For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Friday, April 30, 2010

Why All the Fuss?; The Curtain Rises on Tioga

Some may be wondering why I am giving so much coverage to the Tioga Downs opening; almost to the point of ignoring everything else going on.  A recent article in the Bloodhorse explains it.  Tioga Downs is ground zero for the Tea Party in harness racing.  I sensed this last year when I met and heard Jeff Gural and Jason Settlemoir speak (they kept it polite, no f-bombs there) at the USTA conference at the Meadowlands last June and we are seeing it in action here.  Whether trying to keep our racing stars racing, developing new race fans, or appealing to horseplayers by reducing the takeout to current levels, it seems Tioga Downs is in the forefront.  And it is not only track management.  Without the cooperation of the horsemen at Tioga Downs, this takeout reduction would not have occurred.

Make no mistake about it.  There are people who are hoping the Tioga takeout reduction experiment fails.  Success means other tracks and horsemen will need to change the way they do business (as if the old ways are leading to success).  Failure means it may be years before someone else tries to lower takeouts across the board again.  For the horseplayer and those who wish the sport to prosper once again, it is important that the Tioga gambit be given every effort to succeed.  If this means I need to spend a good part of a week promoting Tioga Downs, so be it.

That being said, other things are going on in this sport so you will see my blog return to its normal state in a couple of days.  Today I am providng my selections for the opening night at Tioga (tomorrow) and tomorrow I will be providing my selections for Sunday afternoon's card.  After that, it is back to normal.

Now on with today's entry. 

The pari-mutuel menu at Tioga Downs features the Daily Double on the first and last two races on the card. Win, Place, Show and Exacta wagering is offered on all the races along with a 50 cent Trifecta. Ten cent Superfectas are offered on the fourth, seventh and last race on the program. Pick-3 wager is offered beginning with races three and six. The takeout rate is 15% on Win, Place, and Show wagering; 17% on Exacta and Daily Double wagers; 21% on Pick-3, Trifecta, and Superfectas wagers.

Yesterday, we discussed HANA's Paper and Micro-Chip Challenge.  Here is a link to the Pace Advantage thread which will be listing the handicappers selections.  In this link, there are the program pages for Saturday and Sunday's racing card. 

Without further ado, here are my selections for Saturday.

1st Pace - $4,000; Non-winners of 1 (Mares 2) pari-mutuel races lifetime
1 Silent Hill – Had some success here last year. Rounding into form at Buffalo.
2 Major Woman – Makes pari-mutuel debut of fair qualifying effort.
3 DVC Freewaytofame – Makes seasonal debut of nice qualifier. Little success last year.
4 Sly Slugger – Can’t recommend.
5 Temotion – Makes career debut. Need to see more.
6 Innocent Fella – Ships in from Pocono seeking first win. Can’t recommend.
7 Sport Mode - Expecting better effort. May not be enough here.
8 Sydney Hanover – Poor post, poor form. Pass.
9 Major Work of Art - Impressive race at Pocono makes him the horse to beat. Overcomes post.
Selections: 9-7-3-1

2nd Trot - $7,000; 10-15,000 Claiming Handicap
1 Wen-Mar’s Handsome - Veteran trotter must overcome breaking issues. Must see more.
2 Lively Man - Spa Shipper steps up. Must control fractions.
3 Affaro Hanover – Just missed against slightly easier. A question of rating.
4 Memphis Hall – Little to recommend.
5 K M Sweet Dreams - Missed time since return from Florida. Share with best.
6 Vijay Star – Don’t see.
7 Fabulous Grin – Ignore last. May be able to be contend despite post.
8 Pembroke Chip – Wait for better draw.
Selections : 7-2-3-5

3rd Pace - $7,500; Non-winners of 2 pari-mutuel or $25,000 lifetime – 3yo colts and geldings
1 It’sabouttime – Well primed to win at first asking.  Ranger picked him over the #2 and the #6.
2 Extaordinary Guy – Upset winner in last. Doubt he can repeat feat.
3 Bet Together – Dropping into slightly easier class. Not out of it.
4 Mystery Island – Schnittker trainee racing well since departure from Meadowlands. Serious contender.
5 Trevor Win for Us – MI fair graduate has been racing well at Yonkers and drops into easier. Horse to beat.
6 Tim Whiskers – Still looking for first win. Can pick up share with trip.
7 Thishorseisrockin – No excuse in last. Pass here.
8 Goldstar Vincenzo – FL Bred gets poor post in seasonal debut.
Selections: 1-5-4-6

4th Pace - $5,800; Late Closer - Winners of 1 but not more than 3 pari-mutuel races or $15,000 lifetime
1 Southwind Maize – Freehold shipper seems to be coming around. Threat from rail.
2 Boiler Bob The QB – Nothing to recommend.
3 Take The Long Way – Poor form. Enough said.
4 Sweetys Finale – Rapid pace should eliminate her from consideration.
5 Kolander – Expect to see improvement shortly. Is this the day?
6 Jazzmo – Drops down to a winning level.
7 Flagship Victory – Don’t ignore Canadian shipper.
8 Goalie Avenue – Post eliminates.
9 Sisyphus – Well prepped. Post only hinderance.
Selections: 6-9-5-1

5th Pace - $7,500; Late Closer - Non-winners of 2 pari-mutuel races or $25,000 lifetime – 3yo colts and geldings
1 Red Stick – May land share coming from the rail.
2 Beepo And Clem – Was not disgraced in seasonal debut. Should improve off that effort.
3 Goldstar Patriot D – Figures to need a race.
4 Martin Hanover – Is he this good? Willing to find out if the odds are right.
5 Gaelic Thunder – Will find this field more to his liking. Main contender to Martin Hanover.
6 Virtual Escape – Came back well. Wouldn’t surprise me.
7 Detail Man – Tough order from this spot.  Ranger opted off this mount to driver #5.
8 Northmedo Cruiser – Post eliminates this Ohio fair circuit regular.
Selections: 4-5-6-1

6th Trot - $14,000; Class A Handicap
1 Ten Yard Penalty – Tough assignment
2 Rose Run Kevin – Taking on better.
3 AJS Send Money – May find this field more of his liking.
4 Blazing Winner – Tough Spot.
5 Chips Full House – Needs a start.
6 Mystic Splendor – Meeting better.
7 Flashy Lady – Post is a hindrance.
8 Yankee Nola – Seems to have huge class advantage over these. Must clear early.
Selections: 8-3-2-7

7th Trot - $6,300; Class C
1 Talkaboutjoy – Needs fast pace to be a factor.
2 Marong A – Disappointed thus far this season.
3 Double D Fine – Threat with trip.  Ranger's choice over the #5.
4 B Girl – Possibility if she minds her manners.
5 Clearly Possessed – No chance in last. Must consider for exotics.
6 Benns Gogetter – Unreliable at end of last season. Pass for now.
7 Miss Rambo – Qualifier signals ready.
8 Prank Player – Meeting easier. Don’t ignore.
9 Chief Cochise – Easier competition but hampered with post.
Selections: 3-7-5-9

8th Pace – $7,500; Late Closer - Non-winners of 2 pari-mutuel races or $25,000 lifetime
1 Harmony Oaks Rengo – Will be a factor from the rail.
2 Takemewithyou – Makes seasonal debut. Not out of it.
3 Copy My Swag – Seems overmatched here.
4 Upto – Hasn’t been racing well but returns to the track of most success.
5 P L Dragon - Will still be a maiden after this start.
6 Cmon Blaze – Hosier shipper is the horse to beat.
7 Gentleman Friend – Has the ability to overcome the post; second best.
Selections: 6-7-1-4

9th Trot - $9,500; Class B
1 Broadway Score – Has the best form and draws the rail. The horse to beat.
2 Worldly Possession – Will take a shot to overtake in the stretch.
3 Slow Poker – Seems to be overmatched.
4 Dusty Diamond – Would be a contender when flat. “When” is the key.
5 Stormont Wok – Tough spot to be in against these.
6 Valley Crown – Steps up after impressive win but failed when against these type of horses.
7 Court Cost – Usually falters at the end plus saddled with outer post.
8 SJ’s Leo – Bad actor, bad post. Just bad.
Selections: 1-2-6-7

10th Trot - $4,500; Class C-1
1 Carolyn’s Mikey – Is the horse to beat.
2 Peggy Dee – Don’t see her against these.
3 Don’t Hunt Me Down – Making seasonal debut. Pass
4 Seven Bends – Well primed. Can challenge the top choice.
5 Governor Sands - Don’t see anything to recommend.
6 Ebba’s Yankee – Field more to his liking. Lands share.
7 Bobby Ray – Starting to round into form.
8 Arctura – Gets class relief, but the post negates.
9 Aunt Ruby – Also eligible draws in.  Can hit the board despite outside draw.
Selections: 1-4-6-9
Scratched: Lost Weight (#9)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Want My Tioga Downs - List of Simulcast Locations

With Tioga Downs cutting their takeout rate, they realized they would need to cut the commission they are charging their simulcast partners in order for them to take Tioga’s signal. Most bettors don’t care about such things; they just want to be able to play their favorite tracks. So the question is if you want to play Tioga Downs and take advantage of their reduced takeout, does my favorite ADW or simulcast center carry Tioga’s signal?

Hopefully, you will see your favorite wagering outlet listed in the list below. The list below identifies those wagering outlets accepting Tioga’s signal. Some of the tracks listed below have secondary sites such as off-track wagering locations or their own account wagering service which may not be listed. If your wagering outlet is not listed, check their corporate name as they may be listed by the corporate name. 

Here is the list of simulcast sites.

AM West Entertainment                                              Northfield Park
Bet Pad LLC                                                              Ocean Downs
Buffalo Raceway                                                        Penn National Gaming
CA Satellite Locations (when taken)                            Philadelphia Park
Capital District OTB                                                   Phumelela Gold Int.(,
Catskill OTB                                                              Plainridge Racecourse
Chester Downs                                                          Pocono Downs
Colonial Downs & OTB Sites                                       Pompano Park
Day At The Track                                                      Premier Turf Club
Delaware Racing Association                                      Presque Isle Downs
E-Bet                                                                       Racing & Gaming Services (St Kitts, West Indies)
European Wagering Services                                     Rockingham Park
Freehold Raceway                                                    Running Aces
Global Wagering Solutions                                         Saratoga Raceway
Harrington Raceway                                                 Scioto Downs
Hazel Park                                                               Sol Mutuel
Indiana Downs                                                         Suffolk Otb
Lewiston Raceways Inc.                                           The Lodge at Belmont
Lien Games Racing (North Dakota)                             The Racing Channel
Los Alamitos                                                           The Racing Network International (excluding Germant Tote)
Meadowlands                                                          The Red Mile
Monmouth Park                                                      Track Net Media
Monticello Raceway                                                US Off Track LLC
Nassau OTB                                                            Vernon Downs
New Jersey Account Wagering                                 Woodbine Entertainment Group
New York City OTB's                                              Yonkers Raceway
NJSEA - Favorites                                         

Remember, some simulcast outlets will carry Tioga only on certain days.

If you don’t see your favorite wagering outlet listed, you need to contact the person in charge of simulcasting and request they carry Tioga Downs, and keep asking. If you are asked why you want Tioga Downs, tell them why; you want to get more bang for your dollar.

Some Brief Musings

Auckland Reactor N makes his North American debut today at the Meadowlands in a qualifying race. With the exception of Bullville Powerful, the field the Reactor faces in his debut is nondescript so a loss today would no doubt be a disappointment to his connections. The time of the mile today is not important as the main goal of this qualifier is to give Auckland Reactor his first taste of North American racing; the speed will come in later qualifiers.

While many people will be watching Auckland Reactor’s qualifier today, there is more than one horse of note making appearances in today’s qualifying sessions as May kicks-off the season for the stakes horses. Three year old trotting fillies Cantab It All, Poof She’s Gone are making their second qualifying start of the season while Bar Slide, Costa Rica, and Spicy Wings are making their first start. Aged trotters Neighsay Hanover, Lanson, and Corleone Kosmos are making appearances in today’s qualifying sessions as well. On the pacing side, three year old pacing filly Put On A Show makes her second appearance of the year. The three year old pacing colts and geldings are being represented in the daytime action by One More Laught who is following up on his 1:52.4 qualifying debut.

In the news can’t get any worse department, Yonkers Raceway has announced a 15% across the board increase in their purse structure. This will put even more stress on the Meadowlands in their quest for race horses to fill their program. Yonkers realizes with all the tracks in the Northeast opening up, it was important to increase purses in order to attract the better horses. Unfortunately, with the lack of VLT revenue, the Meadowlands is unable to offer any inducement to get the better horses to stick around. While the other tracks continue to put on stronger race cards, the Meadowlands will be forced to card less attractive fields.

Enough Talk received his invitation to the Elitlopp. Wouldn’t it be great if Lucky Jim and Enough Talk hooked up for another duel in Scandinavia?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Excitement Builds

As opening day approaches for Tioga Downs, their meet is gathering attention and interest from sources you normally wouldn't expect. The Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA), a group which represents horseplayers, is sponsoring the Pen and Micro-chip Challenge, where handicapping selections will be provided by computer programs and handicappers who are handicapping the races, the old fashioned way with a pen for each racing day. The picks will be available for anyone interested in seeing them through the Tioga website and Pace Advantage. One of the computer selections being offered comes courtesy of Trackmaster and the USTA (normally cost $10 a day), yet you will get them for free. More information regarding the contest, specific computer programs, and individual handicappers can be viewed here (While not part of the challenge, I will be providing my selections for the first two days of racing in support of Tioga Downs' efforts to make racing more attractive to serious horseplayers).

Even more amazing is HANA is asking their thoroughbred players to support the Tioga program as the track is making a concerted effort to make their product more attractive to gamblers by providing the lowest takeout rates in North America. That's right; HANA is asking their thoroughbred players during Derby week to support a harness track's racing program. It goes to show you despite what some people may be saying, takeout matters.

The success of the Tioga experiment is essential to horseplayers of all breeds. While it will likely take more than a year for the Tioga experiment to pay dividends, success at Tioga will show other tracks a lower takeout does stimulate wagering. If the experiment is not successful, it may be a long time until we see reduced takeouts for all types of wagers.

Small player or big, you get to vote with your dollars.

Matchmaker and Levy Fields Set and Selections, Must Read Column

The fields have been drawn for the $237,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker and $460,000 George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series at Yonkers Raceway.  In addition to these finals, there is are $75,000 and $100,000 consolations, respectively for the for the Matchmaker and Levy.

Here are the fields for these two races.

7th Pace - $237,000  Blue Chip Matchmaker - FFA Mares - Final
PP         Horse                            Driver       Odds
1    Ubetterthink Think                Simpson       5-1
2    Ramona Disomma                   Grismore      5-1
3    Ginger and Fred                    Tetrick        9-5
4    Shanghai Lil                          Bouchard     6-1
5    On the Glass                         Bartlett       3-1
6    Little Mermaid N                   Pantaleano  15-1
7    McGibson                             Palone       12-1
8    Symphony in Motion              Gregory      10-1

My early selections for the Matchmaker are: Ginger and Fred, Shanghai Lil, McGibson, and Symphony in Motion.

8th Pace - $460,000 George Morton Levy Memorial - FFA - Final
HN   PP         Horse                   Driver         Odds
1       1        Mr Wiggles            Callahan          3-1
1A     7        Southwind Lynx      Tetrick           3-1
2       4        Atochia                  Palone           8-5
2A     5        Foiled Again            Bartlett          8-5
3       2        Poker Hat               B Miller          6-1
4       3        River Shark             Dube              9-5
5       6        Legal Litigator         TBA               8-1
6       8       Tenant in Chief        Holland         20-1

My early selections for the Levy final are: River Shark, Foiled Again, Legal Litigator and Mr Wiggles.

Here is a must read column by Stan Bergstein.  The column gives us food for thought and speaks volumes.  The column stands on its own and requires no comment.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Derby Shmerby... Tioga Opens Saturday Evening

Saturday night is the opening night at Tioga Downs and there is a lot of excitement amongst serious horseplayers who are looking for the biggest bang possible (low takeout) for their wagering dollar. Besides the lower takeout rate, Tioga Downs brings back a modified version of the classified system for almost all of their overnight races. Here is a brief explanation as to how overnight races will be carded this year.

Claiming races will be carded as before; the trainer gets to enter the horse in the appropriate claiming price. For races which normally would have been written as conditioned races, only three conditioned classes remain: NW1PMLT, NW2PMLT and W1-3PMLT (this class also allows for non-winners of $15,000 lifetime). All other horse wishing to race on a specific day will get entered into a pool to be classified into one of five classes (A, B, C, C1, or C2). The "A" horses will be horses which previously would have been classified as Open horses with the level of competition declining to "C2"; horses who previously would have raced in NW1500L5. Purses will range between $14,000 for class "A" to $3,800 for "C2" horses.

For each racing program, all horses entered for the evening’s classified races will be pooled together and each horse will be classified relative to the other horses entered in the pool based on various criteria. Each horse assigned to a specific class will be grouped together into sub-pools at which point race fields will be drawn with preference based on the last race date. From what is known, there are no plans, at least initially, to card mixed class handicaps (i.e., C1-C2 hdcp) to fill races. If a C race does not fill and there are C1 horses which do not draw in, the trainer of the C1 horse will be offered the opportunity to move up into the C race or skip the week; it will be up to the trainer to make the decision. In the unlikely situation where a higher class is oversubscribed and a lower class does not fill, a higher class horse will not be given an option to drop down to fill the race.

The stated goal of the racing secretary is for each race to have full nine horse fields with each race as evenly matched as possible. The result should be no horse going off less than 3-1 and the whole field finishes within a few lengths of each other.

Will there be horses that go off less than 3-1? Of course, there will. However, if the racing secretary does his job correctly, race fans should find exciting races and decent pay-offs instead of horses drawing off winning by open lengths and paying less than $4.00. Won’t it be nice to see fans screaming as the horses come down the stretch instead of sitting on their hands with a quarter mile of the race remaining? It would be a welcome change to what we are seeing at most tracks these days.

There is excitement in downstate New York Saturday night as well with the finals of the $237,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker and $460,000 George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series. The fields for both finals will be drawn Tuesday afternoon. Clearly, New York is the place to be Saturday evening.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Is the Pari-Mutuel System Running Off Our Fans?

Has horse racing, harness racing in particular, forced the casual bettor away? We know many of the serious or professional gamblers have left horse racing as a result of the high takeout, but let’s face it, for many of the weekend bettors is there something else at work discouraging them to wager on horses? Perhaps the pari-mutuel system has become obsolete, a detriment to the weekend bettor.

Professional gamblers have always had an advantage over the weekend (casual) gambler. A professional tended to go to the track every night to keep track of each race but the advantage they had was limited to whatever trip notes they could write from the observations they recalled regarding a particular race in addition to reviewing the previous night’s races before the evening’s program was underway. Other than that, the professional gambler was just as blind as the casual gambler when it came to horses that shipped in; there were no replays to review. However, while the professional gambler had the advantage, the advantage was not big enough to seriously impact the odds of a race so gambling on horses still was worthwhile to the casual gambler. The pari-mutuel system worked.

Now, with the internet and the low cost of a laptop, the professional gambler has an insurmountable advantage over the casual gambler. Where in the past everyone worked off the racing program, professionals have computer programs that do the handicapping for them looking back far past the last seven or ten starts a horse made. You no longer have to go to the track to watch a replay. With the internet, you have the ability to watch horses’ past races over and over, not only at your local track but their race at Anywhere Else Downs. Some gamblers have the ability to be sophisticated enough so they can wait until the last minute to wager, only if the price of a horse is at a certain rate or above. As for the casual bettor, while they may have access to a computer, they do not have at their disposal all the information the professional has. The end result? Horse racing has become like the stock market. The professional gambler is the institutional investor and the casual gambler is the retail customer. Even if we disregard the professional gambler getting a reduced commission for ‘trading’ (the rebate), the professional gambler has such an overwhelming advantage, the casual gambler gets crushed depending in some ways, more on luck than anything else (just like in the stock market). The pari-mutuel system is broken. The professional knows how to (legally) game the system resulting in the odds being so stacked against the casual gambler that they have abandoned the game.

Let’s look at a 10-1 long shot. In the old days, an astute casual bettor may have found a 10-1 longshot and even if the serious gamblers found the same horse, the final odds may have been 5-1. Nowadays, the same 10-1 longshot will may get crushed to 9-5. Hence it is harder for the casual bettor to make a profit. Where a casual gambler may have won in the past five races a night betting the favorites, the average favorite may have paid $6.00. Now, when the same gambler wins betting the favorites, the average favorite may pay $3.80. Assuming a $2 gambler betting on a ten race card, what may have been a $20 profit may now be a $1 loss. How long will you keep coming to the track winning half the races and yet lose money?

Maybe this is why people have left for casino games. Casino games, if nothing else are democratic. Sure, some people know how to play casino games better than others, but it doesn’t impact the odds. Everyone feels they have the same chance to win or lose. Many of our smart casual bettors have learned they don’t have a real chance wagering on horses.

We need to make wagering on horses more democratic to get casual bettors back. This may require scuttling the pari-mutuel system or supplementing it with another form of wagering. Perhaps it is time to introduce exchange betting so the professional gamblers have an efficient market for them to wager in, leaving pari-mutuel wagering for the casual gambler. Maybe it is fixed odds wagering so at least the casual gambler can make their wager when they want to and not see the odds crushed after; perhaps a combination of all three. I don’t pretend to know the solution, but it is clear we need to do something to make the game attractive to all of our gamblers. What I do know is in the current environment, the pari-mutuel system no longer meets racing’s needs.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla

One of the problems the recent Zielinski Report mentioned was the use of whips in standardbred racing. According to Dr. Zielinski, the whipping issue could be an issue used not only by animal rights groups, but casino interests who wish to block VLTs at racetracks. From her interview of some heavy hitters, apparently the use of whips didn’t matter to them.

While it is admirable that Dr. Zielinski tackled the whipping issue in her report, she omitted from the report the proverbial eight hundred pound gorilla in the room; the issue of horse slaughter. Why it was omitted from the report is unknown, perhaps it was not in the scope of her assignment; maybe it was felt to be an issue without a solution. Wishing it away will not eliminate the problem. The problem is here and must be dealt with.

Recently, a group of standardbreds which came from a breeding farm went through an auction which resulted in them ending up in a kill lot to be sent to slaughter. Three of the horses were registered to a prominent owner/breeder with the fourth broodmare being owned by a different person. Fortunately, rescuers were given access to this auction so several rescue groups and individual buyers were able to step in and rescue all the horses (not only the standardbreds) in the kill lot from an unfortunate fate. There are conflicting stories as to how they ended up at the auction in the first place, but for the purpose of this discussion it doesn’t matter; the fact is they ended up there.

When word got out who was the previous registered owner, there was outrage in certain online communities, most notably sites people in the standardbred industry visit. People who visit these racing boards were so outraged that fans and people within the industry were threatening to write letters and call editors of newspapers to protest what happened. If this is the response from people within the racing industry, can you imagine what the outrage would be from people outside of the industry or non-race fans?

We can correctly argue this is not a problem restricted to racing breeds, any type of horse can and do end up at slaughterhouses. But racing depends on the government to exist. Do you race in a state where the horsemen are trying to get slot machines? The gaming industry and anti-racing groups may argue with legislators and the electorate that voting for VLTs promotes an industry which sends its horses to a horrible death. One day they may event attempt to do what anti-greyhound groups did in Massachusetts; get the state to outlaw racing. Want to try to arguing that slaughterhouses are humane ways to solve the unwanted horse problem? There is plenty of video available on the internet which will quickly disprove that fallacy.

Now to the USTA’s credit, they have instituted voluntary programs to reduce the likelihood of standardbreds meeting an unfortunate end, but this is not enough. The long term survival of this sport depends on more aggressive steps to be taken to show racing tries to protect its athletes.

Standardbred tracks need to step up to the plate like some of our running cousins have done. A trainer or owner sends their horse to slaughter directly or indirectly, they are banned from the track’s grounds and can’t race there. Any owner of a horse caught sending a horse to slaughter or selling or giving a horse to an intermediary to get rid of a horse? The USTA should consider revoking membership of those people. When an initial eligibility certificate is issued, have a surcharge which will be dedicated to standardbred rescue groups. How can we be certain that a trainer or owner sent a horse to be slaughtered? It is inevitable that the United States will require microchips in all livestock. There should be a requirement that the microchip of each horse be scanned at every auction and when they are shipped to slaughter (or cross the border). A system should be put in place where a breed registry receives an electronic report of horses and if a horse has been sent to slaughter directly from an owner/trainer or too soon by another party, there should be a hearing to determine if USTA membership should be revoked.

Now I am not naïve. Not every horse can be saved. However, this does not necessitate slaughter. Euthanasia, while not desirable, is certainly a far more humane and acceptable practice. Opponents of racing would have a hard time attacking an industry when these people have the same option of euthanasia for their household pets. Some may cite the expense of euthanizing and disposing of a horse’s body, but it is a cost of being a responsible owner. If you are unwilling or unable to pay for euthanasia if necessary, I would suggest you have no business owning a horse in the first place.

To some people, these measures may seem extreme. Rest assured, all it will take is a high profile incident like Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand ending up in a slaughterhouse in Japan to occur in the United States and industry people will be bemoaning why the unwanted horse issue was not addressed sooner.

Note: Feel free to comment on this entry. However, I ask you to keep comments civil and not to mention the specific name of the owners or farm involved in your comments. Any comments which do not abide by these guidelines will not be published. These restrictions are being put in place so not to jeopardize the access rescuers are given to save to future horses that may go through this sale.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Twitter Ban?

I won't be surprised if cell phones and handheld devices will be getting locked up when a person enters the paddock soon.  At a minimum, some type of ruling regarding when and what type of information can be broadcasted using these devices is forthcoming.  On Thursday, Driver Mark McDonald tweeted before the first race that he was going to give his mount an aggressive drive.  Could this information give certain gamblers an unfair advantage?

Perhaps not, but then again, the potential for modern technology being used to provide inside information to certain people can't be dismissed.  A tweet from a driver or trainer, and some insiders may have valuable information which may tell them to either wager on or lay off a particular horse.  The potential is there. 

Some may argue such a restriction on cell phones and handheld devices may be extreme.  However, it only takes one episode or chicanery to cause a lot of trouble.  Do we want to risk it.?


Final Chance at Yonkers Raceway - Levy Leg 5

Saturday night is Super Tuesday at Yonkers Raceway.  The final chance for the horse candidates to stake their claim to the final of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing series which will be held next Saturday.  Those on the bubble, those not yet in the top eight point earners will take no prisoners in their attempt to qualify for the final while those who are fifth through eighth in points will be fighting to remain in the top eight so they qualify for next week.  As for those who have no chance to qualify for the final, the $50,000 purse each preliminary is going for may be one of the biggest purses available to them this year so they will be going all out as well.  This should make for some exciting races.

The top eight point earners going into the final qualifying round are:

1   Atochia             250.0 points
2   Foiled Again       250.0 points
3   Mr Wiggles         225.0 points
4  Southwind Lynx   220.0 points
5  Poker Hat           212.0 points
6  Tenant In Chief   208.0 points
7  River Shark         200.0 points
8  Western Ace      195.0 points 

On the outside and looking in, trying to qualify are: Legal Litigator, Blueridge Western, Badlands Nitro, Corky Baran, Real Nice, Clear Vision, Chasin Racin, and Jeremy's Successor.

Once again, I have handicapped the entire race card.  Do you prefer it when I handicap the complete card or would you rather have me just go into detail about a feature race worth discussing?  You can let me know by responding to the survey to the left.
Here are my selections for Saturday evening's card at Yonkers Raceway:

1st Pace - $16,000; Non-winners of $12,000 in last six starts
6 - Jo Pa's Wild Card    4-1  Better post and drop in class may be what is needed.
1 - Tough Love            9-5  Returns from the Meadowlands, drops down and draws the rail. Can take it all.
7 - Might Cullen N        5-1  Post should compromise chance to win.

2nd Pace - $16,000; Non-winners $12,350 in last six starts
3 - Hands To Yourself   3-1  Ability to wire the field.
2 - Major Suit              6-1  Ford claim draws inside and gets class relief.
7 - Forensic Z Tam      10-1  Levy participant drops down to a more realistic level.

3rd Pace - $20,000; Non-winners of $18,000 in last six starts
1 - Mcraes Mate A       3-1  On two race win streak.  Steps up but draws rail.
5 - Rare Jewel             6-1 Just missed in Hilltop return.  Drops down and can score the minor upset.
4 - Pacific Okey Dokey 4-1  Possible share with trip.
3 - Keystoe Rideau       5-1  Taking huge class hike but racing well.

4th Pace - $25,000: 4yo Preferred Handicap (pp 1-3, 7 assigned)
6 - Bet The Town         5-1  Ships in from Meadowlands and never better.  Possible upset.
2 - Redneck Outlaw      6-1  Has ability to ride the rail to be there at the end.
7 - Lahaye                    3-1  Winner of five out of six draws the worst tonight.

5th Pace - $20,000; Non-winners of $18,000 in last six starts
1 - Tireman                 3-1  Won two starts ago from rail.  Returns to the same class as his victory.
6 - Eagle Now             4-1  New driver may shake things up.
5 - Special Joe           6-1  Minor spoils with trip.
4 - All My Life             6-1  Decent effort in Freehold winners over event.

6th Pace - $27,000; Preferred Handicap
6 - Giddy Up Lucky      7-5  Easy winner in last.  Should repeat.
2 - Palmer's Z Tam       4-1  Figures to track the winner once again.
3 - Showmethefame     5-1  Moves inside.  Not out of it with a favorable trip.

7th Pace - $50,000; Levy Memorial FFA
1 - Atochia                  9-5  Logical selection in this division.
6 - Corky Baran          10-1  Needs big effort this week to advance.
4 - Mr Wiggles             3-1  Can't ignore and may improve rating.
2 - Pangiorno              8-5  Meeting slightly tougher field tonight.

8th Pace - $50,000; Levy Memorial FFA  
1 - Southwind Lynx      6-5  Tops potent entry (coupled with Badlands Nitro).  Should win.
4 - Handsome Harry     6-1  Inner post helps chance to earn share.
7 - Real Nice             15-1  Post hurts chance for win.  Still may spice up triple.

9th Pace - $50,000; Levy Memorial FFA
4 - River Shark              8-5  Looks to solidify his ticket to the big dance with a score tonight.
7 - Legal Litigiator        10-1  Post hurts, but big effort expected to get into the final.
2 - Jeremy's Successor   4-1  Should be heard from this post.

10th Pace - $50,000; Levy Memorial FFA 
5 - Psilvuheartbreaker    10-1  Rode the rail last week.  Fave already punched his ticket for next week.  Looking for an upset.
2 -  Western Ace            4-1  Been knocking on door.  Will be a factor.
1 - Foiled Again              4-5  Obvious choice. No value.
3 - Four Trumps A         15-1  Seems to be hitting his best stride.  Should get in exotics.

11th Pace - $25,000; $75,000 Claiming
8 - Artic Stretch              6-1  Looks to repeat.  Has handled outside posts well.
1 - J P Jackpot              10-1  Needed last.  Expect improvement.
5 - Tommy Tiger              4-1  Should land share.

12th Pace - $23,000; Non-winners of $25,000 in last six starts
2 - Blue Boy                    3-1  Closes out the card with an easy win.
6 - The Awful Truth         4-1  Completes a chalky exacta. 
1 - BB Torio                    5-1  Should complete triple with rail drive. 
4 - Pacific Renegage       10-1  Legitimate superfecta contender.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Handling Post Race Positives

An acquaintance of mine mentioned to me one problem harness racing has is with disqualifications after a race is declared official; in particular medication violations. After all, what is the point? The race is already official; payoffs are made so other than annoying a gambler whose horse came in second and now after the fact is placed first? Are we really serving anyone’s interest by changing the order of finish after the fact? Especially, when a violation of the trainer’s responsibility rule may take more than a year to settle thank to all the appeals can take over a year to settle?

My friend has a point. Why not skip changing the order of finish but take the money away? This way, we can actually increase the penalty the owner suffers to the point where the owner may actually hold a trainer responsible for any violations. Here is a proposal on how we can modify the way we handle post-race medication rule violations:

  • The USTA will now track Race Earnings and Actual Earnings. Race Earnings will be defined as earnings the horse earns as a result of the order of finish in a race. Actual Earnings are the earnings actually paid out to the horse. Race earnings are what will be posted in race programs.

  • In the event a post-race medication violation occurs, other than changing the order of finish, the existing rules will remain in effect. Meaning, if indicated, the purse will be redistributed with any fines and suspensions being issued. On the past performance line, there will be a denotation next to the horse’s final time indicating the time has been disallowed. The time disallowed denotation will remain unless a drug test has been found to be in error. No adjustment will be made to Race Earnings, but the Actual Earnings will be adjusted to reflect the change in purse distribution. Other than the time disallowance, the ruling may be appealed by the trainer.

  • Race conditions based on earnings will use race earnings, not actual earnings when determining eligibility.

What would be the advantage of not changing the order of finish and using race earnings instead of actual earnings? It would penalize a horse that was incorrectly medicated with performance enhancers and not penalize a horse that played by the rules.

Let’s say a horse already had three lifetime wins on his record and in his five prior starts he has race earnings of $4,000. The horse is entered in non-winners of $6,000 in the last six starts with a purse of $12,000 and he wins, earning $6,000. Under the current rules, the horse would be disqualified and the purse money returned; once again being eligible for the same class he just competed in. If we adopted the new proposal, while the purse money would still be returned, the win (but not the time) and money originally earned would still be credited to his race earnings. Thus the horse would no longer be eligible for non-winners of four races lifetime and would not be able to qualify for non-winners of $6,000 in last six starts or other classes; being forced to race in winners over $10,000 in the last six starts. Hence, the owner not only loses the purse money, but is forced to race in a higher level than he currently should; perhaps having to race several times to qualify for the proper level. Instead of being able to race his next start in the proper class and work his way up. This may cause an owner to think twice about using a trainer; especially if the violation was deliberate.

Conversely, if a horse couldn’t win a race, why should he and the owner be penalized by being put in a higher class than he actually belongs? Let’s say the horse that finished second in the race with the horse above also had earnings of $4,000 in the last five starts. The horse’s second place finish would mean the horse’s next start can be in non-winners of $7,500 in last six starts. This horse who may not have won the race anyway under the current rules would be forced into winners over $10,000 in last six starts instead of a legitimately working his way up in class. Using the new rules, the horse would be able to compete in the non-winners of $7,500 in last six starts.

As you can see, changing the way we handle post race positives may discourage the deliberate administration of performance enhancers, yet not penalize horses whose trainers did not violate the rules.  It is worth considering.

Whipping to be Banned in Five Years?  We discussed the whipping issue in our discussion of the Zielinski report.  Now, last week at the Asian Racing Conference there was an official who claims whipping will all be be banned within the next five years.  Whipping is going away, like it or not.

The Ocean Downs Quandry

To say things never go easy in Maryland standardbred circles is certainly an understatement. Not only is the standardbred industry dealing with the bankruptcy and potentially the permanent closing of Rosecroft Raceway, things are not going well at the Ocean Downs either; a track which is in the process of building a slot parlor.

The slot parlor at Ocean Downs was due to open this Memorial Day. However, due to delays as a result of asbestos and other issues out of the control of everyone, the soonest slot machines will be operating is in November. In the meanwhile, being in the middle of construction, the physical plant does not provide the ability to host a race meet. To further confuse the issue, there appears to be a requirement that at least one race must be held at Ocean Downs by the end of August in order for the zoning exemption permitting the racino to be built expires. What to do?

One option would be to have an “Ocean Downs at Rosecroft Raceway” meet but apparently this has been rejected by Ocean Downs management. If Ocean Downs had their way, they rather cancel the meet and double the purses for next year but this proposal is not meeting favor with horsemen.

Perhaps the best thing to do is use the Freehold Raceway solution. Back in May of 1984, the grandstand at Freehold Raceway was gutted by a fire. Within a couple of months, the building was taken down and management brought in a couple of bubbles where fans could wager from. A temporary judges and track announcer booth was put up (trailers) and Freehold conducted their race meets in this fashion until the new building was completed. If this is not feasible for Ocean Downs, why not just run a studio meet, with wagering taking place only through simulcast and OTB locations?  This would appear on the surface to meet everyone's needs.

If this doesn't work, so be it. The point is there is a solution out there which will address everyone’s concerns. The track needs to run a race meet.  The horsemen want to race in Maryland.  All it requires is for everyone to leave their ego at the door and the parties will be able to come up with a solution agreeable to all.

Monday, April 19, 2010

An Opening Gambit for VLTs, Dead Beat State

A company operated by casino executives, not affiliated with Atlantic City, is dangling dollar signs in front of Governor Christie to get his blessing for a plan to bring slot machines to the Meadowlands. The proposal calls for a $500 million payment to the state if slots are up and running at the Meadowlands by June 30, 2011. An additional $100 million would be paid to the state for allowing Global Enterprises Meadowlands (GEM) to take over operation of the Meadowlands Racetrack as well as allowing them the right to build seven additional off-track wagering facilities in the state.

Sounds great, but hold your horses. Don't expect to see slots operating at the Meadowlands next June. Assuming the Christie administration green lights this idea, there are many hurdles to pass. First of all, Senate President Sweeney made it clear he will not allow any bill expanding gaming in New Jersey to come up for a vote. Unless he can be persuaded to change his mind, no proposal is going to get voted upon. Was Sweeney to change his mind and a bill approved in time, a referendum would need to be approved by the voters; no sure bet being Atlantic City interests and anti-gambling forces will be funding the opposition.

There is one wild card which can be played. Instead of slot machines, the state may consider VLTs. Were that the case, Governor Christie's Attorney General could issue an opinion saying VLTs are a lottery game, thus not requiring a referendum, but this would be going against a previous opinion by a prior Attorney General and would certainly end up in court, tying things up.

Assuming either path was successful, the state could not simply take GEM's offer; there would be a need to solicit bids to select an operator. As the case in these types of projects, the loser is sure to turn to the courts for relief. Hence, it would be later than June, 2011 for a slot machine to operate at the Meadowlands.

I truly don't think GEM expects their offer to be accepted ‘as is’ or seriously expects to have slot machines operating by next June. However, by floating a proposal offering hard dollars on the table, it does force serious discussion of casino gambling at the Meadowlands to take place. Hence, I would describe the offer as an opening gambit, moving the debate regarding Meadowlands slot machines off of square one.

Illinois can now be known as the Dead Beat State.  According to  The State of Illinois is not going to pay the rest of the purse money owed for last year's World Trotting Derby and the Review Stakes because there is no money in their budget.  If the  people owed money want to pursue their claim, they need to go to court.  To paraphrase an expression, "It's Good to be the Government".  

Saturday, April 17, 2010

It Lives....

So after all the threats about how NYCOTB was about to close down due to the legislature not providing them needed relief, OTB announced they will remain open and for all practical purposes, it will be business as usual. 

Why am I not surprised?   The whole threat to go out of business was merely a ploy to force the legislature to change the rules of the game in order for NYCOTB to survive at the expense of racing, harness racing in particular.  They wanted to stop the dark day payments to the harness tracks, something which was implemented because OTB decided to show night time thoroughbred racing from some minor league track instead of showing the New York harness product.  They wanted to cut the commission they pay all racetracks, including those in New York.  When the legislature did not budge, they magically came up with a plan to continue operating for another year during which time they will work for long term reform, meaning they will continue to work on the legislature to get the changes they want.  No doubt these future changes will apply to all the regional OTBs. 

So in the meanwhile, OTB will operate by delaying payments of statutory payments they are required to make.  Like I said, it will be business as usual.  They still owe harness tracks millions of dollars in statutory payments despite the fact courts in the past have ordered them to make payment.   They may delay paying commissions to out of state tracks (they owe some already). In the meanwhile, they will continue in bankruptcy court, 'working' with the bankruptcy creditors committee in an effort to restructure their finances.

The beast lives.  The racing industry needs to play hardball with NYCOTB in bankruptcy court to make sure they get the best possible deal.  In the meanwhile, the thoroughbred and standardbred groups should do is work together to come up with a plan they can sell to the legislature to get the state back into the business of regulating racing, not stealing the racetracks' business. 

One Heck of a Year Coming Up; The Battle of Saratoga?

Based on the results of last night's Su Mac Lad final at the Meadowlands, it looks like we will be having one heck of a year in the FFA Trotting ranks. Lucky Jim was once again victorious with Arch Madness second and Enough Talk finishing third. While Lucky Jim was spectacular last night and would have most likely won anyway, he was the recipient of racing luck when In Focus jumped off stride past the quarter, delaying a move from Enough Talk which allowed Lucky Jim to open up five lengths on the field, necessitating Enough Talk to brush earlier than he wanted so he could catch up to the leader.

Enough Talk then took on Lucky Jim on the final turn but was unable to make up any ground. When the duo turned into the stretch, Pierce gave up the fight and dropped Enough Talk back along the rail, allowing Arch Madness who was tracking the top two to overtake Enough Talk and challenge Lucky Jim in the deep stretch only to come up short by a neck.

Some people may question why Pierce decided to engage Lucky Jim on the last turn instead of waiting for the stretch to make his move. While it would have been the preferable to wait, it wasn’t possible as delaying his attack would have resulted in Arch Madness coming out to engage the leader, possibly locking Enough Talk on the rail. Pierce knew the turn may have been his only chance to challenge so he made his move then, figuring it was better to take his shot when he could instead of not being able to at all.

With all three of these trotters at the top of the game, I expect we will be seeing all of them in the winner’s circle at different times during the year. While it is early in the season and we need to see what transpires in the other divisions, there is a good chance one of these three horses will end up, not only as Trotter of the Year, but as Horse of the Year. With any luck, the these take their battle all the way through Lexington.

The Battle of Saratoga is underway at Saratoga Raceway.  No, not the Battle of Saratoga that some of us more 'seasoned' fans remember from days gone by.  This Battle of Saratoga is actually a series of late closing events for pacers and trotters that are non-winners; not the three year old open event which once featured the nation's best three year olds.  I realize the half mile track is out of favor by some, but it would be nice if there was a way Saratoga could bring back the 'old' Battle of Saratoga; perhaps racing it on a Saturday evening in August when the runners are in town, hopefully getting some of the thoroughbred crowd to come over and experience our sport.

We can dream can't we?

Here is the infamous Battle of Saratoga where Niatross went over the rail. 

Also found this gem.of Nevele Pride setting a world record at Saratoga in 1:56.4 which at that time was the fastest mile over a half mile track for a trotter or pacer.  It is always fun to take a look back in time at some of the great moments in the sport (excuse the little silliness at the end). 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Su Mac Lad Final, The PA Onslaught

This may be the year of the FFA Trotter with a rejuvinated Enough Talk taking on Lucky Jim through out the season.  However, it would be unfair if we count Arch Madness out of the mix.  While Arch Madness may not be able to make his own luck, he has enough class and ability to be heard from should racing luck go his way. 

Tonight, we see these top FFA trotters featured in the $125,000 Su Mac Lad FFA trotting series final at the Meadowlands.  If the final lives up to the first two rounds, fans should be treated to an exciting finish.  Many people feel Lucky Jim will be able to rebound to take revenge for last week's defeat, feeling Enough Talk was able to get away with a slow middle half.  My gut feeling tells me tonight it is a question of who is able to control the tempo of the race; post position being the key.  The projected order of finish for the final is Enough Talk, Lucky Jim, with Arch Madness rounding out the field.  Being the odds will be low, this will be a race to watch and enjoy.

In addition to the Su Mac Lad final, there is a Mare Invitational and the finals of the Jersey Girls and the Art Unger on the Meadowlands card.  Here are my selections for these three races.

3rd Pace - $32,000; Mare Invitational
3 - Southwind Swallow            8-1  May upset in seasonal debut.
4 - Tug River Princess            9-2  Class of the race, may be short this week.
1 - Rile Rose                          5-1  Takes advantage of rail to complete the trifecta.

6th Pace - $65,800; Jersey Girls Final
8 - Harper Lee                        10-1 Strong mile last week.  Possible upset with trip.
6 - Laughandbehappy               9-5 Favorite can't be disregarded.  Skipped last week.
1 - World Fame                        6-1 Minor spoils with trip.

7th Pace - $54,000; Art Unger Stake Final
3 - Allamerican Chief                 4-1 Looks to complete sweep.
5 - Tamayo                                8-1 No match for top choice.
8 - Brandon's Colt                     12-1 Needs trip to be a factor.
1 - Bet the Town                        5-1 Will attempt to control from the start.  Usually falters.

The racing season is well underway with a trio of tracks kicking off their race meets in the next few weeks.  Tonight Vernon Downs kicks off their 2010 season and on May 1, the eagerly awaited (at least by gamblers) opening of Tioga Downs with their reduced takeout gets underway.  However, of the most concern to the Meadowlands is next Friday's kick-off of the 2010 Chester Downs race meet.  Chester Downs has published their purse schedule and the Meadowlands is showing $10,000 claimers and three year old non-winners of 1 pari-mutuel race on their current condition sheet, clearly planning for the possibility of a shortage of horses in the entry box.  Time will tell how much of a drag Chester Downs will have on the Meadowlands' horse population.

While last year, the drain of horses came predominately from Chester Downs, the Pocono Downs influence can not be underestimated, particularly with regard to claiming races.  Let's compare a few claiming prices off current condition sheets.

Claiming Price      Meadowlands      Chester Downs     Pocono Downs           Yonkers
$10,000                    $8,000              $8,000                  $9,000
$15,000                    $9,200            $10,000                $13,000
$20,000                  $11,700            $12,000                $17,000                  $12,000           
$25,000                  $14,400            $15,000                $19,500                  $14,000  
$30,000                  $17,000            $18,000                $20,250                  $16,000
As you can see, horsmen certainly have their choices as where to race.  Unfortunately, horseplayers looking for quality full fields don't have a choice.  The serious horseplayers stick with the Meadowlands and it looks like they are going to have to deal with cheaper and short fields.   

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Levy Memorial - Week 4, Using Humor to Draw Interest

This Saturday is the fourth of five preliminary legs of the Levy Memorial Pacing Series at Yonkers Raceway.  With only two more weeks to qualify for the lucrative final, it is coming down to crunch time as it is important to earn enough points to be one of the eight horses eligible for the final. 

Were the final being held this week, the following horses would qualify:

1  Atochia                  200.0 points
2  Foiled Again          200.0 points
3  Poker Hat              187.0 points
4 Southwind Lynx      183.0 points
5 Tenant In Chief       183.0 points
6 Blueridge Western  158.0 points
7 Western Ace           158.0 points
8 Mr Wiggles             150.0 points

Lest you think the final field is set, there are plenty of horses still with a reasonable chance of qualifying for the final.  With points being awarded 50-25-12-8-5 for finishing first through fifth plus twenty five points awarded just for starting in a race, few horses have the luxury of taking it easy this week.  You also need to watch horses like Days of Courage N and Pangiorno.  Though they have raced credibly in the Levy series when they raced, by not starting in all three divisions thus far, it makes it virtually impossible for them to qualify for the final; so these next two weeks are their chances to add significant money to their race cards.

For those who may be interested in the entire Yonkers Raceway card, here are my handicapped selections for Saturday evening's card:

1st Pace - $16,000; Non-winners $12,000 in last six starts
3 - Fox Valley Tribal      9-5 Finds right level here.
2 - Box Care Billie         4-1 Steps up off nice win. Failed last time in this class.
6 - Blindsided                8-1 Raced well at Freehold against similar company.

2nd Pace - $16,000; Non-winners $12,000 in last six starts
1 - Allamerican Fargo   8-5 Slight edge over others.
6 - Feets of Magic        6-1 Share with best
2 - Tom's Wealth         5-1 Returned sharp. May be able to handle hike.

3rd Pace - $16,000; Non-winners of $13,050 in last six starts
5 - Table And Chair      5-1 Raced decently in Levy; dropping down.
6 - On the Brink          10-1 Toscano trainee can grab share.
3 - C A Marauder         9-5 Rare British Columbia invader ships in after victorious stop over at Pocono. Hard to gauge.

4th Pace - $50,000; Levy Memorial FFA, Leg 4
4 - Western Ace          9-5 Good closing kick to win.
1 - River Shark            7-5 Will attempt to go wire to wire. Will he hold on?
5 - Clear Vision         12-1 Not out of it with a fast pace.

5th Pace - $20,000; Non-winners $18,000 in last six starts
4 - Franco Natura N   4-1 Tepid choice to win.
5 - Artist Cafe           6-1 Gets needed class relief.
2 - Ideal Michael        5-1 Never better as he continues climb in class.
6 - Major Stone       10-1 Completes exotics.

6th Pace - $50,000; Levy Memorial FFA, Leg 4
2 - Go Go Solano      4-1 Overcame interference to finish third in last; possible upset victor.
3 - Foiled Again        7-5 Horse to beat.
6 - Special Report   15-1 Eligible to improve off of recent.

7th Pace - $25,000; 4yos Winners over $12,000 in last six starts Hdcp - pp 1-3 assigned, 4-8 drawn
4 - Redneck Outlaw     5-1 Expect much better in age restricted race.
6 - Falcon Stena         6-1 Steps up off win. Been racing weill.
5 - Lahaye                  4-1 Ships in from the Spa on a three race win streak.
8 - Best Route             --- SCRATCHED

8th Pace - $50,000; Levy Memorial FFA, Leg 4
4 - Mr Wiggles           9-5 Hitting best stride.
2 - Four Trumps A    15-1 Expect to wake up here.
3 - Mccedes               8-1 May edge out Real Nice for final spot.

9th Pace - $50,000; Levy Memorial FFA, Leg 4
1 - Pangiorno            9-5 Looks to repeat from rail.
3 - Badlands Nitro     3-1 Second best.
4 - Western Blood     5-1 Completes the triple.

10th Pace - $27,000; Preferred Handicap - pp 1-2 assigned, 3-8 drawn
3 - Tireman                 6-1 Steps up off wire to wire win; consider.
5 - Deuce Seelster      3-1 Looks to repeat.
4 - Giddy Up Lucky     5-1 May come flying off cover at end.
1 - Palmer's Z Tam     4-1 Will try once again to wire field.

11th Pace - $50,000; Levy Memorial FFA, Leg 4
4 - Corky Baran            5-1 Tepid pick.
6 - Blueridge Western  10-1 Can reverse position with top choice.
1 - Atochia                   8-5 Looking to continue win streak.

12th Pace - $23,000; Non-winners $25,000 in last six starts
5 - Rare Jewel               8-1 Spa shipper meeting slightly easier.
6 - Pacific Okey Dokey   5-1 No chance at Fhld. Lands share with trip.
4 - Pacific Renegade      6-1 Drops into easier company.
1 - Image of Dawn         3-1 Will try to wire again; stepping up

Sometimes, I think showing the race replays every night is good for the existing horseplayers, but doesn't do anything to attract new patrons.  What would be better is a weekly highlight show with some educational segments.  But even the best highlight show in the world on is not going to attract new patrons interested if it comes across too staid.  Sometimes, you need to do something special to get people intrigued enough to watch; using humor helps.

Well the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen's Association has taken that approach with PA Harness Week.  Take a look at the promo being used to attract people to tune into the show.

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) has launched a web page which will list recent drug violations for all horse racing breeds.  You can check to see which trainers have been cited for drug violations by clicking here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A NYCOTB Relief Bill Becomes a OTB Benefit Bill

The shafting of harness interests in New York continues. Not only is it expected that horsemen will have to take a 15% reduction in payments from NYCOTB, the proposed legislation will reduce payments from all OTBs in the state, even those that are solvent. So much for only providing temporary relief to a bankrupt entity. Also, the legislation will eliminate the dark day payments for one year (wink, wink); payments which were mandated to compensate the harness tracks for OTB's practice of taking in and giving priority to nighttime thoroughbred races from out of state tracks. Heaven forbid the proposed legislation mandate a New York First Policy while eliminating the dark day payments as compensation to the harness horsemen.

Ever notice how Yonkers Raceway has their post parade at post time? It is because Yonkers has been deliberately delaying post times in order to get their races shown on OTB's television channels. By delaying their post times, Yonkers gets approximately $200,000 more wagered on their cards. Imagine that? People like to watch the races they wager on.  Of course, Yonkers looks bad for doing this when it is not their fault.

Here is hoping the New York legislature can't come to an agreement on an OTB bailout, but I am not hopeful. They can't get rid of Patterson quick enough.

On a lighter note, as many of you are aware, Jody Jamieson is on a 10 day world wind tour of Finnish harness tracks.  Yesterday, Jody Jamieson became the first North American Driver to win a race driving a Finnish Coldblood horse.  The replay of that historic race can be seen here.   This was Jamieson's second win of the evening as he won another race with a 'regular' standardbred. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When Did We Get so Courteous When Racing?

Yesterday, when I discussed the question regarding coupled entries, I made a comment regarding Brian Sears giving Arch Madness a hole to drop in during the running of the race. Specifically, I said: I didn't see anything out of the ordinary.

And there may be the problem. When did we get so nice in a race that we readily give another horse a hole instead of parking the horse out, taking in the fresh air? We are not talking about the driver on the lead that lets a horse go by; that driver can retake or use the leading horse for cover hoping to be able to come out in the stretch and go right by the leader. But what is the reason for letting a horse drop in the hole in front of you when you are not on the lead? You are giving your fellow driver a break hoping next time you need a similar break, it will be reciprocated. What makes this worse is the courtesy tends to occur only when you are a ‘regular’. More often than not, if a horse ships in from another track along with its regular driver, there wouldn’t be a hole for the driver to drop into; it would be closed up.

So what is the problem? If it was your horse on the outside, wouldn’t you want a driver to let your horse tuck in? After all training bills are expensive and if you get hung on the outside, there will be a good chance your horse won’t earn a dime. By being given a break, your horse may have a better chance to pick up a check. A driver knows this very well, especially when he may have family members training or owning horses; perhaps at the same race meet.

The problem is these types of racing favors belong only in qualifying races where horses are attempting to meet the established standards in order to race at the track, not when people are wagering on your horse. When a person wagers on a horse, they should be able to expect their horse is being driven to the best of the driver’s ability, not by a driver who may give a fellow driver a break during a race.

Let me make this clear, I am not suggesting the next time you see a driver giving a fellow driver a break there is any chicanery underway, but the person in the stands or watching the race on his computer may not be so charitable in their opinion. Gamblers should be able to wager on a race knowing no one is being given a favor during the race.

The runners do it right. If you are a jockey, you are unable to train or own a horse. You make your living by riding to the best of your ability. No jockey expects another jockey to give them a break. Maybe we need to adopt a similar rule.

Of course, unlike the thoroughbreds, standardbred racing tends to be a family business. At many harness tracks, if a driver or driver’s family was not allowed to own or train horses, there wouldn’t be enough horses to conduct a race meet. So perhaps for the lower tier tracks, we don’t change the rules but require judges to make sure drivers are not giving others breaks during the contesting of a race. However, by the time a person makes it to the top tier tracks, a person should have to make a decision as to whether he/she wants to be a driver or a trainer/owner. If a person decides to drive, then he would not be allowed to own or train in the same state. If a person trains or owns, they would be barred from driving in the state. If a horse owned or trained by a relative is in a race, no driver related to the owner/trainer should be allowed to drive in the same race (exceptions may be made for stakes races).

Some may consider such a rule to be extremely harsh. However, if we want the racing public to continue to support racing and to draw in new customers, we need to remove any perception that a conflict of interest may exist.  Remember, the customer can live without racing, racing can't live without the customer.  Their rights must come first.

It is amazing what you can find on the Internet.  Here is a video of the great Dan Patch time trialing in 1906 where he set a record of 1:55.  According to reports, 93,000 people were in the stands to see this moment in history.

The Hurt in New York Quantified

As more details come out about the proposed plan to 'save' NYCOTB, it is obvious the early description of how racing was going to get treated in a bailout may be coming true.  One proposed bill will cost Monticello Raceway $2 million in the next year and does nothing to address past due amounts OTB still owes them.  With a 50-50 split, this means the purse account at Monticello will lose $1 million and the racino operator will have to cut salary expenses by 5%.  All this occuring as Monticello has been recovering from their own near financial collapse.  But at least the people who may be losing jobs at Monticello will be comforted in knowing (patronage) jobs at NYCOTB will be saved.

What does $1 million mean to the purse account?  Let's say the average purse at Monticello was $4,000.  This million dollars reduction would mean the horsemen will be losing money to fund two hundred and fifty races or roughly twenty days of racing over the next year.  Of course, they won't cancel those days, but it may mean purses need to be cut significantly to make up the shortfall.  What about the impact to Yonkers Raceway?  They are facing a possible loss of roughly $28 million.  I don't even want to think what the impact could be on Yonkers.  

In a way, I guess we shouldn't complain.  At least there will be a standardbred industry standing.  As for NYRA, cuts in their payments could result in their closing and second trip to the bankruptcy courts.

As bad as it may be, it wouldn't be bad if this was a one time fix.  Unfortunately, OTB is broken, beyond repair.  More likely than not, next year will bring another 'fix', then possibly another and in the long run, the tracks may never see a dime of what was legally owed to them. 

Kill OTB now.  It will be less painful in the long run.

Rosecroft Update:  The Maryland Legislature did not provide the relief Cloverleaf Enterprises claimed they needed to prevent a final shut down on April 19.  Unless management changes their mind, it appears Rosecroft may be doomed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Revisiting Coupled Entries

Here is the replay of last Friday's second leg of the Su Mac Lad which was won by Enough Talk, who by winning, ended Lucky Jim's Meadowlands streak of sixteen consecutive victories.

It certainly was a thrilling race, just as thrilling as Lucky Jim's victory in the first round of the series.  I didn't think anything about further about the race until I received an email from a person within the industry who suggested Brian Sears (on #2  Likeabatoutofhell) deliberately left a hole for Trond Smedshammer (on #9 Arch Madness) to drop in during a relatively slow first quarter instead of keeping the hole shut like he could have.  So I went back to look at the replay of the race and to tell you the truth, I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. 

What's the big deal?  Both horses are trained by the same trainer and were uncoupled for wagering purposes.  I went back to look at the race one more time, keeping in mind the two horses were stable mates, and I must admit, I could see how this person felt the stable mate got an unfair 'assist'. 

Well, if a person within the industry can feel this way, what is the horseplayer who is wagering his hard-earned money thinking?  We have all seen drivers allowing another horse to drop in; it is part of racing strategy.  Clearly if the two horses were coupled, no one would question the fact Arch Madness was allowed to drop in the hole by his stable mate; it is expected.  However, once the horses are uncoupled, does this typical move become something more nefarious, especially since people are betting on each horse separately?

More importantly, why are we even taking a chance in a situation like this?  If the two horses were coupled, there still would have been eight wagering interests.  This was not a $100,000 final, it was a race for $50,000, which for the Meadowlands is not exactly huge.  Yes, I know our gamblers want more wagering interests in a race, but there are going to be times when fields will be short.

People are not exactly knocking down our doors to wager on horses.  Are we hurting ourselves in the long run by seeking short term gains by uncoupling horses?  It is something to think about.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Not Promoting Ourselves; Rosecroft Going

When was the last time you saw a thoroughbred track promote the hopefuls for the Meadowlands Pace or the Hambletonian on their in-house television show? I think I can safely say the answer is never. Yet, on Friday night, the Meadowlands in-house show had Brad Thomas reviewing the Kentucky Derby hopefuls.

I understand the Meadowlands is owned by the NJSEA which operates Monmouth Park, a thoroughbred track. I understand the Meadowlands simulcasts thoroughbred racing and wagering on those races contributes to the standardbred purse account. I understand many gamblers will play both breeds of horses, but something rubs me the wrong way when a harness track promotes thoroughbred racing's premier events when there is not one thoroughbred track promoting a single standardbred race. What bothers me more about the Meadowlands' promotion of the Kentucky Derby is the fact you won't see the Meadowlands handle the Little Brown Jug future wager because they don't want to take attention away from their own signature event, the Meadowlands Pace.

Perhaps my frustration goes past the Meadowlands. What harness tracks promote harness races other than their own events? We have harness tracks that promote thoroughbred Triple Crown events and have special post times to capitalize interest around these races, yet they will do nothing to promote interest in harness racing's big events, such as the Meadowlands Pace, North American Cup, Hambletonian, Little Brown Jug, Kentucky Futurity, and so forth. Do these events have the popularity and recognition like the Derby, Preakness, or Belmont? Of course not. But if harness tracks can’t promote these races, why should we bemoan the fact the media is ignoring these events?
We have met the enemy and he is us.

Rosecroft. Going, Going, Gone?  Monday is the last day of the legislative session in Maryland and with its conclusion comes the likely end to Rosecroft Raceway. The track operator, Cloverleaf Enterprises, Inc. has announced without legislative relief, the track will cease operations as of April 19 and convert from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization into Chapter 7 liquidation. The last extended pari-mutuel meet was suspended in 2008 by the Maryland Racing Commission which allowed simulcast wagering to continue at the request of Rosecroft management in order to preserve the long term future of Rosecroft. Since then, the only racing at Rosecroft has been Maryland Sire Stakes events and qualifying races. For all practical purposes, Rosecroft is already gone as prior to last week's announcement regarding the possibly closure of Rosecroft, horsemen were already told the backstretch was being closed as of May 1 and the track has already stopped maintaining the track.

First went Freestate; now Rosecroft. Ocean Downs remains as the last bastion of standardbred racing in Maryland. The owner of Ocean Downs has guaranteed in the current contract three years of harness racing. Some people say the slot legislation requires Ocean Downs to race in order to have slots. Seeing what government has done to slot laws elsewhere, assuming racing will continue indefinitely at Ocean Downs may not be as sure as some would like to think.

Hop Sing Update:  Hop Sing finished last in his race last night; twenty four lengths behind the race winner. Not only is it embarrassing for the horse, it is embarrassing for the sport. They way things are going, how long will it be before Hop Sing is racing somewhere in $3,000 claimers. Hop Sing should be retired now.