above.  This is a race which is far more exciting than what we currently produce in North America

In Heat 18, Knud Monster from Finland won with Midnight Lights in 2:37.4 (1:59.2) from the second slot in the second row to defeat Lombo Final touch by 2,4 meters.  Monster was able to take benefit of a fast early pace by staying back until they hit the backstretch the final time where he made a bold move from eighth place, going four wide on the turn before setting his sights on the eventual second place finisher.

The final heat of the night was won by Jamieson driving Katsidis to a half neck victory in 2:37.4 (1:59.2).  Katsidis briefly held the lead at the start of the second lap before giving it up to take the pocket trip, only to find himself sitting fourth before getting free to throw on the thrusters to catch the leaders at the wire.

The final heat will be contested at Menangle Sunday as the first race on a card which features the Inter-Dominion Final as well as other stakes races.  The WDC final will be contested at 2,400 meters.

The standings going into the final heat:
Point Score After 19 Heats
Dexter Dunn
Tony Le Beller
Tim Tetrick
Mika Forss
Jody Jamieson
Knud Monster
Chris Alford
Pierre Vercryusse
Vidar Hop
Guillermo Adrover