For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WEG - Another Step Backward

North of the border, we see once again the wagering public means nothing to the powers to be in racing.  Woodbine Entertainment has reformatted their winter late closing series; eliminating their two weeks of preliminaries and then a final to one week of eliminations and a final.  Just what the horsemen wanted; but certainly not what the gamblers want.  

Yes, many times the second week of preliminaries, only enough horses would be entered for one division (though this year with the fiasco in New Jersey one has to suspect these late closers will be better subscribed) , but what we also are going from is the top ten money earners in the preliminaries qualifying for the final, to a situation where people will be trying to just qualify for the following week final.  Potentially with two weeks of preliminaries, a winner one week needed to be sharp the following week as the potential existed of a horse not qualifying for the final if they earned nothing the second week.  Now, unless there are more than two divisions of eliminations, the races primarily become a  race to finish in the top five.  And to make the final even more one-sided, elimination winners get to pick their starting position in the final, giving them an unfair advantage.

What are we saying to our customer base when we award post positions to elimination winners?  "Winning a race is not incentive enough to win a race so we need to let the race winner chose their post position the following week otherwise they may not try to win".  Do we wonder why there is an integrity problem in harness racing?  We feed the image ourselves.

Should by some miracle Standardbred Canada's Racing Sustainability and Development Program take roots, one has to hope the first rule in the study is to act in the interests of the customers and not the horsemen; otherwise anything done is destined to fail.


Moodys On Atlantic City Reforms: A Waste of Time

The Press of Atlantic City, the mouthpiece of Atlantic City casinos makes the case rational people have been saying for a long time; Atlantic City is a lost cause.  Moody's, a national bond rating agency says the proposed reforms being planned by the state legislature are destined to failure.  Specifically, Moody's claims: 

The initiatives proposed are a zero sum game.  Revenue into one pocket will come from another pocket.  One proposal is to allow mini-resorts of two hundred rooms in Atlantic City.  All this proposal will allow is gamblers playing at casinos like Borgota to take their gambling dollars to these smaller casinos.

Internet Gaming and Sports Wagering?  Will prove to initiate an arms race with other states offering Internet gaming to their residents and if and when the federal band on sports wagering is overturned; other states will be quick to offer wagering on sporting events so not to give another state an advantage over their own gambling empire.  It is important to note that Moody's anticipates any attempt to overturn the federal ban a long shot at best.

And of course, the economy should be a drag on gambling houses for quite a while.  People tend to be more responsible than we give them credit for.  People will eat their gambling dollars before betting their eating dollars.

What does all this suggest?  What we have been saying for a long time.  Casino gambling is a commodity; there is nothing to differentiate gambling at Atlantic City from gambling at Dover, Delaware or Tunica, MS unless you want to consider crime statistics.  Of course, one of the proponents of propping up Atlantic City claims "changes are required to give consumers a reason to come to Atlantic City".  Short of putting slot machines in the summer on the beach, I don't see what Atlantic City can offer that other casino destinations can't replicate, and it will be labor intensive to move the machines up and down the beach depending on the tides.

There really is one game changer available to New Jersey Gaming interests; opening a new market to casino gambling and that would be the Meadowlands.  Do the horsemen want it all for themselves?  No; they are more than willing to share the market with Atlantic City gaming interests; let Atlantic Casino gaming interests take the lion share of the revenue from the Meadowlands and just cut the racing industry in for a small share.  Unfortunately, the state leaders are either in denial, thinking they can revive Atlantic City into a gaming destination (an idea which has long ago sailed off) or they are beholden to the campaign dollars of gaming companies who don't want to cut racing in for any share of the profits at the Meadowlands when the casino eventually opens.  I think we will know real soon the motives as it is my guess within two years a constitutional amendment will be voted upon to allow slots at the Meadowlands.

Fortunately, for racing, former opponents; legislative leaders like Senate President Sweeney and Senator Jim Whelan are part of the group in denial, thinking Atlantic City will survive; which explains their willingness to offer proposals to allow racing to survive.  It is Christie and Hanson who are of the group who know Atlantic City will fail that don't wish for racing to survive, being unwilling to meet with racing interests to work on a compromise.  They know they need to get racing out of the way before they open a casino palace in the Meadowlands  This makes me suspect Christie will veto any legislation which may be beneficial to racing..  The quetion is will the Republicans in the legislature be willing to vote their conscious or hold together for their leader.

The next two weeks will be interesting.  Break out the alka-seltzer. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kill NYCOTB Once And For All

It is time to put the stake through the heart of NYCOTB.  First of all, how fair can a deal be when one secured creditor (via state law), the horsemen get zero cents on the dollar, while another secured creditor (the race tracks) get the ADW system as compensation for what they are giving up in bankruptcy court?  If the settlement gave horsemen a percentage of the ADW system as well as the racetracks, I would be in favor of the plan, even if the agreement called for the tracks to run the system; they key is the horsemen would have an equity interest in the ADW system.

As for the settlement calling for less racing dates at Monticello, that is a red herring.  With all do respect to Mr. Faraldo, there is too much racing going on at Monticello as is; if racing during January and February was cancelled, it would remove an inferior product and increase the purse distribution the rest of the year for horsemen who call Monticello home.  Instead of racing at Monticello, these horsemen can race at the upstate tracks where there is such a shortage of horses that they let them race as long as a horse has a valid line within the last six months.

I understand racinos wish to reverse tax increases, but the bankruptcy of NYCOTB is not the place for this to be addressed; it should be negotiated with the state legislature outside of the constraints of a bankruptcy procedure.

If this deal was to be approved, it would be another case where the standardbred industry takes one for the benefit of the thoroughbred industry; all the protections the harness industry due to the prejudices of NYCOTB would disappear.  No more dark day payments as well as other payments made because OTB decides to show a $2,000 claiming race at Plug Downs over the Open at Yonkers.  There is nothing in this plan to ensure a NY first strategy would be mandatory; not that it has stopped OTB in the past from doing what it wants.  Any deal should protect the standardbred horsemen from discriminatory practices from OTB.

Even more frightening is once this bill is approved, the other OTBs will be in line seeking a similar deal.  Make no mistake, if OTB were to close, horsemen will lose as those who wager at NYC OTB offices are not likely to return to the track.  However, as a legitimate creditor of NYCOTB, shouldn't the horsemen have a say in what will happen to them?

OTB has been a plague on New York racing since it first opened up.  Maybe with the death of OTB, racing will finally be in control of its own destiny.

Hialeah Debuts 12% Rake on All Wagers; Poison Pill for NJ Racing

It will be curious to see how handles are impacted at standardbred and thoroughbred tracks starting this Friday, December 3 when Hialeah Park reopens.  Yes, Hialeah will be racing quarterhorses, something less popular than harness racing, but with Hialeah introducing a 12% takeout on all wagers (including exactas, trifectas, superfectas) for their short meet. which runs primarily Friday-Sunday through January 23, 2011 with a 2:05 EST first post,  it will be interesting to see how their signal is received.  Those who typically would never play a quarterhorse race may be tempted to do so at at 12% takeout.  Of course, to be attractive to gamblers, there needs to be pools sufficient to wager into; something which was not the case last year.

Realistically, being a day time track, the impact on harness racing should be minimal.  But if you are someone who looks at horse racing only as a gambling activity, Hialeah may be your cup of tea.  After all, a 12% takeout translates to payoffs 40% greater than they would have been last year.  Needless to say, Hialeah's gambit is an experiment worth watching.

SBOA President Tom Luchento is confident that there will be a meet at the Meadowlands in 2011.  The fact we are talking about whether or not there will be a meet a mere 32 days before the start of the new year is damning in itself.    I have no doubt if up to Christie and Hanson, there would be no meet at the Meadowlands in 2011.  Fortunately, for racing there is a poison pill which may influence the Governor.  Without the approval of the SBOANJ and the thoroughbred horsemen to reduce their race meets below 141 days each at the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park, there will be no ADW or OTW wagering in New Jersey.  As of today, I don't believe the legislature will change the legislation requiring the approval of the horsemen to continue ADW or OTW wagering.  That being said, I wouldn't put it past Christie from suddently uncovering new horsemen groups willing to accept fewer days of racing to allow OTW and ADW wagering, but the chances of that happening is slim being court fights would be tying the governor up. 

The problem of course comes that the Governor has the ability to veto the minutes of the NJSEA so it will not surprise me to see the Governor veto the minutes with regard to purse distributions..  So while racing will likely occur at the Meadowlands, purse accounts may be lower than the horsemen ever expected.  It would not surprise me to see the Meadowlands and Freehold racing similar quality of horses. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Folly of Moving to Monmouth Park

New Jersey's Robespierre, Jon Hanson, has suggested harness racing move to Monmouth Park.  Obviously, Hanson must have consulted a Ouija board when making this decision as there is one slight problem with the proposal as currently proposed; it would never work.

Let's start with the obvious, Hanson proposes $4.6 million dollars to put lights at Monmouth plus build a receiving barn for the standardbreds and winterizing part of the grandstand.  Churchill Downs spent $4 million to put lights in at their track, leaving only $600,000 for a receiving barn and winterizing the grandstand.  With New Jersey's famous cost overruns, I imagine horsemen will be asked to bring their own space heaters with them whenever they race to warm up the paddock.  As for the customers, I imagine winterizing the grandstand will include putting in a swimming pool for members of the polar bear club to watch the races from. 

Besides the estimate obviously pulled out of the air by Hanson, there are other reasons why a standardbred meet would not work at Monmouth Park. is the so far quiet objection of the thoroughbred horsemen.  No, it is not the usual opposition to another breed which is the problem, but the realistic practicality of having to share the same oval.  Followers of the Meadowlands thoroughbred meets of the past recall the cancellation of many days in the late fall which were required due to an unsafe track surface caused by raining and freezing and thawing of the track.  Blame for these cancellations is due to the need to convert the track back and forth from a standardbred to a thoroughbred track  Do the thoroughbred horsemen want to deal with this again?

If Monmouth was ever to support both breeds of racing, it would be necessary for it to become another Woodbine Racecourse.  Either a standardbred track, greater than a mile in diameter would need to be build outside of the current course, which would take up some of the standee level or an even greater effort would be required to move the turf course outside of the current main track and replace the thoroughbred turf course with a standardbred oval like Woodbine.  Either proposal would require a larger influx of  revenue to accomplish it, but then both meets could race during the warmer months eliminating the need to winterize the grandstand.  But the cost would be well over $4.6 million dollars; something the state would never agree to.

If the standardbred horsemen are to be evicted from the Meadowlands, there are two better options available.  One would be having the state pay the expenses to install lights, a receiving barn and testing facility at Gaitway Farms and let the track operate without a grandstand to keep costs down by racing as a studio facility for OTW and ADW wagering.  Once the meet was financially successful, then a small scale grandstand could be constructed there.  The other option would be to revisit the possibility of racing at Atlantic City Race Course as they don't use their main track for thoroughbreds and use the facility primarily for studio racing; but there would be a need to install lights as well as they were removed once Atlantic City Race Course virtually closed.  The only problem with using ACRC wold be the question of Philadelphia Park wanting to hold a meet or lease their facility out.

Studio racing would be a novel approach but considering the amount of money bet on track, would it be that dramatic an experiment?

What Has Caused Racing's Downfall?

As the Governor in New Jersey is about to drop the anvil on New Jersey horse racing of both breeds, it is easy to blame the government for racing's predicament.  For sure some of the lies with government; refusing to allow horse racing to expand it's reach into the public consciousness.  For example, can anyone tell me why a horse player is not able to visit their local lottery retailer and make a wager on a race at the Meadowlands that night?

What people in racing don't want to realize is they have their own blame to share in this debacle.

For example, horsemen claim at racinos, racing has become the orphan child.  A good part of the problem here is related o the fact track operators sold out to gaming companies instead of bringing gaming companies about to manage their casino properties.

Remember when races were exciting events with action all throughout the race?  Well, races have becoming boring events with single moves.  The passing lane, once thought to make racing exciting by not allowing a horse to be locked in, gives these horses the reason to sit until the stretch.

Thoughbred interets got right was their rule regarding jockeys.  Jockeys can not own, or train their own horses.  A jockey makes their money from winning races; and winning races alone.  Yet harness racing never moved upon their nepotistic ways.  Harness racing is a nepotistic; trainers and drivers are related to each other and allowed to compete in the same race at the same track.    Yet no one has really addressed this situation,  A driver can own and train horses, sometimes owning horses with drivers or trainers the compete against.

Thoroughbreds schedule races against each other.   A leading trainer will send their best horse to the top affair and send their second string horse to another race.  With harness racing's attention to avoid conflict, some stables will race two or three horses in the same race.

Thoroughbreds limit the number of starters in a race or they race in divisions.  Harness racing races eliminations which encourage horses not to compete to their best ability in an elimination or they offer their choice of post position to heat winners which in effects, fixes races to heat winners. 

The Meadowlands has been considered the mecca of harness racing, with large pures, but let's look at the downside.  Owners like Lou Guida, came in and commoditizes horses, bringing people into the business who are not horsemen but bean counters that treat a horse as a widget.  The Meadowlands caused the demise of the trainer/driver; where a trainer would keep a horses best interest foremost in their mind so there would be a horse remaining for future weeks; replaced by catch drivers that have no problem gutting a horse as their would be fresh meet the following week.  When controlled by a trainer/driver, there was no problem with giving a horse a week off; now with the big purses trainers are forced to get a horse ready for the following week regardless of the long term impact on  a horse. A vet is now a critical member of racing teams.

Back in the early seventies, the USTA rules permitted sixteen starters on a mile track, fourteen horses on a five/eighths trans; twelve horses on a half mile oval.  Now owners cry with one horse in a second tier which results in eliminations with six horses in a race.

The Meadowlands spoiled other horsemen.  Where tracks were content on having seasons, the appearance of a seven month meet at the Meadowlnds lead to longer meets at other tracks so know tracks like Balmoral/Maywood,  Monticello, Meadowlands, and Yonkers now race year round. What was a welcome seasonal event has became a contender for discretionary income dollars.  Now there is too much racing product available on a daily basis.

In Canada, Standardbred Canada has come up with a program for a Racing Development and Sustainability Plan yet only 704 signatures have been put to the petition asking the ORC to put 5% of the pures account into a program to maket the sport in each state.  Yet, due to the low response, the program will likely move nowhere this year.

We have racinos like Monticello which never race on a weekend when people in the local market can attend the races.  Yonkers Raceway, won't schedule a holiday matinee to expose slot players who normally don't go to the track during racing hours to racing.

Remember the rule where a horse needed a valid start within thirty days to race in a parimutuel race? Now some tracks have a forty-five day rule for stakes horses and in winter environments, a horse may not have started for six months to start in a race.

Yet, despite all these issues with harness racing, the blame all lies with government for pulling their support.  How many people are looking into a mirror wondering if just maybe they did something to stop the decline., racing may not be in such bad shape.

If you have not yet read the interview with Tasmanian driver Sam Rawnsley where we discussed racing in Australia, you may read the entire interview here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Australian Harness Racing: Q&A with Sam Rawnsley

In an effort to widen the horizons of harness racing fans, I was recently fortunate to interview Sam Rawnsley, a driver who races in Australia, primarily in Tasmania, Rawnsley on the Tasmania Pacing Club Junior Driver of the Year award for the 1990/91 season and has been driving many of his father’s horses such as Maybe Jane who won the Group 3 Granny Smith for Mares. Sam is the driver of Gedlee, the current Horse of the Year in Tasmania. While a part-time driver, Sam has a .356 UDR last season (the season goes from September 1 to August 30 in the Southern Hemisphere) and has driver for many of the top trainers in Tasmania in years past.

I recently took the opportunity of interviewing Sam Rawnsley in order to investigate the similarities and differences in harness racing between North America and Australia. Here is the interview:

VFTRG: Sam, how did you get involved in harness racing?

Driver Sam Rawnsley 
Photo Copyright by Milton Pettit used by permission.
 SR: Family. My father has always had a horse or two and it all started from there. I would go out to his stables after school and help out and when he worked afternoon shift I would jump on my bike and pedal 7 miles to feed up for him and make sure all was all right with the horses. So it all started at a young age and to be honest with you, I loved doing it.

VFTRG: You have been driving for more than twenty-two years. What made you decide to become a driver?

SR: It just happened really, after many years of track work and slow work on those cold Tasmania winters, I ask dad if I could get my license and he said get yourself a trade first then worry about driving horses, so that’s what I did. I got an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner and then asked him again and he said ok. I can remember that I had to do 20 drives at the Qs and get then passed before I could drive in a race as a junior driver.

Maybe Jane ($86,358AIS, Mile Rate 1:59.3MS)
 being trained by Sam's father, Phil Rawnsley.

 VFTRG: Have you ever trained horses? If so, who is your most famous horse you trained?

SR: No, I have never trained a horse in my own right, but dad and I work very close together, so you could say we have the right mix.

VFTRG: You used to drive full time but now race your own horses? What do you do as your full time occupation? Do most drivers drive full time or part time?

Maybe Jane with her first foal, a Grinfromeartoear filly.

SR: I work at Norske Skog Boyer in the paper mill, It’s shift work and at times it is very hard to juggle driving my own and dad’s horses, but it all works out, my bother in-law will fill in for me at time when I can’t get time off work and now my nephew has got his license as well so I don’t have much trouble finding someone to replace me. There is a large percentage of part time drivers in Australia, so there is a lot of hobby drivers and trainer. Yes, we have our full time drivers but most would also hold a trainers licence as well.

VFTRG: What do you attribute the large number of part time drivers to? Is it the purses make it hard to be a full time driver?

SR: Purse would be one of the attribute to the large number of part time drivers, for me to earn the money I earn at work I would nearly have to drive $2m in stakes, this just does not happen in Tasmania. One of Tasmanian leading drivers for many years in Ricky Duggan works on the local council during the week and drives on the weekend, and he is our top catch drivers over here in Tassie. In the bigger states like Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia you will find a lot more full time drivers as the purses are bigger and they have a lot more meetings. We also have what is know as driving fees, where a driver will get $50 per drive, this helps the drivers that are trying to make a living out of the game.

Gedlee winning the Peter Nevin Pace at Hobart Raceway.
Photo Copyright by Milton Pettit used by permission.

 VFTRG: I understand your most famous horse you have driven is your own Gedlee, a four year old by the Canadian-bred Time Stands Still (US$359,895,1:52.2) and the mare Codys Gift, who is a winner of AUS$56,874 lifetime through last season (seasons run from September - August) who has a lifetime mark of 1:59.2 behind the mobile barrier. Would you tell us a little bit about Gedlee’s racing accomplishments?

SR: I had a very good season with him last season, it took him awhile to hit his straps (stride) you could say, but when he got the hang of what it was all about he just kept getting better as the season went on. He ran second in two derby’s behind Lanercost, won the Globe Derby final, was named Tasmania 3yr old colt of the year and also was named Tasmania Horse of the year as well, plus Tasmania pacing club 3yr old of  the      year, not bad for a horse that did not win his first race until February.

Gedlee returning to the winner's circle.
Photo Copyright by Milton Pettit used by permission.

VFTRG: In North America, the two races drivers and owners always mention as races they want to win is the Little Brown Jug (pace) and the Hambletonian (trot). What would be the two races mentioned in Australia?

SR: Most drivers in Australia would love to win the Inter-dominion, that is the one every driver, trainer and owner wants if you are good enough. The Hunter Cup is another great race to win, and the (Australian) Breeders Crown is getting bigger every year. We also have our own Grand Circuit so a win in any of the Grand Circuit races would be a feather in your cap. For me, I would love to have my name on the Hunter Cup honor roll.

VFTRG: Australia races both trotters and pacers. What percentage of races are for trotters?

SR: I would say about 10%, the trotter is not that big in Australia but it is getting more and more popular. But right now, there would be more trotting races in New Zealand overall than in Australia.

VFTRG: Australia races two year olds. Are there any restrictions on two year olds with respect to when they start racing and/or a limit to the number of races as a two year old?

SR: No not at all, they can race as much as they like, 2yr olds don’t start racing until about November down here and the bigger races are late in the season.

VFTRG: In North America, we have big races for two and three year olds where the older horses for the most part are excluded from racing for big money. Is this the same in Australia or is there more emphasis on stakes races for older horses?

SR: Yes mate we have big races for the 2 & 3 yr olds as well, sire stakes racing, sales races and of course the Breeders Crown. There are also a lot of stake races for the older horses as well, like the Grand Circuit races and a lot of cup races, so you could say it is very evenly balanced.

The Gedlee Team,  Father/Trainer Phil, Driver Sam, and Caretaker
 Geoff Holmes.  Photo Copyright by Milton Pettit used by permission.

VFTRG: What are sales races?

SR: Sales race are races for horse that go through the sale ring as yearlings at certain sales. Say you purchase a yearling at the Australian Pacing Gold sale that yearling is then eligible for the APG sales races and these races hold big purses, this helps the breeder get good money for his yearling and also the purchaser to
get a nice return on his purchase.

VFTRG: Do standardbreds race only on dirt in Australia? If not, what percentage of races are on the turf?

SR: We race mainly on ‘dirt’, but I would not call it dirt, as our surfaces range from a lot of different surfaces from crushed granite, to crushed blue stone to shell grit. Turf racing is a thing of the past, but you will find the odd track that still has turf but they would not race very often and would mainly be picnic meetings.

VFTRG: In Australia, races are started by mobile barrier and standing starts. Is it common for horses to race both in mobile starts and standing starts or do horses tend to specialize? For those who are not familiar with standing starts, would you explain how they work?

SR: Most horse can do both, some are better at one then the other. You will get the horse that has no idea how to step away from the stand so the trainer will just race him from the mobile, but most trainers will try to get there horses to step from the stand.

The standing start is pretty simple really, an elastic strand is pull across the track, then the horse are called up to take their post position and once the starter is happy that all is ok he will say go. Races like the Hunter Cup and New Zealand Cup are ran from the standing start and these are two of the greatest races down here.

VFTRG: Do punters have a preference between trotters and pacers as well as mobile starts versus standing starts?

SR: Most punters will stay away from betting on a certain horse if he or she is not to sure about how the horse will step from a stand, but these days there is plenty of form around for the punter. Mobile would be the preference and pacers over trotters only due to the fact that a pacer has more chance of staying flat then the trotter.

VFTRG: What is the difference between a country meet and a metropolitan meet?

SR: The difference is stake money, any race over $15,000 will hold a metropolitan mark and races below that ($14,999 to $3000) holds a country mark; races below $3000 hold a graduation mark. Most city tracks race metropolitan where each race is over $15000 and most country tracks race for between $8000 and $5000 a race so you can see why ones called metropolitan and ones called country.

VFTRG: What is a graduation race?

SR: Races below a $3000 purse, you can win a graduation race as a maiden and not do a country mark. So an example would be, if a trainer has a maiden and races in a graduation race and wins, he can then race his horse in a country mark maiden race even though he won his first race at his last start.

VFTRG: In the North America there are claiming races and there are conditioned races, typically based on money earned over a period of time. Are there more claiming races than conditioned races? How are conditions written in Australia?

SR: There is both down here with about one claiming race per meet (day), the claimers down here are not as big as you guys are in the States but we do have them and they do create a lot of interest. There are also races that have conditions on them (based on number of metropolitan and/or country wins). Horses that have not won a metropolitan race for the last six starts can drop down a grade, and we now are having races where mares can come into a race under certain condition.

VFTRG: Australia has two tiers of horses in races, even at the mile distance. In North America, horsemen strongly resist horses racing in a second tier. Do horsemen complain about the second tier or is it just accepted as part of the game.

A replay of the 2007 Australian Pacing Championship.  A perfect example of multiple
tears of horses in each race.  Note how different from a North American race.

SR: Not really mate, getting a second tier post is not the best at times but it can be better then posting out side the front line, if you are driving a horse that is not that quick off the arm. If you draw the second row you can push through at the start if you are following a good beginner and can get nice and handy opposed to draw outside the front line and having to drop back to last to get in, it all depends on how the race unfolds early. Some times if you are driving a well fancy runner from the second tier it can help you stay out of the speed battle early and you can settle your horse and wait to make a forward move when the race tempo drops off. But the worst post any driver can get is inside the second tier behind a slow beginner, you will have your work cut out from there.

Maybe Rama, driven by Sam Rawnsley.  Career cut short due
to injury.  Lifteime mark of $16,607(AUS) and a mile rate of 1:59.6
on a mobile start                                                                                    
 There is one problem with the way we draw posts. I believe there needs to be a change for some of our bigger races like the Breeders Crown. In races like the Breeders Crown, the winners of the semi finals should pick their post as in some of the races in the states, I believe it will be fairer for the owners who have staked their horses for this race and if they get a poor post in the final after winning a semi-final, they might as well say good bye .

VFTRG: In North America, racing has become mostly single file with an occasional brush to the lead, yet in Australia races tend to have horses race on the outside a good part of the way. Why is that?

SR: Second tier or as we call it the “one out line“ is just accepted over here. It would have l started back many years ago when we use to race on track smaller than a half mile and it has been accepted as part of the game. I do believe though that as our tracks get bigger like Menangle which is 7/8th of a mile that we will not see the second tier appear until the half over the mile trip, but that will take time as driver start to get the hang of driving on bigger track.

VFTRG: Do you find punters prefer to see horses racing in tiers instead of single file?

SR: For sure, punters hate seeing single file racing over here, the main reason would be that the tempo of the races drops off and the horse on the front end will start to get easy 1/4s and this makes it hard for the horses back in the field to make ground. Our drivers don’t drive for speed as much as drivers in the states, and a driver on the front end will try do give his horse an easy trip in front. Punter lover seeing their horses “one out one back” or (second over) this is the spot to be, just camped off the speed with cover, also now the 3 wide with cover is a good spot to be at the ½, this is because you have cover, with only 3 horses in front of you and you have control of the rest of the field, but you do need to be following the right horse, he has to take you to the top of the lane.

VFTRG: You have the Inter-Dominion where the best Australian and New Zealand horses compete against each other in addition to other races where horses will ship between the countries. Is harness racing in your two countries as closely knit as it is in Canada and the United States or for the most part are your two countries racing independent of each other?

SR: We do race independently from each other, but there is a great rivalry between each country, races like the Inter-Dominion is open to anyone from anywhere but over the years the Australian and New Zealand rivalry has grown for this race, In Australia we import a lot of horse from NZ as well, due to the fact that there is more opportunity in Australia for certain horses from NZ, I would not say that we are as closely knit as Canada and the US due to the fact there is a lot of water between us.

VFTRG: There is a concept in your country which is totally foreign to us. If a trainer intends to change tactics in a race, they must tell the stewards ahead of time and it is publicized to the wagering public. What is the rationale behind this? Do you think it makes races more competitive or less competitive? Does this rule protect the wagering public?

SR: Yes, an interesting question. Some stewards will enforce this in some states and some will not, the whole idea is to protect the punter. Let say I’m driving a certain horse and in his last 4 starts I have taken him off the gate, but tonight I have a really good post and I know this horse can leave the gate when asked and I decide to let him rip early and look for the lead, some stewards would ask the question on the change of tactics at the start and would want to know why. So this is why this rule has been put into place; if a driver decided to drive his horse different then what his form is showing he must inform the steward beforehand. As any good punter would know that this horse has had poor posts and when he gets a good post this horse is more than likely to push forward early. I don’t like this rule one bit as it also give the other drivers knowledge of what you intend on doing at the start of the race. Most good stewards will not enforce this rule, as I have learnt over the years that one of the best handicapper on the race track is the chief steward.

VFTRG: But is the intent of this rule more about integrity than it is about divulging a trainer/driver’s plans; making sure each horse is given a chance to win that start versus being saved for another week?

SR: Integrity is a big part of our sport over here, that is for certain, and I can honestly see why this rule has been put into place, as over the years we have seen some things happen on the track that has damage the integrity of the industry. As for divulging information to other drivers it does do this as well under this rule, let me give you another example as to why I’m not over keen on this rule. I’ll use a horse that we all know, Lonestar Legend (USA), he has been racing some great races of late and leading but is getting ran over in the shadows of the line, so let say that the connection decide to hand up the lead next time he races and they tell the steward of their plans, all the other drivers will beware of this. So does the driver of Lonestar Legend hand up to an outsider that has a shot at him early, under the rule he has to, so if that’s the case the driver of the outsider that has took the lead from Lonestar legend, what will he do if some else has a shot at him, more then likely he will hand up for an easy trip home. Game over for Lonestar Legend now he would be 3 back the inside. I think we will see connection tell steward “if circumstance permit “ they will change tactics, common sense will play a very important role in this new rule. I do believe that this rule should be strongly enforce when an owner or trainer has more then one runner in a race, and the steward ask the connection of the driving instructions they have placed with the drivers and this information passed on to the general public.

VFTRG: The racing style appears to be much different when compared to North American racing. Where in North America, our races tend to go single file with occasional brushes; your races tend to race with a constant outside tier. How else are your races different?

SR: Yes, the racing styles are very different, as we have discussed earlier about the second tier, we have also what is called “the three wide train” this is where drivers will go 3 wide about at the 1000m mark and will be looking for a ride home on the back of another runner. We also look to give our horses a cheap ¼ somewhere in the race so that we have a bit of fuel in the tank for the run home. The different distances we race mainly because this as it would be very hard to go flat out over a trip of say 2400m.

VFTRG: In North America races for the most part are miles (1609 meters) where in your country races tend to race anywhere up to approximately 3 miles (4999 meters). How does your punter base like the multi-distance races? Do you think North American racing would benefit with different distance races occurring with regularity?

SR: I honestly don’t think the punter is too worried about the distance of a race, the information which is kept these days keeps then well informed of which distance suits a certain horse. Sure there are horse that love the longer trips and one which like the mile trip and the punter gets to know this, as do the drivers. If a certain horse is suspected at a longer trip his driver will keep him covered up for the trip. These day 2 miles is about as far as we go, and we do have a lot of middle distance races, where you will see drivers trying to sneak that cheap ¼ or ½.

VFTRG: Do the multi-distance races make things more exciting for the fans? Do the longer races give horses starting from the second row a better chance to win?

SR: It does give horse a better chance from the second row over the longer distances, I think the multi-distance races make for more interesting racing with moves mid race and horse getting on to the 3 wide train for a ride home, but a well contested mile race is full of excitement.

VFTRG: Your race bikes are very different from North American bikes. How did it get to be that you use something which looks more like our jog carts to race with? Any talk of the bikes possibly changing to the North American sulkies?

AS: Great question, yes they do look a bit like your jog carts and I have no idea how they got like that, but I will say something on race bikes in Australia, things are changing. The Evolution Bike has hit our shores and I for one believe that this is one of the best things that have happened to harness racing in a long time. Tom Harmer’s race bike was first used on Monkey King and since then we are seeing more and more of them on our race tracks. They are still not as wide as the bikes in the US but the principle is the same. Australia is in the midst of a bike revolution and in 10 years time we will see nearly every one with these types of race bike. It will take a lot longer before our bikes get as wide as the one in the US as for we race a lot tighter and the culture of race driving will have to change as well. Since the Harmer Bike was introduced a lot of other sulky companies are trying to develop better bikes along the same lines as Toms bike, at the present time the Walsh Sulky company is trying to get a wider bike approved to use in Qs , it is 4 inches wider then what we are using at the moment so only time will tell, but one thing is for sure thing are changing.

VFTRG: You see relatively few Australian horses being exported to the United States when compared to the number of New Zealand imports. What do you attribute this to?

SR: I don’t really know why this is the case, maybe the NZ horses are a bit cheaper, don’t really know why this is the case.

VFTRG: On the whole are New Zealand horses better than Australian or vice-versa?

SR: Australia legendary thoroughbred trainer Bart Cummings thinks so, he believes the rich fertile lands of NZ are horse heaven for building young racing stock. I have seen many great horse from both countries over the years, and I believe great horse are just born, it’s up to you how you look after then, train then, and drive then, which will all help in then producing there best. So to answer your question not really much difference.

VFTRG: This past year, a new whipping rule was implemented in Australia. Will you tell us the basics about the rule change? Have the drivers for the most part accepted it? Do you see a lot of horses quitting more in a race as a result of the rule change? How is it being received by the wagering public?

SR: Another positive for harness racing, when the new whip rule came into place, drivers were not permitted to take their hand out of the lines when whipping their horse, it has changed a bit since then and now you can whip your horse with a free hand only over the last 200m of a race. I found that when the new rule was put into place a lot of drivers forgot about the rule in the drive to the line, which costs their hip pocket in fines, but once the drivers got use to it, I could see no problem. I found that horses where finishing off better under this new rule and the wagering public was happy with the outcome.

VFTRG: If you could recommend one change which North American harness racing interests should implement to improve the racing product, what would it be?

SR: Another good question, it would be unfair of me to make too much of a comment about this question but I do believe that we can learn from each other and share ideas about how to improve our game in both countries.

VFTRG: What are the responsibilities of Harness Racing Australia? Are the rules the same in all the states?

SR: Harness racing Australia is responsible for most of the running of harness racing in Australia. The rules are very much the same in all states with only a few differences.

VFTRG: Each state has an organization such as Harness Racing Tasmania. What does each of these state bodies do?

SR: They are responsible for the running of harness racing in each state, which is over seen by Harness racing Australia.

VFTRG: In the United States, racetracks race their dates in a group. Yet in Australia, meets are individual days of racing. Who decides which tracks race what days in the state? Is there any coordination between the different states?

SR: Each state will set out a program for races 12 months in advance and this will be over seen by HRA; this is to make sure that big races don’t clash with each state. There is a lot of communication between states beforehand as well.

VFTRG: Is there coordination between running dates and standardbred dates or is it everyone fending for themselves? Do you get much regular television coverage for certain race meets?

SR: Yes a lot of coordination between each state, they meet on a regular basis to discuss a range of topics and hopefully come to a consensus decision. Our product is beamed into pubs, club and homes thanks to Sky channel; you will find our product on Sky every day of the week covering nearly ever meeting possible. As for free to air TV you might see a story about a certain horse or trainer or a preview of a big race but that is about it. I believe the Internet could be used more as to keep the general pubic up to date about the industry here in Australia.

VFTRG: Let’s talk about the business side of racing. How does standardbred racing stand up in Australia when compared to the other forms of pari-mutuel racing (thoroughbreds and greyhounds)?

SR: Thoroughbred are the big daddy of racing in Australia; the stake money is massive and the wagering is big also, harness racing is just above the dogs but they are not to far behind us. Thoroughbreds have a big following Australia-wide where we would only have a small percentage as well as the greyhounds. On a Saturday afternoon at the gallops you would get between 15,000 to 20,000 people at the track for you stand meeting in Victoria, where at the harness racing you would be very lucky to see 2,000 people there. The days of the big crowds re gone down here and this is a concern, we have harness racing on cable, pay television every day and the wagering from this keeps the industry a float.

VFTRG: If wagering has fallen significantly, how is the industry responding to keep wagering levels up? Does Australia have a jackpot type wager such as the V75 in Sweden?

SR: I wouldn’t say wagering has fall significantly, but in saying this I don’t know the figures. We do have jackpot type wagering but not in the same class as V75, jackpots on the pick 6 are more our go. To try and keep wagering up, harness racing is trying all the time with the likes of twilight meetings and racing on different days and the like, it is very cut throat business and the punter has only so much money to wager.

VFTRG: How is on track attendance doing lately? How many people will you see at a major race meeting versus a non-stakes meeting? Is anything being done to increase on track attendance?

SR: Poorly! Track attendance has been slowly going downhill since I can remember. Gone are the days of then being packed deep around the course, at a major meeting. If you got all of 6000 people would be a good result at non stake meetings; mid week you will only see the trainers, drivers, stable hand, the odd owner and the die-hard fan. I remember a few years back I went to a mid week meeting at Geelong, Victoria second biggest city and there was only 4 people in the stand and 2 in the bar, the bartender was reading a comic book to keep himself a wake, a very sad sight.

VFTRG: What do you attribute the fall off in business to? What do you think can be done to make racing more popular again? What is HRA and the various stage organizations doing to make harness racing more popular?

Profile of Gedlee ($66.739AUS), 3, MR 1:582.MS)
 SR: There is a lot of factors that have contribute to the fall off in attendances; one of the main things that I believe is that the placement of tracks inside thoroughbred tracks. This took the action away from the fans and they started to drop by the way side. Fortunately we are now seeing this not happening and our newer tracks are being built so the fan is nice and close to the action. Also the introduction of the breathalyzer, back in the 70’s killed off fans as well, gone was the day when you could go to the night races have a few beers and a punt and drive home.

But one of the biggest attributes to the fall off of attendance was the Milkshake! In the late 80’s and early 90’s you might of well not of studied your form, as milk shaking of horses made it nearly impossible to follow form, this led to the general punter losing confidence in the industry and they just walked away. We also lost a lot of the smaller trainers as well, as they were finding it difficult to stay competitive.

Thankfully these days are now behind us and we can move forward. I think the industry is picking up again and there is a lot to like about what is happening , I went to Victoria’s new track last year and they have got the right mix, it is outside Melbourne at a place called Melton, which is one of the quickest growing areas in Victoria, it is a 5/8 track, you are right on the action, there is heaps of entertainment and great food! People love great food and if you can find a place where you can get a great feed be entertained and have a punt you will keep going back. One think that will all ways get fans back to the track is great horses and I believe that we need the media to catch on to some of our super stars of the game and let everyone know about the great horses we have racing.

VFTRG: Does your industry get any subsidies from the state or national governments?

SR: Yes, this is where our stake money comes from. Each state government will fund their own state from taxes made on wagering.

VFTRG: Is the treatment of ex-racehorses a big issue in Australia? Are there any industry-wide programs to find new homes for retired horses? If so, what are they?

SR: No not really, but this is area where we can improve, each state has industry program for finding homes for retired horse and a lot of good work has gone into this over the past few years but I would say that the treatment of ex-racehorses is not a big issue.

VTRG: It seems nationwide you have off track betting (TAB). Yet it seems there are multiple TABs handling the same race meets offering different prices. Do people shop for odds between TABs or are they restricted to one operating where live or work?

SR: Yes they do shop for odds. You can open an account in any state’s TAB and you can wager on the one you like, if you have an account of course. If you are at the track or the local TAB your money goes into that state’s TAB. We have Super TAB, NSW TAB and Uni TAB

VFTRG: Who runs the wagering at the tracks?

SR: The Local TAB in Tasmania is called Tote Tasmania which is linked to Super TAB.

VFTRG: Do you have fixed odds wagering being offered? Are they offered regularly or for special events?

SR: Yes we do, mainly on special events, but it is getting more common and you can get fixed odds on track with the bookmakers plus on line betting as well.

VFTRG: With the exception of special events, do Australians bet on harness races from other countries?

SR: Yes mainly NZ, but we can also bet on French harness racing and sometimes Sweden as well thanks to the coverage on Sky 2.

VFTRG: The North American Breeders Crown was offered this year in Australia and New Zealand. How was it received in Australia? Besides the fact the Crown races were held early Sunday morning, do you think there was anything which could have been done by the Hambletonian Society (sponsors of the Breeders Crown) or Pocono Downs which hosted it to make the day more popular in your country?

SR: It was great to receive the coverage of the Breeders Crown live from Pocono Downs. Being on early Sunday morning did make it hard for it to be well received, due to the time, but all and all I found the coverage excellent and enjoyed every minute of it.

VFTRG: With the exception of the Breeders Crown, do any American races get coverage in Australia with wagering? If not, what do you think hampers it?

SR: The Breeders Crown was covered for the first time in Australia this year, the waging pools where not big but the coverage was excellent, apart from that we do not have American races getting coverage to wager on. The time factor plays a big role, your night meetings would start as us Aussies are tucking into our weet-bixs and vegemite on toast for breakfast, Aussie like to sit down and have a punt on races in the afternoon and night not early hours of the morning, so it is always going to be hard to market American harness racing down under due to this fact. Prime time harness racing is Friday and Saturday night down here so you guys could trail a meeting or to that slot into this prime time.

VFTRG: The programs (form guides) in Australia are totally different from North American programs. Do you think either program is superior to the other?

SR: I would say North American program has a lot more information and I could see that this would be confusing to the first time race goers. Maybe there should be two types of form guides, an expert one and a fan one, but once you get the hang of reading then they have a lot more information, I do like the drivers UDR and money earnings.

VFTRG: While you will see Australian thoroughbred races being offered in the United States, you never see a harness race from Australia being simulcast to the United States. Is this more a refusal of American tracks and ADWs not wanting to show Australian harness racing, the racing styles being too different, or is it a lack of effort from HRA to get their product offered globally? Do you see North American races being simulcast to Australia on a regular basis?

SR: I don’t really know why this is the case, it would be great if we could simulcast between countries and hopefully in the not to distance future we will be able to watch the big races from both side of the world.

VFTRG: Is there anything you want to add?

SR: I believe the world of harness racing is getting smaller day by day and that we will all be able to learn from each other. We now have the tools we need to keep the owners, trainers, drivers, stable hands, punters and the fans of this great industry we have up to date. I hope that I will be still around when the big crowds return to the track to witness the great equine athletes of the world. We all at times under estimate the ability of this wonderful animal and give our self’s a pat on the back for the job we have done, but when you really think about the great names of the game, where would they have been without this super athletic animal, the standardbred race horse !

VFTRG: Thank you for your time. I am sure standardbred fans in North America will find your comments interesting.

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Well, We're Better Than Iowa"

"Well, we're better than Iowa" may be the new battle cry of the New Jersey Sires Stakes the way things are going.  We already heard of the decision of Rock N Roll Heaven to bypass New Jersey to stand stud at Blue Chip Farms in New York.  Now comes news from Harness Racing Update, that Lucky Chucky, a stallion being managed by Perretti Farms, will be standing Winbak Farm's New York facility.  Tell All, who had already been standing stud in New Jersey, is heading to Tara Hills in Ontario.  No doubt any of the younger commercially viable stallions remaining will be heading for the borders to flee a rapidly deteriorating situation in state.  Revenue will be heading to Sweeden and Matt's Scotter whose is semi-retireed will remain at Perretti farms to live out his life.

No doubt the Goveronr will blame the breeding industry for abandoning New Jersey.  Of course, Christie should look in his mirror.  After all how can any breeder stay in a state where a month away from the start of a new racing year no one knows what will be happening?  For all purposes, the NJSS and the rich races for NJ-sired horses are gone.  At best, we can expect a program for NJ Foaled programs; I don't think Christie has scared the broodmares away; yet.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The" B" Track Tour Begins - Cal-Expo

Our second annual "B" track tour begins this week with a visit to Cal-Expo, the west coast outpost of harness racing.  Since many have Friday off this week, we will start this year's tour with the Friday night card at Cal-Expo. 

As many of you are aware, Cal-Expo is basically a closed shop; not by desire but necessity.  Some horses do ship down from British Columbia but with the exception of the Diamond Alliance Horses from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, the racing is purely Californian.  As for betting handle, Cal-Expo is certainly no Woodbine, or Meadowlands, but unlike some tracks with real paltry handles, there is a respectable amount of money wagered at Cal-Expo.  Last Friday over $685,000 was wagered on the fourteen race card.

The driving colony at Cal-Expo hasn't really changed over the years.  James Kennedy, Tim Maier, Luck and Rick Plano, Rocky Stidham, Steve Wiseman, and Richard Wojcio are the regulars who drive there.  On occasion you will see TV produce Alan Kirchenbaum and Trackmaster President David Siegel taking up the reins to race there.

Perhaps the biggest problem with racing in California is the shortage of horses.  Due to the shortage of horses, numerous races have uncoupled entries in order to card full fields.  The overall caliber of the horses is definitely 'B' level but to their credit, they don't artificially inflate the classes of their horses in order to card Open and higher classed conditioned and claiming races. 

One customer friendly service of Cal Expo is if you sign up for their mailing list, they will email you their track programs ahead of each racing day and send you the charts of completed races shortly after the nights races are completed.  Another gambler-friendly step Cal-Expo takes is they have race comments on each past performance line; something which should be mandatory for all extended parimutuel tracks.

The Cal-Expo wagering menu is as follows:
  • Win, Place, Show - All races
  • Exactas, Trifectas, $.10 Superfectas - All races
  • Daily Doubles - 1st and 2nd race; Last two races (14th and 15th)
  • Pick-4 - Races 2-5 ($10,000 GTD); Races 11-14 ($10,000 GTD & 15% Takeout Saturday Nights with 0% takeout Late Pick-4 on Sat nites for on-track and Twin-Spires account holders)
  • Pick-3 - Races 3-5; Races 4-6; Races 6-8; Races 7-9; Races 8-10; Races 9-11; Races 10-12; Races 12-14; Race 13-15
  • $.50 Pick-5 - Races 5-9 (Carryover $6,568)

Here are my picks for Friday evening's races at Cal-Expo.  First race is 5:45 PST.

1sr Pace - $1,700; F&M Claiming $2,500 - W150PS or Less
4 - Tonight Is Mine (R Plano, 9-2)
2 - Girls Lie Too (Maier, 2-1)
1 - Sleigh Belle (Siegel, 5-2)
5 - Wicked Beach (Isbell, 9-2)
Coupled: Sleigh Belle and Jane The Brain

2nd Pace - $1,700; Claiming $2,500 - W150PS or Less
3 - Davebro Bromace N (Wiseman, 2-1)
5 - Keyword Hanover (Bertrand, 6-1)
2 - Freedom Art (R Plano, 12-1)
9 - Pedal Pad (Cisco, 5-1)

3rd Trot - $2,700; Non-Winners 2 or $4,000 LT
7 - Dreaming of Amy (Kennedy, 9-2)
3 - Lookin To Leave (Jenson, 12-1)
6 - Franky Provolone (L Plano, 6-5)
2 - Goli Tie (Girard, 9-2)
#10 - Victory Felicia scores from the second tier

4th Pace - $2,300; F&M $4,000 Claiming
3 - Majestic Lass (R Plano, 5-2)
1 - One More Molly (Maier, 3-1)
5 - Cinnnamon (Cisco, 8-1)
4 - Charmer (Welence, 10-1)
Coupled: One More Molly and Little Kiera

5th Pace - $2,200; $4,000 Claimers N/W 1 PM or $3,000 LT
1 - Fancy Man (Desomer, 6-5)
5 - Desired Result (Silvestri, 7-2)
9 - WD Cowboy Justice (Schneider, 9-2)
4 - Spanish Harlem (Wojcio, 8-1)
Coupled: Fancy Man and Art Deco
#9 W D Cowboy Justice will score from the second tier

6th Pace - $1,800; F&M Claiming $2,500  - W100PS or Less
4 - Linnea Blue Chip (L Plano, 3-1)
2 - Rough Sailing (Cicso, 6-1)
8 - Agirlthing (Silvestri, 5-1)
7 - Pleasecasgnybett (Wisemann, 5-2)
#10 Mystically Mine scores from the second tier

7th Trot - $2,000; Claiming $2,500
  4 - British Spirit (Stidham, 5-2)
10 - Princess Joy (Maier, 8-1)
  5 - Mr Me (Jenson, 6-1)
  2 - Bit O Lavec (Wiseman, 6-1)
#10 Princess Joy scores from the second tier

8th Pace - $2,000; F&M Claiming $2,500
3 - Ogs Si Bon (Kennedy, 7-2)
6 - Hi Ho Serenade (L Plano, 3-1)
2 - Well Heeled (Svendsen, 5-2)
1 - Grooving Hi (Cisco, 6-1)

9th Trot - $4,300; N/W 5 PM LT or $3,100 L5  AE: $20,000 Claimers) 
  2 - Jam And Jelly (L Plano, 2-1)
1A - Rompaway Brandon (Maier, 6-1)
  3 - Easter Call (Silvestri, 7-2)
  5 - Berkshire (Wiseman, 8-1)
Coupled: Say It Best and Rompaway Brandon
#9 - Meringue scores from 2nd tier

10th Pace - $15,000; California Sires Stake 3YO Fillies
8 - She Is So Glad (Wojcio, 6-5)
4 - Upncoming Prospect (Wiseman, 6-1)
5 - One Hot Tamale (R Plano, 3-1)
2 - Thelady Isa Champ (Maier, 8-1)

11th Pace - $2,900; Claiming $6,000
2 - Chomp N Stomp (L Plano, 8-5)
7 - Grandpa Stevie (Siegel, 3-1)
4 - Schemes (Weisman, 10-1)
5 - Star Time Kid (R Plano, 6-1)
#10 Rude Awakening scores from the 2nd tier

12th Pace - $2,000; F&M Claiming $2,500
1 - Skyway Fantasy (Succarotte, 6-1)
7 - Brooklets Sundance (Stidham, 3-1)
6 - Sandra Hotspur (L Plano, 4-1)
3 - Scarlet Lite (Cisco, 10-1)

13th Trot - $7,700; LC - "Turkey Trot" Final
  3  - Daytripper (Stidham, 8-5)
  2 - Cherry Tree Rojo (Wojcio, 5-1)
  6 - Cherry Tree Nicole (Maier, 6-5)
1A - Try This (R Plano, 5-1)
Coupled: Sad Parting and Try This

14th Pace - $2,400; Claiming $6,000 N/W2 PM or $6,000 LT
3 - Culture Shift (Maier, 3-1)
2 - RW Island Spririt (L Plano, 2-1)
7 - Jeano (Wiseman, 6-1)
8 - Barona Hickory (Svendsen, 15-1)

15th Pace - $1,600; Claiming $2,500 - W100PS or Less
6 - Bolero Twiser (Maier, 2-1)
9 - Steady As A Rock (Svendsen, 15-1)
8 - Heavy Rain Warning (L Plano, 5-1)
2 - Red Star Gilda (Schneider, 8-1)

For those wondering where standardbred train out in the West, we found  video or such a horse training in the Nevada Desert. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Things to be Thankful For

Make no mistake, 2010 has not been one of the best years.  The future of the Meadowlands has been in question all year.  The economy, despite the experts' declarations, has been poor.  In harness racing, we have a race fixing scandal enveloping racing in Michigan and at Windsor Raceway.  That being said, there are things to be thankful for.  In no particular order, here are things we need to be thankful for.

Wild Turkeys
 I am thankful for Rock N Roll Heaven, who is still racing while horses of less ability have already headed off to stud duty.  I am also thankful for the connections of Rock N Roll Heaven; they have raced most of the dances racing on all size ovals, even the dreaded half mile oval.  Sure, RnR has been managed, but his connections are sportsmen, letting the horse race.  The Horse of the Year Award will be well deserved.

And of course, without Rocknroll Hanover, there would be no Rock N Roll Heaven.  We are thankful for Rocknroll Hanover, who is one of the most exciting sires standardbred racing has had in years.  The way his offspring have been performing, it is possible we will be talking about Rocknroll Hanovers for years. 

I am thankful for Lucky Chucky.  Yes, he came up short in the Hambletonian but a year after Troy Sylvester's passing, Lucky Chucky has made racing fun again for Chuck Sylvester.  Plus, how can we forget those early season races against Muscle Massive?.

Let's not forget See You At Peelers.  The Princess of the NYSS stepped into open company to win the Breeder's Crown at Pocono Downs and leaves us hopeful for a wondrous run at the age of three.

Truth be told, I am thankful that harness racing had Admiral's Express.  No, we will never see a son or daughter of The Grey Gladiator.  To some people, making money in syndication deals and breedings is the name of the game, but the truth is it is horses like Admiral's Express; the war horses which make racing the great game it is.  May The Gladiator rest in peace.

In a similar vain, let's give thanks to fair tracks like Historic Track where the racing is competitive and there is no wagering.  No, people won't get rich racing at the fair tracks, but they are the best source for developing the future audience for the sport.

We must be thankful for Brett Boyd, President of the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Assocation for leading the struggle to keep harness racing alive in Michigan.  While the schedule has been greatly reduced due to budget cuts at the direction of the state, business is actually up at Northville Downs this past meet.  Considering the recent race fixing scandal, this is no small success..

We should be thankful for the Micighan Gaming Control Board for its role in the alleged racing fixing investigations at Michigan and Ontario raetracks.  Of ilittle note, the examiniation of racing fixing allegations has expanded to the thoroughbred tracks

I am thankful we have legislsators like Senatar Sweeney and Whalen in New Jersey fighting for horse racing.  Sure, they won't approve slots at the Meadowlands, but where you have a Governor and a real estate developer set on throwing horse racing in the river with the fishies, these two key legislators in the Senate are actually working to develop new wagering options to throw racing a lifeline.

I am thankful harness racing has drivers like Randy Waples who has decided to make the trek to Windsor Raceway to drive in cheap races with cheap horses to benefit the Windsor Food Bank.  Racing on the powerful WEG circuit, the leading driver at Woodbine has every excuse to relax on the dark days at Woodbine but instead he gives back to the community; something more of our racing stars should be doing.

I am also thankful for Heather Moffet, the bubbly host of Post Time and PA Harnessweek.  Not only is she a good will ambassador for harness racing, she uses her celebrity to raise awareness for Autism.  And if producing PostTime and co-hosting another show is not enough, she also dedicates time to Koshy's Kids and Horse Lovers United.  Her presence every year in the Hambletonian Winners Circle is a must see event.  Did I mention she is a great mother of two and wife of trainer Billy Moffett?  Heather is harness racing's Energizer Bunny.

How can we not be thankful for people like Anouk Busch, a standardbred trainer who believes there is no excuse for a race horse to end up in a slaughterhouse?  She launched a lonely campaign to get the USTA ro revoke membership for members that knowingly send horses to slaughter, directly or indirectly and has formed a rescue group called Horse Rescue United.  People like Anouk and others looking to protect our retired equine stars are the conscious of racing.

Speaking of people with a conscience, there are other horsepeople who do their best to rescue horses in danger either individually or with others.  There is the Starfish group, and many others who will work on the side to save horses.  Groups like Standardbred Retirement Foundation and other horse rescues are often staffed by people with a direct or indirect connection to the sport.

Thanks to Dr. Patty Hogan, who continues to help horses in need.  From giving Keystone Wallis a home to live out her life and the many good deeds she done quietly, Doctor Hogan is a blessing to the horses she serves.

How can we not be thankful to Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and the PHHA for hosting the Breeders Crown in the Poconos this year, bring the best racing ever to their facility?  Not only did we have a first class event, they were able to do what others have not ben able to do; get television exposure for the evening.

Thanks to the Hambletonian Society which got wagering on the Breeders Crown in Australia and New Zealand, making the Breeders Crown a true international event.  With luck, opening up Australasia to North American wagering will herald the start of global simulcasting of harness racing wherever it is contested.

Sometimes the best intentions don't work out.  Thanks to Julie Miller and Peter Kleinhans for taking Lucky Jim and Enough Talk over to Europe for the Elitlopp.  Success was not to be, but these trainers were sporting enough to give their horses a chance to race against Europe's best.

Our thanks can't be extended fully enough for drivers like John Campbell, Andy and David Miller, and Brian Sears for continuing to race at the Meaodwlands during this period of uncertainty.  Yes, they may eventually move their tack once final purse distributions are announced for 2011, but unlike other drivers who have moved on to other tracks to call home, they are here willing to stick it out until the fat lady sings.
We are thankful for Bill Finley and Andrew Cohen speaking out on racing issues.  Finley has come to the defense of racing in light of Christie's plans but he has never shied away from criticizing the industry.  As for Andrew Coehn, he has certainly ruffled feathers this year with his attacks on alleged cheaters.  No, many didn't want to hear his message but sometimes we need to hear what we don't want to hear.  In addition, Cohen is in charge of Halters for Hope; an effort to fund recognized rescues.

North of the border, we are thankful for Daryl Kaplan and Standardbred Canada for coming up with their Racing Development and Sustainability Plan; a plan to take 5% of the purses account and invest it in promoting harness racing in Ontario and Canada.  Unfortunately, it seems horsemen in Ontario are unwilling to read the tea leaves as to what the future may hold and are resistant to investing in their future.  Still, they plug along.

Where would we be without Jeff Gural and Jason Settlemoir who have brought us reduced takeouts at Tigoa Downs to improve wagering at Tigoa Dowsn.  Jason is tireless in his efforts on behalf of racing whether at Tioga Downs or as simulcast director for the Little Brown Jug. 

A list of things to be thankful for would not be complete without giving credit to the NJRC for considering a Fair Start rule in the state of New Jersey, potentially correcting a rule change made that did not protect the wagering public.  No, the proposed rule change has not yet been adopted, but the fact is the commission did the right thing when presented with a legitimate argument showing the mistakes of the previous decision.

Thanks needs to be given to Finnish Driver/trainer Riina Rekilia who has taken Canada and North America by storm in her first year of competing in North America.,  Not only does she bring good looks to the sport, she is more than capable of holding her own against the best drivers in North America.  With her ability to race her own stable along with her husband, can we be experiencing the successor to Queen Bea Farber as Rekila continues to take her foothold in North America?

A person who gets little notice, Dale Welk, the Director of Operations at the Standardbred Horse Sales Company, the group which runs the sale at Harrisburg, is a person sellers and buyers are thankful for.  Dave is the guy who somehow makes it possible for over 2,000 horses to be unloaded, stalled, sold and then departed in an orderly fashion.  Then there is Phil Sporn, the pedigree meister, who keeps pedigrees up to date with the latest changes.  Can we forget David Carr at the USTA who is responsible for the constant improvements being made to Pathways which has become so important to breeders and purchasers alike?   

I am thankful for Ray Paulick and the Paulick Report.  Yes, his website is roughly 95% thoroughbred, but he his reporting shows that thoroughbred and harness racing share many common problems from which we can learn from each other.

As for Ivan Axelrod, President of the USTA, we are thankful for his candid words regarding the leadership of the USTA and their unwillingness to take the steps necessary to keep the industry going strong.  No doubt Ivan's comments upset many in leadership, but there comes a time when one must speak candidly.  We also need to be thankful to the rank and file who works at the USTA from Mke Tanner on down who do the best they can hampered by a board of directors who feel we are still in the 1960s.

We are thankful for Nicole Kraft's contributions to the USTA.  While Nicole has left the employ of the USTA, she remains active as a free lance writer promoting harness racing whenever possible.  In the meanwhile, a future generation of journalists are learnings from the best.
I am thankful for my fellow bloggers like Dean over at Pull The Pocket who brings his personal views on racing's problems to the forefront.

And lastly, I am thankful to the readers; those who take the time to read this blog.  It is for you this blog is written.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

There is No Sure Thing

The poll question is back.  Today's question is if there is no racing at the Meadowlands, where would you do the majority of your wagering.  I realize you may wager on more than one track, but vote for the one which would get the bulk of your support.

There have been stories regarding the success of cutting takeout.  Some people believe that cutting takeout rates guarantees benefits not only to horseplayers, but track operators and horsemen alike through increased churn.  Well, while in theory this may be the case; reality may be different.  This past year, Tioga Downs cut their takeout rates which certainly benefited horseplayers, but the track and horsemen actually suffered a decline in racing revenue as a result of the cut.  Yes, wagering handle went up, but not enough to compensate for the loss in revenue as a result of the takeout cut.  Of course, with Tioga Downs having slot machines, the revenue received from wagering has little impact on purses so the hit to horsemen and the track was minimal; the thinking there is progressive enough to realize a cut in the takeout is an investment in their future as it takes time to build wagering up.  While a racino can afford such a move, cutting takeout for a non-racino track is a little more risky.  While handle is likely to go up; if the increase is not sufficient, the track and horsemen will be losing out in the short term.  This is not to say horsemen and tracks shouldn't cut takeout rates as in the long run horsemen and tracks will benefit; but there needs to be a realization that cutting takeout does involve risk.  For a non-racino track there is a certain amount of courage involved in reducing takeout; this is one reason such tracks willing to cut their takeout need to be supported by the wagering public.

Apparently, standardbred racing at Prairie Meadows is still alive.  At the November meeting of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, throughbred and quarterhorse dates were approved, and standardbred dates are pending.  While Prairie Meadows would love to drop the standardbreds, negotiations for a standardbred meet are still underway.

Kudos to Canadian reinsman Randy Waples.  The leading driver at Woodbine has been making the trek down to Windsor Raceway when Woodbine is dark to race for charity.  Thanks to his generosity, the Windsor Food Bank is a recipient of over $2,600 thanks to Randy's efforts.  No big stakes races, just cheap races and cheap claimers; and I'm sure Randy has better things to do on a Sunday evening.  A lot of our stars could not only help their community but promote the sport by doing similar things.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Well Placed Bomb

The NJSEA has announced that within thirty days, horsemen will know what kind of races and purse account will be in place for the 2011 Meadowlands meet.  As fast as the Democratic controlled legislature is trying to work, hope that the calvary will arrive in time to save the day is diminishing.

By now, everyone has head about the Hanson commission issuing a supplemental report calling for the end of racing at the Meadowlands and putting both the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park up for sale.  As for racing in New Jersey, the supplemental report calls for a six day meet at the Meadowlands to accomodate contractual obligations to host the Hambletonian and a thirty day standardbred meet at the Monmouth Park in the fall for 2011 and in future years, having the a seventy day meet at Monmouth.  The thoroughbreds would be given a fifty-nine day meet at Monmouth as well.  The report does call for spending $4.6 million dollars at Monmouth for the installation of lights, construction of a receiving barn, and winterizing part of the grandstand to support a harness meet in addition to transitional subsidies to allow other funding sources to come on line.

One thing is for sure, the timing of this 'update' is more than coincidental; perhaps released to ensure the failure of the upcoming meet?  Horsemen like certainty and while the situation in New Jersey has been unsettling, the consensus has been there would be some type of race meet so many horsemen have been planning to come to New Jersey to race anyway; at least for the winter.  How many horsemen planning to race at the Meadowlands are now scrambling to get into New York before they write conditions favoring horses that have been racing in state?  How many horsemen planning to enter the Meadowlands winter late closing events which have a December 1 closing date are going to skip entering these races?  After all, why enter if they may get cancelled?

Inquiring minds would like to know who besides Hanson was involved in the issuance of this supplemental report; when did they meet; who were the experts they consulted?.  What happened to all the alternatives they suggested in the initial report such as leasing the Meadowlands to the horsemen and why were they jettisoned?  How free was this commission to consider other alternatives or were the opinion of both reeports predetermined?  Would the report have been so anti-racing if Hanson and his company were told they were told they would not be able to bid on a redevelopment project which may take place as a result of this report?

Make no mistake, racing through neglect has put itself in this situation.  However, it is inexcusable that an industry which has done so much for a state is not being given one last fair chance to fix itself. 

Knight Sky Racing has a nice blog entry talking about the efforts of SBOANJ President Tom Luchento's efforts to save racing in New Jersey for both breeds.

For a little nostalgia, let's take a look at the 1972 Provincial Cup at Windsor Raceway.  The race is not only notable for the 12,057 fans in attendnace at Windsor, but for the defeat of Albatross, at the hands of Isle of Wight, who during the infancy of the NJSS program, was the 'It' stallion.  A day could not go by when you didn't see the offspring of Isle of Wight racing and winning at Freehold Raceway and the Meadowlands.

Bonus Play at Cal Expo

From November 27 thru December 18, Twin Spires will be offering a bonus of 17.65% of the gross pool on the late Pick 4 each Saturday night which will make up for the takeout on the wager which will result in a virtual takeout of 0%.  To be eligible for the bonus, gamblers must either wager at Cal Expo or bet through a Twin Spires wagering account.

It will be interesting to see how many people will be showing up at Cal Expo those four Saturday nights to take a shot at the Pick-4 as there is no guaranteed minimum pool and it will be interesting to see how many people with Twin Spires accounts will take a stab at it as well.  Unfortunately, if you don't live within reasonable distance of Sacramento or you are barred from opening a Twin Spires account, this wager doesn't offer any incentive to play other than the fact the pool may be bigger than usual.

That being said, it is a creative partnership between track and ADW to offer better wagering opportunities.  One will hope that a successful trial run may induce the horsemen to offer their own bonus pay to make the wager attractive to all horseplayers interested in harness racing.

Friday, November 19, 2010

An Unplanned Absence

Sorry to have been away this week as I ended up in the hospital.  All is well now, but I need a couple more days to get back up to snuff.  I expect to be back blogging this weekend.  The 'B' track tour will begin next week.

Thanks for your good wishes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dress Rehearsal?

Some people are trying to figure out why the racing at the Meadowlands has been so poor this fall meet in general and this past weekend in particular.  Some thought it was a case of the pool of horses available while Chester, Pocono, and Yonkers are still racing.  Others thought it was a question of the purse account running low and the Meadowlands couldn't afford purses for a better level of horse until next year.

Let me offer an alternate theory.  This weekend was part of a dress rehearsal, a trial of sorts to see how wagering on the Meadowlands' racing product would hold up if this type of overnight racing will is offered next year.  Certainly the handle would be lower than normal, but would it be enough to support the potential purse structure for next year?  Granted, the daily purse distributions ($94,900 for Friday's nine races; $106,800 for Saturday's ten races) are lower than the talked about average daily purse structure of $123,500 mentioned if no subsidy is forthcoming, but some days the handle will be less; others more.  I will leave it to others to analyze whether or not the wagering would support this type of purse distribution.  What we can discuss is the amount of money wagered on these two past race cards.  I can tell you the handle is down significantly when compared to a 'typical' Friday or Saturday night. 

There is no way to do a direct comparison of these dates against similar dates last year as the Meadowlands did not have a fall meet; the last being in 2008 and even then, similar nights were Breeders Crown nights.  So the best we can do is compare the wagering against dates earlier this year when Chester, Pocono and Yonkers were racing and there were no major stakes races on the cards.

Friday night's nine race card had a total handle of $1,533,329.00 and Saturday night's ten race card had a total handle of $1,617.00.  How does this compare against other Friday and Saturday nights?  Let's take a look.  On Friday, May 7 of this year, the second weekend Chester Downs was open, there was a ten race card where the handle was $2,347,954 and on May 8, the twelve race handle was $2,906,130.  Now, the races in the spring were higher caliber than this past weekend's races, which of course encourages higher gambling so some discrepancy is expected.  To make the comparison easier, let's look at the average handle per race.

Handle Per Race
Friday, May 7    Friday, Nov 12   Difference       Saturday, May 8     Saturday, Nov 13  Difference    
$234,795.40       $170,369.89         -28%             $242,177.50          $161,719.70          -33%

As you can see, the drop in handle per race is significant.  Obviously, the handle this past weekend would have been greater were the caliber of racing been better but the fact is without a subsidy, the racing we saw this past weekend may be as good as it gets next year.  This is not to say there won't be weekends where the racing won't be better; you will have NJSS and some stakes races thrown into the mix but I wouldn't expect anything better than $30,000 claimers, nw3cd and nw10000L5 in conditioned races, and a much weaker Open on a regular basis in the overnights if no subsidy is forthcoming.  A gloomy, if not frightening prospect indeed. 

So where would this put the Meadowlands racing product in regards to overall quality?  Using the parimutuel tracks in the DE, NJ, NY, and PA area as a guide, I would rank the tracks as follows:

Tier 1 - Chester Downs and Yonkers Raceway
Tier 2 - Dover Downs and The Meadows
Tier 3 - Harrington Raceway, The Meadowlands and Pocono Downs
Tier 4 - Saratoga Raceway and Tioga Downs
Tier 5 - Freehold Raceway, Monticello Raceway and Vernon Downs
Tier 6 - Batavia Raceway and Buffalo Raceway

Of course, if we included WEG's race meets into the mix, Mohawk and Woodbine would fall into Tier 1.  With Ontario's plans to keep the better horses racing at WEG tracks and the arrival of former Meadowlands horses who are unable to race on a half mile track; the level of competition at Woodbine will be much stronger this winter.

Pray that somehow subsidies are forthcoming for 2011 or else it may be a very gloomy year.