This year, the USTA will be considering twelve rule changes which will be voted upon at next year's annual meeting in March. In the meanwhile, the proposals will be discussed at the various district meetings. Some of these rule changes are minor, dealing more with housekeeping issues than actual racing. Here is a preview of some of the more substantive proposals (in plain English) along with how I would vote on them were I to have a vote.
Of course, individual state rules override the USTA regulations. However, many states use the USTA rules as a guideline for their rules and when their rules are silent regarding a particular issue, the USTA rule tend to take precedence.
Proposals 1 and 2 basically updates the rules for the 21st century; allowing electronic signatures and permitting cell phones and PDAs to be used in the paddock (in addition to a regular phone).
Proposal 3 is a proposal to require racetracks to post multi-race pay-off possibilities at the denomination in which a wager can be made. If this proposal were to be approved, pay-offs would need to be posted at the base amount of the wager. For example, if your local track offered a $.50 Pick-6 wager, they would be required to show the potential pay-off based on the $.50 denomination instead of an arbitrary (typically $1 or $2) amount.
Approve - This proposal makes sense; we can call it a truth in gambling proposal. Report the pay-offs in the amounts many gamblers wager in. Hopefully this will get tracks to report pay-offs accordingly. Nothing worse than having a track report a pay-off based on a $2 wager when in reality it was hit on a dime wager.
Proposal 4 deals with a safety issue regarding horse's equipment.
Proposal 5 will give the judges the ability to stop a race in the event of an unforeseen incident or accident. A race for wagering purposes would be declared a "non-contest" and the purse money would be divided equally between unoffending (in the case of an accident) horses. If approved, the judges would be able to stop a race in the case of a severe accident, a horse running the wrong way on the track, or a power failure plunging the track into darkness.
Approve - It is about time that a rule permitting judges to stop an accident-marred race as safety for all participants (human and equine) is paramount.
Proposal 6 is a proposal requiring the clerk of course to provide a standardized comment code for each horse in a race. A standardized comment code would permit a comment (i.e., parked with cover, parked no cover, etc.) to be provided for each race line in a past performance program.
Approve - This is a rule long overdue. If every other pari-mutuel sport (greyhound, quarter horse, thoroughbred) can provide a race comment, why can't harness racing? At the present time, only a few tracks, including Balmoral and Maywood provide comments. It is amazing that the Meadowlands discontinued providing race comments several years ago.
Proposal 7 would require programs to provide information regarding a driver's choice to drive in a race; to indicate if the driver of a horse today was the result of; a driver's personal choice, a driver's commitment to a particular horse; a pre-emptive change by the trainer (seeing a driver has multiple choices, the trainer decided to select another driver believing his first choice will pick someone else); or the driver selection was determined by racetrack management (i.e., driving challenge, etc.).
Reject - No doubt some people use the driver's selection as a handicapping tool, but there are times a driver choses the wrong horse. Furthermore, what good will knowing a driver chose one horse over another (or several) unless you knew which horses the driver was originally named to? Putting this information in a program would be unwieldly and make reading the program even more complex for novices. A more workable solution would be for tracks to post on their websites the early driver changes as well as providing graphics before each race of this information for those who wish to handicap using this information.
Proposal 8 provides for the awarding of purse money earned by an offending horse to be given to the unoffending horse(s) with which the horse interfered with.
Proposal 9 would result in a horse being listed as being distanced if they go inside the pylons designated as being on the turn but no penalty will be given for going inside a pylon designated as being on the straight-away. This change deals with the section of the rules which deals with disqualifying a horse for going inside the pylons.
Reject - The intent of this proposal is to remove the discretion the judges currently have with regards to disqualifying of horses. Presently, the rule calls for a disqualification if in the opinion of the judges, the action gave the horse an unfair advantage over the other horses in the race. It would become a black and white decision. While I like the idea of removing the judge's discretion regarding the placement of a horse, the problem with this proposal is the lack of penalty for a horse going inside the pylons on the straight-away. If this rule was approved 'as is', a horse could conceivably squeeze through along the inside where clearance does not exist if a horse was not allowed to go inside of the straight-away with no penalty.
Proposal 10 - Would change the timing of races from fifths of a second to one hundredths of a second.
Conditional Reject - This proposal was made last year. Timing in hundreths of a second is overkill. However, timings should be changed to tenths of a second as it would make American standardbred racing consistent with other countries (except Canada) where timing are currently done in tenths.
Proposal 11 - Would require each horse to be individually timed in a race instead of the current calculation of a horse's finishing time by using one length as being equal to one fifth of a second.
Conditional Reject - Another proposal from last year returns. No doubt, horseplayers and purchasers of horses deserve accurate information. For handicapping purposes, a gambler would be better served with an accurate time instead of a guesstimate. Same thing goes for purchasors of horses; a person told a horse was race-timed in a certain time should be able to depend on the accuracy of this information. The problem comes with the cost of updating the equipment at each track. While the cost may not be prohibitive to tracks which host extended pari-mutuel meets, it is a different issue for country fairs. The approval of this rule may result in various county fairs deciding to cancel their racing programs instead of upgrading their equipment. Being there is a lot more fair racing in harness racing than with thoroughbreds, we can''t have a mix of actual versus estimated times. If funding could be provided to these fair associations to upgrade their equipment, I would have suggested approval of the proposal.
Proposal 12 is a proposal to track the percentage ownership of each owner and breeder per horse.
It has been announced that the 2010 Breeders Crown races will feature a two hour live show on MAVTV on October 9, starting at 9pm EDT in addition to a Road to the Breeders Crown show and will be hosted by the PA Harness Week team and presented in HD. MAVTV is available on many cable systems, FIOS as well as Direct TV. You will need to check with your cable provider to see if they offer MAVTV (usually offered as part of a premium package). While not a high exposure cable channel like ESPN, at least the Breeders Crown will be getting televised to race fans and the public; a rarity in our industry.
News Item: The Windsor Trio appeal their suspensions. With Windsor Raceway getting ready to resume racing, drivers Gene Piroski, Brad Forward, and Kevin Wallis have appealed the lengthy suspensions the Ontario Racing Commission handed down to the the trio for their participation in alleged race-fixing at Windsor Raceway in addition to their alleged involvement in the Michigan race-fixing scandal. Whether the three of them are actually seeking reinstatement or modification of their penalties remains to be seen. WIth their appeal, their legal team will gain access to the information used by the ORC to make their decision. However, the problems these three drivers have in Ontario may be the least of their problems as criminal charges regarding alleged criminal activity are expected to be announced shortly in Michigan.