For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who Are the Poll Voters?

The Hambletonian/Breeders Crown Poll for this week has been released. No surprise that Lucky Jim continues to lead the standings as the number one harness horse in the country, followed by Southwind Tempo. Muscle Hill moves up to number three (was number four last week).

Yes, a horse that qualified last week moved up in the standings. On an "impressive" record of two for two for this year with earnings of over $127,000 this year, Muscle Hill comes in as number three while Not Enough who is seven for seven this year with earnings of over $552,000 debuts in the poll tied for ninth.

Am I the only one who sees the absurdity in this?

Who are the voters voting in this poll? Are these people who just read headlines or do they have a vested interest in a horse doing well in the poll? Is Not Enough being penalized because she can only have one foal a year where a horse like Muscle Hill can cover a book of 120? If this is a popularity poll, then let's call it the Hambletonian/Breeders Crown Popularity Poll and be done with it. The results of the poll should reflect what has transpired, not what may transpire.

If we wish to be treated as a major sport then we need to have transparency with the poll. I am not saying we need to know how each voter is voting but we have the right to know the qualifications of the voters.

The fans and those in the industry deserve this.

A Night at the Races, Admirals Express

The people at Churchill Downs have gotten things right with their introduction of night racing once they got through the pains of the first week. This week Churchill Downs is offering childcare at the track. For a fee of $25 ($20 for each additional child), the kids get dinner, a tour of the track, pony rides and outdoor games from 5:00pm to 11:30pm. The event is open for children from 5 to 12 years old. Kudos to Churchill Downs; this is a great step towards making racing an acceptable entertainment option for families.

I suggest harness tracks that race on weekends during the summer months offer such programs.

One thing which may have escaped notice is Admirals Express' effort in the final race on NA Cup night at Mohawk. Admirals Express was previously retired but brought back as he supposedly missed racing. Well, to see a former FFA now racing in nw8000l6 races is embarrassing. At what point is enough enough? While not quite the same as seeing former Hambletonian winner Shiaway St Pat racing in $2,500 claimers, it is time to put an end to this. Time to send Admirals Express off to a well deserved retirement, for good.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

True Confessions

Okay, I admit it. I hate playing the races using the Internet. Yes, there are times you can't get to the track and there is a horse you want to follow or there is a special race or card you want to catch and you don't have the ability to drive/fly to Lexington, Delaware or another distant location and for those times, you are glad you have your ADW. That being said, I must come clean.

On the whole, I find racing over the Internet boring. Quite honestly, after the big races were completed last night at Mohawk, I was so happy to turn off the computer; I would check the rest of the results this morning basically to see how Admirals Express did (it is time to re-retire him).

Now before you decide never to read this blog again and/or swear never to invite me to another meeting or reach the conclusion that I am an unrepentant heretic, let me explain myself.

I love harness racing; that has not changed. If I have the chance to get to the track, I'll be there. Give me a chance to plan a vacation and my wife knows there will be a harness track in the vicinity. No live racing? No problem, I'll head to the track for simulcasting or even go to an off track wagering facility if I can. Racing over the Internet? I find myself watching TV, doing other things, falling asleep while I am watching the races. Why? Is it because I play only one track at a time and there is too much free time? No, that's not it.

It's lonely. That's right, there is no social component to the experience. I guess in this respect humans are like horses, we are herd animals; we like being with others. Bet through my ADW and I am sitting there alone figuring out my picks and wagering; no social interaction with anyone other than Lucky (a Husky/Pharaoh Hound mix). When I go to the track or an OTW facility, I have the chance to socialize, even if not about racing while I play the races. I can debate with others why I made my selection as they tell me why they made their picks. We never seem to change each other's opinions but it makes the day/evening enjoyable. I can celebrate my big score with others.

Look, if you are a professional gambler, who needs the social interaction? However, if you are like the majority of people who play the races, racing is an entertainment option. Speed up the races, offer new wagering options, make the races more accessible over the Internet, lower the takeout. However, if you do this all in a vacuum and disregard the social component, we are doomed to failure.

The Internet is no doubt and important source of revenue for racing. If you want to make the experience more appealing, build a social component into your application; have a Facebook type application where you can chat with your friends while you discuss the card and selections. However, for some people that won't be enough. Have OTWs? Add a dance club which opens after your primary races are done (your own signals). Racetrack? Add a dance club, concert hall and multiple dining options in addition to your slot machines. You need to make your facilities 'destinations'; a place where people can come together and socialize. Make racing part of the social experience.

Then watch the herd come home.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

North American Cup Night Recap

There was some great stakes action at Mohawk last night as expected. Here is a brief recap of those races.

1st - North America Cup – Consolation II

Straight Shooting was sharp in this race. My choice, Ideal Danny got involved late and made it close.

3rd – Goodtimes Trot Final

We may have our challenger to Muscle Hill in Federal Flex. Canada’s 2yo trotter of the year picked up his second win of the year in the Goodtimes Trot (1:54.2). The only issue is he was all out to win and his connections admit he needs to step it up to beat Muscle Hill. His next start is in the Stanley Dancer Memorial at the Meadowlands. An impressive fourth tonight was Southern Rocketop. While Rocketop has been racing primarily in Illinois restricted stake races, he has shown himself capable of competing against grand circuit caliber horses.

5th – Fan Hanover Final

Not Enough upset Yellow Diamond by sitting a pocket trip in 1:50. Yellow Diamond had no excuse as the fractions went her way. Tracy Brainard was the trainer for the top three finishers for Bulletproof Enterprises.

6th - NA Cup - Consolation I

Arctic Warrior got out at the end to nail my choice, Bay of Sharks in 1:49.3. Barber Pole is obviously not the horse many though he might have been as he never was a factor in the race.

7th - NA Cup - Final

Just the kind of race you want to see; a take no prisoner race where they kept moving. Well Said won in a stakes, track and Canadian record for 3yopc of 1:48.1 (tied the all age Canadian record). Art Colony finished 2nd and after a very aggressive drive, Keep It Real finished a decent 3rd.

9th - Elegantimage - Final

Argh. I hate it when my second choice beats you. Only consolation is my first choice was not a favorite (unlike in the 12th race when my winning 27-1 second choice did far better than my 3-1 first choice). Celebrity Deville won the Elegantimage Final in 1:54.3 at 12-1. That being said, I didn't see anything in this race to indicate this is a 3yo trotting filly rising to the top of the class.

10th - Fan Hanover - Consolation

Ginger and Fred ran like an AE in a final should race. While she won by a 1/2 length she basically controlled the race from the start to win in 1:52. Based on her win this week and her close finishes behind Yellow Diamond at Pocono, it seems like Dave Palone has a live mount the rest of this year. I expect her to be a factor in the big races she may be eligible for.

Over all, with the 3yo picture remaining muddled (with the exception of the possible Federal Flex-Muscle Hill matchup), there remains plenty of great racing to be had. While we may have been spoiled last year with the exploits of Somebeachsomewhere and Deweycheatemnhowe, we may just have to console ourselves with exciting racing instead. That being said, there is still time for someone to rise above the field.

The Hills and Historic Week

At Yonkers last night, Russell Hill (a horse we previously discussed) won his division of the NYSS for 3yo trotting colts in 1:59.4 on an off track in a wire-to-wire effort. While I thought Russell Hill and Donttellmywife might be dueling each other in the NYSS this year, it has become apparent that Russell Hill has become the dominant 3yo trotting colt in NY and one has to wonder when he will step out of the comfort of the sire stakes program to take on open company. I know Russell Hill is eligible for the Hambo, but even though he has previously won over the Meadowlands oval, he has to step up to show he is the caliber of a Hambo winner.

Muscle Hill qualified on Thursday in 1:55.1 to win by over eighteen lengths. His next pari-mutuel start is on July 17 in the Stanley Dancer Trot. Muscle Hill is certainly a talented horse but qualifiers are not the same as a regular race (see what happened to Buck I St Pat last week at the Meadowlands). While trainer Greg Peck is doing all he can to have Muscle Hill ready, you have to wonder with only one more purse start on the schedule before the Hambletonian eliminations, if this is the year where the Donato Hanover-Deweycheatemnhowe road to the Hambo will be derailed.

Next week the Grand Circuit is making two stops. First, Grand Circuit racing at the Meadowlands will consist of the Historic Series, races which used to be held at Historic Track in Goshen when there used to be a short pari-mutuel meet. While there will be a lot of two year old races during Historic week, it is always an enjoyable week of top flight racing.

The Grand Circuit is also stopping at Historic Track. If you happen to be in town for Historic Week at the Meadowlands, take a short trip (just over an hour) up to Historic Track for some competetive racing, albeit it non wagering. There will be more than enough time to get back to the Meadowlands for the evening card.

Just checked the schedule of TVG for tonight. While the entire Mohawk card is not being broadcast the stakes events are well represented on their TV schedule. Check the races out if you can, our year end champions may be racing tonight.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Other Stakes Action, Promoting in New Jersey (Lack Of)

While the attention of North American harness racing fans is drawn to Mohwak Raceway this Saturday night, there is still some other races of note going on elsewhere.

Tonight at the Meadowlands, is the $246,000 Lady Liberty Final for FFA Pacing Mares. Southwind Tempo, Darlins Delight and Tug River Princess will be competing for the winner's share of the purse. Being Southwind Tempo and Tug River Princess are coupled, don't expect a big mutuel payoff. In the Invitational Trot is Lucky Jim, now going for his 13th straight win. What adds a little intrigue to this race is that Lucky Jim broke in his qualifier, finishing 3rd, 33 lengths behind. Likeabatoutofhell may be the one to snap the streak.

Saturday night at Northfield Park is the $100,000 Battle of Lake Erie. While no marquee horse is in the race, for those in Ohio, it is an opportunity to see a quality race. I will look at Blueridge Western to post a minor upset.

As for promoting the sport locally, on the Delmarva circuit, you have the show Post Time with host Heather Vitale-Moffett This weekly show highlights racing at Dover, Harrington and Ocean Downs and has been running consecutively since July of 1998. The show is both entertaining and informative and spreads interest in the sport. If you have not seen the show, take a look. In Pennsylvania, there is PA Harness Week which features racing from Pocono Downs and Chester Downs. What show covers racing in New Jersey? None. I understand that things are not going well in New Jersey for harness racing and when things get tough, the tendency is to cut spending. However, how is the industry putting their best foot forward to the New Jersey public? They aren't.

Let's call this fictional show New Jersey in Harness. As part of this show, not only do we show racing from the Meadowlands and Freehold, but we will also highligh our training and breeding farms as well as the human interest stories which will show how racing is important to the state. In other words, the people of New Jersey gets exposed to the benefits of racing while being shown it is not a sport just for degenerate gamblers. Not only will this help in the campaign to get VLTs at the tracks but it may help develop new fans. Does producing a weekly show cost money? Sure. But what is the cost of not doing it?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mohwak Super Stakes Night, Admirals Express

Saturday night is a great night of racing at Mohwak Raceway. Anyone that has a chance to attend should make an effort to do so. I am hoping TVG will actually cover the big races (they didn't cover the eliminations last week). Here is my recap of all the big races that night.

Please note these are the horse I feel will do the best, not necessarily the best bets (handicapping versus gambling) also it should be noted I don't follow Canadian racing as much as I follow it in the states.

1st Race - NA Cup - Consolation II
2 - Ideal Danny 2-1
5 - Mighty Me - 15-1
8 - Straight Shooting - 9/2

3rd Race - Goodtimes Trot - Final (3yotc)
2 - Duded Up - 9-2
4 - Federal Flex - 1-1
3 - Southern Rocketop - 6-1
Duded Up is undefeated this year (3 for 3; did not race as a 2yo). Federal Flex earned over $500,000 last year but Duded Up was more impressive in his elimination win so I am going with him. Southern Rocketop won his elimination last week but up till then was racing in state restricted races. A win by Souther Rocketop would not shock me but right now I think he is a good mid-west grand circuit horse.

5th - Fan Hanover Stakes - Final (3yofp)
3 - Shacked Up - 8-1
5 - Yellow Diamond - 1-1
2 - Windsong Filou - 40-1
Yes, I am picking against Yellow Diamond. Yellow Diamond is certainly the best 3yo filly pacer around but for $680,000 someone may attempt to take Yellow Diamond on early. In that case, Shacked Up may be the one to pick up the pieces with Brian Sears driving. Windsong Filou may pick up the pieces to grab third.

6th - NA Cup Consolation I
10 - Bay of Sharks - 5-1
9 - Nob Hill High - 8-1
5 - Johnny Z - 10-1

7th - NA Cup - Final (3yocp)
6 - Keep it Real - 3-1
5 - Well Said - 2-1
3 - Dial or Nodial - 4-1
While I love Dial or Nodial, I think his last two races were tough and it may take a toll on him. Keep it Real moves in and that may be enough to turn the tables on Well Said. I expect Dial or Nodial to take third. If Dial or Nodial wins this week he may be the 3yo colt pacer we will be talking about the rest of the year.

9th - Elegantimage Stakes - Final (3yoft)
3 - Elusive Desire - 6-1
5 - Celebrity Deville - 7-1
8 - Selfish Princess - 8-1
The first question being asked is how don't I like Windsong Soprano? Well Elusive Desire went faster winning her elimination and while did not fare as well as Windsong Soprano did in their respective divisions of the Casual Breeze, she went faster and had a more difficult trip. Looking for the upset. Celebrity Deville looked horrible at the Meadowlands but finished 2nd in the Casual Breeze and in her elimination of the Elegantimage to Celbrity Deville; she seems to be turning into a nice filly. Selfish Princess may get third to cause pain in the slight chance the bridge jumpers take a chance on Windsong Soprano. Bottom line, this is the final which has the best chance for a major upset.

10th - Fan Hanover - Consolation
2 - Ginger and Fred - 1-1
9 - Kabbalah Karen B - 8-1
6 - Notjustaprettyface - 10-1

13th - nw8000l6cd
The only reason why I mention this race is Admirals Express is in it. While he is no longer the horse he once was, the Silver Gladiator is always fun to watch. The fact he is still going at 13 is a credit to him. I understand he likes to race but trust the owners will know when to stop with him. He is a war horse that deserves people knowing when to say enough. The sport owes it to him.

Overall, a great night of racing. Even if you don't get a chance to wager, you want to watch these races even if you need to see the replays. Best of luck to those playing these races.

Rosecroft Rises?

In an article in the Baltimore Sun, there apparently is a tentative agreement for the former owner of Rosecroft Raceway to repurchase the track out of bankruptcy. It is noted that the former owner had filed bankruptcy for Rosecroft when he owned it but it is pointed out that Rosecroft was successful, it was other real estate deals that forced the bankruptcy. Mark Vogel, the prospective purchaser has indicated he intends to resume racing as soon as possible.

Before the deal can close, there needs to be a resolution with the Maryland t-bred interests regarding money owed them for allowing Rosecroft to simulcast the runners. It is also noted that Vogel is hoping to bring slots to Rosecroft eventually, something not allowed under current Maryland law.

With other horse tracks closing, Hollywood Park is likely racing its last meet and Ellis Park has announced they are closing after this year after the KY slot bill failed, it is nice to see Rosecroft may be coming back to life as an active racing facility.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Get your Programs, Hambletonian Poll, Year End Awards Criteria

Get Your Programs

Some of the smaller tracks in Canada offer nightly free programs on the Internet for their races in order to get online gamblers to wager on their product. Some of the tracks that offer this free service are Fraser Downs, Windsor Raceway, and Flamboro Downs. Kudos to them and shame on the larger tracks for not offering free programs.

Why are we not offering free programs in the United States online? I understand Equibase, under their Trackmaster banner and the racetracks which sell the programs have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo but perhaps there is a win-win situation available. First of all, I am not suggesting a full feature program that Trackmaster sells with each horse's individual race times, speed and class ratings, highlighting horses in the summary that are in today's races, etc., but the 'traditional' program that the track sells. If a gambler wishes to have the additional information, they will still need to purchase a program either online or at the track.

From what I see, there are two scenarios. First of all, the web public has accepted advertisements for free content on the Internet. Either Trackmaster can offer through racetrack websites free programs (only for the host track) and to make up for the revenue loss, they can add advertisements to the programs (perhaps on the top of each race or on pages between the races). The other option is have the tracks purchase the rights to the program pages and they can add the advertisements to the programs themselves.

The bottom line is racetracks should gain increased gambling dollars by making this move. Some online gamblers play certain tracks but there may a race elsewhere which will intrigue them. Without a program with at least the basic information, they will not wager on it. It is about time the gamblers are thrown a bone. Racetracks will benefit from it.

Hambletonian Poll Question

Muscle Hill is ranked number four in the latest Hambletonian Poll. While I expect Muscle Hill to be in the top three by the end of the year, at this point it is premature to rank him that high. For example, Yellow Diamond has five wins in seven starts this year. Why are we ranking horses on anticipation of what they will do rather than what they have done this year? Let's look at their records this year thus far:

Muscle Hill - 2 for 2; winning an elimination of the NJSS and the NJSS final. Yes, two wins in sire stakes competition in a state where the breeding industry is on the decline. His fastest win time this year is 1:53.1 and he has seasonal earnings of $127,400.

Yellow Diamond - 5 for 7; she won the James M. Lynch Memorial at Pocono Downs (open company) in 1:49.4, won her elimination of the Lynch Memorial and in her last start won an elimination of the Fan Hanover stakes at Mohwak; winner of $199,801 thus far this year.

Can someone tell me how a horse that won two races this year in state bred races is ranked higher than a horse that won five races this year setting a track record in an open company stakes race? I don't argue that Muscle Hill may finish ahead of Yellow Diamond when the year is over, but lets rank them based on their accomplishments thus far.

Year End Awards Criteria

Is it too much to ask our stars to race rather than being overly managed? For the last two years, especially on the trotting side, we have had many of our 3yo stars avoiding anything other than the mile (or 7/8th mile) tracks. In one case last year, Deweycheatemnhowe skipped the Yonkers Trot to race in a minor stakes race at the Meadowlands. Last I saw, harness racing is conducted on 1/2, 5/8th and mile (7/8th) tracks and a lot of these tracks offer great purses for stake races. Is it to much to ask for our stars to race more often on different size tracks?

We can't force owners to race their horses, but we can insist if they want to be able to say they won a year end award they need to meet certain criteria. We already do it by requiring a horse to have no drug positives during their campaign. In order for a horse to win a year end honor they should be required to have a minimum of 15 starts (8 starts for 2yos) during the campaign year and at a minimum, during their campaign they need to start at least once on a 1/2 mile, 5/8th mile and mile (or 7/8th) track either in a stakes race not limited to state breds, or an age appropriate open race not restricted to non-winners or earning limits. For 3yos, they should be required to race in at least two triple crown legs.

After all, shouldn't a champion be able to take on all comers on different size tracks? Let's reward those that can.

Kudos to the PA Horsemen: In an article from Harness Link the PHHA and MSOA have contributed money to establish a Pennyslvania Sires Stake Stallion Series for 2yos that are not quite ready for prime time. This is being done by donating a portion of their slot revenue. Through their generosity, owners will be more inclined to buy PA-sired horses knowing there is another path to try to recoup their investment. This may help alleviate the problem at Pocono Downs where they tend to make the two year olds race against older horses in overnight races which has been discussed before in this blog.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Share Some of that Slot Money with the Bettors

In an editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News concerning the current revenue from the VLTs, the writer is wondering why the vast majority of slot money is going to horse racing while the state is having to curtail social programs. Fortunately, the editorial recognizes the horse racing industry is important to the state, but suggests when the state decides to add table games (they will), that the legislature revisit the percentage that goes to racing; others are not so generous in their comments and would like to cut racing out totally from slot revenues.

The horsemen in all states have certainly gone through some lean times. I remember $2,500 claimers racing for a $1,200 purse at Pocono Downs but now with slot revenue the bottom level $5,000 claimers are racing for $4,400 purses. Those that have endured through the dark days are deservedly reaping the rewards for persevering.

While the horsemen in racino states are enjoying a renaissance, maybe it is time for the horsemen to fight for the bettors by working to get the takeout reduced by offering a small part of their share of the slot revenue to make up for a reduction in the takeout. The Pennsylvania product is not bettable; the heavy hitters refuse to wager into pools with a 35% takeout on trifectas and superfectas. As a result, so little of the purse money comes from actual wagering. It is a known fact that lower takeouts result in more money being wagered churned so what is lost by cutting the takeout is made up by volume. By conceding a small portion of the slot proceeds, the product can become more bettable, handles will increase, and more people will show up at the track.

Why should horsemen in particular lead the charge? Horsemen have the most to lose. Harrahs has made it known they would love to get rid of racing at Chester if they could; the profits from slots are basically financing racing and racing is contributing little to its own upkeep. Fortunately, Harrahs needs racing in order to offer slots, for now. Most racinos have the same love-hate relationship with racing. Unless racing gets more fans showing up and getting the handle growing the time may come when Harrahs and others get their wish. We need to make racing relevant again. Offering new wagering options and lowering the takeout is a significant part of the solution.

No one likes giving up money but if the horsemen want a long future for themselves and their children, it is necessary to race for a little less now and have a place to race in a few years. Having asked the states for assistance to preserve racing, perhaps it is time for racing to ask the states to help the bettors. Giving up a small portion of the slot money to cover part of the takeout is a good start. Harness racing's survival may depend on it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Handicapping Review; Fan Hanover, NA Cup, Goodtimes

Let's me pose the following scenario:

Horse A - Won three races in a row including a stakes race in their last start. Clearly the horse is arguably at her career best. Odds are 11-1

Horse B - Has been very impressive this year but finished off the board in their last start a month ago. Before that, the horse had been virtually flawless racing in the same class as horse A. Five days before today's race the horse qualified impressively winning by 10 lengths (being parked a half mile). Odds are 1-5.

Who do you bet?

Well that scenario played out yesterday at the Meadowlands for the $100,000 Matchmaker Stakes for FFA Trotting Mares. Horse A was Classic Lane and Horse B was Buck I St Pat. We all know the racing press has been understandably gushing over Buck I St Pat and she deserved it. As a result, the wagering public listened to the press too much that they ignored basic handicapping principles and made Buck I St Pat so much of an overlay that you were given a massive overlay on the eventual winner Classic Lane.

Remember Buck I St Pat was virtually unbeatable prior to her trip to Sweden for the Elitlopp. In the Elitlopp, Buck I St Pat went off stride before the race and actually was impressive in that she caught the field and at one point was threatening in fourth position before the break caught up to her and she tired to finished seventh. That was May 23. This past week on June 16, Buck I St Pat goes the Chester Downs and raced an impressive qualifier winning by 10 lengths.

Classic Lane had obviously been racing her career best of late. She won an Open at the Meadowlands and then went on to win a preliminary leg of the Classic Series and then the final at Mohawk Raceway. The Classic Series is probably as tough as it goes now class-wise for older trotters.

The Matchmaker being a $100,000 race is one of the few big money races out there for older trotting mares so you know the competition is going to be fierce. While Buck I St Pat was impressive in a qualifier, qualifiers never are as competitive as a race mile so while Buck I St Pat was parked a half mile, most likely she just raced on the outside because they wanted to give her an easy warm up; just go easily until the time was right to win. So for all practical purposes, Buck I St Pat hadn't raced competitively for a month; the possibility of her being short was real.

So take all the facts and then ask yourself, are you going to bet a champion that has been off a month at 1-5 or are you going to take a horse that has been racing during this month and has been sharp winning a $200,000+ stake race in her last start at 11-1?

Those that remember the basic rule that qualifiers are not competitive races but merely are to show a horse can meet the time standard for the meet wagered on the eventual winner and collected handsomely. If there was a mismatch on talent, then maybe you could see wagering on the 1-5 shot but when there was a horse in the same level at her career best, it was time to take a shot. Could Buck I St Pat won the race? Sure she could have but when you consider the situation the odds clearly were skewed incorrectly; if the champion was ever going to be beat, yesterday was the day. The smart handicappers went with the eventual winner and were proven right as Buck I St Pat tired and beat only one horse.

There are definitely times when a horse can win of a qualifier, especially when they raced two qualifiers in a row to get up to form. But the fact remains in these situations when a horse may be vulnerable, you just have to take a chance; especially when the odds are so skewed.

Three Year Olds at Mohawk

The three year old trotting division may becoming a little more exciting. Obviously Muscle Hill is the one to beat but Federal Flex went wire to wire in his elimination of the Goodtimes Trot at Mohawk on Saturday for his first start of the year. Southern Rocketop, in his division, followed up a track record at Balmoral in hist last start with a win in the third elimination. Being he has been racing in state bred races prior to Saturday night, he has more to prove but he has taken the first step in beating a field of open trotters.

As for three year old pacing fillies, Yellow Diamond continues on the march with her win in the first elimination of the Fan Hanover. Not Enough won her elimination but will be hard pressed to knock off Yellow Diamond. Clearly Yellow Diamond appears to be the star of her division.

As for the marquee division, the 3yo pacing colts, Dial Or Nodial was very impressive winning in 1:50.2 in his elimination of the NA Cup after being parked the whole way. If I Can Dream won his elimination while Barber Pole and Passmaster Hanover finished 4th and 7th respectively. While not winning, I am not ready to write off Barber Pole yet and as for Passmaster Hanover, his race can be excused. Mr Wiggles shocked in his elimination. Over all, I think Dial or NoDial is starting to emerge as the best in this muddled division.

As a side note, based on the finish of eliminations Saturday night, we are seeing Yonkers Raceway is beginning to attract the big horses in the their stakes with an elimination winner in the Lismore (Not Enough) and Art Rooney (If I Can Dream) winning their eliminations at Mohawk. Don't expect to see Muscle Hill going to the Yonkers Trot as these days, the 3yo trotting colts seem to be racing 'managed' campaigns to maximize their breeding value. It is a shame they don't try the half miler.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Requesting a Fair Start

Racing fans, your help is needed.

How many times have you seen a horse that goes off stride or refuse the gate just as the starting gate begins moving or more than an eighth of a mile before the race starts? You may have wagered on the horse or others may have. In Ontario and other provinces in Canada the bettor is protected by the 'fair start' rule. In the United States? You become a victim of a money grab; your wagers goes south long before the race begins.

While I understand the need to eliminate recalls in these types of situations, when the old recall rules were in effect, recalls were held because a horse was considered non-competitive and the bettor was protected by having a recall. Well, if the horse was uncompetitive in the past, what now make that horse competitive? Nothing. In effect, the racing commissions have not adequately protected the gambler's interest to the benefit of the tracks. The result? The few newbies who attend the races and have their wagers go up in smoke as a result of the lack of a fair start rule head for the gates and never return. Those fans/gamblers who continue to play the game may wager less because they are not assured of a fair start or they finally get burnt by an offending horse and they decide that was the last straw; they deal with the high takeouts but enough is enough and they head to the gates and never return and turn their attention to the thoroughbreds or poker.

What can you do? Write a letter/email your racing commission and ask them to adopt a fair start rule like they have in Ontario (refer them to rule 22.03 (k) and (l)). In some states, sending them a request like this will result in it being put on the racing commission's public agenda and will be published for public comment. Such a request has already been sent to the NJRC. It may not result in a change, but at least there is a chance. If it gets published for public comment in your state, it is important to get support for the proposed rule change so when it gets to that point, ask your fellow horse players in your state to send in their comments in support of the change.

While a request may have been sent to New Jersey, we need to get this brought to the attention of all commissions which handle harness racing; if it is a national movement there is a better chance of getting a change than if it remains an isolated local request.

Not a good letter writer? I have provided a sample letter below, all you need to do is copy and modify it for your use. Then just mail or email it in.

Dear Racing Commission Chairperson,

I would like to petition for a change to the recall rule to adopt language similar to the Ontario Racing Commission’s rule regarding a ‘fair start’. The following is an excerpt from the Ontario recall rule (22.03) concerning fair starts:

(k) The Fair Start Pole is a pole erected at the point approximately 200 feet before the
start. The Fair Start Pole shall be yellow in colour and shall protrude at least two feet
above the inner rail.
(l) If a horse has not reached the Fair Start Pole when the horses are released at the
starting point by the starter, the Judges shall cause the inquiry sign to be displayed
immediately and shall request the horse be scratched from the mutuels.

It is my belief that the public’s interest was not adequately protected when the current recall rule was modified to no longer have recalls when a horse was deemed non-competitive for refusing the gate or going off-stride before the recall pole. I understand and accept the logic that having recalls for these situations can result in a disadvantage to those well mannered horses by requiring multiple start attempts. I agree with the concept of eliminating recalls but object to the fact that monies bet on such horses that refuse to come to the gate or go off-stride before the former recall pole are not refunded as it neglects the public’s (horse player) interest.

Under the old rule such horses were considered non-competitive and recalls were ordered. All of a sudden such horses are now considered competitive? No one can tell you that a horse that is hopelessly outdistanced before the race even begins is competitive. On numerous occasions I have seen horses refuse the gate or be off-stride well before the 1/8th pole and those that wagered on those horses can throw their tickets away well before the race begins.

I do recognize the tracks’ interest in not refunding the wagers; it results in lost handle. However, how many times will a horse player/gambler accept this ‘money grab’ before they decide to find alternative gambling options instead of wagering on harness racing, especially newcomers to the sport? If the argument is that the race has already ‘begun’, then why are we allowing wagering to continue after the race begun? Using this logic the pools should already be closed once the starting gate begins to move.

This current rule is ‘detrimental’ to the interest of harness racing in that it is counterproductive to the development of new racing fans and increased handle. In effect, the track wins in the short run, but they, as well as the sport, lose out in the long run. For these reasons, I urge that the recall rule be modified as requested to include a provision for a fair start.

Thank you for considering this request,

Your Name
Your Address

You can make a difference and protect your interests. All it takes is finding the person to mail/email the request to. We are not asking for much, just a fair shake.

UPDATE: The Fair Start proposal has now been placed on the agenda for the August meeting of the NJRC scheduled for August 19th at Monmouth Park. More details will be forthcoming.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Conference, 2yos in PA

Yesterday I attended a conference sponsored by the USTA. It was a very productive meeting where many issues were discussed regarding integrity, the feasibility of a commissioner, coordination of race dates and simulcasting issues with representation from various areas of the industry. More information regarding the meeting will be forthcoming in the near future.

Our two year olds are starting to move from the baby races into the pari-mutuel races. A look at the condition sheets at The Meadows and Chester show a few 2yo races. Pocono Downs? For the most part 2yos are being asked to race against 3yos and 4y0s.

In the past, the PA tracks did not card 2yo overnight races due to the lack of horses. Until this year, if you were not grand circuit caliber, you had the choice of racing in the PASS, the fair circuit, or race out of state. With the dramatic growth of the PA breeding industry thanks to slots, there are enough 2yos looking to race that the Meadows and Chester are now carding races for them. Pocono Downs for the most part does not. This coming week, the condition sheet is offering one race for 2yo fillies, which has a preference for Reynolds eligibles.

We understand that 2yo races are not attractive to bettors due to the horses being green and often breaking.. However, it is not reasonable and possibly detremental to ask a baby to go against older horses. True a 2yo that is non-winners of two can compete against non-winners of one and those that are non-winners of three are allowed to go against non-winners of two, but the fact remains 2yos that are still developing are going against horses that are physically stronger and more developed. With the explosion in the PA breeding industry there is no reason why Pocono could not card more than one 2yo race.

Two year olds should not be racing against older horses at all during the year. All extended pari-mutuel tracks should be required to offer at least two 2yo races a week starting in July. If there are not enough horses to fill the race so be it, but the races should be offered. There ought to be a rule.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Another Track on the Ropes

Lebanon Raceway in Ohio is on the ropes. According to a USTA report, Lebanon has until July 16 to post their performance bond in order to race their fall meet. Failure to post the bond will result in the fall meet being cancelled as their license will be revoked. Odds are that would be the end of Lebanon Raceway.

You would never have thought that harness racing in Ohio, would be in such a precarious situation, but as in other states it is hard to keep things going. Some of the politcos are against expanding gambling, yet the state has severe have budget problems.

Who are they kidding? Why are these politicos being so stubborn? Moral arguments make no sense. Unless they close the borders to Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia, and Michigan the people of Ohio are gambling on slots. How much money is flowing out the state which could be used to keep programs for Ohio's neediest intact without raising taxes, not to mention supporting Ohio's vast breeding industry as well as the racetracks (a revenue source).

If the legislature refuses to approve the VLTs the people of Ohio should vote the bums out and elect people who will do what is best for all the citizens of Ohio.

Meadowlands Update: The decline continues. Read this article for more information.

Trot Fest, Snow White, Weekend Stakes

Time for Trot Fest

Standardbred Canada is following up the Extreme Racing program for the last two years with a new program called Adrenaline Fest at Hiawatha Horse Park. This festival will be occuring over a four day period and will include more than racing. There will be a multitude of events, non-racing, horse-related as well as special racing events including extreme racing (races with many horses in races at various distances). The festival is geared to wards families as well as younger people; an opportunity to expose people who may not traditionally be drawn to racing. As Standarbred Canada says, "So Much More than Just Racing". Kudos to Standardbred Canada and the horsemen for coming up with this event. I am sure it will be a success.

Why can't we have a similar event in the States? Let's call it Trot Fest. Think of it, a four day summer festival at The Meadowlands, The Red Mile or other tracks. An event like this could be held at one track a year or it can be a tour. All you need are horsemen willing to enter horses in these races, a track willing to host the event as well as line up the events and talent. The USTA could provide the logistical help in organizing the festival(s).

Trot Fest could be a means to get racing on ESPN. Since ESPN shows other extreme sports, this event would be a natural for them. Take the in-house racing program and put the highlights into a one hour show. There is no better in-house racing show than the one at the Delaware Fair Grounds. Get Ellie Sarama and others from Delaware to host the in-house program for the festival. Offer the show to ESPN for free. A show on ESPN could attract young people who normally wouldn't think of harness racing as an entertainment option.
It is too late for this year, but hopefully we will have Trot Fest next year.

Snow White Returns

Snow White the champion 2 year old is on the comeback trail. As a 2 year old, Snow White set a world record of 1:52.4 on the trot at the Red Mile and earned over $1.2 million. When her 2 year old season was over, there was some talk that Snow White was good enough to take on the colts during her 3 year old campaign. Unfortunately, surgery during the winter and some soundness issues made her 3 year old campaign disappointing. While Snow White won three races she was frustrating her connections by jumping when the big money was on the line.

Now Snow White seems to be better and she is on the comeback trail. While her 4 year old campaign will be short, hopefully she will return to her early glory and racing fans will be treated to the next Moni Maker.

Weekend Stakes Action

Since I will be away tomorrow, it is time to review the weekend racing action. Yesterday, I covered the Dan Patch Invitational; today we take a look at the North American Cup eliminations at Mohawk Raceway and other stakes.

There are four eliminations for the NA Cup. In the second division, Dial or Nodial is the overwhelming favorite after his strong second place finish in the New Jersey Classic at the Meadowlands. Other than Dial or Nodial's division, the other eliminations look to be wide open races. Will Barber Pole return to his early season form and vanquish New Jersey Classic winner Passmaster Hanover? Will someone make the muddled picture clearer and become the darling of the 3yo colt division?

Don't forget there are eliminations for the Fan Hanover and the Good Times this week as well at Mohawk. Will Yellow Diamond and Not Enough dominate the 3yo fillies? Overall, it is great night of racing. Don't miss it.

On Sunday, the Meadowlands is hosting a special Father's Day program. The highlight of the weekend is the $100,000 Perretti Farms Matchmaker, a FFA for mares. Buck I St Pat makes her first parimutuel start since her return from the Elitlopp in Sweden. Will she be able to pick up where she left off in the states? If Buck I St Pat falters, look for Spice Queen to make things interesting.

Enjoy the weekend and good racing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Simulcast Pollution, Dan Patch Invitational

This Friday, The Red Mile is importing the signal from twenty-one harness tracks (in addition to the t-breds); Running Aces is importing the signal from sixteen harness tracks.

Do we really need to offer those many signals in a given day? By offering those many tracks all we are doing is diluting the mutuel pools making the races less attractive to serious gamblers. This over supply of simulcast signals is another reason why we need to develop racing circuits and limit the length of race meets. Yes, simulcast revenue is important to the profitability of any racetrack but if we were to limit race meets, every track would have a chance to export their signal and maximize their revenue from it and then import the rest of the year to increase purses when they do race.

Let's cut the simulcast pollution. It will benefit everyone in the long run.

This weekend has some great racing. Tomorrow we will discuss the glamour division (the North Americna Cup), but at Hoosier Park on Saturday afternoon, a strong field has been put together for the $200,000 Dan Patch Invitational. Mister Big, one of the best FFAllers in the country will be making his second start of the season against Winbak Speed (a winner of over $400,000 this year so far) as well as Southwestern Dream and Shark Gesture, both winners of over $100,000 this year. Will Mr. Big be up to the challenge this year in his second parimutuel start of the year or will one of the others be able to surprise him? The scheduled post time is 4:45pm local time. Don't miss this race in the excitement of the NA Cup at Mohawk.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What Were They Thinking? - The T-bred Edition

Sometimes there is lunacy on the runner's side of the business that it needs to be brought up in a harness racing blog; if nothing else, to hopefully stop the same mistake being made on our side.

According to press sources, Churchill Downs is going to debut the first of the "Downs After Dark" programs this Friday night in an effort to attract customers who are unable to come to the track during the day. They have installed temporary lights to see if it is feasible to do this on an on-going basis.

Excluding the Derby, it costs $3 to get into the track. Friday night? $10 (subsequent Friday nights will be $6). What is wrong with this picture?

With Churchill Downs having problems themselves, you would think they would be doing anything to encourage attendance at the track, not discourage it. Even if they get more people than usual to show up, how many others will be discouraged?

Hopefully, no harness track would be so arrogant to pull a move like this.

Women Drivers

No, we are talking about female auto drivers on the highway, we are lamenting the lack of women drivers in harness racing. Sure there are some women drivers, but they are far and few between and when they race, they race sporadically; often with horses they train or own.

Yes, harness racing has some female drivers that have made their mark. Jacqueline Ingrassia used to race with some frequency at Freehold and won the Yonkers Trot with Goalfish but these days here appearances are limited. There was Bea Farber years ago. I am sure there are some female drivers that drive with some regularity but how many of them racing on a daily basis at any one track?

At most racetracks you will see a number of women trainers. How come there are so few women driving on a nightly basis with any frequency?

We are missing a marketing opportunity. Look at the Indy Racing League (IRL). Before Danica Patrick, the IRL was loosing fans. With Danica's ascension to being a regular on the circuit, IRL has gained more attention. However, Danica is not the only female driver on the circuit. Driving in virtually every race is Danica, Sandy Fisher and Milka Duno.

Look at the runners. Chantal Sutherland is now racing at Woodbine but has ridden in the states and was in the Animal Planet show Jockeys. Is it just Chantal is an attractive woman that gets her the attention? No, she knows how to ride (she's second in the jockey standings at Woodbine; Emma-Jayne Wilson is 6th). Of course, there was Julie Krone. Inez Karlsson won last year the jockey's title at Hawthorne and there are a slew of others out there racing several times a day.

Why are there no women racing five or six times a night at our raceways? It certainly is not that they lack the ability; women are able to drive horses just as good as a man given the opportunity to drive as often and with live stock. We are not giving them the opportunity.

We need to do something to encourage women to drive with more frequency; allowing them to become regulars at our racetracks. I am not suggesting we automatically add women to our rosters to drive every night at our major tracks; but the industry should create a program to encourage women to become drivers and when the time is right, the drivers can move on to the bigger venues. Of course, we will need to educate and encourage trainers and owners to give female drivers a chance when they need a driver.

There is no reason a woman can't drive a horse in a race. Let's get them driving every night and not only will we be doing the right thing; it will help our marketing efforts and allow us to encourage more women to follow the sport.

Wrong Way Bullwinkle: A moose was discovered yesterday at Saratoga Racecourse. I am certain he meant to go to Saratoga Harness.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rediscover Why You Love Harness Racing

Remember the first day you went to the racetrack? The sights, sounds, smells (when the wind blew the right or wrong way depending on your perspective) and even the colorful characters which attracted you to racing? The times you spent with your father or parents at the track? How long ago was it?

For a lot of us, it has probably been too long.

Whether due to changes in financial situations, personal or work obligations, or just convenience, many of us have gotten to the point of watching the races either from a television monitor or computer screen. Does racing have the same thrill for you as it did back then? Probably not.

Let's head back to the track and experience racing in person and regain our personal connection to racing; all the things which attracted us to racing in the first place. Bring someone along and share the joys you experienced when you started going to the races.

In a similar vein, Churchill Downs has begun an effort to get their online gamblers back to the track. While their goal is to get money bet on track as they earn more on a dollar wagered at the track than over the internet, it also helps get people rediscover the joy of racing. Let's face it, racing becomes impersonal, almost mechanical when you are constantly watching the races on a computer screen; after awhile it becomes just another device to gamble. Hopefully some of our harness tracks that have their own account wagering will try a similar effort.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy the 4th of July weekend of racing in Goshen, NY. The sounds of people cheering in the grandstand; the smell of horses; hearing the wheels swishing over the ground; the sound of hoof beats hitting the racetrack; the whinny of horses in the stalls; the smell of the food. All this helps reconnect me to joys of racing as well as part of my youth.

At Yonkers, I find the same seats I used to occupy with my late father and close my eyes; I feel the spirit of my father's presence; his explaining the difference between a trotter and pacer; the time he told me you can't bet the 8-8 daily double on a half mile track because it never comes only to have it come in that night. The time I told a bunch of people in the clubhouse that Le Baron Rouge from the 8 hole was going to beat Big Towner and they were looking at me like I was nuts (they finished in a dead heat; and as a result Le Baron Rouge at 45-1 paid only $2.40). Heading to Yonkers anytime Fly Fly Solly dropped into A-3 company.

Other memories go through my head. Though long gone, remembering the time I went 9 for 9 at Roosevelt which included Lynn Forbes (the pacer) paying $32.00 to win (the last time I ever won at Roosevelt); the pageantry of The Roosevelt International. The time at Freehold I told my father not to play Saratoga Ideal because he had a long layoff and he won (at a price I can't remember other than it was huge). The time I made a big killing playing Ronstadt at Monticello the week after she finished 2nd to Seven O'Clock at Liberty Bell Park in the PASS screaming my lungs out. Following the trials and tribulations of Corky Collins. Taking my then three year old niece to Garden State Park hearing her call out the saddle cloth numbers during the NJ State Fair races and having her screaming and crying when I told her it was time to go to some of the rides. Celebrating my birthday with Fourth of July doubleheaders at Brandywine Raceway. Driving across Kentucky after seeing the last race at The Red Mile to catch the early daily double at Louisville Downs (no small feat).

You don't get these memories betting on horses over the Internet or watching a race on a television.

Yes, your local track may not be as nice as you remember it but let's head back to the track. For one day let's forget the problems racing may have and close your eyes and remember the good times. Bring your children or grandchildren along and share your memories and make some new memories with them.

Come home to the track and fall in love all over again.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Stupidity is Global

As reported on The Harness Edge, the Swedish Appeal Commission voided a $15,000 fine and suspension of 30 days against Ake Svanstedt for moving his horse in a race to help another stablemate.race. This despite the fact the driver admitted he did this on live TV immediately after the race. We would love to hear the rationale for doing this.

Apparently Stig H. Johansson did not hear a logical reason. He resigned his seat on the Appeal Commission in protest of this decision.

Stakes Night Saturday Night, Conspiracy Theory, Nashville Star

Stakes Night Saturday Night

What a great night of racing last night. Starting in New Jersey, you had the NJSS finals for 3yo trotters and you had two large stake races for NJ sired 3yo pacers. Across the river, you had stake races for open 3yo pacers. North of the border, Mohawk offered four divisions of the Burlington and finals for the Classic series. Just looking at those races, you had fourteen big races.

Wouldn't it be great if somehow those races could have been packaged as 'Stakes Night Saturday Night" and then marketed to ADWs, such as TVG? Granted TVG favors the runners, but last night in addition to the Meadowlands, they managed to cover the two stake races from Yonkers, so they will cover the big races. TVG doesn't want to dedicate their feed to an evening of live coverage of an all harness racing program? Set up a network of cable channels like Fox Sports Net to cover the program with TVG harness talent handling the broadcast with additional talent and let them mention they can bet through their TVG/ADW accounts.

Can't be done? Why not? If you watch TVG now you see at times that Fox Sports Net in certain areas takes TVG's coverage. I have seen times when big races occurs out of state that the local Fox Sports Net will take the TVG broadcast. It is a win-win situation. A cable channel like Fox gets a large block of live sports programming, TVG (or another ADW) gets basically a free commercial on another channel and is able to take wagering on the event. Harness racing gets exposure for their biggest races.

Yes, I know some people will complain about a large takeout at a specific track. That needs to be worked on, but you also need to have a package that you can show off to a potential group of customers. Hopefully we can get something like this done.

Conspiracy Theory?

Stumbled upon this posting from Mibredclaimer who blogs on the thorougbred racing side of the aisle regarding the situation in Michigan. Can someone explain why the state of Michigan is looking to cut spending on the Office of the Racing Commission (ORC). In 2008, the state of MI took in $8.1 million in revenue from racing and spent $3.2 million on the racing commission. The state makes money on racing. Why would you cut out income if you have a budget crisis?

A Nashville Star

For those of you who have not seen this before, here is a little song which you will be able to related to. Who knows, one day we may lose Steve Warrington to Nashville if we aren't careful.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The March to the Hambo/Hambo Oaks - NJ Edition, Yonkers Stakes Highlights

Well, the NJSS finals at the Meadowlands for 3yo trotters have concluded.

In the NJSS Final for 3yo filly trotters, Margarita Momma outfinished Gabby's Dream to win by a neck in 1:55.3 on a good track. For me Gabby's Dream was more impressive being hard used and parked to the half. That being said, from what I have seen thus far this season, Margarita Momma seems to get all the luck; should the luck go her way, Gabby's Dream could be there on August 8th. Of course, this race was against state breds; it will be interesting to see the both of them against open company.

In the NJSS Final for 3yo colt trotters what can you say? The march of Muscle Hill continues. Muscle Hill easily dominated the field to win handily in 1:53.3 over the same off track. The horse that interested me, Vesuvio AS finished 4th six lengths back. I would be disappointed in Vesuvio AS's finish except he was parked half of the mile, three wide at the 3/4s. I need to see another race from Vesuvio to see if he is still a legitimate contender.

Interesting is the fact that Muscle Hill was part of a five horse entry due to common ownership. The entry took the first three positions and four of the top five. There were two entries in this race so out of the ten horses there were only five betting interests. The Meadowlands was wise to cancel place and show wagering. One needs to wonder if it would have made sense to card this race as a non-wagering event instead of having a non-bettable race for gamblers.

In other action, Showherthemoney pleased the crowd by winning the Miss New Jersey Pace for 3yo filly pacers in 1:50.4. Personal favorite McGibson got jammed in and got loose late. Whether or not McGibson would have caught Showherthemoney is hard to say. What I can say, why McGibson may not be Linda Toscano's first team, McGibson will be heard from often this year.

In the NJ Classic for 3yo pacing colts, Passmaster Havover won a thrilling stretch duel against Dial or Nodial who finished third. Three times Passmaster Hanover passed Dial or Nodial and twice Dial or Nodial came back, but the third time was the charm for Passmaster. Dial or Nodial threw in a couple of bad steps at the end, but that is understandable considering the pressure. The time for the mile was 1:50.2.

These were four great races celebrating the strength of the NJ sired horse. With a lot of the stallions and broodmares having left the state for greener (slot) pastures, you have to wonder if this may have been the last year a leading Hambo contender will be prepping in NJSS races and whether NJ sired horses will be as relevant in the future.

Over at Yonkers Raceway, Not Enough makes it five for five this year winning the $293,000 Lismore Final for 3yo pacing fillies easily in 1:53.4 (good track). Once Not Enough got to the lead it was all over. In the $421,000 Art Rooney Final for 3yo pacing colts, If I Can Dream won the race in 1:55.3. Hypnotic Blue Chip for the second time this year jumped off stride in the big money race (last time the Berrys Creek). Hypnotic Blue Chip was leading into the final turn when he jumped and went inside the pylons. Barber Pole, one of the preseason favorites was disappointing again.

It Ain't Over Even When the Supreme Court Rules

Let's call this entry an Editorial. Tomorrow, we will talk about the results of this weekend's racing action.

You would have thought the U.S. Supreme Court decision to let the Illinois Supreme Court decision regarding the riverboats casino tax supplementing racing purses would have been the end of it.

Well it is not.

The Associated Press reports that the riverboats are now launching suit against former governor Rod Blagojevich and several racetrack operators. Basically they are claiming the racetracks made campaign donations to the ex-governor's campaign in order to get this bill passed. As a result, the casinos are once again asking the courts to return the money to them.

Are we to believe that the riverboat casinos did not make campaign contributions during their campaign to get riverboat gambling approved? Here is an article which shows both the casino industry and racetracks made donations to political campaigns.

I guess campaign donations are OK as long as you make them.

Look, I am not naive. Campaign donations and PACS are what get you access to legislators and helps get your agenda passed. They casino industry is annoyed that for once, someone played the game better than them and they don't like it.

The casino industry has deep pockets. It is time the racing industry joins forces so we can compete on even terms. The only way racing can fight for their rights is for the all the factions to unite rather than fight each other. Are we up to the task?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Great Weekend of Racing Action

Top racing occurs this weekend around North America as stakes season really fires up.

On Friday night at the Meadowlands, the Invitational Trot goes without Lucky Jim. A short but talented field of six trotters does battle; I expect a big effort from Prayer I Am in this race.

Over at Yonkers, while the open 3yos go on Saturday evening, six divisions of state breds go in the NYSS for 3yopc. I always like looking at these NYSS pacers because you never know, the next Kenneth J may come upon the scene. In addition to the sire stakes, there are good fields of Open trotters and F-M pacers in to go.

Saturday brings some top racing to the NY/NJ metropolitan area. At Yonkers Raceway, the $421,000 Art Rooney Final (3yocp) featuring Barber Pole and Hypnotic Blue Chip leads a strong card. The companion stake for 3yofp, the $293,000 Lismore Final goes with with Indulge Me and Spoiled Beach. In addition to these races, there is a strong field of Open pacers. How strong? You have Psilvuheartbreaker, a horse that earned over $178,000 without a victory this year in the field.

Over at The Meadowlands, there is NJ state bred action with the $200,000 finals for the NJSS for 3yo trotting colts and fillies. Does Hambo favorite Muscle Hill improve off of his 1:53.1 seasonal debut? The final for trotting fillies sees Margarita Momma and Gabbys Dream competing. For the NJ bred 3yo pacers, there is the Miss New Jersey ($175,000) and the Jersey Classic ($500,000).

Balmoral 's FFA Pace is of note on Saturday as the seasonal debut of Art Official takes place as he preps for the Dan Patch Invitational on June 20th.

The action north of the border is hot at Mohawk as well on Saturday night. Arch Madness and Corleone Kosmos take each other on in the $320,000 Classic Series Trotting Final. Falls for You heads the $320,000 Classic Series Trotting Final for Fillies & Mares. In addition to the Classic Series finals for trotters, there are finals on the pacing side as well as four divisions of the Burlington Stakes.

It is going to be a great weekend of racing. If I am missing any other races of interest, let me know.

A Win for the Bettors, A Win for the Sport and A Win for the Horses

Sometimes you see a good idea elsewhere and wonder why no one copies it. For many years, the greyhound industry has had a simulcast event called "A Night of Champions" to benefit greyhound rescue. Basically, a card was created of races at various greyhound tracks using the best greyhounds on the grounds with proceeds being donated to greyhound rescue efforts.

Why hasn't harness racing had an event like this or more importantly, why don't we do it? It shouldn't be that difficult to set up. The card will contain ten to twelve races from various tracks featuring the best horses on the grounds and the card will be offered to all racetracks and ADWs.

  • Wagers will still go to each track's pools but the horsemen and tracks from the sending and receiving tracks will give up their portion of the betting handle on the races which comprise this special card.
  • ADWs will be asked to give up any rights to exclusitivity for any race which is part of this card. Hopefully the ADWs will donate their portion of the wagering for the benefit of the horses.
  • Trackmaster will be asked to participate by allowing the program for this event to be availble online and at the track for no charge.
  • If possible, the tracks will get together and guarantee a minimum on the Pick-4 and Pick-6.

Think of it, horse rescue groups gain needed funding plus an awareness of these groups is raised (perhaps kiosks can be set up at any track hosting or taking the simulcast). Tracks gain good publicity; who knows perhaps owners will be willing to donate a portion of the purse and drivers and trainers will be willing to give up their fees for the one race which is part of this program. Bettors get challenged by having to wager on races with top horses at each track and have to deal with handicapping races on a 1/2, 5/8 and mile ovals providing better payoffs.

It seems so simple. Hopefully, we can see something like this take place.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Great Story - Kosher King - You Have to See It

Thanks to Harnesssphere, I came accross the following video. Please take a look at this.

We need more stories like this getting out to the public. Hopefully we can get more publicity for Koshy Kids once they get their 501(c)3 status as well as for other people/horses doing things for others.

Kosher King races next at Ocean Downs on Saturday, June 13th in the 8th race. Best of luck Koshy!

A New Low, Failing Bill in Illinois = Salvation of Racing in New Jersey?

Who would have thought we would see the day. On Thursday night, there is a race for $7,500 claimers at the Meadowlands. This is lower than the 10K claimers they raced the first year when they didn't know how successful they would be.

As reported in various media reports, a proposal in Illinois to allow slot machines at the racetracks is likely going to fail; one reason is Arlington doesn't want to share the profits from slot machines with casino companies. While the entire bill allows for other things, there is one part of it which may help save racing in New Jersey and could be a model for the entire nation. The provision in question in the Illinois bill would allow riverboat concerns who already are licensed in the state to rent space at the tracks and set up slot parlors.

With some changes, the concept behind this bill is what is needed in New Jersey. Let's modify the proposal a little:

Any casino licensee in the State of New Jersey may lease part of a racetrack permit holder's facilities for the installation of VLTs and if the Constitution of the State of New Jersey is modified, offer any other games permissible at casinos within the state provided no less than 90 days of live standardbred and/or thoroughbred racing is conducted at the respective facilities depending on the breeds racing the year prior to this legislation and year round simulcasting is offered. Purses at each meet are to be no less than 120% of the average daily purse and no less than 80% the total purses offered the year prior to the legislation. As part of the lease, X percent of the gross revenue will be paid to the track permit holder of which 1/3 may be retained for profit; 1/3 for capital infrastructure of the racing facility and racing advertising; 1/3 will be contributed to the purse account. Should the permit holder no longer race the minimum number of days required by this act, the license to operate VLTs and other games will be revoked.

Under the provisions of this legislation, VLT implementation will be restricted to Atlantic City Race Course, Freehold Raceway, The Meadowlands and Monmouth Park; no off track wagering facility will be permitted to offer VLTs or table games.

A casino licensee may not purchase a racetrack facility or hold a permit for parimutuel racing. This restriction will not prohibit a non-gaming subsidiary of a parent casino company from acquiring a racetrack facility.

Think conceptually of this proposal, realizing some changes may be required. Here are the advantages of this legislation:

  1. Racing will continue as is (perhaps with a reduced meet to acknowledge the economic realities of the sport) and be protected on an on-going basis.
  2. Any gambling allowed in the state will be allowed at the tracks with these facilities not being at a disadvantage of other facilities in the state assuming a referendum gets passed. Also ensures no additional gaming sites are constructed. A game allowed in Atlantic City will automatically be allowed at the tracks, keeping them competetive.
  3. Allows Atlantic City casinos to run the non-racing games, thus eliminating their objection to expanded gaming. Allows horsemen to run the racing end.
  4. Allows Freehold, Monmouth and even Atlantic City Race Course to survive, getting the support of the t-bred industry.
  5. Should Pennwood not wish to remain in the state, they will be able to sell Freehold to another party for a good price.
  6. Ensures racing interest's are protected.

This bill could be a win-win situation for everyone in the State of New Jersey. The tracks/horsemen win; the casinos win; the taxpayers win.

The road to protect racing is there. We just need to take the first steps. Anyone see a problem with this proposal?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Start Times, Speed Racing

Hoosier Park is experimenting this year with post times in an effort to develop a greater live audeince and maximize handle. So far it has been 'challenging'. With post times being moved from 6:45pm to 4:45pm (12:45 on Saturdys), over all handle is down roughly 25% (13% on-track). Management at Hoosier noted the vast majority of their handle came from the 7 to 9m window with wagering decreasing afterwards. The thought was to get the later races earlier to increase the handle but this has not occured. No doubt some of the drop off is due to the economy.

Kudos to Hoosier for attempting to grow their live audience. Not only does a track get to keep a greater share of the amount wagered on track, it is important to build fans that will fill the grandstand and keep interest in the sport. Other tracks have already given up on attracting a live audience and schedule their races merely where they can maximize their signal concentration; those tracks have given up on the future for their immediate goals.

That being said, a different approach may make more sense. By all means, race Saturday afternoon. Here is a chance to bring the casual fans (and families) to the track and build their interest in racing. It may mean sacrificing handle, but it is a price to pay to get people interested in the sport.

As for during the week, starting at 4:45pm doesn't make sense; their original start time works best. The local heavy hitters who play Hoosier will continue to come to the track at the 6:45PM start time; the issue is how accessible are you making the races for everyone else? Many people who gamble on horses still have regular jobs. How many people get out of work in time to make the track at 4:45? Not as many as management would like to think. By starting at 6:45, people have the time to either go home after work and come to the track or to head to the track directly from work.

Yes, the wagering drops off after 9:00PM; that is probably because some of the people have to get home and go to work the following day. Rather than shifting the races so you start earlier, the answer is to compress the time it takes to complete the card so more races are run during the period you have your greatest attendance. Last Thursday, it took almost four hours to complete the 13 race card. Why not complete the card in 2 or 2.5 hours instead? People want action, they don't want things to drag out. Look at Baseball, they have made rule changes to get the games to go quicker. Shouldn't we?

I hear the arguements now:

  • People need time to handicap and place their bets. Give people 20 minutes, give them 30 minutes some will wait to the last minute to wager. If you give them 12 to 15 minutes between races it will be enough time.
  • People wager more than one track and we have to give them time to do so - Any smart gambler knows you can't bet more than one or two tracks successfuly at a time. You can offer them twenty tracks, but they will stick with the same ones most of the time. They will be able to continue to wager on those tracks.
  • Those that play more than two tracks? They are not playing every races; they are picking their spots so a short time between races should not impact them.

People crave action. Running an accelerated card will give people their action (and who knows, some of those simulcast dollars may actually stay at your local track as thye may be wagering on the simulcast signal to kill the time. Many people don't bother coming to the track because it is a long night. Tell people that the races start at 6:45 and will be over by 9:00? More people will be coming because it is not a long night.

Please take a look at the poll questions on the right side of this blog and respond. They relate to this topic and it would be interesting to see what you think. Of course, feel free to comment as well.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Breathing Room in the Land of Lincoln

Today the U.S. Supreme Court refused to get involved in the dispute between the casinos and the racetracks in Illinois. As a result, $76 million dollars will be coming to the racetracks. This should stablize the purse situation for a little while and may help stem the exodus from Illinois while a long term solution is sought. Hopefully, this time will not be squandered.

Auckland Reactor - One More Year

Auckland Reactor, the New Zealand super horse has completed his 4yo season with a victory at Ashburton Raceway in 1:53.8 for the mile. Now, if you have seen racing 'down under' you know racing miles are slower than they are in the states. The connections claim he can race six seconds faster in North America.

Here is the video from Auckland's last race of the season.

If all goes well, Auckland Reactor will be racing in North America at the end of next year's racing season. Look for him in North America during the late spring or early summer of 2010.

How good is Auckland Reactor? We won't know for sure until he hits these shores, but let's look at his stats. In his four year old campaign, Auckland Reactor was 12 for 15 this year winning $1.1 million (NZ) and 24 for 27 lifetime. Those are impressive stats anywhere. It could be interesting.

In anticipation of his arrival next year, wouldn't it be an ideal time for our tracks to start simulcasting racing from New Zealand and Australia? I am not even saying on a nightly basis but perhaps on major stake race days and when Auckland Reactor races. If tracks can simulcast the runners, our own tracks should start simulcasting the trotters from there.

Press Opportunities: The Good and The Ugly

The Good: Ray Schnittker continues to do much to help promote harness racing. As you recall, during the run up to last year's Hambletonian final with Deweycheatmenhowe, Ray gave unprecedented access to the media including allowing Donna Barton of NBC Sports to ride Dewey during the week leading up to the final.

Well, Ray is at it again. At Historic Track's Youth Day in Goshen, NY this past Saturday, Ray helped organize and raised funds for high school scholarship funds at some area high schools. The students coupled with drivers (including George Brennan, Stephane Bouchard and others) raced horses to win scholarship money not only for the schools, but for themselves. It was a daily double of sorts. Not only did area high school students benefit, harness racing gains some good will and new fans. Wouldn't it be great if this idea could be replicated at our parimutuel tracks? Think of the press the sport could get.

The Ugly: A driver is fined in Indiana $1,000 and given a 10 day suspension for whipping a horse in a race to the point the horse showed visible injuries afterwards. Think of the press the sport could get.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sportswriters and Triple Crowns

Item: Sportswriters sometimes don't know what they are talking about.

Today in the newspaper I read criticism of Calvin Borrel. The sportswriter claims that Calvin should have ridden during the week at Belmont rather than making the talk show circuit. Mind you this writer is the same person who laments when thoroughbred racing misses the opportunity to take advantage of public relation opportunities. Huh? The way I see it Calvin was being an ambassdor for the runners; helping raise the interest and profile of his sport during the run up to the Belmont. Calvin may have made his move early but that is a judgement call. He could have ridden at Belmont forty times during the week leading up the Belmont Stakes and may have made the same move. He could have made his move latter and still lost. It is called racing luck. Calvin keep doing what you are doing. We in harness racing can only wish we get to the point where can worry about where Tim Tetrick will have to do interviews on the talk shows.

Item: Harness Racing's Triple Crowns don't work.

Being a traditionalist at heart, I finally recognize our triple crown races work don't work. If we ever wish to get the interest of the public, we need to develop a package of races over a six week period as the attention span of the general public requires a short window; it also acknowledges the fact many horsemen don'trecognize the need to compete in the triple crown.

Here is what I would take into consideration when reworking the crown:

  1. All the races need to be in the United States. Like it or not, the media is not going to cover a race in Canada. Canada will have its own triple crown series; we can coordinate that they don't conflict each other.
  2. One leg of each triple crown will be run at the same track the same day. This way if harness racing needs to pay to get these races on TV, we can save production costs.
  3. The series needs to be held over a six week period and in the same order each year.
  4. Races will be during the daytime on Saturdays to allow for maximum media attention and possible televising.
  5. Since harness racing is typically raced over a half mile, 5/8 mile and mile tracks, one leg of the crowns will be raced over each size track. A good stallion should be able to sire horses that can race over each size track and a good horse should also be able to race over each size track.
  6. There will be no eliminations; preference to starters will be based on earnings. This will make the races more exciting and provide more suspense for television.
  7. The crown will start in the middle of June (after the runners are done) thus allowing horses to get their 3yo campaigns started early enough to get the earnings to qualify. We can have our own road to the triple crown.
  8. You may make one payment to nominate to all three races (discounted) or you may nominate individually. If you win the first leg and are not nominated to the others, you may supplement. If you win the first two legs and are not nominated to the last leg, you may supplement.
  9. As an added 'incentive' to get our horses to start in all three legs is to be able to win any of the year end honors a horse must make at least one start in an open stakes race on a 1/2, 5/8 and mile track during that year. While this will not make you start in each triple crown race since you will need to start on each size track, a horse may as well start in a triple crown race on a half mile track to meet this requirement.

The question is which races to include in the Triple Crowns? I eliminate the Little Brown Jug and the Kentucky Futurity from the crowns. I am not disrespecting these races. The LBJ draws 50,000 people on a Thursday afternoon so there is no need to break something that works for Delaware. Both races are part of strong grand circuit meets and other than the Breeders Crowns, represent the end of the top tier stakes season. They don't need to be part of the triple crown; they can be harness racing's version of the Traver Stakes.

Picking the tracks I would use is not easy. Ideally, you would like to include tracks in various parts of the country, but it is not that easy as the situation is precarious in some of these areas.

These are the tracks I would use for the Triple Crowns:

Half mile track - I would nominate Yonkers Raceway. I would continue with the Yonkers Trot and would return the Cane Pace to Yonkers.

5/8 mile track - Chester Downs (provided they would be willing to reduce that 35% exotic takeout rate for the day). The Battle of Brandywine is a logical race for the pacers and for the trotters the Colonial Trot would be a good choice. Chester Downs has shown they will invest money into the racng program. Ideally I would have selected Scioto Downs in Ohio as a nod to the great harness racing tradition in the state (I assume the state will come through) but the company that owns Scioto (MTR Gaming) is not in great shape.

Mile track - I believe (hopeful) that harness racing in NJ will survive. Hence, I would select the Meadowlands. The Hambletonian and Meadowlands Pace would be ideal races provided the rules of the Hambo was changed so they adapted to the guidelines provided.

If you have ideas for different tracks and stake races to make up the triple crowns, let's hear from you.