In a close election, Ivan Axelrod won the Chairmanship of the USTA in a close vote over Joe Faraldo. The final vote tally was Ivan Axelrod 28 - Joe Faraldo 23. In comments after the election, Ivan Axelrod commented that despite what some people feel, Joe Faraldo and he are friends. In a comment to the uncertainty of the results, Axelrod mentioned he had jeans ready for tomorrow's sessions, but now he will keep those jeans in his suitcase.
As a result of the election outcome, it appears Jeff Gural will continue his attempt to lease the Meadowlands, hopefully saving the sport from a devastating loss. The sad thing is this was not the contest which should have been held; it should have been held for President.
President Phil Langley made comments regarding the year just passed. Langley defended the USTA from the criticism of it being run by a bunch of old people. According to Langley, there are 15 directors in their 30's and 40's and 16 directors in their 50's; meaning half of the directors would be considered young. In addition, he commented that those who claim the USTA doesn't do anything, don't realize what is getting done behind the scenes. Langley also commented there is representation from all segments of the sport; that no one segment controls what goes on within the USTA.
Of the successes from last year, Langley cited Back to the Track, and it was announced that the USTA is organizing a guaranteed Pick-4s at different tracks; with the size of the guaranteed pools varying depending on the size of the participating tracks. The USTA is planning an online survey of the fan base. With the cooperation of the member tracks, the USTA is hoping to begin sending a small magazine to the customers of individual tracks via email.
Langley defends the right of local tracks and horsemen to determine how many days a track runs. If slot tracks want to run everyday, they should be allowed to. As for those non-racino tracks, if horsemen are willing to race for purses at a level they are satisfied with, then let them race the days they want. He also claimed the concern that slot revenue is going to disappear is overblown. It may be my interpretation, but Langley appears to be satisfied racing for slot revenue as he feels it is impossible to get handle to increase enough to support current purse structures at racino tracks. With regards to takeout, Langley still contends that reducing takeout is a money loser for racetracks. He also feels the racing product is fine as is; perhaps the only need is to cut back on the number of exotic wagers per race to increase the pools for remaining exotic wagers offerd in that race. The bottom line is that Langley's opinions appear to be diametrically opposite to HANA's position. It makes me wish the election this year was not for Chairman of the Board, but President as Langley appears to be a perfect example of the type of person who will hinder any potential rennaisance in this sport, Keep the horsemen and tracks happy and don't pay attention to your customer.
Executive Vice President Mike Tanner, whose contract was renewed, spoke briefly about the National Pick4 and the success of Back to the Track which were ideas of horsemen and fans. The USTA is continuing to work on streamlining things to make things easier for the horsemen and the tracks.
The USTA financial results for the past year was reviewed. Membership dropped 3% and fees for registrations and transfers was off about 5%. Overall, revenue was down about 2%. Despite this, thanks to cost savings implemented, the USTA finished ahead of where they wanted to be. While the USTA finished ahead of last year's projections, the drop in membership and fees must be an item of concern.
Some late rule proposals were submitted. One was starting with horses born in 2011 to reduce the book stallions to gradually drop the number of mares to be covered to a 100 per year. The basis for this rule is to preserve the gene pool of the standardbred breed. This proposal was withdrawn for coming in after the deadline and will likely be discussed at next year's meeting. I am sure this rule, if brought back next year will cause a lot of controversy. Based on the comments heard, I expect few of the proposed rule changes will be approved this year.
Harness Tracks of America discussed the National Racing Compact and has made a determination to take no position on it. As a result, it seems the likelihood harness racing will not be taking advantage of it any time soon..
Trackmaster's contract with the USTA for past performances information ends on December 31 of this year. Both Trackmaster and the DRF/Harness Eye have expressed interest in providing the service in the new year. A recommendation on who will take over providing past performance information will be made within the next few weeks. Hopefully, the ability for tracks to provide free past performance information on their websites will be included in the next contract.
The National Pick 4 proposal was discussed further. The plan is to focus on the core bettor by offering a guaranteed Pick 4. A $100,000 was contributed from various sources, including several of the ADWs. The idea is to offer guaranteed pools at various tracks. The USTA goes to member tracks and suggests an appropriate level for guaranteeing Pick 4 pools with the USTA and tracks each matching half of any potential shortfall in the pool. Starting April 1, Northfield Park will offer guaranteed pools of $10,000 for the Pick 4s on Friday and Saturday nights. In addition, Balmoral will have a $10,000 guaranteed pool on Saturday nights and a $25,000 guarantee on Sundays. An offer is being made to Yonkers to join in this effort. In May other tracks will be become involved. The goal is to offer this product at different tracks on different days as well as different times and days of the week The intention is to offer free program pages for the wager. Eventually, the program is expected to expand into other bets, tracks, and even include multi-track wagers.
But again, the big news is the re-election of Ivan Axelrod means the drive to save the Meadowlands continues. We should be thankful there was not a contest for President this year because the re-election of Phil Langley in a contested election may have derailed the efforts instead.