For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Monday, November 30, 2009

Give the Gambler What They Want

On Sunday night, Schoolkids won the Matron Stakes for three year old pacing colts for Bulletproof Enterprises, winning in 1:50.1.  While this is newsworthy in its own right (the video replay is at the end of this entry), this race exemplifies a problem harness racing has; the coupled entry.

This year the coupled entry problem was put into the spotlight as a result of the prominence of Bulletproof Enterprises this year.  Let me state right here, this has nothing to do with Bulletproof.  Whether an entry is a result of common ownership or trainer, coupled entries are hurting the sport.  The Matron had an eight horse field and Bulletproof Enterprises had three of the horses in the race. As a result, what could have been a bettable race with eight betting interests became a six betting interest race which many gamblers passed on.

Everyone loses with coupled entries.  When it comes to added money events, it is the horsemen that put up the money via their purse account.  When you have one or two coupled entries in a race what do horsemen get for their money?  Races without place or show wagering; no trifecta or superfecta wagering meaning the local horsemen don't get the full benefit of their 'investment' as a result of decreased wagering.  Track operators lose out as well due to decreased wagering.  The gambler loses out as well.  A bettable race may become unbettable; a person who plays trifectas or superfectas may now find the wager unavailable; they may find a horse they liked who may have been 6-1 if uncoupled, now 2-5 because it is coupled with a bearcat.

The problem goes past added money events.  The problem is more pronounced in overnight events.  How many times do you see a race going with a short field yet a trainer has a horse that fits the condition sitting in the barn because he/she already has a horse entered in the race and the track won't let the trainer race two horses in the same race.  This is wrong.  More betting interests make races more desirable to bettors.  Anything we can do to make races more bettable should be done.  After all, who wants to see a parade of odds-on favorites winning in short field races; especially if it is a result of coupled entries?

We should be getting rid of coupled entries in all races, stakes or overnight events.  By all means, if a race is split, seed horses that would have made an entry into different races.  Too many horses entered into a race, but not enough for a second race?  Give preference to horses that would not have made an entry.  However, if you can't make a race with a full field, welcome a second entry by an owner and/or trainer.    

Yes, there is a possibility that a trainer may attempt to 'team' up their stablemates in an effort to ensure one of the horses wins the race, sacrificing another stablemate in the effort.  I am not naive.  Before you uncouple entries, you need to modify the rules to make the penalty so severe that a trainer or owner would not dare team up horses for the benefit of a stablemate.  Find horses teaming or giving a stablemate an unfair advantage?  Make the owners of all horses in the uncoupled entry forfeit their purse winnings and fine the driver an amount they won't forget (something like three times the amount of money the first place driver would earn or $5,000 whichever is higher) and give them a long vacation. 

Cal Expo allows trainers to enter more than one horse in overnights and they are uncoupled.  If it can work in California, it can work elsewhere.  Gamblers expect to be able to bet their exotics.  When you deny them the opportunity to make their wagers, you are giving up revenue and possibly losing a customer.  I don't know of any successful business that willingly gives up revenue, why are we?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Monkey King Triumphs, Reactor Meltdown

Monkey King won today's Miracle Mile at Menangle, Australia in a record 1:50.7.  Finishing second was Smoken Up with Karloo Mick finishing third.  Marquee horses Auckland Reactor finished sixth (8.4m back) with Blacks A Fake finishing seventh (18.1m).  American bred Lonestar Legend finished last (18.2m).  The fractions for the mile were 1/4 - :26.2; 1/2 - :56.1; 3/4 - 1:24.6; mile - 1:50.7 (The final time has been reported differently in several reports; the time I am reporting comes from the interim results published by Harness Racing Australia which may be seen here).

While a complete video is not yet available of the race (the replay provided by Harness Racing Australia show only the second half of the race), it was a dull race for Auckland Reactor.  With four horses inside of Auckland Reactor and Blacks A Fake vying for the lead going into the first turn, these two wisely took back.  With the racing style down under (they don't race single file like we do) making it hard for a driver to make a move mid-race, the Reactor and Blacks A Fake had no choice but to sit.  However, considering the blistering fractions (by Australiasia standards), the fact Auckland Reactor was only able to pass Lonestar Legend in the stretch is troubling to me.  The Reactor had the ability to launch a bid down the stretch off those fractions but did not fire.  I would have thought a horse with the reputation of the Reactor would have  been able to make a better showing in the stretch than he did.

Perhaps it was a case of a new driver who wasn't comfortable with the Reactor.  Maybe it was just not his day.  Time will tell, but I am beginning to wonder if Auckland Reactor will be more like San Simeon than Cardigan Bay when he arrives in North America.  Hopefully, I am wrong as Auckland Reactor could be our key to getting the attention of the non-racing media.

A recap of the race may be found here

Speaking of Cardigan Bay, I found this video of him at Yonkers Raceway. 

Saturday, November 28, 2009

An American in Australia

While all the attention regarding the Miracle Mile is centered on Auckland Reactor, Monkey King and Blacks A Fake, there is a horse that should be familiar to North American harness racing fans, Lonestar Legend.  Make no mistake; Lonestar Legend is a long shot to win this race.  But just the same, being an American bred horse is racing in the Miracle Mile, let's take a look at him.

So far, Lonestar Legend has not yet shown the ability he exhibited in the States.  Through his 3 year old campaign, Lonestar took a lifetime record of 1:49.3 and won $398,258 with seven wins out of twenty four starts making his last North American start at the Red Mile in 2008.  He was then exported to Australia.  

Since arriving in Australia, Lonestar Legend has been acclimating to racing in Australia.  Out of five starts last season, he won three races with a mile rate mark of 1:59.9 and earning $18,000 (AUS).  This season, he has earned two firsts and one second out of four starts with a mile rate of 1:58.3 and $22,913 in earnings. Up to his last race, he has shown a preference for distance races as all his victories have come in races over 2000 meters (a mile is 1609 meters).  That being said, he finished second, losing by a neck to Saucy Legend NZ in a FFA at Newcastle in his last start on November 14 in 1:53.8 so it would appear he is hitting his best stride.  Hence, he received an invitation to race in the Miracle Mile. 

That being said, things would have to go his way tomorrow to be a factor in the Miracle Mile. Blacks A Fake has been undefeated this season winning six out of six races and earning over $176,000 (AUS) in purse money racing consistently against top horses.  Monkey King has won three out of five starts earning $701,000 (NZ) winning in 1:54.5 with his FFA victory at Addington.  Auckland Reactor who has only had three starts this season with one win has earnings of $31,085 (NZ) with his winning mile rate of 1:53.7 for the distance of 1950 meters (he won thirteen of sixteen starts last season with earnings over $1.1 million).  I expect with Auckland Reactor making his fourth start of the season, he should be able to give a better account of himself.     

My prediction is Monkey King will take home the honors in the Miracle Mile, with Auckland Reactor and Blacks A Fake rounding out the top three.  That being said, I will be rooting for an upset by Lonestar Legend. 

UPDATE:  The Miracle Mile is due to go off at 12:40AM EST Sunday morning.  The race replay should be available a half hour later on  A live call of the race may be heard at post time at

Where is Our Zenyatta?

For those who don't think having racing stars matter, I give you Zenyatta.

Zenyatta parades at Hollywood Park this Sunday. I expect they will draw a large audience to see Zenyatta as she makes her final public appearance before heading off to her new careers as a broodmare. When was the last time we had a horse that popular that the prospect of seeing him/her being paraded on the track between races was an attendance draw and a media event?

Why is Zenyatta so popular? Longevity. She didn’t stop as a three year old or a four year old. She raced as a five year old. Yes, she is a mare, not a colt so I understand there is less incentive to stop racing earlier with her but the fact remains she was a draw for the runners.

We need to get our racing stars to keep racing past their three year old campaign. I understand the need for the very best of our three year old crop to head to the breeding shed, but we offer so little money for our aged events that we lose many others as well. I am not here to offend any horse owners but there are some three year olds heading to the breeding shed that lack the credentials to do so.

I don't lay the blame for this on horse owners. I dare say if any of us were fortunate to have any of these top horses we would look at the financials and make the same decision to head to the stallion barn. What we need to do is change the equation by dedicating more money for stake races for older horses. How do we do this? Take the added money spent on the major two year old events and move it to stake races for older horses. Let the two year olds learn and earn on sire stakes races and a few minor unrestricted stake races. Do we need a $1 million North America Cup and Meadowlands Pace? A $1.5 million Hambletonian? We could trim purses of our three year old events a little and divert the money to aged events as well.

Yes, breeders are going to argue that this will hurt the yearling market as it will take longer for an owner to earn back their investment. That may be, but what will the yearling market be like if there are no race tracks? Tracks have the power to do this now. It is time for them to do so.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"B" Track Tour - Plainridge Racecourse

Despite the fact Saturday is the closing racing program for the 2009 Plainridge season, the "B" track tour takes a look at Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville, Massachussets.  Plainridge is the only five-eighths mile oval in the New England region.  With no VLTs at Plainridge, purses are small.  On this closing day, the top purse is $2,500.  Many of the horses racing at Plainridge are owned by family members of the trainers.        

Plainridge coordinates their race meet with Rockingham Park (yes, state racing commissions can work together).  Plainridge races a spring meet from mid-March into the first week of June then takes a break while Rockingham Park races a summer meet June through August.  Plainridge returns with a fall meet from Labor Day weekend through the end of November.  As a result, horsemen can remain in the area and race nine months of the year, yet race fans have definite racing seasons to look forward to; the product doesn't get stale.

Here are my selections for Saturday's race card.

1st Pace - $2,000 - Claiming Handicap $3,000-5,000 (Amateur Drivers)
4 - Finally Finished  5-1
5 - Southview Sabre  3-1
7 - Jaurez  2-1
1 - Satin Time N  4-1

2nd Pace - $2,000 - Claiming $3,000
6 - Heyyowatzup N  3-1
2 - Brooklets TNT  5-1
7 - Mo Nongahela Rd  4-1
3 - Nifty Norman  2-1

3rd Trot - $2,000 - Non-winners $200 per start in 2009 or last 5 starts
4 - Golden Roe  3-1
7 - A Gift of Victory  12-1
3 - Stagehand  2-1
5 - Canaco Nino  8-1

4th Pace - $2,500 - Non-winners $300 per start in 2009
2 - Berley  2-1
1 - Red Rock Dreamer  4-1
3 - Hi Speed Delivery  3-1
9 - My Boy William  12-1

5th Pace - $2,000 - Claiming $3,000
4 - Jacks Gameboy  5-1
8 - Hollywood Best  8-1
9 - Rockin Ruler  10-1
6 - Ronnie Revrac  15-1

6th Trot - $2,500 - Non-winners $300 per start in 2009
2 - TK's Takeapeekatme  5-1
5 - China's Message  3-1
6 - Miles Moving  2-1
8 - Texas TNT  4-1

7th Pace - $2,500 - Non-winners $300 per start in 2009
4 - Angel Quest  8-1
6 - Westedge Matt  4-1
5 - Country Boy Charm  5-1
7 - Fox Valley Select  12-1

8th Pace - $2,000 - Non-winners $200 per start or a race in 2009
6 - Recapture  5-1
1 - Rebel Zeus N  2-1
9 - Matts Millenium  15-1
5 - Flashofcompetence  8-1

9th Trot - $2,000 - Non-winners $200 per start in 2009 or last 5 starts
7 - Impressive Mariah  5-1
1 - RC Gumption  4-1
9 - Whitesville Penny  7-2
5 - Gabriella Volo  6-1

10th Pace - $2,000 - Non-winners $200 per start or a race in 2009
3 - Sandra Beau  3-1
8 - Key Largo Gator  5-1
6 - Admiral's Watch  10-1
5 - G M Viking Doll  7-2

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Things to be Thankful For

At this time of the year, it is traditional to take a moment to reflect on the things you are thankful for. It may be a day early, but in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are some of the things I am thankful for which are related to harness racing.

I am thankful for Greg Peck. Not for Muscle Hill himself, but for being such a class guy and an eloquent spokesman for harness racing. Be it at the Hambletonian post draw press conference, winner circle presentation or elsewhere, Mr. Peck took the opportunity to make his case for the sport of harness racing.

I am thankful for the fine people at the United States Trotting Association (the same can be said for Standardbred Canada) for their dedication and endless support of harness racing. The USTA is an easy target for the naysayers who criticize the USTA but they forget what the USTA mission is and more importantly what it is not. Considering the budget the USTA has to work with, it is amazing as to what they are able to accomplish. Can they do more? Sure. However, it takes money to do more and I dare say many of those who argue for a more active USTA will be the first ones to complain if their dues were raised to finance such efforts.

I am thankful for Eric Cherry, Andrew Cohen, Jeff Gural, Jason Settlemoir, and others who are raising the alarm and offering proposals to help restore racing to its former luster. Yes, they may ruffle the feathers of some and I may not necessarily agree with everything they say, but rather than accept the status quo, they challenge the industry to rise from its slumber so it will still be relevant years from now. More importantly, they not only speak out but are willing to roll up their sleeves. Too many people are content to accept the status quo and just let things happen.

I am thankful for the participants of the June summit at the Meadowlands and other conclaves who took time out of their busy schedules and at their own expense traveled to these meetings to discuss some of the issues facing harness racing. Some may criticize these types of conclaves since they feel nothing is accomplished, but they are not a waste of time. Racings problems didn’t happen overnight; all the solutions aren’t going to either.

I am thankful for racinos like Tioga Downs and Yonkers that are truly dedicated to the continuation of harness racing. Yes, without slot machines there would be no harness racing at these locations, but rather than treating harness racing as a necessary evil, they continue to promote harness racing. If you haven’t seen some of the Yonkers Raceway commercials, you have to see them (Quick Time format).

I am thankful for the Delaware Standardbred Owners Association for sponsoring the Post Time Show shown on television stations in the Delmarva area (as well as on the Internet). This is not your typical harness racing recap show. It promotes, educates and entertains at the same time. Let’s not forget the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association for sponsoring PA Harness Week, which highlights races at Chester and Pocono Downs as well as some of the major races elsewhere in North America.

I am thankful for the countless individuals and groups working on to give our standardbred athletes a new lease on life and second careers once they leave the raceways.  Make no mistake about it, the unwanted race horse issue will become one of the big issues racing needs to address.  Through these individuals and groups, the initial steps have been taken. 

I am thankful for the horsemen and track operators who toil at our smaller ovals. These horsemen, drivers, trainers, grooms and owners, attempting to earn a living racing for small purses and race tracks which operate without the benefit of slot machines are not only the roots of harness racing, they are our future.  Find me one driver or trainer that did not get their start racing in the obscurity of one of these raceways. 

Lastly, I am thankful for those of you who read this labor of love. Whether you comment or not, just knowing you are there reading this blog and hopefully getting something out of it means a lot.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Approve Rule Change #9

This year, there is a proposal up for consideration by the USTA to allow for the issuance of a non-racing registration for horses that previously raced.  It is strongly urged that the USTA approve this proposal.

Currently, there is an uproar in the thoroughbred world regarding Grand Forks, a twelve year old stakes-winning mare attempting to make her first start in nine years.  The mare had been an unsuccessful broodmare and the owner sold the horse to a new owner under the assumption the horse would be used as a riding horse.  The mistake the old owner made was that she only marked the bill of sale 'not for breeding' but after a nine year layoff, felt no need to mark it 'not for racing'.  The new owner, after starting to ride the horse, felt the horse wanted to race again and put her in training.

There are people trying to make this out as an animal rights issue.  They are wrong.  None of the principals involved are alleging the horse is not sound.  It is a question of the new owner not following the old owner's wishes.  In harness racing, many times a horse that is not successful in breeding is returned to racing (usually not that long a layoff); as long as the horse is sound and under the age of fourteen they can race at our raceways.  Legally, the new owner has a right to race this horse.  Morally, the new owner is wrong. 

Harness racing has the opportunity to avoid this type of problem by adopting the proposed rule change regarding registrations.  Selling or transferring ownership of a horse you don't want racing again?  Change the registration to 'non-racing' and it is done, end of story.  No he said/she said; it will be in black and white.  As long as the original owner is willing to take less money if selling the horse as non-racing stock, that is all that matters.  If you don't re-register the horse as non-racing, you have no right to complain if the horse shows up at your local raceway. 

We don't need a Grand Forks.  Pass rule change proposal number nine. 

Race of the Year Balloting

The Horsemen and Fair World, has opened up voting for the 2009 Race of the Year to non-subscribers by allowing individuals to vote via the Internet.  The choices (and remember this is an American publication) are:

  • Breeders Crown 2yo Colt Pace 
  • Hambletonian Oaks
  • Kentucky Futurity
  • William Haughton Memorial
  • Little Brown Jug Elimination (Well Said elimination)
  • Meadowlands Pace
By going to this website, you have the opportunity to relive the nominated races as well as vote for the race you feel is deserving. 

Did you think another race (American, Canadian, or Foreign) should have been nominated?  Feel free to share your thoughts.   

Protecting the Local Horsemen

In the last column about the Meadowlands, I had mentioned how the New York harness tracks may be inadvertingly helping the Meadowlands with their horse population problems during the winter by introducing a new condition to their condition sheet.  With the approval of the NYSRWB, it is anticipated that once 2010 rolls around, New York harness tracks will be able to write race conditions with the additional restriction "For horses that raced in New York six of their last eight starts" provided the same exact race condition without the restriction is offered on the same condition sheet.  While each harness tracks is not required to card races with these restrictions, it is clear as soon as it is allowed, Yonkers will adopt it. 

No doubt there will be horsemen from outside of New York who will not be pleased with this change.  Up to now, New York has been an open state; overnight races have been open to all.  With this new rule, out of state horsemen will be having a hard time getting their horses raced now that their local tracks have closed for the season.   

Personally, I don't have a problem with this rule.  During the winter months last year, you had over two hundred horses being dropped into the entry box at Yonkers on a daily basis.  As a result, New York horsemen, who have been supporting the racing program all year, were sometimes lucky to get their horses raced once a month.  This new rule should help the New York horsemen keep racing during the winter with greater frequency.  Also, it is kind of hard to deny New York horsemen this type of protection.  After all, don't other states write conditions for state owned or sired?  At least these conditions don't give an unfair advantage to New York residents who raced elsewhere all year who return home for the winter.

If we had meaningful racing circuits, there would be no need for these types of rules as horsemen would have a place to race all year with the same horses going from track to track.  Until then, you will find the need to protect the local horsemen. 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Early Word on the Meadowlands

 The Meadowlands has announced that their 2010 standardbred meet begins on January 1 and concludes on August 21 (there will be weekend race dates in December, 2010). With the stable area opening in three weeks on December 14, many horsemen and racing fans are wondering what the 2010 Meadowlands meet will be like. Will it be a repeat of the 2009 meet or will things be getting worse?

Some people are looking at the stakes schedule to get an early read on how things will look. Several late closing series (The Blossom, Father Foley, Suslow, and SNY) have been discontinued while two new series for three year old trotters, The Mr Muscleman (colts and geldings) and Windylane Hanover (fillies) will be added to the schedule. The biggest change is the 30% cut in nominating and sustaining fees and a guaranteed consolation race for the Meadowlands Pace.

These changes are an acknowledgement of the changing landscape in harness racing. While the Meadowlands Pace continues to be one of the biggest races purse-wise, there are enough slot fueled stake races available elsewhere so horsemen have more options than ever. While the most highly regarded three year old colts continue to nominate to the Meadowlands Pace, owners of second tier horses can make better use of their nominating dollars by focusing on the smaller, yet lucrative stake races. The hope is by reducing payments to the Meadowlands Pace, some of these owners may take another look at the race and decide to give it a chance; realizing even if they don't make the big dance, there is still the potential of taking down a significant portion of the $100,000 consolation. With regards to cancelling some of the established late closing events, it was a responsible thing to do. The purse account has and will continue to be adversely impacted by the decline in racing quality and short fields. Being the added money comes from the horsemen's purse account, the track has a responsibility to invest these funds where they can get the biggest bang for the buck; no sense spending money for races that draw scant interest.

Overall, things may be a little better than last year. First of all, if New York harness tracks, as expected, start writing races for horses that race primarily at New York tracks, there may be an over abundance of horses available to race at the Meadowlands during the winter months. Secondly, the three day race week in the middle of the meet should be able to offset the loss of racing stock to Pennsylvania. There is even a chance that the exodus to Chester and Pocono may not be as great this year as the Pennsylvania legislature has taken back some of the VLT revenue previously dedicated to purses. As a result, once the purse structure is known for those two tracks and depending where the Meadowlands purse structure is, some horses may decide to remain in New Jersey. Lastly, having experienced the dismal meet they did last year, the racing office knows what to expect. Hopefully, they will be proactive instead of reactive

The real story of 2010 will not be on the track.  The future of racing in New Jersey will be determined next year.  Will there be purse supplements after 2010?  Will the Meadowlands be sold to a private concern?  Will Freehold survive?  Regardless of the outcome, 2010 will be known as a year of decision in New Jersey racing.  Hopefully it will be for the better.

Friday, November 20, 2009

"B" Track Tour Kick-off - Cal Expo

To kick off our tour of the "B' tracks, we head west to California and the Cal Expo harness meet. Let me comment on a few things before I go over my selections for Saturday night's racing card.

Being in the harness racing equivalent of Siberia, one must admire the dedication and innovation of the California harness horsemen. While the racing is certainly not going to be confused with top notch racing, they manage to put on a solid racing program with the racing stock they have. Things have improved quite a bit since my last look at their racing program. First of all, the fields are much fuller than they were before. Yes, there are still five and six horse fields in their racing program but these occur much less frequently. The number of starters per race has improved; there are even eleven and twelve horse races on the card (the starting gate allows for ten horses). Due to the limited number of horses available, Cal Expo still depends on uncoupling a lot of entries in their overnight events to get an acceptable number of betting interests. Were this Illinois or New Jersey, this would be unacceptable, but concessions need to be made in order to keep a viable racing program going in the Golden State.

There are a couple of things unique about the Cal Expo racing program. First of all, in an effort to improve their horse population, the California horsemen, in alliance with horsemen groups in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota have formed the "Diamond Horse Alliance" (DHA). This DHA program not only provides reimbursement for shipping expenses, but with the exception of the sire stakes programs, horses which have been sired by stallions in these states get the same racing allowances as Cal-sired horses. This type of program could be used as part of a framework for a regional racing circuit elsewhere. The other interesting thing is Cal Expo has classified claiming races. In claiming ranks with an overabundance of horses, the racing secretary classifies them from class A all the way down to class P. By seeding these claimers accordingly, it keeps the races competitive. Something like this may be preferable to having conditioned claiming races and help keep order at other tracks where there is an overabundance of horses trying to race in a particular claiming level.

I would like to offer kudos to Cal Expo for their offering comments in their past performance lines. It is amazing how many tracks have eliminated these comments as a cost savings. These comments are extremely helpful to the racing fans that don't follow a specific track on a daily basis. Tracks should be required to offer comments in their past performance lines.

Anyway, on with the selections for Saturday, November 21.  Note in the eighth race, I will be providing my top five selections as Cal Expo offers a $10,000 Guaranteed Super High 5 wager on the race.   

1st Pace - $4,000 Claiming - O
2 - Red Star Gilda  3-1
1 - Nine K  5-1
3 - Sin Princess  6-1
7 - Vaminos Diablo  10-1

2nd Pace - Open Handicap 1
5 - Frankyluvsmeatbals  9-5
3 - Keystone Eli  6-1
4 - Pacinello  4-5
2 - Split Ticket  8-1

3rd Pace - $4,000 Claiminng - A
2 - Mac's Derrick T  6-1
4 - Jessalilpeace  8-1
3 - ML Jackhammer  8-1
6 - Fullback In Motion  9-2

4th Pace - non-winners $1,600 in last 4 starts
6 - At Last  7-2
2 - Hi Ho Hi Ho  7-2
1 - D Jokerman  3-1
5 - Dynamite Express  5-1

5th Pace - $4,000 Claiming - O
2 - Silver Rocket  5-1
4 - Askmetootheball  3-1
3 - Tutiming Gal  4-1
6 - Rama Hanover  8-1

6th Trot - Non-winners 6 ext pari-mutuel or $8,000 lifetime
  8 - Miss In Love  6-1
  1 - Putoneonnetformom  7-2
11 - Noble's Image  10-1
  9 - Dremanotherdream  6-1

7th Pace - $6,000 Claiming
2 - Pacific Playboy  4-1
3 - Above Timberline  6-1
1 - Grandpa Stevie  4-1
6 - Schemes  8-1

8th Pace - $4,000 Claiming - J
10 - Wilson Jay N  9-2
  2 - Hiho Legacy  8-1
12 - Columbia Court  9-2
  7 - KG Discovery  10-1
  3 - Doit By The Clock  8-1

9th Pace - $6,000 Claiming
1 - Whitman  7-2
7 - Hard On The Heart  3-1
5 - Roger J  7-2
6 - Catmando  7-2

10th Pace - $8,000 - $10,000 Claiming Handicap
3 - Titan Seelster  5-2
2 - Shock And Awe  5-1
4 - Most Happy Lavros  5-1
9 - Cam's Accord  6-1

11th Pace - Non-winners 6 ext pari-mutuel races or $4,000 in last four starts
6 - Ivegotwhatuneed  5-2
4 - Nittany Linebacker  5-2
2 - Living It Up  9-2
5 - Rod's Famous Ribs  5-1

12th Pace - $4,000 Claiming - H
1 - Sadies Storm Cat  4-1
4 - Falcon Forte N  5-1
3 - RS Falcon  6-1
9 - JoJo In A Jiffy  6-1

13th Pace - $4,000 Claiming - N
6 - Marinodotcomattack  4-1
3 - Trajan  6-1
7 - Cherry Tree Kate  9-2
5 - AZ Mutanto  8-1

14th Pace - $4,000 Claiming - L
1 - Freedom Art  4-1
5 - Road Pass  7-2
9 - Red Star Billy  12-1
2 - Misty Waters  8-1

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Globalizing the Standardbred Product

The future of harness racing is in globalization. We already have globalization when it comes to breeding; yearling buyers from Europe come to our sales to pick up racing stock and there is always a European breeder looking to pick up a stallion or broodmare prospect to improve the breed in their country. The reverse to a lesser degree is true as we have foreign bred stallions such as Revenue standing stud in the States. In Quebec, before the demise of their racing program, French bred horses were imported to race as well as stand stud.

The global movement also comes to the racing side as well. It is not uncommon to see horses from Australia and New Zealand imported to race at North American raceways. International racing has made a come back. While we still don't have a true international event like the old Roosevelt International, WEG and the Meadowlands now have stake races where winners of major European races are invited to compete in some of our major races. In addition to the aged stock, we are now seeing some two and three year old North American bred horses owned by Europeans coming back to our shores to race in some of our stake races, including the Breeders Crown. American horses are also making the trip abroad. We just had Explosive Matter racing in Italy and we regularly send a horse or two to race in the Elitlopp, even occasionally racing in the Prix d'Amerique. Two years ago, Enough Talk not only raced in the Elitlopp, he stayed to race in the Copenhagen Cup. Make no mistake, this is not an aberration. There will be more American horses flying overseas and foreign horses hitting our shores to conduct small racing engagements.

Even more significant to the globalization of harness racing will be wagering. While we are behind the runners in respect to wagering, the day will come where we will have the opportunity to wager on harness racing around the globe and I am not just talking about four or five races from the Prix d'Amerique race card; we are talking full card simulcasting. As we have more horses making the trip overseas or coming from abroad, there will be more interest in the product from other countries as well as interest in the North American product. As track operators, horsemen and ADWs all over the world will be searching for revenue sources; they will be welcoming wagering from foreign sites into their pools on a regular basis and will be looking to accommodate their gamblers looking for action in the morning or late night. The world is open 24 hours a day. As technology continues to improve and it becomes cheaper to carry signals and accept wagers, ADWs and track operators will realize since they have the infrastructure in place, they may as well stay open and increase revenue (think of your 24 hour supermarkets and fast food restaurants).

There is one impediment to global wagering; the lack of standardized racing information. In fact, this is one of the reasons why you are not seeing any large scale simulcasting of standardbred racing from abroad while you already are seeing simulcasting of the runners from Ireland, England, Japan and Australia. Why do you think the V75 and V64 wagers from Sweden have been largely a disappointment in North America? The size of the pools is not the impediment; it is the lack of past performance information. How can any North American gamblers be expected to wager large amounts of money based on this information? In Europe, horses regularly travel between countries to race in major events, yet in some countries, they don't provide past performance information for races held in other countries. We don't need to go past our borders to see some of these problems. Next time you see a horse from another country racing take a look at the program; you will have minimal past performance information for their foreign starts. You don't know the track name, the purse amount, the condition of the race, no running line. You will get the distance, the horse’s race time (the mile rate if you are lucky), the horse’s finishing position and probably the first three finishers. It is hard to figure out what level of competition the horse faced. Don't feel bad, you are not alone. Racing secretaries are just as challenged; this is why horses from down under typically have to race in a set class for a few starts until they manage to determine where the horse belongs.

What is the solution? All the breed registries need to get together and develop a standard reporting process so meaningful past performance lines for each horse can be created for use in a local racing program regardless where the horse raced and which may be accessed by the various breed registries for purposes of creating past performance programs. It does not need to be a complete race line like we have in North America, but enough information to be meaningful to a local handicapper. This is not a nice to have; it is a must do. Failure to provide handicappers proper past performance information in a format they are used to will fatally inhibit the possibility of a meaningful global wagering market. I would suggest the following information be captured at a minimum: gait; date of race; name of track; distance of race in meters (I would suggest in our programs we start listing the distance both in miles and meters for comparison purposes); type of race (stake, conditioned, claiming, under saddle); whether a starting gate was used or not, track condition; race time; horse's final time; mile rate; starting position; finishing position; lengths back, number of starters; top three finishers; if a handicap, the distance of handicap. Consideration should also be given to establishing a numerical rating system which can be used universally to illustrate the level of competition in each race. This is not to say we should eliminate our past performance lines; the new format would be used for horses that raced overseas or foreign races.

The world is a small place. However, unless a standard for past performance reporting is developed, all the technology available will be for naught.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Risk of Uncoupled Entries, The Reactor is Coming

Could you imagine if the controversial race we discussed yesterday involving Auckland Reactor occurred in the United States? To recap what happened, two horses (driven by brothers) trained by Geoff Small were in a race at Addington Raceway against Auckland Reactor. Awesome Armbro, an accomplished FFAller in his own right (he finished second to the Reactor in the same race last year) who is known for his racing off the pace style, raced eye-to-eye against Auckland Reactor the whole race until the final turn providing his stablemate Changeover cover. A funny thing happened just as Changeover tipped off cover; his stablemate whose job was to mug Auckland Reactor, backed up in what could have been a world record time. Mission accomplished; Auckland Reactor understandably tired and finished out of the money. Thanks to the mugging, Monkey King was able to come from last and win the race with Changeover finishing third.

Make no mistake about this. Awesome Armbro was not driven to win; he was raced to defeat Auckland Reactor in a failed attempt to deliver the race for his stablemate Changeover. Granted, Awesome Armbro was a long shot, but those that bet on him were cheated; plain and simple. We will leave it to New Zealand racing officials to take care of those involved in this race. Just to be clear, no one is suggesting Monkey King's connections had any involvement in this team racing.

While I am not aware of any blatant situations like this occurring in North America, thanks to rules allowing uncoupled entries in major stake races, the potential for a similar situation occurring exists. It is one thing if such a mugging happened with a coupled entry; at least the bettor would still have had a live horse if one of the stablemates were sacrificed to bring down a heavy favorite. But with the horses being uncoupled, a bettor can find themselves betting on the sacrificial lamb while another stablemate wins the race.

I understand why horses are uncoupled in stake races. Without allowing the uncoupling of entries, many stake races may have only four or five betting interests. I am not saying we need to eliminate the uncoupling of entries, but racing needs to address the threat of this type of situation occurring before it happens here; perhaps a lifetime ban for any driver(s) involved in this type of action. After all, the best damage control is preventing the problem from occurring in the first place.

Speaking of Auckland Reactor, it has been announced  he will be leaving New Zealand for the United States on January 15 with the intent of making his North American pari-mutuel debut in June.  It will be interesting to see if he will live up to his billing.  While New Zealand and Australian horses race quite capably when they arrive here, they tend not to be as dominating as they were in their homeland.  It will be curious to see if how he performs against our native FFAllers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Miracle Mile Early Preview and Controversy

The owners of Auckland Reactor have accepted an invitation to race in the $500,000(Aus) Miracle Mile being contested at a distance of 1609 metres (one mile) on Sunday, November 29 in Menangle, NSW  While the field for this races has not been finalized, it is beginning to look like a real competive race with Blacks A Fake and Monkey King amongst the starters for this race.

Blacks A Fake seems to be ready to take on Auckland Reactor having gone five for five thus far this season with his most recent victory this past weekend at Albion Park in a mile race of 1:56.1 for the 2138m distance. 

Monkey King beat Auckland Reactor in a controversial race in a 2000m FFA pace at Addington Raceway in a mile rate of 1:54.4, as he benefited by a questionable drive by the eventual last place finisher who apparently drove to 'savage' Auckland Reactor.  The driver, Philip Butcher, is looking at a potential six month ban (if not worse) from driving for his efforts which resulted in his charge finishing 77 1/2 lengths behind the race winner while allowing stablemate Changeover, driven by Butcher's brother to finish third.  .

From news reports, it appears this is the third time in three years that horses trained by Geoff Small's stable have been accused of team driving.  Being racing gets a lot more press coverage down under, I expect the wrath of racing officials to come down hard, especially since this was a high profile incident.

Here is a video of Auckland Reactor when he recently set a New Zealand record for 1950m. 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pick The Track and Dover Stakes

I must confess, I love 'B' track racing. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing the Muscle Hills, Well Saids, Won the Wests, and other great standardbred stars, but I love racing at the minor league tracks. What is the draw? Perhaps it is the possibility of seeing an up and coming driver or trainer plying their trade; maybe it is the intimate feel you get at these tracks; perhaps it is they tend to be half mile tracks (I cut my teeth on the half miler). I don't know. The bottom line is there is something that draws me to these tracks.

'B' tracks get no respect. However, where would racing be without these small tracks? As much as some would like to think it is not the case, racing at the Meadowlands, Yonkers and other tracks depends on these smaller tracks. After all, where did drivers like George Brennan and trainers like Ron Gurfein get their start (Monticello)? Many of our sports greats started at these smaller tracks.

In tribute to the 'B' tracks, I will start handicapping a race card from different tracks each week and listing my selections here during the late fall/winter months. Sure, not being familiar with each track and their trainers and drivers will make things challenging, but I'll give it a go. For the most part an American track will be selected each week, though an occasional look at a Canadian track can't be ruled out.

Have a track you wish to recommend? Let me know. The only requirement is the track can not be considered an 'A' track; if something special is going on at the Meadowlands, Yonkers, or Woodbine, I will cover it). While I will not guarantee which track will be handicapped each week, when you submit your suggestions, if you know of a specific stake or early/late closer occurring there, let me know.

Meanwhile, Dover Downs has a few stake races worth looking at tonight. Here are my selections for those races.

6th Race - $167,250 Matron Stakes - 3yo Pacing Fillies

While Showherthemoney is obviously the horse to beat, my selection is Ginger And Fred. Ginger and Fred has not been as good of late as her early season form but she is showing some life. In last week's preliminary she made two moves, always a good sign, to take third; worth taking a stab. Showherthemoney as previously mentioned is the horse to beat, but her likely 1-9 odds is a deterrent. Special Sweetheart finished second to Showherthemoney last week; has been knocking heads with the division’s best all year; completes the trifecta.

8th Race - $214,163 Matron Stakes - 3yo Trotting Fillies

Honorable Daughter went a tough race last week to finish third; my pick here to win in a very competitive race. Yursa Hanover was very impressive in her elimination last week following my top pick last week; expect a tougher trip this week. Rapsong rode the rail last week, expect the same here tonight.

10th Race - $350,000 Progress Pace - 3yo Open

Arctic Warrior is upset selection in the Progress Pace. Top pick has chance with top horses drawing the outside with a trip; must have good odds to play. Vintage Master has become somewhat of an enigma; showing signs of brilliance and then throwing in a clunker. Bad post draw and low odds leads me to try for an upset. Schoolkids won his elimination last week; expect tougher task tonight (coupled with Vertical Horizon). Mr Wiggles has shown signs of brilliance all year; with driver on home track must consider in exotics.

11th Race - $253,537 Matron Stakes - 3yo Trotting Open

Calchips Brute raced well in his elimination last week and draws much better this week, has legitimate chance to win this week but don't expect anything near his 10-1 morning line. Swan For All, won his split last week; don’t expect it to go this easy this week. Colt looking for a stakes win to close out his racing career (heading off to stud); comes up short. Jaavos Boy finished credible second last week in first start back since September; completes trifecta.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reprieve in Iowa

Good news for standardbred horsemen in Iowa.  In a rebuke to Prairie Meadows management, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission has implemented their own racing schedule for Prairie Meadows in 2010. While the specific dates have not yet been determined (deferred to January), standardbreds will get racing days at Prairie Meadows. 

No doubt, standardbred interests are happy, but when a member of the Prairie Meadows board says "They don’t come or they leave early. And when it comes to standardbreds they don’t come at all", there is a real problem.  While the horsemen have received a reprieve, they should not rest comfortably.  Sooner or later, if things don't improve, the IRGC will finally see things Prairie Meadows' way.

Horsemen should work with track management in an attempt get more interest in the standardbred meet.  Get an Adrenaline-type festival organized there to get people out to the track early in the meet; get the harness signal accepted at more venues, even if horsemen need to offer a sweetheart deal on their share of the revenue to make it work for importing tracks; get some of the national personalities to make an appearance; if they can't get some of the top horses to make an appearance then make an effort to get some races which may attract the second tier horses  Otherwise, in 2011, harness horsemen can be on the outside looking in.   

Churchill Downs Makes Deal to Acquire Youbet

Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) has agreed to acquire Youbet, one of the leading ADWs in the nation. CDI has obviously decided that the future of horse racing wagering lies with the Internet.
However, what is good for CDI may be bad for the rest of the racing industry.

With the acquisition of Youbet, the combination of TwinSpires ADW and Youbet will mean that CDI will be in control of 40% of the account wagering in the United States. With this much of the market, CDI will have stronger negotiating power with race tracks when it comes to the pricing of simulcast signals to be carried on the TwinSpires/Youbet platform. This means horsemen’s purse accounts at sending tracks may suffer; causing an exodus of horses from various race tracks to CDI properties (Arlington Park, Calder Race Track, Churchill Downs, Fairgrounds Race Course, and Kentucky Downs). What if there is a track looking to heed the call of gamblers to cut their takeout? If the reduction of commissions paid by CDI does not kill the idea, the fear of not being carried on the TwinSpires/Youbet ADW network should cool any thoughts of this by a progressive track operator.

Churchill Downs also owns some other companies besides their race tracks. Let’s look at some of these companies. HRTV (CDI has a 50% interest in this company) which carries racing from thoroughbred, standardbred, and quarter horse tracks. With the size of CDI’s ADW business, will they have an undue advantage to acquire exclusive signals for HRTV? TrackNet Media Group LLC (again a 50% interest) sells CDI’s and the bankrupt Magna Entertainment’s signals to potential simulcast partners including ADWs. It seems every year, the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative, which negotiates in-bound simulcast contracts for race tracks in the Mid-Atlantic region comes to an impasse with TrackNet Media Group which results in the signal from Magna and Churchill Downs tracks being withheld. Will Churchill Downs get more aggressive in the pricing of their signal at the same time they demand cheaper rates from others?

Standardbred interests should be as concerned as thoroughbred interests. This will put more pressure on the Meadowlands and other harness tracks’ purse accounts as not only may harness tracks be forced to sell their signal at a discount, but the revenue they make from importing signals from TrackNet Media Group may be cut as CDI may demand a higher commission for their signals or withhold their signal in the interests of providing exclusive content to the Twin Spires ADW network. The may be the perfect storm, tracks being squeezed on both ends of the revenue stream.

Standardbred interests have another reason to fear this merger.  As press reports indicate, the merger will leave Churchill Downs with plenty of money for future acquisitions.  My guess is the NJSEA racing properties will be going up for sale within the next two years.  I see Churchill Downs as a logical bidder for their properties as Monmouth Park would be a perfect fit for their thoroughbred program and the Meadowlands would be an opportunity to make a grand entrance into the standardbred game.  Imagine what would happen to the other harness tracks if they can't get access to the Meadowland's signal?

We are not saying regulators should or should not approve this deal, but they need to take a good look at this deal. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rumbling in Chi Town

With the Breeders Crown in the books, the racing season for the best horses is rapidly coming to an end with the running of the American Nationals and the Progress stakes over the next few days. As such, we turn our attention to Balmoral Park for Saturday night’s American Nationals which features the career finale of Mister Big. While Balmoral is unable to put on a strong undercard like Mohawk and the Meadowlands are able to do on their big nights, the six strong Am-Nat tilts are worthy of your attention. While the focus will be on the career finale of Mister Big, there are some challenging Am-Nats for two and three year olds on the card as well.

Here is my analysis for the stake races on the Balmoral card for Saturday night.

4th Race - $185,000 American National – Three Year Old Pacing Fillies

Yellow Diamond, despite her narrow loss in the Lady Maud at Yonkers last week looks to be the stand out favorite for this race, but she will be going off probably at less than her 3-2 morning line. Fox Valley Topaz has been a terror in the Midwest, winning eleven of fourteen starts this year. She raced well in her return and can be there if Yellow Diamond is pressured like she was last week; consider if getting decent odds. My Heart Was True is another that raced well in her return and she can grab the show spot. Eagle Way shows some ability; consider in your superfecta selections.

5th Race - $154,000 American National – Two Year Old Pacing Fillies

Odds on Dominca has the potential for a mild upset. Filly is lightly raced and finished a respectable fourth in the Sarah Myers. Filly adds lasix off that effort and raced well in her qualifier. Schadt trainee may be ready to score in pari-mutuel return; consider with decent odds. Makes You Wonder won last two starts at Balmoral and shows good lines in Lexington late closers; can win if top pick falters. Flip Flop Summer draws the worst of it post-wise. Favorite has the class and is logical choice; offers little value. Fox Valley Naomi another first time lasix horse; shows breaking issues but must consider in exotics from the rail.

6th Race - $180,000 American National – Two Year Old Pacing Colts and Geldings

OK Commander is my pick to break his maiden in this wide open affair. Parked the entire mile in the Breeders Crown and was 2nd through three quarters before folding. He showed life in International Stallion Stakes at Lexington and there is No All Speed Hanover or Sportswriter in this tilt. Payne’s Landing raced well in Kentucky before coming up empty at Woodbine; can pick up share here. Morgan Shark is logical morning line favorite but doesn’t convince me. Perrito Caliente picks up the pieces.

7th Race - $200,000 American National – Aged Pacing Open

No walkover for Mister Big in his last career start. Art Official is my pick to win. Expecting a fast pace which will allow Art Official to come flying late. Won The West, has proven himself to be a legitimate successor to Mister Big; picks up the pieces to grab second. Mister Big, we are wishing this pacing star a successful stallion career; expecting a wire-to-wire effort which may come up short; falters to third. Shark Gesture completes the exotics.

8th Race - $150,000 American National – Aged Trotting Open

Another solid field assembled here. Lanson is the one to beat; hard to see anything beat him. ABC Mercedes has been racing at top of his game at Indy; second best. Wind Surfer aired it out in Northfield qualifier; can compete in this class. Dink Adoo; 10 year old has certainly lost a step but used to thrive on the Chicago circuit. Back class gets classy warrior in the gimmicks.

9th Race - $265,000 American National – Three Year Old Pacing Colts and Geldings

If I Can Dream is the best three year old currently in training. Winner of Breeders Crown and Messenger Stake should add the Am-Nat to his resume; expect poor odds. Annieswesterncard has been getting ready in the mid-west and beat older in FFA last week at Balmoral; if IICD’s odds are too low, may want to take a shot with him. Sheer Desire has prepped with two sharp qualifiers at the Meadows; could pick up the pieces if a suicide speed duel develops. Straight Shooting is the best of the rest.

Viewers Note:  TVG is scheduled to carry the Am-Nats on television in addition to the Ontario Sire Stakes Super Finals at Woodbine. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Promote the Older Horses

Mister Big hangs up his harness after Saturday night's American National at Balmoral Park (part of a strong race card). With his well deserved retirement, harness racing loses one of its most recognizable racing stars. Yes, there have been the Donato Hanovers, Somebeachsomewheres, Muscle Hills, and Deweycheatemnhowes which have grabbed the headlines, but they come and go. Mister Big and his fellow FFA'llers have been racing for several years yet no one outside of racing knows who these horses are.

Why is harness racing wasting its time on promoting three year olds? The real story is and needs to be our aged horses. The three year olds stars racing are a diversion in the grand scheme of things. Yes, they race for a lot of money but many of the three year old stars are here today and gone tomorrow. All year the vast majority of media promotion has been towards Muscle Hill, Well Said, and Explosive Matter. Well, the year is winding up and they have all headed or are heading to the breeding shed. So what happens next year? We start promoting the new crop of three year olds, horses that those outside of racing have no idea who they are. The general fan has no horse to identify with. 

We need to stop promoting the sport as if everyone is a breeder or horse owner. Breeders and owners are already going to support racing. We need to write the stories and promote the sport to those outside of the industry. It is hard enough to get media attention for harness racing already, wouldn't it make sense to use the limited media space we get on horses people will see for several years instead of horses that disappear after one year?

In celebration of Mister Big's imminent departure, here is one of his most exciting victories.

In addition, here is another race back in a period when our FFA'llers were promoted heavily.  Imagine if our aged pacers and trotters were promoted today like they were back then? 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Warnings from Ontario

The Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) released the racing date applications by the various race tracks operators for the 2010 racing year. These were the second set of applications because after seeing the original applications and the uproar they caused by their request to cut racing dates, the ORC issued a moratorium on cutting race dates for this year with a promise to study the impact of potential racing date cuts in the province. As a result, the ORC required new applications which would have each track racing the same number of days in 2010 as they did in 2009.

Fortunately for us, the ORC releases to the public the applications so anyone who is interested can read the applications.  Several of these applications speak volumes. Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (GCGC), owner of Flamboro Downs and Georgian Downs in their applications reiterates the reason for their original application and the consequences of not approving it. Why am I discussing the seemingly mundane issue of racing date applications in Canada? Change the names of the tracks and you can be looking at any race tracks in the United States.

Did Flamboro and Georgian Downs sit around and do nothing to stimulate the business since they were acquired by Great Canadian Gaming?

In the spring of 2006, GCGC issues a report outline its perspective on the Ontario standardbred racing industry/. Titled “Stop The Bleeding – Build The Business”, the report quantified the significant declines that the industry faced at the time and introduced a vision for the future operations of its racetracks.

Since that time, GCGC has followed through on many of its product development initiatives but continues to be mired in declining racing revenues and upward cost pressures.

The GCGCs application then indicates how they have been losing money every year; this despite having slot revenue.

In doing so, GCGC is forecasted to lose nearly $4-milllon on its Ontario operations – that on the heels of a $4.5 million loss in 2008. To be clear, both Flamboro and Georgian Downs lose money on each and every one of their racing days, despite the slot revenue that is earned as part of the province’s Slots at Racetracks Program.

So how long until a public corporation decides they can not expect their shareholders to absorb continuing losses of this magnitude and decide to shut both tracks down? Unless something happens to change the dynamics of Ontario racing, it won’t be long.

So the question needs to be asked, why has Flamboro and Georgian Downs run into problems?

Even at that time, it has long been apparent that Ontario was dramatically oversupplying a receding marketplace with harness racing product of a mediocre nature.

In the early days of simulcasting, Flamboro became a staple across Canada and the Northern United States, attracting tens of millions of dollars in export wagering. But, as simulcasting advanced and more attractive foreign products became available, the demand for the Flamboro signal eroded.

There is too much racing going on in a market that has less demand for it. By racing year round, the purse account is getting spread out over the whole year resulting in a mediocre product. When you have so many simulcast signals available for purchase, are you going to buy the signal of track with an inferior product when there is a signal of better quality racing available?

The solution according to GCGC? Develop a racing circuit between their two tracks of 160 days total with each track racing six months instead of their current model of each track spreading their meet out over ten to twelve months. Realizing this will be a big change for the horsemen, they propose reducing the number of days over a period of three years; 233 days in 2010, 208 days in 2011, 160 days in 2012. What would this mean to the two tracks with respect to marketing and simulcasting?

While the above circuit model will help to address GCGC’s financial concerns, it will also usher in a new era for Ontario harness racing. A Flamboro/Georgian circuit would offer saleable, high-quality, year-round racing to the Ontario and simulcast marketplace, while allowing both tracks a season format that satisfies market demand and provides exciting promotional opportunities.

The track promises $120,000 in purses every day the first year, and to mitigate the impact on horsemen offered to add races each day to get horses raced and develop a stakes program for overnight horses, including claimers. According to GCGC, developing a second tier circuit, similar to Woodbine and Mohawk will allow their two tracks to offer similar purse structures, higher than they are now, to attract better horses now racing at other Ontario tracks; the end result offering a product that gamblers will have interest in.

Of course, OHHA is opposed to GCGC’s plan. They like the status quo, sending their lesser stock to race at Flamboro and Georgian Downs while they send their better horses to WEG or other B tracks in the province. Even though the horsemen were offered a stronger circuit to race on for more money, they rather continue as business as usual. No doubt they are fearful as to where they will race their cheaper horses. If GCGC’s plan was successful, many of the horses competing at these two tracks may no longer fit in. However, this would not be in 2010. The track operator has offered the horsemen a plan where the number of racing dates will be cut back each year with the average purses increasing each year to correspond with the cut back in dates. As a result, the horsemen will have time to upgrade the quality of their racing stock.

It is time for horsemen to realize the old business model does not work. There are too many tracks racing too long. The demand is not there. Rather than agree to a cut in overall racing dates at these two tracks and build a better product, they rather keep the status quo. My question is where are these horsemen going to race once Flamboro and Georgian Downs are shuttered? GCGC is not running a charity; it is a business. Once they realize they can’t make a profit, these two tracks will be shut down quicker than you can imagine.

While Flamboro and Georgian Downs may be sounding the alarm the loudest, other tracks have noted things are not wonderful in Ontario. Western Fair complains that they are racing too long. As per their filing:

By the time June rolls around, live fans have been watching races from Western Fair all winter and spring and they are ready to change it up by going to Clinton, Grand River, Woodstock, Dresden, Hiawatha or Hanover.

Fans want seasons. They get bored with the endless string of racing day in day out. They want a meet to start and a meet to end; keep the product fresh. Instead, the tendency is to race long monotonous meets.

Overall, how is Western Fair scheduling their calendar?

In summary, we have selected our 130 dates with a focus on maximizing the commissions earned…

Again, another track recognizing the key to financial success is scheduling your meet to maximize the export of their signal. It is all about off-track wagering. The question needs to be asked, how many simulcast signals do we really need at any one time? Wouldn’t the tracks, and in turn, the horsemen do better if their signal was one of a few available at a given time than one of many?

The situation at Windsor is not much better. For several years they have attempted to cut their racing dates due to the excessive number of days they race. They acknowledge their product is perhaps the cheapest in the province.

It is well known throughout the industry that Windsor Raceway Purse levels have been the lowest in Ontario for several years and they are now the lowest due to the unjustified level of racing the ORC has required to be conducted.

Due to the lower purse structure, they are unable to draw full fields and their simulcast product becomes less desirable with bettors bypassing their racing product accordingly. It becomes a vicious circle. Couple this with the current economic downturn and…

WRI is implementing a further reorganization of its financial affairs in 2009/2010 to survive during these difficult economic times…. The 2010 calendar at Exhibit “A” of 111 race days imposed by the ORC moratorium will compromise this financial reorganization and cloud the future of WRI.

The applications by these tracks is worth reading. You may access the applications by Flamboro and Georgian Downs as well as Western Fair and Windsor Raceway here.

Does any of this sound familiar? While in different states, you have Chester Downs, Pocono Downs, Dover Downs/Harrington Raceway, and Freehold Raceway racing at the same time.   In New York, you have Monticello, Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs, Saratoga, Buffalo Raceway, and Batavia racing during the year. The Meadowlands and Yonkers Raceway are less than fifteen miles away from each other. Ohio has Scioto Downs, Northfield Park, Raceway Park and Lebanon Raceway.

Tracks realize they are part of a shrinking national (North American) market and they need to find their place in the new market. Horsemen, who are seeing the best purses they have ever seen seem to think everything is grand, even if they are racing in front of a handful of people. State racing commissions assign race dates in a vacuum; heaven forbid there was a coordination of dates with tracks just across the border in another state.

I am not one for advocating the closure of any race track. If done intelligently, circuits can be set up where tracks run shorter race meets and the rest of the year they will offer simulcasting. The set up of these circuits will allow us to keep the number of simulcast signals to a reasonable level thus allowing each track to get their signal distributed when they race to maximize the potential of their signals as they wouldn’t get lost in the clutter. More importantly, some people may actually go to the track as they would be racing for a shorter period of time; the meets will become boutique events.

Yes, I know we won’t need as many trainers or drivers as we have now; those who are not successful may need to seek employment elsewhere. We will not need to breed as many horses and will not need as many horses to race. However, this can be done intelligently. No one says we need to get to the end point in a year or two. Reduce dates over a period of three or four years so the industry can have a soft landing as it downsizes. The choice is clear. We can have a soft landing and gradually reduce the number of race dates to meet the market’s demands or we can see a wholesale closure of tracks which would be more devastating on the industry on the whole. It is time that people face reality; welcome to 2009.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Strikes are Nice but Spares Make the Game

Alan Kirschenbaum blogs on the Canadian Sportsman’s website about his idea regarding a multi-state Pick-8 as his way to get harness racing into the North American consciousness so when people hear about harness racing, they will think about a gambling sport where they can win a million dollars. As Alan correctly points out, at many tracks the purses outweigh what is being wagered so unless something is done quickly, slot revenue is eventually going to get cut off. The Pick-8 is his solution to what is ailing the industry.

While well intentioned, Alan, along with many in the racing industry, is missing the big picture. No argument, we need to get the whales, the people willing to gamble a thousand dollars or more a day interested in harness racing to help support the sport but it is only part of the solution. We need to get your 'typical' smaller gambler interested in harness racing and we need to get people in the stands. A bowler will tell you strikes are nice, but spares make the game. We are trying for strikes (whales) and are ignoring the spares (recreational gamblers). His proposal is not going to do anything to develop a new generation of harness racing gamblers (whales or recreational).

Why should we care about recreational gamblers? First of all, these are the people who will go to the track. Yes, I know the vast majority of the wagering is and will continue to be done off-track but how many people do you think will be interested in a sport where your ‘stadium’ is empty? Also, from today’s successful recreational gambler will come tomorrow’s whales.

Yes, a pool of $400,000 will get the interest of the whales; it may even get them to ignore the 25% (or more) takeout rate on these super exotic wagers some jurisdictions charge. But is this going to get the recreational gambler interested? Absolutely not; these bets are geared towards the big players; smaller players need not try. Realistically, how many combinations do you need to have a reasonable chance of hitting a Pick-4 with any regularity? How many combinations do you need to play to have any realistic chance of hitting a Pick-6 (play just two horses in each race and you have 64 combinations; two horses in each race of a Pick-8 would mean 256 combinations). The recreational gambler who watchees TVG and hears how big the carryover is and they hear their personalities talk about how syndicates are playing thousands of combinations to take down the pool. If you aren’t a whale, you will quickly realize a Pick-6 or 8 is a sucker bet and these bets will have no appeal to you. These Pick-Xs will do nothing to attract new gamblers, our future whales, to harness racing.

So once again, we are ignoring our recreational gamblers. By focusing on these Pick-Xs, we are leaving our regular gamblers with the same old betting options they always had. Why are we not attempting to appeal to them by offering wagering options which can be easily played for a small amount yet have decent pay offs? Why not offer double or triple quinellas where the gambler needs to pick the top two horses in two or three consecutive races or similar smaller scale wagers? These are bets that recreational gamblers can get interested in. Let’s say the minimum wager is $1 on this bet. Joe Gambler decides to box three horses in each leg of the wager. It will cost him $3 for each leg so betting the double quinella for $6 ($9 for the triple quinella) will give the player a good chance to hit and earn a decent pay out.  Granted, he is not likely to collect thousands of dollars, but how many gamblers will be willing to wager $6 or $9 in order to collect a few hundred?        

Most recreational gamblers are not greedy, but they want to be able to bet a little and win a decent amount of money. Tell them they can bet $6 or $9 to win a few hundred dollars and that they don’t even have to pick the horses in the exact order and they will be interested in racing. 

Want to offer a Pick-8?  Go for it.  Just don't forget the small time bettor.  They are just as important to the future of racing.  Let's start worrying about offering wagers they may be interested in. 

Remember, strikes are nice but spares make the game.    

Protectionism, Rewarding the Locals; A Solution?

For many harness horsemen, it is hard to get into a race at Delaware harness race tracks. This is because many of the races, especially in the lower classes, are written for "Delaware Owned or Bred". The end result is out of state horsemen that have horses which would be competitive in Delaware are on the outside looking in, screaming protectionism.

What may be considered protectionism in other states is being viewed in Delaware as rewarding the faithful. Where were all those out of state horsemen when $900 purses and $2,500 claimers were regularly featured on a Saturday night card at Dover Downs or when Brandywine Raceway closed? They left Delaware for dead and were off racing at more lucrative tracks such as the Meadowlands while the Delaware faithful kept harness racing going on life support until the VLTs arrived. Don't the faithful get to be rewarded and reap the fruits of their efforts? Look what happened in New York. When Yonkers Raceway reopened, they did not restrict races so horsemen that supported racing during the dark days at Yonkers were having a hard time drawing into races because the entry box was overflowing. Was this fair to those that supported the track during the dark times?

Of course, there is a limit to how many races should be restricted. Horsemen from out of state need to have a place to race horses that either win themselves out or are unable to compete at their local raceway. How do we balance the needs of the local horsemen with those who would like to ship in? The answer may be coming from New York.

Last year, Yonkers horsemen found they could only get some horses raced every three weeks due to an influx of horses coming from out of state tracks that closed. To fight this problem, horsemen wanted Yonkers to card races restricted to horses that raced at Yonkers. The NYSRWB brokered a compromise that benefited all horsemen in New York (many upstate tracks close during the winter as well) yet provided out of state horsemen with an opportunity to race. As a result of the compromise, New York harness tracks will be permitted to write races which are restricted to horses that raced six of their last eight starts in New York provided they card the same race without the New York restriction. This should allow more NY trainers to get their horses raced more often yet not close the track to out of state horses. Once Chester and Pocono close for the season and this condition begins to find its way onto the condition sheet, we will see how it works out. I expect this to be the fairest solution possible to all parties, balancing the needs of all horsemen.

Another person weighs in on Daryl Kaplan's column in Trot Magazine.  Take a look at Jack Darling's blog and get his take on this issue. 


Sunday, November 8, 2009

An Open Letter to Governor-Elect Christie

Note: The following is an open letter to Governor-Elect Christie.  While the letter is written with a New Jersey focus, many of these issues can apply to other states. 

Governor-Elect Christie,

Congratulations to you on your election as Governor for the State of New Jersey. The people of New Jersey have elected you to this powerful office in their desire for change. In particular, many horsemen and horsewomen have voted for you in frustration, feeling that horse racing has been sacrificed for the benefit of Atlantic City. Make no mistake, some horsemen are still frustrated by your pledge not to allow VLTs outside of Atlantic City, feeling the only way racing can survive is with the introduction of slot machines at the Meadowlands. While I feel a lot of racing's problems have been self-inflicted, such as refusing to reduce the takeout rate on wagers thus encouraging gamblers to seek better investments for their gambling dollar; taking too much time between races; racing meets that go on too long promoting fatigue amongst the gambling faithful; the failure to introduce wagers which promote higher payoffs for the smaller bettors; in the case of harness racing using a confusing conditioned system to fill races instead of an easier to understand classified system; racing has been hampered by its prior refusal to adjust to the new marketplace.  Now that racing is looking to make the changes it needs to survive, the antiquated regulatory system of the various states keeps racing from reacting to the new competition it faces in an effective manner.  It is time to look at racing as legitimate industry and not just as gambling.

I understand your commitment to Atlantic City and your desire to keep gaming limited to the city. In certain ways, Atlantic City casinos have become 'too big to fail' with regards to their impact on tourism and employment. However, I do believe you are sacrificing New Jersey's revenue stream with this decision. New York has racinos; one very close to New Jersey at Yonkers Raceway with another racino planned for Aqueduct Racetrack. Pennsylvania has racinos with the likelihood of table games being introduced there shortly. How many millions of dollars are New Jersey residents spending in racinos in New York and Pennsylvania, generating revenue for those states instead of New Jersey? It boils down to convenience. How many slot playing residents in Bergen, Essex, Union and Passaic counties are heading to Yonkers Raceway because they can get to Yonkers in as few as 30 minutes compared to the two and half plus hours it takes to get to Atlantic City? How many residents in counties like Sussex, Warren, Morris and other counties are heading to Pennsylvania for similar reasons? These dollars are not coming back to New Jersey unless you make it easier for the residents in counties surrounding Pennsylvania and New York to gamble on slot machines in state. A VLT parlor at The Meadowlands would allow New Jersey to generate funds to help balance the New Jersey budget instead of helping New York and Pennsylvania balance their budgets.

Would VLTs at the Meadowlands impact Atlantic City? It would be naive to say it wouldn't but there are ways it can be minimized. Let a consortium of Atlantic City casinos manage the slot parlor at the Meadowlands and cut them in for a share of the revenue generated along with the various race tracks and horsemen who race in New Jersey. Allow slot players to earn comps which can be used not only for free slot play at the racino, but also give the customer a chance to earn table credits or a free room in Atlantic City as well as betting vouchers good at any New Jersey racetrack.

Make no mistake about it, racing would certainly benefit from the introduction of VLTs at the Meadowlands and possibly other racetracks. The funds generated by the VLTs could help put racing on a better footing, subsidizing purse accounts and the bottom line of racetrack operators, of which the state of New Jersey is indirectly one. The one problem with VLT revenue is that in other states, none of that new found money is used to improve the product. Track operators are content to improve their bottom line; horsemen are content to pocket all the revenue in the form of increased purses and breeder awards, but most racinos (there are a few exceptions) are content to make capital improvements in the casino side of the facility, but are hesitant to make any capital improvements in the racing side of their building and are content to leave the horse players in run down facilities. They are unwilling to use any of the slot revenue to make the racing product better to stimulate the racing game. Should New Jersey ever allow racinos, it will be necessary to legally mandate part of the VLT revenue be used for racing-related capital improvements and marketing as well as an offset for part of the takeout.

As previously alluded to, there are things which can be done to stimulate the horse and horse racing industry in New Jersey outside of VLT revenue. Since you have publicly stated that you wish to help the horse industry without introducing VLTs, permit me the opportunity to offer some suggestions for you to consider in your efforts to help the horse racing industry. I am not saying all of these ideas will work, but they are worth considering. Coming from a person with an interest in harness racing, many of the suggestions are geared towards the standardbred side of the equation; no doubt many of these suggestions can be replicated on the thoroughbred side.

If you decide to appoint your own committee to study the problems of horse racing, I would suggest you appoint a representative of HANA (Horse Players Association of North America) to your committee. While horse racing is a sport, it is important to recognize gamblers help keep the sport going. Therefore, it is important to have a spokesman for the fan and gamblers in on any discussions.  Also, since Freehold Raceway is an active racetrack, make sure you appoint someone from Pennwood Gaming to be on the committee.  Governor Corzine froze them out of his blue ribbon panel and the negotiations for the current purse enhancement agreement, resulting in Freehold being forced to reject the purse supplements which resulted in their racing product deteriorating.  Once can't blame Freehold for rejecting an agreement they had no say in.  

New Jersey legalized Off Track Wagering facilities but many municipalities have been reluctant to host them. This may because there is no sufficient financial incentive to make it worthwhile to the municipalities. The suggestion is to give municipalities a financial interest in an OTW. For wagers made at a specific OTW, dedicate .1 or .2% of the takeout to the municipality hosting the OTW to be used any way the local government deems fit. All of a sudden, you will find local governments looking to host one of the remaining eleven OTW facilities not yet built. Where an OTW has already been built, if the racetrack operator already has a financial deal with the local government, it may be modified so the town/city can get their share of the takeout instead.

Reintroduce the New Jersey Fair Circuit where races can be held for second tier horses. There would be no betting on these races but it would allow harness racing to be on display in local communities, perhaps as part of a local festival. These races were discontinued in the past because they were considered expensive and a hassle, but eliminating them was a mistake; it eliminated an effective way to market the sport to New Jersey residents and develop fans. The fair circuit can be funded by a small portion of the takeout which should not only cover purses, but expenses involved with a local training facility hosting the races.

Introduce a V75 and V64 bet to New Jersey in cooperation with the lottery. This bet is very popular in Sweden and Europe and is a low cost wager ($.10 for the V75 and $.20 for the V64). The key to the bet's success is they are sold like lottery tickets; fans can make their own selections or can have the machine make their picks for them. The suggestion is to offer this wager in conjunction with the New Jersey Lottery. The V64 can be held midweek at Freehold Raceway and the V75 can be held at the Meadowlands on Saturdays. Initially, gamblers making the wager through lottery dealers would be restricted to quick picks; those who bet at the track will have the option of making a quick pick or making their own selections. Let's assume 80% of each bet gets returned to the bettors in payoffs. The remaining 20% gets split equally between the lottery and hosting racetrack when the bet is made at a lottery agent and when the bet is made at a racetrack, the racetrack gets the whole share of the takeout to be shared with the horsemen. A half hour result show produced by the racetrack(s) can be shown on NJ Network and/or on the Internet. This is a win-win situation; the state of New Jersey gets revenue for education through the lottery and the racing industry not only gets revenue, it gets the opportunity to reintroduce horse racing to New Jersey residents.

Replace the New Jersey Sire Stakes with a New Jersey State Stakes. Due to semen transport, the sire stakes is not fulfilling the original purpose of stimulating agriculture. Unlike the NJSS, these races would be open not only for New Jersey sired horses, but for horses foaled by broodmares that spent at least six months in New Jersey before giving birth. Not only would the breeders continue to benefit, but it would stimulate agriculture in New Jersey by once again encouraging the development of horse nurseries in the state that went away once semen transport came into vogue. This will allow struggling horse farms to remain open and stimulate employment and allow farmland to be preserved.

Continue purse supplements for at least three more years to see how these proposals work. After the first year, the purse supplement may be reduced to reflect the success of these efforts. At the end of three years, the supplement program can be revisited. I know Atlantic City does not like the supplements, it can be explained they are paying the state for providing them a monopoly on casino gaming. The terms of the purse supplements should be restored to the original agreement, where racetracks agreed not to seek slots at their tracks instead of anywhere; this will allow Freehold Raceway to take advantage of the supplements.

I know the NJRC is considering a fair start rule. If not yet implemented by the time you become governor, press the racing commission to implement a fair start rule. While racing is trying to promote racing, nothing is more counter productive than letting a gambler lose their money well before the start of a race when a horse is more than 2/3rds of a football field behind when the race starts. Not having a fair start rule is counterintuitive. Yes, the track and horsemen benefit by not having to refund wagers, but this is offset by permanently losing fans who rightfully feel cheated.

Allow future pool wagering on the Hambletonian and Meadowlands Pace. The Kentucky Derby future pool wagers are popular and the Little Brown Jug has future pool wagering, why can’t two of the premier harness racing events have future pool wagering? It seems like free money to me.

There are times it appears the betting public is inadvertently not being represented at racing commission meetings. Appoint a public advocate to represent fans/gamblers at the NJRC meetings. Allow the public advocate the right to vote at commission meetings.

Legalize proposition bets in New Jersey for special events. For example, on Hambletonian Day, let fans bet on which driver is going to win the most races on the race card or which jockey will win the most races on Haskell Day. Proposition bets will allow newcomers the opportunity to be introduced to horse racing in a non-threatening way.

Support the racetracks in the event they try to cut the takeout rate to stimulate the handle. If other tracks and ADWs seem to be acting in concert to drop the signal of a New Jersey racetrack because they cut the takeout, file/support a federal anti-trust lawsuit against those tracks and ADWs.

Consider less racing. Currently standardbred race meets are so long that fans suffer from fatigue. A change of scenery is good. If unwilling to cut the number of races dates overall in the state, consider the possibility of racing some standardbred dates at Atlantic City Race Course or even Monmouth Park, even if just for 'festival meets'. This would allow horsemen to race as many dates, but allow for 'seasons' to keep fans fresh.

Endorse horse racing by showing up at the track for key events and present the trophy to some stakes winners. While it may not stimulate fan interest, it will show the horsemen that you care.

Thank you for considering my comments and suggestions. I wish you well as you get ready to embark on your term. Here is hoping you will fulfill your commitment to help New Jersey racing prosper.



Messenger Recap and a Look Back at a Classic

Last night the Pacing Triple Crown came to a conclusion with the running of the Messenger Stakes and the filly companion stake, the Lady Maud. While If I Can Dream won the Messenger as expected, Yellow Diamond went down to defeat in the $364,430 Lady Maud Pace.

In the Lady Maud, Shanghai Lil scored an upset victory over Yellow Diamond in a brisk 1:53.3. In defeat, Yellow Diamond still showed why she was one of the best three year old pacing fillies as she was nipped at the wire by Shanghai Lil who benefited by Yellow Diamond getting roughed up in a :27 first quarter. Shanghai Lil was able to sting Yellow Diamond going to the quarter and then sat in the pocket the rest of the mile pulling out mid-way down the homestretch to collar Yellow Diamond at the wire (Unfortunately, the only replay available of the Lady Maud does not show the entire mile. It only shows the race to mid-stretch. If you wish to see the replay as available, you may click here).

In the $542,060 Messenger Stakes for three year old pacing colts, If I Can Dream wired the field in an impressive 1:52.2. If you look at the chart for the race, it would seem If I Can Dream had an easy three length victory; that is not the case. If I Can Dream was parked to the first quarter by Hypnotic Blue Chip and was then under pressure by Clear Vision in the third quarter as those two raced in tandem most of that quarter. Clear Vision showed a lot of heart in the race as he chased If I Can Dream home the final quarter when he had every excuse to quit after hooking up with the race winner in the third quarter. Entry mate Straight Shooting finished a non-threatening third while Hypnotic Blue Chip finished a well beaten fourth.

In a look back at one of harness racing's classic races, we go back to 1998 and take a look at the $600,000 March of Dimes Trot at the now defunct Garden State Park; a race I consider one of the best I had ever seen. Sugarcane Hanover, representing Norway, defeated the French champion Ourasi and American superstar Mack Lobell in 1:55.1.

Besides the brilliant victory by Sugarcane Hanover, there were several things to note about the race. First of all, notice the style of racing compared to the racing we are now seeing on a daily basis. The horses are making moves all throughout the race and are racing tightly bunched during the race. Nowadays, we have less movement during the race and the horses are strung out instead of racing as a pack. There was an international field, with representatives from Canada (Go Get Lost), France (Ourasi), Norway (Sugarcane Hanover), Finland (Friendly Face), Italy, and of course the United States. Another thing, with the exception of Go Get Lost, all the horses were older than three. While we can not have an international field in every race, if we would conduct our races in a similar racing style, our races would be more exciting than they are now and could help draw more people to the track and increase wagering on harness racing.

A couple notes regarding the thoroughbred Breeder's Cup. First of all, notice the influx of horses racing abroad in the Breeders Cup. We need to do more to get an international feel for our Breeders Crown events. Also, as a follow-up to my earlier posting calling for harness racing to offer proposition bets, it should be noted that the Breeder's Cup had a Jockey Head2Head wager where you attempted to pick the jockey that would win the most races from the two Breeder's Cup races over a two day periods. It turns out the winner for the Head2Head wager was the field (all other jockeys) which paid $5.60. Admittedly, the wager did not generate a huge handle ($117,559) when compared to the other pools. While not a huge money maker, it did allow provide novices an easy way to be introduced to horse racing. Clearly, at this time it appears this is not a wager to be offered on a daily basis, but for special event days, it may be a wager worth offering; days where a large number of novices will be attending.