For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Red Mile News, Picks, and Saying No to Sports Wagering

The first day of racing at The Red Mile is in the books and in the Bluegrass Series the favorites went down to defeat in all four divisions, most notably was Costa Rica who, at 1-9, went down to defeat to finish second. Perhaps it was the cold weather, a strong wind heading up the back stretch, but once again, The Red Mile shows how it can be the graveyard for favorites in the standardbred world.

Perhaps the biggest news on the first day came from action off the regular program with the announcement that Peter Wrenn was taken off his drives yesterday as news over the weekend indicated he received a 30 day driving suspension for what the judges claimed was an 'unsatisfactory drive' in a race at Indiana Downs on August 6. Wrenn appealed the decision but, under Indiana rules, a stay can not take place for five days; thus prompting a request for an injunction in the courts. Wrenn has been taken off his drives for Wednesday's card as well.

On Thursday, the Bluegrass Series turns from the girls to the boys with races for the 2yo trotting colts. In the first division (3rd race), Shaq is Back is my selection. While he has been racing exclusively in the NYSS, he has been the model of consistency, being first or second eight out of nine starts, finishing second at Vernon Downs in his last race in 1:56.3. Senor Glide is the horse to beat, winning three of his last four starts. Only knock is his last race where he was parked in a :27.2 first quarter which resulted in his faltering at the end. He may very well bounce back to his prior race but he will go off a lot less than 7-5. Caviar De Vie finished second in the Simpson, can pick up third. Jetblue Volo upset field in lower class field in last to win, may complete superfecta.

In the second division (fifth race) Il Villaggio is the pick. Granted, with a morning line of 7-5 there is no value in betting him, but this winner of the last five has been impressive of late, including his victory in the Wellwood Memorial at Mohawk. Muscle Massive completes a chalky exacta. Marquesas has shown ability to compete, when he stays flat; something which he appears to have a problem with. He's Spooky has raced well with PA breds; takes on open company.

The third division (seventh race) Wishing Stone has been racing well, real possibility he can pull off the minor upset over Holiday Road. Holiday Road, the early 2010 Hambletonian favorite, return after time off was disappointing in the Simpson; should improve but considering he will be well bet, I will pass on him. Plan B In HD has won both starts with Haughton in the bike; scheduled to drive again. Takachancewithme is good when he is flat; but there's the rub, he shows plenty of breaks.

The ninth race gives us the fourth division of the Bluegrass. Olla Podriga upset his field in the Simpson; should be tighter this week and is a tepid choice. Sailaway Dream has been racing well at Lexington; rail will make him a viable pick. Kash's Caviar is a talented horse when he stays flat; that is the question. Chimon qualified at Freehold nicely; shows many breaks but has the talent to contend if he stay flat as he shows two wins on his card thus far.

The final division is in the eleventh race which looks to be a chalk exacta. Lucky Chucky who is also a leading early candidate for next year's Hambo draws the rail after winning the Valley Victory. Only knock is first start in a little over three weeks. Temple of Doom is second best; finished second to Il Villagio in Wellwood. If Lucky Chucky is not tight, Temple of Doom wins. Break The Bank K is winner of five starts thus far. Post and tendency to break is only problem. Flashback is lightly raced but shows ability.

Well, anyone counting on sports gambling coming to a racetrack in New Jersey should think again. In a decision by the 3rd circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, the judges refused to hear a full court appeal by Delaware to permit single game wagering on NFL games. The United States passed a law banning wagering on sporting events, however it grandfathered any sports betting individual states already had. Delaware at that time had permitted wagering on NFL games, but only in a three game parlay though they later dropped it. State officials interpreted the law to allow Delaware to offer any sports betting they wanted to since they had some type of sports wagering before the federal law was adopted. On an request for an injunction, the Appeals Court went beyond the request for an injunction and ruled that Delaware could only offer the sports gambling they had before the federal law went into effect thus prohibiting Delaware from offering single game wagering on NFL games.

Being New Jersey is in the same circuit as Delaware and had no sports gambling prior to the federal ban, there is no reason to think New Jersey would have any more success than Delaware in the 3rd circuit. Of course, there is a chance the U.S. Supreme Court would rule differently, but that is a long shot.

Enough is Enough

Developers are looking to re-open the old Georgetown Raceway in Delaware as Georgetown Downs. This is in addition to a proposal to build a racetrack in Millsboro. Both of these tracks are looking to fill the four week break in the Delaware schedule when both Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway are closed.

Do we need another track in Delaware? No. First of all, if you are someone who races exclusively in Delaware, this four week period gives you an opportunity to rest your stock for the resumption of racing. If you are so inclined to race during these four weeks, you can race at Ocean Downs in Maryland or if you have good enough stock, you can try your luck at Chester Downs. Then why the interest in establishing one or two more tracks in a geographically small state?

Is there any surprise that both proposals call for slot machines? These proposal are more about opening and operating slot parlors (and possibly table games) than they are about supporting standardbred racing. The opening of either racetrack will weaken Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway, two tracks that have traditionally supported standardbred racing, and it could also result in the demise of Ocean Downs, currently the only operating extended pari-mutuel racetrack in Maryland (though Rosecroft may resume operation). Yes, the state of Delaware has little regard for the survival of racing in Maryland, but horsemen should. After all, if Ocean Downs closed and you are a Delaware horsemen with a horse that can't cut it on the Delaware circuit or are unable to draw into a race, Ocean Downs provides you a relief valve, another option to race your lesser stock.

Delaware is in the process of hiring a consultant to investigate the possibility of allowing additional racinos or stand alone casinos in the state to see if the benefits of new gambling locations outweighs the impact on existing gambling locations. Unless this study indicates new gambling locations should be allowed, these two racino proposals are DOA. Hopefully the study indicates the market is already saturated. However, if the study indicates new gambling locations should be allowed, then a racino is obviously preferred as a regular casino would have an unfair competitive advantage over the state's three racetracks. However, any new racino should have to race more than one month to show their commitment, even if it requires taking some days away from the other tracks.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Early Warning for Breeders, Running Competition

In what can't be good news to breeders, the Morrisville College Yearling Sales was held on Sunday and the results were not good. The average price of yearlings dropped a whopping 21%. Granted, Morrisville's sale is not on the level of Lexington, but this weekend's results may be sending breeders selling at Lexington and Harrisburg looking for the antacids.

On Monday, Churchill Downs announced they will be installing permanent lights. Churchill Downs is not the only track implementing or considering lights. Calder is investigating the possibility as is NYRA. While the old day/night segregation between the two breeds has long been breached, the addition of quality thoroughbred racing at night presents an additional challenge to a sport which has long considered the night their own domain. Harness racing needs to come up with new strategies to increase the quality and interest in their own product; especially in the simulcast market.

On Wednesday's Red Mile card, the Bluegreass Series for 2yo pacing fillies takes center stage. In the first division, undefeated Put On A Show looks the best in this field; she did take a little time off and qualified at Chester Downs in a business-like 1:54.2. Ticket to Rock won the Champlain at Mohawk and has raced competitively against Put On a Show. Ultimate Best won the KYSS final at Lexington but tries open company hear. Flip Flop summer won a division of the Simpson; should do well here to land share.

In the second division of the Bluegrass, Higher and Higher jumped in Three Diamonds at Chester. If she stays flat she lays over this field. Say So was victorious in Simpson; can take top spot if top choice does not mind manners. Art Cam has had poor luck of late; any type of trip makes horse a threat. Houlihan was parked in the Simpson and finished second; completes superfecta.

The third division has You See L A appear to be the won to beat. Has been runner up in many stake races and won her division of the Simpson in 1:56. While Western Moonlight had an excuse in her last from the eight hole, it appears the Sweetheart winner may be tailing off. Cool Jazz's only local start shows improvement; may land third. Real Surprising clearly not as good as top choices, may land fourth.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bluegrass Rules

Tuesday kicks off the ten day Grand Circuit meet at The Red Mile. The industry's leaders come to Lexington in what could be described as an unofficial convention where the financial health of the industry will be determined as the yearling sales season begins in earnest with the Lexington Selected Yearling Sales. Will the sales show an increase in the averages, hold steady, or show a deep plunge? External factors like the economy will play a part in determining sale prices, but by seeing how the yearlings from sires of specific states do in relationship to others will indicate how insiders feel about the future of racing in the particular state. A relatively poor showing by sires in a particular state may result in the moving of a sire to a different state and if the sales prices are very low, some of our racing stars scheduled to head to the stallion barns may find their retirement beng delayed.

Of course, there is racing. Many of the racing's top stables and drivers will be making an appearance during the ten day grand circuit meet. The top horses will be trying to make their case for year end awards and add their names to the record books. Other horses whose seasons have not gone as planned will be racing to put a fast mark on their record; their performance at Lexington will determine if the owner keeps on going with them next year or if determined not to be stakes-caliber horses, entered into the winters sales to begin their overnight careers. One thing is certain, it will be another memorable season at The Red Mile.

Tuesday's action marks the start of The Bluegrass Series with the 2yo filly trotters taking to the track. In the first division, Tequila Slammer looks to assert herself after having a rough trip in the Peaceful Way at Mohawk. Behindclosedoors looks second best with her victory in the American National at Balmoral. Crown Laurel and Glide Power are two lightly raced fillies who should begin to shine.

In the second division, Bar Slide after a sharp win at Delaware in the Standardbred looks to assert herself with Glide By being able to pick up second place. In the Mean Time looks to overcome a bad post position and land a shares while Spicy Wings hopes to be on her best manner to pick up a piece.

The third division looks like an easy race for Costa Rica. Winner of the Peaceful Way Final last time at Mohawk, she should pick up her ninth victory of the year. Ultimate Cameron just got beat in the American National; second best. Boinga has been racing well, just always seems to be a step below these. Croquet Style has gait problems; has some ability just needs to mind her manners to show it.

The fourth and final division looks to be a jog for Cantab It All; looks much the best. Impressive Kemp finished second in her debut, seems to have ability. Cathywithac has ability, may land second with best effort. Southwind Samurai seems to have overcome her gait issues; tries open company this week.

Dean of PullthePocket writes an article about the recently held Adreneline Fest at Hiawatha Horse Park in Canada. Could something like this be done in the United States?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Flipping off the Judges

Once upon when the stewards issued a ruling, the alleged offender paid the fine or served the time. Then, the alleged offenders hired lawyers to fight the penalty; it kind of defeated the purpose, but it is their constitutional right.

Now, we 'flip off' the judges. Today there was an article in The Guardian from Prince Edward Island regarding the Gold Cup & Saucer controversy where the owners of the winner were fined the entire amount of the winnings they earned for taking a claimer out of the province of Ontario to race within a 60 day period of the claim; a rule implemented to ensure the horse population in Ontario. The trainer, claims that even though the owners and trainers knew off the rule, they wanted to race in it because they thought the penalty would be small enough to be worth it; not being aware the penalty had been changed. Now, the trainer claims his owners are the victims. So let me see, they knew the rule, were aware of the rule when they claimed the horse (or should have known) and they decided to take the horse to PEI to race. The judges after telling the trainer before the elimination of the race there is a problem and made them aware of the fine, the owners decide to race the horse any way and before the final when the judges attempt to reach the trainer to have him call them back, he doesn't answer even when they ask other people to tell the trainer. Judges, flip off!

A driver/trainer in Michigan is given a full suspension where he is not allowed even on the grounds of a racetrack during the period of the suspension. He is found to have been in the grandstand, six times during his suspension. Judges, flip Off!

Apparently the lack of civility in popular culture is now occurring in racing. Maybe it is time for the judges to send a message that if you flip off the judges by flagrantly disregarding the rules, you will pay for it.

New York Night of Champions

During this break in the Grand Circuit action, attention turns to Vernon Downs which is hosting the New York Night of Champions for the first time tonight. The Night Of Champions features eight $175,0000 New York Sire Stakes finals.

Of particular interest is the three year old trotting and pacing colt races. In the three year old trotting colt race, Judge Joe is the favorite to become the NYSS champion. Other horses in this race of note are Calchips Brute and Russell Hill. In the three year old pacing colt division, Hypnotic Blue Chip and Handsome Harry lead the field.

There was a lot of controversy with the Night of Champions being raced upstate. Traditionally, the Night of Champions has been raced exclusively at Yonkers Raceway, only moving to Saratoga Raceway when Yonkers was closed for construction. The argument was the races should be held at Yonkers, as the vast majority of monies raised to fund the sire stakes program came from wagering at Yonkers. The trustees of the sire stakes decided it would be more appropriate to have the sire stakes championships conducted each year at different tracks to help promote the NY Sired horses through out the state. Plans are for the finals to return to Yonkers next year.

Actually, Yonkers loss is actually a gain for some of the participants in the NY Sire Stakes program. Since the Night of Champions moved to Vernon this year, Yonkers is sponsoring in October an overnight series of $50,000 races which could be considered consolation races for top eight horses that did not qualify for the NYSS finals.

The famed ten day Grand Circuit meet at the Red Mile begins this Tuesday, September 29. During the Grand Circuit, racing occurs Tuesday thru Saturdays with a first post of 12:30pm. Muscle Hill is the center of atttention week one with the Kentucky Futurity coming up next Saturday.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Let the Other Guy Do It

The Little Brown Jug was not the only race of note on yesterday's Jug card. Among the races of interest to the national audience was the Winbak Pace where Won the West defeated Mister Big in 1:50.4. Mister Big pretty much controlled things until David Miller made a move to engage Mister Big after the 3/4 pole and the two of them hooked up for a stretch duel down the stretch. I have included the replay of the race in case you missed the race. This particular replay is long (actually the race is at the beginning); if you have never seen the Little Brown Jug simulcast, you should watch the entire replay to get an idea how all tracks should handle their daily simulcast program.

What is significant about this race is that only four horses entered. I realize while the purse ($50,300) is very good for a fair meet, the purse alone is not enough to induce stables to send their best pacers to Ohio. Despite the routine nature of the purse, on one of the biggest days for racing, it would have been nice if more of the aged pacers could have shown up to compete in the Winbak to put on a show for the fans in attendance as well as those watching via simulcasting. While I would not expect someone to ship in just for this race, couldn't some of the top stables already shipping in to Delaware, been able to bring one of their better aged pacers along to race and help promote the sport?

Elsewhere it has been commented that it is not the owners' responsibility to help promote the sport so it is unrealistic to expect an owner to ship their horse to Delaware to race. There lies the problem, the attitude of 'Let the Other Guy Do It'. Each group of the industry stakeholders wants one of the other stakeholders to step up to the plate and make the sacrifice to help promote the sport. Racetracks need to spend money to promote their races and make the harness racing experience more entertaining. Drivers and trainers need to make themselves available not only for interviews but need to involve themselves in their communities. Owners need to enter their horses to race to help make each race on the card competitive. For those fortunate to have VLTs, all sides need to contribute a small portion of their slot revenue to help fund initiatives to not only promote the sport, but to make the races a better wagering proposition.

Waiting for the other group to 'do it' is like watching two outfielders waiting for each other other one to catch the fly ball; it drops to the ground. Racing can't afford to drop the ball.

Andrew Cohen is Back. The Red Mile has announced that Andrew Cohen returns to write an online column reporting on what is going on during the grand circuit meet. Make sure you visit the Red Mile's website during the meet and see what Cohen is writing about; it will give you a feel for the Lexington experience.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to the coronation...

Well, all of a sudden the path to the Horse of the Year award is no longer a coronation. Well Said put on one of the most impressive displays ever seen in the Little Brown Jug winning his division of the first heat with a devastating performance, starting from the eight hole winning in 1:51.1 (on a wet fast track).

Well Said returned for the second heat, racing from the two hole with the track now listed good. For the first half, no one moved and Well Said sat fourth. When Ron Pierce finally decided to move, Corey Callahan moved with Mr Wiggles so Ronnie sent Well Said three wide past the 3/4 pole. After that, If I Can Dream who was leading from the start and Well Said left the field behind and the two of them engaged in a duel. Give If I Can Dream credit, he was game but Well Said passed him at the end to finish the mile in 1;51.4 on a good track.

This is a champion. After winning on the mile track, winning on the 5/8th mile track, and racing in the Simcoe, the safe move would have been to take a week off and head to Lexington. Instead of taking the 'safe' route, Well Said's connections decided they would tackle the half mile track for not only one heat, but at least two heats, if not three. His connections get rewarded by drawing the eight hole in the first heat. He saw, he raced and he conquered.

For sure, Muscle Hill has been impressive; so much that the rest of the division has surrendered to him. However, has he raced on the 5/8th or 1/2 mile oval? Nope. He has played it safe on the mile track.

The sport is fixated with speed. However, just as important is a horse who can overcome bad posts and race hard the whole season, nothing being conceded to him. Well Said lost a tough race in the Adios Final racing from post nine. Champions bounce back and Well Said did. Grinding miles in a stronger division wins out over dominating miles against weaker.

Don't get me wrong. Muscle Hill is the best 3yo trotter to come along in the longest time and may very well win the Horse of the Year honor. However, Well Said has regained a lot of respect by becoming only the second horse to win the NA Cup, Meadowlands Pace and the Jug (Precious Bunny was the only other one) and his ability to win tough races will help him (ironic that Muscle Hill's easy wins may go against him) with the voters. If he can close out the season winning all his remaining races (which is quite possible), Well Said may grab the ultimate prize. If Well Said loses a race, being Muscle Hill will likely win the rest of his starts, Muscle Hill will be the most deserving horse.

For those who say half mile track racing is obsolete, I suggest they go back and watch these races. For the fans, an exciting race on a half mile track wins out over a race on the mile oval. Due to the ability to become part of the action watching a race on the half mile oval, the smaller oval provides us a unique marketing opportunity to newcomers which the mile track does not provide. Let's not lose that.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Are You Ready for Harness Racing?

Tomorrow is it, while Hambletonian Day is harness racing's ' Super Bowl' with the strongest overall standardbred race card in North America, Jug Day is harness racing's 'Final Four'; sure some races may be of local interest but there are some races of interest to anyone that follows harness racing.

For those that say half mile track is boring, Thursday may change your mind. While the payoffs may not be big, you will see thrilling, exciting racing. You will see speed duels, three wide moves in the backstretch, and duels to the wire. More importantly, the action will be up close for everyone to see; this attracts newcomers to the sport, unlike the mile tracks where it is hard to see anything. To those doomsayers that say half mile racing is going to disappear, this race card will show you the half mile track has a place in this sport.

With 21 or 22 races (if a race off is needed) on store tomorrow (there is a two race mini card which kicks off the day) there are too many races to discuss in a blog entry, so I will focus on what I feel are the main races on the card.

5th Race - Winbak Pace, Aged Colts & Geldings
4 - Won the West (6-5)
3 - Mister Big (9-5)
2 - Atochia (6-1)

While this race is short in starters, it promises to be an exciting race. Won the West and Mister Big are the two big horses in this race. Won the West is a slight favorite in this race. He seems to be able to make his own racing luck. Mister Big has always been classy but typically needs cover to win; in a four horse field it will be more of a grinding game, something I don't think he will be able to do. Atochia is clearly a step below the top two but is able to handle a half mile track.

10th Race - Old Oaken Bucket, 1st Division - 3yo Colts & Geldings
5 - Salutation Hanover (9-2)
2 - Winning Mister (8-1)
1A - Citation Lindy (10-1)
4 - Cantabmyway (4-1)

Salutation Hanover has been a steady performer in this division and seems to have a class edge over these. Winner of PASS Championship in last and shows a credible finish in Yonkers Trot elimination. Winning Mister seems to be roudning into form and should find this field to his liking. Citation Lindy has to overcome the second tier, inside horses don't figure to leave; should land part. Cantabmyway raced will in overnights in Lexington, tested for class here.

12th Race - Old Oaken Bucket, 2nd Division, - 3yo Colts & Geldings
3 - Photoforwin (5-2)
1 - Up Front Prayer (3-1)
7 - And Heez Perfect (8-1)
6 - Road Rash (4-1)

Photoforwin does not have to deal with the division's best here; should dominate. Up Front Prayer will dangerous from rail; completes chalky exacta. And Heez Perfect has been racing well with division's second tier; may spice up trifecta. Road Rash has been improving; completes the superfecta.

14th Race - Little Brown Jug, 1st heat - 1st division, 3yo Colts & Geldings
4 - Mr Wiggles (2-1)
6 - Annieswesterncard (6-1)
3 - Keep it Real (8-1)
10- If I Can Dream (7-2)

Mr Wiggles finally draws into easier division, should win but offers little value. Annieswesterncard has quietly been having a successful season. The Jug tends to be the spot where the horse that has been under the radar explodes on to the scene; he may be that horse. Keep it Real has been given time off; should land part. If I Can Dream is compromised by drawing into the second tier. Best hope is to make it to the second heat.

15th Race - Little Brown Jug, 1st heat - 2nd division; 3yo Colts & Geldings
4 - Vintage Master (8-5)
8 - Well Said (5-2)
9 - Sheer Desire (6-1)
3 - Chasin Racin (8-1)

What a race this is shaping up to be. This may be the race of the year. Vintage Master at career best, plenty of early speed in this race but has the ability to fly late. Choice in a speed filled race to win and advance. Well Said is saddled with post position eight. Just a question if he can tuck in early. I suspect the decision made during race is to look forward to heat two. Sheer Desire can close. What is a Jug second heat without Dave Palone? Lands part though if speed duel develops he may be your heat winner. Chasin Racin has been freshened; should be heard from early and hold on to return for second heat.

17th - Ms. Versatility Final
3 - Buck I St Pat (9-5)
4 - Classic Lane (4-1)
2 - Autumn Escapade (6-1)
5 - Lavec Dream (3-1)

Buck I St Pat gets her chance to shine on the famed oval. Wins a competitive race. Classic Lane beat older at Yonkers in last start; can land second. Autumn Escapade has raced well of late, lands share. Lavec Dream needs a fast pace up front to be a serious factor in this race. If speed duel develops, she can be your winner.

18th - Little Brown Jug, 2nd Heat

Of course it all depends on how the 1st heat eliminations turn out but based on my earlier picks, Well Said wins this heat to send the Jug to a third heat race off. Annieswesterncard picks up second with Vintage Master holding on for third.

20th Race - Little Brown Jug, Race-Off

If we get this far, my prediction is Well Said wins the race-off to make this Jug one of the most memorable in recent history.

Tomorrow is my day to be a racing fan. Enjoy an excellent day of racing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Good for the Horsemen, Bad for the Bettors

The Little Brown Jug Society has announced changes to the Little Brown Jug which may take effect as early as next year. The most immediate change will result in the revision of the rule that requires two divisions when less than twenty horses are entered into the Little Brown Jug; the goal is to avoid having horses start in the second tier like they will this year. If the rule change was in effect this year, there would have been three divisions, two six horse fields and one seven horse field. Since nominations have already been made for the 2010 LBJ, for this rule to take effect next year, all horses currently eligible for next year's Jug and Jugette must agree; no doubt they will accept it.

This change alone can be summed up one way: Good for the horsemen, bad for the bettors.

Sure horsemen like this change because it ensures each horse gets their nose on the starting gate. I don't blame them for wanting this, but then track executives will wonder why handle is down; it is because tracks end up with five or six horse races (before scratches) which makes a race less desirable to the gamblers. If this was just occurring in the Jug it would be one thing; the Jug is an event and quite honestly, the lessor betting opportunities is not really of concern to the majority of the people in attendance. Unfortunately, this happens regularly at any racetrack that holds eliminations, In a quest to keep horsemen happy, there is a constant parade of eliminations with as few as six horses or less (even on a mile track) making the product less desirable. Need proof? Look what happened to the Meadowlands towards the end of the year when they had plenty of races with less than eight starters. Yes, I know horsemen make all the stake payments but if not for the gamblers, there would not be a racetrack for a race to be held at.

If you go to Walmart, the company determines what their customers want and then they find the supplier who can give them the product the customer wants. With racing, they give the customer what the supplier gives them and it is take it or leave it. This worked in the old days when racing was the only game in town which is not the case anymore. Any wonder why racing has a problem?

Fortunately, all is not lost with the Jug. They have also formed a committee to see if there should be conditions put in place to limit the number of starters in the Jug and Jugette. Being the Jug and Jugette usually draw at least sixteen horses, cutting the number of horses off there would at least ensure full fields race in each division. For other tracks, they should look at the Super Sunday format at Chester Downs and come up with something like Chester's rules for major stakes. Limit the field to a certain number of starters and seed the horses in the stake and consolations by earnings.

Remember, it is what the customer (fan/gambler) wants which matters in the long run. It is time to give them what they want.

Jugette Day Preview

Tomorrow is the Jugette for 3yo pacing fillies at the Delaware County Fair Grounds. With at least seventeen races (eighteen if a race off), it promises to be an exciting warm up to the big event on Thursday. To get things started, here are my selections for the The Buckette, The Standardbred, and first heat of the Jugette.

5th Race - Trot - The Buckette (3yo fillies); 1st division
2 - Caviar Forthe Lady (2-1)
4 - Spiceberry Hanover (7-2)
5 - One Tough Girl (8-1)

Caviar Forthe Lady won the PASS Championship at Pocono in a solid 1:57. Other than an impossible trip in the American National, she has raced well. Pick here. Spiceberry Hanvover, finished second to top choice in last start and now draws outside; second choice. One Tough Girl shows half miler experience with two dominating wins at Freehold in the Green Acres. Depending on odds, could turn in to the top pick if others are overplayed.

7th Race - Trot - The Buckette (3yo fillies); 2nd division
4 - Windsong Soprano (2-1)
3 - Raising Rachel (3-1)
1 - All Star Hanover (6-1)

This division is clearly the strongest of the two. Windsong Soprano destroyed the field in the Simcoe starting from post position eleven. Prior start was a romp from the seven hole in the Hudson Filly Trot at Yonkers Raceway. Best bet of the day; consider even if odds on. Raising Rachel is clearly second best. Second start back since Oaks, completes a chalky exacta. All Star Hanover is better than looks, completes the trifecta.

9th Race - Trot - The Standardbred (2yo fillies)
1 - Kitefin Hanover (6-1)
6 - Bar Slide (2-1)
8 - Yanksy (8-1)

Kitefin Hanover is erratic sort. Does show decent lines at Freehold. Taking a shot looking for a price. Bar Slide is the horse to beat; shows no lines on the smaller oval but shows breaks. If stays flat and handles the track she should take down the win; at 2-1 I will pass. Yanksy finished third in the Harold Dancer at Freehold in last start. Draws the worst post-wise. May be able to pick up piece of purse.

12th Pace - The Jugette (3yo fillies) - 1st heat; 1st division
4 - She's A Fan (7-2)
5 - Special Sweetheart (2-1)
1 - Ginger and Fred (5-2)
2 - Perfecionist (6-1)

She's A Fan finished third in Simcoe at Mohawk being parked out entire mile. Special Sweetheart is the horse to beat. Winner of Valley Forge raced last at The Red Mile in Nadia Lobell; prior start finished behind She's A Fan in Simcoe in next to last start finishing behind top pick. Ginger and Fred draws rail after a few bad assignments. If she can regain back form she will be tough to beat. Perfectionist shows solid lines at Freehold; advances to next heat and completes the superfecta.

13th Pace - The Jugette (3yo fillies) - 1st heat; 2nd division
1 - Showherthemoney (7-5)
4 - Arbeedo (10-1)
3 - Kiss Me Kate (3-1)
2 - Warrawee Kay (4-1)

Showherthemoney has been a monster in the last two starts including Nadia Lobell at the Red Mile and the Shady Daisy at Freehold. Should wrap up the Jugette in two heats. Arbeedo shows a couple of good races at Chester. May be able to put some value in exacta. Kiss Me Kate has show some signs of ability; draws decent post for first time in six starts and is eligible to improve. Warrawee Kay has picked up a couple legs off KYSS even with bad post. Completes superfecta but would not shock me if she does better than rating.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Well Said - No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

The connections of Well Said must be wondering if they have bad karma. Unlike Muscle Hill, whose connections refuse to try any oval smaller than a mile track, the connections of Well Said have said "Bring it On", racing in the Adios at the Meadows (5/8 oval) where they won their elimination but lost the final after being saddled with the nine hole. They have now made the decision to try the half mile oval in Delaware, Ohio for the Little Brown Jug. Their reward for making the decision to try their luck on the half mile oval? They drew the eight hole in a nine horse field (a trailer) in their first heat elimination facing Vintage Master who just went wire to wire to win the the Cane Pace at Freehold in 1:50.4. Yes, that Vintage Master who has blossomed of late, defeating Well Said in the Adios Final, finishing third to Well Said in the Battle of Brandywine (starting from the eight hole), and winning the aforementioned Cane Pace. Make no mistake about it, while Well Said may prevail, Vintage Master has hit his stride and will be dangerous. Expect it to be a long afternoon on Thursday as we may be seeing a third heat race off.

A win in the Little Brown Jug puts Well Said back into contention for the Horse of the Year award; especially if he wuns the rest of his races this season. No, Well Said is not undefeated (10 starts 8-0-1) like Muscle Hill but Well Said has taken on the best in his division on all size ovals; something that Muscle Hill's connections can't say. My guess is if both horses 'run the table' the rest of the way, expect to see the Matron Stakes at Dover Downs being added to Muscle Hill's card in an effort to seal the deal.

Who knows? Perhaps good deeds do get rewarded after all. It may not come down to the Breeders Crown. If everything goes to plan, the championship season may go into overtime.

Bill Finley writes an interesting article how the Keenland yearling sales' collapse may mean some of the runners figured to head to the breeding shed may find their racing careers extended. With the standardbred yearling sales about to begin, it will be interesting to see how sale prices go and if there will be a similar impact on our racing stars. While we don't wish misfortune for the breeders, the breeders' loss will be the fans' gain.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Running Up the White Flag, A Blow to the Commissioner Idea

Well, one thing was proven in Saturday night’s Canadian Trotting Classic. The rest of the three year old trotting colt division has surrendered to Muscle Hill. At this point, no one is willing to even tangle with him in a race; it is “let Muscle Hill win the race and everyone else races for second”. Short of Muscle Hill making a miscue, he should go undefeated the rest of the year. While I contend only through the eyes of history can it be determined if a horse is the greatest, I don’t ever recall seeing a horse be given so much respect that no one will even tangle with him; they even tangled with Niatross, arguably the greatest pacer ever. Surely Muscle Hill is the best 3yo colt trotter I have ever seen.

The question to be asked is why no one ever challenges Muscle Hill? Now I admit, taking him on is probably a foolish thing to do, but usually you will find someone on occasion willing to take on a horse no matter how good they are, but the way they are conceding to Muscle Hill is unprecedented. There are a couple reasons for this. The first reason is that 3yo trotters are now racing somewhat thoroughbred-like; picking their spots. In the past, a trotter would race more often so the likelihood of a horse racing tired one week was greater. With the schedule Muscle Hill is on, the chances of him being tired are very remote. Other drivers know this.

Perhaps the biggest reason races are conceded to the Hill is purses are too high to take a chance on being aggressive. In the past, when the big races were raced for more modest purses, drivers were willing to take a shot against a horse like Muscle Hill. Now, where you have second place finishers earning $250,000 (using the CTC as an example) and third place earning $120,000, who is willing to make a move which may get you first place or an out of the money finish, especially when there are so few stake races when compared to the pacing side? Look at Explosive Matter, just for finishing second in the Hambletonian and the Canadian Trotting Classic finals he earned $625,000. Why should he try to take on Muscle Hill when second place is so lucrative?

Earlier in the year fans were looking forward to the first sub 1:50 trotting mile. With the competition running up the white flag don’t expect to see it this year. This is a shame. While history will determine who the greatest trotter ever is, a sub 1:50 mile would ensure Muscle Hill's legacy. Wouldn’t it be ironic if his complete domination cost him his place in history?

The New York Times reports that the United States Appeal Court for the 8th circuit in Minnesota has ruled that two players from the Minnesota Vikings may appeal proposed suspensions for violating the league’s drug policies in state courts even though those suspensions were permitted under the collective bargaining agreement. What does this mean for harness racing? Assuming this ruling is upheld, one of the strongest arguments for a harness racing czar, the ability to discipline cheats quickly, goes out the window as state laws will take precedence. Rather than looking for a czar, harness racing's best chance for discipline is the uniformity a multi-state racing compact would provide.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Jug Week is Here!

Okay, Sunday is the start of Jug week, but considering they have drawn Sunday's program and the field for the Jugette today, for all practical purposes, the week has begun.

The Jug this year may be one of the most anticipated ever with Well Said and Vintage Master both entering the race. Yes, the half mile track is scorned by many, but at least this year the pull of the Little Brown Jug brings out the sportsmanship of the horses' connections and harness racing will be better off for it. Hopefully, we will be talking about this LBJ for years to come.

For those who may not know, the USTA has a mini-site set up for the racing action at the Delaware County Fairgrounds. You can read stories, see the entries and even get free programs (basic) from this website. All racetracks should take note of the free programs.

Other than the marquee races, handicapping the races at Delaware are not for the faint-of-heart. Being the racing is geared towards Ohio breds, horses will be coming from tracks like Raceway Park, Northfield Park, Scioto Downs, The Meadows, The Red Mile, Freehold, as well as fair tracks from all over the state of Ohio. Without having specific knowledge of the individual fairs, it gets somewhat challenging to handicap, but that adds to the charm of Delaware.

Some are sounding the alarm since the Delaware Agricultural Society has decided not to simulcast the first two days (Sunday and Monday) of Jug Week. The reason the first two days are not going to be simulcast is the fair organizers will lose $30,000 if they simulcast the first two days; the simulcast handle does not justify the expense of the simulcasting costs (interesting to note that Delaware actually handles more money on-track than off-track). Sounding the alarm is premature. In this instance, the problem is the quality of the racing program to outside parties. I am not disparaging the Ohio bred standardbred; with all the fair and extended parimutuel meet tracks in Ohio, there is no state which can match the racing opportunities Ohio provides for their statebreds. The problem is for bettors outside of the Ohio area, the racing program is too 'regional' to gain their interest. On Sundays there are many more 'mainstream' programs to wager on and with Monday being traditionally a slow day, there is not enough gamblers available to make simulcasting profitable.

If you have never seen a simulcast of a program from Delaware, make a point to watch it even if you are not wagering. There is no better simulcast program around; other tracks would do well to emulate what they do at Delaware.

Let the racing begin!

Putting All Horseplayers on Equal Footing

There should be a notice posted when you log on to your ADW or when you enter a simulcast location: "Wagering through a simulcast location or an ADW may put you at an unfair disadvantage."

Of course you will never see such a notice and such a bold statement certainly requires clarification. Basically, if you don't wager on-track you may be at a competitive disadvantage to those who are. This statement is not referring to the absurdity of having to pay a 5% (or more) surcharge on winning bets at NY Off track betting locations. What this statement is referring to is the fact a bettor at a racetrack or another simulcast location may have the opportunity to wager more effectively than you.

The operator of your wagering site may be requiring you to wager more on a bet than the host track requires. On the most simple level, a host track may allow a Win wager to be bet for $1 (perhaps only through a self service wagering machine) yet your ADW may require a minimum wager of $2. Some tracks offer a $1 Daily Double yet the ADW requires you to bet at least $2 on the wager. Granted on wagers like this the impact may not seem great, but it may mean you need to allocate your wagering dollars differently than you would if you were betting elsewhere. It is one thing if you had to bet at a teller where salaries need to be paid, but with the technology deployed there should be less expense involved in processing a wager. Yes, your ADW or simulcast location needs to purchase the right to offer wagering on the host track's signal but the host track has higher costs to produce the racing product. If the host track can afford to offer a $1 minimum, your ADW or simulcast location certainly can.

Where it gets more egregious is on exotic wagers. At the fictional Wagering Downs, they offer a $.10 Superfecta. This means at the track, you can box a four horse Superfecta for only $2.40. However, at your simulcast location, Gamblers OTB, the minimum wager on a Superfecta is $1, meaning for you to cover the four horses in a box, it will cost you $24.00. Granted, the $.10 wager will pay 1/10th of what you will collect but the fact is as the day goes along, you may not have as much to wager with. So to save money, maybe you are forced to key the Superfecta so it will cost you only $6.00. So while you have the four horses selected, your key horse finishes second so the bettor at Wagering Downs is able to cash a ticket for something while you get to rip your ticket up. What about that Pick-3, 4, 5, 6, or 7? If the track allows a $.50 or $1 minimum but your ADW has a $2 minimum, your $100 buys a lot less combinations than the person at the track. It could be the difference of a Pick-7 being taken down or not; the difference between winning or losing.

Any track or ADW accepting wagers on another track's signal should be required to offer wagers in the same denominations as they are offered on track and any track sending their signal out should allow wagering on any bet offered by the track provided the wager is legal in the state the wager is being made.

Winning is hard enough. I don't think it is unreasonable to be on equal footing with those we are wagering against.

I will be away the rest of the weekend. Enjoy the weekend and may all your wagers be winning ones.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Weekend Report

There is plenty of exciting racing this weekend so here are my picks for the Canadian Trotting Classic at Mohawk Racetrack Saturday night and the Three Diamonds and Governor's Cup at Chester Downs on Sunday.

Canadian Trotting Classic
2 - Southern Rocketop (12-1)
4 - Muscle Hill (1-5)
3 - Explosive Matter (15-1)
1 - Duded Up (40-1)

No, I have not gone mad. While I think Muscle Hill win, for betting purposes I am looking for an upset with Southern Rocketop on top as there is no value with Muscle Hill. Yes, Muscle Hill has only been doing what was necessary and he should be able to do more but with a 1-5 morning line, I'll take my chances with Southern Rocketop. When they raced in the American National, Southern Rocketop was not right when he finished a well beaten third. Since then, he finished second to Muscle Hill in the World Trotting Derby and in last week's eliminations he won convincingly; he is a legitimate contender in this division. As they say, if you race long enough you will get beat. At 12-1, I'll look for the upset with Southern Rocketop. For second, I will go with the champion Muscle Hill. Explosive Matter has been sick, before illness was legitimate threat to Muscle Hill. Consider if long shot. Duded Up may be able to get in to juice up the trifecta.

The Three Diamonds
3 - Fancy Filly (9-5)
2 - Native Doll (6-1)
7 - Western Mooonlight (8-1)
1A - Higher and Higher (2-1)

Fancy Filly is the horse to beat. With only one defeat this year out of eight starts, she has stamped herself as one of the top 2yo pacing filles. Native Doll finished third in her elimination; with George Brennan, she is eligible to improve. Western Moonlight finished 2nd to Fancy Filly in their elimination, that coming off a three week break. Would be my second pick except for the post assignment. Higher and Higher has been making the most of her late start. Won her elimination convincingly. Consider in your exotic picks.

The Governor's Cup
2 - Nova Artist (15-1)
1 - Malicious (2-1)
4 - One More Laugh (4-1)
3 - Rock N Roll Heaven (9-5)

Nova Artist finished second to Malicious when assigned post seven in the eliminations; the move inside to post two can only help. Is my selection provided the odds are decent. Malicious beat the top choice in last race and is eight for nine; expect him to be an underlay. One More Laugh is a talented gelding who is six for seven thus far in brief career. With any trip and a fast pace he can be there. Rock N Roll Heaven won his elimination but finished second behind second choice at Mohawk. Consider for exotics including superfecta.

Enjoy the racing and good luck.

Judge's Scratch and Quarantine in the Program

Remember when your racing program did not list scratches? As a bettor you were in the dark trying to figure out why a horse did not race for a few weeks. Was the horse sick, just could not find a race, or did the trainer feel the horse needed some time off? Joe Bettor had no idea and usually had to make a guess. Of course, programs now list this information. You see 'Scratched - Sick', 'Scratched - Injured'; 'Scratched - Ineligible'. With these listings, you know what happened and you can make an informed decision when handicapping. But what do you do when you see 'Scratched-Judges'?

'Scratched-Judges' is the catch all for anything else and that is a problem. Was the horse scratched because it did not make it to the paddock in time (perhaps due to transportation problems); a rule infraction (such as pre-race testing violation); raced or will be raced in a different race (perhaps the horse was an also eligible in another race and got in); some other reason? If we want bettors to wager with more confidence, shouldn't we try to be as specific as possible? 'Scratched-Judges' should be used only when a horse is scratched due to a violation of a rule such as arriving late to the paddock, a mess up in the lasix area, pre-race positive or a medication error. Can't we say 'Scratched-Transportation' when a horse doesn't make it to the track due to travel issues (it could be the roads are icy); 'Scratched-Alt Race' could be used when a horse scratched out of a race to race in a different race; 'Scratched-Quarantine' could be used to designate when a horse is scratched due to being stabled at in a barn or track which is under quarantine restrictions. With this information, bettors will be able to make more informed decisions.

While talking about quarantine. Every summer horses come over from Europe to race in Canada and the United States and we even see foreign horses in the Breeders Crown. Would it be too hard to list after their name a 'Q' to indicate they are racing from quarantine or a '-Q' to designate a horse that was released from quarantine within the last ten days? A simple 'Big Trotter D (Q)' would suffice to designate the Denmark bred Big Trotter is racing from quarantine this week. After all, if I am betting on a race, I would like to know if a horse had been restricted during the week from being able to get out into a paddock or otherwise limited in its training. A brief write up in the program indicating the quarantine requirements for a horse in the United States, while not necessary, would be helpful.

Anything which can be done to give the fan/bettor more information within reason should be done. There is no reason why these changes can be implemented.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Past Can Haunt You

News Item: The New York Court of Appeals (the highest court) has refused to hear a case from trainer Tim Case where he claimed the NYSRWB's drug tests were unreliable and the policy of considering past violations when determining suspensions was unfair.

Back in 2006 when the NYSRWB ruled on a case where one of Case's horses had a high TCO2 level, indicating the horse was milkshaked. Since Case had multiple medication violations in New York dating back to 2000, they decided he could not be licensed for a period of five years. This ruling was appealed to the courts. Since the original suspension was appealed, Case was charged with two additional TCO2 violations which led the NYSRWB to determine Case no longer merited licensing.

With the Court of Appeals refusing to hear the appeal, the NYSRWB will be revoking Tim Case's license. For the complete story, click here.

At least in New York, your past can haunt you.


Hopefully this will be last blog entry I will write (at least for a while) regarding the fallout from the disqualification of Angostura in the Peaceful Way elimination at Mohawk Monday night due for violating the new Ontario urging rule. As a result of this disqualification, Angostrura will not be able to compete in the $500,000(C) Peaceful Way final.

Many people asked why should the owner be penalized for the driver's violation of the rule; one person even expressed the fear it will drive owners from the sport.

You would think this rule was imposed upon the serfs by the lord of the land. This rule formulated by the ORC with the assistance of horsemen and others. Horsemen who realize you need to evolve in order to survive. Refuse to evolve and die.

While it is possible the owners of Angostura may leave the sport over the outcome of this ruling, to assume there will be an exodus of owners leaving racing as a result of this rule is a bit of 'the sky is falling' by the prophets of doom. After all, if seeing prominent trainers frequently getting cited for medication violations isn't running owners away, I don't think this rule is going to do it.

The interesting thing about this tempest is everyone is quick to criticize the ORC. Who violated the rule?

Dean over at Pull the Pocket writes an excellent entry regarding the fallout from Monday night and puts it all in perspective. Hopefully, this will be the final word.

At least we can hope.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Get With the Program, Snagged in Ontario

A few week ago I wrote about a problem on Super Sunday at Chester Downs where the program information in Trackmaster and the On-track program was incorrect due to timing issues. In one case, Chester Downs turned off a switch which would have forced the program to print 'Line to Be Announced' when a horse was 'in to go' in another race. In this case, Chester reported via their track television broadcast that the horse raced in another race. While the information about the additional race was less than complete, at least it was announced. In another case, a horse raced at Freehold the day before but due to differences in the draw schedule between Freehold and Chester Downs, the Chester programs were printed before the horse was entered at Freehold. In this situation, it was not caught in time and the horse was barred from wagering.

Well, apparently it has happened again. This time at Pocono Downs. On this past Saturday in the fourteenth race, the Trackmaster program indicated the #4 horse was Rusty's All In. Well, it turns out that Rusty's All In was the #8 horse in the fourth race and the horse racing in the fourteenth race was actually Clear Vision. However, if you look at the Trackmaster program's fourth race, it showed the #8 horse as being Wambam Sam!

So to recap:
  • In the fourth race at Pocono Downs the Trackmaster program listed the #8 horse as Wambam Sam when in fact it was Rusty's All In.

  • In the fourteenth race at Pocono Downs, the Trackmaster program listed the #4 horse as Rusty's All In when in fact it was Clear Vision.

How the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission allowed Clear Vision or Rusty's All In to race without being barred in the wagering is beyond me. Last year, the Jugette had only one division so someone who is not well versed in the way the Jug and Jugette is conducted put the same program numbers on the horses in the second heat (post positions and betting numbers were redrawn after the first heat) in the simulcast program offered at NJ racetracks. As a result, the NJRC would not permit wagering on the second heat even though this error was discovered before the first race was run that day due to the confusion it would cause. In this case, the NJRC protected the bettors.

Memo to the PHRC (and Pocono Downs). Welcome to the 21st century. You know, the one where a significant, if not majority, amount of your wagering handle comes from either simulcast or ADW wagering. If you want people to wager on your product you better make sure you protect the interests of the fan/gambler off-track as well as on-track. Even if the program was correct on-track or they were able to rectify the situation at Pocono, there was no way you could properly rectify the situation for those wagering at simulcast sites around the country as well as from home. Yes, errors happen. The important thing is when errors occur that you address them correctly. To use a phrase racing commissions like to use, this borders on "Conduct Detrimental to Horse Racing".

Other than the failure of not barring wagering on these horses, I am not as much concerned as to where fault lies; just that it doesn't happen again. Being Trackmaster's racing products are as important as the regular racing program, steps need to be implemented to ensure the accuracy of the information in that the basic program information is identical between the on-track and off-track programs. If an error is discovered with the Trackmaster program, there needs to be a way to promptly correct and disseminate this information to those that purchased their products; at no charge.

In other news, last night the first disqualification under the new Ontario urging rules took place at Mohawk. Trevor Ritchie, driving down the stretch switched the lines to one hand and then whipped the horse, admittedly not aggressively. The Ontario rule mandates if a driver takes the lines into one hand for any reason other than an equipment adjustment and proceeds to whip the horse (it doesn't matter how hard or soft) the horse must be disqualified and placed last, no ifs and/or buts. As a result, the horse he drove was disqualified from first and placed last; not only causing people who bet on his horse to lose their bet, but cost the owner their share of the purse money and denied the horse the opportunity to compete in next week's final.

Well, most of those taking the time to comment are screaming. I can understand the debate and disagreement over the merits of the rule. The one thing I can't understand is that most people don't put any blame on Trevor Ritchie. This rule change was well publicized, with training sessions and a grace period with warnings. You may not like the rule, but right now it is the rule. The undeniable fact is if Ritchie drove with one hand in each line through the race or at least did not whip the horse when he was driving one handed there would not have been a disqualification. He should not get a free pass in this situation.

It is unfortunate that this occurred in such a high profile situation but if something good came out of this, I will be surprised if any other drivers will forget to drive two handed after this.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Newsflash - Well Said is Delaware Bound

According to sources, it has been reported that despite earlier conjecture, Well Said will be racing in the Little Brown Jug on September 24. A formal announcement should be expected shortly.

True Confessions

Ok, I confess. Despite all he has accomplished, Muscle Hill does not excite me. Don't get me wrong, I think he is a very very good horse; one of the best trotters of this decade. I just don't get excited when he races. Donato Havonver had me excited, Deweycheatumnhowe had me excited (not as excited as I was for Somebeachsomewhere), primarily because I was happy Ray Schnittker finally had his 'big one'. But Muscle Hill, nothing.

The fact Muscle Hill does not excite me bothers me. Is there something wrong with me? I have been trying over the last few days to figure out why the name Muscle Hill triggers no real response. Is it there is a dominant horse on the pacing side that has gotten my interest? Nope, while Well Said is certainly the class of the three year old pacers, he has not gotten to the level of Somebeachsomewhere; Muscle Hill is certainly the story this year. Maybe I don't care for trotters? Nope, I appreciate a great trotter as much as anyone. Some of my favorite horses of all time are trotters (Vivid Photo, Malabar Man, Moni Maker, Savoir). Maybe I don't like the connections? No, that's not it. I am very happy for Greg Peck, one of the classiest people around). So what is it?

Perhaps part of the problem is Muscle Hill is too good. As dominating as Somebeachsomewhere and Deweycheatumnhowe were last year, their races were not ho hum. For sure they were the best horses in the races but there was drama and a chance they would lose (which they did). After the Hambletonian where has Muscle Hill raced? The American National, which for all purposes, was a glorified qualifier with a purse. The World Trotting Derby, where the biggest drama of the day was whether they would race or not and once that was decided, who eventually was going to drive Muscle Hill; the race was a foregone conclusion.

The main reason I am not excited is I have seen this story before, a couple of times. This is what racing has come to on the trotting side. Have the top two year old and you race the following year like a thoroughbred. Race the early part of the season exclusively at the Meadowlands, foregoing the early season stakes. Race as few parimutuel starts as possible (perhaps two or three before the Hambletonian) with almost as many qualifiers as races; after all, the more you race the better the chance someone can beat you and hurt your breeding value. Race if at all possible only on a mile track, but never, never on a half mile oval regardless of the purse being offered. Donato was the first, Dewey was the second and now with the success of Muscle Hill, the road map appears to be fixed; Muscle Hill's connections have already said that Holiday Road's path will be the same as Muscle Hill's; only illness or injury will change this path. With this path now being proven, expect more trotters each year to follow this road map.

Now I know why Muscle Hill doesn't excite me. Donato Hanover, Deweycheatumnhowe and now Muscle Hill. With minor variations, I have seen this play three years in a row and it is getting boring. The players are different but the end result are the same.

Here is wishing we see a top gelding make his appearance on the scene next year. With no breeders to worry about, we would see something different next year. Otherwise, I fear we will see the same play again.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

CTC Elims, Jug Intrigue, North Dakota Demolition Derby

Saturday night the eliminations for the Canadian Trotting Classic were held at Mohawk Racetrack. In the first elimination, 1-9 favorite Muscle Hill won easily in 1:53.3. While Muscle Hill may not have been challenged through out the entire race, at least Photoforwin attempted to put a little sting in Muscle Hill by parking him to the quarter in :27.3. In the second division, Southern Rocketop easily won his elimination in 1:53.4. Explosive Matter, the horse I expected to give Muscle Hill a little competition in the final, finished a tired fourth which considering it was his first start in a month, was not a shocker. Since the Canadian Trotting Classic is another race where the winner is rewarded with their choice of post position in the final, even if Explosive Matter is up to the challenge, the race should be just another walkover for Muscle Hill.

The question needs to be asked, if all these stake races were open draws, would Muscle Hill be undefeated this year? While I am sure the owners are happy to cash those purse checks (as would I), we will never know how great Muscle Hill really is because of these conditions which give the heat winners an unfair advantage over the rest of the field.

Well Said, another 1-9 favorite, won his division of the Simcoe Stakes, in a deceptively easy 1:50.2 mile. I say deceptively, because he won by a nose. According to driver Ron Pierce, he said the instructions given to him were to do what it takes to win, nothing more. A five inch win is cutting it a little close; I suspect trainer Steve Elliot after the race said something like, "When I said, just enough, I didn't quite mean that."

Ron Pierce may have made life a little uncomfortable for the Well Said camp with his post-race comments regarding the Little Brown Jug. After the race, he indicated that the race set Well Said up nicely for the Jug. When asked about the possibility of Well Said skipping the Jug, Pierce indicated he didn't see why Well Said should be skipping the Jug; he didn't think the half mile oval would be a problem nor did he see a problem with going two heats. Earlier this week, assistant trainer Toni Rose led people to think Well Said might not be heading for the Jug due to the multiple heat set up. One has to think that Pierce had heard about Rose's comments. My guess is Pierce's comments were not unintentional, he wants that ride on Well Said on the famed Delaware County Fairground's oval. I expect any intrigue Pierce's comments may have caused will come to and end early this week; hopefully in favor of a trip to Delaware, Ohio.

They race standardbreds in North Dakota, don't they?

This weekend they had a two day standardbred race meet (just five days after the conclusion of their thoroughbred/quarterhorse meet) at the North Dakota Horse Park. During yesterday's fourth race, a $2,200 'stake' race for three year old North Dakota Bred pacers, the demolition derby showed up as there was a malfunction of the starting gate and the car crashed. Fortunately, no one got hurt and the race continued. The winner? Race favorite Peekaboo K who won in a blistering 2:07.3 and paid $4.80 to win. For a recap of the race, and the starting car crash, the video is provided (the quality is not the best).

When you consider there are only ten days of thoroughbreds and/or quarterhorses racing at Fargo, a two day harness meet is nothing to be ashamed of. You may ask how do you put together a two day harness meet in North Dakota; apparently it is not easy. It turns out that Peekaboo K who won the 4th race for ND Breds came back to finish fifth in the eight race for a condition pace for Minnesota Owned and Sired horses (yes, in North Dakota) later that day. Finn Jet raced in the Open Handicap on Saturday and was scheduled to return to race on Sunday in another Open Handicap. One thing for sure, they are determined in North Dakota.

While the North Dakota bred may not put fear into the heart of horsemen back East, it was interesting to note that in a state with a two day race meet, at least they have a fair start rule. Perhaps the folks back east should take note after all. At least the racing commission in North Dakota protects their fans.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

NJ Gubernatorial Election to Decide the Fate of Racing

According to press reports another meeting of the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Racing was held this past week. All the participants reviewed the Rutgers University study on what the economic impact of VLTs at New Jersey racetracks would have on the state, racing, and Atlantic City. Let me give you a quick recap of the meeting.

  • Racing interests call for a partnership between casinos and the racing industry to bring slots to the racetracks. NJ Racing needs to look like it does in surrounding states (VLTs).
  • The casino industry questions the validity of the study and insists VLTs will severely hurt the casino industry in Atlantic City.

In other words, nothing has changed. Three meetings have been held and I suspect the only issue which all sides agreed upon was the lunch menu.

Holding meetings before election day is a waste of time. Nothing is going to happen until this year's gubernatorial election occurs. The casino industry wants to see who the governor will be. Governor Corzine up to now has not been willing to challenge the South Jersey legislators who steadfastly oppose allowing VLTs at the racetracks. If the next governor is not going to be willing to take on the casino interests in the legislature, the casino industry will not cave in. Should the next governor actually have enough concern for racing and take on the legislators then you will see the casino industry make a deal. Until they have to make a deal, they will not.

There is about a month and a half left before the gubernatorial election. In Kentucky, once the VLT bill died in the state senate the horsemen realized they needed to mobilize themselves politically. In a special election, racing went all out for a pro-VLT candidate. It is time for NJ racing interests to do the same; find out if Governor Corzine is for the racing industry but just laid low in an effort to win re-election or is the Republican candidate Christopher Christie is their man. Once racing interests find out who their person is, they need to start rallying those in the equine industry and elsewhere to support the candidate which will benefit them the most. If successful, then the state legislators will realize racing can deliver votes for or against them.

I realize the temptation is to lay low in an effort not to choose the losing side and face the wrath of the victor. This approach has not worked as racing in New Jersey is dying a slow death. What does racing have to lose by becoming more proactive; the end result can't be any worse?

Better to go down fighting than die like sheep.

Happy 110th Yonkers, Leaks in the VLT Gravy Train

Everyone complains that racinos don't care about racing; all they want is their slot revenue. I will certainly concede this point when you are talking about racinos operated by gaming companies but there is at least one racino promoting racing. Yesterday, in The Record, the daily newspaper in Bergen and Passaic Counties in New Jersey (yes, the Meadowlands backyard), there was a half page advertisement in the sports section from Empire City Casino/Yonkers Raceway. Just what we need, another advertisement for the VLTs at Yonkers. Wait, the main goal of this advertisement is to celebrate the 110th Anniversary of Yonkers Raceway? Photos of horse racing and warming up? Not one picture of a slot machine? Yes, there was mention of a promotion if you play the slots on one particularl evening in September, but make no mistake about it, the focus was harness racing. Like every racino, marketing is primarily directed to the slot players as they are paying the bills, but at least at Yonkers Raceway, there is a commitment to racing; racing is not just a necessary evil to have slots.

In another case illustrating the fragility of VLT revenue, Delaware Park, the thoroughbred track in Delaware, announced their intention to shorten their current meet by seven days due to the state of Delaware cutting the amount of slot revenue dedicated to purses by 10% this year. In consultation with the horsemen, the decision was made to cut the meet short instead of cutting the purses being paid out. While this seems to be a relatively innocuous cut, it shows racing should not take the VLT gravy train for granted.

Bad news for New Jersey and Pennsylvania racetracks, it seems the budget impasse in Pennsylvania has eliminated some objections in the legislature regarding introducing table games at the racetracks and stand-alone casinos. The bad news is obvious for New Jersey; another reason for gambling dollars to head over to Pennsylvania instead of being wagered at New Jersey racetracks (and casinos). The news is not good for Pennsylvania horsemen either; unlike the VLTs, current proposals make no provisions for any table game revenue to be dedicated to purses so horsemen will find their purse accounts being reduced.

Eliminations for the Canadian Trotting Classic tonight at Mohawk Racetrack. Muscle Hill draws post position nine and is listed with a 1-5 morning line in his elimination. Explosive Matter is 2-1 in his elimination. Looks like we will have a Muscle Hill - Explosive Matter rematch next week. After two soft races, next week looks like the first tough race for Muscle Hill since the Hambletonian so it will be interesting to see if Explosive Matter will be able to turn the tables on him.

We are just a week away from Jug Week at the Delaware County Fair. This year the Delaware County Fair is not simulcasting the first two days; only simulcasting Tuesday thru Thursday. Some people are upset that the first two days will not be simulcasted but there is so little interest in the first two days of racing (it is basically horses racing on the Ohio fair circuits) that the Delaware Agricultural Society will save $30,000 by not offering the card to outside sources. People need to remember at county fairs, racing (where it has not been discontinued) is only part of the fair experience. If the first two days were simulcasted the fair would have to cut something else from the fair program to cover the $30,000 loss. While we, as racing purists, would love to see all five days simulcasted, we need to recognize that the Society made the right decision.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Here We Go Again

Standardbred Canada reports that it appears Well Said will be skipping the Little Brown Jug reportedly because the connections don't want the horse to race multiple heats. Call me cynical, but it couldn't be the connections are looking to avoid the half mile oval? This will be the second year in a row that the top 3yo pacing colt skips the Jug but at least last year Somebeachsomewhere raced on a half mile track in Canada. Hopefully Well Said's connections will change their mind but don't hold your breath.

Last year the directors of the Delaware County Fair changed the conditions of the race so starting with the foals of 2009, the sponsor has the right to race eliminations instead of heat racing if industry changes dictate it with the hope that with the elimination of heat racing, the top horses will once again grace the Delaware oval. My suspicion is the rule change will never be implemented; it likely won't attract the top 3yos. The only way you will get future Well Saids to race in the Little Brown Jug is if the race is moved to a track like Scioto Downs.

Like it or not, the Jug is suffering the same fate as the Yonkers Trot. Sportsmanship is gone. Owners of horses to be or already syndicated don't want to risk their investment on a half mile oval; heaven forbid the horse loses a race, the value of the horse may drop. What can be done to encourage a horse to race on the half mile oval? Marketing is the answer.

The rule to winning a year end award should be changed so for a horse to be eligible for an award, it must race at least once in a parimutuel race during the year's campaign on a half, five-eighths, and mile track. This way, if a syndicate wants to be able to market their horse as the Horse of the Year or Three Year Old Pacer/Trotter of the Year, it will have had to race on each size track. The rationale for this proposal is not to get a horse to race in the Yonkers Trot or the Little Brown Jug; the horse could race in an overnight race to qualify for the award. Breeders and yearling buyers invest a lot of money to raise or buy a yearling, shouldn't they be able to know if a particular stallion (and mare) was able to race on a half mile track or not?

Who knows, maybe one day we will again see a top horse race in some of our half mile classics. We can only hope.

Stop Cancelling Place and Show Pools

Have you noticed race tracks are a lot quicker these days to cancel place and show wagering when there is an overwhelming favorite is racing? Some people will argue that it is a gutless move on the part of race tracks to cancel place and/or show wagering just to avoid minus pools. While it is understandable tracks don't want to loose money on minus pools, perhaps there is a better solution for all involved.

The only time pools should be cancelled is when there are not enough horses entered in a race to make a pool feasible. For example, show wagering should be offered as long as six horses are entered to race and at least five horses start (allowing for a late scratch); place wagering offered as long as four horses start. That being said, is there a win-win situation for track owners and gamblers where place and show wagering may be offered in situations where it seems the only way a horse can lose is the proverbial bolt of lightening?

In Muscle Hill's recent race at Balmoral (American National) there were ten horses entered and show wagering was cancelled. Muscle Hill won his 'workout' and paid $2.10 to win and place. Cruisealong, the 63-1 second place finisher paid a whopping $2.10 to place as well. A great race to watch for the fans, not exactly a great betting race for anyone.

Perhaps we should be barring horses from wagering more often in situations like this? If we did, handicapping the race gets more interesting. Let's say this is a $100,000 race. While the barred horse will be disregarded for parimutuel purposes, it will still be racing so you still need to handicap the race accordingly. Will a driver of one of the other horses decide the purse is too tempting to ignore and get hooked up in a duel or will everyone concede the race to the winner and race for second? Will the fractions be reasonable or will they be blistering? All this will factor on how the rest of the field finishes. Handicap the race and wager, skipping the barred horse.

Let's go back to the American National. If Muscle Hill was barred, the fans would have still gotten to see Muscle Hill but now the race becomes bettable for the horseplayers/gamblers. For sure Cruisealong would not have gone off at 63-1 but at least people could have bet win or place and got decent payoffs when compared to the $2.10 payoff there was. Show players could have bet the race and exotics would have paid better. Yes, the bridge jumpers would have lost the ability to wager on the race but you might be doing them a favor in the long run; after all, bet $20,000 to show five races in a row to collect your $.05 on the dollar and be up $5,000 and if you lose the sixth bet you end up being down $15,000. True, you deny the gambler the chance to wager the super horse will make his first break ever, suffer an equipment failure, or be a victim of a suicide speed duel which neither horse survives but considering how often that happens, there is little downside to the gambler.

Make no mistake about it, a horse should not be barred just because he is an overwhelming favorite to win; a horse should be barred only in a situation when you can run the race over in your head a hundred times and there is no reasonable way the horse should lose. This could be the solution everyone can live with.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Words of Wisdom

In this month's edition of HoofBeats, there is an interview with Phil Terry, the General Manager and Director of Marketing of the Delaware County Fair, the agricultural society which hosts the Little Brown Jug. In this interview, Mr. Terry talks about things which they society does to make and keep the LBJ the special event it is. The main points Mr Terry discusses are:

  • Develop corporate sponsorships
  • Review your racing program every year to keep it current.
  • Constantly looking for new ways to keep attendance high and attract younger people (last year they introduced the 'Tack Shack'.

Perhaps the most important advice Mr. Terry give is that tracks are racing too much and need more events. People have too many other choices of activities to come to the track three or four times a week. Phil Terry knows what he is talking about, after all how many tracks these days can say they handle more money on track than they do off track.

If you get a chance, read the interiew, it is a good read. Racetrack operators need to cut out Mr. Terry's interview and post it on their wall; they can learn something from this Ohioan.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Another Threat to Racing

The British Columbia Lottery Corp. has announced plans to run its own online casino in an effort to recoup some of the $87 million currently being gambled by British Columbia residents at offshore casinos. The question needs to be asked, if successful in British Columbia, how long will it be until online casino gambling comes to Alberta, Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and the rest of Canada? What will be the impact on racing? Not only will it encourage some horseplayers to stay home and spend their dollars on online casino gaming, it will also divert money from the slot machines at the racinos, resulting in a double barreled assault on purse accounts. Racing continues under siege.

Why should American racing take concern? Doesn't the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006 outlaw online casinos? Not exactly. It prohibits the exchange of money for gambling not legalized by the respective state. This means at present if you live in New Jersey you can not legally engage in any form of online casino gambling for money. However, if the State of New Jersey decided to allow the New Jersey Lottery to run its own online casino, residents of New Jersey would be allowed to gamble in the online casino; a resident of New York would not be allowed to gamble in the New Jersey virtual casino. Right now it is not of immediate concern, but should the federal government repeal the law in an effort to tax illegally wagered gambling proceeds or a state government be searching for sources of revenue, one never knows. While the attempt to legalize online casino gaming would result in a social debate, should online casino gaming be a success in Canada, expect some states to consider the possibility.

With the (r)evolution in gambling in North America it should becoming obvious to all that VLTs are not the end all to ensure racing's continued viability. If steps are not taken to make racing a more attractive product, we will not recognize it in the next twenty years. How do we do it? I don't pretend to know all the answers but here are a few things which can be done to make racing more appealing to the gaming public:

  • Free programs. You don't have to buy a program to play the lottery or wager in the casino do you?
  • Reduce the minimum wager to $1 for your 'traditional' wagers. You want the entry level to wager to be similar to the lottery and casino games. With more reliance on automated tellers and internet wagering a $1 wager can be profitable for a track. Better a $1 wager on the four horse in the first race than no wager at all.
  • Classified racing. You want a slot player to figure out nwXXXXXcd AE: blah blah blah? Give them something then can understand (i.e., A-1, A-2, etc). Especially because you are going to...
  • Speed up the races. Ten race card, finish in two hours and don't compete against other tracks in your area. Freehold or Harrington at noon; Yonkers or Monticello at two; Pocono Downs or Tioga Downs at four; Dover Downs or Rosecroft at six; Chester Downs or Meadowlands at 8:00; Balmoral or Maywood at 10:00(eastern time); Cal-Expo at midnight(eastern). Give people enough time to handicap a race but keep the action coming. If at the track, catch the live races, have dinner and then back to wagering on the next track.
  • New wagers, easy to understand. Give them wagers which are easy to understand and play. Not all of them need to be Pick6, 7 or 8. Have a double quiniella, double place, double show, triple place, trip show. All different wagers which are more complex than a straight win wager but hittable. It may not pay thousands but let people hit for hundreds and so forth. Have your V75 wager for those looking for the jackpot.
  • Lower the takeout. Not only will you get the heavy hitters playing but you will get bigger payoffs which will attract more wagering.

Racing certainly has its challenges but all is not lost. What is needed are leaders from all the stakeholder groups who can think beyond what we did yesterday and today, who can think about what we will do tomorrow. If we live in the past we are doomed. We need to look ahead.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hall of Famer Dave Palone

It was announced today that driver Dave Palone has been elected to the Living Hall of Fame along with Hal Jones, the father of artificial insemination.

Dave Palone's election is a long time coming. One assumes the reason Palone was not previously elected to the Hall of Fame is due to his decision to remain in Pittsburgh at the Meadows instead of plying his trade in the New Jersey/New York circuit. Other than an occasional drive on the east coast or in the mid-west with stakes caliber horses, Palone has ruled the Meadows for the past twenty some odd years like Herve Fillion ruled Freehold in the 1980s. At this time, Palone is third in the all time standings for wins by a driver and has frequently been the HTA driver of the year. You don't get these credentials by not being a hall of fame driver.

Congratulations to Dave Palone on his election. Goshen is richer by his election.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Cane Pace Preview

With the World Trotting Derby in the books, it is time to take a look at the Cane Pace (1st leg of the pacing triple crown) being held today at Freehold Raceway. Unlike the WTD, the Cane Pace looks to be a far more interesting race. If I Can Dream, the elimination winner draws post position eight today which makes it harder for him to repeat. Vintage Master has a great closing kick, but the short stretch may compromise his ability to be there at the wire unless Dube decides to race him on the front.

My selections for the Cane Pace is: 4- Arctic Warrior, 2A - Mr. Wiggles; 1A - Vintage Master; 6 - If I Can Dream.

How come the USTA or Trackmaster does not offer a free program page for the Cane Pace? It would be nice if a free program for the whole card would be offered, but at a minimum a program page for the Cane Pace should be made available.

While we are talking about free program pages, the Daily Racing Form offers a race of the day feature where they provide their past performances for a specific race each day. Would it be too hard for Trackmaster to offer a race of the day? The USTA should pursue it; after all, the USTA provides Trackmaster with the past performance information that they sell.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

World Trotting Derby - "Cool Man" Luke is the Real Story

After a long day, Muscle Hill with driver Luke McCarthy won the World Trotting Derby in 1:52.3. If you don't know why Luke McCarthy was driving Muscle Hill, you don't sleep, eat and live harness racing. Dean over at Pull the Pocket recaps the "it can only at DuQuoin" day. While all the accolades will go to Muscle Hill, the real story of the day is Luke McCarthy.

Don't minimize Luke McCarthy's effort in yesterday's World Trotting Derby. Sure, Luke is well known down under but in the United States he is still relatively unknown. To be given the drive on Muscle Hill yesterday was an amazing stroke of good fortune but make no mistake about it, it could have been a curse. Once Luke got the call to take the drive and he accepted the offer, the amount of pressure on him must have been phenomenal. Yes, Muscle Hill is heads above the horses he raced yesterday but it was still a horse race and one never knows what could happen.

Think about it. If Brian Sears was driving Muscle Hill yesterday and somehow he made a bad move or Muscle Hill went off-stride, it would be called bad racing luck; Brian may have been criticized but on the next racing day he would just pick up where he left off. However, with Luke McCarthy the stakes were much higher. The win yesterday gives Luke McCarthy a higher profile which may benefit his North American career. However, if Luke made a bad move and/or Muscle Hill went off-stride and lost, Luke becomes harness racing's Bill Buckner and his career in North America would have been over. Luke had little to gain but plenty to loose yesterday by accepting the drive and he knew it once he said yes.

So let's give Luke McCarthy the credit he is due. He rose to the occasion and not only accepted the challenge; he succeeded. "Cool Man" Luke IS the story of the World Trotting Derby.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

History Rained Out?

Due to morning rains, the first race for DuQuoin has been delayed as they need to get the track back to into racing shape. The first race, originally scheduled for noon is now scheduled for 6:00pm CDT. This is one of the perils of fair racing. It makes you appreciate the all-weather track, something DuQuoin lacks, even more.

As a result of the late start, the drivers scheduled to race at Mohawk have had to cancel off their drives for this now evening program so they can return to Mohawk so expect a lot of driving changes. With the driver change, the hope for a sub 1:50 mile today by Muscle Hill has been put on hold until Lexington. With Brian Sears heading to Canada, Luke McCarthy will drive today. While this may cost Muscle Hill his chance for a sub 1:50 mile, I don't believe the driver change jeopardizes Muscle Hill's win streak; the key to this race is to avoid any racing trouble. As a result, I expect Muscle Hill to leave and go wire to wire.

My selections for the World Trotting Derby are: 6 - Muscle Hill, 9 - Airzoom Lindy; 4 - Photoforwin.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Last Word (For a While) on Whipping, History in the Making at Du Quoin

My apologies to those of you who are sick and tired of reading about whipping. While this blog talks about issues which address harness racing, this blog does not strive to be a bully pulpit harping about any one issue. I strive to talk about all things in harness racing from the good to the not very good, sometimes talking about things as simple as a particular horse race. My goal is to not only make this blog informative, but enjoyable. I realize talking about the same old same old may become boring to some and take away the enjoyment.

That being said, in all my time following harness racing (suffice it to say I remember having to go to different windows to make different wagers as well as to cash) no one issue has raised emotions as much the whipping debate and with the Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) implementing new 'urging' rules this week, reality has set in. It would be an understatement to say some people don't like the new rule. Of course, some people approve of the ORC's changes.

Needless to say, the discussion of the ORC rule has raised such passions that I can now say I know what it feels like to be a Congressman at a Town Hall Meeting discussing Health Care. For voicing my opinions on the subject (it is no secret I support the new rule) I have been accused of being a member of PETA (I am not), called a tree hugger and worse. To be sure, the vast majority of people have been respectful, even if they disagreed with my position. As for those that have not been respectful? I realize they are just angry and don't take their insults personally.

For my last posting on whipping for a while, permit me the liberty of reprinting something I had posted elsewhere. The reason I am reprinting this response is because I believe it basically gets to the bottom line of why the ORC has issued these rules and why these rules, one way or another, will likely be coming to your local harness track. My response has been edited slightly, to leave out the identity of the person I was responding to. This person appeared not to have read the new rules because he was wondering why after all these years you no longer will be able to hit a horse. He also wondered why it was okay for some of the all time greats to drive one-handed through the stretch in the past and now it will not be allowed. Another reason why I suspect the individual did not read the rule was the person expressed a concern that because of the new rules, drivers that kick or put the whip between the legs will now do so more. Here is my response:

[Nickname], I am not singling you out, but people should look at the new rules for themselves before making a judgement on the rule. If you already did, please accept my apologies. I am afraid people see the heading on this thread and they see red or think the worst; emotions get inflamed for no reason.

That being said, here are some answers to the questions you raise:

1. You can still use a whip on a horse. You must give a horse a chance to respond after you hit him and the only times you are not allowed to use the whip is if the horse is obviously out of contention (i.e., no way they are going to earn purse money or advance to a final) or the horse is obviously tired and quitting. You are limited to how far you can lift you whip before you apply the whip; think of the whip having a dial setting between 0 and 10. Instead of setting it to ten, you can only set it at a maximum of five.

2. The new rules bans kicking a horse. Kick a horse and you are going to get a fine and/or suspension; perhaps even be placed lower. Penalties are increased. Kicking should go down, not up.

3. The new rule bans putting a whip between the legs. Put the whip between the hind legs of the horse, you are going to get a fine and/or suspension; perhaps even be placed lower. This type of activity should go down as well.

4. The rule allows the use of a whip to prevent injury to a driver or horse. Hence, if a horse goes off-stride, decides to bolt, tries to run into another horse, or the driver is trying to avoid another situation which may cause and accident, the driver will be able to use the whip to prevent the situation from occurring.

5. Let's take it at face value that top drivers don't over use the whip, or kick their horses or place the whip between the hind legs (though I think we can all think of some top driver or two who have been known to do so). There are plenty of drivers out there who will go to the whip far too quick/hard, will kick a horse with regularity, or place the whip between the hind legs. They may not race at the WEG tracks but there are plenty of other tracks in Ontario and these rules apply to all tracks in the province.

Why all these changes? Fifty years ago no one thought anything about someone drowning a litter of puppies in a pond or throwing them into an incinerator to get rid of them. Get caught now, you will end up in front of a judge and possibly going to jail. Twenty years ago not too many people gave a hoot about the inhumane treatment of a cow being slaughtered for meat. You have seen the outrage now when films showing how a downer cow is treated (yes, PETA may have released that tape but I don't think they asked for the workers to do it for their benefit).

Like it or not, people's sensibilities towards the treatment of animals have changed. One option is people can accept change and adapt, which this rule change is attempting to do or the other option is to fight the new reality and stick up for the way we did things in the past and join all those people who worked in the greyhound industry that are now working at McDonalds, collecting unemployment or welfare.

Again, not directing this at you [Nickname], no doubt some drivers are kicking and screaming about this change but this rule was crafted with the assistance of drivers. Does this mean all the drivers who assisted on developing this rule like it? Some drivers have no problem with the rule change and the others decided they see how society is going and they like being gainfully employed.

My suspicion is this rule will be coming to your local track within a couple of years. People may not like it but 'the winds are a changing' and racing is beginning to realize it.

For those of you wondering why I have not yet talked about the World Trotting Derby, it is because there is not much to talk about. Unless Muscle Hill decides to do his impersonation of Niatross at Saratoga Raceway in 1980 (there still is a hub rail at Du Quoin) the only question is will the WTD basically be an exhibition race or an assault against the clock. If an assault against the clock, history may be in the making as Muscle Hill may be the first trotter to crack the 1:50 mark. The fans at the Du Quoin State Fair are in for a treat.