For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shocker in Paris

Oyonnax, driven by driver Sebastian Emault won the 2010 Prix d'Amerique today in an upset of epic proportions, paying 172.5 Euros (paying $36.40 in the United States which had its own wagering pools).  Second in the race was another longshot, Quaker Jet.  Finishing third was last year's race winner Meaulnes du Corta,  The mile rate for the race was 1:56.2.

A more complete story about the race may be found here.

Here is some unedited video from today's race.


NJAW promoted having the Prix d'Amerique simulcast on their wagering program today.  Unfortunately, they did not make a program available to their customers and by the time wagering opened for the big race, the wagering was over.  As for the video?  That was not available either at race time.  And they wonder why events like this are poorly wagered on.

In other news, it seems like last year's most prolific owner, Bulletproof Enterprises has been sidelined, perhaps permanently by the Ontario Racing Commission and the USTA.  Some people were wondering what took things so long, but unfotunately, until certain things became public the regulatory agencies likely had to bide their time to act. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Day of Reckoning Approaches?

It is a matter of time until racing comes out against Governor Christie's transition team proposal regarding racing having to survive on its own; racing fewer days and without any subsidy. No doubt if this proposal were to be implemented, it would send shockwaves through racing and not just the standardbred industry. While some states have refused to permit slot machines at race tracks, New Jersey would be the first state to cut racing off completely from any form of subsidy (purse supplement or VLT revenue). The theoretical of what would happen to racing without assistance may about to become reality. Update:  Actually Michigan had a supplement from casino licensing but that was negotiated away with the horsemen and race tracks' consent. 

Those who have been delusional in thinking VLT revenue will keep on flowing forever have been put on notice; the day of reckoning is approaching. In Pennsylvania, the legislature continues to nibble away at the horsemen's share of VLT revenue; some states with racinos are allowing or considering stand alone casinos to open, taking away revenue from horsemen. Additional states allowing gaming means the revenue will be divided into more slices, reducing not only the horsemen’s share but the states’ share also which will put pressure on their budgets. As states continue to search for money to fund their spending they are going to question why money which can be used for education and other programs is being spent subsidizing an industry where as little as 5% of the purses are funded by wagering.

Those who think government will continue to support the industry forever have been proven wrong. It is time for hard decisions to be made to make racing self sufficient. Despite what the doomsayers say, racing will survive and be self sufficient. All it takes is a willingness to make hard choices. It is time for those unwilling to make the tough decisions to be pushed aside.

Dean over at Pull the Pocket has a guest handicapping Saturday night’s O’Brien Awards being presented on Saturday night. Since these awards are based on racing performances north of the border, it may be interesting to get a Canadian perspective of the year 2009.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rolling Over?

One can't help but wonder if standardbred and thoroughbred racing is rolling over when it comes to Governor's Christie's Transition Team report regarding the future of racing in New Jersey which was discussed over the weekend here.  I can understand the silence over the weekend, but here we are three days into the work week and other than a few isolated comments, there has been no protest or any statement from any industry group.  One needs to wonder why?  True this report is merely recommendations to the Governor who can accept or reject all or part of the report but unchallenged, the report will gain momentum.  Perhaps horsemen are shell shocked that this report ever saw the light of day after contributing large amount of funds to the Governor's election campaign?  The silence is deafening.  I wish someone could explain this to me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Prix d'Amerique Time

This Sunday, the $1,410,000 Prix d'Amerique will be contested at the Vincennes Racetrack outside of Paris, France.  This 2,700 metres (1 2/3 mile) race is the biggest standardbred race of the French racing calendar and is always a well attended event with Eurpoe's best traditinally competing.  Unlike American racing which is centered on younger horses; this race is limited to horses between the ages of four and ten; geldings need not apply.  The last American winner was Moni Maker back in 1999.

Unlike North American races, there are unique qualifying standards to be able to race in the Prix.  A horse must have earned at least $225,000 since January 1, 2009 with at least $43,000 of that amount earned in harness (in France, horses race in both harness and under saddle and it is not uncommon for trotters to race in both).  Priority is given to the winners of the 2009 Crtierium and the 2010 Prix Ténor de Baune as well as the top four finishers (based on points) in a series of qualifying races which consist of the Prix de Bretagne, Prix du Bourbonnais, Prix de Bourgogne and Prix de Belgique.  When determining the rest of the field, the highest adjusted money earners get to race (earnings are adjusted based on the age of the horse with the younger horses getting the biggest adustment).

An interesting fact is while the race is typically contested with a standing start, the race condition actually calls for the use of a starting gate when there are nine or less starters declared.   

Due to the lack of North American participation in this year's edition, there has been little mention of the race.  The race will be simulcast by the Meadowlands both on track and through their NJAW.  First race on the simulcast program (a small number of the total races will be 9:40am EST).
Here is the replay of the 1999 Prix d'Amerique won by the super American mare, Moni Maker:

The official Prix d'Amerique website may be accessed here (a few of the pages have translation available).

Monday, January 25, 2010

An Illustration for Less Racing

Standardbred racing returns to Chicago on Wednesday evening, January 27. While horsemen will be glad to be back in action, these are not happy times in Chi-town. It has been announced purses have been cut 25% for the start of the 2010 race meet at Balmoral and Maywood Parks. $4,000 claimers will be racing for a $1,800 purse with the FFA going for $10,000. We are not talking about tracks which handle less than $100,000 a night; handle often approaches $1 million each day. How do horsemen find themselves in this situation?

As you know, it is not only how much is wagered on the races, it is where it the money is wagered. Approximately 80% of the handle at Balmoral and Maywood is generated out of state where for each dollar wagered, $.014 gets contributed to the purse account versus the $.0475 to $.1175 contributed for each dollar wagered on track. Back in the old days, $1 million dollars bet on track may have contributed around $100,000 to the purse account. These days, using the 80% (simulcast) - 20% (on-track) split regarding where the gambling dollar is wagered, only $31,600 would go to the purse account. Is there any wonder the tracks have been overpaying purses? At the end of 2009, the horsemen's purse account had a deficit of $2.3 million (after starting 2009 with a deficit of $1.3 million). The purses were cut to reduce the deficit in the purse account.

Did you wonder why Balmoral and Maywood did not race the first three weeks of 2010? Racing was cancelled to help bring down the deficit in the purse account. By not racing, the deficit in the purse account was reduced to $1.5 million thanks to the horsemen’s purse account earning $800,000 by not racing, primarily due to simulcasting.

This is a perfect example why there needs to be less racing at each track. The current model does not permit this much racing. The horsemen were able to earn $800,000 by not racing for a three week period. For illustration purposes, let's say there was no deficit in the purse account. If Balmoral and Maywood raced only six months of the year, horsemen would have earned roughly $6.9 million dollars for their purse account to be distributed the rest of the year. This means for the other six months, racing ten races a night five days a week, the average purse for each race would be $5,300 without any wagering taking place. With simulcasting on other races in addition to wagering on the live product, the purses would be even higher.

Earlier it was demonstrated how little money is generated for the purse account as a result of out of state wagering. The only way a significant amount of money can be added to the purse account through ADW and simulcast wagering would be if more money went through the pools. With so many tracks racing at one time, there is no real way to increase wagering on any one track. If we had less tracks racing at one time by cutting dates, money which may have been wagered on other tracks would find its way into the Balmoral/Maywood pools allowing for increased contributions to the purse account. Perhaps the earlier $31,000 contribution to the purse account would now be $50,000 a day? Including the purse money earned during the down time and actual wagering during live racing, we may be dealing with an average purse of $10,300.

I realize this is a simplified example based on certain assumptions but this illustration clearly shows how horsemen would benefit by racing fewer days. While horsemen would need to travel during the year, wouldn't it be better to race all year for a minimum purse of $4,000 instead of finding yourself racing for $1,800 racing the whole year at one track?

If each track cut their race meets significantly, there would be more horses available for each track racing resulting in fuller fields and better racing. Some of the cheaper horses may find themselves without racing opportunities. I am not suggesting each track cut their race meets in half overnight, but cut the number of race dates over three years would allow for the horse supply to reach proper levels and allow horsemen to gradually adjust to the new racing model.

It can be done the hard way or the easy way. Sooner or later it is going to happen.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Big Changes Coming to New Jersey?

The world of racing is about to change; especially in New Jersey, if the proposals from Governor Christie’s Gaming, Sports and Entertainment transition team are adopted. While the Governor is committed to maintaining racing in the state, it will look a lot different. The goal of the proposals is to make racing self-sufficient without any state subsidies. While you may read the entire report here, here is my take of what this ultimately means should the proposals be implemented.

• There will be no VLTs or sports betting at New Jersey race tracks.
• There will be a significant cut in the number of racing days in New Jersey for all breeds.
• Purses will no longer be artificially inflated.
• While not specifically mentioned, the days of racing at Freehold Raceway may be numbered.
• The Hambletonian will be looking for a new home.
• The long term goal is to redevelop the Meadowlands and move all racing to Monmouth Park.

Conspicuously absent from the report is any mention of VLTs at any of the race tracks. The report also removes sports wagering from the equation. The report specifically indicates no attempt should be made to introduce intra-state Internet or sports wagering until Federal statute changes.

The report indicates that legislative changes are required to eliminate the current requirement of racing a certain number of days. It is unclear if it calls for just modifying the number of days or eliminating the requirement completely. The report also calls for horsemen agreements to be reopened and renegotiated in terms of racing days and purse structure. Thoroughbred racing at the Meadowlands would cease and Monmouth Park would race a fifty day thoroughbred meet at Monmouth Park. With the removal of the thoroughbred meet from the Meadowlands calendar, there would be more flexibility for the Meadowlands in its scheduling of a standardbred meet.

Being the report calls for the end of state subsidies after the 2010 calendar year, the Meadowlands will not be able to support the stakes program it currently maintains as wagering will dictate the size of the purse account. It is safe to assume there will no longer be 180 day race meets so overnight purse cuts may not be as severe as they would be if there was no cut in racing days. However, it seems unavoidable that the Meadowlands will be losing its position as the number one track.

While the report does not specifically mention Freehold Raceway, there is reference to a consolidation of racing in the state. My initial suspicion is Freehold Raceway and Atlantic City Race Course will be allowed to compete in the market but without subsidies; it seems to be a matter of time before they succumb. The proposal allows the NJSEA to be given control of the remaining allocations unopened OTW sites which Freehold and Atlantic City are unwilling or unable to open (it is noted that OTWs are highly profitable). Legislative changes are being proposed to make it easier to open OTWs.

A long term goal is to seriously consider consolidating racing at Monmouth Park and redevelop the Meadowlands property. Were this to happen, it is clear the Hambletonian will be seeking a new home (assuming it has not already moved due to purse account concerns) as the runners would likely continue racing during the summer. It seems unlikely there would be any consideration to make Monmouth another Woodbine where both breeds can race at the same time. Why close the Meadowlands and not Monmouth Park? The Meadowlands property has more potential for redevelopment.

Many people will be upset with this report but the sad truth is the report is dealing with reality. It is time people deal with the fact there is too much racing going on; more than the industry can support and more than there is demand for. The report states the obvious; the industry cannot expect cash-strapped state governments to continue to subsidize the industry (something states with VLTs will eventually have to face). Stakeholders in the industry are going to be forced to make the tough decisions they have been unwilling to make.

Didn’t the Governor promise to support a strong racing industry? Yes he did. Are these the proposals New Jersey horsemen were hoping for when they supported the Governor during his election campaign? No. The governor has made it clear the state is not going to prop up the industry; it is going to have to survive on its own. This is not an impossible task. If horsemen agree to reduce racing days and accept lower purses, racing will survive. If the horsemen are unwilling to do so, the industry will continue to decline and eventually cease to exist. A strong industry does not necessarily mean ‘big’; it means it is able to sustain itself. Track management and horsemen are going to have to make changes to make the sport competitive in the market. It can be done. There needs to be a willingness to do so.

Jobs are going to be lost. There is going to be pain. Retrenchment is unavoidable. However, out of this retrenchment can grow a stronger self sufficient industry, one which will survive. And if Governor Christie has his way, it will start in New Jersey.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Horseplayers Revolt

For any track thinking of raising their takeout to raise additional revenue, here is a cautionary tale. Los Alamitos, a quarter horse race track in California, had recently asked the CHRB for a 2% increase in the take out to increase revenue for the track, horsemen and the satellite locations in state which were threatening to close early and not take the signal from Los Al. The owner of Los Al did state sympathy for horseplayers, realizing it would not be popular for them as it will take money out of their pockets, but it was necessary to keep the satellite locations open.  However, if the takeout increase was only to keep the satellite locations open, he would have asked for a 1% takeout increase (the other 1% of the increase is being split between horsemen and the track).

Well, the horseplayers have revolted. Thanks to the Internet and with the help of HANA, an apparent boycott of Los Al races has begun. The handle dropped roughly 25% last night as a result of an Internet campaign by horseplayers. If this protest continues to be successful, a message will be sent not only to Los Alamitos management, but to track management, horsemen, and racing commissions all over, regardless of breed that today’s horseplayers are sophisticated to know they have a choice where to spend their discretionary gambling dollars and will vote with their money. Gamblers love the game but it is hard enough to win as is; there is no need to make the game tougher by increasing takeouts.

It is basic economic theory that the cheaper a product is, the more consumers will buy. To put it in context of this discussion, the lower the takeout, the more people will bet and increase the handle. Obviously you can't price the product too low where you lose money, but no one is realistically expecting the takeout rate to drop to 5% or so. Hopefully, with this Los Al protest, race track management and horsemen will remember this basic rule of economics.

To the credit of many race tracks, they recognize the benefit of cutting takeout rates. Unfortunately, there is a history of simulcast locations and ADWs dropping a signal when a takeout reduction has been attempted, thus killing the handle. The question must be asked is this punishment of dropping a signal an exercise of the free market or is it restraint of trade? I suspect one day this may be resolved in court and if ruled restraint of trade, then you will see takeout rates dropping all over.

I sympathize with Los Al attempting to keep the satellite wagering locations open, but they must realize with the rise of ADWs, the need for these OTB locations is decreasing. Rather than attempting to prop up these OTBs (they have been subsidizing some of these locations to keep them open) at the expense of horseplayers, the answer may be to adapt to the new business model instead.

Presidential Final Preview

The Meadowlands presents a troika of late closing finals on Saturday night with the $117,000 Presidential final being the first major test of FFAllers in the United State for 2010.  While this FFA event misses some of the stars of the FFA ranks (taking time off), the Presidential still represents a solid field of aged pacers currently in training.  In addition to the Presidential, the $90,000 Complex and Clyde Hirt finals will also be contested.

While it is early in the meet and will likely change, the dreaded ten hole is not the post of doom it traditionally is thus far.  If you ignore post position eleven with only four starts, the ten hole has the second best win percentage (11.5%) thus far, trailing just post position five with its 17.7% win percentage.  The statistics are more in line with the norm when you look at the percentages for place and show.  The track has also been favoring speed as statistics are showing very few horses are coming from off the pace thus far.  So if you have a horse coming out of the ten hole with early speed, as of now it is much harder to dismiss it.  These and more interesting handicapping statistics are available from the Meadowlands website.     

Here are my preliminary selections for the major races on Saturday's Meadowlands card.  Depending on the odds of these horses, the actual plays may be different.  Program pages for the Presidential, Complex, and Clyde Hirt are available here for free.

3rd Race - Pace - $30,000 Open
7 - Beau Rivage N (8-1) - Can upset with trip and has been racing credibly against better FFAllers in IL.
4 - Poker Hat (5-1) - Gone three overland trips in a row.  A little luck can seal the victory.
3 - Tarver Hanover (4-1) - Fastest of all in last start but is stepping up.

6th Race - Pace - $117,000 Presidential Final - FFA
6 - Western Shore (5-2) - Lack of early speed inside seals the victory.
7 - Jeremy's Successor (9-2) - Second best in field.
3 - Noble Falcon (10-1) - Ability to pick up the pieces.

9th Race - Pace - $90,000 Complex Final - 5yo and under; nw4 ext pm races or $125,000 lifetime as of 11/15/09
 5 - Pacinello (9-2) - Won off a month layoff.  Should be sharper and looks to repeat.
 4 - Real Image (3-1) - Riding two race win streak with these.  Will be there if top pick falters.
10 - Intheblinkofaneye (8-1) - Will be flying late to pick up the show spot.
 6 - F Train (7-2) - Picks up the final placing with his consistent efforts.

10th Race - Pace - $90,000 Clyde Hirt Final - 4yo and under stallion and geldings; nw 3 ext pm or $75,000 lifetime as of 11/15/09; Coupled - Start Party, Tommy Tiger, Magicmaker Hanover; Pantastic Guy, Going Native
7 (pp 10) - Majestic Jackpot (4-1) - Looked good with two move effort last; can follow for victory.
6 (pp  9)  - Real Joke (6-5) - Three race win streak; will be over bet.
2 (pp 2) - Pantastic Guy (8-1) - Upset chance with favorable post draw.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Governor, Same Old Story

On Standardbred Canada's website, Mike Gulotta, a prominent horse owner and breeder in New Jersey who happens to have been a member of Governor Christie's transition team, is reported as saying New Jersey racing is in its best position in years. He claims Governor Christie's goal is to have both a vibrant casino and racing industry in the New Jersey.

If I can only be so optimistic.

As a result of a state budget impasse in 2006, the state government in New Jersey was shut down. Since the state government was shut down, the employees who regulate the Atlantic City casinos and racetracks could not be paid. Hence, the casinos, the Meadowlands, and Monmouth Park were forced to shut down, despite the fact the casino and horse racing industries paid the state for the regulators who monitored them.

On the first full day Governor Christie was in office, he issued eight executive orders. In Executive Order #6, Governor Christie declared state employees who monitor the casinos as essential employees which means in the event there is another budget impasse which results in a government shutdown, the regulators who monitor the casinos will be able to remain on the job keeping the casinos open. No mention, no separate executive order regarding employees who monitor horse racing. Despite the fact the racetracks pay for their own regulators, should there be another government shutdown (quite possible being the legislature is controlled by Democrats and the governor is Republican) the casinos will remain open and the racetracks will be shuttered.

Does this sound like an honest broker, someone interested in a strong casino and racing industry? If day one of the Christie Administration is any indication, there are more dark days ahead for the horse racing industry. Racing interests should be contacting the Governor's office asking where racing’s executive order is. If one is not forthcoming, it may be a case of "new governor, same old story".

Another thoroughbred track has made a move to save unwanted horses.  River Downs has designated a "Rescue Stall" where an owner may surrender a horse they have given up on or are unable to support.  All the owner needs to do is fill out a form listing the problems the horse has and River Downs will keep the horse until they can arrange for its tranfer to a horse rescue group.  Seems like a sensible response.  When will any harness tracks step up? 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Freehold Downward Spiral Continues

It has been announced the James B Dancer and Helen Dancer stake races have been dropped from the Freehold Raceway schedule in a move necessitated by Penwood's continued refusal to accept the purse enhancement agreement's terms.  While management's concerns are understandable, being this was the last year of the agreement, one would have hoped management would have acepted the terms as a sign of good faith to the standardbred industry and Governor Christie. 

While the early season Dexter Cup trot and the Cane Pace as well as their filly companion stakes will continue to be contested, it is clear that Freehold is continuing down the path of irrelevance.  It wasn't too long ago that Freehold was a track many horsemen wanted to compete at.  Now, horsemen are waiting for spring so they can escape and race elsewhere.

Maybe it is a good thing the Dancer stakes have been cancelled after all.  A name so revered in harness racing shouldn't be cheapened by being affixed to a stakes races being contested at what is quickly becoming a 'C' track. 

Sundays at the Meadowlands

Sunday racing is underway at the Meadowlands. Racing on Sundays at the Meadowlands has always been a tricky situation. While it provides an opportunity to expose harness racing to people who for are unable to attend the races at night, their simulcast signal competes against plenty of thoroughbred tracks which race on Sundays. As a result of competition for simulcasting dollars, wagering on the Meadowlands' races leaves plenty to be desired. Since wagering is poor on Sundays, the Meadowlands tends to race a weak program on Sundays. Often the card consists of bottom level conditioned and claiming races with a large number of trotting races; not a formula to encourage heavy wagering and it is certainly reflected in the handle. This needs to change.

The question needs be asked why the Meadowlands races on Sundays in the first place. If the goal is to attract new fans to the sport, then the Meadowlands can continue to race these weak cards realizing the handle is going to be poor those days. If the goal is to give people who normally are unable to go to the races at night due to work obligations or are unwilling to go out on cold winter nights, then there is a need to upgrade the card to encourage wagering. I am not suggesting the card be the caliber of a Saturday evening, but including two or three mid-level conditioned or claiming races on the program is not unreasonable.

Rather than racing on a Sunday afternoon, a better option may be to race at 5pm where the race card is completed by 8:00pm. This will allow people unwilling or unable to come to the races during the week to come to the track and be home at a reasonable time. With the Eastern thoroughbred tracks having completed their cards by this time, there would be less competition for simulcast dollars would will allow for improved handle, thus meriting better races to be on the card. If a 5pm Sunday night start turns out to be successful, it may be worth racing on Sunday evenings throughout the standardbred meet.

A bridge jumper got burnt at Cal Expo on Saturday night. I don't understand the logic of bridge jumping; risking a large amount of money to get a five cents on the dollar return on the investment. In this case, a person wagered $10,000 in an effort to win $500. A person can win nineteen times in a similar situation and if they lose the twentieth time, the gambler will end up losing money. When a bridge jumping situation arises, a better move may be to figure out how 'sure' a sure thing is. It could be a situation where betting to show on every other horse in a race may be a better play; at least you can win an amount worth the risk you are taking.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We Are Not Alone

During the end of the Eclipse Awards presentation on TVG, Rachel Alexandra owner Jess Jackson was talking about what is needed for thoroughbred racing.  Some of his comments were:

  • The need for a racing commissioner for thoroughbred racing.
  • A need for standardized medication policies.
  • The need to make it financially plausable for owners to keep their horses racing longer (higher purses).
  • The need for people to keep the stars racing.
Apparently, we are not alone with our problems. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why Fix the Problem, Increase the Takeout

Many of us recognize the problem with the high takeout horseplayers have to deal with on a daily basis. At best it decreases the handle due to the churn being reduced; at worst it drives a horseplayer from racing for other gaming alternatives. With the focus of many who read this blog and I being on standardbred racing, we tend to forget many of standardbred racing’s problems cross breeds.

A prime example of this comes to us from Los Alamitos Race Course in California, arguably the Churchill Downs of the quarter horse world (actually they run a mixed breed meet). Like many race tracks, wagering is down at Los Al which is impacting purses and track profits. Since many gamblers now wager from home through ADWs, the handle on Los Alamitos has gone down enough that many of the satellite wagering locations (OTBs to most people), have threatened to drop the quarter horse signal unless they receive more compensation. Obviously, something needed to be done.

While the economy is hurting, I suspect the major reason for Los Alamitos’ handle declining is related to their product. At Los Alamitos, a full field consists of ten horses. On Saturday night's card, there are nine races carded. Of those nine races, five races have six entries, three races have seven entries, and one race has eight entries. They are suffering the same problem the Meadowlands had last year once Chester and Pocono opened; they are unable to get full fields. Short fields mean smaller payoffs which results in decreased wagering.

Last year when the Meadowlands had a problem filling their cards, they addressed it by dropping one night of racing each week for a period of time and by writing races for lower classes. What has Los Alamitos done? Instead of eliminating one day a week from the race calendar so they can have full fields the other nights until the horse population improves, their answer has been to ask the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) to raise the takeout by 2% for all wagers under the mistaken impression this will improve the horsemen and track bottom lines as well as satisfy the OTB demands; this despite all the evidence which indicates an increased takeout will result in a decline in the handle. Rather than asking the horsemen and the track to see if they could work on an agreement to eliminate a night of racing each week, the CHRB approved the request. The end result is there will continue to be short fields and a decline in wagering resulting in a continuing downward spiral.

One day the racing industry on the whole will learn you can't fix your problems by taking it out on the wagering public. Until then, things will continue to get worse.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Last Chance for Iowa?

The final schedule for the 2010 Prairie Meadows meet has been released. Originally, track management sought to end their standardbred program and just fund the Iowa fair circuit. With harness horsemen objecting, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission ordered Prairie Meadows to offer a harness meet of at least ten days. Track management has obliged by scheduling a ten day meet which will run from October 1-16 with purses averaging $55,000 per day.

This in all reality is probably the last chance for standardbred racing at Prairie Meadows. If this year's meet does not show significant improvement, it is all but certain that the IRGC will not require Prairie Meadows to offer another meet. Therefore it is paramount that the best possible show be put on in an effort to stimulate wagering interest in their meet.

The question is what, if anything is the industry prepared to do to support the Iowa horsemen? Obviously, there has been little interest in the Prairie Meadows simulcast product so something needs to be done to make the product more attractive. Are any horsemen from the Midwest willing to ship some of their better racing stock in for the two week meet? Are any 'name' drivers not racing in Grand Circuit events willing to offer their services to promote more interest in the meet, not only in Iowa but to make the product more attractive for simulcast locations?

As for the Iowa horsemen, will they be willing to attempt to promote the two week meet as a racing festival to stimulate interest in the meet locally even if it means supporting the festival financially? Will they be resentful or willing to allow some 'name' drivers and shippers to race there? Sure, for those out of state drivers and horses to come in, it will likely mean leaving some money on the table if they race at Prairie Meadows. For the Iowa horsemen, it would mean purse money going out of state and a possible investment to promote the meet.

Why should each group make sacrifices? A successful standardbred meet at Prairie Meadows for those outside of Iowa will help promote the sport and possibly attract new fans that may be willing to wager on out of state harness racing during the off-season. For the Iowa horsemen, a successful standardbred meet will mean another year of racing at Prairie Meadows and help strengthen the fair program and breeding industry. More importantly, it will show if horsemen can look past their parochial interests in order to work for the common good, not just in Iowa but in other states as the need arises.

As short as the Prairie Meadows meet is, harness racing can't afford to lose the foothold they have in Iowa. While the fair racing would continue in the immediate future, the loss of the only pari-mutuel meet in Iowa will spell the eventual loss of the entire standardbred industry in the state. Here is hoping the industry can pull together.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's Post Time!

The problem with nightly racing shows is they preach to the choir; being geared towards existing racing fans as the shows tend to be merely recaps of the evening's races; possibly adding an interview with a trainer or driver that to a non-racing fan would be quite boring. The Hambletonian and Thoroughbred Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup broadcasts are a little better. There may be some features about the horses and owners, but the vast majority of the time the emphasis is spent on the upcoming race and the gambling aspect of the race. These 'event' shows may draw interest from non-racing fans as well, but by the end of the broadcast, they haven't really learned anything which will make them interested in going to the races. The problem with these shows is they lack entertainment and educational values.

Fortunately, harness racing does have a weekly show which educates and entertains the general public. The show is called "Post Time" and is hosted by Heather Moffett. Now in its twelfth year, Post Time is the perfect vehicle to get new people interested in harness racing. If you are a hard core gambler, this show is not for you as gambling is de-emphasized. The emphasis of this half hour program is to get people interested in harness racing and this is accomplished by showing what a great sport harness racing is as are the people involved. There are plenty of features involving drivers, trainers and owners, sometimes serious, sometimes not. There are educational segments as well as entertainment features in the program along with a recap of some of the races conducted the past week. Through this program, novices and people who never have attended a race learn about the fundamentals of standardbred racing in a non-threatening environment and learn of upcoming events. With some of the features dealing with horsemen getting involved in charitable events, the viewer can develop a positive view of racing. The bottom line is the viewer learns that racings is fun and are hopefully enticed to attend the races. For a sampling of the show, here is a portion of the 2009 Year in Review show.

The show is televised on Sunday and Monday mornings in the Delmarva area and is later posted on Youtube. Unfortunately, being the show is geared towards racing in the Delmarva region, in its current format the show has only a local appeal. Ideally, the show would go national with Heather doing many of the features with perhaps local correspondents to customize segments of the show for local markets. If that can't be done, other racetracks should try to develop shows of a similar format for their geographical area.

No, Post Time isn't going to get big time gamblers suddenly betting on harness racing, but what it will do is help attract a new generation of race fans; something which is important to do. After all, I haven't heard any track having to turn away newcomers lately.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Future of Racing - No Race Tracks?

Years ago, an investor group attempted to open a new race track in Pennsylvania. This track would have been different from the typical race track. There would have been no grandstand as the race track would be used for studio racing. The horses would race, with betting being conducted off track. The Pennsylvania Racing Commission turned this plan down. I imagine people thought whoever came up with this idea was a little bit nuts. Turns out this investor group may have been visionaries ahead of their time.

Now, look at Quebec. In an effort to resume racing in the province, an investor group of owners wants to race at a former training center, racing fifty days this year. No grandstand. People will be welcome to watch the races festival-style out of the back of their vehicles but betting would occur in teletheatres in the province and via ADW wagering (I imagine there may be a few tote machines on site). Purses will be generated by wagering on their races as well as wagers made at their teletheatres and through account wagering in the province. There will be no VLT revenue for horse racing in Quebec.

Not only do I think this plan may work, it may be the future of racing, especially if VLT revenue disappears. It also may be what is needed to reduce the takeout punters are required to pay. Why is the takeout on racing so high? Sure, some of it is greed but even if you eliminated greed, the takeout on horse racing will always be higher than other gaming options due to the expense involved with running a race track. There is the cost involved with having a grandstand (mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance, etc.) as well as the employee expenses required. If these expenses were eliminated, the operators of the race meets can afford to take a cut in the take out and still be profitable.

Can't work? The amount of betting being done on-track is continuing to shrink with more handle coming from off track wagering facilities, the Internet and ADWs; this shift will continue as technology improves. Why can't we have race meets at training facilities? Build towers for the patrol judges, a judges’ stand, convert some barns to ship-in and detention barns as well as a paddock. Have a building which will house all the necessary equipment and a few amenities (perhaps some temporary mutuel windows, concession stand, restrooms) as well as adding lighting, if racing at night. Fans are welcome to come to the track and experience racing in a festival setting. Optionally, a harness track can be built inside a thoroughbred track. The facility can be used for training one breed with the other breed coming in just to race.

Let's say a state had a consortium which ran the pari-mutuels within the state. They would operate off-track wagering facilities and they may optionally have their own ADW system. They would 'lease' the training center(s) and run meet(s) there. Purses would come from wagers made through the consortium's facilities (in state and out of state races) as well as wagers made on the consortium's races coming from remote locations and ADWs. Meets can occur at more than one training facility within the state with different size tracks to make the racing more challenging.

Horsemen may not like the idea initially, but considering racing under the current business model is failing in non-racino states, and being propped up by VLTs in the other states, when the VLT revenue is gone, they may have no choice.

Assuming all the approvals are received for the 2010 or 2011 season, all eyes should be focused on what will be happening in Quebec. We may be seeing the future of racing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Time to Join H.A.N.A.

Are you a member of the Horseplayers Association of North America (H.A.N.A.)?  If you are a person who wagers on racing, why haven't you?  H.A.N.A. is an organization that represents horseplayers' interests with race tracks and other segments of the racing industry.  What does H.A.N.A. stand for?  From their website:

H.A.N.A. is a grass roots Non Profit organization made up of horseplayers just like you. Simply put, we are not happy with track management and horsemen's groups. We are less than thrilled with what they are doing to the game that we love.

Instead of promoting awareness of the sport and growing handle they have become bogged down with industry infighting and have completely forgotten something: The importance of the customer.

We are tired of the signal wars, exclusive ADW deals, excessive takeouts, breakage, trainers who are rewarded for cheating, an obsolete tote system, and an attitude that smacks of entitlement.

We want open access to all track signals for all ADWs, takeouts that are competitive with other forms of gambling, the abolishment of breakage, severe penalties for trainers who cheat, and odds updates in real time. But most of all we want those who run racing to recognize us. The player matters. The player is a stakeholder too. Without money bet by us players the game would cease to exist.

We can effect change. We can bring racing back to the prominence it once held in people's hearts on a national level. But it won't be easy and it won't come overnight. It's going to take vision, committment, and effort. But change IS possible... IF we band together in numbers.

We are an independent grass roots player's organization that desires change.

There is no charge to become a member of H.A.N.A. so why not join?  Do you think as a small time gambler there is no sense in joining this organization?  True, many of the members are people who wager a lot more than you and I but any changes they are able to achieve will benefit you.  Besides, you are probably a bigger horseplayer than you think.  Take a look at how much you wagered in 2009 (if you are a member of an ADW that should be easy); odds are you will be surprised as to how much you wagered over the year when you consider the churn (you may go to the track with a set amount but if you bet some of your winnings within the same night you are actually betting more than you realize).  Wouldn't you like a group to help make the game better for you?  There is strength in numbers.  It is easy to ignore an individual, it is much tougher to ignore an organization representing thousands of individuals.

H.A.N.A. represents horseplayers who wager on all breeds of horse racing.  Yes, up to now they have been concentrating primarily on thoroughbred racing but they have had meetings with standardbred interests.  It is  important to remember that changes implemented in one form of horse racing tend to transfer over to the other breeds so H.A.N.A.'s actions with the runners will benefit harness racing fans in the long run.  As time goes on and their membership base expands, they will have the opportunity to expend more time with harness racing interests; especially if more of their members are harness racing fans.

Changes that benefit horseplayers benefits the horse racing industry in the long run as it will result in increased wagering and interest by people who gave up the game as well as attract new fans.   If you wager on horse racing of any breed, you can help by becoming a member of H.A.N.A..  You can visit H.A.N.A.'s website for more information and to join.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

How Do We Reduce Dates?

Many people, myself included, believe one of the biggest problems harness racing is facing is there is too much racing. Too many dates results in a fixed pool of wagering dollars being split in many small pieces which results in pools so small that anyone other than the recreational gamblers is likely not to bet. Too many races results in horse shortages at race tracks which results in short fields and inferior racing which further erodes wagering. Basically, we are cheapening the product. This needs to stop.

Yesterday, there were eight harness tracks racing in the United States (this excludes the eight Canadian tracks which some ADW and simulcast customers can wager on). Eight tracks racing in the middle of winter. If we were still in the pre-Internet days, this would not be a problem as each track would have their own market and the vast majority of the wagering was done on track. With tracks like the Red Mile offering simulcast wagering on eleven harness tracks in one day; it is clear that the gambling dollar is being divvied up into miniscule portions. When tracks like the Red Mile and Freehold take wagers on Canadian tracks like Fraser Downs, it is clear to see there is no local market anymore; a track in East Rutherford, New Jersey is in the same geographical market as a track in Cloverdale, British Columbia. Thanks to the Internet, within five years this new market will be including harness tracks in Australasia and Europe. With the vast amount of gambling dollars being wagered off track, this spells disaster for harness racing. Clearly the number of racing days needs to be cut so the gambling pie is cut into fewer pieces.

Racing days will be cut, there is no question. While the market will decide how the dates will be cut, we can influence how the reduction will occur. Many people will argue we need to get rid of race tracks with only the strongest surviving. They are wrong. The problem is not the number of tracks racing; it is the number of days we are racing, especially if we are attempting to expand our audience. It is true with the prominence of the Internet, you don't need to be at a race track to wager; just sign up with an ADW and you are good to go. But just because you have the ability to wager on harness racing doesn't mean you will. You need to be exposed to it; to be able to 'kick the tires' and that is done by visiting a local harness track. Once you are able to go to a race track and experience harness racing up close and learn the fundamentals then you are likely to wager on the sport over the Internet, not before.

We don't need eight month or year round racing at any one track. Our major tracks should race no more than three months a year; the minor ones should race no more than six weeks. With year round simulcast wagering and, in some states, slot revenue, horsemen can be racing for huge purses during these shorter meets. Even at harness tracks without slots, purses would become a lot more meaningful. With fewer tracks racing at any one time, the quality of racing would improve and thanks to larger fields, meaningful wagering pools will make wagering worthwhile for our heavy hitters. More importantly, by keeping the smaller tracks racing for shorter periods of times, we will have the ability to promote these boutique meets and draw large crowds to our 'events' to expose a new generation to the sport. Tracks will be able to generate profits instead of losses by cutting their expenses dramatically.

Such changes can't happen overnight. We need to evolve by gradually reducing dates in coordination with other tracks within a geographical region. Begin offering regional sire stakes programs to complement individual state programs. Give horsemen and the market a chance to gradually adjust to the new market. In the long run, we will have a stronger, more attractive product to offer the wagering public.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Friday Afternoon Fights

Today we take a rare detour to the world of thoroughbred racing.  Yesterday afternoon, at Philadelphia Park, a hockey game broke out during the running of the fifth race.  Jockey Eriluis Vaz deliberately veered over and punched Ademar Santos during the running of the race and then Santos returned the favor which was then responded to by Vaz hitting Santos with the whip. 

I am sure we will find out what caused this incident but the recklessness of Vaz and to a lesser degree Santos is inexcusable.  Not only did they put themselves and their mounts in danger, being near the front of the field, it could have been disastrous for many of the others in the race.  The sad thing is that Vaz returned to ride in later races (Santos apparently had no further mounts).  Apparently, both of these jockeys can continue to ride until a hearing is held which won't be at least for ten days.  What should have happened is that both jockeys should have been immediately taken off any mounts and suspended until a hearing could be held.

It will be interesting to see what incited this incident and to see what kind of justice the stewards hand out.  I assume both of these jockeys will be given plenty of time to contemplate the stupidity of their actions. 

Friday, January 8, 2010

Publicizing Deeds Outside of Racing

Congratulations to Yonkers Raceway driver Jason Bartlett for his selection as a recipient of the Thurman Munson Award from the AHRC-New York City Foundation. AHRC is an organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Jason, along with other sports celebrities will be honored on February 2nd for his work exploits on the track as well as for his philanthropic efforts.

It is always great to see one of racing's own being recognized for their contributions to their community. Unfortunately, we don't see it often enough. This is not to say people within the industry are not generous nor making a difference in their communities; we are doing a poor job in publicizing it. I realize many people prefer their charitable deeds be done without recognition but it is important for the sport to recognize and seek publictiy for those that do good deeds outside of the industry. It is always easy to be indifferent or critical of something where you lack a personal connection. By getting those within our industry involved in charitable organizations, it help harness racing establish a personal connection with the general public. If a person involved in harness racing gets recognized, we need to make sure it gets as much publicity as possible as it helps not only the sport, but the group recognizing our horsemen and industry leaders.

Racing returns to Yonkers Raceway this evening, kicking off the 2010 racing season at The Hilltop.  At this point, with many tracks closed for the winter, there should be enough horses for both racing programs.  Saturday night at the Meadowlands the first leg of the Presidential Series for FFA pacers kicks-off with a full field of eleven pacers taking to the track.  Sunday brings us the first afternoon card of the 2010 Meadowlands meet with ten races on the card. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Indexing Fines?

Has the time come to apply an income test for fines? I think so.

A recent review of fines and suspensions shows several drivers (I am not listing their names, as for purposes of this discussion they are irrelevant). For the same infraction, Drivers A, B and C were each fined $100. Driver A had purse winnings of $12.8 million in 2009; Driver B had purse earnings of $3 million in 2009; Driver C had purse earnings of $452,000. Looking only at the 5% of the purse the driver earns, Driver A earned $640,000; Driver B earned $150,000; Driver C earned $22,600.

If fines are supposed to be a penalty to deter someone from repeating the same infraction, do you think a $100 fine for Driver A is going to deter him from committing the same offense? Hint, he committed the same offense twelve days later and in both cases, he paid his fine and waived his right to appeal before the fines were even published in the report. To him, the fine was a cost of doing business. The fine may have meant something to Driver B but for sure, it hurt Driver C. If this fine was going to deter someone from violating the same rule again, it was Driver C.

What if the fines were indexed like income taxes to the earnings a driver made the previous year or quarter? Let's say the brackets were set up so Driver A was fined $1,000; Driver B fined $500; Driver C $100 for the same infraction. If this was the case, all three drivers may think twice before committing an infraction; it would no longer be a cost of doing business. Indexing should apply to trainer fines as well.

Outrageous you say? I say not. As long as fines are miniscule when compared to a driver's earnings, rules will be disregarded. Indexing fines will force both drivers and trainers to take the rules seriously before the first infraction.

It is worth a look.

In a related subject, Pull the Pocket talks about how Kentucky is cracking down on frivolous appeals of suspensions.  Ontario just increased a penalty on driver Doug McNair and added another $1,500 fine for a frivolous appeal.  If more states and provinces took similar actions more frequently maybe justice wouldn't be delayed like it is now. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Identifying Consigned Horses

On January 18, Tattersalls will be holding their 2010 January Mixed Sales at the Meadowlands.  This sale is usually well attended as many horsemen attending are looking for a horse that is 'Meadowlands ready'; a horse that can drop right into the entry box.  Many of the horses of racing age in this sale will have been qualified and racing prior to the sale.

What does this mean to a horseplayer?  While no guarantee, it stands to figure if a consigned horse is entered to race, the current owner is hoping for a good performance in order to stimulate interest in the horse to increase the eventual auction price of the horse.  In other words, a legitimate handicapping angle (similar to knowing ahead of time which horses have been claimed).  Unfortunately, unless you have the time and patience to cross reference the sales catalog against the racing program, there is a good chance you will be in the dark.  

If race tracks can list in their past performance pages which horse are eligible to races like the Meadowlands Pace or the Hambletonian, it stands to reason they can identify which horses have been consigned to a recognized horse sale; especially if it is being held at the same race track.  If a horse is consigned to a horse sale occurring within a month, it should be specified in the program.  If not specifying next to the name of each horse, on the bottom of each race page there can be a list of horses consigned to an auction.  Not only will this benefit the handicapper, it may stimulate interest in the horse amongst horsemen who were not planning on attending the sale.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Trash Talking Begins

Two days into the Meadowlands 2010 harness meet and people are already trashing the Meadowlands, taking joy in the decline of racing at the Meadowlands; in particular anticipating what will happen when Chester, Pocono and Yonkers reopen for the year. Often, this talk gets ignited when people talk about the quality of racing between the Meadowlands and Yonkers. With the two tracks less than twenty miles apart, comparisons are inevitable.

Let's start with the argument as to which track has the better racing. When it comes to the overall stakes program, the Meadowlands program is clearly superior due to its depth but when it comes to overnight racing, both tracks are pretty much equal with horses with the ability to handle the smaller ovals racing at Yonkers and the others racing at the Meadowlands.  Where the tracks differ is in their desirability to gamblers.  With only eight wagering interests (six if you disregard horses starting from the seventh or eigth post positions) on a half mile oval, there is is higher number of short priced horses on the half mile track wich is less desirable to serious gamblers.

I can understand people preferring racing at Yonkers over the Meadowlands and vice versa. What I can't understand is why people are gleeful at the Meadowlands' problems. The industry needs a vibrant Meadowlands in order to remain in the consciousness of gamblers. The first two nights of racing, the Meadowlands handled over $3 million in wagers from all sources. Name another track in the United States which could generate handles like this (Yonkers on rare occasions will handle $1 million). When horses flee the Meadowlands for greener pastures, the result is a decline in racing quality and short fields which results in smaller handles. When this happens, the gamblers stay away and that money is lost; wagered on the runners or remaining in the pockets of the horseplayers.

If not for the Meadowlands, the amount of coverage channels like TVG would give harness racing would be far less than we have now. The Meadowlands gets covered whenever they race. The other harness tracks? IF they are covered, it is only when there are not enough running races available. How many times on a Saturday night when the Meadowlands is closed, the only races of Yonkers that were being shown were races like the Yonkers Trot, Messenger, etc. Regular overnight races from Yonkers? Never on a Saturday night. Without the Meadowlands, the publics' exposure to harness racing would be virtually non-existent.

Rather than taking glee at the problems at the Meadowlands, people should be hoping that the Meadowlands and Yonkers can work out some type of racing schedule which will allow both tracks to flourish; perhaps a schedule like Balmoral and Maywood, with the days of the week alternating.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Good Idea, Bad Implementation

With the start of the New Year, New York has joined other racing states in implementing out-of-competition testing for race horses they believe may race New York within the next 180 days. The rule allows the state to draw blood and urine samples for testing to see if any steroids or other illicit medications have been used on a race horse. With the new rule, New York joins other states that have implemented similar rules.

One problem with out-of-competition testing involves horses that are stabled out of states. In states like New Jersey, horses stabled within the state are subject to this testing; this resulted in horses being stabled out of state; out of the reach of regulators. New York, in recognizing this shotcoming has attempted to address this shortcoming by requiring upon demand of the NYSRWB, that any horse stabled within 100 miles of New York State be shipped to New York for out-of-competition testing. Good idea, bad implementation.

To require horsemen to incur the expense of shipping their horse back and forth to New York for purposes of testing is unreasonable. First of all, there is the expense of shipping the horse to New York and back as well as sending along a person to supervise the drawing of split samples. For many people, racing horses is a losing proposition. It would be one thing if an owner who decides to have a horse trained by a trainer with multiple medication violations is required to ship a horse for testing (serves them right for letting this person train their horse), but to require an owner to incur the expense when no previous record exists is unfair and may result in losing owners. Secondly, the rule requires horses that are within a 100 miles of New York to ship in for testing. All an unscrupulous trainer would need to do is move their horses to a farm 101 miles away from New York and they would not be subjected to the New York rule.

The horsemen are up in arms over this. While they support out-of-competition testing, they are opposed to the New York rule with regards to the out-of-state provisions. Not only does it put New York-based horsemen at a disadvantage to horsemen stabled outside of the 100 mile radius, it incurs an additional expense to horsemen who are stabled out of state who would be subjected to the provisions of the 100 mile radius rule. It should be noted the horsemen support out-of-competition testing; their objection is with New York adopting a different rule from the other states.

The position of the NYSRWB is they need to be able to test out of state horses when they get intelligence indicating a trainer out of state is using prohibited substances. While I applaud the NYSRWB for attempting to address this problem, their solution is overkill. Coordination is the answer. If each state adopted the same out-of-competition rule; New York could inform the other racing state of their suspicions at which time the other state could perform the testing. If a violation was found, that state would issue the penalty and New York could honor the suspension.

In the meanwhile, there is another option. For privately owned tracks, there is a way to deal with out of state trainers who are suspected of using banned substances. There is nothing that prohibits the track from doing what Woodbine Entertainment Group does. As a condition of nominating or entering a horse to a WEG track, a trainer agrees to make the horse available upon demand to WEG or an agent for pre-race testing; thus allowing the track to send someone to draw a sample out of state/province. Failing a test or refusing to provide a horse for testing permits WEG to refuse entries from that trainer in the future. While this will not have the same impact as a formal suspension or license revocation from a racing commission, being excluded from a race track can be almost as devastating.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Night One in the Books, The Shoulda Coulda Wouldas

Night one of the Meadowlands harness meet is in the books and considering how last year's meet concluded and the current economic situation, it was a good debut with over $3.2 million dollars wagered overall on the East Rutherford card with $432,000 of the total bet by on-site.  A record Pick-4 payoff of almost $67,998 was won by a racing fan through Nassau OTB who was the only one to select all four winners.

With a 15% takeout $67,998 of the $80,940 was returned to the lucky gambler.  This is why the Pick-4 wager at the Meadowlands has been so successful.  Thanks to the low takeout rate (a lower rate than even a win wager), the wager is well received by gamblers.  I know some people feel 15% is too high a takeout rate, but you have to wonder how much overall handle would improve if a 15% takeout was charged on all wagers.

The first night had plenty of long shots which is not surprising considering it is the start of the meet.  The Meadowlands is one of the hardest tracks to handicap at the start of the meet.  Not only are you dealing with horses shipping in from different size ovals, you are dealing with plenty of horses who have been away from the races a long time.  Are they ready to fire after one or two qualifiers or do they need a race or two to get tight for the racing campaign?  This is the question gamblers need to face which accounts for some of the great prices you get at the start of the meet.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing gamblers face is the "shoulda, coulda, woulda" syndrome.  This is when you look back after a race and wonder why you didn't bet the winning horse, exacta, trifecta, etc.  It can be when you pick three horses in a race and box them in the exacta and it turns out if you bet the trifecta, you would have won; you kick yourself in the butt for not boxing the trifecta.  The best way to avoid the "shoulda, coulda, wouldas" is to pick a style for your wagering.  If you pick a style for your gambling and don't deviate from it you will usually find your bankroll doing better in the long run and more importantly, your sanity will remain intact.  Usually there is a reason why you picked your style (finances, tolerance of risk, etc) so stick to it unless you are able to make a permanent change to your style.