For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday Briefs

After hearing from fans, the Meadowlands realizes they made a mistake last week when the Pick-5 began with a lot of drivers 'To Be Announced' when certain drivers were unable to make it to the track, including a last minute scratch of another driver.  Fans who wagered the Pick-5 sequence had every right to be upset when in at least one case a 'A' level driver was replaced with a driver of less ability.

As a result, a new policy has been instituted in East Rutherford in that from this point forward, all driver changes in any race which is part of a multi-leg wager will be announced prior to the post parade of the first leg.  In addition, the Meadowlands will attempt to apologize by seeding the Pick-5 with $10,000 this Saturday.

Some punters may still be sore about what happened this past Saturday.  Will this placate them?  I am sure some will still be upset, but the track is doing what it can reasonably be expected to do to make up for the mistake last time and more importantly, is instituting controls to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Congratulations to Doug McNair for winning the Miami Valley Driving Championship.  The final was marred with horrible track conditions which resulted in a one hour delay between races and the defection of a driver over what they perceived an unsafe surface.  I hope Miami Valley repeats this competition in the future, albeit at a different time in the year when one doesn't have to deal with a track thawing and other winter racing concerns.

I had came across an article where they talked about the 'defunct' Thunder Ridge Raceway.  According to the KHRC commission website, Thunder Ridge Raceway has dates assigned for this year.  Other than this article, there is no mention of the track closing.  You would forgive the paper if they are incorrect because it is almost impossible to find any current news on Thunder Ridge.  Yet, we learned Thunder Ridge will be racing this year starting April 12.  Sadly, other than horsemen, no one probably cares one way or the other.  My suspicion is the track will continue to operate at least until a decision is made by the Kentucky Supreme Court as to whetehr Keenland can apply for the final racing license in state to operate a quarter horse track in Corbin County or if their path to quarter horse and historical racing machines is through buying Thunder Ridge's license and the $2.2 million in debt.  Regardless of the decision, Thunder Ridge is operating on borrowed time.

You may have heard about the flooding out in California.  Some horsemen from Cal Expo were called out to save some standardbreds from the flooding waters at a farm near Sacramento.  Kudos to Nathalie TremblayDave KuriKimberley Schneider, Quentin Schneider,and Kennedy Lindsey for their efforts.  All the affected horses are now resting comfortably at Cal Expo.   

Up in Maine, the harness racing industry has been getting hammered by opponents of racing.  Now, a harness racing participant gets to have his say.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Walk in Our Shoes (AKA What Driving Championship?)

Pull the Pocket wrote a great piece yesterday on how people involved in racing should be required to play the horses for a period of time to see what the racing public deals with.  Quite honestly, it is a great idea for it seems these people don't have a clue what the racing public goes through to play the horses; my topic today is a case in point.

Unlike driving championships where we typically see of the same old drivers racing for a bonus as at Harrah's Philadelphia this year, the driving championship at Miami Valley Racing this week is a great idea.  No, it isn't your regular top drivers racing for a pot of gold at their home track, this is a case where drivers through out North America could nominate themselves by putting up a $300 nomination fee with the top thirty drivers (forty drivers nominated themselves) selected.

The drivers competed over two days in a sufficient number of races where everyone competed in eight qualifying races.  After the two days of races, the top ten drivers by points earned advanced to the final which is being contested today.  The drivers selected (in order of points earned) are: Sam Widger, Tyler Smith, Doug McNair, John DeLong, Tony Hall, Trace Tetrick, Marcus Miller, Jonathan Roberts, Ronnie Wrenn Jr., and Randy Tharps (who was tied with Simon Allard but won the draw to secure the final spot).

Anyway, excited about this contest, I planned to play the races on Sunday so I did all my handicapping and was ready to make some wagers on the event.  So, I logged on to my ADW account and saw a message 'Live video not available' (later finding out CHDN doesn't play nice with TVG or anyone else for that matter).  Really?  I could wager on the races but it would be blindly.  What to do?  Quickly I went through my options:

  1. Go to the Miami Valley Gaming website and watch the video there?  Nope, I can watch the previous day's replays but no live feed.
  2. Use another ADW which carries Miami Valley?  No.  In my home state it is illegal to wager using another ADW (a state agency owns the ADW though it is managed by TVG).  I do things legally, so I wouldn't set up another account claiming I lived in another state.  Besides, why should I have to?
  3. Use my Racetrack Television Network account?  Well, truth be told, I don't have RTN at home.  As a matter of principle, I shouldn't have to use RTN; if my ADW takes wagers it should provide a signal as well.  After all, am I in a NYC OTB parlor in 1971?  (Note to RTN, I'll be subscribing once you are available on Fire TV.)
  4. In frustration, log off.  No Driving Championship for me.  I guess Miami Valley is off of my radar until the day comes when someone lets me know their racing signal is available.

Miami Valley, I hardly know you.  I guess this is the way it is going to be.

Yes, people involved in racing should have to become gamblers first and learn how it is to be in our shoes.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Racing in the Field of Dreams

Here at VFTRG, we try to show harness racing, while small in size compared to our running cousins, has a global presence.  Today we go South to Argentina, where on New Year's Day, the Gran Final Premio Nacional Productos (the National Product Grand Prix) was contested at the Hip√≥dromo de Navarro.  

The winner of the Grand Prix was Chucaro Arts Surco (Daniel Brandalise) who navigated the 1,650 meters in a track and national record of 1:57.01 (1:10.9 kilometer rate) for two year olds,  Money earned is not readily available but the two year old has won 17 of 19 starts this year.  It should be noted, unlike the Northern Hemisphere, the universal birthday for horses is July 1.

When you watch the race, it will make you feel like you went to harness racing's "Field of Dreams", the racetrack seemingly built in the middle of a field.

Quite honestly, given a choice of watching a race at a metropolitan racetrack or in a minimalist setting, give me the minimalist setting and not just for harness racing.  When you think about it, it makes sense, after all when the horse was king, a good percentage of Americans lived in rural areas,  This rural setting, allows the racing fan to go back to those days and fall in love with horses all over again.

Yes, some states have nice fair circuits, but in some states it is the steel and glass physical plant which greets the punter.  I know we can't go back home again, but in the future, if there can be an appropriate blending of the rural feel into modern racetrack construction or even the resurrection of fair circuits, I think everyone involved will benefit.

A documentary on Roosevelt Raceway is in production and is expected to be completed by the Fall or 2017.  A trailer is now available  for viewing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Gural Rule 2017

The Gural Rule, which places restrictions on the progeny of healthy stallions that do not compete at age four, was born back in 2011. It covered the foals of 2014 racing at Jeff Gural’s three tracks as well as foals of 2015 and 2016, on an experimental basis, on the WEG circuit, and those staked to Hambletonian Society events beginning with those born in 2015.

Horses that did not receive physical exemptions needed to start six times after April 1, unless they failed to earn $500,000 at three, failed to start at least a half dozen times at three, or did not start after August 1 of their sophomore season. 

The pacers that fell under the mandate after the 2012 season—Thinking Out Loud, Sweet Lou, A Rocknroll Dance, Heston Blue Chip, Pet Rock, Bolt The Duer and Time To Roll—all raced the following year. They are all standing stud in North America in 2017.

Eight trotters qualified for sanctions if they ran afoul of the rule that year. Little Brown Fox and Knows Nothing were exported; Archangel received a medical waiver and stood in New York for a year before returning to the track; Prestidigitator was on the shelf for an extended period until a failed stab at racing again led to stallion duty in 2016; Market Share, Guccio and My MVP raced on; and Googoo Gaagaa started three times before being retired to injury. So, as with the pacers, there were no issues.

The 2013 Pacer of the Year Captaintreacherous was the first major star to get ensnared by the Rule. He only won twice in seven starts at four, after which he was promptly retired to Hanover She Farms. The other four pacers were Sunshine Beach, Surefire Blue Chip, Twilight Beach and Fool Me Once, all of whom raced but none of whom were going to put any fannies in the seats.

The qualifying trotters that year were Creatine, Smilin Eli and Corky, all of whom were exported, and Hambletonian winner Royalty For Life, who was retired to injury after two starts at four.

The 2014 sophomore pacing group contributed McWicked, JK Endofanera, All Bets Off and Always B Miki, all of whom raced on, and Pace winner He’s Watching, who qualified in the spring at four but was retired to injury in July.

On the 2015 trotting side, Trixton was retired after exacerbating an ankle injury in the CTC in September of his sophomore campaign. His book was full by March. I believe he got a medical waiver.

 Father Patrick, on the other hand, was the second big fish to be caught up in the web that was the Gural rule. He bred mares in New Jersey and made five starts for Jimmy Takter. Like The Captain, his four-year-old racing stint was disappointing, as he won one time in those five starts. Patrick is now back at Diamond Creek in Pennsylvania. Nuncio was exported while Harper Blue Chip was hurt.

So, in the first three years of the program the Rule essentially kept Patrick and the Captain on the track. Together they went 3 for 12 and earned less than $300,000 at four, so neither one was much of a draw for the fans. Both suffered a hit to their reputations, the extent of which is difficult to gauge. The Captain maxed out at 140 mares in both 2015 and 2016, while Patrick bred an abbreviated book of 73 mares in conjunction with training and racing in 2015, and he handled 136 mares in 2016.

The Western Ideal stallion Artspeak, who stands at Hanover for $5,000, was the only pacer in the 2015 sophomore class to have his offspring subject to sanction under the Gural rule. At three he picked up the scraps leftover after Wiggle and Wakizashi Hanover got theirs; Artspeak won the Tattersalls Pace and the Simcoe that year. Still, the drop-off in production from his freshman campaign and the restrictions his offspring faced under the Rule didn’t dissuade many from sending their broodmares to him. Artspeak bred 109 mares in 2016. Freaky Feet Pete, Dude’s The Man, Lost For Words and In The Arsenal all raced on.

Three of the qualifying trotters from that class—The Bank, Habitat and Uncle Lasse—wound up in Sweden, while Crazy Wow came back at four.

Four pacers fit the stallion rule profile in 2016. Check Six will apparently race on, while Control The Moment was retired due to injury the first week of September. He’ll stand in Ontario at Tara Hills, and I assume he’s been granted a medical waiver. The other two, Racing Hill and Betting Line, will retire, to Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively, and both will apparently suck it up and deal with the consequences of the rule. Being shut out at The Meadowlands, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs would certainly matter in the case of Betting Line, not so much to Racing Hill or Control The Moment, however, as they probably aspire to be regional stallions.

On the trotting side, Marion Marauder was pointed to a stud career but failed his fertility test, so he’ll race on. Bar Hopping and Southwind Frank, both of whom will stand in Pennsylvania, will apparently flaunt the rule. Ron Burke agonized over not being able to get Frank right throughout much of the season, but I don’t think it was anything that rose to the level of applying for a retirement waiver.

Who is in and out and when gets confusing, but it seems WEG has opted out of the Gural Rule beginning with horses bred by a four-year-old stallion in 2017, while the Hambletonian Society will restrict the foals of 2015 and 2016. Essentially, Artspeak, Racing Hill, Betting Line, Bar Hopping and Southwind Frank will be punished primarily by Gural. Their get will not be allowed to qualify or baby race at The Meadowlands, Tioga Downs or Vernon Downs. Actually, they will be banned from racing at all at those tracks, as Gural has increased the penalties in response to being abandoned by WEG and the Hambletonian Society.

The Graduate Series, Kindergarten Classic, William Haughton Open, Golden Girls, US Pacing Championship and TVG Series are all owned, serviced and sponsored by The Meadowlands. The inability to gain casino status has limited the track’s ability to fund some of these stakes so outside sponsors have been recruited, but you can be sure that will not diminish the scope of the Rule. The two Hanover stallions, Betting Line and Artspeak, would find their get conceived in their four-year-old form ineligible to these races.

Southwind Frank and Bar Hopping would be in a similar squeeze with regard to the Cutler Memorial, Graduate Series, Kindergarten Classic, Stanley Dancer Memorial, Del Miller Memorial, Cashman Memorial, Fresh Yankee, Peter Haughton, Jim Doherty and TVG. These stakes are also owned, sponsored and serviced by The Meadowlands. This would certainly be a problem for those stallions.

Thoroughbred racing is beset with the same issue of horses retiring to stud before their time, only they don’t have a figure like Jeff Gural who has taken a drastic step to address the problem. A recent Standardbred Canada poll showed that a healthy majority of those responding agree with what Mr. Gural is doing, but with the WEG tracks and the Hambletonion Society opting to convince owners to keep racing their high profile charges by promoting more four-year-old restricted stakes, as opposed to punishing them for retiring their stars, the movers and shakers in the sport are obviously not on the same page. Jeff Gural has also gone this route by sponsoring the Graduate Series, but he believes it will take more than an offering of honey to get the job done.

Artspeak sells his first crop in 2018, while Southwind Frank, Bar Hopping, Betting Line and Racing Hill will sell theirs in 2019. Mr. Gural believes the restrictions will have a profound effect on the desirability of these yearlings to buyers. Time will tell.

Joe FitzGerald

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Look Back, Reviewing Progress (Part 2)

Continuing on our discussion on how the various parties involved in harness racing have changed over the last seven years, we resume talking about racing commissions.  Part 1 of this entry was posted yesterday.

Like many governmental agencies, the racing commissions tend to be friends of industry participants, seemingly considering the wagering public as an afterthought.  When proposals are made by the general public, the road to consideration of rule adoption is a circuitous route to travel, typically defeated if tracks and/or horsemen oppose it regardless of the validity of the proposal.  However, if a proposal comes forth from the tracks, they tend to travel at high-speeds to adoption.

Love the Canadian fair-start rule?  You better stick to Canadian tracks because such a rule in the United States will not happen, racetracks and horsemen groups will not allow such a proposal to get adopted.  Oh sure, they will go through all the motions required of them but with no representation by the wagering public on the commission board, it is a foregone conclusion it will be defeated despite the fact it would be beneficial to all in the long run.  As long as the composition of racing commissions is limited to racing insiders, nothing will change.

With regards to the racing public, the industry continues to fail the majority of the public.  Sure, there may be a few changes in the game, but typically, the moment tracks attempt to put a horse in the second tier or have added distance racing, you will see drivers squawk and trainers reluctant to enter their horses in those races (an exception being Yonkers when their races being sent to Europe for simulcasting) despite the fact these races offer more wagering value to horseplayers.  Rather than having a trailer or two in a stakes race, we offer the public two or three elimination races of of five horses or less for their wagering consideration.

Exchange wagering, only in New Jersey despite the fact it is legal in California.  Tracks fear new forms of wagering to the point of embargoing exchange wagering despite the fact it may pay horsemen and track operators twice what they get now.  

Horseplayers want large payoffs so the tracks give them new wagers which offer high rewards to whales but otherwise sucks the money out of the gamblers' hands which kills churn and speeds the eventual departure of most players.  Yet, while tracks offer these jackpot wagers, there is no attempt to offer new wagering propositions which would allow horseplayers to make more money and recycle those wagering dollars through the wagering pools.

It's no secret racing is not the fastest game around with the breaks between races so what does the industry do?  It drags the races out even longer with post crawl that only those with the patience of Job are able to watch a single racing program. 

Is racing on its deathbed?

As I said seven years ago, harness racing is hurting but not on its deathbed.  Tracks have closed during these seven plus years but for the most part, it is business as usual for racing operations.   There will continue to be some downsizing and the sport will go through some heaves, but when all is said and done it will remain albeit changed and smaller in size.  So what will racing look like?  Let's take a look at some items through my futurist hat:

National Regulation -  The feds will mandate a national effort to regulate drug testing and the industry will comply.  Cheating via medication violations will be treated seriously with nationwide bans for those cheating multiple times.  As for the rules of racing, cost savings for the states will give rise to a national regulatory agency to establish and enforce the rules of racing which may eliminate the presence of individuals in one state after they have been banned in others.  

Animal Welfare - It may take some kicking and screaming but eventually animal welfare will become the rule.  Whipping if not banned will be restricted more than ever.  Feet will remain in the footholds on sulkys and the industry will be forced to deal with the unwanted horse problem, far more than it does now.  This effort will make racing more palatable to the American public.

Wagering Changes - Exchange wagering, now restricted to New Jersey will be expanded into other states.  Don't be surprised to see fixed-odds and other new wagering options to come to North America's shores as wagering will be outsourced to TAB organizations.  Eventually you will see sports wagering in the United States expanded and with gambling becoming more acceptable, tote companies will be cutting takeout rates to compete.

Less Racing - Depending on TAB for wagering, racing dates will be cut.  With fewer races, purses will be more lucrative and meets will become more boutique instead of run of the mill.  Becoming events, attendance will recover (though the large crowd of yesteryear will never be seen again) while handle will increase as wagering will be focused on fewer tracks at any given time.  

International Racing - Racing will be imported into and exported from North America to maximize the infrastructure of TABs.  Domestic racing will need to change to conform to the tastes of foreign markets to maximize revenue.  This means races of variable distances and more horses per race meaning second tiers.

These are scary times for horse racing, but the future will be exciting for those willign to conform to the changed environment.