First of all, thank to Joe FitzGerald for contributing to VFTRG during my extended 'absence'. While Joe tends to look at harness racing from a different angle than I do, it is certainly opinions worth hearing.
With my return from my enforced 2 1/2 week hiatus, it is time to briefly look back at some old news that took place during this period. Some of it may be done and over with, but some of the news is somewhat disturbing, especially with slots at the Meadowlands.
News Item - Meadowlands Holds Owner Responsible for Misplaced Loyalty. Owner Richard Berthiaume has been banned from the Gural tracks due to his loyalty to trainer Corey Johnson after he was given an indefinite suspension in Ontario. It turns out the two horses Johnson started in the Breeders Crown for Berthiaume apparently raced with excess Cobalt in their system. Since then, the owner has changed trainers, but it is apparently to late for Berthiaume; at least for the foreseeable future. I can see giving an owner a pass if the suspension was for a first time medication violation, but according to records, Johnson had a medication violation earlier in 2014. While owners are certainly entitled to maximize their profits, it is about time they are held to a 'know who you employ' principle.
All being said, while I support Gural's usage of exclusion, it needs to be consistent no matter who may be ensnared.
News Item - Nuncio Goes Continental. There will be no Father Patrick v. Nuncio duels this year baring a return for the Breeders Crown as Stefan Melander has decided to send his horse over to Sweden where he can race an entire season against 4 year olds instead of having to step up against older horses later in the year. Is it a lose for racing? Time will tell but it's Melander's horse so he is free to do what he pleases; hopefully done for the benefit of the horse and not a temper tantrum.
Gural and others are attempting to bring back more races for 4 year olds but they can only do so much; other tracks need to step up to the plate. Perhaps then we can keep our four year olds racing against their own all year.
News Item - Atlantic City Race Course Packs it In. Yes, it was thoroughbred racing and they raced only six days a year but the closing of ACRC is somewhat disturbing in that a facility which was primarily a large OTB couldn't make it go any further. Some would say with Favorites in Vineland being open, it would serve the same market but it is a 40 minute drive between the two facilities.
News Item - Michigan Horsemen Pay to Race. At Northville Downs, the upcoming meet requires horsemen to pay a 1% fee to start in a race. Granted, a $25 to $75 fee isn't huge but in a state with limited racing opportunities, it is going to hurt some horse,men. On the positive side, purse money will be paid through sixth place. All is not bad. Come March, late closing events exclusively for MI sired and bred horses will be contested; something sorely needed for Michigan horsemen. Also on the plus side is a willingness to add 26 additional race dates to the 44 day meet if the purse account holds up.
News Item - Virginia Horsemen Unite. With thoroughbred and standardbred horsemen in Virginia now out of a racing venue, the horsemen have formed an alliance which seeks to race at alternative sites (and possibly lease Colonial Downs) for a race meet geared towards Virginia breeding. Of course, it is easier said as state law will need to change in order for this to happen. While such alliances between the two breeds tend to be temporary, it is good to see they are able to work together to get their respective industries back up running.
Of course, Colonial Downs is looking to open on a limited basis with historical racing which would allow them to take the balance of the purse account remaining and spend it on high caliber races which will do nothing for Virginia racing and shut the standardbreds out.
News Item - Maven Bombs at Vincennes. I know there is criticism about the attention being lavished on Maven and to some degree it is concerned. That being said, few people decide to take on the expense and risks to compete against Europe's best. For that reason, Maven deserves some accolades. Besides, if the sport is going to continue to grow, horses need to head both ways over the Atlantic for the future is global.
News Item - End of Classified Racing at Meadowlands. It was good while it lasted, but after consultations with the SBOANJ membership, the Meadowlands is scrapping classified racing and returning to conditioned racing. Also, the trainers preference for those who supported spring and summer racing at the Meadowlands has been scrapped. The changes should be reflected starting with racing as of February 5 with horsemen having a meeting Friday night. As much as I personally loved classified racing, it was clear it was a struggle filling cards.
Sadly, the days of 12 horse fields and 1 1/8 mile races are concluding as well. While the Meadowlands is not sending races to France, it is clear abandoning these races is a blow for making the Meadowlands product desirable overseas where overflow fields are welcomed.
Also of note is the purses for the lower classes has dropped with open $12,500 claimers racing for $7,000 with $10,000 NJSO claimers competing for a paltry $8.125.
News Item - About Slots at the Meadowlands. Being a resident of New Jersey, pardon me for being cynical when it comes to slots coming to the Meadowlands. Should slots come to the Meadowlands? Yes. Is the Meadowlands a logical location for a casino? Yes. So what is the concern? The recent deal to shutter the Izod Arena at least through 2017 if not longer or permanently. Granted, most concert events in Northern New Jersey have headed to the Prudential Arena in Newark, NJ and the Izod Arena has been losing money, but along with deciding to close the arena, it turns out the NJSEA made an agreement with the Newark arena which will limit the size and type of shows allowed at a reopened Izod Arena.
The point is don't underestimate the political power Essex (and Hudson) County holds sway over the state legislature so a casino in either of those counties over the Meadowlands i not out of the question. Bergen County politicos need to be on their toes unless they want to see slots elsewhere.