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Friday, July 31, 2009

Adios, Adioo Volvo and an Underwhelming Card

First a reminder that you will find my take on tomorrow night's Meadowlands action immediately below this posting.

Unlike the Meadowlands' racing program tomorrow night, the Meadows is presenting a very disappointing race card. After the super Adios Final, there are two divisions of the Adioo Volvo (for 3yo pacing fillies) and an Adios consolation race. The other twelve races? Six divisions of the Arden Downs for 2yo pacing colts and another six divisions of the Arden Downs for 2yo pacing fillies. Well, at least they are not 2yo trotting races.

I understand Adios Day is the biggest day in racing at the Meadows and people want to see their horses racing on the same card but this has got to be economical suicide for the overall handle for the racing card. Tonight at the Meadows they have some high class races. You would have thought at the very least they would have carded half of the 2yo races for tonight and moved some of the better races from tonight onto tomorrow's card. But that is their call. Now on to the big races on the Meadows card tomorrow:

7th - 1st Divison - Adioo Volvo
4 - Pedigree Snob (4-1)
7 - Dawn's Legacy (2-1)
2 - I'm Not Gonna Lie (12-1)
1 - Smooth Silver (6-1)

Pedigree Snob raced last week in a conditioned pace at Pocono Downs winning in a romp in 1:53.1. Being this was her second start back since being scratched sick in the Ladyship Stakes, I expect her to continue to improve. Dawn's Legacy is the horse to beat, having won her division of the Reynolds back on July 7 in 1;52.1 and then last week qualified in 1:53.2 at the Meadowlands. If she drew inside she would be my pick but with the outside post and odds probably going to be less than 2-1, I will look for her on the bottom of the exacta. I'm Not Gonna Lie had no chance in her last at the Meadowlands, but prior to that she was tough in the Reynolds and the PASS. Back on her home turf, look for her to get a share and possibly pump up the exotics. Smooth Silver draws the rail and picks up Dave Palone. Her lines are not that bad and with the driver change she may make a better show of herself.

9th - 2nd Division - Adioo Volvo
9 - Ginger and Fred (2-1)
4 - Shanghai Lil (3-1)
1 - Jkmusicofthenite (20-1) - longshot chance; read below
2 - Personal Ad (4-1)

Of all the big races today, Ginger and Fred is the best bet. Yes, she draws post position nine but this is not a strong field. Winner of the Fan Hanover consolation at Mohawk, a seven length winner in the PASS at the Meadows two starts ago from post position seven and a victory last week in the Tarport Hap at the Meadowlands from post position eight in 1:50.4. She clearly lays over this field. Shanghai Lil is clearly second best with her victory in the Reynolds at Pocono and last week's victory in the Geers at Tioga Downs. As good as she is, she will need something to go very wrong with Ginger and Fred to get the win. Jkmusicofthenite is actually the horse to consider if you have any idea that Ginger and Fred and Shanghai Lil decide to get hooked up in a suicide speed duel. Being both race best on the front end, there is a possibility of it, though unlikely. Anyway, Jkmusicofthenite is a much better horse than a 20-1 should be; finished 2nd in a Lismore elimination and final, winner of a division of the Reynolds, 2nd in her division of the Geers. At long odds, she may be worth a win bet; just in case a suicide duel does develop. Personal Ad, has been a steady performer. May land in the triple.

11th - Adios Consolation
5 - Sheer Desire (5-1)
6 - Upfront Hoosierboy (4-1)
2 - Panmunjom (5-1)
3 - Vertigo Hanover (3-1)

Sheer Desire is the only horse in the consolation to finish within five lengths of their elimination's winner. Luke warm choice to win. Upfront Hoosierboy drew in against Well Said in his elimination, before that was racing well. Picks up Palone, can contend. Panmunjom also drew in the same division as Hoosierboy did; won prior start at the Meadows. Definite possibility for exotics. Vertigo Hanover was disappointing in his elimination of the Adios, showed no life. If he rebounds to his Meadowlands form he can take it all.

12th - Adios Final
5 (pp4) - Keep it Real (5-1)
6 (pp9) - Well Said (8-5)
3 (pp 1) - Vintage Master (3-1)
2A (pp7) - Mr Wiggles (10-1)

Due to the fact that there is common ownership between horses, there is a three and two horse entry in this race so instead of nine wagering interests, there are only six. I understand the rationale for requiring them to be coupled but when you are racing for $677,000 do we need to worry about a stable mate being used as a rabbit? There are valid points on both sides of this issue to be discussed another day.

Thanks to the open draw (something discussed in an earlier post), we have a fantastic horse race. From post nine, Well Said is an 8-5 morning line favorite. From the inside, you would be looking at a 4-5 morning line. If Well Said wins today, he all but clinches the 3yo pacing colt division championship for this year and if Muscle Hill falters, could be a leading horse of the year candidate.

That being said, I will look for the upset by Keep it Real. Make no mistake, Well Said is the best horse in this division and may very well win this race but Keep it Real finished 2nd to Well Said last week loosing by two lengths. Keep it Real moves in from post position seven to post position four while Well Said moves from post position five to post position nine. Keep it Real won the Burlington at Mohawk and has a 7-2-1 record in ten starts this year (unraced at two). In the elimination of the North American cup he lost to Well Said by 3/4 of a length. This is the first time he has drawn inside Well Said; it may be the difference. At 5-1, he is definitely worth a wager. Well Said is clearly the best horse in the race, the post as already discussed may be the one thing to keep him from the winner's circle. Vintage Master draws the rail. He finished 2nd to Well Said in the Meadowlands Pace and 2nd to Mr Wiggles in his elimination last week making him a trifecta candidate. Mr Wiggles finally seems to be living up to his early season reputation. If for some reason there is a torrid pace up front, he is posed to be flying at the wire. A legitimate long shot selection.

Despite all the two year old races, tomorrow afternoon's action is a good warm up for tomorrow night's races. Enjoy the day.

Hambo, Oaks Elimination Preview, Golden Girls

The Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks elimination race card at the Meadowlands tomorrow night has some great racing. Yes, there are few full field races on the card, mostly because of the eliminations (discussed in an earlier post) so the races may not be as attractive wagering wise. However, the quality of the racing can not be disputed. In addition, there is the Golden Girls FFA pace for mares.

Here is a brief review of the 'featured' races on the card:

2nd - 1st Elimination - Hambletonian Oaks
4 - Windsong Soprano (5-2)
7 - Seaside (3-1)
6- OK to Play (5-1)
8 - Gabbys Dream (9-2)

Windsong Soprano is the obvious pick in this race. On his return from a brief layoff she was impressive in her division of the Miller Memorial winning a parked out effort in 1:55.3. The only problem is she will likely be an underlay. If you are willing to take a chance, Seaside will probably go off higher than her 3-1 odds. True, she finished 5 1/2 lengths back in third in her division of the Miller, but it was a faster division and she was used twice in that race. OK to Play may be good enough to pick up minor spoils. Gabbys Dream has not been able to repeat her success in the NJSS with open company. That being said, with a good trip it is possible she can improve off her recent efforts. Consider her in your trifectas.

3rd -2nd Elimination - Hambletonian Oaks
2 - Elusive Desire (2-1)
5 - Celebrity Athena (4-1)
4 - Hall of Wishes (10-1)
3 - Moonlight Kronos (7-2)

Elusive Desire is a winner of her last four races, most recently in the final of the Canadian Breeders Stakes. Clearly she has never been better. Celebrity Athena finished second in her division of the Miller and won her prior start in the Zweig Filly Memorial; the strongest of the local horses. Hall of Wishes has been racing well of late in the PASS and the Reynolds, may land a share to juice up the exotics. Moonlight Kronos is the mystery horse making her first North American start shipping in from Sweden. Those who study breeding will note she is a full sister of Lantern Kosmos, the 3yo filly trotter of the year in the United States. While she can not be ignored, it should be noted Europeans look more towards longer racing careers than we do on this side of the pond. While you may need to include her in your exotics, I would need higher odds to make a win wager.

4th - 3rd Elimination - Hambletonian Oaks
2 - Honorable Daughter (5-2)
4 - Caviart Annie (8-1)
7 - Celebrity Juliet (9-2)
1 - Raising Rachel (7-2)

Throw out Honorable Daughter's last race. In her first race back since May, she had an impossible trip as the even money favorite in the Miller Memorial. She should be much improved. However, if she falls below 2-1 I will be looking for someone to beat her. That could be Caviart Annie. Caviart Annie is coming off a sharp 1:56.4 qualifier and if not for a miscue would be coming in on a three race win streak. Note the trainer is Greg Peck, who has Muscle Hill in the Hambletonian. Celebrity Juliet has been racing well in more prestigious events, could take it all. Raising Rachel from the rail may improve of her last race; not out of it.

5th - 4th Elimination - Hambletonian Oaks
8 - Broadway Page (8-1)
7 - Margarita Mary (9-2)
2 - Broadway Schooner (6-1)
1 - Margarita Momma (5-2)

Broadway Page is my upset pick for this elimination. She raced well in the Reynolds and the PASS at Pocono, winning her last start in a sharp 1:54.4. While she did not win in her efforts in the Currier and Ives at the Meadows, it is a traditional route for prepping for the Oaks. Margarita Mary woke up in a prep race last week, could complete a decent paying exacta. Broadway Schooner shows ability when she stays flat, finished behind Margarita Mary last start. Margarita Momma, beat by Windsong Soprano in her last start. She either bounces back and wins or has she have peaked to soon? See how Windsong Legacy does in her elimination and use it as your guide. At 5-2 and probably much lower at post time, I'll take my chance and try to beat her.

7th - 1st Elimination - Hambletonian
5 - NF Quotable (10-1)
1 - Explosive Matter (9-5)
4 - Reinsman Hanover (9-2)
2 - Citation Lindy (5-1)

In the weakest of the three eliminations, I will take a chance on NF Quotable. Winner in 1:54.4 in the PASS at the Meadows, he appears to be rounding into form and picks up David Miller. Explosive Matter is the horse to beat after finishing 2nd to Muscle Hill in the Dancer Memorial after jumping at the start in his last race. No doubt about it, the race was a huge effort but being he will likely go off much less than 9-5, I would want to make sure the break was a fluke. That being said, I realize there is a good chance I will be proven wrong. Reinsman Hanover has improved since his return back to the Meadowlands. Steps up but may land part. Citation Lindy has not lived up to his reputation though far but in a weak field may wake up this week. Definite consideration for your exotics.

8th - 2nd Elimination - Hambletonian
7 - Federal Flex (9-5)
3 - Mr Cantab (5-2)
6 - Cesar A Blue Chip (9-2)
1 - Symphonic Hanover (6-1)

Federal Flex should dominate this elimination to set up a match up with Muscle Hill. next week. Won his first race back after illness to win his Dancer division in a sharp 1:53.3; should be even better this week. Mr Cantab finished second to Federal Flex in the Dancer, came back to win a conditioned trot as a prep. Solid second choice. Cesar A Blue Chip finished behind the top two in the Dancer. Makes for a chalky trifecta. Symphonic Hanover raced a nice qualifier after his miscue in the Dickerson, while no threat to the top choice, may sneak in the exotics with a perfect trip.

9th - 3rd Elimination - Hambletonian
2 - Muscle Hill (1-1)
7 - Airzoom Lindy (6-1)
3 - The Chancellor (6-1)
4 - Tom Cango (5-1)

Muscle Hill moves on to a date with Federal Flex in the Hambletonian final next week with what should be an easy win this week. No value for a win wager but who realistically is going to beat him? Airzoom Lindy comes from the Lindy Racing Stable, usually has a presence in the final. My guess is while no threat to the winner, he is better than his lines show. Consider for the exacta. The Chancellor is good when he stays flat but oh those breaks. Your guess if he stays flat. Tom Cango has not yet returned to last year's form but is quietly improving. May finish higher and make the dance next week.

10th - Golden Girls FFA Pace (Mares) - $214,000
3 - Southwind Tempo (2-1)
2 - Tidewaterdragonfly (8-1)
6 - A and G'sconfusion (5-1)
4 - Tug River Princess (3-1)

With all the excitement of the Hambo and Oaks eliminations, the featured race of the night is being overlooked. This race is basically a do over of the Roses are Red Final at Mohawk last week. Southwind Tempo finished second last week in the Roses are Red Final, the winner does not make the trip south. The winner of the Lady Liberty is the horse to beat. Tidewaterdragonfly was awful last week but was impressive in her elimination the week before. Expect a better effort than last week and she may spice up the exacta. A and G'sconfusion making her third start back since the layoff; expect a better effort this week. Tug River Princess been going very well before getting parked out (first over?) in brutal fractions last week. May bounce back this week but am wondering if that trip took a lot out of her last week. We will see.

Picks for the Adios and Adios Volvo for tomorrow afternoon will be posted shortly. Enjoy the racing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Duh! - A New Study on New Jersey Racing and VLTs

Harness Edge reported that Rutgers University's Institute of Public Policy released their 2009 Economic Impact Study yesterday regarding what can best be done to support horse racing in the state of New Jersey. No surprise, the study calls for a casino racetrack partnership to allow both industries to survive in an increasingly competitive market. Note the study said BOTH industries (for a summary of the report, click here; for those who want to read the entire report, you may click here).

I have not finished reading the entire report but there were a few things that came to my attention at first glance. First of all, it calls for the racetracks to build all the permissible OTB locations permitted in the 2001 legislation. Only 3 of the authorized 15 have been built (one more is in the planning stage). Even more interesting, is the following tidbit:

It is estimated that the combined impacts of existing and scheduled future machines in Pennsylvania and the New York City metropolitan area racetracks will reduce Atlantic City gross gaming revenue by as much as 12.3 percent. It was also projected that installation of video lottery terminals at three New Jersey racetracks would reduce Atlantic City gross gaming revenue by 1.8 percent.

Note, if slot machines were installed not just at the Meadowlands, but at Freehold and Monmouth Park, not only would racing benefit, but Atlantic City would suffer a 10.5% smaller loss of revenue. That's right, Atlantic City would benefit by having slots in New Jersey racetracks. Well being, slots are not going to disappear from Pennyslvania, New York or Delaware, it seems to be an obvious choice.

It will be interesting to see if anyone on the Governor's blue ribbon committee on the future of racing will be reading this report and finally come to their senses to work out a mutually beneficial agreement.

The report also discusses what racing should do once it gets its new revenue source. Here is one interesting paragraph from this section:

Irrespective of the source of much needed revenue to ensure the future of racing in the Garden State, the racing industry needs to invest a portion of those dollars in things besides purses to ensure continued viability. These include: marketing of live racing and creation of a racing brand, creating innovative wagers, reductions in costs of regulating racing and the role of the New Jersey Racing Commission, investment in capital improvements, maintaining the integrity of racing, including research to benefit the equine athlete.

Note it says reducing the cost of regulating racing, nothing about reducing the cost of wagering (i.e. takeout). Obviously there was no conversations with serious horse players. Did anyone ask people why they are betting less on horses or are they making assumptions?

Another serious flaw in the study is:

The industry needs to define itself: Is it sports? Is it gaming? Is it entertainment? The racing industry also needs to recognize that it is two-sided: side one, the horsemen and women who produce the product and side two, the racetracks which put on the show.
Racing must define what its common purpose is and answer the question of who is in charge if it is to be successful in branding and marketing the betting product.

They still don't get it. People need to realize that the racing industry is three-sided: side one, the horsemen and women who produce the product; side two, the racetracks that put on the show; side three, the customers that wager on the sport for if there were no customers wagering, there would be no industry. Unless you get the customers to buy in to the solution, nothing is going to get produce more wagering on racing. Some of the VLT revenue needs to be used to reduce the takeout rates. Racing for the fans is discretionary spending, if you don't give them a better value for their wagering dollar, they will spend it elsewhere.

If racing and academics don't talk to the people wagering on horse racing, all the studies in the world are not going to solve the long term problems of racing. Racing for higher purses may be a fix for the short term but if you don't increase wagering, the fix will only be a band aid.

Big Event? No Rush

Update: As of 4pm this afternoon, the program for the Meadowlands is available at Trackmaster's website. The Meadows program is still not available.

With excitement building towards this weekend's Adios at the Meadows and the Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks eliminations at the Meadowlands, I wanted to get a head start on my handicapping. So, this morning I went to the Trackmaster website to download the programs hoping to spend today working on my selections. One problem, the programs are not yet available.

As you may know, each racetrack has their own rules for declaring in to a particular day's races, many using the three day entry rule. For example, for Saturday's Meadowlands card you needed to declare in by Tuesday morning at 10:00am. All driver changes and scratches needed to be in last night by 10:00pm. At the Meadows, declarations for Saturday's card needed to be made by Wednesday morning at 10:00am with all driver changes due this morning by 10:00am. As a result, the earliest we will be seeing the programs is Thursday afternoon.

You would think for special racing programs like these, racetracks would adjust their declaration dates and draws so program information is available as soon as possible so fans can spend as much time as they would like on their handicapping. After all, doesn't it make sense if you want to increase interest (and betting handle) for your premier events, that you would get the program information out as quick as possible? In Sweden, they make the V75 program information available to the public four days before the actual race, wouldn't you think we could do the same thing here?

Yes, it may be a little inconvenient for the horsemen and the race office, but aren't harness racing's patrons and fans worth it?

With all the excitement regarding the Adios final and the Hambletonian and Oaks eliminations, under the radar is the $200,000 Golden Girls FFA for Pacing Mares at the Meadowlands as well as two divisions of the Adios Volvo for three year old pacing fillies at the Meadows. On different days, these races would be drawing attention. If you get a chance, watch them. They should be good events.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Well Said Draws the Outside - Hooray for the Open Draw

Post positions for the Adios were drawn yesterday and Well Said got the worst of the draw, getting assigned post position nine. The complete draw for the race is:

1--Vintage Master
2--If I Can Dream
3--Ideal Danny
4--Keep It Real
5--Chasin Racin
7--Mr Wiggles
8--Straight Shooting
9--Well Said

But wait, didn't Well Said win his elimination? How can you win your elimination and get saddled with the worst post position in the race? This is because the Adios uses the open draw. Unlike races like the Kentucky Futurity where the heat winners draw for the inside posts or the Meadowlands Pace where the winners get to choose their post positions, what you did in your elimination has no bearing as to the post position your draw in the Adios final. This is the way it should be.

Assigning post positions based on the finish of an elimination quite frankly does not make sense. Think about your overnight events. In an open handicap race, the best horses draw the outside posts; claiming handicaps the horses with the highest base claiming tag draw the outside; for those that use a classified racing system the highest class horses draws the outside. This is done to make races more competitive. Yet, with races like the Pace or the Futurity we are actually giving our best horses the most advantageous post positions; we are handicapping the other horses and as a result we have races that are less competitive with favorites becoming unplayable due to unfavorable odds. The morning line has not yet been released for the Adios. When you see the morning line, think what the line would have been for Well Said if he was assigned one of the inside posts or picked his post position?

Yes, I know assigning post positions based on your performance in an elimination is supposed to ensure a horses best performances instead of racing just to advance to the final but this is not the way to do it; all we are doing is stacking the odds in favor of elimination/heat winners. Readers of this blog know I am a proponent of eliminating eliminations and limiting the number of starters in our stake races to the highest money earners and having meaningful consolation races as done in the Battle of Brandywine. However, if we insist on keeping eliminations then the best way to ensure we get the best performance possible from our competitors is to make the elimination purses more significant.

Well Said appears to be our three year old pacing champion this year. A true champion overcomes bad post positions; the path to championship should not be made easier by being assigned favorable post positions. Thanks to the open draw, the Adios is going to turn out to be one heck of a horse race and a test of Well Said's abilities.

It should be no other way.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Case for Allowing Trailers in Elimination Races

This Saturday will be elimination night at the Meadowlands. With seven elimination races combined for the Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks.

Amazing what a $1.5 million dollar purse will do to keep owners interested in taking on Muscle Hill. A total of twenty two horses have dropped into the box for the eliminations of the Hambletonian necessitating three elimination races. As for the fillies, thirty two horses (the highest number of entries ever) have entered the Hambletonian Oaks eliminations resulting in four elimination races; no one scared off there either.

The conditions of the Hambletonian and the Oaks indicate if only eleven horses enter the race there will no eliminations, all start with the eleventh horse drawing into the second tier. If eleven horses are allowed to race in the final, why not in the eliminations?

I know owners feel their horses should be on the gate for races they need to pay into but this attitude puts an inferior product on the track. As a result of not allowing trailing horses for the Hambletonian Eliminations there will be two seven horse races and one eight horse race. Short fields do not make good betting races. If a horse gets scratched out of one of the seven horse fields, the races become less playable. As for the Oaks, we are looking at four eight horse fields.

What would have been wrong with allowing one trailer in each elimination? If there is only one horse in the second tier, the horse can start from anywhere in the second tier (if more than one trailer is in the field then the post positions are fixed). In this instance, drawing the second tier could be better than drawing post positions eight, nine or ten. If the rules of the Hambletonian and Oaks allowed just one trailer in eliminations, we would be looking at two eleven horse eliminations for the colts and two eleven horse and one ten horse elimination races for the fillies. The public would have full field races to bet on and a defection from one of the races would not make a playable race unplayable.

Trailers are bad or they aren't. If eleven horse fields are fine for the finals then lets allow them for the eliminations. After all, aren't we trying to put on a good product for the fans and horseplayers? Giving them full fields is part of putting on a good product.

Prairie Meadows - A Model for the Future?

Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. Harness racing in Iowa is facing the loss of their extended parimutuel meet in 2010 as the operators of Prairie Meadows decided to eliminate harness racing from the schedule to reduce their operating losses. The loss of the Prairie Meadows dates would have left Iowa horsemen only with fair dates. While Prairie Meadows was willing to give the million dollars in purse money to the Iowa fairs, the fear was this money would eventually disappear.

Facing the elimination of harness racing from Prairie Meadows (there is a sixteen day meet scheduled for 2009), the harness horsemen have worked with the other racing groups in Iowa (the quarterhorse interests were facing a cut in their dates as well) to come up with the following proposal regarding standardbreds:

  • A nine day mixed meet of quarterhorse and standardbred racing.
  • A ten day standardbred only meet.
  • A four day 'extreme' mixed meet with an equal number of thoroughbred, quarterhorse and standardbred races (four consecutive Sundays).
These meets would be run consecutively. How can you run quarterhorses, thoroughbred and standardbreds at the same time? The harness horsemen are offering to pay for the construction of a 7/8th mile oval inside of the regular racing surface by offering to return $100,000 of the million dollars Prairie Meadows contributes towards purses at the fairs each year for ten years. If this proposal is accepted by track management, horsemen will be racing for reduced purses at the fairs each year, but at least they will be racing at Prairie Meadows. If accepted by the management, this will be a clear example of horsemen willing to invest part of their slot revenue for the benefit of the sport. Granted, the Iowa horsemen were facing the elimination of harness racing in Iowa (with the exception of fair racing), which no doubt caused them to open their wallets. Hopefully in other racing states, the horsemen will be willing to invest some of their slot revenue while they have a chance; they may not get a second chance.

It will be interesting experiment if Prairie Meadows adopts this proposal. Yes, a few tracks have had a few t-bred turf races as part of a harness card but this would be the first time a mixed meet would include harness racing. Will t-bred horseplayers cross over and bet on harness racing if on the same card? Would harness players play the runners? In the future could we see Aqueduct Racetrack convert their inner dirt course to a harness track and run a mixed meet there? If successful, could harness racing return or make their debut at other racetracks? Will Iowa horsemen find themselves racing even more at Prairie Meadows?

Harness fans of Rosecroft have the opportunity to wager on the MDSS finals this Saturday starting at noon. While there will be no-simulcasting of the Rosecroft program, there will be wagering available on-track. It will be interesting to see the response this weekend.

The field is set for the annual Tioga Driving Championship for Sunday, August 2 at Tioga Downs. If you have the time on Sunday afternoon, try to catch the races; it promises to be some exciting racing.

Freehold Raceway's fall meet has been pushed back to an August 12 starting date instead of the original August 1 start date. Freehold is dropping Tuesdays from the schedule as a result of the legislation in New Jersey which allowed the number of racing dates to be cut back. With the cut back in dates, hopefully Freehold will be able to present full fields for their races. Hopefully the downward spiral at Freehold will stabilize.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Taking Our Case Directly to the Legislature

Dean over at Pull the Pocket talks about how in New Jersey there is a call for slots at the tracks with a split of the profits with the state and the casino operators and the other part split between the track operators and the breeders. Presumably, the track portion will be split between the horsemen and the tracks. As Dean points out, odds are none of the slot revenue will be used to cut the takeout to make racing more appealing to horseplayers.

Unfortunately, Dean is correct. The state of New Jersey or any other state for that matter could care less about horseplayers. As far as the states are concerned horseplayers are lumped with those that smoke and drink; for all practical purposes they are considered degenerates who the state can tax whenever the state has a shortfall in their budget. The vast majority of the population does not suffer from these tax increases so there is no fear of the repercussions at the ballot box. All your state legislators know is they get revenue for the state budget, possibly jobs for their constituents; other than that, they listen to the lobbyists and vote out the bill put before them.

What can we do? First of all, if you are not a member of Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA), join now. Yes, they are geared towards the runners but many of the issues facing the runners applies to harness racing. Even if you are someone that bets small amounts, you will be benefit from anything they accomplish. While donations are accepted, membership is free.

Secondly, it is time for a group like HANA to start talking to legislators, with or without a PAC. Get on the witness list when hearings are held. Tell them we want a small percentage of the slot revenue being divided between the tracks and the horsemen to be dedicated towards increasing the fan base as well as the handle through takeout relief on wagers across the board from the win wagers to exotics. Explain to them how cutting the takeout will actually increase handle and revenue for the state in the long run. This they will listen to.

Talking to track management is good, however the way politics works is if you don't speak for yourself no one is going to speak for you. Will it work, who knows? If you don't try, you'll never know.

Call for Nominations: Best Racetrack Website

You no doubt heard the expression, "To be considered a legitimate business you need to have a website". Well, just having a website is not sufficient, it needs to be a good website. As such, I am pleased to announce the upcoming selection of the Best Racetrack Website Award (BRWA). With the "BRWA", we will recognize the racetrack websites which are most appealing; enticing visitors and locals to not only visit the website but make someone want to visit the racetrack.

There will be two divisions; racinos and non-racinos. For racinos, while the whole website will be considered for 'feel', judging will focused on the racing portion of the website. Judging will be limited to racetracks in the United States so one of my favorite racetrack websites, Fraser Downs is not eligible for a BRWA.

If you wish to make a case for your favorite racetrack website, feel free to send it in by the end of this week. Let me know why you feel your favorite deserves to be selected.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Streak Ends and a 'Fair Start'

Last night in the Maple Leaf Trot, Lucky Jim's fifteen race win streak came to an end with the upset victory by San Pail. Lucky Jim finished third after having horrible racing luck (click here for a good narrative of the race). Lucky Jim was not disgraced and we will be hearing more from him as the year goes on.

Before you watch the race below, look at the picture. The horse that was way back at the start was Misterizi. If you bet him, your money was refunded thanks to the fair start rule in Canada. If this race was held at track in the United States, you could have ripped up your tickets at this point. The lack of a fair start rule in the states in inexcusable. The racing commissions did not protect the interest of the wagering public when the recall rule was modified. However, you can help get this corrected.

If you live in the United States and you feel you should be treated with respect as Canadian gamblers, the battle for the fair start rule begins in New Jersey as a proposal for a fair start rule is on the agenda of the New Jersey Racing Commission (NJRC) public meeting being held at Monmouth Park on August 19th. If you can attend, show your support for a fair start rule (it is not known if you will get a chance to speak at the meeting). When the proposal is published for public comment, make your thoughts known. Here is a
link showing the genesis of the proposal before the NJRC.

Making New Fans One at a Time

A press release from the SOANY indicates a State of New York report shows live wagering at Yonkers Raceway increased 13.4% in the year 2008 despite racing fifty-four less racing dates. In 2008, the daily live handle increased to $69,075.

Those who are of the cup half empty mind set will be quick to point out that the handle does not support the purses Yonkers offers and the VLTs are supporting racing and in effect, putting the hurt (along with Chester) on the Meadowlands. This can't be denied. However, the bottom line is it shows you can get slot players interested in racing. The SOA on selected nights is meeting slot players when they are dropped off in front of the casino with staffed informational tables to introduce them to racing as well as answer questions. By reaching out one player at a time they are getting people interested in racing.

The success of this program does not surprise me. There have been times when I was at Yonkers and I have seen slot players coming and going stop and watch the horses while they were warming up or racing. People are curious, you just need to reach out to them.

Make no mistake, the program can be improved. These tables should be offered more often than on selected days and management can offer an occasional day time card so day time slot players can be exposed to harness racing.

Horsemen and racino operators elsewhere would be wise to pay attention to what is happening at Yonkers. Despite what some say, if you reach out to slot players, some will give racing a chance.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Let's Mix it Up

Well, it looks like the third time may be the charm as the Meadowlands' eighth race is scheduled for the turf. Many of the purists are criticizing the carding of a turf race as being stupid; racing is just not done that way here.

And there lies the problem. Just because we haven't done it before does not make it stupid or wrong; it makes it different. We are basically locked into the one mile race using a starting gate with one tier of horses. Sure every once in a while we will see an odd distance race and an occasional trailer but for all practical purposes we are like Henry Ford was with the Model T. "You can have any color you want as long as it is black".

Leave North America, and harness racing is more like Baskin and Robbins, 32 flavors. Races at varying distances, mobile start (starting gate), manual start (no starting gate), two tiers of horses, handicapping horses by having staggered starts, monte racing (racing under saddle), International Racing (far more than we do). There is variety and variety makes for a more exciting product as well as helps increase pay offs.

Racing under saddle was tried on an exhibition level and for all practical purposes disappeared. It was a half hearted attempt at best. Get some racetracks together and have them commit to setting up a meaningful circuit where there would be guaranteed opportunities to race under saddle and watch trainers seriously begin looking for horses to train to race under saddle. Perhaps race the first year as non-wagering events to expose fans to the concept and then go full blown the next year.

Let's schedule races of various distance and in longer races, add horses in a second tier. Additional horses provides for better wagering opportunities and payoffs. I know owners want to see their horses on the gate but if we are racing a mile and a half does it really matter? No. Have two distance races on a card initially and gradually move up to maybe four or five races a day. Get some distance stake races and maybe we will get an influx of European horses to compete with more regularity adding prestige to some of our races. Why we are at it, why not try the standing start method where horses are handicapped by distance in longer races?

And if a harness meet is held at a track with a turf course, why not give turf racing a try? They race on the turf in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and down under; those familiar with turf racing say it is better for the horses. Who knows, we may be able to introduce harness racing in states that don't currently have harness racing by racing on the turf at non-harness tracks that have a turf course and run mixed breed meets.

No, I am not suggesting we try to make harness racing look like the runners. We will be incorporating the best in harness racing around the world into our product. Will all these ideas work? Probably not; those efforts which work will freshen up the sport and make it more attractive to fans and gamblers alike. All we need are people from all areas of the sport willing to work together and give it a try.

Let's offer our fans something besides vanilla.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Leveling the Playing Field

In all the excitement of the Adios I forgot to mention that the Meadows introduced a new starting gate earlier this year where the gate slants 14 feet for the outside posts instead of the previous 7 feet. Does it matter? Sure does, take a look at these stats through June 30th. With the old gate, post positions 7 through 9 won only 18% of the time. New gate? The win percentage is 30%. Post positions for all practical purposes are even. You no longer can automatically eliminate any post positions.

The question to be asked is when are other tracks going to introduce this gate and can something like this work for the half and mile tracks? It will make the product more enticing to wager on. Time to get to work on this.

For those of you that can play the Little Brown Jug Future wager, the past performance pages for the 23 selected horses are now available here.

Adios Eliminations Preview, Weekend Doings, Can Fall be Far Behind

Tomorrow is elimination day for the Adios Stakes at the Meadows. Quite honestly, I am puzzled why they are staging the eliminations during the day; the first elimination is slotted to go off at 2:55pm. One would think they would have carded a Friday card with their normal 6:20pm post time to maximize the number of fans able to see the best three year olds. If it was on a Saturday, I could understand running the eliminations during the day like the final; but on a Friday?

That being said, let's review the races:

9th Race - Adios Elimination #1
#1 (pp 2) - If I Can Dream (5-2) - Had a horrible trip in the Meadowlands Pace. Meets easiest field in a while.
#1A (pp 9) - Vertical Horizon (5-2) - Winner of Jersey Cup. Fresh; makes entry that much tougher.
#2 (pp 1) - Roadway (10-1) - Failed in Reynolds and PASS; meeting better.
#3 (pp 3) - Born to Rockn Roll (8-1) -Closed nicely in last. Driver change to Palone. Best local chance?
#4 (pp 4) - Vertigo Hanover (6-1) - Snappy :26.4 last quarter in 3yo Open last week. Lands part.
#5 (pp 5) - Ideal Danny (8-1) - Not off last.
#6 (pp 6) - El Cucuy (9-2) - Meeting better this time.
#7 (pp 7) - Chasin Racin (7-2) - Just can't get a good post.
#8 (pp 8) - Clear Vision (10-1) - Overmatched

Selections: 1 - If I Can Dream; 4 - Vertigo Hanover; 3 - Born to Rockn Roll

10th Race - Adios Elimination #2
#1 (pp 4) - Built to Drive (15-1) - Better than shows, could pick up minor spoils.
#1A (pp 9) - Johnny Z (15-1) - Completes tough Teague entry; post hurts.
#2 (pp 1) - Panmunjom (20-1) - Little success against open company.
#3 (pp 2) - School Kids (9-2) - Won't keep up with top pick.
#4 (pp 3) - Doubleshotasscotch (6-1) - Tested for class this week; expect to fail.
#5 (pp 5) - Well Said (8-5) - Obvious horse to beat. No value.
#6 (pp 6) - Upfront Hoosierboy (10-1) - Ambitiously placed. Pass.
#7 (pp 7) - Keep It Real (3-1) - Second best. Prepped in 1:51 last week. Will be there if Well Said fails.
#8 (pp 8) - Mobile (20-1) - Dream on. No chance.

Selections: 5 - Well Said; 7 - Keep It Real; 1A - Johnny Z

11th Race - Adios Elimination #3
#1 Precious Medal (7-2) - At top of game, best hope of locals here.
#2 Mr Wiggles (6-1) - Nice prep in Reynolds. Been frustrating when it counts. Consider if odds favor.
#3 Vintage Master (5-2) - Great closing kick. One to beat.
#4 Rusty's All In (8-1) - Minor spoils at best.
#5 Sheer Desire (10-1) - Faltered in Reynolds. Scratched sick last start. Does pick up Sears.
#6 Straight Shooting (9-2) - Threat if minds manners.
#7 Fireintheshartk (10-1) - Sharp start at Pocono; fails versus stakes caliber. Pass.
#8 Bunkmeister (8-1) - Ambitiously placed.

Selections: 2 - Mr Wiggles; 3 - Vintage Master; 6 - Straight Shooting

Unfortunately, it looks like chalk in the first two divisions. Value seems to be presenting itself in the third division.

Since I will be away on Saturday, let's take a look at what else is going on this weekend in harness racing.

On Sunday, the Ben Franklin Final will be held at Chester. Other than the Adios eliminations, this is THE race in harness racing this weekend. Mister Big, Art Official and Won the West will be duking it out on Sunday.

The Meadowlands has two divisions of the Tarport Hap on Saturday, named after the ill-fated super mare. Ginger and Fred looks like the one to beat in the first $81,000 division; Yellow Diamond leads the second division. North of the border, is the Maple Leaf Trot. Will Lucky Jim continue his amazing win streak?

On Sunday, Bangor Raceway hosts the $25,000 Paul Bunyon Invitational Pace. This race is of note as Jason Bartlett heads north to drive On a Tear.

The first sign of spring is the swallows returning to Capistrano. The first sign of fall is the return of standardbred racing to the Red Mile. On Sunday, the Red Mile hosts the Mercer County Fair stakes. On August 2nd the Red Mile hosts the finals of the KYFS which will lead into the start of the regular Red Mile meet. While most people are familiar with the Grand Circuit meet, the racing during the regular meet is not bad as there are plenty of late closing events.

Enjoy the racing. The racing only gets hotter after this weekend.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

He is the Greatest, Huh?, Tioga Driving Championship

The owner of Art Official is claiming their horse is better than Somebeachsomewhere. Personally, I think he should calm down and examine the facts. That being said, Dean from Pull the Pocket responds much better than I can. Take a look at his entry, It says it all.

Also, the drivers for Tioga Downs popular driving championship (August 2) will be determined this weekend. The top seven money earning drivers nationally, the leading money earning driver at Tioga Downs, and a sponsor's exception compete in a series races preceded by a meet and greet with the fans at noon and a Yannick Gingras bobblehead giveaway before the six race series gets under way.

Not only are the fans treated by seeing the nation's best drivers, the drivers enjoy it too. The track puts up $45,000 in prize money for this championship so the winning driver takes home $25,000; second place $5,000; third place $4,000. The other drivers doesn't go home empty-handed as the other drivers get $1,500 just for competing.

Jeff Gural and his staff is to be commended for offering the driving championship and other promotions which are customer friendly. Other tracks can learn a lesson in promotion from the team at Tioga

Rewarding the Bread and Butter of Harness Racing

The Claiming Crown for thoroughbred racing is being held this Saturday, July 25, 2009 at Canterbury Park (yes, they used to race a brief standardbred meet) in Minnesota. The idea behind the Claiming Crown is to give those horses which keep racetracks running a chance to run for money and glory. In the case of the Claiming Crown, there are seven races running for a combined purse of $600,000. To qualify for the Claiming Crown, a horse must have started for a claiming price of $7,500 to $35,000 sometime during the year. Horses then must win regional events in order to qualify for the final. Nomination fees are cheap. If you know the horse you want to nominate, the fee is $100 before April 17; $500 after April 17 with a June 5 deadline. If you are an owner that doesn't know which horse you want to nominate the fee is $250 but you must name the horse by June 5. The races are run as starter allowances so you can not claim a horse out of any of the qualifying races or the final. Most of the purse money for the races are provided by the host tracks.

What does harness racing do for the owners of our claiming stock? After all, if you had no stake horses, tracks will be able to card programs but if you get rid of the claimers, how many tracks would not be able to fill cards? Yes, some tracks have begun scheduling late closing series for claimers which is a good start but we should do more.

What if we had our version of the Claiming Crown? We can have late closing series at each track for different levels of claiming prices for trotters and pacers and the winners of the late closing series can move on to regional qualifying races. The winners of these regional races can move on to the national championships. Let's have the claiming championships the night before the Breeders Crown at the track which will host the following year's Breeders Crown races (using it as a trial run). If we offer meaningful purses for these races, we can attract new owners. After all, if there was a chance your $5,000 claimer could be racing for $100,000 wouldn't that entice you?

And for fans, imagine the interest of the fans at Scarborough Downs, Cal Expo, Monticello and others that get to see one of their horses racing in regional and national championships. Make sure we have races for the $5,000 claimer as well as the $50,000 claimer.

Here is hoping the powers that be get moving on it and we have the Claiming Championships in 2010.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Little Brown Jug Future Wager is Here - Not

The road to the Little Brown Jug has begun in earnest with the announcement that the first Little Brown Jug future wager of 2009 will begin on Thursday, July 23rd. Well Said is the 2-1 favorite in the first pool. The press release also indicates that wagering will be accepted at racetracks and Internet wagering sites throughout North America and Europe. Unfortunately, not all tracks will accept the wager. Checking the Meadowlands and NJAW's schedule, they will not be accepting wagers.

Last year I inquired why the Meadowlands did not offer the LBJ future wager and I received a nice response. Several reasons were given. The Meadowlands did not want to divert attention from their harness meet, the information provided gamblers is spotty, interests are limited to 24 betting interests, and lastly there has not been a demand for the wager.

I give the Meadowlands a .375 batting average on their reasons. First, let's go over where I think they strike out.

Not wanting to divert attention from their harness meet - First of all, the big pacing race is done and over. Do they really think having a future wager on the Jug is going to divert attention from the Meadowlands meet? No one says you have to over promote the future wager. Keep it low key. Let people know the wager is available, make programs available. That is it. Secondly, this is parochialism at it's best. Name any race in harness racing which gets 50,000 people to show up to watch in the middle of the week (or even on a Saturday) and gets many of the top horses to race even if it means racing in heats over a half mile oval. Doesn't being one of the top two harness races in the United States overcome parochialism? Apparently not.

There has not been a demand for the wager - Well, if you don't know about it how can you demand it? If the flagship harness track (for now) in the United States can offer future wagering on a thoroughbred race, is it too much for them to offer a future wager on the biggest American harness race outside of East Rutherford?

Wagering is limited to only so many interests, everyone else gets lumped as the field - On this one, they get half credit. True, if you bet in Vegas you get to bet the horse, not only 23 horses and a field. If you like someone in the 'Other 3 year olds', you get artificially low odds where as if you could bet one horse which the handicappers don't think deserves consideration you can get big odds. That being said, this principle doesn't cause the Meadowlands to turn down future wagering on the Kentucky Derby.

Past Performance Information is Incomplete - This is one issue where the Meadowlands is absolutely correct. Last year, the program information provided by the Little Brown Jug only showed the past performance information for the separate betting interests and no information for field horses. For the Kentucky Derby future wager, the Daily Racing Form not only showed the top 23 horses, it also showed the horses that comprised the mutual field. What will happen this year remains to be seen as the program pages have not yet been loaded onto the Jug website. There is no reason why all eligible horses can not be listed on a website version of the program. The Jug does not allow supplemental entries after the first three year old payment; other than that, the only other horse that can get into the Jug is the winner of the Cane Pace. There is no reason why they can't show past performance information for all the remaining eligible horses on the website; for those not eligible to the Jug but are Cane eligible, denote they are eligible only if they win the Cane Pace. It should be noted, the free program the Meadowlands offered for the Kentucky Derby only showed past performance information for the 23 horses, not those that made up the field so as long as the information is available online a free program offered at a track for the Jug future wager can only show past performance information for the 23 leading contenders.

I am sure other tracks are also declining to offer the LBJ future wager. Hopefully, if the program information for all eligible nominees is made available, those tracks which don't offer the future wager will change their mind.

Kudos, Loyalty Rewarded, An Invitation

In these days of managing our champion racehorses instead of letting them race, it is time to issue an official 'View From the Racetrack Grandstand' Kudos to the connections of Well Said. Well Said, fresh of his impressive victory in the Meadowlands Pace is heading out to Pittsburgh to race this Saturday in the eliminations of the Adios stakes. Assuming he qualifies (it is a horse race after all), one would expect him to race the following week in the Adios Final. After that, he heads to back to the Meadowlands for the Oliver Wendell Holmes. That makes it four races in four weeks. In addition, one of the owners, Jeff Snyder has indicated that while it is too early to commit, they have the Little Brown Jug circled on their calendar. That means we will see Well Said on all size tracks and if he goes in the Jug, racing heats.

Wow, a horse taking on all comers. What a concept. It is refreshing.

I am very happy for Greg Peck, trainer of Muscle Hill, and owner Jerry Silva. Jerry Silva is the original owner of Muscle Hill. Last year before Muscle Hill was syndicated, there were offers to buy a significant interest in Muscle Hill but those offers were turned down as the potential owners wanted the horse transferred to a 'name' trainer. Jerry Silva could have jettisoned the trainer in a pursuit of a big deal as is often done but he remained loyal to the trainer that brought him to the dance. When Muscle Hill was eventually syndicated, part of the deal was Hill would remain with Greg Peck during his racing career. It is nice to see loyalty be rewarded.

Lastly, there is plenty of great racing occurring all through out the country. Yes, their stake races may not be the level of the Meadowlands Pace or the Hambletonian but to their fans, these stakes races are still special. Let me offer an invitation to publicity people at these tracks. If you have a special race coming up at your track, let me know. I'll be happy to post a guest blog entry regarding your race so it may be brought to the attention of others.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Let's Become a Part of the Community

Today, I was in a waiting room and having nothing to do, I picked up a copy of a local magazine which is dedicated to the county the Meadowlands is located in. This magazine had numerous pages of photographs from various charity events showing attendees. There were pictures of local television personalities, physicians, businesspersons, sports personalities, celebrities and other prominent people in the community. Well, after going through all the pages I noticed one thing.

Not one person with a known connection to harness racing was in any of the pictures. No track executive, no driver, no trainer or prominent owner. No one.

This is not to say people involved in harness racing don't support local and national charities. Some of these people may prefer to stay out of the limelight and those wishes are to be respected. Yes, many benefit events tend to be in the evening which unless you are racing at Freehold or Monticello makes it hard to attend with any regularity.

We want people to come to the track and support harness racing. We want them to support VLTs where they don't exist. Why should they? What are we doing to become a valued member of the community? Did your track's leading driver(s) and/or trainer(s) take the time to attend an event to support your local hospital or other charity? Did the racetrack and/or horsemen's association make a donation to a local charity and get publicity? Did some of your local driver colony visit children in the hospital? Donate food or help serve meals at a soup kitchen? I know we have people in our industry doing good things for the community, but we need to bring this to the attention of those who live in our communities to show the harness racing community is a valued member of the community. Virtually all corporations contribute to the local community and make it known. Are we?

What are we doing industry wide? Back in the days of Rambling Willie, harness racing had "The Race Against MS". In 1988, we had the March of Dimes Trot. What charities or causes has the harness racing industry gotten behind in the last 21 years?

If you are aware of any efforts by local horsemen groups or racetracks, please post them. Perhaps others will read of them and become motivated.

Will this solve all of harness racing's problems? No. However, a little good will goes a long way.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Amateur Racing - There is a Limit

Let me preface this by saying I am a supporter of amateur racing. Amateur racing is a great way to introduce new people to the sport as well as encourage horse ownership. After all, how many people can just climb on top of their thoroughbred and work him out and then race him in a race? The ability to be able to train and drive your own horse is one of the advantages harness racing has and every extended parimutuel track should have or be part of a regional amateur driving club. However, there is a limit to supporting amateur racing.

Today, Monticello Raceway had the first of two special Sunday cards. Being a fan of half mile racing, I was looking forward to an afternoon of racing there; that was until I looked at the card. Being aware of how Monticello has always traditionally filled extra race cards will their bottom classes, I realized I would not be seeing the cream of their crop; I could deal with that. However, today, they did something which made me pass on their entire racing program.

Out of the ten races on the card today four of the races were for amateurs. Two races were CKG Billings Series races, two races were Catskill Amateur Driving Series races; 40% of their card was dedicated to amateur drivers. I was already to get in my car and drive the hour and a half to see the races live. After reviewing the card, I decided never mind; I'll stay home and bet Tioga Downs even though they had several two year old Tompkins-Geers races with plenty of horses making their first parimutuel starts.

How can any track card four amateur races as part of their parimutuel card? If you need a race to fill your betting card, put one of these races on the card if you must; two if very desperate to fill the card. See which of these races drew the most accomplished amateur drivers and put it on the card. The other races can be raced as non-wagering events.

For the most part these races are unbettable. Some of the drivers were making their first start of the year or had raced so little this year that you had no idea what kind of driver they are. You look at the program and you have some horses coming from fair tracks where the lines are uncharted. Some of these drivers have been driving for awhile, some are brand new. You had drivers who could not alter the strategy they planned before the race began resulting in horses getting hooked up three wide in a duel at the quarter pole instead of someone deciding to take a tuck.

There are exceptions to this rule. Last year the Meadowlands hosted the championship of the Delvin Miller Amateur Driving Series. Based on their drives during the year, drivers either made their way into the Gold (best), Silver or Bronze Divisions. The Meadowlands carded the Bronze division as a non-wagering event and carded the Gold and Silver divisions on their card. At least bettors were given drivers that had proven themselves or had a record which could be evaluated during the year so they could feel relatively comfortable betting on them

I realize Monticello basically funds their purses through slots, but racetracks have an obligation to put on for their customers (both live and simulcast) the best race cards possible. Nothing is more of a turn off than carding those many amateur races on the wagering card. Fans want to bet but you have to give them something worth their wagering dollars.

Harness racing has enough problems. There is no reason to chase the customers away.

"Well Done Well Said", The Lucky Jim Parade Rolls On

What is there to say about last night's Meadowlands Pace? This was perhaps the most dominating effort ever seen in the Meadowlands Pace. For Well Said, it was more like a time trial; the others were racing for second. After floating on the outside to let the field settle down, Well said easily got to the lead. Once he reached the lead, it was a race against the clock.

The fractions for the race were amazing: 26.1 53.4 1:20.2 1:47.3. Other than one crack of the whip against the wheel disc in the stretch (Well Said has a habit of slowing down to wait for the other horses) Well Said did this all on his own without urging. If this race was held on Hambo Day, Well Said would probably be waking up as the fastest pacer of all time.

Some people are claiming Well Said is better than Somebeachsomewhere based on his Meadowlands Pace victory (something SBSW did not do). While Well Said appears to be at a peak right now, there is no comparison; Somebeachsomewhere and Niatross are in a league of their own. Each of them were undefeated as 2 year olds and Niatross lost two races as a three year old (once he fell over the rail) with Somebeachsomewhere losing only one race. Well Said won four starts of twelve starts as a two year old. In addition, Niatross and SBSW dominated on all size tracks; Well Said has not raced on the half mile track. Let's just enjoy this super horse for what he is.

Last night was the first time there was not a Meadowlands Pace consolation race as not enough elimination entrants entered. Instead, a $50,000 three year old open was carded. No, the lack of a consolation race is not a sign of the ongoing problems with getting horses to race at the Meadowlands, it is due to the Adios eliminations being raced this week. The Adios which traditionally been raced the second week of August has been moved up due to the Hambletonian final being moved.

Lost in the Meadowlands Pace frenzy is the amazing fifteen race win streak by Lucky Jim. Lucky Jim won an elimination of the Maple Leaf Trot last night at Mohawk Raceway in 1:51.4. This was the fastest of the three eliminations raced. It will be interesting to see how Lucky Jim does next week in the final as he will be racing against Copenhagen Cup victor Triton Sund who finished second in his elimination. Being this was Triton Sund's first start after being in quarantine I expect him to be a threat next week. This promises to be an exciting race. Make sure to catch the final next week.

Here is Triton Sund's effort in the Copenhagen Cup:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dancer-Miller Recap

With the running of the Stanley Dancer and Delvin Memorial Trots last night, the picture is coming into focus for the Hambletonian. As for the Hambletonian Oaks, things remain cloudy; the three year old filly trotting division is just a much more competetive division this year as it is deeper in quality.

With regards to the Hambleonian, Muscle Hill is still the horse to beat. That being said, I am not ready to crown him, yet. Make no doubt about it, Muscle Hill deserves to be the overwhelming favorite based on his performance last night in an easy 1:52.1 victory in his division of the Dancer. His victory was made much easier by the unfortunate miscue of Explosive Matter when he tried to leave; at that point, it was a jog in the park for Muscle Hill. That being said, Explosive Matter was impressive considering his miscue. After his break, Explosive Matter was dead last through the half and (sixteen lengths back at the quarter; twelve lengths back at the half) he managed to finish second (six lengths back); he remains a legitimate contender for the Hambo. Copy Catch was best of the rest to finish third. Tom Cango did not impressive me, post position eight is the only that keeps me from dismissing him totally.

In the second division of the Dancer Memorial, Federal Flex's performance, winning in 1:53.3, is the reason why I am not ready to automatically crown Muscle Hill as the Hambo champion. Considering Flex was ill coming out of the Goodtimes which he won in Canada and this was his first start since then, his five length victory served notice that he is a legitimate contender. One has to think he will be even better in his next start. Mr Cantab finished second; he may have finished third if not for a miscue in the stretch by My Back Pages. Cesar A Blue Chip finished a nondescript third. Hot Shot Blue Chip once again broke twice in the race; he may yet turn into a good FFA trotter when he gets older but at this point, he needs to be discounted as a Hambo contender.

It looks like the Hambo will be billed as a Muscle Hill-Federal Flex showdown. For everyone else, it appears to be a race for minor spoils.

While the Hambletonian appears to be a two horse event, the Hambletonian Oaks looks like it will be an exciting wide-open event. Take a look at the first division of the Miller Memorial. Four horses were within a length of each other at the wire. Windsong Soprano came from off the pace to win in 1:55.2, benefiting from early action up front. Margarita Momma was not disgraced in her first loss of the year as she finished second back a head and still remains as one of the leading contenders in the Oaks. Raising Rachel's third place finish ensures Jackie Mo's returns for to the Meadowlands on August 1st for the eliminations. Celebrity Juliet who I ranked as a legitimate long shot closed the fastest of all to finish a neck back in fourth. Gabbys Dream finished sixth but considering she was off a month she can't be dismissed; she will be tighter next time.

As exciting as the first division may have been, your Oaks winner may have revealed herself in the second division of the Miller. Yursa Hanover was very impressive in her split, racing very brave to win in 1:53.2. Not only was she two seconds faster than Windsong Soprano, she was used to get the lead at the quarter and was pressured in the third quarter. Despite this, she won by an unchallenged three lengths being hand driven down the stretch. Celbrity Athena got shuffled back and was able to close the fastest of all to be a non-threatening second. Seaside made two moves to finish third.

Honorable Daughter had a horrible trip and finished fifth. This race is a toss out for her and still merits consideration next start. Another horse that merits some a look next time is the seventh place finisher, Wedding Dress. Considering she was parked three quarters of the mile and was stride to stride with Yursa Hanover for a while, she had every excuse to falter at the end. However, considering she was second and only three lengths back at the top of the stretch, a change in driving strategy next time could result in a better result.

While the three year old colt and gelding division appears to lack depth with two horses leading the pack, the fillies appear to be the more exciting division this year. While wide open, it is not due to the division being mediocre; it is due to it being deep. Unfortunately, the fillies never get the attention and this year it is a shame.

While there are two weeks to the eliminations, both races are shaping up to be great races, for different reasons. Make plans to be in New Jersey on August 8th, you won't be disappointed.

As a side note, I know everyone is focused on the Meadowlands Pace tonight (I reviewed the race yesterday). There is plenty of action on Sunday. While most people will be following the Ben Franklin eliminations at Chester on Sunday, the Tompkin-Geers stakes will be run at Tioga Downs as well. If you have a chance, check them out.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Michael Forte, Need to Revise Rules Regarding Accidents

A brief note to wish Michael Forte well. Forte was hurt in an accident at Monticello Raceway yesterday where there was a five horse pile up. Michael was sent flying and after he landed he got run over by the trailing horses. Amazingly the five horse escaped unscathed (could you imagine if this happened with the runners?) and only Michael was seriously hurt. Hopefully, he will recover quickly. Our best wishes go out to him.

The press release indicated three horses finished the race and it was declared official. EXCUSE ME? Two horses were loose on the track and running the other way. Fortunately they were caught before the field headed back into the backstretch the second time, but what if they were not caught? There have been cases of horses running into each other causing serious injury and fatalities to the horses and the potential exists for serious injury to the drivers.

Accidents unfortunately are part of harness racing. That being said, are we and the gamblers that heartless that we continue the race even if it means possibly putting the drivers and horses in danger? I think not. The rules need to be change regarding races continuing when there is an accident. I am not saying races should stop in all cases, but certainly in the case of a horse running in the opposite direction. I propose the following rule change:

In the event a horse gets loose during the running of a race and runs in the opposite direction of the race and the potential exists for the field to come into contact with the loose horse during the race, the drivers will be instructed to immediately pull their horses up and the race will be declared 'no contest' and all wagers will be refunded. If less than a half mile of the race has been run, the race will be re-run after the last race on the card. If there was an accident during the running of the race, any horses involved in the accident will be examined by a vet and as appropriate will be scratched from the restart. The race may be run for purse money only or the the track may offer wagering on the race at their discretion.

Update: It is reported that Michael Forte's injuries are not as bad as originally feared. He suffered a broken collarbone and cracked ribs. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Meadowlands Pace Preview

Tomorrow night is the Meadowlands Pace. Being it is the only stake race on the program here is an expanded review of the race.

1 - Schoolkids (20-1) - Appears to be over matched.
2 - Ideal Danny (10-1) - Just a step below the top tier, consider for trifectas and superfectas.
3 - Well Said (6-5) - The horse to beat. No value.
4 - Hypnotic Blue Chip (4-1) - Regaining early season form. May land significant share of purse.
5 - Vintage Master (10-1) - Can shock if suicide duel up front.
6 - Art Colony (5-1) - Second best in field.
7 - Arctic Warrior (15-1) - Was beaten before equipment break in elimination. Pass.
8 - Chasin Racin (15-1) - Minor spoils
9 - If I Can Dream (12-1) - Is dreaming from this post.
10 - Pair a Dice (20-1) - Took dq to qualify. First one to toss out when making your picks.

Being that Well Said is going to be odds on, I will pass on betting him to win. With a million dollar purse up for grabs, I am hoping for someone to pull a suicide move like in last year's Pace where Bullville Powerful was driven with instructions to go to the front no matter what in a suicide move that cost Somebeachsomewhere the win. However, it must be noted most times this does not occur as a suicide move usually costs you any part of the purse (remember 5th place pays $50,000). That being said, I will take a chance with my upset special, Vintage Master to win, realizing there is a good chance the wager will be a throw away.

If the race goes the way it should run without suicide moves, the top four should be (3) Well Said, (6) Art Colony, (4) Hypnotic Blue Chip and (7) Arctic Warrior. The winning time will be in 1:48 flat.

As to how bad things are going at the Meadowlands this year, even with offering a 25% NJOS Preferred bonus on all the overnight races, out of the thirteen races on the card, six races go with less than ten starters (one with seven; two with eight and three with nine). In addition, the card has a nw6200L6 race as well as one 20,000 and two 25,000 claiming races; races you never would have seen on a Saturday night in the past. Some may argue the Miller and Dancer Memorials should have been put on the same card but that would have distracted attention from the Meadowlands Pace. All in all, kudos to management for doing all they can to put on a quality betting card.

All in all with the stake races on Friday and Saturday night, the Meadowlands once again is the center of harness racing in North America for the weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

States to Racing: Drop Dead

Illinois approves slots for bars, restaurants with liquor licenses and truck stops. Racing? Nope. The state of Michigan cuts the budget of their racing commission even though tracks contribute more than enough money to pay for the racing commission office and make the state money. Kentucky won't approve slots for their premier industry. Pennsylvania is looking to gut the racing fund for both breeds. Other states will start looking to do the same. New Jersey at the command of the casino lobby has their racing industry twisting in the wind though it makes no financial sense for the state to do so.

To paraphrase a New York Daily News headline from 1975: States to Racing: Drop Dead.

How did we get to this point? We blew it plain and simple. How did we blow it? Read this article from The Bloodhorse and you will know how. We got greedy and refused to invest in our industry and when the nation got hit with the worst economic slow down since the Great Depression, like any other business that didn't invest in themselves in the past, we are paying the price.

As a result, the industry will be going through a restructuring. Racetracks will be closing. Jobs will be lost. The breeding industry will be hurt. Fortunately, all will not be lost. While this is going to be painful, I don't believe it is the fatal blow. Like GM and Chrysler, there will be an opportunity to restructure and make our brand a better product in the long run. The key is are we willing to invest in ourselves? If so, we will survive. Hopefully, we have learned from our mistakes.

Our future depends on it.

Friday Night Preps, Proof Positive VLTs are not the Solution

As promised, here is a review of the big four races on Friday night at the Meadowlands. There are two divisions of the Delvin Miller Memorial, the last major prep for the Hambletonian Oaks and two divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial, the last major prep for the Hambletonian. Here is my take on these races.

4th Race - Delvin Miller Memorial Trot - 3yo fillies - 1st Division

6 - Margarita Momma (3-1)
8 - Windsong Soprano (7-2)
4 - Raising Rachel (5-1)
7 - Celebrity Juliet (8-1)

What's there to say? Margarita Momma is the class of the 3yo trotting fillies until someone knocks her off. That being said, I expect some challenges to her this week. If she goes odds on, either watch the race or take a stab at another horse. Windsong Soprano is one of the main contenders to MM. Her only loss this year was in the final of the Elegant Image. Raising Rachel brings Jackie Mo back to the Meadowlands. This winner of two out of four this year (nine out of twelve for her career; eleven times first or second) is a definite threat. Celebrity Juliet is a long shot selection for this race. Celebrity raced under the radar in the Casual Breeze and Elegant Image at Mohawk and was tightened up winning the Zweig Filly Memorial at Tioga Downs in 1:56.1. Any type of odds and she may very well be the one to play.

5th Race - Stanley Dancer Memorial Trot - 3yo Open - 1st Division

2 - Muscle Hill (1-1)
1A - Explosive Matter (5-2)
7 - Tom Cango (5-1)

What is there to say about Muscle Hill? This is a race I will watch and not bet. Still not sure that he is the Hambo winner but there is time to ponder that after this week. If Explosive Matter was not part of a three horse entry I would be wagering on him as you might get good odds but that is out the window due to the coupling. While he may not have the press of Muscle Hill, Explosive Matter at least has raced in parimutuel races. As much as Muscle Hill has looked sharp in his qualifiers, they are not the same as regular races. Tom Cango was second best to Explosive Matter in the Dickerson at the Meadowlands; completes the triple.

6th Race - Delvin Miller Memorial Trot - 3yo fillies - 2nd Division

1 - Celebrity Deville (7-2)
3 - Yursa Hanover (9-2)
8 - Honorable Daughter (5-2)

This division of the Delvin Miller Memorial is a more competitive race. Celebrity Deville is the pick here. She easily won a 3yrF nw2 race at the Meadowlands but that was a tightener after winning the final of the Elegant Image at Mohawk in 1:54.3. Deville is coupled with Celebrity Athena but this should not impact the odds on her. Yursa Hanover has been close in most of her starts this year and won her last tighter at Vernon Downs. A winner of $334,000 last year, she shows she has ability and may be rounding into form. Honorable Daughter is, based on past performance, the best horse in this race and shows a 1:55.3 qualifier at the Meadowlands last week. Only problem is this is her first start since May; she may need a race. At 5-2 and probably lower at post time, I will let her beat me.

8th Race - Stanley Dancer Memorial Trot - 3 year old Open - 2nd Division

7 - Federal Flex (3-1)
4 - Hot Shot Blue Chip (9-2)
2 - Mr Cantab (5-2)

As with the Miller, the second division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial may be the more interesting race. We are skipping the three horse entry of Cesar A Blue Chip, Citation Lindy and My Back Pages and going with Federal Flex. Federal Flex won the Goodtimes at Mohawk on heart as he scoped sick after the race. Having a little time off, I expect a sharper effort and if I my suspicions are correct, we may be seeing the horse that may derail the Hambeltonian coronation of Muscle Hill. Hot Shot Blue Chip is a horse that drives a trainer to drink. Last start in the Dickerson Hot Shot finished 2nd by a neck after breaking twice; once at the half and the second time at the wire. He has the talent but just needs to mind his manners (my guess is he will be a monster as an aged trotter). While I can't pick him, if Federal Flex is too short on the odds and Hot Shot is ignored, I may take a stab with him. Mr Cantab has been coming along slow and seems to be reaching his peak coming into this race. While there is no chance he can keep up with a ready to go Federal Flex, I expect him to be in the triple.

News Item: The Pot of Gold may be Turning to Bronze

As I have mentioned several times in this blog, VLTs are not the end all to save racing; at best they are a crutch. Once states get squeezed for funds to pay for their social programs, they are going to look for funds wherever they can get them. Many involved in the sport, either due to wishful thinking or naively think VLTs are the cure all. "Business can go on as it is now, we have our slot fueled purses and the good times will go on forever even if we are racing in front of empty stands and little wagering".

Well the wake up call has arrived. In Pennysylvania, the state has a budget impasse and the state House of Representatives is looking to take $100 million dollars dedicated to the standardbred and thoroughbred Race Horse Development Funds which is generated by the VLTs and divert the funds to the state budget. If this was to happen, expect to see the caliber of racing in Pennsylvania make Monticello look like the Grand Circuit. As bad as this would be for Pennsylvania, the proverbial dominoes will begin to tumble and you will see pressure on other states to raid the 'cookie jar' sending racing into the dark ages. Not only will racing loose the slot revenue but they will loose the wagering dollars which are now being played in the VLTs at the racetracks. It will be the 'perfect storm'.

Hopefully, this action in Pennsylvania will be avoided; for now. However, make no mistake about it, sooner or later the slot money is going to disappear and racing better be prepared. Failure to improve the product will mean racing as we know it (or knew it) will be gone forever. Assuming the racing fund remains intact in Pennsylvania, hopefully people involved in horse racing will finally realize they need to look at the sport itself for improvement. Their future depends on it.

News Item: Slots bypassing Illinois Tracks.

The state of Illinois has approved slot machines for Illinois. Your local bar, restaraunt and truck stop in Illinois will be able to have slots machines. The River Boats have slots. The tracks? Nope. Say goodbye to racing. Guess here is Fairmount Park will be the first to shutter permanently. They already are stopping their current meet this year early due to the legal manuvering of the casinos with money already owed the tracks.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Final Hambo and Oaks Preps Preview

While the attention of the harness racing world is focused on the Meadowlands Pace this coming Saturday, the three year old trotters are getting ready for their final prep races for the Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks eliminations on August 1st. Many of the top contenders will be racing Friday night in the Delvin Miller (fillies) and Stanley Dancer (colt and geldings) Memorials at the Meadowlands.

In the first division of the Delvin Miller Memorial (4th race), Gabbys Dream, Raising Rachel, Margarita Momma and Windsong Soprano face off. Also of note in this division is a rare U.S. appearance of Jack Moiseyev on Raising Rachel who moved to Canada back in 2003 after being very successful on the New Jersey circuit for an extended period of time. In the second division of the Delvin Miller (6th race), Celebrity Deville, Honorable Daughter lead the field.

In the first division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial (5th race), Hambo favorite Muscle Hill makes his third parimutuel start of the year. Also in this division is Copy Catch and Tom Tango. The second division (8th race) is probably the more competitive field with Citation Lindy, Federal Flex, Mr Cantab and Hot Shot Blue Chip.

While I will provide my thoughts on these races tomorrow or Friday, some questions will be answered by the end of Friday evening. Is Federal Flex over his illness and ready to challenge Muscle Hill for the Hambletonian Crown? While Muscle Hill will likely win his division, will his victory be convincing enough to scare some contenders from the Hambletonian or will his lack of competitive racing show? Will the connections of Hot Shot Blue Chip be able to figure out how to keep this talented but erratic trotter flat? On the filly side, how will Gabbys Dream and Windsong Soprano race coming of their qualifiers?

Does another filly or colt all of a sudden step up and become a major threat on August 1?

Things will be a lot clearer come Saturday morning.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

If We Don't Discuss it the Problem Will Go Away, Another Voice for Racinos

Let me preface this column by once again mentioning this blog is to discuss harness racing from the fan's view. As such, this blog will discuss all things related to harness racing; from the good and not so good. The topics will vary though at times there will be a concentration on one particular topic or another. So kindly indulge me for another, albeit brief, entry regarding horse slaughter.

In another forum, there was a brief discussion regarding the Salon article concerning horse slaughter which was mentioned in an earlier post from this blog as well as the proposal of surcharging various fees to provide for the means of retiring or at worst, humanely euthanizing a horse that is no longer able to race. There were few responses to the thread in that forum, which was troubling in itself for reasons I will discuss shortly, but the some responses were surprising. Here are a a couple of sample responses:

"...this (animal slaughter) is a very distressing subject to discuss, but is a fact of life with no apparent solution in the near future..."

"...this is a distressing topic to discuss, ...but for myself, I would rather not know the gory details of what happens to our athletes once they are not racing any more. Just human nature I suppose. I would hope they all go to green pastures or become members of police force to live out their lives, unfortunately, this not the case as long as there is a market for their meat."

To be sure, there were a couple responses of how as owners they took care to make sure their charges found a suitable home when they were done racing and that is to be applauded.

Then there is the lack of responses by people in various forums where this is discussed. Why don't people join in the discussion? Most likely it is because they have the same sentiments as the people quoted above, they don't care, or they believe if we don't discuss the problem it will go away (and yes, there is probably a very small minority that don't have a problem with horse slaughter).

The problem is not going to go away if we don't talk about it and work on addressing the problem; the status quo is unacceptable. Attitudes towards animals have changed; society is more 'enlightened'. If we don't do anything about our unwanted horses the animal rights people will do something about it and you will see harness racing disappear. Can't happen? How many racetracks are still in operation because of the VLTs? As states continue to have budget issues, animal rights groups like PETA will be sure to launch a campaign to make sure slot revenue for horse racing goes away as a way to fund social programs in the various states as well ending the inhumane treatment of unwanted race horses (horse slaughter). These groups have been very successful in crippling greyhound racing; once they finish that industry off they will turn to horse racing.

This is not the only reason we should be doing something about unwanted race horses. It is the right thing to do both ethically and business-wise. Ethically, we owe it to these animals who perform for us to treat them right when their racing career is over by letting them start new careers or if so seriously injured that they can't become pasture animals, euthanized; not sent to the horrors of a slaughterhouse. Business-wise, considering what owners pay to keep horses racing they certainly can afford to give the horse away to a rescue group or if that far gone, they can afford to euthanize a horse that can't physically tolerate a life as a pasture horse. Let's call it an investment in the long term survival of their industry. If they can't do that, they have no business being an owner.

Continuing on the stranglehold Atlantic City has over New Jersey racing, State Senator Steven Oroho writes an opinion piece which indicates why it is time for New Jersey to get racinos. Apparently, the doom and gloom the casino industry says racinos will cause is all smoke. According to studies the author mentions, opening a racino at the Meadowlands will have for all practical purposes no impact on Atlantic City, all it will do is bring back the gaming dollars spent at Yonkers back into New Jersey where the state will benefit; very little additional gambling dollars will be transferred from Atlantic City to the Meadowlands.

Monday, July 13, 2009

How About Trials?

Having another sleepless night, I was watching TVG late Saturday night when they were showing quarterhorse racing from Los Alamitos. They were having trials for the upcoming Governor's Cup Futurity. For those of you who are unfamiliar with quarterhorse racing, instead of having eliminations for their stake races, they have trials. There may be five or six trials for a particular race (or futurity) and instead of the top two or three finishers in each race advance to the final, the ten fastest finishers qualify for the stake race. This means you can conceivably win your trial but if your winning time is not one of the ten fastest individual times, you don't advance.

Now, I know there is a big difference between quarterhorses and harness racing. For one thing, quarterhorse races are timed in thousands of a second and for the most part, they race down a straight away where harness racing is timed in fifths of a second and race around turns thus you have a greater chance of being a victim of racing luck. But is there a way we can modify the quarterhorse trial model and incorporate it in harness racing? What would happen if we changed our timings from fifths of a second to tenths or hundreds of a second and for our stake races say the fastest eight, nine or ten horses get into a final of a stakes race?

Before you dismiss this idea as poppycock, let's consider the fact that many people consider eliminations not worthy of betting. Many, myself included, feel there are times where a horse's connections are more concerned finishing in the top five rather than winning a race. If the finalists were determined by the fastest ten finishers from all the trials (eliminations) instead of the top three, four or five finishers in each race wouldn't the complexion of each race change? Wouldn't each race become more exciting with constant movement instead of having drivers trying to back the fractions down? There would be a greater sense of urgency with these eliminations. Races would become more exciting for gamblers and fans alike. If there are consolations for a race, the ten fastest horses could qualify for the final, the second fastest ten horses qualify for the first consolation and so forth. The races would still be based on conditions like they are now; we are not looking to reintroduce time bars.

Yes, there are other things to consider, such as what do you do in the event of a disqualification (assign an individual time slower than the offended horse), but these are details which can be worked out. That being said, let's consider the possibility; perhaps try the concept with a smaller stake race.

Maybe it is or maybe it is not a good idea but we need to start thinking outside of the box to freshen the product. Who knows? Trials may be part of the solution to revive racing.

Any thoughts?