To the Directors of the USTA,
As you meet in Columbus, OH this weekend for the annual USTA meeting, I would like to bring to your attention one question of the HANA Harness Racing Poll which was recently published. If you have not yet checked out the HANA Harness Racing Poll, let me point out question #60 which deals with the perceived biggest problems with Meadowlands Racing:
60. The biggest problem with Meadowlands racing is (please rank):
Problem 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Responses
Field Size 9.1% (14) 9.7% (15) 20.8% (32) 27.3% (42) 33.1% (51) 154
Lack of Flow/Movement 10.4% (16) 22.1% (34) 21.4% (33) 25.3% (39) 20.8% (32) 154
Driver "buddy, buddy" system
(letting each other up rail etc) 29.4% (48) 27.6% (45) 17.2% (28) 19.0% (31) 6.7% (11) 163
Questionable trainers 44.1% (71) 25.5% (41) 15.5% (25) 6.8% (11) 8.1% (13) 161
Poor Field Quality 9.6% (15) 14.7% (23) 23.7% (37) 20.5% (32) 31.4% (49) 156
In this question, 44.1% of the people feel that “Questionable” trainers are the number one problem with racing at the Meadowlands and I dare say it is not just one trainer they are talking about. Over two thirds of the people feel it is one of the top two problems with Meadowlands racing. The other big problem identified is the Driver “buddy, buddy” system which has almost 30% of the people saying it is the number one problem with 60% saying it is one of the top two problems with racing at the Meadowlands. When you consider what is wrong with harness racing these days, I would suggest you look at this question several times before your annual meeting starts this weekend.
Gamblers have enough trouble to beat the takeout rate, but their tolerance for dealing with a high takeout goes out the window when they perceive racing is not on the up and up.
I myself am one of those people whose biggest portion of my gambling payroll avoids the tracks where Meadowlands trainers maintain a regular presence. This is not to say there are no questionable trainers elsewhere, but it is my opinion these tracks have the largest concentration of less than ethical trainers, or at least the highest profile, thus highlighting the problem..
With things like high takeout rates and having to worry about which trainer has the best juice, is there any wonder why wagering on the Meadowlands product has gone down significantly this year? Of course, it didn't help that the 2010 fall meet was a disaster with the quality of racing in the dumps and the status of the Meadowlands in doubt and the fact the NJSEA has been running the Meadowlands like Monticello with regards to advertising (what advertising).
Handicappers understand overnight horses can’t race at the same level each week, but when you see overnight horses racing at the Meadowlands see dramatic form change virtually overnight when the trainer changes, it is all the wagering public needs to see. The court system requires concrete evidence to do something about a cheat. But for the gambler, the smell test is all they need to convict and make their decisions and from the poll results, it is safe to assume things have stunk a lot in East Rutherford.
The industry had the golden goose with the Meadowlands but with the Meadowlands not being able to exclude questionable trainers, it has become the proverbial outpost on the Mexican border where the bandits are able to run over the law (track officials). When you add to the fact most of these questionable trainers are stabled off track, it make it harder to keep order.
As for the driving “buddy, buddy” system, this is something which can be addressed. The judges should be handing down meaningful fines when horses are allowed to move up the rail during the race and they should be getting cited for their “half in half” out driving. You either stay in or your move out and make a move to the front. Racing half in and half out stagnating the chances for any movement has made the product stale. Where are the judges enforcing the rules about racing half in/half out?
There is hope for the Meadowlands if the Gural-led consortium takes over the Meadowlands; they will have the ability to set the tone that there is a new sheriff in town. Assuming they have private property rights (which being the property will be leased from a state agency, is not a sure thing), they will have the right to send trainers and drivers packing. I happen to believe the Meadowlands would do better without the super trainers and better with lesser known ‘clean’ trainers.
Gural and company will be able to tell the judges to strictly apply the driving rules, avoiding or reducing the “buddy buddy” system of driving. It is my hope they are able to introduce the classified system of racing in East Rutherford. Trainers can game the conditioned form of racing as well as the classified system. The one advantage of the classified system is if they are unable to get the cheats out of the Meadowlands due the lawyers, the classified system may be the tool track management will be able to used in order to encourage the cheaters to get out of Dodge.
Are thing as bad as it appears? Perhaps not, but it is clear business as usual is unacceptable. I suggest each of you read the HANA survey results for yourself and when you convene this weekend, you acknowledge business as usual is a recipe for disaster. I would ask you ask the tough questions this weekend and signal the times are changing. As a breed registry, a lot of the changes need to take place on the state level, but you can send a message things need to change. Yes, as directors you represent tracks, horsemen, and owners and there is no representation of gamblers at these meetings when it comes to voting. With slot revenue slowly disappearing, I would suggest you consider the impact of your decisions on the gamblers; those who butter the bread you eat.