With all the attention being geared towards the Maple Leaf Trot and the upcoming Hambletonian, there are a lot of stakes races which have been lost in the shuffle. The heat wave which has hit a large amount of North America has brought havoc to racing calendars with several harness tracks cancelling their racing cards. Mohawk cancelled Thursday night's card and hopes to race tonight. One expects them to make every attempt to race Saturday night regardless of what happens Friday night.
But before I provide my selections for the Maple Leaf Trot, here are a couple of short items. Later today, I will provde analysis of some of the other stakes races going on this weekend; specifically the Connors Memorial and the Battle of Lake Erie.
Hazel Park going to the runners? Unconfirmed rumors have it that members of the MHBPA had discussions with Hazel Park officials regarding running a thoroughbred meet at the conclusion of this years' harness meet. The genesis of this meeting is reported to be the fact Pinnacle Racecourse not racing this year due to financial difficulties. Until Mount Pleasant Meadows agreed to add thoroughbred racing to its mixed breed meet, Michigan thoroughbred horsemen faced the possibility of not being able to race this year which led to the supposed discussions with Hazel Park. Despite the need being gone for this year, depending on how the Mount Pleasant Meadows meet goes this year, there is always a possibility of the runners wanting to come back to Hazel Park (Hazel Park originally had the runners when it opened) and evicting the trotters with the harness dates being divided up between Northville Downs and Sports Creek Raceway. Crazy? Nothing is crazy in the state of Michigan where horse racing of all breeds is in desperate condition.
Belmont Park's recently concluded spring meet showed some dramatic increases. With two less racing days this year, the average attendance increased 18.6%; on-track handle, including simulcasting races, increased 78.2%; on-track handle on Belmont Park races alone increased 41.8%. Total handle (all sources) on all races (Belmont and Simulcast) increased 4.9% with total handle (all sources) on Belmont races was down 2.3%.
Obviously, Belmont's figures are showing dramatic increases due to the closure on NYCOTB this past December. While all source wagering on Belmont was down 2.3%, the bottom line for NYRA was much improved as the commissions on wagers made at Belmont more than offset the losses from simulcasting sites. Drawing from a megalopolis area, Belmont was able to draw roughly a 1,000 people more to the track each day and NYC gamblers bet with gusto, but this goes to show you how the expansion of ADWs and simulcasting has hurt the individual track's bottom line. Unfortunately, the local recovery NYRA has made is a unique situation, but racetracks would benefit from getting into the ADW game as a competitor to the existing ADWs to obtain higher commission rates..
There are people who fear racetracks getting into the ADW business as they feel it would be the end of rebates and higher fees. This would not happen. Thanks to anti-trust laws in the United States, tracks would have to offer similar terms to existing ADWs when it comes to purchasing the signal and they would be forbidden from predatory pricing; meaning they would not be able to crowd out the existing ADWs but instead would have to compete on even terms. The only difference would be instead of the ADWs retaining the commissions, a track consortium-operated ADW could run as a non-profit, taking only a commission rate necessary to cover expenses. The question is would harness tracks be willing to get into the ADW game or are have they been beaten into submission.
Del Mar Racetrack drew over 46,000 people on their opening day setting an all-time record. It goes to show you how there is a demand for boutique meets. That is something harness racing doesn't have as horsemen want to race as long as possible at one track. Perhaps if harness racing established boutique meets, we would get more people to the track and with higher on-track handles.
Meadowlands handle is down. Harness Racing Update reports the average handle on the Meadowlands is down this year 11.75%. Certainly disastrous numbers, but I am not as concerned as some may be. First of all, there has been little if any advertising of the Meadowlands meet this year and with the Meadowlands being under a stay of execution for most of the year and the one month shut down mid-meet, many gamblers just gave up on the track. With the Meadowlands situation now settled and an anticipated marketing campaign for the 2012 harness meet, I expect a lot of those gamblers to come back and a corresponding rebound in business. But let's not kid ourselves, with the lack of a racino and subsidies, racing at the Meadowlands will never return to the glory days. However, with lower operating costs coming in 2013 with the new grandstand, I expect the Meadowlands to become profitable once again.
As promised, here are my selections for the Maple Leaf Trot.
Mohawk 7th Race - Trot - $730,000; Maple Leaf Trot - 3yos and older
1 - Il Villaggio (Jamieson, 15-1) - Has been racing sharp of late. Do not throw out.
2 - Hot Shot Blue Chip (D Miller, 40-1) - Another been going well. Usually shoots self in foot. Don't ignore.
3 - Enough Talk (Macdonald, 15-1) - Not the horse we knew. Pass.
4 - Define The World (Macdonnell, 12-1) - Has not been able to beat the top two. Pass.
5 - Arch Madness (Sears, 1-1) - On a tear since return from Europe. Thinks odds are a little low.
6 - Four Starz Speed (Zeron, 40-1) - Seems to be out of his class. Pass.
7 - Triumphant Caviar (Ouellette, 40-1) - Occasional good effort but realistically, over his head.
8 - Premiere Steed (Filion, 40-1) - Intriguing sort. Second start on Lasix. Raced against Europes best.
9 - San Pail (Waples, 5-2) - Still the one to beat but must get a trip. Paid for going easy last week.
10 - Lucky Jim (A Miller, 4-1) - Seems to have returned to form but draws the worst of it.
Analysis: A wide open Maple Leaf Trot. Arch Madness is the obvious favorite but I can't see him at even money. The king of WEG, San Pail draws poorly which means he must get a trip. Il Villaggio and Hot Shop Blue Chip seem to be peaking. Premiere Steed is intriguing. Finished firth in first time start but raced against horses like Commander Crows, Orlando Sport and Wishing Stone in Europe. These horses may be easier. Will probably watch the race but take a chance at Premiere Steed hoping for the big upset at 40-1 or higher.
If not looking for the long shot, I would pick 1-9-10-8. Looking for the bomb, I will play 8 to win