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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Goodbye Grand Circuit, Hello HRL

Earlier this week there was an excellent article regarding forming a league for the runners in the Thoroughbred Times. While some of the ideas could apply to harness racing, there is a need to modify the proposal to meet our needs. This proposal takes advantage of the best of the ideas proposed in the article but has been modified to account for harness racing's uniqueness.

Here is a proposal for consideration. When reviewing, look at the overall concept and don't get mired in the minutia.

Ideally, as discussed in an earlier post racetracks will be controlled by regional racing authorities. Thanks to these authorities, regional circuits will already be established, with each track racing no more than three months a year. Tracks which wish to be part of the league will have to format their race meets like The Red Mile; a traditional overnight meet followed by a two week 'Grand Circuit' type meet. Nothing in the proposal keeps a track from offering stake races during the overnight meet.

The Grand Circuit will be replaced by the Harness Racing League (HRL). Any driver or trainer who wishes to be certified to race in the HRL must agree to abide to the rules of the HRL and while they may appeal a decision within the HRL (in an expedited fashion), they may not appeal a decision to a racing commission or the courts. This will be legal as a decision to suspend or ban someone from the HRL will not automatically impact their ability to participate in the overnight race meets; it only restricts their ability to participate in HRL sanctioned meets.

Tracks who decide to become members of the HRL will be assigned to the 'Premier' or 'Major' Circuit depending on the quality of the proposed two week meet. One condition of becoming a member of the HRL is you must offer stake races for aged horses. Quality will be determined by the strength of the early/late closers, stakes and FFA/Invitational races being offered during the HRL sanctioned meets (sire stakes and other state bred races can not be part of the HRL meet). Yes, the amount of the purses will be a huge factor in being assigned to whichever circuit but it will not be the only factor. Tracks that don't wish to belong to either circuit will be considered independent meets and can do business as they currently do. At designated times, the member tracks stakes program will be reviewed and depending on changes in a racing program, a track may be promoted or demoted to the other circuit.

Participating tracks will have their own qualifying standards and racing officials during their overnight meet. For the two week HRL meet, the HRL will have their own qualifying standards and racing officials. Assuming there is not a set of national racing rules, the HRL will be responsible to enforce each racing authorities rules of racing.

A schedule will be set up where there will be one Premier and Major circuit race meet occurring in the same two week period. This will allow the first tier horses to compete in the Premier Races and allow the second tier horses to race in the Major Races. The Premier Circuit will have national V75/V64 wagering. The rules of the HRL will mandate that a horse may race only on one circuit during a two week period so a top tier horse starting in a Premier event will not be able to race in a Major event the following week; thus allowing second tier horses a chance to race for good purse money each week.

There will be no elimination races for events being held during the HRL meet regardless of which circuit. Any two year old event during the period of June through August must be raced in divisions with no regards to earnings with each division racing for the same purse if there are excessive entries. For the rest of the 2yo year, tracks will have the option to race in divisions or seed horses like they are for the Battle of Brandywine (based on earnings). Assuming a race was on a half mile track, the first eight horses with the highest money earnings from HRL sanctioned races will put in the Gold division; the next eight horses will be placed in the Silver division; the next eight horses will be placed in the Bronze division. Total purse money for a race may be divided 50% to the Gold Division, 30% to the Silver Division; 20% to the Bronze Division (starting fees will be adjusted accordingly).

For three year old races, the races will either be split in divisions or seeded. If seeded, for the first six months of the year, seeding will be determined based on HRL earnings acquired during the 2 and 3 year old HRL campaigns; the second half of the year, any seedings will be based on earnings during the 3 year old HRL campaign alone. For aged horses, if a race is seeded, the HRL earnings during the past twelve months will be used to determine seedings. Regardless of age, FFA, Invitational, Open and Preferred races, if used, will be filled as traditionally done.

There will be two sets of Breeders Crown races which will be raced over the same weekend. These will be championship races for each circuit. If a horse declares (not starts) in at least three starts on the Premier Circuit, they will ineligible for the Major Circuit championship races for that calendar year. Points, not money earned, earned on that circuit during the year will determine who gets into these championship races. Points will be determined based on the order of finish of each race (a weighting needs to be factored in for races split based on earnings).

Owners will continue to nominate to races like they presently do. The conditions will indicate if a race is part of the HRL circuit and if so, which circuit it will be included in. When an owner nominates to a race, they will agree to abide to decisions made by HRL officials and will not appeal to courts or other racing authorities.

As I stated earlier, look at this proposal conceptually; not cast in stone. There are issues which still need to be addressed, such as how the HRL will be funded and how do horses racing in Europe fit in. However, this proposal accomplishes several things: top-tier competitive quality racing each week for national wagering; a true circuit of racing which brings the top horses through out the country for the fans; encourages horses to race past their three year old campaign as it provides for an extended series of races for older horses; allows more owners/horses to participate in stake races which may encourage ownership and stimulate prices for yearlings; allows what could be called 'Class B' tracks to actively participate in a meaningful national circuit.

Feel free to share any thoughts regarding this proposal.

News Flash: There is a bill in the NJ Legislature proposing a reduction of harness race dates at the Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway. Approval of this bill would be a start but in the reality of the current situation, the cuts are probably not enough.