For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Monday, August 31, 2009

Lessons from Iowa

The management at Prairie Meadows turned down the latest proposal from the various horsemen groups to modify the proposed racing calendar for 2010 which would have saved the standardbred meet at Iowa's one parimutuel track for 2010 as well improve the other breed's race meets . There is still a chance that Prairie Meadows will be ordered to stage a harness meet next year by state regulators if management is not able to come to an agreement with the horsemen.

Why is the Prairie Meadows story important? It is because the three racing breeds in Iowa, quarterhorse, standardbred, and thoroughbred worked together to come up with an alternative racing proposal to meet the common good instead of just worrying about themselves. Most of the time breed associations only work together on issues such as VLTs but otherwise, they are each busy trying to maximize their presence in a particular state at the expense of the other breed(s) including trying to keep other breeds out of the track(s) they race at.

While the efforts of the Iowa horsemen may not have succeeded this year, they may be successful next year. Racing is in trouble. If each breed works together for the common good, on scheduling and other issues of concern besides VLTs everyone will prosper. Otherwise, continue worrying only about your own breed and when you need help, no one will be there to support you.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Stakes Recap, More on Whipping

Last night the 3yo trotters were on display at Yonkers Raceway and Balmoral Park. It was a mixed night result wise.

In the Hudson Filly Trot at Yonkers Raceway, Windsong Soprano returned to her early season form with a mild upset in 1:56.3. For sure, her evening was made easy with the two elimination winners, Yursa Hanover and Seaside, going off stride in the first turn. While I had picked Windsong Soprano to win, I must confess I was happy to see the two elimination winners going off stride.

The Yonkers Trot was an easy walk in the park for Judge Joe from post position one with his wire to wire win in 1:56.1. I must confess, being most of his wins this year have been in state restricted races, I did not take him seriously. That being said, I think his best efforts will continue to be on the half mile oval. My only disappointment in this race was Celebrity Athena went off stride during the race so we really did not get a chance to see how good this filly was in comparison to the colts.

At Balmoral Park, the American Nationals were held for the 3yo trotters. Muscle Hill as expected won the colt stake in a track record 1:52.3. Muscle Hill basically stayed back slowly advancing until he reached the stretch at which time he took off. Looks like is ready to take on all comers in the World Trotting Derby.

In what was probably the most competitive race out of the quartet of stake races, Southwind Wasabi won the filly American National in 1:54.3 followed by Celebrity Juliet. At the end, these two were off by themselves. Of note, was Celbrity Deville who broke once again. It seems like Deville is another Hot Shot Blue Chipl when she's flat she's good but she is just as likely to jump.

Following up on my blog entry yesterday regarding the new whipping rules being implemented in Ontario starting September 1; other racing discussion boards have comments that whipping is a perceived problem which does not exist; whipping does not keep us from developing new fans and gamblers.

Well, the Ontario Racing Commission has documented all the submissions and background materials used in developing the new policy. Of particular interest was a survey taken at Grand River Raceway of patrons and participants regarding whipping. The participants in the sport that responded for the most part did not see a problem with whipping; mostly calling for the enforcement of existing rules. That being said, there were a few comments from participants which may be eye openers; you will need to review the survey to see these comments yourself.

Now, as to the fan's response to the survey, their views on whipping are much different from the participants. Here are some numbers to consider:

  • 38% of the patrons feel whips are not necessary at all as a safety tool for training and racing. A minority for sure, but not an insignificant minority.
  • 41% of the patrons feel whips are not a necessary tool to encourage a horse's performance during a race. Again a significant number.
  • 60% of the patrons disapprove or feel disgust regarding the use of whips during a race.
  • 74% of the patrons would prefer less or no whipping during a race.
  • 71% of the patrons feel based on their experiences with friends, family and acquaintances that the people they know would not or would be hesitant to attend the races based on their perceptions of the use of the whip.

So much for the myth that whipping has no impact on developing new fans. How many of our patrons who disapprove of the use of the whip in a race will finally see one whipping too many and go home never to return? How many people/gamblers never try harness racing because of the perceptions they have regarding whipping?

There is certainly a disconnect between the participants and the patrons but you know what? If you own a business, you can sell what you want but if it is not what your patrons want, you go out of business. The ORC is trying to address the customer's wishes.

For those states/provinces that have not yet dealt with the whipping rules, I have this to say:

The problem is real. You need to deal with it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A New Day Comes to Ontario on September 1

September 1, 2009 is a big day for harness racing in Ontario. On Tuesday, the Ontario Racing Commission(ORC) is implementing new rules regarding the urging of horses for all breeds. These new rules "take into consideration the safety of the participants, the welfare of the horse and the perception of the product." These rules were developed in conjunction with working groups from within the industry.

The new rules, among other things, bans kicking a horse; using a whip between the hind legs of a horse; requires a driver to give a horse a chance to respond to the whip before whipping the horse again; bans the use of a whip when a horse does not visibly respond to the whip or is not in contention for a meaningful position. A driver may no longer drive with the lines in one hand and further limits how the whip may be used. If you wish to read all the changes, you may click on these two links; the rule changes and the fines and definitions . The rule does not jeopardize driver safety as it permit the use of the whip in an effort to prevent an accident. As for teeth, the rule denotes minimum penalties and provides for placings as a result of interference caused by whipping or for flagrant violation of the new rules.

Of course there are people who are objecting to the new rule. Some object to no longer allowing one-handed whipping (meaning both lines in one hand and the whip in the other) to which I will quote Alan Leavitt:

The people who argue for one-handed whipping, whether for the entire mile or just the last seven-eighths, what they are saying is that it is all right to inflict pain on an animal...

To which I add...

The time has come for drivers to succeed based on their ability to rate a horse, ability to read how the race is playing out, racing strategy, and horsemanship. No longer should a driver be able to succeed because they are willing to abuse their mount while their counterparts are unwilling to do so.

What is so horrible about this new rule? Do they object not being allowed to keep whipping a horse that is not responding to a whip? What is the sense of whipping a horse working his way back through the field when he/she is tired or when you are fighting for that sixth place finish?

Some people are saying this rule change will chase away the bettors; hasten the death of our sport. I will argue it will help save the sport. Sure some bettors may look at the new rule change with suspicion and perhaps bet a little less for a period of time. Once they see the only impact on racing is the welfare of the horse being protected, their betting will return to the previous level. If this new rule works as expected, not only will we prevent some drivers from whipping the daylights out of a horse, we may actually be able to attract new people to the sport who previously have been repulsed seeing a horse kicked or excessively whipped.

Opinions regarding animal welfare have greatly changed over the years. The way we have done things in the past is not a valid excuse. Racing in the past has been slow to respond to the changing environment. With regard to the treatment of our equine stars, we may not get many chances. Look at Greyhound racing.

Hopefully after seeing how the new rule works in Ontario and seeing racing does not collapse as a result, other racing jurisdictions will adopt the Ontario rule. If there are drivers that can't adapt to the new rules, then they are free to seek employment elsewhere. Those drivers that don't abuse a horse have nothing to fear. The rules concerning whipping and kicking of horses need to be changed not just for the public opinion and perception, it is the right thing to do.

Society has become more 'enlightened'. Isn't it time for racing to do the same?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Balmoral and Yonkers Stakes Action

This weekend we turn our attention to stakes action at Balmoral Park and Yonkers Raceway. Yonkers hosts the Yonkers Trot and the companion filly stakes in the Hudson Filly Trot and Balmoral hosts the American National colt and filly stakes for 3yo trotters. There is other action of note Saturday as well. Freehold Raceway has a single elimination for the Cane Pace. While Well Said is skipping the Cane Pace, this elimination has a field of talented 3yos looking to qualify for next week's final.

Before we get to the racing action, here is a story about racing officials in Ontario reaffirming a 10 year suspension to a driver/trainer for administring DPO to a horse. If this offense occured in the United States, how long do you think the trainer would have been suspended for?

One thought came to mind while I was handicapping the feature races at both tracks. In order to make my selections I need to purchase programs for both Balmoral and Yonkers. While I think it is a mistake for each track not to offer free programs, if we are going to have to pay for programs wouldn't it be a good idea for Trackmaster to offer a Saturday Night Feature Race Program which would contain the program pages for any stakes races and FFA and Invitational Races being raced? This way for those that use ADWs or otherwise wager via simulcasting sites, there would be one program containing all the feature races fans would likely be interested in.

Anyway, here are my selections for the the major races at Balmoral and Yonkers:

Balmoral 4th - American National - 3yo trotting colts and geldings
5 - Muscle Hill (6-5)
4 - Dr McDreamy (10-1)
1 - Southern Rocketop (6-1)
7 - Winning Mister (12-1)

Muscle Hill had a sharp qualifier at Lexington. While the 1:56.2 mile does not appear to be spectacular, trainer Greg Peck indicated he thought the track was about three seconds slow. Dr McDreamy has been racing well at Balmoral. Lost to Southern Rocketop last start out but I expect him to improve. Southern Rocketop is the local horse everyone is talking about. Beat Mr. McDreamy in Springfield in last but horse likes to race from the front. Don't expect he will be able to race on front end unchallenged this time, hence the lower selection. Winning Mister easily won at Indiana Downs; completes superfecta.

Balmoral 5th - FFA Handicap Pace
7 - Palone Ranger (3-1)
3 - Special Joe (4-1)
6 - Manhardt (9-5)
4 - Distinct Color (6-1)

Palone Ranger is the class of the race. Qualifier at Lexington in 1:51.4 with :25,4 last quarter indicates he is ready to win. Special Joe is a hard hitting gelding who is best of the local talent. Manhardt won last week in 1:50.4 for seasonal debut in this class last week. May land second but don't see possibility to take top spot. Distinct Color completes the superfecta with better post this week.

Balmoral 6th - American National - 3yo trotting fillies
6- Southwind Wasabi (9-2)
4 - Pleasing Lady (6-1)
9 - Celebrity Juliet (7-2)
8 - Caviar Forthe Lady (6-1)

Southwind Wasabi won at Indianapolis in the Horsemen in 1:56. Sylvester trainee is albeit a tepid favorite here. Pass if odds are short. Pleasing Lady won Review Stakes at Springfield ; has been racing well in PASS. Celebrity Juliet has been competitive before last race at Yonkers where she jumped; toss as she returns to the bigger oval. Caviar Forthe Lady has been picking up pieces on the East coast; was freshened so she may pick up a minor share.

Yonkers 7th - Hudson Filly Trot - 3yo trotting fillies
7 - Windsong Soprano (6-1)
8 - Seaside (4-1)
4 - Yursa Hanover (9-5)
1 - Hall of Wishes (5-1)

Windsong Soprano was an early season favorite. Highest money earner of field this year has been somewhat disappointing. Post hurts but has been racing better than her lines show. Begins redemption here. Seaside is another horse that the post gods have not been kind to. Elimination winner draws outside; may land significant share. Yursa Hanover is the horse to beat but offers little value; taking a chance on an upset here. Hall of Wishes makes second start since return; rounds out superfecta tickets.

Yonkers 9th - Open Handicap Pace
7 - Dave Aint Here (15-1)
6 - Psilvueheartbreaker (10-1)
4 - Meant to be Me (8-1)
1 - Real Nice (9-5)

Dave Aint Here had no chance in last start at Meadowlands. Won last race in this class (though from rail); looking for a major upset. Psilvueheartbreaker seems to be improving again. Winner of only one race has $229,000 on his card this year from racing at Yonkers. May land second. Mean to be Me just missed in lower company last time, may pick up a share. Real Nice finally draws inside; has been showing much better efforts when racing from the inside but may be tailing off; can't be played at 9-5.

Yonkers 10th - Yonkers Trot - 3yo open trot
6 - Calchips Brute (4-1)
8 - Broadway Bistro (8-1)
7 - Celebrity Athena (8-1)
1 - Judge Joe (7-5)

Calchips Brute finished 2nd last time racing parked out from seven hole. Finished third in Hambo and no Muscle Hill or Explosive Matter here. Scores minor upset. Broadway Bistro is another elimination winner drawing the worst post; lands second with a trip. Celbrity Athena has been racing very well in filly stakes. Post is what keeps me from picking her to win; can do better. Judge Joe was sold to new owners after elimination last week; elimination winner gets new driver. Just can't get past fact most wins have been in NYSS; at 7-5 let him beat me.

In other news, it looks like Illinois residents will get an opportunity to open ADW accounts shortly as a result of Governor Quinn's signing of a new law authorizing the ADWs to operate in Illinois. It will be interesting to see how much this may hurt the tracks with regards to on track handle. This is just another reason why racing needs to reinvent itself to deal with the new reality.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fair Start Rule Update

Word has been received that at the August 19th meeting of the New Jersey Racing Commission held at Monmouth Park, the racing commission voted to accept the petition requesting the implementation of a fair start rule in New Jersey. As a result of this decision, the NJRC will publish a proposed rule change along with a solicitation for public comment. At the end of a 60 day public comment period the racing commission will review the comments received and then decide whether to approve, modify or reject the proposed rule.

The fact this proposal got this far is good; the petition could have been rejected at the commission meeting. However, we can not rest on our laurels. Once the proposed rule change is published, it will be available online at the bottom of this page. If you want a fair start rule make sure you voice your support for the proposed rule by commenting during the 60 day public comment period (it must be in writing); those who don't want to see a fair start rule will certainly be raising their objections. I will try to publicize when the proposed rule change is published for comment.

Make sure to make your voice heard; after all, if you don't stand up for your interests, who will?

The Flaws of Eliminations Illustrated, Track Pack PA

This weekend at Freehold Raceway, there will be one elimination race for the $300,000 Cane Pace Final. Vintage Master and Mr Wiggles received byes into the Cane Pace final. With eight horses entered this week, they will be racing for the six remaining spots in the final.

The conditions of the Cane Pace allow for byes if the number of horses entered for the eliminations would result in less than six betting interests in each elimination race. With ten horses dropping in the box, the two highest money earners get to skip the eliminations and move directly to the final. My preference is to avoid eliminations all together and determine the finalists by earnings (and possibly having consolations determined the same way) but this method is preferable to having races with only five entrants.

Now, after arguing the Hambletonian conditions need to be changed in the future to determine the field based on money earned, you may be wondering why I didn’t have an objection to having an elimination race this week. It is because the purse of the elimination race is meaningful enough to ensure all horses will be trying to win. The single elimination this week will be racing for a purse of $108,300. The purse for the elimination race is 36.1% of the final’s purse (the conditions call for 25% of the total purse being used for elimination races). On the other hand, the purse for an elimination of the Hambletonian was equal to 4.67% percent of the final (each elimination race was raced for $70,000 with the final worth $1,500,000); for the Meadowlands Pace each elimination race was worth 5% of the final ($50,000 eliminations for a $1,000,000 final).

There is a big difference when you are racing the following week for the $150,000 winner’s share and you can win $54,150 this week compared to racing the following week for $750,000 and you can win this week $35,000. While race sponsors won’t admit it, there is a reason why stake races like the Hambletonian and Meadowlands Pace let elimination winners choose their post positions; they know some trainers would be more concerned with qualifying for the far more lucrative final instead of winning their elimination. Being the purse this week is significant no doubt everyone will be trying to win. This year we are lucky that only one elimination race is needed; next year if more than one race is necessary we would be facing the same concerns I expressed with the Meadowlands Pace and the Hambletonian.

If we need to use eliminations, each race should have a purse equal to no less than 25% of the final. We don’t need the betting public wondering if horses are trying in the elimination and the following week wondering if a horse’s lackluster effort in an elimination race was due to the horse tailing off or just the trainer saving the horse for this week. If we can’t race each race for a minimum purse of 25% of the final, racing would be better served if the fields were determined by money earned. We should never be carding races which invite questions regarding the effort of the participants before the race is ever run. If we can’t fund elimination races right let’s get rid of them.

Track Pack PA - In an effort to attract younger people to the racetrack, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture have introduced a website Track Pack PA. The message is horseracing is hip. On this website, the Department of Agriculture promotes racing at all six Pennsylvania tracks, thoroughbred and standardbred. Explore the website and see what you think. It is nice to see a racino state actually promote racing instead of the slots.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Loose Horses and No Contests

When it comes to racing, sometimes people rise to the occasion. Whether through people like Fran Azur making the Barton Fair special this year by sending his two best horses up to appear in an exhibition race with their nationally recognized drivers and supplementing purses, to people like driver Corey Callahan, the starter and paddock judge at Chester Downs and others, including fans, making donations to help pay horseman Jason Moore’s medical bills (there is still an auction for autographed racing whips and other items for benefit of Jason going on; just search for harness whips and then when in the listing click on 'See other items' under the seller's name).

Then sometimes racing brings out the worst in people. On Monday night at Chester Downs, there was an accident which resulted in half the eight horse field being wiped out. After the race was over the judges declared the race ‘No Contest’ and ordered all wagers refunded. Well, needless to say there were objections by some regarding the race being declared ‘No Contest’ with one person even claiming the judges were ‘crooked’. I assume the person who claimed the judges were crooked was a gambler who had the winning horse. After hearing these comments I had to watch the replay of this race to see what happened.

During the race, one of the horses involved in the accident got loose and ran the wrong way. As the quartet of remaining horses came through the stretch the second time, they had to go wide as the loose horse was heading up the stretch the wrong way. True, all the remaining horses had to deal with the same situation but a couple of drivers eased their horses up as they went wide through the stretch as they were more concerned to ensure there was no collision. After the race was completed, the judges took quite a bit of time in making their decision to declare the race ‘No Contest’. On the replay I watched via NJAW, seven minutes passed and by the time the replay ended, the judges still did not make a ruling. My guess is the judges talked to the drivers to see how the loose horse impacted them while they were making a decision. Ultimately, they decided on declaring the race ‘No Contest’

If there was any problem, it was not with the judges but with the rules. Have you ever seen what happens when two horses collide head on? Usually you have at least one or two dead horses and who knows what injuries occur to the driver(s). True, most of the time the horse runs in a straight line but if no one is in control of the horse there is always a chance the horse will change course; especially if the loose horse comes upon the draw gate or the paddock. If anything should happen as a result of Monday night’s incident, it is that the rules should be changed so in the future if a horse gets loose during a race and runs in the opposite direction where the possibility exists for the remaining field to meet up the loose horse during the race, the drivers should be instructed to pull their horses up as soon as possible to get away from the loose horse with the race being automatically declared ‘No Contest’; no ifs and/or buts. Err on the side of caution.

I sure like to cash a ticket whenever possible, but not at the expense of putting a driver and horse in danger as a result of a possible head on collision. The rules should be changed now, not after we have an incident we will regret.

Someone at the NY Times must be reading View From the Racetrack Grandstand - Well, may be not. I previously wrote about the need for the standardbred industry to ensure their equine stars are protected once their racing careers have concluded. In my proposal, I had suggested a fee being charged at certain times starting when the horse is registerd to ensure there is an account set up for each horse's use once they are no longer able to race. The funds in these accounts would be used to send a horse to a retirement organization and give a little money to the group to help pay for their operations; hopefully enough money to get the horse retrained and adopted out, with a provision to provide the owner with the same compensation they would have gotten if the horse was sent to slaughter. In addition, the account will be available to pay for euthanasia if the horse not fit for retirement.

In an editorial, the New York Times is calling for the institution of a fees at different times in a horse's life, starting with the breeders to pay for the upkeep of the horses once their career is over as well as making sure the fee is high enough to discourage over breeding. This proposal is very similar to the one I proposed. The industry needs to take notice of this editorial, not even for the specifics. If you are getting editorials in mainstream newspapers concerning the fate of retired racehorses, the policy of encouraging better treatment of our former equine athletes is no longer sufficient; it is time to mandate the treatment.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Final Thoughts on Gold Cup & Saucer

Well, the final attendance total for the Gold Cup & Saucer is in. Out of a total population of roughly 150,000, 20,000 people attended the final race card of Old Home Week at Charlottetown. At the Meadowlands for Breeders Crown night, 10,060 people attended the races in a market of over 11,000,000 people. Who is doing what right? Thanks to PullthePocket for providing the attendance total for Charlottetown.

Seems like the victory for Gold Cup & Saucer winner All the Weapons is going to be an expensive victory. Turns out All the Weapons was claimed in Ontario where a jail rule exists which meant All the Weapons could not race outside of Ontario for a period of 60 days. The owners were warned that they faced heavy sanctions if they did race, but they decided to race anyway. Last year the second place finisher Match Bayama also was raced in violation of ORC rules and the owners were fined $3,600. Based on the same formula, it appears the owner of All the Weapons are facing a fine of at least $4,000 if not more. My guess is since this is the second year in a row someone violated the rule to race in the Gold Cup & Saucer, I expect the ORC to throw the book at the owners of All the Weapons.

Canada's Adrenaline Fest and Xtreme Horsepower; U.S.? Nothing

This past weekend, Adrenaline Fest was held at Hiawatha Horse Park in Xarnia, Ontario. This upcoming weekend, Xtreme Horsepower will be held at Georgian Downs in Innisfil, Ontario. Both of these events have been designed to stimulate interest in harness racing. The goal of Adrenaline Fest is to introduce harness racing to individuals that would not normally think of going to the races by making racing part of a festival celebrating the horse. Xtreme Horsepower is designed to increase interest in racing by tapping into the younger generation's fascination in Xtreme Sports (ever see the X-Games on ESPN?).

Xtreme Horsepower has proven to be somewhat successful as the third edition is being held this Saturday. For those of you that are interested in seeing it this year, you may check the Georgian Downs website for the a free program later this week as well as watch a live video feed (find a track in the United States offering this). Some simulcast and ADW websites in the United States such as NJAW will be accepting wagers on the Xtreme Horsepower card. Adrenaline Fest has just concluded. While reports indicate it was successful, further analysis is required to see if it will return next year.

The question is why don't we try any events such as these in the United States? Make no mistake about it, an event or two like these will not solve harness racing's problems; takeouts are still to high; unfriendly race program and conditions; we take too long to complete a race card; we race too much/too long so our best horses are stretched thin and we have fan fatigue; many still don't want to recognize society's changing views regarding animal cruelty and see nothing wrong with whipping; we have owners continuing to use (and flock to) trainers that regularly get nailed for drug positives and tracks which don't show these trainers the door; drivers/trainers that get banned in certain states/provinces or tracks move to other jurisdiction and openly are welcomed at other tracks. However, even if all of racing's ills are resolved, if we don't develop new fans to replace the fans that are aging and moving on, it doesn't matter. We can't wait until we solve all our problems; if you don't get the interest of someone when they are young (say, under thirty), odds are you never will.

We don't even need to wait for an Adrenaline Fest or Xtreme Horsepower to try to attract new fans. It can be as simple as a racino putting monitors on the casino floor to expose people who never wagered on a harness race to racing. Put a couple of tellers on the casino floor, even if just by the bar to allow people to wager on the races while they play the slots. How about racing once in awhile during the daytime on a weekend or holiday to introduce racing to people who normally don't visit the racino when live racing takes place? Your track is not a racino? You can still race once in a while when you can attract your local population instead of always racing when you can get the most exposure in the simulcast marketplace; not like Monticello which only races during the week except two Sundays a year.

It doesn't always take rocket science; sometime all it takes is a will.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hats off to Fran Azur

In a sport where bad news gets most of the press, it is a rare occasion when we get to salute someone that does something extra special for this sport. If you have not already seen it, please read this story about Fran Azur who made this year's Barton Fair in Vermont special. Mr. Azur sent his horses Blueridge Western and Noble Falcon to the fair and secured the services of Brian Sears and Tim Tetrick to drive them in an exhibition race to beat the Vermont state record of 1:59.4. In addition, Mr Azur provided a $16,000 purse supplement to the two day fair. The Barton Fair became big news this year as a result.

We need more Fran Azurs in this sport. Hopefully others will follow his lead.

Meadowlands Survival Guide 2010

The 2009 Meadowlands harness meet has mercifully come to a close. While the final figures have not been released, no doubt the handle and number of starters per race have taken a serious hit with attendance continuing to decline. Sure, some of the downturn is attributable to the economy but the major contributor to the decline of the Meadowlands is the lack of slot machines. Horses that could handle the half mile track crossed the river to Yonkers Raceway. Once Pocono and Chester Downs opened, many of the stables headed to Pennsylvania in search for slot fueled purses. For the first time in the Meadowlands harness history, $7,500 claimers graced the oval, seven and eight horse fields became the norm. Casual and serious bettors turned away from the Meadowlands product. In a nutshell, everything management said would happen as a result of the lack of the VLTs did occur.

Regardless of what the governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel finally decides upon, 2010 promises to be more of the same; the Meadowlands will be at a competitive disadvantage next year. The question is, based on what happened this year, is there anything the Meadowlands can do to make the best of a lousy situation next year? The answer is yes; here are some ideas which may help improve the quality of the racing next year. Some of these ideas will require cooperation from the horsemen’s association. Hopefully, they will work with management to stablize the situation.

Introduce Classified Racing – Readers of this blog have heard me call for classified racing in the past. This time, the goal of introducing classified racing is different; it is to increase the horse population. You have some horses racing at racinos where while the purse structure has been greatly improved, it is still below the Meadowland’s structure. A horse successful at one of these ‘second tier’ racinos may be tempted to try the Meadowlands but due to the artificially high purses, they would have to race in a conditioned class where they are overmatched due to money earned or be forced to race in a claimer which the owner doesn’t want to do. As a result, they stay at their home track. If the Meadowlands had classified racing, the racing secretary would be able to classify the horse in the proper class thus ensuring the owner that their horse would have a fair chance to win without having to get thumped in four or five starts to get their earnings down, thus encouraging stables to migrate to the Meadowlands.

Less is Better – Can’t get a race card with ten races with at least eight horses entered? Combine races or drop the race. Better to have a card with eight races with competitive full fields than race ten races with short fields. There are days Hollywood Park has only eight races a day. The fear of racing only eight races on a card is less money would be wagered. However, wagering is down due to short fields. Have races with full fields and the handle will increase. Also, being will to card less than ten races will help the Meadowlands avoid having to card even cheaper claiming or conditioned races.

Handicap Conditions – If the decision is made to continue with conditioned races, if you have races which don’t fill, combine the races and handicap them based on their original conditions, For example, have a race with nw6000cd with five in the box and a race with nw7500cd with five in the box. Combine the race and put make it a handicap; nw6000cd horses draw for the inside with the nw7500cd drawing outside instead of racing two races with short fields. What do you do if you have one class with five in the box and six in the box in the other class and you want to combine them? Add a little to the purse and let all eleven horses race (yes, a trailer). Better to keep the horse racing than forcing them to wait a week to race.

Future Rewards – Keep track of owners and/or trainers that race at the Meadowlands next year. Make it known that it is the intention of management at the Meadowlands (and Freehold) to introduce some late closing series if/when alternative gaming comes which will be restricted to owners and/or trainers that have a minimum number of starts next year at each track or let it be known if there is an overflow of horses wanting to race at the Meadowlands, preference will be given to trainers or owners that raced a certain number of starts at the Meadowlands in 2010. Can this be done? Once Yonkers reopened there were rewards for the horsemen who raced during the lean years and Delaware gave preference to their local horsemen once slots were introduced. The concern of not being able to race for bigger purses in the future may persuade horsemen to not completely abandon the Meadowlands.

Reality is slots will not be coming to the Meadowlands until 2011 at the earliest if at all (my read is they will be coming). Bad enough we may be seeing $2,500 claimers at Freehold the way things are going but if something is not done to stimulate the horse population at the Meadowlands, parity may be achieved with the thoroughbred program in New Jersey; $5,000 claimers may be trotting and pacing around the Meadowlands oval and even less money will be wagered and purses will be cut. The downward spiral will continue. Some drastic steps need to be taken in order to put the brakes on the decline and stabilize things until the slots show up. The question is whether or not management and horsemen are up to the challenge.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Breeders Crown Recap

The 2009 Breeders Crown for aged horses are in the books. Plenty of records were set; some races were run by favorites; others by longshots. All that was missing were fans attending the races. But first, a quick review of the races.

Lucky Jim won easily in 1:52.1 over a good track in the Breeders Crown for Aged Open Trotters. After the quarter, Lucky Jim took the lead and then controlled the rest of the race. His race was a text book example of how a 1-9 favorite should win. With his win, Lucky Jim is now fourteen for fifteen this year and holds the Meadowlands record for consecutive wins by a trotter by winning fourteen straight.

While the plans are to shut Lucky Jim down for the rest of the year, it would be nice to see if some racetracks could put together some races to keep Lucky Jim racing through the Red Mile's meet; it would be interesting to see what kind of record he could set down in Lexington. Unfortunately, we likely will not get the opportunity. The good news is the owners are already planning next year's campaign and are looking to include the Elitlopp in those plans. If Lucky Jim can successfully navigate the 5/8 and half mile ovals, he has the potential to become one of the greatest aged trotters.

As for the Breeders Cup Open Mare Trot, Buck I St Pat came through with the money on the line in winning in a stakes record 1:52. While her race was not as easy as Lucky Jim's, she was able to go four wide turning into the stretch and pull away. Hopefully she will be returning to the racing wars next year and will return to Sweden to take another shot at the Elitlopp.

Won the West shocked the aged pacers with his Breeders Crown Aged Open Pace victory in a record 1:47, the fastest crown race in any division. In this case, Won the West's victory was a tribute to the perfect trip. For me, the most impressive horse in this race was Shadow Play. Despite being an 'almost certain to be scratched' he managed to finish a solid 2nd despite his foot problems. Shadow Play may be one of those horses where we never get to see his full potential due to soundness issues.

Hana Hanover equaled the world record 1:48.4 in the Breeders Crown for Aged Open Mares upsetting the field at 13-1 in a driving finish against Tug River Princess.

One thing to note. If you watch the replays of these races, you will see the apron is virtually empty. Sure the weather was not great, but just the same, having only 10,060 people at the tack (that includes those who showed up for afternoon simulcasting) is a sad commentary which should not be ignored. We can congratulate all the winners and pat ourselves on the back for putting on a good show but what good is it if no ones sees it? Perhaps this is one of the reasons the Hambletonian Society is moving to a one day extravaganza starting next year at Pocono Downs.

Gold Cup and Saucer - The Way Harness Racing Ought to Be

The 50th Anniversary of the Gold Cup & Saucer is now in the books. All the Weapons shocked the field at 27-1, just holding off Silent Swing in 1:53 over the Charlottetown oval.

Watch the replay of the race. Are the Gold Cup & Saucer girls a bit hokey? Perhaps. But after you watch the race once go back and watch it again. A full grandstand. The apron is packed with people from the track all the way back to the grandstand. People surrounding the entire race track. This for a race which occured after midnight.

Other than the Little Brown Jug, is there any race in America where you get a crowd like this? Attendance figures for last night are not available, but when you consider the population being drawn upon, it makes the 25,000 people that showed up for the Hambletonian embarrassing.

What does the Jug and Gold Cup & Saucer have in common? They are events. Something excluding the Jug we no longer have in harness racing in the United States. Last night at Chalottetown Driving Park is the way harness racing should be. While it is highly unlikely we can ever replicate the Gold Cup & Saucer experience on a mass scale in the States, there are lessons to be learned from CDP. The question is if we are willing to learn.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Breeders Crown Farewell? Well, maybe not.

In today's The Record, there is an article discussing how this year's Breeders Crown races are the end of a thirteen year run of the Meadowlands. The article goes on to report that the Hambletonian Society wanted to get all the races run on one day and the Meadowlands could not manipulate their racing calendar to accommodate the Society's plan. As a result, Pocono Downs will host the Breeders Crown in 2010 and then go to WEG in 2011. So, does this mean the end of the Breeders Crown at the Meadowlands?

When we got the offer from Pocono, we had to take it. The Meadowlands simply couldn’t commit, not knowing their dates schedule. Hopefully, it will get straightened out and we’ll be back there in 2012.

Ouch. I hope this does not mean the Hambletonian Society is counting on a return to racing the crown exclusively on the Meadowlands - WEG circuit after 2010. First of all, making the race the exclusive domain of the two leading tracks does not encourage the growth of the sport. Secondly, in a couple of years the Hambletonian Society may find the Meadowlands being unwilling to host the Crown.

Make no mistake about it, Mohawk/Woodbine and the Meadowlands, the flagship tracks for harness racing in Canada and the United States respectively, deserve to host the Breeders Crown races. That being said, the races should not be the exclusive domain of these two tracks. Yes, we want to get the most publicity for these races as possible, but allowing the Breeders Crown races to make a detour to other racetracks would help promote harness racing. These two goals are not mutually exclusive. Is Chicago a major market? Why not race the Breeders Crown races at Balmoral Park? What about Detroit? If the situation in Michigan ever stabilizes, why not Hazel Park? Pittsburgh? The Meadows. While Indiana may not be the hugest media market it is neither Siberia. Why not Hoosier Park or Indiana Downs? Kentucky? Why not The Red Mile? Philadelphia is not a minor market, why not Chester Downs or Dover Downs? I left off the list Maywood and Yonkers because of the reluctance of some horsemen to race on a half mile track. Racing the Crown at these tracks would allow for media coverage and, if marketed correctly, could provide a shot in the arm to publicize and grow interest in the sport in these areas. I am not suggesting the Crown becomes a wandering show touring different tracks each year. Why not keep the series primarily between WEG and The Meadowlands and every third year choose a different track to host the Breeders Crown?

My second point is the Meadowlands may be unwilling to host the Breeders Crown in the future. First of all, the current New Jersey racing calendar calls for thoroughbreds to be racing at the Meadowlands during October and November; the time the Crown is to be raced. Who knows if the NJSEA could reach an agreement with the thoroughbred interests to allow the racing calendar to change. The other question is who will be running the Meadowlands in a couple of years as well as if there be VLTs at the track. Questions are already being asked regarding the future of the NJSEA, which operates the Meadowlands. If the decision is made to privatize the track, will the new owner be dedicated to maintaining the existing racing program as the NJSEA? If a casino company or a consortium of gaming companies end up owning the Meadowlands as part of deal to get VLTs in the Meadowlands, will they treat racing like a necessary evil to get slots thus not want to host the Breeders Crown or will they treat the racing program as an integral part of their business? If VLTs don't come to the Meadowlands, there is no way the Meadowlands will be able to afford hosting the Breeders Crown; even the Hambletonian would be questionable.

If harness racing is ever going to grow in importance nationally, the Breeders Crown move outside of the New York and Toronto market needs to be more than a one year stop at Pocono Downs. Make a periodic stop at different tracks and if marketed correctly, we can bring some excitement to the Breeders Crown with the best horses visiting tracks they may not otherwise visit. Otherwise, the Crown will become stale; a celebration of the standardbred that no one other than horsemen and breeders will care about.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Limping to a Finish, Weekend Stakes Preview

The Meadowlands harness meet mercifully comes to an end this weekend. The problem of being able to attract horses to race at the Meadowlands is really magnified with this weekend’s race cards. Last year the Meadowlands had full fields through the end of the meet. This year is totally different. On Friday night, the Meadowlands has only nine races carded. Of the nine races, here is a breakdown on field sizes: Four races with six horses; two races with seven horses; two races with eight starters; one race with ten starters. For Saturday night’s stakes laden finale, there are twelve races on the card due to the six stakes races. The breakdown for the six overnight races have one nine horse field, four seven horse fields, and one six horse field; this accomplished by combining classes. As bad as this is, the reality is next year the Meadowlands meet will be as bleak as this year's or even worse as there will be no relief with regards to the horse shortage. In the next few days we will talk about some options to help the Meadowlands weather this storm until relief hopefully comes in 2011.

As bad as things are at the Meadowlands, things are going great at Yonkers Raceway. There are thirteen races nightly and on Saturday night with the exception of the Hudson Filly and Yonkers Trot eliminations, full fields is the rule as the entry box is regularly oversubscribed. The entry box is so oversubscribed that the SOA of NY has been advising their members to consider racing at the Meadowlands to get their horses raced.

Anyway, this Saturday, the Meadowlands is hosting the four Breeders Crown races for older horses as well as the Sweetheart and Woodrow Wilson stakes for 2yo pacers. In addition Yonkers is hosting eliminations for the Yonkers and Hudson Filly Trots with the finals taking place next week. In tribute to a great racing tradition, we are taking a look at the Gold Cup & Saucer at Charlottetown Driving Park even though it appears the race is not available for wagering through simulcasting in the States; hopefully next year some American tracks will recognize the race with its great tradition is worthy of simulcasting; even if not the full card.

Having completed my initial handicapping, here are my early bird selections for these races. As always, remember these are my initial selections; depending on scratches and other late changes my selections may change.

Meadowlands Race 3 – Breeders Crown Open Trot
2 – Lucky Jim (2-5)
6 – Arch Madness (6-1)
3 – In Focus (10-1)

Lucky Jim completes his amazing year in his seasonal finale. Current plans call for Lucky Jim to take the rest of the year off. Arch Madness had no shot in the Nat Ray; is second best in this race. In Focus is the best of the rest; adds a little value to the trifecta.

Meadowlands Race 4 – Breeders Crown Open Mares Trot
3 – Maid for Tag (7-2)
9 – Spice Queen (8-1)
2 – Buck I St Pat (5-2)
1 – Lavec Dream (8-1)

Handicapping this race is a little challenging. Since there were no eliminations for this race, the Meadowlands had a prep race. When handicapping this race one must question how much these horses were used last week and whether or not the trainer was looking ahead to this week. Maid for Tag is my tepid selection. Winner of the prep race last week she merits some consideration this week. I am expecting her to go off higher than her morning line. Anything close to this morning line or less, I will pass on her. Spice Queen has been close all year and showed improvement last week. If she can show anything like her 3yo form, she will be tough. Buck I St Pat faltered last week after a sharp win at Tioga in her previous start. If the prep race was being used as a tightner she is the horse to beat. On the other hand, perhaps she is tailing off. Your guess. Lavec Dream returns to the big oval; if she returns to her Mohawk form she may be the value bet here.

Meadowlands Race 6 – Woodrow Wilson 2yo Open Pace
1 - I’m Gorgeous (4-1)
2 – Windfall Blue Chip (2-1)
10 – Relaxed Fit (8-1)
8 – Payne’s Landing (15-1)

I’m Gorgeous is a winner of four out of five starts this year with one second place finish. He was an easy winner of his elimination and now draws the rail; looks to upend the other Teague trainee. Windfall Blue Chip is the other trainee. Undefeated (3 for 3) colt can win just as easily but doesn’t offer any value. Relaxed Fit was beaten by the second choice in his last start and draws the worst of it. Consider for trifecta. Payne’s Landing has not won yet but is better than he shows. If Payne’s Landing is racing at long odds consider him as a long shot selection.

Meadowlands Race 7 – Breeders Crown Open Mares Pace
3 – Darlin’s Delight (6-1)
4 – Dreamfair Eternal (3-1)
5 - Btwnyurheartnmine (5-1)
8 - Cuz She Can (15-1)

Here is another race where eliminations were not required. Darlin’s Delight and Dreamfair Eternal will not surprise if they finish one-two in this race; go for the value on top. Btwnyurheartnmine had sharp 1:48.4 prep at the Meadowlands; could be an upset possibility. Cuz She Can been sharp at Chester; finished fourth in her Meadowlands return; may improve now that she had a race over the track.

Meadowlands Race 9 – Sweetheart – 2yo Filly Pace
2 – Western Moonlight (9-5)
4 – BJ’s Canouan (4-1)
8 – Lover of Art (5-1)
1 – By Your Side (10-1)

Western Moonlight won her prep in 1:53 by open lengths; look for a repeat. BJ’s Canouan skipped the prep last week. Filly won Countess Adios in last start in 1:54; completes the exacta. Lover of Art raced a big mile to finish second behind top choice in prep; draws a bad post. By Your Side jumped in her last race; may complete superfecta if filly minds her manners.

Meadowlands Race 10 – Breeders Crown Open Horse and Geldings Pace
5 – Mister Big (2-1)
4 – Art Official (3-1)
1 – Won the West (10-1)

Press reports indicate Shadow Play is a likely scratch due to continuing foot issues. Mister Big is a horse that is known to be a threat in big money races; expect a better effort with the money on the line and a short field. Art Official won last week, finishes cheap exacta. Won the West has been under the radar most of the year; completes the trifecta.

Yonkers Race 4 – Hudson Filly Trot Elimination 1 – 3yo fillies
5 – Windsong Soprano (3-1)
6 – Yursa Hanover (5-1)
3 – Sea Raven (12-1)

Windsong Soprano was impressive in last start at Meadowlands. Filly was wiped out in her elimination in the Hambo Oaks; the one to beat. Yursa Hanover had two sharp qualifiers; would not surprise with a victory here; consider only if her odds provide value. Sea Raven is the best of the rest.

Yonkers Race 6 – Hudson Filly Trot Elimination 2 – 3yo fillies
4 – Seaside (3-1)
5 – Celebrity Juliet (1-1)
1 – Hall of Wishes (10-1)

Seaside draws into the easier division. She has been competitive against her division’s best and is my pick to win. Celebrity Juliet can beat the top pick but offers no value. Hall of Wishes qualified at Freehold; possibility if looking for a long shot play.

Yonkers Race 8 – Yonkers Trot Elimination 1 – 3yo Open
1 – Judge Joe (7-5)
3 – Copy Catch (6-1)
6 – Celebrity Athena (5-1)

Judge Joe had no chance in Hambo with an impossible post. Has been racing well prior and shows wins over the half mile track; one to beat. Only caution is his best efforts have come in NYSS races. Copy Catch met some monsters in the Colonial at Chester, this is a much easier field. Celebrity Athena has been competitive against the best fillies in the country; takes on the boys here and can upset this field.

Yonkers Race 9 – Yonkers Trot Elimination 2 – 3yo Open
4 – Vesuvio AS (6-1)
2 – The Chancellor (8-5)
7 – Calchips Brute (4-1)

Vesuvio AS has a proven ability to handle the half mile oval with good showings in the Dexter Cup elimination and finals. Colt took time off and prepped in NJSS race at Freehold in 1:58 and is my choice to upset The Chancellor. The Chancellor does not have to face Muscle Hill or Explosive Matter this week; is the horse to beat but will likely be over bet. Calchips Brute has been quietly picking up thirds in Hambo elimination, final and Colonial Trot at long odds. He clearly shows he belongs with these; only concern is the post position likely eliminates any win possibility.

Charlottetown Driving Park Race 13 -- Gold Cup & Saucer
8 - Silent Swing (7-2)
1 - Pacific Oak (5-2)
4 - Along Came Polly (3-1)
5 - All the Weapons (8-1)

Silent Swing is my selection here. Yes, the gelding draws post position eight and his wire to wire win in his trial was two seconds slower than the fastest trial but my feeling is he went only as fast as he needed to. Silent Swing has won the Des Smith Memorial early this season as well as some Opens at Mohawk so he has the class; also picks up Wally Hennessey for the final. Pacific Oak finished second to Along Came Polly but draws the rail; lands place spot. Along Came Polly won the fastest trial but looses the rail; this will be the difference. All the Weapons; former $20K claimer finished in a deadheat with Secret Weapon but had tougher trip; completes the superfecta.

Good luck and good racing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Harness Racing Trumped by the Jumpers

The powers that be in standardbred racing must be shaking their heads over the news that the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) and NBC Universal have have signed a three year contract for NBC Universal to televise a Breeders Cup-type championship consisting of twelve races being held at Far Hills, New Jersey and Great Meadow Racecourse in the Plains in Virginia with the races being held this year on October 17. While wagering will not be offered at these sites, the NSA is in the process of talking to ADWs and simulcast sites in the United States and Europe to have them offer wagering. The broadcast will consist of a total of twelve races with each location having six races; alternating between the two locations. The total purses for all twelve races will be $700,000 with the biggest purse being a $250,000 race.

NBC Universal has committed to five hours of television coverage which will also include online and broadband coverage. Whether the racing will be shown on NBC or on one or more of the NBC owned cable channels remains to be seen; my guess is being this event occurs during the college football season the broadcast will be on their cable channels.

Here is the kicker. To get the $1.5 million dollar Hambletonian on television, the Hambletonian Society and The Meadowlands split the production costs to put the broadcast together. The steeplechase championships? NBC Universal and NSA will split the production costs and share the potential profits.

While it will be interesting to see how this arrangement works out and to see how well it is received by the public, the standardbred industry must rethink our approach to getting on television. Perhaps the approach being taken by the NSA is the model we should be using. Depending on how the steeplechase championships is received this year maybe we should have the 2010 Breeders Crown races moved to a different date (currently it is scheduled for the evening of the thoroughbred championships) and seek a similar arrangement for broadcasting the Breeders Crown races. The Hambletonian? Maybe paying to get the race on the NBC broadcast network is not the way to go; perhaps showing the entire Hambletonian Day card using the steeplechase approach is better. More importantly, we need to wonder how harness racing got trumped by the jumpers; why do the jumpers have the foresight needed to be innovative while we spin our wheels unable to get more exposure for our industry? We have some soul searching to do.

It will be interesting how the NSA/NBC Universal deal plays out this year. It will be more interesting to see how the standardbred industry responds.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gold Cup and Saucer, Harness Racing Heaven

This Saturday at Charlottetown Driving Park (CDP) is the $60,000 Gold Cup and Saucer; the biggest race in the Maritimes. It means so much to win the Gold Cup & Saucer that many trainers and drivers that come from PEI wish for the opportunity to return to Charlottetown during Old Home Week to win this race. You may scoff about the excitement of a $60,000 race but to the people who race at CDP, this race may as well be the Hambletonian. After all, the bottom class at CDP goes for $700. Probably the closest thing we have to Old Home Week is the Delware County Fair.

You may ask what kind of racetrack can this be; purses like this makes Thunder Ridge look good. Well, racing at CDP is actually racing heaven. People who race in the Maritimes are racing not for the money but for the love of harness racing; much like racing was in the United States back when the horse was king. Some of the top horsemen that race(d) in the United States got their start racing on Prince Edward Island; Joe O'Brien, David Pinkney Jr., and Wally Hennessey quickly come to mind. Occasionally, a horse that gets their start racing in the Maritimes finds their way to success in the States. Waveore made his way down from Charlottetown to Yonkers and found success in the top classes.

For a taste of the Gold Cup and Saucer, here is last year's race:

Dean at PullthePocket went to Charlottetown earlier this week and writes of his experience; you should read his comments.

The Gold Cup and Saucer is that big of a race the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) will be offering wagering on the Charlottetown card that day. Sadly, I am not aware of any track or ADW in the States which will be offering wagering on the program.

As with many of the Canadian tracks, Harness Racing PEI offers the program for the Gold Cup and Saucer card. Once the program is finalized it will be available here. If your racetrack or ADW does not offer wagering on the Charlottetown card, you will be able to watch the race as Harness Racing PEI offers live video streaming. The Gold Cup racing program begins at 7:00pm ADT (6:00pm EDT).

Old Home Week at CDP is an experience not to be missed. I hope one day to be able to experience it in person. If you like harness racing just for the gambling it is probably not for you. But if you love harness racing the sport, you should add it to your 'must do' at least once list.

Old Home Week. Racing as it ought to be.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Time to Go Back to Our Roots?

While the Breeders Crown and a couple of other stakes are being held this weekend at the Meadowlands, the eyes of the standardbred industry is on the Grand Circuit which is now working its way to a crescendo as it progresses through the Midwest. This week, the Roarin' Grand stops at Springfield, Indianapolis, and Indiana Downs; then moves on to DuQuion, Mohawk (a brief detour), Delaware, and The Red Mile.

Except for people directly involved in the industry or the very hard core harness racing fan, if you don't live in the Midwest, these races will be conducted in relative obscurity. The industry on a whole does nothing to promote these events on a national level. While the Hambletonian which draws 25,000 people is highly promoted with national television coverage, the Little Brown Jug which draws 50,000 people gets no coverage on a national level. Yes, I know the Little Brown Jug is held on a Thursday afternoon which makes it hard to get national coverage, but do we need to ignore it?

Harness racing's strength has always been middle America. Our sport more so than the runners has its roots in the farming communities and small town America. How many of racing's driving and training stars come from families that have their roots in farming/agriculture and cut their teeth on racing at the county fairs? Do we celebrate this? No, we take the Hambletonian out of Southern Illinois and we move it to the shadows of downtown Manhattan. We race the Breeders Crown races exclusively in Toronto and East Rutherford, homes to the largest media outlets and in 2010 we move the races to Pocono Downs which is still in reach of the NYC media market. Our biggest equine stars used to appear at all the Grand Circuit tracks and now they selectively make an appearance at certain stops if at all. We have people who if they had their way would move the Little Brown Jug to a Saturday so there could be more media coverage despite the fact the race is extremely successful being raced on a Thursday afternoon, double the attendance at the Hambletonian. Heat racing has virtually disappeared, all in the name of making the product more appealing to the mass market.

No, we are not debating the merits of moving the Hambletonian to New Jersey or heat racing; that horse has left the barn and there is no going back. It is not any one individual move which has been made which matters, it is the over all trend. The point is we sold harness racing's soul in an attempt to bring racing back to its glory days.

Sure we want the sport to prosper and we recognize the need to get as much media coverage as possible. Being at this point racing is paying the production costs to get on television it makes sense to bring races to the big city to cut down on production costs. However, when the media comes to the Meadowlands to broadcast the Hambletonian, what are they seeing? They see 25,000 people at the track, great numbers for sure these days but a quick look at the grandstand shows a building half empty. This can't be impressing the media. What can we do to get a more positive spin on racing? It is time to pay tribute to harness racing's rural beginnings by getting the Little Brown Jug on television (cable or commercial).

In the Little Brown Jug, harness racing has a true jewel which we are not using to promote the sport. Other than the day the race is held, this race has everything we could ever want for a showcase event. It has 50,000 people in attendance (a full house); a ready made broadcast team in Roger Huston, Dave Bianconi, Sam McKee and Ellie Sarama; a race rich in history; a bit of Americana. More importantly, we have a successful event. How many of these do we have?

While it would be ideal if we could get the Jug on live television, it is not essential; a taped show would be almost as effective. The simulcast show the Delaware County Fair puts on puts any other racetrack's in-house/simulcast show to shame. By all means, if we can get a cable channel to cover the racing live it would be great but all we need to do is edit the simulcast show to limit the coverage to the 'major races' (Jug, Juggette, Old Oaken Bucket, Buckette, Ms. Versatility) and package it for showing on ESPN or other cable channels. Let the public see great racing, a great show and let them see racing over a half mile track with three wide moves and the excitement you can only see over a half mile oval. More importantly, let them hear the roar of the crowd and let them see a standing room crowd with a full grandstand. The message will be clear, harness racing is exciting but more importantly, it is cool. If this becomes successful, maybe we can get stops at The Red Mile, Springfield and DuQuoin on television as well.

Let's not ignore our strength; let's embrace it and show it to the world.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Super Sunday, Confederation Cup Recap

As promised, Super Sunday turned out to be a day of great racing; not only at Chester Downs but at Flamboro Downs.

In the Valley Forge, Not Enough went down to defeat, upset by 22-1 Special Sweetheart. On the first turn, Not Enough did not look particularly smooth in her stride; the suspicion here is last week's grinding victory in the Mistletoe Shalee at the Meadowlands took a toll on her. A little time off and she should be back in top form.

In the Colonial Trot, Explosive Matter set a new world record in 1:53 in a strong effort. While Explosive Matter never pulled away from the field to win by a wide margin, he showed he is the second best horse in his division. My prediction here is sometime this year, Explosive Matter will turn the tables on Muscle Hill.

Well Said rebounded from his loss in the Adios with a victory in the Battle of the Brandywine in a 1:50 score. As we said earlier, a champion bounces back from a tough loss and Well Said responded as a champion does. While Well Said had a nice win, it was not as dominating victory as he showed earlier this year; Well Said did not strike me as being invincible. While the best in his division, racing luck will be an important factor in upcoming races in this division.

North of the border, the Confederation Cup was held at Flamboro Downs. Fortunately for me, while NJAW did not handle the card from Flamboro, the track offers a live feed of their races along with free programs so I was able to watch the big race. Unfortunately for me, my handicapping of the Confederation Cup day card was better than my handicapping of the Chester card. That being said, the Confederation Cup was a race worth seeing.

In the first division, Bay of Sharks won in 1:52.1, holding off the eventual Cup victor If I Can Dream. If I Can Dream had a rough trip parked most of the mile and he was still coming at the end. After this race, I knew that If I Can Dream was the horse to watch in the final.

In the second division, River Shark won in 1:52.3 in an impressive victory. First of all, he set a blistering pace for the first half mile and then Passmaster Hanover hooked up with River Shark in a duel for the last quarter mile. Unfortunately for River Shark, the tough race would take its toll on him in the final.

In the final, If I Can Dream drew the rail (the Confederation Cup uses an open draw), Bay of Sharks drew post position three and second division winner River Shark drew post position five. The tough elimination took its toll on River Shark as he went for the lead at the start before If I Can Dream took control of the race just before the quarter. At that point River Shark was challenged hard but with the rail was able to finish second in the race. First division winner Bay of Sharks raced second over and had to go three wide to become a factor in the race. If I Can Dream really wasn't challenged and won comfortably. River Shark was actually the most impressive horse in the final finishing second. Bay of Sharks was far back for third.

The connections of If I Can Dream admitted they raced in the Confederation Cup to avoid Well Said but indicated they will be racing in the Little Brown Jug where they will take on Well Said.

As much as the racing was tops at Chester yesterday, fans who ignored the Confederation Cup missed a great race. If you did not get a chance to watch the Confederation Cup please do take the opportunity to watch the race. You will see there is still a place for half mile track racing. The racing is exciting and fans get to see what is going on. Half mile track racing is a great marketing tool to attract new fans to the sport. Hopefully, connections of top horses will recognize the need to let our stars racing on the smaller ovals and will occasionally consider the sport's interest over their own. After all, if the sport disappears, how much is their syndicated horse going to be worth?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

There Ought to be a Rule

An unusual event occurred in the third race on Super Sunday at Chester Downs with the second place finish of That's the Plan in the second consolation of The Valley Forge. It turns out that That's the Plan raced the day before at Freehold in a New Jersey Sire Stakes race. While seeing a horse race two days in a row is highly unusual these days, what was even more unusual is it seems no one knew (other than the connections of That's the Plan) that the horse raced on Saturday until the last minute when it was decided to bar him from wagering and refund all the wagers literally at post time.

How could this happen? In the first race, Clear Vision had raced since the program was printed but track officials were able to inform the gamblers of the missing line from August 12; though they did not provide the complete line; just where he finished. Granted a horse racing the day before is highly unusual these days, but you would think there would be a process in place to ensure all racelines are accounted for in a program; we all have seen the infamous 'Line to be announced' comments in a program at one time or another (it was not in the Trackmaster program for Clear Vision in the first race, either). Fortunately the error was caught in time and the bettors were protected as the decision to bar That's the Plan from wagering was made but the fact remains it should never have happened in the first place.

In the case of Clear Vision, track officials did not provide as much information as they should have for Clear Vision as all anyone knew was he raced on April 12th and finished third; no idea as to where, what class or how fast the race went in.

To be considered a serious gambling sport there ought to be a rule indicating if a program is printed prior to the running of a race any horse entered is programmed to race in, a race line must be included in the past performance program for the horse and it must include as much information regarding that race as possible plus the designation of 'Line to be announced'. Furthermore, racetracks must be required to not only announce the complete missing racing line but they must provide the complete line on the television monitors along with the race changes. After all, we are not dealing just with people wagering at the track, we are dealing with people wagering via simulcasting and ADWs.

We are asking people to wager their hard earned dollars on our sport. Is providing them accurate information to much to ask for?

Hambletonian Feedback, Breeders Crown Fields Drawn

There has been some interesting comments regarding my post about the need to change the Hambletonian to get rid of eliminations. Click here to read some of these comments.

Last night post positions were drawn for Saturday's night Breeders Crown races at the Meadowlands. Later in the week we will discuss each race in more detail.

$600,000 AGED TROT


$500,000 AGED PACE

2 - GO ON BB

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Confederation Cup Selections

While those of us south of the border will be busy focusing on racing at Harrah's tomorrow (except for their 31-35% takeout rates on trifectas and superfectas), there is some important racing north of the border at Flamboro Downs Sunday afternoon. Flamboro Downs offers free programs for all their racing cards, so make sure you download yours. I have taken a look at the Signature Pacing Series Final, two Ontario Sire Stakes Gold finals for two year olds (there are two levels of sire stakes in Ontario, the gold division and the grass roots for second tier horses) and the two eliminations of the Confederation Cup.

I do have a question for our Ontario friends. Can someone tell me why the 2yo colt trot final has ten starters yet the 2yo colt pace only has nine starters (both races have two also eligibles)?

As to whether I get to see the Confederation Cup, that is a different story. I checked NJAW's simulcast schedule and all they show is the calender through today; I guess keeping the calendar up to date is too much to ask for. Anyway, on with my selections.....

3rd Pace - The Signature Pacing Series - Final
5 - Greystone Cash (5-2)
6 - Pieraz (6-1)
4 - Donttrytostopme (20-1)
3 - Mach Beth (15-1)

Greystone Cash has won both preliminary legs of this series with first over moves. Obviously the one to beat. Pieraz has been racing well in this series; parked out for a half in last race second over; can land second spot with a trip. Donttrytostopme had no success last start with third over trip. With better post and any racing luck can complete trifecta. Mach Beth looking for first win this year; good enough to possibly complete the exotics.

5th Trot - Ontario Sire Stakes Gold Final - 2yo colts
4 - Text Me (8-1)
7 - Pointe to Pointe (6-1)
1 - Duke Maccallum (4-1)
3 - Reach Higher (5-2)

Text Me was first over last start to Point to Pointe and lost exciting stretch duel. Moves inside of Pointe to Pointe which may be the difference this race. Pointe to Pointe was upset winner in last race, move outside compromises chances. Duke Maccallum won last in slower time as top two; from rail completes trifecta. Reach Higher won his elimination also slower than top two; odds offer no value.

9th Pace - Confederation Cup XXXII - 1st Elimination
1 - Bay of Sharks (4-1)
6 - Fast Pay (3-1)
2 - If I Can Dream (5-2)
5 - Nob Hill High (8-1)

Top four finishers in each elimination plus fastest fifth place finisher return for 12th race $560,000 final. While the best American horses are in the Battle of the Brandywine earlier on Sunday, the Confederation Cup offers a top flight field as well. Bay of Sharks won prep at Flamboro despigt being blocked at the 3/4 pole. Been right there against the top horse in the Burlington and NA Cup elimination and consolation; this is his week. Fast Pay won an awesome OnSS final at Mohwah in 1:49 in last; just a step below top choice class-wise. Main threat. If I Can Dream finished fourth in Adios. Rooney winner can't be ignored. Nob Hill High just a step below these. May land spot in superfecta.

10th Pace - Confederation Cup XXXIII - 2nd Elimination
5 - Passmaster Hanover (5-2)
4 - River Shark (3-1)
6 - Lyons Horace (4-1)
2 - Chief of the Beach (6-1)

Passmaster Hanover makes second start off of layoff. Should find this field to his liking. River Shark was an early season sensation; has tailed off. Overnight victory at Chester may be indicating return to early season form. Lyons Horace disappointed in OnSS final at Mohawk; was good in Canadian Breeders Stakes; lands part. Chief of the Beach faltered in KYSS at Lexington; best of the rest.

11th Pace - Ontario Sire Stakes Gold Final - 2yo colts
3 - Wellthereyougo (5-2)
5 - Stonebridge Tonic (10-1)
8 - Royal Artist (15-1)
2 - Code Word (6-1)

Wellthereyougo is top pick, Battle of Waterloo winner is on three race win streak; Shadow Play's trainer picks up win here. Stonebridge Tonic looking for fourth straight second place finish; finished second to top choice in last start. Royal Artist is lightly raced making fourth start. Casie Coleman trainee eligible for upset. Code Word completes superfecta.

12th Pace - Confederation Cup XXXIII - Final

Top four finishes from 9th and 10th race along with one fifth place finisher return for this race. While it is unknown which horses return, ninth race is the strongest of the two eliminations. I would look for winner of ninth race to repeat here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Reality Check

Its the big harness track owners who have to come up with the advertising money because its in their interest and their responsibility to promote their respective tracks and not the drivers or the trainers or the grooms who work for the industry.

The above quote comes from a discussion board and is in response to a comment from another individual who suggested perhaps drivers should give up 1% of their 5% commission to help pay for an advertising campaign for harness racing. While I would not suggest the driver gives up a percentage of their commission towards an advertising campaign, I would suggest a portion of the slot revenue horsemen receive be used towards improving the game be it advertising, reduction of the takeout or other method instead of going directly to purses so this response could have applied to me.

This response is one of the reasons why harness racing is in deep trouble. This attitude of 'let the other person spend money' is an example of denial as to how bad things are. You would think this person was dealing from a position of strength. The ideal thing would be horsemen and racetrack owners would equally finance a campaign to get people interested in racing. Unfortunately, we are not dealing with the ideal. We are dealing with reality.

The racetracks are in the drivers seat.

Let's use Harrah's as an example since they own Chester Downs. Harrah's refuses to promote harness racing and for this discussion, the horsemen refuse to contribute any of their slot revenue to help improve interest in racing as they feel it's management's responsibility to do so as the person who I quoted suggests. What happens? Interest in racing continues to drop, the state eventually decides giving horsemen a share of the slot revenue is foolish and they cut it out. Purses drop dramatically, horsemen leave the state and eventually racing is stopped or racing dates are cut dramatically. Chester Downs becomes more profitable to Harrah's. Who is hurt, the racetracks or the horsemen?

But wait! Harrah's needs the horsemen because if they don't race. they can't have the slots, right? Well, try that boycott and see how quick the state makes them close the slots. Don't hold your breath because if you think the state is going to cut their revenue stream you are really in denial. The state will either not enforce that rule, will interpret the rule in a way it suits them or they will change the law accordingly.

So let's wait for the racinos spend money on promoting racing. In the meanwhile, horsemen should squirrel their slot revenue away so they have money available to them when they try to come up with a new trade once racing is gone. Or horsemen can give up part of their slot revenue and maybe, just maybe, there will be a future in harness racing.

At times reality bites. Being in denial doesn't make it better.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Super Sunday Preview

With the action at the Meadowlands winding down, the racing action heats up elsewhere. This weekend, the action shifts to Chester Downs for Super Sunday. The three year olds are being showcased with a series of early closing events; The Valley Forge (3yo filly pacers), The Colonial (3yo open trotters), The Battle of the Brandywine (3yo open pacers) and their accompanying consolation races. As with last year, this card is somewhat more challenging to handicap as there are no eliminations to consider in your handicapping. However, like last year, we will be treated with 'take no prisoners racing' as well as the potential for good pari-mutuel payoffs as the early closers are well matched fields.

As with last week’s Hambletonian card, I am providing my preliminary selections for the card. Remember these selections are being made four days ahead of time so my final selections differently depending on scratches or any other changes which may occur.

1st Pace – 3 year olds open
4 – Annieswesterncard (3-1) – Takes advantage of decent post.
2 – Vertical Horizon (9-5) – Class of race; would not surprise.
3 – Panmunjom (6-1) – Picks up minor spoils.
5 – Clear Vision (12-1) – Best of rest.

2nd Trot – 3 year olds open
3 - Airzoom Lindy (9-5) - Been improving and meeting easiest field in a while.
1 - Braggart (5-2) - Has talent, must mind manners to contend.
2 - Dashing Earl (10-1) - Meeting easier, could be there with a trip.
5 - Shibboleth Hanover (9-2) - Would not be a surprise. Consider for exotics.

3rd Pace - The Valley Forge Consolation II - 3yo fillies
2 - Fox Valley Topaz (5-2) - Finally escapes the top fillies. One to beat
5 - Dawn's Legacy (5-1) - Has won minor stakes; adds lasix. Should improve
7 - Shes Everything (8-1) - Racing at more realistic level; don't ignore.
1 - Acadiana (4-1) - Never better but must show big improvement to fit these.

4th Trot - The Colonial Consolation II - 3yo open
4 - Neighsay Hanover (5-1) - Been improving; expect big showing here.
8 - Howthehaloareyou (10-1) - Steady sort; post only knock.
2 - Reinsman Hanover (9-5) - Been chasing top ones. Will be over bet.
1 - Striking Lindsey (9-2) - Canadian shipper would not surprise from rail.

5th Pace - The Battle of the Brandywine Consolation II - 3yo open
4 - Fire On the Water (9-2) - Better than shows; gets post relief.
1 - Barber Pole (4-1) - Early season favorite may rebound here from rail.
6 - Bunkmeister (12-1) -Deceptively good. Could surprise.
7 - Precious Medal (6-1) - Share with best effort and trip.

6th Pace - 4 year olds Open (by Invitation)
1 - Riggins (9-5) - Stallion finally hit his potential. Look for repeat.
3 - Mccedes (7-2) - Should improve against easier.
5 - Lookout Hanover (4-1) - Has never been better. Local fave lands share.
6 - Share The Delight (6-1) - May be tailing off.

7th Pace - The Valley Forge Consolation I - 3 year old fillies
7 - She's a Fan (3-1) - Disregard last. Tepid favorite in competitive field.
1 - Melissa's Fancy (8-1) - Upset chance from rail. Don't ignore.
6 - Kiss Me Kate (4-1) - Lands in field more fitting her.
4 - Hatsaway (6-1) - Been improving. Share with trip.

8th Trot - The Colonial Consolation I - 3 year old open
3 - Cesda A Blue Chip (5-2) - Needs just to stay flat.
1 - Salutation Hanover (7-2) - Should land major portion from rail.
7 - Select Yankee (9-2) - Fits here. Post hampers chances for win.
5 -And Heez Perfect (8-1) - If stays flat, could be an upset chance. Been erratic of late.

9th Pace - The Battle of the Brandywine Consolation I - 3 year old open
6 - Ideal Danny (9-2) - Disregard last. Fits here and gets Tetrick.
5 - Arctic Warrior (5-2) - Official workout says ready. Will be over bet.
3 - Rusty's All In (7-2) - Going well and adds lasix. Should improve.
2 - Redneck Outlaw (10-1) - Hard pressed versus open company.

10th Pace - The Valley Forge - 3 year old fillies
6 - Not Enough (6-5) - The horse to beat; plain and simple
5 - Ginger And Fred (4-1) - Never better. Completes chalky exacta.
1 - Indulge Me (10-1) - Shows good lines versus open company; lands share.
2 - McGibson (6-1) - Tested for class today; completes superfecta.

11th Trot - The Colonial - 3 year old open
1A - Explosive Matter (6-5) - Sharp last two; no Muscle Hill. One to beat
2 - Photoforwin (10-1) - Much better than he shows. Bulks up exacta.
3 - The Chancellor (4-1) - May have had a little steam taken out in last. Completes trifecta.
5 - Russell Hill (8-1) - NYSS monster has enough class to be factor here. Completes exotics.

12th Pace - The Battle of the Brandywine - 3 year old open
1B - Mr Wiggles (5-2) - Turns tables on Vintage Master with trip.
3 - Well Said (7-5) - Guessing may have already peaked. Will be over bet.
6 - Vintage Master (4-1) - Post position compromises stretch kick..
5 - Drop Red (6-1) - Picks up the piecees.

13th Trot - Open (by Invitation)
5 - Chick N Tell (5-1) - Better than he shows. Wins with trip.
3 - Four Starz Speed (4-1) - Gets some class relief.
1 - Vivid Photo (7-2) - Picks up a share on back class.
6 - Too Salty (10-1) - Minor spoils if stays flat.

14th Pace - Open (by Invitation)
8 - All Shuttle (12-1) - Never better. Shocks in finale.
4 - Montecito N (5-2) - Won last. Horse to beat.
2 - Cinderella Guy (6-1) - Chance now that acclimated.
6 - Foiled Again (3-1) - Been falling short. Low odds.

Best of luck.

Tim Tetrick Speaks, Is Anyone Listening?

Tim Tetrick was recently interviewed at Harrah's Chester Downs regarding the state of harness racing. You may read the entire interview here.

With regards to the future of racing, Tim and I are in concurrence. It is up to those in racing to take some of the slot revenue and reinvest it in the sport. With the exception of a few race tracks, the tracks will not invest a dime in the sport. Tim also feels the slot revenue is fleeting; racing better take advantage of the windfall while it is around because sooner or later (sooner in Tim's view) the spigot will be shut off.

As to whether racing is a sport or gambling game, Tim falls into the sport faction. Again talking about promoting racing he cites Running Aces (a track with a card room, no slots). While the racing and purses are far from top notch, he mentions how fun it was to visit the track as the plant was packed with lines of people trying to wager. Goes to show you how if you market the product correctly, people will come regardless of the quality of the racing. Tim also credits Tioga Downs where racino management at least makes sure there are monitors showing racing on the casino floor to raise awareness of the racing product; the opposite of what happens at Chester. Tim's sentiment is if you build the fan base, the betting will come as a byproduct of introducing new fans.

What is interesting is while Tim clearly admits to profiting from racing at Chester, he acknowledges that Chester does everything possible to discourage slot players from playing the horses and how racing is being kept a secret in the area.

As to whether there is too much racing, Tim feels this is not a problem, something I would disagree with. Tim feels people want to gamble so we may as well provide them a product to gamble on. With simulcasting, I feel we can fill this need and provide quality racing in more locations.

There are many more interesting points in this interview regarding these and many more topics. This is perhaps the most important harness racing interview conducted in a long time. If you have not read this interview, you are encouraged to do so.

The most chilling part of this interview is Tim's opinion that racing has about ten years to fix racing's issues otherwise the industry will be lost. Is he being too pessimistic? Unfortunately not. Racing is at a crossroad. Will we take some of the slot revenue and invest it in our future or will racing just hoard the slot revenue like a squirrel gathers nuts in preparation for winter? Right now racing interests are not willing to spend any of their new found windfall on the business. I suggest anyone concerned with racing's future read Tim's comments and take them to heart. While you may not agree with every point, what he says is worth taking to heart.

Tim Tetrick sounds the alarm. Will anyone listen and act or will they continue to be in denial? That is the million dollar question.

For those interested in Super Sunday's card at Chester Downs, the program is now available through Trackmaster.