For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Thursday, December 31, 2009

They're Back !!!

The eyes of harness racing turns to East Rutherford with the kick off of the Meadowlands' 2010 standardbred meet tomorrow evening (January 1).  Despite the dire situation in New Jersey, the Meadowlands still remains the crown jewel of harness racing.  The first card of the season features thirteen races.  Thanks to Yonkers Raceway being on hiatus for one more week, fans are being treated to an evening of full fields.  Not only are there Invitationals for trotters and pacing mares, there is an Open for pacers who are ten years old and up. 

The opening of the Meadowlands season presents handicappers a serious challenge.  Horses come from various tracks and many are returning from long layoffs in anticipation of this meet.  Handicapping horses off of layoffs and qualifiers as well as evaluating the quality of the competition at other tracks is the challenge at hand.  However, these difficulties provide the astute handicapper an opportunity to pick up some hidden gems at attractive prices.        

Here are my early selections for Friday evening.

1st Trot - $21,000; NW 17,250 last 6 starts
7 - Pembroke Prayer  9-2
3 - Drill Sergeant Sam  15-1
5 - Jaavos Boy  3-1

2nd Pace - $15,000; FM NW 10,000 last 6 starts
5 - Cruzin Inya Jammys  5-1
3 - Terroronthebeach  7-2
1 - Little Mermaid N  8-1

3rd Trot - $21,000; NW 17,250 last 6 starts
1 - Libra Vita  9-2
9 - Dink Adoo  3-1
8 - Badboy Paparazzi A  6-1

4th Pace - $21,250; Claiming $30,000
  8 - Glass Pack  10-1
  3 - Hit Away  3-1
10 - Ideal Conditions 4-1
 1 - Haverford Hanover  7-2

5th Trot - $25,000; NW 22,500 last 6 starts
  8 - American Lane  10-1
  6 - Speed Bomb  5-2
10 - Peter Lugar  7-2

6th Pace - $25,000; Open 10 years old and up
8 - Image of Dawn  8-1
5 - Napoleon N  7-2
2 - Non commital A  9-2

7th Trot - $32,000 Invitational
3 - Lavec Dream  6-1
8 - Beach Nut Brand  9-2
5- Looking Hanover  7-2
1 - Likeabatoutahell  5-2

8th Pace - $25,000; FM NW 22,500 last 6 starts
4 -Mach You And Me  3-1
6 - I'm Betting On You  7-2
7 - Orphan Annie  9-2

9th Pace - $21,000; FM NW 16,000 last 6 starts
2 - Locamotion Baby  15-1
1 - Away We Go  12-1
7 - Dream McQueen  5-1
6-  O Narutac Bella  7-2

10th Pace - $32,000; Mares Invitational
4 - Native Bride  3-1
3 - Cuz She Can  7-2
1 - Natalie  10-1

11th Pace - $21,000; FM NW 16,000 last 6 starts
6 - Lightning Treasure  8-1
3 - Village Bolero  2-1
7 -  KG Delight  4-1

12th Pace - $17,000; FM Claiming $30,000
5 - My Fanny  5-1
8 - Jilsander N  9-2
3 - Armbrom Dandelion  8-1

13th Pace - $17,000; Claiming $30,000
6 - Last Orders  3-1
3 - Western Prince  10-1
8 - Ball McCartney N  15-1
1 - Marchand  15-1

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Au Revoir to our War Horses; Honoring a Special Kind of Owner

Monticello Raceway pays tribute to our retiring fourteen year old war horses with the Au Revoir Race tomorrow (December 31, fourth race).  This race provides race fans with a rarity.  With permission from the NYSRWB, Monticello is being allowed to race pacers against trotters (the trotters draw inside) in a wagering event.   While trotters and pacers frequently race against each other in qualifiers, they usually don't race against each other in betting races since pacing is a faster gait.  Here are my selections for the $7,500 Au Revoir Race:

6 - Am I Next A  7-2  - Driver change may be key to final victory. 
2 - Numberonefan (t)  4-1 - Maine shipper likely to fall short in the stretch.
4 -  Bonn Star N  5-2  - Lebanon shipper needs early speed to launch closing attack. 
3 - Satin Time N  3-1 - Best efforts been on larger ovals.
1 - I'm Dam Goog (t)  9-2 - Will find it tough against pacers.
7 - Uphill Battle  10-1 - Northfield invader has lacked luck this yar.
5 - Oop's Whatapromise  12-1 -  Don't see at all. 

Andrew Cohen penned a piece for the USTA website where he suggests paying tribute to the owners of some of our most 'underachieving' race horses.  As usual, Cohen's article has drawn some differing opinions.  Some ask why we should reward failure; others wonder what kind of person would keep on with horses that are 0-43 and those that raced numerous times without even picking up a check. 

People are missing the point of this article.  It takes a special kind of person to be willing to keep on with horses like these.  Many people would have cut their losses a long time ago; keeping horses like these does not make business sense.  Are they foolish?  To a degree perhaps, but when harness racing goes through its unavoidable retrenchment and our fair weather owners abandon the sport for more lucrative investments, owners like these will be the ones keeping racing going through the tough times.  That deserves recognition. 


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Just the Facts Sir

We couldn't end the year without another column discussing the Ontario Racing Commission's urging rules could we? This time we discuss it with a different spin.

At Windsor Raceway on December 20, there were two disqualifications as a result of the urging rules and this past weekend, another disqualification. In all three occasions the driver was a Canadian or an American that drives at Windsor Raceway with some regularity so the the ORC rules should not be foreign to them. One would think at this point the need for disqualifications, which are reserved for the most flagrant violations, would be a rare occurrence, only with drivers who make a rare appearance in Ontario. But that is a subject for another day. We can argue whether the rule is good or not, but for now, the rule is the rule.

In the case of the fifth race on December 27, it did appear the driver violated the rule in that the whip did make contact with the horse below the shaft of the sulky. The rule indicates a placing may take place if, in the opinion of the judges, there has been a flagrant disregard of the rules. Being Gene Piroski’s whip apparently did make contact with the horse below the sulky shaft several times, the judges decided it was a flagrant violation. The judges at Windsor appear to be applying a strict interpretation of this rule (As a side note, I would have fined and possibly given days to Piroski but would have left the horse up).

What makes me bring up this particular incident is what happened after the race. Instead of just announcing the disqualification, the track announcer prefaced the announcement with "I'm just the announcer...", in effect passing comment on the judges’ ruling.

I am all for track for announcers adding color and emotion to race calls. Nothing is more boring than a drone-like race call. However, in the capacity of the track announcer, when announcing judges’ decisions, he should be informing the fans of the judges’ decision and nothing more. By prefacing the decision with “I’m just the announcer” he in effect was telling people either the judges’ decision and/or the urging rules were wrong. This was not the forum to do so. Hopefully his employers and possibly the judges had a chat with the announcer afterwards.

This is not to say a track announcer can’t voice his opinion; just do it outside of his/her role as track announcer. When it comes to announcing judges’ decisions, it should be “Just the Facts Sir”.

I do find fault with a couple of things concerning the judges on Sunday night at Windsor. First of all, several minutes passed before the inquiry sign was lit. If there judges thought there was a problem, the inquiry sign should have been lit immediately after the race. If it turned out no foul occurred, the inquiry sign could be turned off. The second issue is if a horse is going to be disqualified where the mutual results will be changed, the judges owe the fans/gamblers a better explanation as to why a horse is being disqualified instead of just for violating the rule. Tell the fans exactly, what the infraction was and show it to them, the fans are owed that.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Rethinking Fifteen and Out

Friday is New Years Day and with the turn of the calendar, all horses turn a year older. As a result of the universal birthday, any fourteen year old horses still racing turn fifteen and are forced into retirement (they may continue to race in matinees and at fairs). The question is why do we automatically force these horses into retirement?

In the perfect worl, a horse that turns fifteen would be sent to a farm to either live out the rest of their life in leisure or to begin their second careers. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. For the horse that spent all or most of their life with one owner, retirement is almost a certainty. But for the horse that has been changing owners multiple times, especially in their later years through claiming races, a future as a retiree is less certain. As well intentioned as we are with setting a mandatory retirement age, are we putting capable horses at risk needlessly?

Speaking in general terms, we know our equine senior citizens are not as competitive on the track as our younger horses. With years of wear and tear taking its toll, these horses have likely lost a step or two; not able to race at the speeds they once were able to go. They tend to race in the bottom tiers of conditioned and claiming races, often at our smaller tracks. The fact we are retiring these horses has as much to do with the fact they tend to be unable to be competitive more than anything else. This can be addressed.

Rather than forcing a horse that turns fifteen into retirement, why don't we allow them to continue racing in semi-retirement if sound enough? We can mandate that once a horse turns fifteen, it may continue racing provided a vet annually certifies a horse is sound enough to stand the rigors of racing. In addition, a rule could be instituted that a horse over the age of fourteen may race a limited number of starts and must have a certain number of days between starts; such as twenty-six starts per year and ten days between starts which will allow more time for a horse to recover between races.

What about the problem that they may not be fast enough to compete? The answer may be to change the way we write our races. Most tracks will card races for two year olds, three year olds, four year olds (during the early part of the year) and without age restrictions. What if races were written for horses aged ten and under and then for eleven year olds and up? This way, the older horses would be racing against similar aged horses and be able to be competitive in slower races. Not only would this cause less strain on our older athletes, it would provide for better racing. Who cares if a field of eleven year olds and up race two or three seconds slower than the younger horses? As long as a field is evenly matched and competitive, a race will be attractive to the racing and gambling public.

Let's rethink mandatory retirement.  With the proper protections in place, our equine senior citizens can continue their racing careers and in some cases, have a more secure future. 

Sunday, December 27, 2009


This is a quiet weekend for harness racing in the United States but things will be getting interesting this coming weekend with the Meadowlands opening on New Year Day night.  The final warm-up for the meet will be Monday morning with twenty-four qualifiers scheduled.  

One interesting horse qualifying tomorrow is in the 10th qualifier.  Maritime invader Darko makes her American debut in this race.  This soon to be four year old pacing filly has been racing in the Maritimes with her last race November 7 at Charlotteown Driving Park, finishing third in the Island Breeders Stakes.  This winner of sixteen of twenty seven lifetime has a lifetime mark of 1:57.4 at Turo Raceway at two (equaled this year at Charlotteown) which is nothing to sneeze at in the Maritimes.  While this horse has yet to break six figures in lifetime earnings, her $93K+ earnings is impressive for the Maritimes.  Ocassionaly a bearcat comes from Atlantic Canada (remember Waveore?).  She maybe someone to watch in the early going.

Another horse of interest may be Australian import, Aquestionoftime A (20th race).  While this seven year old pacing gelding has been racing lately in claiming stakes in Australia, he has raced well in regular stakes races.  His 2009 earnings of $55K is not shabby for a horse that was racing down under.  His Decembr 22nd qualifier was disappointing but I look for improvement tomorrow.  Depending on how he races tomorrow, he may be one to watch in his first North American pari-mutuel start.

Last week I mentioned in my blog entry that TVG would likely snub Harness Racing in their Year in Review.  Well, I was wrong.  There was a brief segment where Muscle Hill and Well Said were mentioned winning the Hambletonian and the Meadowlands Pace, respectively.  Mention was also made of the Merrie Annabelle.

Harnesslink was obviously scouring the web over the holidays looking for video gems.  They came across a cartoon explaining harness racing featuring The Funny Company.  Take a look; it is somewhat entertaining.

As we prepare to say "Good Bye" this week to our fourteen year old veterans facing mandatory retirement from the pari-mutuel wars, I found a video of a match race at Rideau Carlton Raceway held on December 31, 2006.  This "Clash of the Titans" was a match race with two fourteen year olds making their last starts.  Take a look at Kendall Python and Conrad Seelster (the sound is poor during the replay of the stretch drive). 

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Song for All

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Twelve percent takeout…

Eleven exciting races…

Ten minutes between races…

Nine friends with me at the race track…

Eight double digit winners...

Seven cold exactas…

Six new fans in my party…


Four newspapers covering the races…

Three harness tracks on TVG tonight…

Two grandstand levels filled…

And a wish for peace to all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Eve Racing and a Likely Snub

For those people looking for racing action tomorrow, Monticello Raceway is the only track in the United States racing.  Of course, you'll need to find a simulcast location or an ADW operating tomorrow.  Why does Monticello race on Christmas Eve Day?  It is all part of their plan to optimize their simulcast signal.  By being the only track racing on Christmast Eve, they usually pull in a huge handle. 

Our friend Dean over at Pull the Pocket writes about a fictional holiday party with a bunch of bloggers including myself.  It may be a fictional party but Dean has my character down pat.  Go take a look and you'll see what I mean. 

On Christmas Eve and Christmas, TVG will be showing their 2009 Year in Review show several times.  Want to bet how many harness racing highlights make the show?  My guess is we get snubbed.  I realize standardbred racing is the poor cousin on TVG but if they can't find the way to at least include the Hambletonian on their highlight show, shame on them. 

Brrrr... "B" Track Tour - Scarborough Downs

This week, the tour heads north to Scarborough Downs in Maine for the "B" Track tour.  When it comes to horse racing, Maine is harness country as it is the only state conducting racing that doesn't have a thoroughbred track.  There are two active extended pari-mutuel tracks in the state, Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs and there are eight agricultural fairs where harness racing is conducted.

While Scarborough Downs does not have VLTs on track, the way the law works in Maine, a portion of the revenue earned at the slots at Bangor Raceway does get shared with horsemen down state.  The voters in Scarborough have turned down slots a couple of times so there has been some talk about moving Scarborough Downs to an area that is more receptive to VLTs (as a sign as how bad things are at Freehold Raceway, it should be noted that at Freehold, $4,000 claimers are racing for $2,000 while $3,000 claimers at Scarborough race for $2,400-2,700 and $4,000 claimers are racing for $3,000). 

Like other "B" tracks, drivers that have plyed their trade in Maine have gone on to success elsewhere with Jason Bartlett and Jordan Stratton being the most recent drivers to make the move to the 'big' time.  There are several well known local drivers by the names of Drew Campbell, Heath Campbell, Leigh Fitch and Gary Mosher.  The horses that race at Scarborough tend to race on the Bangor, Scarborough, the fairs, Rockingham, Plainridge and Saratoga circuit with an occasional horse making the journey to Yonkers or the Meadowlands.

The Scarborough meet is winding down for the winter.  After Saturday's card, there are only three more racing days remaining (Dec 27, Jan 2, Jan 3) before racing takes a break until April.

Using the Scarborough conditions, we see how the past performance program can be improved.  There are a slew of $3,000 claimers on Saturday's card.  There is a straight claimer, claimers for winners over, and claimers for non-winners.  In the program, all these races are being reported as 3000CL.  It would be helpful if the program could show 3kCLwo1000L5 or 3kCLnw1000L5 in the past performances for claiming races with an earning condition or races condition.     

The following are my early selections for Saturday, December 26 (post time 12:05PM).  While my handicapping is being done based on a fast track, the forecast does call for a mix of snow and rain.

1st Pace - $2,700; FM Claiming $3,000 (w/o $1000 last 5 starts)
5 - Western Hope  3-1
6 - Kitty  4-1
3 - Lets Hurry On  5-2

2nd Pace - $2,700; Claiming $3,000 (w/o $1000 last 5 starts)
8 - Successful Venture  9-2
6 - Trebuchet  4-1
2 - Naughty Narcissist  7-2
1 - Osbornes Jet  5-2

3rd Trot - $2,400; Claiming $3,000
2 - Sentimentalvictory  2-1
4 - Psychic Credit  3-1
5 - Numberonefan  5-1

4th Pace - $2,700; Claiming $3,000 (w/o $1000 last 5 starts)
3 - Ascot Bourbon  9-2
1 - Gold Ball  7-2
5 - Champagne Charley  5-1

5th Pace - $2,700; FM Claiming $3,000 (w/o $1000 last 5 starts)
6 - Dream No More  4-1
7 - Lavish Jen  7-2
3 - Analytical  5-2

6th Pace - $2,400; Claiming $3,000 (n/w $1000 last 5 starts)
7 - Truly Signful  5-2
1 - Bos Laughin  6-1
5 - Lucky Rider  7-2
6 - Macks A Pearl  9-2

7th Pace - $2,700; Claiming $3,000 (w/o $1000 last 5 starts)
6 - Hollywood Best  9-2
2 - Duke Wayne  5-1
8 - Show-Time-Sam  7-2

8th Pace - $3,000; Claiming $4,000
3 - Three Button Door  6-1
4 - Trade Boss  3-1
8 - Morty  5-1

9th Pace - $3,700; Non-winners $1500 last 5 starts or claiming $5,000  AE: Non-winners $2500 last 5 starts or claiming $6,000 to draw outside
6 - Tough Company  2-1
2 - Passthegreypoupan  7-2
7 - Four Starz Gala  9-2

10th Pace - $2,400; Claiming $3,000 (n/w $1000 last 5 starts)
1 - Cincy Maynard  5-2
8 - Sea Dog Time  9-2
5 - Carolina Star  6-1
3 - Appointed Time  4-1

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Wish List for Santa

In a post race interview with Santa Claus who was racing at North Pole Downs (in an Invitational naturally), a View From the Racetrack Grandstand reader was asked why I did not send in my request list for those I felt deserving of a gift. Due to time constraints, Santa asked me to forgo the ‘naughty list’ and to keep the list as general as possible. With those instructions, here is my wish list for my harness racing family, in no particular order:

  • Persuade Pennwood Racing to accept the purse enhancement agreement for 2010 as a sign of faith in incoming Governor Christie. While you are at it, if you can make sure the support New Jersey horsemen gave the Christie campaign was well founded it would be appreciated.
  • A little common sense for the Atlantic City Casinos so they will recognize in the long run VLTs at New Jersey race tracks managed by the casino industry will benefit them. 
  • If no VLTs for the Meadowlands, a new purse supplement agreement for 2011 and beyond.
  • The legalization of pari-mutuel harness racing in Georgia.
  • A reduction in race dates for 2011 as a result of the coordination of race dates between states so horsemen will race for more money at each track yet have the ability to race all year thanks to the establishment of meaningful circuits. We just don’t need twelve simulcast signals from harness tracks each day.
  • Race cards which get completed in less than two and half hours.
  • A cut in the take out rate to make gambling on harness racing more competitive to casino gaming. Free programs would be nice as well.
  • Female drivers that compete regularly at our raceways and trainers who support them. They deserve the chance and it will help us attract more women to racing.
  • The ability to card full fields through out the whole Meadowlands race meet.
  • New wagering options which will be attractive to casual fans as well as the serious gamblers (Not another Pick X).
  • The realization of a National Racing Compact so there will be only one set of rules for trainers and drivers.
  • Bring back a true International Trot.
  • An Auckland Reactor that lives up to his hype when he races in the United States this summer.
  • Another blockbuster year for Lucky Jim.
  • An American victory in the Elitlopp.
  • Make 2010 the breakout year for Won The West.
  • Geldings to win the Hambletonian and other major stake races so in 2011 there will be new star horses to follow as aged pacers and trotters.
  • Letting one of those great geldings end up in the barn of Greg Peck, one of the best spokesmen for standardbred racing.
  • Horses that will compete in all three legs of the triple crowns, even though some of those races are on a half mile track.
  • A successful Breeders Crown at Pocono Downs in 2010.
  • An opportunity for Howard Oil, track announcer at Monticello Raceway, to call races at one of the 'A' tracks. 
  • Inner strength for the horsemen of Barn 16 at Lebanon Raceway so they may bounce back from tragedy and have a successful return to the racing wars. So their loss won’t be in vain, a nationwide movement that will ensure all race tracks and public stables install sprinklers.
  • More coverage for harness racing by TVG and other racing channels. Start this off with a new harness racing show hosted by Heather Moffett who is very informative yet entertaining.
  • Speaking of Heather Moffett, adding her to the broadcast team at the Delaware County Fair, clearly the best racing broadcast there is for any breed.
  • A regular harness racing column for Andrew Cohen. His columns during the two weeks at The Red Mile remind us how much we miss his writings and how much we need him.
  • A big year for Koshy's Kids.  Not only is it a good way to publicize harness racing, they do a lot for children with cancer.
  • More amateur races held during the normal racing card so participants can experience racing in front of the racing public; just make them non-wagering contests.
  • Track operators that finally agree with Jeff Gural which will result in more stake races for older horses.
  • The implementation of a Fair Start rule through out the country.
  • Stop the badmouthing of the half mile ovals. You want to get someone new excited about harness racing? You take them to a half mile track where they can actually see the race without relying on a television monitor.
  • More support nationally for the California horsemen and their meet at Cal Expo. Yes, it is a long distance to travel but if standardbred racing wants to become more relevant, we need a strong presence not only in the New York market, but in the California market.
  • A funding mechanism for horse rescue groups and programs at race tracks which make it easier for horsemen to give their horses up for adoption instead of sending them to sales and an uncertain future.
  • Good health and a profitable year for all readers of View From the Racetrack Grandstand.
I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Looking Back and Ahead

Dean over at Pull the Pocket has put together a top ten list of pacers and trotters for the decade.  To no surprise, Somebeachsomewhere is ranked number one.  Muscle Hill is listed as number five.  I may have put Mister Big up one position and put Snow White as number ten, but overall, quite a well thought out list.  Make sure you take a look at it and see what you think. 

Exciting news in Canadian harness racing.  Standardbred Canada is partnering with a private enterprise to create a brand called Canada One Racing.  In the long run, Canada One is planning to offer twelve hours of harness racing a day and offer multi-track wagers, lottery type wagers (V75?) and possibly exchange wagering.  Initially, it is their goal to get their racing product distributed more widely through out North America (read that the United States).  What is interesting is that they are attempting to do this without including WEG (Woodbine and Mohawk as their signal is well distributed already).  You can read more about this initiative here.   

It will be interesting to see how the Canada One initiative takes off.  The problem of course is a successful Canada One initiative has the potential to be detrimental to the American standardbred product.  There are a finite number of dollars available for gambling.  If American gamblers are playing V75s and other multi-track wagers in Canada, and more Canadian signals are being made available to an American audience, those will be dollars taken away from American race tracks.

It is time for American standardbred tracks to begin working together on a similar project.  It always amazes me how our Canadian neighbors seem to be further ahead of us with regards to customer development.  First was Xtreme Racing, then Adrenaline Fest and now Canada One Racing.  I realize the rules are different in Canada than in the States, but it seems to me we should have been able to make more progress than we have thus far.   

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Time to Pass on the Passing Lane?

Many handicappers and racing fans don't care for racing on the half mile track.  People feel racing has become boring and predictable on the half mile oval which results in a lot of short priced favorites winning.  Perhaps it is time to follow the lead of the Eskilstuna race track in Sweden which eliminated their passing lane.

The passing lane was introduced as a means to stimulate wagering as it was felt people were being turned off by seeing their horses getting locked in along the rail full of pace with no way to get out.  By adding the passing, lane, these horses would get a chance to challenge the leader in the stretch.  With respect to eliminating horses getting trapped along the rail down the stretch, the passing lane has been successful.

But at what cost?  Has the passing lane made our races boring to watch, especially on the half mile ovals?  The feeling here is yes.  Nowadays, you often see horses failing to challenge the leader, being more concerned with sitting to make their move in the passing lane at the end of the race.  As a result, you have less movement in races.  If we eliminate the passing lane, you would see more movement during the race as drivers would need to be more aggressive otherwise risk getting trapped along the rail, not only losing the race, but failing to earn a check.  By eliminating the passing lane, racing becomes less predictable and pay offs better for the gamblers, stimulating wagering interest and providing more excitement to fans and gamblers alike.

Not ready to give up on the passing lane completely?  Another option is to put the 'dogs up' and race at times with the passing lane closed to add another variable to the handicapping mix.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Meadowlands Early Peek

The initial condition sheet for the Meadowlands upcoming race meet has been released.  From a quick look at the condition sheet, it appears purses have been cut when compared to the start of the 2009 race meet.  For example, last January the invitational trot went for $35,000; this year it will be contested for $32,000.  Horses racing for a $25,000 tag will be racing for $14,400 as compared to $16,000 in 2009.  For the initial five racing programs, $15,000 is the bottom claiming price and non-winners of 6,000 in last 6 starts the bottom conditioned class. 

Whether the purse cuts are a barometer of things to come for this meet or just a precaution due to the economic climate remains to be seen.  However, the Meadowlands is taking some steps to improve things for the fans and gamblers.  By the end of January, the Meadowlands expects their website to have a 'community' feature for fans.  The Meadowlands will be adding hi-def television cameras and their pre-card television show will feature interviews with individuals discussing their entries for the evening and the show will allow fans to ask questions via-email.  While the Meadowlands may be going through hard time, they are doing their best to make their racing product as desirable as possible and attract their share of the simulcast market by taking advantage of the technology available.   

Friday, December 18, 2009

The "B' Track Tour Continues - Monticello Raceway

This week, the B track tour continues with a stop at Monticello Raceway, about ninety miles north of New York City.  Monticello Raceway during its glory years used to be a resort track racing during the summer months when the Catskill Mountains were a destination.  Once the Catskills declined, so went the track.  Prior to VLTs being installed, racing deteriorated to $2,500 claimers with purses falling below the $1,000 mark at times.  Like many tracks, when the VLTs came into being, racing flourished once again on the track.

Today, racing at Monticello continues to benefit from the VLTs though things are not as rosy as they once were.  VLTs do not guarantee a race track's success.  Empire Resorts, the track operator is in financial distress.  Since VLTs came to Yonkers Raceway and Pocono Downs, Monticello Raceway lost a lot of their market to these new locations and the local community is unable to keep the machines humming.  Plans for an Indian Casino have fallen to the wayside as their partner has backed out.  Plans to move the raceway to a new location has run into problems as a result of the economic downturn.  Meanwhile, purses have retreated sisgnificantly, but still an improvement over the pre-VLT era.

Racing is clearly an after thought at Monticello.  As of my last trip up there (roughly a year ago), race fans were relegated to a section of the plant that has last been updated in the 1970's.  Before VLTs, there was Sunday racing and many people, including myself, used to make a day of a trip up the Quickway for a day of racing.  These days, racing is dictated by simulcasting; primarily Monday thru Thursday afternoon when they can maximize their simulcast signal.  Where most tracks will race on a holiday, Monticello usually skips the day as their signal tends to be dropped in favor of another signal.  Currently, Monticello is running their annual marathon, racing eleven days straight where there is little simulcast competition, culminating with their Christmas Eve program, typically the only track racing in the United States on December 24. 

Monticello Raceway does continue to be a proving ground for the drivers of tomorrow.  Cat Manzi, George Brennan, Jason Bartlett, Jordan Stratton and others have honed their driving skills at Monticello before moving to the Yonkers/Meadowlands circuit and the national stage.  While Monticello is a "B' track, drivers like Todd Warren and Mike Mac Nell, Rick Magee have moved in from areas that are struggling to use Monticello as a stepping stone to the more lucrative circuit downstate.  During the summer months, horses and drivers tend to move between Yonkers, Monticello, Pocono Downs and Tioga Downs with an occasional horse shipping in from Saratoga and the Meadowlands.  Right now, with the upstate tracks closed for the season, there is an influx of horses from Saratoga and Batavia.

Anyway, here are my selections for Saturday afternoon at the Mighty 'M'.

1st Pace - $2,300; FM Non-Winners $200 per start last six or per start in 2009.
2 - BJ's Myrtle Mae  5-2
7 - Trusty Trish  9-2
5 - I'm All Sporty  7-2

2nd Trot - $2,600; Non-winners $225 per start last six or per start in 2009.
3 - Lady Marmalade  5-2
6 - The Prosecturor  4-1
2 - Thanksalot  7-2

3rd Pace - $2,600; $4000 Claiming - Finished 1st or 2nd in last three starts
2 - JK Hooty  9-2
5 - The Golden Horn  6-1
3 - Gold Fever  5-2
1 - Kosher Dyl Pickle  4-1

4th Trot - $2,600; Non-winners $225 per start last six or per start in 2009
6 - Super Cat Begonia  5-2
1 - Giant T  10-1
5 - I'm Dam Goog  3-1

5th Pace - $4,500; Winners over 5 but no more than 7 pari-mutuel races
6 - Big Heern  4-1
5 - Blueridge Hall  3-1
1 - Slick Eddie  10-1

6th Pace - $2,300; Non-winners $200 per start or per start in 2009
4 - Choose To Believe  5-2
6 - Osmosis  3-1
8 - Bell Valley Indian  4-1
7 - Cardinal  Bliss  5-1

7th Pace - $3,200; Non-winners $250 per start or per start in 2009
7 - Big John B  4-1
4 - Against The Best  3-1
1 - Snuff Box  6-1
2 - Gemini Jon  7-2

8th Pace - $4,500; Winners over 5 but no more than 7 pari-mutuel races
1 - Mcclelland  5-2
3 - Scottie C  4-1
5 - Or  7-2

9th Pace - $2,600; $4,000 Claiming - Finished 1st or 2nd in last three starts
5 - Call Me Biscuit  3-1
4 - Johnny Appleseed  7-2
7 - Maxie's David  12-1

10th Pace - $4,600; $10,000 Claiming
8 - Noble Wabbit  7-2
1 - Franco Catapult N  5-2
7 - Gallant Guy N  9-2
2 - Iam Billy The Man  3-1

11th Pace - $2,300; $4,000 Claiming - Not 1st or 2nd in last three starts
4 - Thunder Bay  5-2
2 - Icanbelikegordy  9-2
5 - Night Mystery  6-1

12th Pace - $2,300; FM Non-winners $200 per start last six or per start in 2009
4 - Seek The Dream  5-2
1 - Doyle's Pat  7-2
8 - Beaver Creek Suzie  3-1
3 - Time For Her Hero  4-1

13th Pace - $2,600; $4,000 Claiming - Finished 1st or 2nd in last three starts
5 - Ya Gotta Belief  6-1
3 - Skip  4-1
4 - Radical Reaction  3-1
1 - Mister Dale N  5-2  

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Odds and Ends

In New Jersey, a rule change has been proposed to modify purse distributions at the Meadowlands. If approved, the current 50-25-12-8-5 distribution will be changed for overnight races to 50-25-10-6-4 with the sixth through tenth place finishers each receiving 1%. Before this rule can be approved by the NJRC, legislative action is required. Being it is estimated that it will take at least six months before this rule can be approved and implemented, this rule will have little impact on horsemen this year.

This rule change will help horsemen. With many horsemen shipping in to race, awarding 1% of the purse to horses finishing worse than fifth will help subsidize the expense of shipping, paddock fees and other expenses. The only problem is this subsidy comes at the expense of those finishing third through fifth. Perhaps a better option would be to pay each starter a flat fee for racing and leave the purse distribution as is.

Dean Hoffman in the latest issue of Trot magazine notes one of the reason attendance at the track has declined is there is no need for a handicapper to attend the races as there is nothing to be gained by being at the track. One example he cites is the lack of scoring. I remember how at Yonkers you would hear Bob Meyers announce “Pacers are away on their first/second score” and you would see the horses score down the stretch and handicappers would watch the horses to see how they were warming up. Now, after the post parade, most horses head to the far reaches of the track to prepare for the race. Maybe it is time to restore pre-race scoring to our raceways.

Readers of this blog may be wondering what happened to the proposal to introduce the fair star tule in New Jersey. Latest word is the proposal has been drafted and is awaiting review by legal counsel. Once it has been formally published for public comment I will bring it to your attention.

Monticello Raceway has begun their annual marathon by conducting racing programs eleven days straight ending on Christmas Eve. With many race meets having come to an end or tracks taking a brief break during the holiday season, Monticello’s policy is to race when there are fewer signals available for simulcasting

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Donate to a Good Cause, Get a Collectible

Ever wanted to get a collectible from your favorite harness racing star?  Well, here is your chance to get the halter from some of racing's greats.  A new program, "Halters for Hope" is collecting halters from some of the best horses harness racing has to offer.  The way it works is that used halters with the nameplates of a standardbred star will be put up for sale with each horse representing a specific standardbred rescue group.  Find a halter you are interested in available?  Contact Halters for Hope and they will tell you where to send the check to (in the name of the charity) and once your check is received, the halter will be on its way to you. 

This is a great way to collect memorbillia and provide need funds for standardbred rescue.  For further information, click here

Mixing Things Up

Today at Monticello Raceway, the fifth race features a 1 ¾ mile race in what is known as the Monticello Marathon. A field of six dropped in the entry box for this race. Having one distance race a year is a novelty, but truth be told, it may be the key to reviving wagering on standardbred racing.

We need to mix things up. For various reasons, a shortage of horses requiring uneven fields to be assembled, short fields; a predictable racing style has made wagering on harness racing unattractive to many gamblers. Thanks to the Internet, handicapping races has become easier as information is readily available. The end result is there are too many favorites winning on a daily basis; many of them odds on. It goes past Win wagering; many Exactas have pay-offs looking like Quiniellas with Trifectas featuring double-digit pay-offs. Small pay-offs is not the way to stir the interest of potential fans. It is clear with the sophistication of today’s horseplayers, eight horse fields on a half mile track and ten horse fields on the mile track are not sufficient.

We need to get more horses, hence more betting options, racing in each race. We should attempt to get twelve horses fields on half mile tracks with fourteen or sixteen horse fields on the mile ovals. We all know the primary arguments against two tiers; each horse should have their nose on the starting gate; it is not safe; the fields will be too bulky. Well, let’s address the safety issue. Yes, racing green two year olds could present a safety issue, but that can be addressed separately. Outside of North America two tier races are not that unusual and things seem to go well. As for fields being too bulky and not having horses with their nose on the gate? If we race just a mile this would be a valid concern, however if we lengthen the distance of our races, we can eliminate the disadvantage of racing two tiers. In fact, we would mitigate the disadvantage of racing from an outside post.

It is time to go long and mix it up. The mile race has been sacrosanct for years but at this point, it has become a handicap. By having distance races, there is more opportunity for a horse racing from the second tier to get involved in a race and more time for horses to work themselves through traffic. This will allow us to get more betting options in each race which will allow pay-offs to grow. By alternating distances, it will further make things less predictable. Distances over a 1 ¼ miles can support two tiers of horses. By racing different distances, when we step back to a shorter race, the change in distance will allow us to race single tiered yet have decent pay-offs.

As for the past performance program, all we need to do is add a column in the past performance line to show the mile rate for the particular race and instead of showing the fastest win time of the year in the summary section, show the fastest mile rate for the horse at that distance. Also add a summary line for the horse’s performance at today’s distance. This will allow the horseplayer the means to compare horses.

There should be an exception for two year olds who are less experienced at racing; they should continue to race at the mile distance. However, once you turn three, there is no reason why horses can’t vary distances. I am not suggesting horses racing excessive distances, but have each class of horse race a different distance each week to keep things mixed up and when the race gets long enough, add some horses to race from the second tier.

I know this is not the way we have done things in the past, but what we are doing now is not working. Our current racing style doesn’t accommodate two tiers of horses? It is time to change our racing style. Unless we offer a product more attractive to gamblers, the sport is at risk.  The status quo is unacceptable.  

Monday, December 14, 2009

Honoring the Journeymen and Journeywomen

Racing, like many other sports, heaps recognition upon its stars but neglects its unsung heroes. Grand Circuit trainers, drivers, and owners get recognized but the trainer or driver who toils their whole career at the smaller tracks get nary a mention. One such driver is Leigh Fitch.

Leigh Fitch scored this past Friday his 7,500th driving victory at Scarborough Downs and if you don’t follow racing in Maine or are not a native of the Pine State, there is a good chance you don’t know who Leigh Fitch is. Fitch has been racing since 1962 racing at the smaller venues that define New England harness racing. Granted, winning 7,500 races over a 47 year period may not be that impressive when you compare it to some of our racing elite, but there is where you would be wrong.

It takes dedication and a love of the sport to keep racing all these years to reach this milestone. Let’s face it, racing in Maine for what can be described as modest purses is not going to allow you to live the life of luxury. Yet, it is drivers and trainers like Fitch who toil in relative obscurity who keep the sport going; getting up early in the morning in the deep of winter tending to their stables and racing night after night in the deep cold or otherwise miserable conditions racing for small purses.

You don’t need to be a drive or trainer that races exclusively at the smaller tracks and not be recognized for your years of dedication to the sport. Ted Wing, a driver/trainer that started out in New England and raced for many years at the Meadowlands and in New York has accumulated over 5,000 driving wins yet he too has never been recognized by the Hall of Fame. For him not to be recognized in some manner is a shame.

These journeyman drivers and trainers may get recognized locally but more should be done for these individuals. People who have dedicated so much to this sport in relative obscurity deserve their fifteen minutes of fame. The Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame has the Living Hall of Fame and Hall of Immortals. Perhaps it is time the Hall of Fame recognized these journeymen and women who have dedicated their lives to our sport. An exhibit dedicated to these individuals with their names listed on a wall does not seem to be unrealistic.

Let’s recognize these journeymen so their contributions are not lost as the years pass by.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Changing the Business Model

We all hear the doom and gloom regarding horse racing in general and harness racing in particular, but I have always been a firm believer that harness racing will still be with us twenty-five years from now. Will it look the way it does now? Absolutely not. There will be contraction; the long meets will be a thing of the past; horsemen are going to have to travel like they did in the old days, but racing will continue.

Proof of this? Look at Quebec. Just this year, what was considered to be the final nail in the grave of Quebec harness racing happened when the provincial government killed off the reorganization plan that Attractions Hippiques had which would have allowed for racing at one of the tracks in Quebec. The tracks will be sold off and the provincial government is going to provide subsidies to breeders in order for them to transition to another form of agriculture. Certainly, as far as the government is concerned, horse racing has gone the way of the dodo bird.

Not so fast. Ten Quebec businessmen each put up $100,000 in an effort to bring back harness racing to the province. Their goal is modest to begin. First get account wagering going along with off track betting (in partnership with WEG) to be followed up by racing on Saturdays at a training center in 2010 temporarily and then build a new 'green' race track which will have a country fair setting. Forget the grandstand; tailgating and 'fun' is in. VLTs? No thanks. They want no favors from the province of Quebec; just allow the horsemen the opportunity to do what they are proposing.

The Quebec Ten recognize the current business model horse racing uses is flawed and needs to be discarded. They are correct. Sure the expansion of casino gambling has hurt but ignoring the casinos for a moment, the old business model still became outdated. Pre-Internet, there was a need for local race tracks and with wagering localized; these tracks could race at the same time without conflicting with each other. The Internet has changed the equation. Wagering is now nationwide, and to some degree global. The person in New York can now wager on a race in California. The need for simultaneous horse races no longer exists.

Now, let's consider casinos and lotteries. With the continued expansion of casino gambling and lotteries, there is more competition for wagering dollars. Horse racing is not the only one suffering. Atlantic City, with the expansion of casino gambling in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York, is suffering. With casinos coming to Ohio, how do you think the slot parlors in Western Pennsylvania and Indiana are going to be doing? They will be losing business as well. The pressure on horse racing as it exists now is going to get even worse. What do we do?

We need to recognize that horse racing (all breeds), the way it is currently being conducted, can't compete with casino gambling. We have an over supply of horse racing competing against the endless supply of casino gambling and lotteries. Couple this with the fact we can't match the pricing of other forms of gambling, is there any wonder we can't compete? If we adopt seasonal meets where tracks race for a shorter period of time with much smaller physical plants, we can lower our pricing somewhat and compete better. The seasonal meets will satisfy the local fan base, as horse racing will stand out as something special to do; differentiating racing from casino gambling. By having tracks race on different days of the week at different times of the year, we will be able to meet the demand of the gamblers who want to bet on horses without having race tracks carving the wagering dollar up into miniscule portions.

The Quebec Ten's approach is the first step towards developing the new business model. We wish them well and suggest other racing jurisdictions watch with interest.


Friday, December 11, 2009

The "B" Track Tour Continues - Pompano Park Twi-Night Double Header

This week, the "B" track tour stops in Florida for a visit to Pompano Park.  Pompano is unique in that they have a racino yet horsemen don't receive any revenue from the slots as revenue sharing in Florida was mandated only for thoroughbred interests.  The FSBOA is currently in the process of trying to get the current slot law changed to mandate revenue sharing for standardbreds or seek to have the law declared unconstitutional, thus shutting down the slot machines.  My guess is if the FSBOA lawsuit continues to moves forward, the state will change the law as there is too much revenue at stake.

Pompano's racing colony during the winter months is pretty strong.  Wally Henessey, Matt Kakaley, Ricky Macomber Jr and others winter at Pompano competing against Pompano regulars Kevin Wallis, Bruce Ranger, and Joe Pavia Jr.  As the season moves on, many of the big stables will begin racing at Pompano to getting their charges read for their campaigns. 

This week marks the second twi-night doubleheader.  Due to the poor response of Tuesday racing, Pompano has discontinued Tuesday night racing and is now carding two racing programs on Saturday night with the 'twilight' program starting at 7:05pm and the evening program starting at 9:45pm.
Here are my selections for both cards on Saturday.

Card 1 - 1st Pace - $8,500; FM Winners over $10,000 Lifetime
3 - Allee T  4-1
6 - Terra Cotta Bay  3-1
4 - Rio Raider  2-1

Card 1 - 2nd Trot - $5,000; Non-Winners $2,601 Last 5 Starts
1 - Brancaleone  4-1
6 - Call The Trotters  5-1
8 - Winbak Half  8-1

Card 1 - 3rd Pace - $5,000; FM Non-Winners $2,501 Last 5 Starts
2 - Golden Falcon N  3-1
7 - Blissfull Jessie  8-1
5 - Nillabomb  2-1

Card 1 - 4th Pace - $5,000; FM $6,000-$8,000 Claiming Handicap
1 - Legacy Franco N  5-1
2 - You Are Precious  9-2
8 - Bolero Talula  4-1
7 - See's Alookin  3-1

Card 1 - 5th Pace - $5,000; FM Non-Winners $2,501 Last 5 Starts
6 - Cam Town Carrie  2-1
5 - Barbara D  6-1
1 - Nonuknlady  7-2

Card 1 - 6th Pace - $5,900; FM Non-Winners $4,001 Last 5 Starts
5 - Coreys Apache  6-1
7 - Roxanna Hanover  15-1
9 - Market Dynamic  5-1
3 - Major Trap  4-1

Card 1 - 7th Pace - $13,000; FM Open
4 - Esmeralda Semalu  5-2
2 - Bling  3-1
3 - Alice Springs  2-1

Card 1 - 8th Pace - $4,000; Non-Winners $1,501 Last 5 Starts
1 - Professoralbright  4-1
6 - All Ameripan   6-1
2 - Nathanials Artist  3-1
4 - Seton Hall  5-1

Card 2 - 1st Pace - $9,500; $20,000 Claiming
1 - Omaha Survivor  9-2
2 - Life's Z Tam  5-1
3 - Art Star  4-1

Card 2 - 2nd Trot - $4,000; $6,000 Claiming
1 - Pip's Affair  5-2
4 - Victory Connection  6-1
5 - Armbro Baroque  3-1

Card 2 - 3rd Pace - $13,000; Open
7 - Mai Tai Guy  7-2
3 - Cammabis  8-1
4 -  Power Park  10-1

Card 2 - 4th Pace - $5,900; Non-Winners $4,201 Last 5 Starts
6 - Lay Down The Law  8-1
1 - Lookinforasign  9-2
7 - Vapor In The Wind  4-1
4 - Little Mister  3-1

Card 2 - 5th Pace - $9,500; Non-Winners $9,251 Last 5 Starts
5 - Monet C C  8-1
1 - Mata Harry  7-2
4 - Daley Deposit Only  5-1

Card 2 - 6th Pace - $5,000; Non-Winners $2,701 Last 5 Starts
1 - C B Towner  4-1
6 - Maxine's Menace  10-1
9 - Born With Class  12-1
8 - Hero  5-1

Card 2 - 7th Pace - $6,800; Non-Winners $6,101 Last 5 Starts
6 - Tuffery N  6-1
8 - Golden Mattjesty  9-2
3 - Sign Of The Moment  5-1

Card 2 - 8th Pace - $5,000; Non-Winners $2,701 Last 5 Starts
5 - Paper Luck  4-1
8 - Murphs's Tiki Bar  12-1
2 - Chicane  6-1
3 - Can't Slay Me  3-1

You think you had a tough day in the office?  Driver Debbie Manning took a tumble during a race at Northlands Park when three rabbits ran along inside the rail and spooked her horse at Northlands Park the other night. Fortunately, driver and horse were fine. For more on the story, including video, click here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

NYRA Joins the Anti-Slaughter Movement

The New York Racing Authority is the lastest to join in the anti-slaughter movement with the establishment of an Anti-Slaughter policy.  Does your local standardbred track have such a policy?  Most likely not. 

It is time that our standardbred tracks adopt such policies.  There is no excuse not to. 

Missing the Boat with Casual Fans

In a recent column, Dean over at Pull the Pocket discussed how in Australia, racing provides a mechanism for syndicates to get together to wager in mega pool wagers such as the V75 and Pick-6. In the example cited, a punter with an online account may join a syndicate which will deduct money out of his account to pay for their share of the syndicate’s wagers on the V75. By getting together as a syndicate, they can cover more combinations giving each player a better chance of hitting the V75. Dean suggests providing such a mechanism would be good as it would provide a means to increase participation in gambling on horse racing in general.

While I agree with Dean’s assertion that racing in North America should facilitate the establishment of syndicates for our mega pool wagers, the fascination by race tracks on mega wagers highlights my assertion that racing doesn’t know how to market to the casual fan. Race tracks have been adding Pick-4, Pick-6+, Superfecta, and Pentafecta wagers to their racing menu in an effort to offer wagers that will have large pay-offs to attract gamblers. No doubt these wagers are attracting the interest of our serious gamblers (the jury is out on the Pentafecta), but what do they do for attracting the interest of the casual horse player and developing new fans? I suspect little.

In the United States when Pick-6 pools get particularly large, there are informal syndicates that pool their money to play the Pick-6. What does this tell you? For the casual horse player, the Pick-6 is a sucker bet. Let’s say you are a casual gambler who goes to the track with $100 for the night. If you were to play two horses in each leg of the Pick-6, that would be sixty-four combinations. You would have $36 left to wager the rest of the night and those sixty-four combinations wouldn’t give you a particularly good chance to hit the Pick-6. After a couple of times playing the Pick-6, the causal bettor will realize this bet is not for them. The casual gambler can play the Superfecta, after all, isn’t that why many tracks offer a $.10 wager on the Superfecta? Well, this is fine if you have favorites running out of the money but when you have a gambler boxing four horses for $2.40, winning a $13.00 pay-off is not going to excite them.

What the race tracks need to do is develop wagers where a casual bettor has a chance to win a three or four figure pay-off with a modest wager. Yes, a lottery type pay-off will attract people, but after a few times losing at the track those people won’t return. Many casual players will be satisfied winning a more modest paying wager with a reasonable investment; after all, all those slot players are not hitting the jackpot. Just get one non-favorite in a Pick-3 sequence and you typically are guaranteed a three figure pay-off. A gambler does not have to play those many combinations to have a reasonable chance to win. If a track does not offer a rolling Pick-3, they need to do so. It is also time to offer wagers like double exactas or double quiniellas; again wagers which can produce a reasonable pay-off without a huge investment by a gambler. Wagers like this will keep casual players coming to the track. Why worry about the casual player? Today’s casual player become tomorrow’s serious gamblers. They are the ones who are going to bring their children with them and expose them to racing and develop the next generation of fans. The casual fans are the ones who will bring moribund race tracks back to life.

This is not to say we should not be developing more attractive wagering options for big gamblers as well; we just need to realize they are not the same wagers. Racing needs the big gamblers in the short term, but like baseball, you need to develop your casual fans for the future. Developing attractive wagering options is the key.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sulky Arms Race

Down Under, Monkey King won the Miracle Mile in an Australasian record time (1:50.8) racing with a newly developed AdvantEdge Pro II Australasian Model sulky. Whether or not this attributed to Monkey King’s performance is unknown. What is known is there will be a lot of horsemen down under looking to upgrade their racing bikes.

Prior to the introduction of the modified sulky, standardbred races were much slower than they are now. Did it hurt the sport that our horses were pacing in 1:56 instead of 1:48? I don’t think so. Are breeders improving the breed or are the new race marks being hung on new stallions the result of the latest generation of race bikes? My suspicion is race bikes have more to do with the new generation of world record holders than improved breeding.  However, horsemen are look for whatever edge they can get over their competition so they look to the latest and greatest race bikes. 

Now a days, there is no one race bike, there is (in no particular order) the X-factor, Flex-Lite, Advantage 6.3, multiple varieties of Black Jacks, Razer Os, 4-Stars, Reactor bikes, and a slew of others.  Just to give you an idea as to how many sulkies are legal for racing in the United States, you may check this list

One has to wonder if the sulky arms race is doing more harm than good in the long run. In some aspects, harness racing is becoming like NASCAR, races are often being won in the labs of race bike manufacturers, who develop new generations of bikes that are more aerodynamic and faster than their predecessors. The manufacturers get their bikes approved and wait for the orders to come in from drivers and trainers. With some of these bikes costing as much as $5,000 each, what happens?

The leading drivers and stables go out and buy the new bike. They start winning a higher percentage of races forcing the other drivers and stables to buy a new bike if they can afford it with the cost of the new bike passed on to the owners. Can’t afford the new bike? Continue to struggle and eventually you will see an owner leaving the sport and a driver/trainer searching for a new career. Then a newer revolutionary bike gets introduced and the same thing occurs again. The end result is while harness racing wants to attract new owners; we make it tougher for the small time horsemen and owners to stay in the business.

Recognizing new bikes will continue to be developed, racing needs to take some steps to slow down the influx of new race bikes. While the USTA will continue to approve race bikes as applications are made, race commissions should only allow sulkies which were available to the public at the start of the first race meet in the state; any new bikes released mid season would not be allowed to be used until the following race season. This will level the playing field somewhat between the larger and smaller stables; at least for the current year.

We want new owners, yet we stack the cards against them.  Let's slow down the introduction of race bikes and give potential owners a fighting chance against the stables with deep pockets. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Lebanon Aftermath - Ways to Help

For anyone who would like to help out the victims impacted by the tragic fire at Lebanon Raceway this past Saturday, there are a couple of funds you may contribute to:

A fund organized by the OHHA.  You may make a check payable to "Lebanon Horsemen's Disaster Relief Fund" and mail it to the Lebanon Horsemen’s Relief Fund, National City Bank, Attn: Larry Elovitz, Branch Manager, 763 Neil Ave., Columbus, OH 43215.

A fund organized by Lebanon Raceway.  You may make a contribution to the "Barn 16 Donation Account" and mail it to LCNB National Bank, 2N. Broadway, Lebanon, OH 45036.

Others are finding other ways to help the victims.  You may read about some of these efforts, including more details about these two funds here

Preventing Another Lebanon Raceway Fire

In the aftermath of the tragic fire at Lebanon Raceway, the question needs to be asked, why were there no sprinklers or fire detection systems in the stables? More importantly, why don’t people learn? Just twenty one years ago there was another major fire there which killed 35 horses.  It is safe to say if there was a sprinkler system installed, we would not be mourning the lose of two horsemen and 43 horses today.

Barn fires occur more often than one would like to think. Every year, you hear of at least two or three barn fires that occurred at a track or fair grounds; then there are the fires that don’t make the news. The fact is barns made of wood and the hay used for bedding which is stored in the barns is highly combustible; a disaster in waiting. All it takes is an electrical short, someone smoking in a barn, a cold day where someone brings in a heater, lightning, or some other circumstance and you have a recipe for disaster.

How could this happen? There is no excuse to not have sprinklers in stable areas. Yes, I know many of these stables have been built years ago, but they certainly can be retrofitted. I recognize many track operators are losing money so it may be a financial hardship for the them to pay for the installation of fire alarms and sprinklers by themselves. These are not excuses for inaction.

There are ways to pay for this retrofitting. If you are in a state where a percentage of the handle is dedicated to capital improvement, use these funds to upgrade the barns. If you operate a track that doesn’t charge for stabling, charge $25 a month towards the cost of installing sprinklers. Already charging for stabling? Add a $25 a month surcharge. Consider using a small portion of your purse account each year to help pay off the installation of sprinklers and alarms. Can’t install sprinklers now? There is fire retardant paint which may be used to slow down the spread of the fire.

I hear the arguments now. Do you know how much it costs to race a horse and now you want to increase my expense? Well, what is the cost of replacing your racing stock or rebuilding your business if your entire stable is wiped out? What is the cost of the loss of human life? I agree race track operators should pay or share in the cost of upgrading their facilities, but if they are unable or unwilling to do so, are you just going to sit by and hope nothing happens?

If you stable at a training center, make sure their stables have sprinklers and fire alarms. If not, tell them to install them or you will find another facility that does. These days there is no excuse for a public stable not to be protected against fire. Hope is not a defense

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Getting Hosed in New York

This past week, NYC-OTB filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. According to NYC-OTB, they will pay their creditors what is owed to them in full. In the short term, breeders and race tracks will breathe a sigh of relief. Though the funds owed to them will be delayed in coming, it will eventually arrive. That’s the good news. As part of this filing, NYC-OTB wants to change the rules regarding payment to the tracks and breeders in the future. Currently, payments are calculated based on gross revenue. NYC-OTB is asking the state legislature to change the funding formula so payments to the tracks and breeders will be calculated on net income.

New York racing is about to get shafted big time. At the present time, the amount of money paid to the tracks and breeders is determined by legislation. In effect, the state determines the commission that the tracks will get from the various OTBs. The tracks don’t have an option to negotiate with the OTBs, but at least they are guaranteed a percentage based on the handle. Now, NYC-OTB wants to change the deal. The New York race tracks (harness and thoroughbred) will still be forced to give NYC-OTB the signal, but they won’t know what, if anything, they will get for their signal as it will depend on net profits. Being OTB is a bastion of political patronage, I think it is safe to say any profits, if any, will be minimal.

You try to go into a store and take a refrigerator from them and tell the salesperson you will pay the store at the end of the year, assuming you made money and see how far you get. Safe to say you will not be coming home with a new refrigerator. Yet, this is the deal NYC-OTB wants the tracks and breeders to take; they want to pay for the product at the end of the year and if there is no money left, the tracks will just have to do without.

This is going to hurt the New York horsemen and race tracks and the sad thing is they can’t do much about it. First of all, rest assured if the deal changes for NYC-OTB, it is going to change for the other regional OTBs. Tracks and horsemen want to complain? Be careful of how much you complain because your VLT percentage may be cut to compensate the municipalities what they used to get from OTB.

The New York OTB model is long obsolete yet it remains a part of the political fabric of New York State. It is time to kill it off once and for all or at least let the race tracks run OTB. New York race tracks and horsemen are powerless to kill the OTB corporations off but the out of state race tracks could. All it takes is for the out of state horsemen to deny their home tracks permission to send their signal to the NY OTBs. However, that won’t happen as they will not be willing to give up the commission earned on wagering from New York State gamblers. The only hope is that investors will not purchase the bonds NYC-OTB is proposing to sell as part of their reorganization.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tragedy at Lebanon Raceway

Early this morning, a fire went through one of the barns at Lebanon Raceway, killing two people and doezens of horses (the number reported varies between  forty-four and sixty-five).  It has been reported that the two people killed were trainer Ronnie Williams and James Edwards.  Racing at Lebanon has been cancelled as a result of today's tragedy.  You may read about the tragedy here.

This is not the first time tragedy struck at Lebanon.  Back in 1988, a similar type of fire struck the fairgrounds, where the racetrack is, killing thirty-five horses.  Depending on further details, I may have something further to say about this tragedy, but for now my thoughts go to those who lost their life. I would like to extend my sympathy to the families of Ronnie Williams and James Edwards for their loss as well as those who suffered losses in this fire.


The "B" Track Tour - Sports Creek Raceway

This week's stop on the "B" track tour brings us to Swartz Creek, MI, the home of Sports Creek Raceway. Sports Creek races a short meet; basically two months. Their current meet which began last week continues through February 7 for a total of 34 racing programs; racing Friday thru Sunday. Like all the harness tracks in Michigan, Sports Creek is struggling. First they are competing against casinos and there is no realistic hope for slot machines at the racetracks. Secondly, their Governor has not been supportive of racing; a couple of times this past year, racing has been threatened with a shut down as a result of the Governor's actions. Lastly, being Michigan has been hit particularly hard during this economic downturn; a trifecta that racing interests from all breeds will find hard to overcome.

Sports Creek to be honest is more of a 'C' track. The horses racing at Sports Creek are coming predominantly from Northville Downs and Windsor Raceway with a few horses coming in from tracks like Colonial Downs, Indiana Downs and Lebanon Raceway. The bottom claiming price is $2,000 with conditioned races starting with non-winners of $500 in the last five starts. Certainly not the caliber of horse which will raise fear at many of our raceways.

While some people will look down at tracks like Sports Creek, tracks like these are essential to the sport as they provide the opportunity for young horsemen to develop their skills. If not for tracks like Sports Creek, where would these horsemen learn their trade? Almost every driver and trainer racing at our major raceways got their start at a track like Sports Creek.

One thing I found interesting is the heavy use of handicapped conditions at Sports Creek Raceway. Many tracks will have their Preferred and Open Handicaps, but here they are used successfully to fill races. For example, tonight there is a race for non-winners of three to five races. In this case, non-winners of three draw for the inside, non-winners of four draw for the middle and non-winners of five races will race from the outside. Similar conditions are written based on money earned. In addition, Sports Creek uses conditioned claiming races; again more so than done at your major raceway. As you can imagine with SCR not being a track that has much simulcasting interest, the wagering menu is simple; you will find no pick-3s or the such here.

Here are the picks for Saturday night:

1st Pace - $1,400  Non-winners of 1 extended pari-mutuel race lifetime
2 - Billiondollarbaby  5-1
3 - Imjispinetanku  7-2
8 - Benns Legacy  3-1

2nd Pace - $1,400  Claiming $5,000; Conditioned - non-winners of 1 ext pm race lifetime
2 - Taylors Beach Toy  7-2
3 - Sweetly Western  9-2
8 - Electric Rita  3-1

3rd Trot - $2,300  Non-winners of 3-4-5 ext pm races lt (post positions drawn by number of wins)
7 - Master Cruisin  8-1
1 - Nordic Gentleman  3-1
9 - Hallway to Heaven  7-2
8 -  Addie Mae  9-2

4th Pace - $1,600  Claiming conditioned $5,000; non-winners of 2 ext pm lifetime
3 - All Forthe Marbles  3-1
8 - Nick Stokes  9-2
7 -  Erika Jo  10-1

5th Trot - $1,400  Non-winners of $600 in last five starts 
2 - Geramiawasabulldog  5-1
8 - NV Nicki  4-1
6 - Sunset Lady  6-1

6th Pace - $1,400  Non-winners of $500 in last five starts
1 - Swift Terrific  9-2
3 - Mystery Baron  5-1
6 - Shambala  6-1
4 - Braxton Seelster  3-1

7th Trot  $1,600  Non-winners of 2 ext pari-mutuel races lifetime
3 - Hustlin Hooray  3-1
6 - Lola's Keeper  9-2
7 - The Ellenator  5-1

8th Pace  $3,000  Non-winners of $2,000 in last five starts ; non-winners of $4,000 draw outside
5 - Ellaraider  3-1
3 - Caitlyns Raider  6-1
1 - Keymodel  8-1

9th Pace - $1,600  Non-winners of $1,000 in last five starts
2 - A Toy to Remember  8-1
1 - Fallin Barnes  7-2
5 - Beach Streaker  3-1
3 - Ramgold  8-1

10th Pace - $1,400  Claiming conditioned $2,000; non-winners of last start
3 - Color Me Cam  3-1
1 - Imadragon  5-1
8 - Punch Ball  4-1

11th Pace - $1,800  Non-winners of $1,500 in last five starts
8 - Rip Daddy  7-2
3 - Smoken Cambest  4-1
7 - SF Drifter  8-1

12th Pace - $4,000  Winners over $4,000 in last five starts
2 - T Red  3-1
1 - Ima Forget Me Not  5-1
4 - Allamerican Comet  4-1
6 - Notre PA  8-1

13th Pace - $1,600  Non-winners of $1,000 in last five starts
3 - Armbro Catcher  6-1
5 - Farragut  3-1
8 - Vee Believe  9-2

14th Pace - $1,900  Claiming Handicap $4,000-$5,000
2 - Oakbrook Raider  10-1
8 - SS Regal Raider  7-2
4 - Standforsomething  4-1

15th Pace - $2,100  Claiming Conditioned $9,000; non-winners of 3 ext pm races lt draw inside; non-winners of 4 ext pm races or $10,000 lifetime draw outside
4 - SF Mudslinger  6-1
2 - Briar Clip  7-2
7 - In A Artbeat  10-1
9 - Give Me The Money  5-1

16th Pace - $3,000  Non-winners of $4,000 in last five starts
9 - Russell L  5-2
5 - Medal Play  6-1
2 - Tek's Raider  9-2
6 - Boogitydoc Boogity  10-1


Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Best Laid Plans......

Well, it made sense.  Have a matter of a ten day suspension hanging over your heard and planning to go on vacation during the down time?  Why not drop your appeal and go skiing while you are suspended?  Well, that is what Ron Pierce decided to do.  Only one problem, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) has other plans.  They have taken the stand that Pierce should enjoy his vacation, but the suspension will be served on their terms, after vacation. 

Kudos to the KHRC.  Too many times drivers and trainers appeal their suspension merely to keep racing and then decide to drop their appeal when it becomes convenient to serve their suspension.  In Mr. Pierce's case, the period between Chester closing and the Meadowlands opening would have been a convenient time to serve the days and go on vacation.  In this case, the KHRC has decided the days will be served when 'it counts'.  While some people suspect the KHRC will have Pierce serve the days during the 2010 Red Mile meet, based on previous precedent I suspect he will be suspended starting April 29 when the 2010 Kentucky harness racing season kicks off at Players Bluegrass Downs in Paducah. 

Some people are complaining the KHRC has 'it in' for Ron Pierce.  I say good for the racing officials.  Suspension are meant to be a penalty for violating rules, a time away from the sport where you suffer a financial loss for your infraction; it is not meant to be a meaningless slap on a wrist.  This is not about whipping.  This is another case of a driver or trainer gaming the system by appealing a suspension and then dropping an appeal in order to serve a suspension at a more convenient time.  I have seen a Grand Circuit trainer/driver who is based out of the Meadowlands droppping a suspension so he could serve it in January; a real hardship for that participant.  Racing officials in Kentucky deserve credit for not allowing a suspension to become a meaningless slap on the wrist.  One would hope officials would go one step further, add a few days for filing a frivolous appeal.

Perhaps the approach of New York authorities take is the answer to frivolous appeals.  There you often see suspensions reduced when a participant does not initially contest a ruling.  Appeal the fine/suspension, which is your right, know you will serve the full suspension when the racing commission decides; not you.  While it will not eliminate frivolous appeals, it should cut them down