For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pocono Red; Case Returns? Exclusion in Season; Helping Heather

The Meadowlands is safe as 2011 ends, but another track is at risk.  Mohegan Suns at Pocono Down's owners are in technical default, but have received a waiver from their lenders at this time.  The problem?  The inability to refinance debt due in 2012 which has caused them in regulatory filing to indicate "The delay in refinancing fiscal 2012 maturities is among conditions that “raise substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern,”

The question would be will the PAHRC issue a license to race to a track that can't guarantee paying its debt?  This conceivably could result in a one year suspension of racing at the most, if at all as there would be a bankruptcy filing if an agreement could not be reached and they could not receive debtor in possession financing (usually they can).  If a Bankruptcy auction were to take place, make no mistake someone would want to buy the property so they can get a pre-built racino and racing would continue.  The only problem is would horsemen and management have a cooperative relationship as they do now?

Walter Case Jr. had a meeting with Jeff Gural at the Meadowlands and has been informed he will be welcomed IF he can get licensed by the NJRC.  While I will be happy to have Casey back at the Meadowlands, if memory serves me correct, the NJRC once denied him a license.  I don't recall it being a total revocation.  I would hope the NJRC give Walter a chance by issuing him a probationary license for a couple of years before giving him a full license.  This way, Case gets a chance to drive, and the state has an out if it turns out a mistake was made.  HRU reports that Case made a commitment he would stay at the Meadowlands and not head back to Yonkers Raceway.  Regarding Walter's legendary kicking habit, Case agreed to use a special sulky which will not allow him to free his feet from the stir-ups during the race.  If the NJRC doesn't give Case a license (and I would expect probationary), a disservice would be done to Case as he tries to show he is a changed man, and the Meadowlands.

Excluding trainers is in vogue these days with word coming that Chris Marino has been excluded from Pompano Park. Marino has had two major violations this year; a violation for Flunixin at Pocono Downs and this December a TCO2 violation at Pompano Park. There have been a few other violations over the year as well. Marino has trained up at the Meadowlands as well in the past; something tells me he would not be welcomed there as well.

Help Heather Help Others: Harness racing personality, Heather Moffett is looking for more Facebook friends as she has committed to making an $800 donation for obtaining 4,000 friends.  She is 350 people short.  Help Heather by becoming her friend.  For more information, you can check this site out: Please give her a hand as she helps others.

Assuming I don't write any further today (don't count on it), I wish you a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Pena's Out and Here Come the Judges

Not commenting on the merits of Pena's exclusion, but if the Meadowlands is denied the right to exclude trainers and drivers, the Meadowlands is in for a rough time. The NJRC seems to be reluctant to deny licenses to individuals like some other states, most likely because they have no heart for court fights and let's face it, if Al Capone applied for a license, New Jersey courts would say he must be allowed to continue to bootleg booze as it would deny him a right to make a living. It seems New Jersey courts fail to realize a harness license in the State is a privilege and not a right.

According to Harness Racing Update, a couple of drivers are considering a move to the Meadowlands, coming over from Yonkers. Both Billy Dobson and Jim Pantaleano are looking to make the move back over the river if given support of the trainers. Expect other drivers to take up residence..

Over at the Standardbred Press Release board, drivers give their opinion about the new banking on the backstretch.

Anyone planning to go to Vincennes for the Prix d'Amerique?  Not only is it a big racing weekend, but there is a major sale of race horses there as well.  Here is the link to the online catalogue; it it should be interesting for those interested in how things are done elsewhere.  Knowledge of French is helpful.  Just be aware horses born in the same year all have their names beginning with the same letter in France.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Meadowlands Racetrack Debuts

Twenty qualifiers were contested today at the Meadowlands debuting the new racetrack after it has been graded.  In addition, you will can see how the back paddock has been converted to a dual use receiving  barn and paddock. For specific details, you can read the following article.

Horsemen are glowing about the banking of the track.  First of all, when it rains the feeling is the track will drain better and when it comes to racing, if you are three wide on the final turn, they feel you will be able to catapult off the turn.  Of course, when it comes to qualifiers, the goal is to qualify not necessarily to win so we will have to wait until the first weeked on racing (next weekend) to see how the track changes the outcome of races.

Why Are We Not Romping Here?

I just received me copy of the December edition of Trot magazine (a little later I assume due to the holiday mail) and I saw and advertising for ROMP (Racetracks of Ontario Marketing and Promotion) which includes most of the smaller tracks in Ontario such as Hiawatha Raceway, Grand River, Hanover Raceway, Georgian Downs, Flamboro Downs, The Raceway at Western Fair District, and Clinton Raceway.  All small tracks that try to promote their racing product together.  If you look at their website, you see they jointly sponsor a handicapping contest which is done in a league format with teams competing for the $10,000 grand prize.  In addition, they sponsor a late closing series which runs from May thru September for three and four year olds that are non-winners of $50,000 lifetime with a nomination fee of $200.  This qualifies them for a series which culminates with the nine highest money earners in the series for a $100,000 guaranteed final. 

The beauty of ROMP is that it allow tracks with limited marketing dollars and purse accounts to work together to sponsor events that they would not be able to afford on their on.  In addition, it gives the top dogs at these small tracks

One perfect state which would benefit form the ROMP concept would be Kentucky.  Anyone who has seen the racing at Thunder Ridge, Blue Grass Downs, and The Red Mile before the Grand Circuit comes in to town is less than stellar (and that is being kind).  They could develop a series in Kentucky between the three tracks.

We can also cross state lines.  Tracks like Monticello Raceway which have only NYSS races could benefit by participating in a ROMP-like program as would Freehold Raceway, and tracks like Buffalo Raceway, and the Michigan racetracks.

In other industries it is called cooperative advertising.  Maybe it is time the smaller racetracks work together to gain themselves some interest.  It is time to ROMP; now.

Meadowlands Qualifying Today:  There are twenty qualifying races at the Meadowlands today for pacers. I am not going to get into the discussion of which trainers seem to be uninvited from racing as that is a matter between track management and the person.  However, I do see Luanne Case is qualifying a couple of horses as from Joe Ricco.There are a few other trainers which seem to be coming in from smaller venues to take their shot.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fair Weather People

The industry raised a huge cheer for the most part once Jeff Gural closed the deal on the Meadowlands.  A funny thing happened after the lease was signed, there seems to be an undercurrent of doubt and criticism regarding Jeff Gural's ability to turn things around at the Meadowlands.  As annoying are those who raise rumors regarding his ability to fund the new grandstand; with people seemingly taking delight in the fact he doesn't have the $100 million in his pocket already.  Let's call these people doubting Thomases.  Many of them live on chat boards.

Now some of this may be a case of sour grapes; some of this is people who look at things half empty; others are those who feel the sky is falling, or in other words, our doomsayers; then there are people who for whatever reason want to see Gural fail.  That;s fine, people are entitled to their opinions, even if their predictions become self fulfilling prophecies.

Let's start with the obvious.  Due to the lack of slots at the Meadowlands, the track has not been for several years the track of preference to those looking to make a quick buck.  Last year, when there were no subsidies, the floor fell through and we had the racing we ended up with; certainly substandard.  With the loses the NJSEA had, the physical plant was allowed to deteriorate and little out of the box thinking took place.

Short of a subsidy coming (it isn't) or slot subsidies, the racing at the Meadowlands will never be the same.  At best, the Meadowlands will be able to put on a decent level of racing and make going to the races fun again.  To think all the damage which has taken place over the last few years is going to go to be reversed overnight is ridiculous.  It may take a few years to get back to where we were but the Meadowlands has something tracks in New York and Pennsylvania don't have; a mile track and a handle; something tracks other than WEG don't have.  The new management has shown a willingness to reduce takeout rates (not that they will right away).  So those who are expecting the Meadowlands to return to the way it was in the 1990's without slots are smoking something.

Maybe we will not have all the best drivers and trainers at the Meadowlands.  However, this presents an opportunity for others to come in and make a name for themselves.  At Tioga Downs last year, Ed Hensley came to the track and had a very successful meet.  Who is to say some new driver or trainer doesn't take advantage of those abandoning the Meadowlands and make a name for themselves in New Jersey?

Then there are those who criticize the 81 day meet.  No, I am sure horsemen want to race for more dates, but I also don't think they want to race for $3,000 purses either.  To the credit of the SBOANJ, they realize they can't race as much as they would like to.

Then there are those who feel the way the Meadowlands will be marketed is destined to failure.  Who are these people to claim it is destined it will fail; do they know what the plans are?  I haven't noticed any other track in the United States which has found the secret formula to improved attendance and handle.  I think management realizes most of the wagering will come through ADWs, and getting people into the building is gravy and the opportunity to develop potential serious gamblers.  What plans does  the NMLLC have for marketing and increasing handle I don't know, but I know one thing, they are trying; something most tracks have given up on already.

A lot of these critical people are what we know as volunteers; quick to criticize and tell you what is wrong, but are no where when you need help.

The success of Gural's team at the Meadowlands will not be known by the end of this year, or the following year.  What we have here is a marathon; how we finish at the end is what matters.  Sure there will be some ideas that won't work; there will be some ideas that do work. 

Let me ask this question.  If not Gural, who would you like to be the one trying to lead the Meadowlands back from the grave?  I doubt you could name someone else and more importantly have them take on the job.  Is the recovery of the Meadowlands a sure thing?  Of course not, but at least it has a chance.

Maybe it is time to remind everyone of something they likely were taught in elementary school.  If you have nothing nice to say about someone, don't say anything.

Meadowlands Condition Sheet Available.  The opening weekend's condition sheet is out.  $15,000 claimers and NW6000L5 will race for $8,500 while Invitational horses race for $30,000.  If necessary, a substitute race for $10,000 claimers is listed with a purse of $7,500.  A NJRC rule change is in place to allow 45 days before having to qualify again. 

The Option of Breeding While Racing

It was recently announced that 2011 North America Cup winner, Up The Credit, will be bred to mares in 2012 but rather than retiring from racing will be pointed toward a four year old campaign on the race track.

Quoting from a piece on the topic in Harness Racing Update; “He (Up The Credit) had a knee problem all year and he's over it and better now than he's ever been, so we thought we'd bring him back and race him as a 4-year-old and maybe even a 5-year-old,” co-owner and trainer Carl Jamieson said.

“Up The Credit’s return to the races will provide racing fans the opportunity to watch a major stakes winning three year old compete for another season, rather than disappear into the breeding shed,” observed Jeff Gural. “I applaud their decision and am hopeful that others will consider continuing to race their top horses while breeding them in the future. We encourage breeders to support Up The Credit as it shows that the Jamiesons recognize the current model of retiring our best three year olds is not working and we need to take some chances for the long term benefit of the industry.”

Is This The Family Resort Christie Pictured?

Last week in New Jersey, the Division of Gaming Enforcement has approved the opening of Scores Atlantic City, a high end 'Gentlemen's Club' to open at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.  Other than telling you that there will be private rooms available at $300 for 30 minutes, with the dancers negotiating their own fees and alcohol will be available, we will skip the rest of the details.

As the Acting Director of the DGE, David Reubeck said "New Jersey had anticipated that the "Las Vegas-style revue" would be incorporated here, with restrictions."  This may very well be the case, but didn't Governor Christie want Atlantic City to develop into a family destination?  The only way I see this making Atlantic City a family destination is when families vote on the family vacation, you know which way Dad is going to vote.  The only problem is Mom will likely declare Dad's vote 'null and void'. 

But to be fair, this is not the goal of Atlantic City's Tourism District's Master Plan.  For more details about their master plan, you can look here at it.  I still don't see how this plan is going to revitalize Atlantic City's fortunes long term.  Las Vegas has been built up for years, and the Casino Redevelopment Authority's (CRDA) plans are too meek to challenge Las Vegas.  As for the local market, sure these changes may be enough to get people from North and West New Jersey to come to Atlantic City, once to see what changes have been made, but in the long run, if you live near the Pennsylvania or New York border, you will be traveling the half hour instead of the two hours plus it will take to get to Atlantic City; especially when there is a good chance table games are coming to New York.

The effort to redevelop Atlantic City comes too little, too late.  Casino gambling has become a commodity, like going to your local Super Center.  The time to innovate was when Atlantic City was looking down at those 'slot barns' (their derogatory term for racinos).  Well, now casino gambling has become a commodity and when it is a commodity, convenience wins.

As they say in business, "It is location, location, location."  That is something Atlantic City will never recoup.

I am pretty sure within two years a referendum for the expansion of gambling in New Jersey will be coming.  With the Meadowlands lease giving Gural the right to operate the slots at the Meadowlands, there is a distinct possibility that the casino industry will be leading the opposition for the referendum.  The racing industry would be wise to build up a war chest now to counter the casino industry's campaign.

Someone asked me how my wish list for 2011 did.  Well, you can check the list from last year and see for yourself how things did.  Some things did occur, but a good many things did not have any movement.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Harness Racing Bermuda Style

Boxing Day means the annual Boxing Day trottingbred racing card in Devonshire, Bermuda.  The trottingbreds race half mile contests but come back for a second heat. No, there is no gambling on the trottingbreds (being fields tend to be between two to four horses per heat; just as well) and unlike the standardbreds they race using time bars.  One of the reasons standardbreds don't come to Bermuda is due to the amount of land required for housing them.  So if there is no gambling, how can they afford to keep racing at this racetrack?  They charge an admission fee of  $5.00.  Could you imagine an American track charging $5.00 admission?  It goes to show if you betting or not, putting on a good show will get people to your racetrack.  The problem is how many tracks are putting on a good show these days?


Inter Dominon Trot Replacement

Australasian trotting suffered a serious blow with the cancellation of the Inter Dominion Trot.  Thanks to some creative thinking of a leading trotting breeder, the Inter Dominion has been replaced with a new race, called the Trans Tasman Trotters Challenge.  The race is not exactly the highest in respect to purse with a total purse of $200,000NZ being offered the first year on April 27 at Alexandra Park.

The format is simple.  The race will be an Invitational trot with five horse plus an also eligible being selected by Harness Racing New Zealand and Harness Racing Australia.  To make it worthwhile for Australian horses to make the trip, there will is another Group 1 even in New Zealand the following week, the $150,000 Rowe Cup. Negotiations are already underway with Harness Racing Australia to host the race in New South Wales next year.

The race will be contested at a distance of 2,200 meters using a mobile start.  To make it worthwhile for all horses, the starters are guaranteed purse money at a minimum of $5,000 with each foreign started receiving a $5,000 stipend for travel.  In addition to the regular wagering there will be sports wagering on which team does better; Team Australia or Team New Zealand.

No, the race will not have the caché of the Inter Dominon, but with horses not having to go through a grueling campaign to qualify, it maybe easy to get the best trotters in Australasia to race.

Hats off to breeder Peter Chambers who is a prominent trotting breeder in Australasia for coming up with this idea.  Instead of waiting for the someone else to do something, Mr. Chambers decided to take the proverbial bull by the horn.

A Look Back: Was Christie As Bad As We Thought?

Looking back at 2011, harness racing can breathe a sigh of relief as the Meadowlands has been saved.  One point has not been talked about, and that is Governor Chris Christie was not as anti-racing as we thought.  Make no mistake, if Jeff Gural did not step up at the end of 2010, the Meadowlands would be history.  But Gural could have easily been dismissed and the track could have closed. 

However, remember the infamous Hanson Report.  The report called for the closing of the Meadowlands, perhaps leasing the existing track for a period no more than five years in order for the industry to build its own track elsewhere in the state or possibly racing at Monmouth Park.  Instead of holding to this report's recommendation, Christie did moderate his position and while he did accomplish his goal of getting the state out of the racing business, the Meadowlands has now been leased for thirty-one years; something certainly not envisioned in the Hanson Report.

Also, how many times did Christie have the opportunity to pull the plug on the Meadowlands?  While I believe his policy regarding gaming remaining only in Atlantic City is misguided, admittedly because it allows revenue to flow out of state, make no mistake if he wanted to kill the harness racing industry in New Jersey (and possibly nationally), he had the opportunity to do so.  Hence, I believe we need to moderate our view regarding the Governor.  No, he has not yet allowed gaming to come to New Jersey, probably more because of the Senate's leadership refusal to post a gaming bill to vote.  I suspect when the Senate leadership changes or modifies its position, the Governor will be quick to support gaming at the Meadowlands.

It may turn out that Christie is a supporter of harness racing after all.  He just believes the industry needs to be self-sufficient.  I expect some ideas that work at the Meadowlands will help the industry become self-sufficient or at least less dependent on slot welfare.

The Lady is a Race Caller: I played Woodbine yesterday afternoon and it was the first time I hard Dawn Lupul call the races and let me tell you, Dawn can call the races.  I must confess, it is unusual to hear a woman call a race. However, just because we are not familiar with a woman calling a race is no reason not to have someone like Dawn call races.  As far as I am concerned, she can call a race anywhere.  Any track would be lucky to have Dawn to call races.  She may not be one of the all time best, but she is good.

Larry Lederman sighting:  It was nice hearing Larry Lederman calling the races at Parx Racing yesterday.  Everyone knows by now of Larry's illness, so there is no need to repeat it here, but any day you hear Lederman calling a race is a good day.

Pet Peeve:  I appreciate the fact I am getting quoted periodically in thoroughbred blogs, but would ask to be referred to as a Standardbred blogger instead of a 'Sulky' blogger as the connotation is somewhat derogatory.  When I quote form thoroughbred blogs, I use the term 'thoroughbred' blogger, not a 'saddle' blogger.  We are all part of the horse racing industry, so treating each other with respect it appropriate.

Monday, December 26, 2011

What I Would Like to See in 2012

By now, you know me when it comes to writing these lists.  I can't wait to get these lists published, so forgive me if you see it ahead of New Years Eve.  I deliberately avoided looking at last year's list because I don't want to know what I asked for for 2011 which didn't come true, so you may find some replication, or a lot of changes; we will just see where we go with it.  There is no specific order to those listed.

What I Would Like to See in 2012
  1. A Fair Start Rule in New Jersey (at least), if not the entire country.
  2. Replace race numbers with post times and stick to them as off times.
  3. If we are going to stick to race numbers, make post time mean something accurate.
  4. .More harness racing on TVG besides Monday and Tuesday evening.  Live would be even better.
  5. A racetrack profitable without slots.
  6. Horsemen acting like they realize slots will not always be there and act like they care.
  7. The development of America One, a simulcast channel which will show harness racing from 10:00am to 12:00am showing races from different tracks lined up, so there will be a different track every three hours.
  8. Expansion of the Strategic Wagering Initiative to include wagers that some of the smaller players may play like Daily Doubles, Exactas and Trifectas,
  9. Racetracks who are lowering their takeout on Pick-4s and Superfectas to start lowering their takeout on win, place, and show wagers.  After all, does it cost more to process those wagers?
  10. Jeff Gural being serious about kicking the cheats out of the Meadowlands.  Maybe then I can start playing the Meadowlands again.  Truth be told, I boycotted the Meadowlands when it came to wagering due to the presence of certain trainers (more than one there).  The same applies to Freehold Raceway.
  11. A year of success for my favorite trainer Anouk Busch. 2011 was not a good year for her due to injuries and when you are a small stable that can kill you.  May the racing gods be kinder to her in 2012.
  12. Closing the wagering windows when the starter calls the field.  The whales will learn when wagering will end and learn to adjust (yeah, I know the chances of it happening, but you can wish).
  13. Late closing series have at least three eliminations races, this way less luck is involved in who gets to advance.
  14. A new gig for for Gary Siebel.
  15. Yonkers Raceway resume the International Trot.  You have been talking about it for years; why not follow through?
  16. Some new exotic wagers that small time players can play.  Does everything need a large bankroll?
  17. Full fields at the Meadowlands.
  18. No racetracks closing.
  19. Do we really need year round racing at some tracks?  Meets with 238 racing days?  We don't have enough horses to fill all the races the way it is.  I would like to see us give the gambler a little time off to play other tracks or recharge their batteries and bankroll).
  20. Speaking of the Meadowlands, if another irrigation source can be found, fill in the lake in the infield of the track.  The Meadowlands would be a good place to hold a country music festival like Countryfest which used to be held at Saratoga Raceway.  If you filled in New Jersey, the infield would be an excellent location for music festivals, exposing young people to the track, hopefully getting them to come back.  Temporary fencing won't work.  Based on observation at Country Fest, after four hours in the hot sun they will be swimming in the lake.
  21. Riina Rekila racing more often in the United States.  Sorry Canada, that Trot magazine story has me endeared to her (after my wife).
  22. More women given the opportunity to drive at the major raceways.  That Australian method of being able to claim a concession for a junior driver seems to make sense).
  23. Exchange wagering coming to New Jersey as well as California.
  24. Creative promotions at the Meadowlands.
  25. Another year of the simulcast of the Gold Cup and Saucer at the Meadowlands.  This past year it was added at the last minute and it did pretty well, handling more that second tier thoroughbred tracks in certain metrics.  Could you imagine the wagering if it was promoted?  Other tracks should pick it up.
  26. The LBJ future wager at the Meadowlands.
  27. Double headers at the Meadowlands via simulcasting.  Have Meadowlands and Tioga races alternating so there will be more action and perhaps have a few bets involving both tracks.  It can only help both tracks.
  28. The end of the Gural-Faraldo feud.  Yes, I realize it is more likely that peace will come to the Middle East, but you can hope.
  29. Stop complaining about the second tier.  Hard to believe it, but you are there for the fans.
  30. A referendum to allow slots at the Meadowlands.
  31. Legalize slots in Illinois (Come on Governor Quinn).
  32. Plainridge Raceway win either a casino resort or slot parlor license in Massachussets.
  33. Slots in New Hampshire; I want to see the trotters back at Rockingham Park.
  34. Increased handle at Running Aces Horse Park.  It seems these people are really trying.
  35. A casino approved for Rosecroft Raceway so racing will continue past 2012 there.
  36. Seats at Ocean Downs so your loyal fans will actually have a place to sit.
  37. A new operator is found for Cal Expo, allowing racing to continue there or elsewhere in the state.
  38. Remove those discriminatory rules in California which makes it hard for the standardbreds to be profitable.
  39. Horses to actually race in Yonkers big money events.
  40. The successful return of See You At Peelers.
  41. A gelding win the Hambletonian and/or the Meadowlands Pace (it drives breeders crazy when that happens).
  42. Judges citing drivers for slow quarters and for driving half-in and out..
  43. A driver claiming a foul at the Meadowlands or any track in an overnight event.. 
  44. A resolution to the alleged race fixing scandal in Michigan.  We have been talking about this since 2010 and we have not seen a single indictment handed down in Michigan.
  45. A program to ensure the humane treatment of retired race horses.  They deserve better than a slaughterhouse.
  46. Larry Lederman doing better and returning to the announcers booth at Freehold.
  47. Someone to commit to a standardbred track in Georgia.  After working for parimutuels in Georgia,  I would hate to see the standarbreds get left out in the cold.
  48. An American winner in the Elitlopp and the Prix d' Amerique.  I'm not being greedy am I?
  49. Speaking of those races and others, development of a universal past performance program so we can have simulcasting of races from Europe and Australasia.
  50. Start getting rid of elimination races.  If minor stakes, race them in divisions; if major stakes limit the field to the highest money earners.  Elimination races are a fraud for the wagering public.
  51. Harness Eye programs available on the web.
  52. A year of serious exhibition monté racing prior to introducing wagering on it as part of a circuit in 2013.
  53. Ban the whips starting with 2yo races in 2013, 3yo races sin 2014, all races in 2015.
  54. An announcement that the Breeders Crown is returning to the United States in 2013.
  55. Heather Moffett gets the opportunity to be seen outside of  the Pennsylvania and Delmarava markets.  She is a talent that the industry has not fully utilized.
  56. Ending the year on the plus side in my betting.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

An Example of a Cost of Doing Business

You have heard me talk about how fines are inadequate and for some people, they are the cost of doing business?  I found a perfect example of this in this week's Fine and Suspension List.  Granted, they fall into the minor offense category.  Yannick Gingras was three time fined for not having both feet in the stirrups during the race.  The first time on December 14, he was fined $100.  On December 18, he committed the same offense twice and was fined an additional $100 per offense.  Clearly, a $100 fine did not get him to change his habits.  For a driver of his ability, what is a $100 fine?  Now make that fine $500 or more and then see Gingras change his tune.

Same thing with Brett Miller,  Does anyone think a fine of $50 for driving inside the Euro Rail/Pylon Violation is going to stop him from doing this again?  Think that fine is going to sop them?

Do I See Correctly?  Looking at the same fines and suspensions list I saw a fine for a driver driving a slow quarter/half and another fine for someone failing to file a claim of foul.  How often do you see these infractions cited these days?  Hardly ever.  These judges deserve to be promoted.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

NYS Task Force on Retired Racehorses

The New York State Task Force on Retired Racehorses has issued their final report on what should be done to address the issue of unwanted racehorses. 

In this report, it shows that other than donations to the Standardbred Retirement Foundation, most harness tracks wipe their hands clean of the problem.  Thoroughbred tracks tend to be more proactive.

One interesting item in the report suggests licenses need to go through courses regarding the retirement of race horses and the fact horse owners need to plan on supporting horses for six months at a cost of $2,400. A course would be required initially with refresher courses every three years.

Other good things from this report is that the gambler not be on the hook for paying for the upkeep, a portion of VLT revenue and a small amount of handle would be required to fund the program.  It isn't that gamblers couldn't contribute to the retirement of racehorses; but their participation would be voluntary.

The report should be read by all involved in the horse industry and fans.  Other states should also be looking towards New York's report for the care of their own retired horses.

Stimulating Business in Atlantic City?  Governor Christie has been wanting to stimulate business in Atlantic City but is this the way to do it.  Read how the Taj Mahal is getting a 'Gentlemen's Club'.  I wonder if we can get See You At Peelers to cut the ribbon the day it opens?  This is the way they are going to make Atlantic City a family destination?

To all my readers, celebrating the Christmas Holiday, once again I want to wish you a Merry Christmas. For a heart warming story about one of Harness Racing's own, click here for a story about Karin Olsson Burgess and where she is spending Christmas.

On Monday, I will be releasing my list of what I would like to see in 2012.

A Closer Look at the Meadowlands Deal

At yesterday's meeting of the NJSEA, the lease for the Meadowlands was formally adopted.  The lease is for 31 years with the annual rent for the track; $1 for the first five years at which point Gural has an escape clause.  Should the clause not be exercised, the rent will be a minimum of $500,000 a year.  If casino gambling comes to the racetrack, New Meadowlands LLC gets the right to operate the slot machines.   But what if gambling comes to the Meadowlands, but not at the track?  Gural gets to walk away and recoup 110% of the cost of capital improvements which will include the construction of a new grandstand, parking area and  other improvements made.  The NJSEA will spend $6 million on remediation costs in the backstrech area, to make the area environmentally safe.  Jeff Gural is also required to complete an OTW facility in Bayonne, NJ which is not a problem as construction has already been underway. 

The state will be New Meadowlands LLC, $5.5 million for expenses through the end of 2012 with the amount to be repaid to the state over a period of five years starting in 2013.  What expenses that addresses is unknown.  Perhaps it can be used for purses.  This $5.5 million does not represent the environmental remediation costs.

As previously reported, the NJTHA has the right to participate in a six day mixed meet in the spring at the Meadowlands and the option to hold a fifteen day turf meeting in the fall-early winter period.

As for Monmouth, the situation is a little more dicey.  The NJSEA will run the meet at Monmouth for one more year but without guaranteeing purses.  At the assistance of the NJTHA they will run a 141 day meet which means horsemen will be taking a serious cut in purses of roughly 63%.  The NJSEA is to start the rebidding process next month to get Monmouth leased with purses being guaranteed at $500,000 a day for a seventy-one day meet.  The presumption is if a lease is not completed in 2013, the venerable track by the shore would be shuttered.

By the time you read this, the Meadowlands is now being operated by New Meadowlands LLC. According to John Brennan, reporter extraordinaire for The Record, an agreement with the teller's union has been completed with a few minor contracts to be resolved next week.

Make no mistake, if (read that when) casino gambling comes to the Meadowlands, it will be part of the racetrack facility, especially if it comes while Governor Christie is in office.  Make no mistake, the Governor will not be looking forward to paying $110 million (and possibly more) as called for by the lease agreement.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Gural-Faraldo Feud and A Few News Links

I realize a lot of you are travelling today to celebrate Christmas with family and friends.  With racing basically shut down for a few days, let's take a look at a few news links that you probably have not had a chance to see.

In the Saratogian, there is an article about battle lines being drawn regarding horse slaughter.  The article claims there are efforts in place to still ban horse slaughter despite the funding bill that allows for USDA inspectors for horse slaughter.  Some people claim there is still too much public revulsion regarding horse slaughter, good luck in getting a state allow it.  I agree most states will not allow horse slaughter, but there is always that one state...

While there are deals in place for racing in NJ, there are still angry feelings out there.  The Examiner, writes about it.

Ocean City, Maryland wanted nothing to do with slots, so Ocean Downs racetrack which is outside of Ocean City got the casino.  Now that the casino is a success and Ocean City gets very little of the benefit of the casino, their council decides now is the time to work with them and cross market.  All those people in Prince George county who don't want a casino in their county better wake up because if Rosecroft Raceway doesn't get slots, they will kick themselves in the arse.

Alan Leavitt is the chair of the standadrbred committee for the RCI and has some lofty goals.  Good luck Alan getting this industry to make changes and spend some money at the same time.  If you cna do this, you will be known as The Miracle Worker.

No link here, but Joe (Faraldo), can't you take care of the business for your members without issuing a public press release criticizing those that oppose your position?  You are give Chuck Schumer a run for his money.  Sometimes you can get more with honey than vinegar.  Don't get me wrong, while I don't necessarily agree with everything you propose you do defend your horsemen's interests.  But in defending their rights, can't you do this without picking public fights?  I can see a public response when someone sends you an open letter, but when you attempt to rip someone a new one who has revived racing at Vernon Downs, and introduced  racing at Tioga Downs, that's plain wrong.  No, there is not much wagering up there when compared to Yonkers but let me ask you what percentage of your purse account comes from wagering?  No they don't race 200+ days a year, but if you look at a lot of tracks in the United States, they don't run meets all year like Yonkers, which thanks to location and slots you can do, but if you had to depend on wagering, you would burn out your customer base. 

Yes, Jeff Gural operates a racino at each of these tracks and if not for racinos those may not be there, but if you recall, at one time Yonkers Raceway's property was for sale and talked about being the site for the new Yankee Stadium.  If not for slots, Yonkers Raceway would be with Roosevelt Raceway; a track that used to exist but is a shopping mall.  So I don't understand the vitriol you have for Jeff Gural.  After all, what is the difference between Jeff Gural and Tim Rooney?  Oh, Tim Rooney is the one you need to deal with on a daily basis while Jeff Gural is upstate and you don't need to deal with everyday.  I am pretty sure when it comes to gaming Tim and Jeff are pretty much on board with each other, yet I don't see any public criticism of Tim Rooney by you.  The only difference is because Yonkers Raceway is in the metropolitan area, the slot play allows you to race all year.

I am not saying you should have Jeff Gural invited to any Christmas party or even on your card list, but if you have real differences with him, does it need to be a public exhibition?  Pick up the phone and talk to him.  Maybe then everyone would get a better understanding and who knows?  You may actually accomplish something  Send your letters to the legislature where they may or may not have an impact; no need to release these letters to the racing media.

Jeff Gural is good for racing.  Joe Faraldo is good for racing.  This public bickering needs to stop.  No one wins from that.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Up The Credit, Why Not Others - Dale Ross Passes

News comes to us that Up The Credit will be breeding and racing during his four year old season.  With all the debate about four year olds retiring, this would be the perfect solution for everyone.  You could say, it is having your cake and eating it to.  If Up The Credit can do this, why not others?  After all, this is what they do in Europe.

Why not here?

It is with sadness that I read about the passing of Dale Ross.  Many propbably never heard or remember the name Dale Ross, but if you were around during the Racing from Roosevelt/Yonkers years, you certainly remember some of his horses such as Kash Minbar, and Momentum.  Dale was only 71 years old when he passed, which these days is not that old.  It probably is this way every year, but it seems like we are losing a lot of good people this year.  May those I mention and others Rest in Peace.

Faraldo Responds to Wilton

As to be expected, and in fact predicted two days ago, here Joe Faraldo's response to the open letter sent by Michael Wilton of the New York Gaming Association.  To be fair, Faraldo's letter will be reprinted in it's entirety below, but despite the positive experience in PA, where horsemen don't get table game revenue the SOA's position is they should share in all gaming revenue.

Gosh, if I could only wager on if, and how long it would take for the SOA to respond to any letter they feel contrary to their interest, even if it doesn't impact the SOA membership, I would be a rich man.  Now don't take me wrong, Faraldo has the right to protect his members interests, but I would like to know who elected him the speaker for all of harness racing in New York; sometimes seemingly getting involved in matters which do not seem to matter to the SOA. 

Anyway to be fair, here is the text of Mr Faraldo's letter:

Dear Mr. Wilton:

I am now in receipt of your letter dated December 15th seeking to address some perceived “misconception” on the part of the SOA (which letter I only received via e-mail yesterday December 20th after reading it online in several racing industry media outlets that seem to have received it at the same time the SOA did), and I am happy to make the position of the SOA of NY on the issue of a constitutional amendment crystal clear for the record. As I’m sure you were aware from my testimony earlier this year to the NYS Senate on the issue, our very public and widely distributed position has been -- and remains -- as follows:

“While a proposed constitutional amendment could certainly represent an opportunity to expand upon recent gains in New York racing, it could also have the exact opposite effect if New York does not make the right economic choice and take specific, proactive steps to support our industries. To protect New York racing and agriculture, any resolution to allow full-scale commercial casinos must include strong, detailed language mandating that these new gaming opportunities provide similar contributions to the state’s job-intensive racing and agriculture industries as currently exist in the VLT law. Without such mandated contributions, any resulting shift from existing VLT wagering to these new, competing full-scale casino wagering vehicles will undoubtedly decimate racing and, by extension, our agricultural industry.”

As you certainly also know, individual members of your own Association have, on more than one occasion, publicly expressed that they would not support our above-detailed position regarding contributions to the racing and agricultural industries from proposed new table games, and so I would ask what the New York Gaming Association’s detailed position is regarding this point? Obviously, the Association’s formal position on such a key question is an important policy matter for the SOA and other horsemen’s and breeders’ groups, especially in light of your very public “invitation” for us to join your Association, and neither your December 15th letter nor any materials we have seen to-date directly address it. Therefore, if your invitation is, in fact, a sincere attempt to generate dialogue about possible areas of mutual interest and benefit -- and not just public relations -- then fair-minded individuals must surely agree that this issue is central to any future discussions.

Again, while we believe that a proposed constitutional amendment could potentially be positive for racing, virtually the entire harness and Thoroughbred racing, breeding and agricultural sectors recognize that our resurgent industries could be gravely damaged should protections for racing and breeding not be mandated in any casino expansion.

I hope that my attached testimony -- as well as the below Mission Statement of a newly formed, industry-wide racing and agricultural group called the New York Horse Racing and Agriculture Industry Alliance -- will help to avoid any future “misconceptions:”

New York State’s racing-based Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) initiative was created by the New York State legislature with the dual purpose of funding education and supporting a horse racing industry that is a major job-generator across virtually every region of the state. The success of VLTs at NY’s harness tracks -- and the significant multiplier effect of purse money invested back in our racing, breeding and agriculture industries -- has led directly to a harness renaissance that has seen record prices at horse sales for NY-breds, tens of millions of dollars in investments in new breeding farms and agriculture here, and an influx of individuals in the racing game into New York State. A similar renaissance in the thoroughbred racing and breeding industries is about to occur with the opening of the Aqueduct VLT facility in the fall of 2011.

In light of all of these positive, proven economic gains, any legislative proposal to allow full-scale commercial casinos must include strong protections/legal mandates for these new gaming opportunities to provide similar contributions to the state’s job-intensive racing and agriculture industries. New York’s courts have endorsed the two concurrent goals of New York’s VLT initiative -- securing continuing revenue for New York education and supporting racing/agriculture -- and this critically important dual mission should not be compromised by any proposed constitutional amendment.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me should you have any further questions or concerns about the interests or positions of the SOA’s members or our fellow horsemen and breeders across New York State.

Joe Faraldo

(SOA New York)


Happy Holidays

Racing action is very slow this weekend as Friday night is the last night of racing with four or five tracks racing.  With the lack of a NYCOTB, Monticello has decided to forgo it's traiditional Christmas Eve racing card.  So while I will look for stories to bring you or comment on stories which develop, it may be a quiet weekend around this blog.

Hence I would like to take this opportunitiy to thank you for reading my blog this year and wish you a Happy Holiday as you enjoy your particular faith's traditions and wish everyone a Happy New Year (we'll be back before then)..

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Here Come the 'Buts'

Reported in the DRF online today is some of the terms the Meadowlands needed to make to the NJTHA.  The thoroughbred horsemen will have the option to run a six day mixed meet in the spring and a fifteen day turf meet in the fall or early winter.  As for costs, the thoroughbred horsemen would be required to cover all incremental costs for having a thoroughbred meet at the track; for example the starting gate crew and additional employees which may be required to deal with the running of the meet or to handle a larger live audience.  There is no news as to how many of the races during the mixed meet will be thoroughbred versus standardbred.

Also according to the Meadowlands lease the thirty year lease provides for an initial five year period at which point Gural has the option to pick up the next twenty five years.  Hence if Gural is unable to obtain additional financing to build the new grandstand, he can end the lease after five years if he chose.

No sense of saying this is a good deal or a bad deal for standardbred horsemen.  That train has already left the station so there is no sense to even discuss it; especially after all the time it took to come to a resolution.  I am sure Gural had to give up things he rather not have done; I am sure the NJTHA had to give up things thy rather have not done.  In other words; a perfect negotiation. 

The one thing I will say is if this six day mixed meet does move forward, wouldn't it be a great time to have monté racing?  Maybe not in 2012, but perhaps in 2013.

Cleaning Up the Meadowlands

In Harness Racing Update, Jeff Gural has indicated that cheaters will not be allowed to race at the Meadowlands; indicating he will be meeting with Race Secretary Peter Koch on a weekly basis going over who has asked for permission to race at the Meadowlands.  When asked, Gural indicated he suspects some people who have already asked for racing privileges will not be racing at the Meadowlands this year.

Everyone is already assuming one of those individuals will be a trainer on the East side of the Hudson River, especially since this individual was denied access to Tioga and Vernon Downs except for stakes races this past summer, but I think it is safe to assume a few other trainers who have been racing at the Meadowlands will be seeking a new home next year to ply their trade. 

I hope Peter Koch and Jeff Gural is not looking only at trainers.  Yes, the trainers are the ones that have to apply to race at the Meadowlands, but I suspect there are a few drivers who may fall into the category of cheating.  Now, they may not be drugging horses, but they may have one too many violations on their record; perhaps a couple of lack of efforts on their record.  Certain drivers who have been nailed for animal cruelty and racing in Canada should not be welcomed at the Meadowlands.

On a positive note, one good thing may come with the change of ownership and the reality some drivers will be racing elsewhere this year.  I always looked forward to the start of a new meet when there would be a press release about new drivers or trainers giving the Meadowlands a chance that year.  Hopefully, we will be seeing some new blood racing at the Meadowlands this year, grateful for the opportunity as in the days of old.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's Soup - Meadowlands Lease Signed (Updated)

Governor Christie announced this afternoon that Jeff Gural has signed a thirty year lease for the Meadowlands Racetrack, bring a long, complicated process to a conclusion.  In the meanwhile. a one year agreement has been signed to continue racing at Monmouth Park while the state re-bids the property for a long term operator.

Not mentioned in this article, the NJRC has issued a conditional license to New Meadowlands LLC which will be converted to a full license once the lease takes effect.  While the NJRC gave Gural till January 5 to complete the requirements, that should not be necessary as this Friday, the NJSEA will formally approve the leases. 

At the NJRC meeting, Gural indicated there may be a delay in building the new grandstand as they are $25 million short in funds.  The hope is with a signed lease they can get the missing funds or it may take a year of operation to give bankers the number involved in operating the track,  Hopefully, some other breeding farms will now come up and invest in the funds.

While Gural will run the Meadowlans meet, the NJSEA will operate Monmouth's meet one more year without any subsidies until a new long term leaseholder is selected and a lease signed.  However, with the horsemen running for what they earn in wagering, operating losses at the Monmouth should be reduced.

There is a speculation that only the harness license was included in the lease deal of the Meadowlands with the thoroughbred license remaining with the NJSEA.  This would be a formality.  First of all, as the lease holder, no thoroughbred meet could be held at the Meadowlands without the permission of Jeff Gural.  If in fact the thoroughbred license for the Meadowlands has not been transferred to Gural, I suspect the NJSEA is going to merely pocket the license.  Of course this is all speculation and as time moves on, we will learn more specifics.

It is finally done.  Now the proper steps can be taken to move forward and attempt to bring the Meadowlands back to prominence.  It won't be this year, unlikely next, but it will come.  If not, we can kiss harness racing as we know it good bye.  But for now, let's bask in the good news.

At Monmouth, things are not as happy.  Yes, racing continues but it looks like there will not be any stakes racing at Monmouth this summer, including the Haskell Invitational as there is not enough purse money expected to fund the $4 million stakes program.  The NJTHA has 'respectfully asked' the NJSEA to supply the funds to maintain their stakes program but based on previous actions, one can expect Governor Christie will veto the minutes of the NJSEA the moment their minutes show them subsidizing the stakes program.  I'll be the first to admit you never want to miss a year with a race like that as you lose momentum, but perhaps the NJTHA can get a sponsor for the race; can you see the Betfair Haskell Invitational?

While this year will be lean, the NJSEA will be re-bidding next month the Monmouth Park contract calling for $500,000 in daily purses for a seventy day or so meet as part of their lease.  That is even more than Morris Bailey was offering.

New York Gaming Association Explains Their Position

Pity Michael Wilton, Executive Director of the NYGA for having to write an open letter to the SOA of NY in response to concerns that with table games possibly coming to New York racinos, the tracks will rip out the slot machines and cut the horsemen out of receiving subsidies at all.  Someone else may feel the wrath instead of Jeff Gural.

Mr. Wilton has reassured the horsemen that it is not the racinos' intention to cut them out of their subsidies and have cited studies that show table games actually increase slot play so the horsemen will come out ahead.  To show their sincerity, the NYGA has invited the SOA of NY and other horsemen groups to join their organization.

Of course we know what this is all about.  The SOA horsemen likely want a piece of the action from the table games, unlike the horsemen in Pennsylvania who took no additional revenue from the table games.  Ask the Pennsylvania horsemen how they did without table game revenue; that is if you can dig a Pennsylvania horsemen out of his pile of money to answer the question.

No, horsemen may not get part of the table play, but they will prosper in New York despite what the SOA is saying.

Meadowlands News: Peter Koch, the racing secretary of the Meadowlands has indicated most of the late closers were well subscribed to overall, so the beginning of the harness meet should not have a shortage of horses.  Of course, the real problem will come in March when the Pennsylvania tracks open up; then we will see how bad the defection is and what type of racing the Meadowlands will need to put on at that time.  But for now, we can look forward to the first qualifiers on December 29 which is also the day the first condition sheet is due out and January 6 which is opening night.

Monmouth Park Reported Saved - New Deadline for Meadowlands

Accprdomg tp the Asbury Park Press reports that a new deal for Monmouth Park was agreed to late last night.  The horsemen will be racing 141 days for a pittance of what they would have under Morris Bailey; racing for $150-$175,000 per day.  As for a stakes program, there is no stakes program at this time as the state did not agree to donate the $4 million necessary to carry on the stakes calendar at the same level as last year including the Haskell Invitational.  In return, the state promises to rebid the contract for Monmouth Park within a month.  Racing is going to be pretty gloomy this year at Monmouth but the track is saved.

There is no talk regarding a mixed meet or a guarantee of a post-harness season Meadowlands thoroughbred turf meet.  I foresee a limited field of bidders for the Monmouth Park long term lease as the lease will call for a $500,000 per day purse distribution for about seventy days.  It is going to take someone with deep pockets to take the additional money needed out of their operating expenses.  There is some talk the NJTHA will be bidding for the long term lease; well if thoroughbred horsemen have as much success running a meet as harness horsemen do, one would have to wonder if they would be able to survive to get to a second season.

However, in the ying and yang of New Jersey Politics, the track in jeopardy now is the Meadowlands once again.  Jeff Gural has received an extension to finalize his lease of January 6 as negotiations continue with regards to supplementary revenue.  This puzzles me as it was my impression this was finalized already when Bailey was in the picture.  Does this mean now that the thoroughbred industry is looking for more than what was previously agreed to?  While the Meadowlands is now on the hook, I do believe a deal will eventually be finalized unless the NJTHA's demands are totally ridiculous.  The sooner a lease can be finalized, the better it is as harness horsemen must be getting nervous and nervous horsemen make plans to race elsewhere..

So the saga continues for another 18 days.  While I am reasonably certain things will end well, you never know until the "I"s are dotted and the "T's are crossed.

10:30AM Update - Just to clarify things, both deals are not finalized.  This comes from John Brennan of The Record.

The Clock is Stopped

Well, the day has come and gone and no word on the leases of the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park.  It seems like we are in an episode of the Twilight Zone when time stops.

For the Meadowlands, it is not known if Jeff Gural and the SBOANJ has agreed to a six day mixed meet in the early spring where the standardbreds would race on the main turf and the thoroughbreds would race on the main track.  I assume the request for the right to have up to fifteen days of thoroughbred turf racing after the standardbreds are done would not be an issue.  The other issue is whether or not the lease for the Meadowlands is going to be a standalone lease or tied to the lease of Monmouth Park.  If tied to the lease of Monmouth Park, would it delay the building of the new grandstand?

For Monmouth Park, it appears the problem is there is no money to fund the stakes program, including the Haskell Invitational.  The NJTHA has 'respectfully' asked the NJSEA to fund the $4 million for the stakes program.  With Governor Christie, I can't see him subsidizing Monmouth even for the Haskell.  I would imagine though he may be willing to have the NJSEA 'loan' the $4 million to be repaid back.  Then again, since the state is planning to re-bid the contract next month, it is possible a lease could be given to the NJTHA with the option to give the lease up if a new longer team lease holder is found in time for this season which would eliminate the need for a loan and get them bigger purses.

No news is good news, or it can be bad news; I tend to think it is good news only because everyone is being quiet.  No statements from Gural, the NJTHA, or the Governor's office.  The meeting of the NJRC is scheduled for 1:30pm today so I imagine there is a little time left to get the leases completed and have the NJRC transfer the licenses to operate the track today.

Once again, I will keep you updated as I become aware of developments.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Here We Go Again - Drop Dead Date Number X

What the heck, we have been following the story all along, so it would seem foolish to stop now.  Today is supposed to be "The Big Day".  I also lost track of the Drop Dead Dates in this ordeal.  Jeff Gural is expected to finally sign the lease for the Meadowlands today with the NJRC scheduled to approve the transfer of the racing license from the NJSEA to New Meadowlands LLC tomorrow.

We will also see if the thoroughbred industry has truly reached a compromise on their plans for a one year lease where they will race 141 days for "generated purses" (read that greatly reduced purses).  As part of this deal, the NJSEA will rework portions of a proposed long term lease to memorialize the agreements Jeff Gural had reached with Morris Bailey concerning simulcasting splits and the rights to some of the slot revenue should slots ever come to New Jersey racetracks and then re-bid the contract to get a long term lease operator after this year.  If final agreement can't be reached, Monmouth Park may be dark in 2012 (though I think there would still be time to get live racing at Monmouth before their meet is scheduled to begin in April).  I predict Churchill Downs will be one of the operators interested in Monmouth Park in the long term.

One thing is for sure, today is the drop dead date as the NJRC meets tomorrow on the transfer of the racing licenses.

I will update this entry as appropriate. With luck, this will be the day we can finally put this to bed.

We can hope can't we?

1PM Update - No news as of now.  I would speculate the thoroughbred horsemen are still negotiating with the state and they want to announce the signing of both agreements at once, assuming the thoroughbred horsemen and the Governor make a deal.  This is about all the speculation I wish to make at this time.

2PM Update - The DRF reports negotiations are ongoing between the state and the NJTHA.  Outstanding issues remain concenring off-track betting and the abilitiy to race at the Meadowlands.  The NJTHA horsemen are demanding the right to a six day mixed meet at the Meadowlands in the spring where the runners will race on the turf while the trotters will race on the main oval.  The NJTHA also wants the right to race up to 15 turf only race dates at the Meadowlands in the Summer or Fall.  No comment from Jeff Gural regarding the NJTHA demands.  My guess is the six mixed dates may pose a problem with the SBOANJ, either outright or depending on how many thoroughbred races would be required.

5:30PM Update - Make sure you keep up with John Brennan of The Record.  There is some concern if the Meadowlands lease will be tied to Monmouth Park's lease or if it will be a stand alone agreement.  According to Brennan's sources, it appears neither the NJTHA or the state wants to see Monmouth closed.  You can also follow Bob Jordan of the Asbury Park Press. 

If I had to guess what is going on, I would assume Gural is pushing back on the idea of a six day mixed meet but willing to let the runners have up to 15 days of turf racing at the Meadowlands in the late summer or fall.  In addition, I would think Gural would not want his lease tied to the Monmouth meet as I doubt he wants to go through this next year again; especially if he is planning to start construction on a new grandstand.  It is going to be a long night; for both sides.

7:30PM Update - Thoroughbred horsemen have basically come to an agreement on this year's contract and are accepting a much smaller purse account provided the state rebids the contract within a month.  However, there is no money for stakes races, including the Haskell.  The horsemen are asking the NJSEA to pay $4 million to keep the stakes program going.  No word if that request will be honored.  At best I expect the NJSEA to be willing to loan the money for the stakes program to be repaid.

Reindeer Racing

Years ago on Hambletonian Day at the Meadowlands, they had an exhibition race of morgan horses in the sulky.  It was clear from watching the race they would need to cross with standadrbred blood if they ever wanted to use Morgans for pari-mutuel racing; you hand enough time to go the windows and bet the whole day's card if you desired and get back to your seat and they were still racing.

Trottingbred races aren't as bad.  They are slower but they made the morgans look like they were standing still and trottingbreds also stay on stride.  A possibility, but admittedly a little slow for North American audiences.

Well at Kempton Park in England, where they have actually hosted harness racing once or twice, but are basically a thoroughbred track, they tried Reindeer Racing on the flat.  Well admittedly, we got to see a baby race, but based on the results; well you can judge it for yourself.... 

Clearly, they are not ready for prime time.

However, I hope to get you into the holiday spirit with a harness race on the ice at St. Moritz.  As long as the lake freezes, they have the races every year.

Australia, The Land of Opportunity for Women Drivers

Jimmy, over at Opening Quarter answered a question of mine which has been bothering me.  Why does it seem women drivers get more opportunities to drive in Australia compared to the United States.  (I am a firm believer that more women drivers would attract more women to racing.)  Jimmy provides an answer that stable's grooms (who tend to be female) apply for junior driver licenses and are allowed to claim a driver's concession.

What is a driver's concession?  In South Australia (yes, there to rules are not consistent), a junior driver license is valid until the end of the season the year they turned 23 unless they won the maximum of 200 victories or 50 victories at Metropolitan tracks allowed.  So a driver would be able to win 200 victories at a track like Monticello or 50 victories at Yonkers Raceway; had their junior license for five years; or turned 23, whichever came first before becoming a full driver.  The bottom line is a junior driver  is similar to an apprentice jockey; in many races a junior driver is given a concession of racing their horse in one lower class than they belong in.  We use a different system of classifying horses than they do in Australia, but in North American terms, a horse that qualifies for a NW3LT classification would be allowed to race in a NW2LT race.  As with thoroughbred racing, some races,such as stakes, junior drivers are not eligible for claiming the drivers concession.

It seems trainers and owners are seeing that certain horses are responding better to women drivers so some owners are insisting women drivers be used on their horses.  Hence, there are more women driving in races.

Of course, a junior drivers license is not limited to women; it is eligible for all young drivers, regardless of sex.  This gets me wondering, would a junior drivers license be better than our system of provisional driver?  Not only for giving all provisional drivers more opportunities, but giving women a greater opportunity of proving they belong in the sulky and not just in the barn.

Just wondering.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Little Housekeeping and a Tour

IThe right bar of the blog page has gotten too busy so it was time for some housekeeping.  Some items have been removed; the order of some things have been changed.  Let's go over a few of the changes regarding what remains.

First of all, if there is one thing you know, it is a rare day that I don't post.  It is also not uncommon for me to post multiple times in one day.  I used to post seven days worth of postings on the main page, but it made the blog page very long.   I am going to try showing only the last eight posts on the main page.  Check the blog archive for stories written earlierr.

  • If you wish to subscribe via RSS, scroll to the bottom of the blog page and you will see the gadget to subscribe to this blog.
  • The third item down is a picture of a horse.  Click on the picture and you will go to Standardbred Press Releases, a way to read some of the press releases tracks issue.  Now, you can read some of these releases elsewhere, but there will be some press releases you will not see at the standard sources as the releases are written with the intention of getting in the local newspapers.  This is good if you happen to bet some other tracks through your ADW; you get news from those tracks you normally wouldn't see.  Right now, press releases from Cal Expo, Monticello, The Track at Western Fair District, Yonkers Raceway are featured but additional tracks will be added as time goes on.  There is a link there to return to this blog.
  •  You will then see some harness racing profiles and certain tributes to those who no longer are here which meant something to me.
  • Then there is a list of Horse Rescue Groups.  If you have been reading this blog you know how important horse rescue groups are to me.  If you are so moved, visit one or more of these sites.  The original list came from the USTA with a couple of additions by me.
  • You will then see a list of harness racing blogs (sadly, it is a small list).  Ones which have become inactive have been removed.
  • Then comes a list of other racing blogs with specific focus, even thoroughbred racing.
  • Lastly comes an archive of all my stories.  You can go there to find older stories, but it may be easier to do a search and find what you want.  The search feature is in the upper left hand corner.
  • Then comes a page view counter. 

Scarborough Downs on The Ropes

Scarborough Downs in Maine is struggling for survival.  The major track in Maine has tried multiple times to get a racino built, even ready to move the track with the last attempt but statewide voters defeated that referendum. 

Yes, there is Bangor Raceway, but Bangor races half the dates Scarborogh does.  There is a casino at Bangor Downs in a separate building and actually is separate from the track.  Due to state law, a percentage of the revenue goes to the operation of Bangor and Scaraborough Downs with equal amounts going to purses.  Even though Scarborough gets double the subsidy that Bangor gets, the longer racing season at Scarborough, cancels out that advantage.

Scarborough has $10 million in debt from continuing operations but has managed to hold this figure steady through reduction in employees and additional cost savings.  They had 400 acres of land surrounding the track they have attempted to sell to reduce the debt but there were no takers.

Wagering on Scarborough races went from $2.6 million in 2002 to an estimated $1.5 million by the end of the meet today.  The top class goes for $6,000, even with the subsidy from the Bangor casino.

As long as Scarborough Downs exists, they will continue their battle to establish a casino which will add operating and purse subsidies to their track but the question is how much longer.  Through careful management of expenses, the operating debt has remained constant, but at a certain point, there are no more employees to be cut, no more savings to be wrung out and the debt will grow and the time will come when the operator of Scarborough Downs will toss the towel in.  While they have the same number of racing dates assigned to them next year, the question is will Scarborough Downs make it to opening day and if they make it to then, will they make it to the end of the meet.  One thing is certain, if the debt doesn't kill Scarborough, if and when ownership feels there is no chance politically for a casino, the track will become a footnote in the history of harness racing in the Pine Tree State.

In the meanwhile, the best horses continue to leave the state, resulting in short fields which reduces wagering and the vicious cycle continues.  If Scarborough Downs closes, one must wonder if the industry can survive in Maine, especially if Bangor Raceway doesn't increase racing days.  An analogy would be if the Meadowlands closed, how long would Freehold last? 

Another problem Bangor faces is the casino is not attached to the racetrack grandstand so even those playing the slots at Bangor didn't even have a chance until recently to wager on the horses (they added one window). 

The situation at Bangor Raceway should be a concern to horsemen in New Jersey.  Some people are talking about having a casino where the old grandstand stands at the Meadowlands.  That would be disastrous for wagering on horses.  One hopes that the plans for the new grandstand at the Meadowlands allows for expansion to include a casino such as at Tioga Downs.

Georgia Concerns:  If Georgia parimutuels are legalized, where are the standardbreds going to be racing?  This is not an unrealistic question as there is a group of standardbred horsemen working to get parimutuel wagering approved and Mike Tanner of the USTA has testified in Georgia.  The reason I ask this question is there are investors ready to spend about $100 million to put in a first class facility.  What would be racing at this facility?

It would be more than thoroughbred racing. It would include quarter horses, Arabian horses, steeple chases, barrel racing and pole racing.

That's right, no mention of harness racing.  The standardbred industry has put some skin into the game to get parimutuels in Georgia.  They better make sure they are included when the racing begins.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Case Planning His Return

According to HRU, Walter Case Jr. is planning his return to the sulky, retaining a lawyer to help ease his way back and to represent him at what will likely be a number of hearings.  After getting his USTA record corrected (as apparently there were some erroneous listings due to commissions not sending all dispositions to the USTA), Case will seek a USTA license to make it easier to get into the states he wishes to race in.

Once the USTA issue has been addressed (one way or the other),  Case will be seeking licenses in New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and possibly Ohio.  Case will not be racing come January, but with luck we will see him racing soon afterwards.  The question is which state will license him first.  Make no mistake, there will be condition on his license, but it will be good to see him back.  My prediction is New Jersey will be the first state to license him.  We will see.

Monmouth Park Deal Made - Horsemen Are Alike

Well, the thoroughbred horsemen appear to have capitulated to the Governor regarding subsidies and the Meadowlands thoroughbred license, but they got their wish and will be racing this year and for more racing days.  In 2012, Monmouth Park will race for 141 days but instead of having a daily purse level guaranteed for $400,000 a day, they will race for "generated purses", meaning they will race for what they earn on wagering.  This means based on a 141 day schedule and this past year's handle, they will race for a projected $150,000-$175,000 a day.

This is a one year deal.  The state will make some changes to the proposed lease and re-bid the contract, hoping to get a new operator to come in and lease the track for a longer period.  At this time, it is unknown if the NJSEA will be operating the meet or if it will be the NJTHA and who would be absorbing any operating losses.

While I am a harness player, I am happy to see Monmouth Park apparently saved (at least for one more year).  I have been there and it is probably one of the most beautiful tracks on the East coast.  However, this deal shows thoroughbred horsemen are just like standardbred horsemen.  It's all about dates; even if it means pathetic purses.  In the case of the NJTHA, they rather race (based on a ten race card) for an average $15-17,500 a race instead of an average $40,000 a race they would have had with Morris Bailey  for more racing days.  That is their decision, so if  they are happy, I am happy, but to me, it makes no sense.

They are going race 141 days at Monmouth, probably reverting to a five day a week schedule meaning they will be racing for 28 weeks.  During the summer months, they may get away with it, but once the summer gives way to fall, you will see a large drop off in interest as the tourists are gone and the regulars get bored as the meet goes on and on or are tapped out by the onerous takeout. More importantly, instead of offering quality racing, I fear the old $5,000 claiming races which were the norm at the Meadowlands will be making up a good part of the Monmouth meet.

In this way they are like many harness horsemen.  In Chicago, where purses have been more than substandard, the purses would double if they raced only six months.  During the rest of the year, the horsemen would earn purse money on simulcasting to supplement their "generated purses" but the Illinois horsemen want to race all year so they do it with low purses and complain how the industry is dying where if they raced half the days they currently do and then went on the road the rest of the year, the industry would be doing a lot better and the need for slot revenue would be reduced.

Fortunately, New Jersey standardbred horsemen decided they wanted to race for better purse money instead of a lot of dates.  As a result, the purse money will be better than a lot of racinos, but not as good as the top racinos.  Hence, Freehold should avoid becoming the old Dover Downs of $1,500 claimers and $800 purses and the Meadowlands should avoid becoming a Monticello-type racetrack.  Yes, they rather race for more money, but they realize the "generated purses" from the meet alone isn't going to cut it; they need the "generated purses" from simulcasting to race for decent pures.  Yes, they aspire to more race dates in the future, but now is not the time.

The thoroughbred horsemen have decided they rather race dates and aspire for higher purses later; that is their choice.  Realizing a deal is not completed and in New Jersey, a deal is not a deal until everything is signed, I hope it goes through.  I am happy for the NJTHA.  I just hope they will be happy in July.

The Meadowlands meet will proceed regardless of the thoroughbred negotiations.  Senate President Sweeny had introduced legislation to ensure it would happen.  Sweeney's bill makes clear that any cooperative agreement between the tracks over their live race dates would be suspended for three years. It ensures that simulcast racing could continue at the track, whether a deal sought by the state is secured to bring in private operators to the thoroughbred track in Monmouth.  Hopefully this proposed legislation will be a moot point.. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

FIrst Defection Gives Notice; Case Interview X'd

In HRU, Brian Sears gives notice that there is a good chance he will not be at the Meadowlands once Yonkers Raceway reopens for 2012 on January 13.  Part of me can't blame him; part of me can.

Everyone was afraid of the Meadowlands closing and fearful about what would happen and now that it is saved, Sears is ready to bolt.  I understand the money is better at Yonkers, but if all the name drivers bolted, the chance for the Meadowlands to claw its way back to prominence becomes much harder.

I can understand Sears has reached the point where he is comfortable and can be selective.  He indicated wintering at Pompano is a possibility in the future, I can understand his not wanting to drive anything less than a $10,000 claimer for fear of injury; many drivers after enough spills will swear of trotters.  I can understand a driver who wants to race for the money.  But when they are quoted as saying,

I want to say how much I appreciate what Jeff Gural has done for this business and I want him to be successful.

and then bails out, I would say, to be polite, the person is being less than sincere.  All I can say is I hope Gural is keeping track of who is supporting the Meadowlands and who isn't.  After all, payback is a, well you know what I mean.

[Section on Walter Case has been removed.  My analysis was wrong.  See new story].

A new harness racing blog, called Opening Quarter has been started.  This blog features primarily Australian harness racing but on occasion will discuss foreign racing news.   The most recent entry has a link to the Victorian Cup video feed where you can watch the entire racing program starting at 1:45am EST on Saturday morning.  Welcome to the blogosphere Jimmy, there are not enough harness racing blogs so there is always room for another one.   

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advice to NJTHA - Capitulate

I offer this post to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen in the spirit of friendship.  You tried to get a better deal with additional racing dates and it didn't work.  My advice to you is to capitulate.

In all reality, this is what the harness horsemen did in New Jersey.  Yes, they still have 171 days of harness racing in the state but don't kid yourself, Freehold Raceway is in a whole different league than the Meadowlands.  For harness racing in the state, the Meadowlands is what matters and as much as the horsemen didn't want to give up subsidies, didn't want to cut race dates, they realized who they were dealing with in Governor Christie.  Hence, instead of a typical 180+ day race meet, the Meadowlands will be racing only 81 days this upcoming year.

Yes, the breeding industry has been devastated.  Where many stallions once stood there are but a few 'name' stallions remaining; if not for the fact they produce Meadowlands Pace and Hambletonian winners, they likely would be standing elsewhere.  One of the most prominent breeders in standardbred racing had a dispersal sale of their mares and is scheduled to close once next year's yearlings are sold.  But remember as quick as the stallions leave is as quick as they can return; when the time is right.

As for racing, you will find your meet stripped of a lot of talented horses.  As with the standardbreds, the better thoroughbreds at training facilities in New Jersey will be getting on the van heading to Parx Racing, Delaware Park, and Saratoga Racetrack.  You second tier horses will be racing at Monmouth Park, but you have something going for you that the standardbreds don't have.  You have a summer meet on the Jersey Shore; a boutique meet.  People will still bet your product.   Yes, the racing will be second class, but at least you will have a place in New Jersey to race at when the good times come.

The fact is you are negotiating with a Governor with higher aspirations; it helps his aspirations by being inflexible.  The truth is, he prefers racing to survive, but if it dies, so be it.  How do you beat a man who feels he has nothing to lose but can only win with the outcome either way?  If horseracing ceases at Monmouth Park, he gets to say he got the state out of a money losing business.  If racing continues at Monmouth, he gets to take credit for privatizing the racing industry.  The guy can't lose on the national scene.  Make no mistake, he is performing for the national audience.

There is already an agreement that a percentage of simulcast revenue on thoroughbred racing at the Meadowlands would go to Monmouth Park for purses.  An agreement how to split slot revenue if it comes to the Meadowlands and/or Monmouth Park.  Better times are coming.  Come 2014 when Yonkers Raceway and Aqueduct Racetrack become full casinos, the legislators and Governor will have no choice but to allow slot machines at a minimum at the Meadowlands, if not at all racetracks.

Forget about the Meadowlands thoroughbred license.  The reality is you need to be a track operator to have a license.  How many times has the NJRC threatened to pull ACRC's license due to the number of days they race.  They only got to keep their license because they didn't get any subsidy money.  Unless you are prepared to enter into a contract to race a number of days at a specific track and get the NJRC to approve those dates, that license is going to get yanked anyway.

The key now is to eat crow.  Once horseracing leaves the state, it will be highly unlikely to return.  Stick around eat row now and bide your time.  The Governor will not be here forever and the slots will be coming.  Yes, you may race 71 days but with that slot revenue, you will be racing for purses similar to the Super Meet of two years ago.  If anything, work on the number of Jersey bred races that will be on the card.

Remember, you are up against the most dangerous negotiator; a person who can't lose.  Capitulate to live another day or die. 

The Never Ending Meadowlands Saga

I am really beginning to hate writing these columns as it never seems to end but John Brennan of The Record reports that the thoroughbred horsemen have agreed not to object to the opening of the Meadowlands harness meet and will not block the import of thoroughbred signals to the Meadowlands.  John Forbes indicated they would not stop the simulcasts or object to Gural completing his lease because they have no problem with the harness side; clearly their complaint is with the state.

At this time it is not known if the harness meet will be raced by the NJSEA with Jeff Gural's people telling them what to do or if the meet will be run with New Meadowlands LLC having a license to conduct the meet.  As of now, the state is still looking for a two track settlement but it is unknown what they will do if, as Governor Christie says, "the thoroughbred horsemen don't come to their senses."  Monday is the deadline in order to present something to the NJRC on the 20th.

Meanwhile, on the Monmouth Park side of the fence, the town of Oceanport has informed the Governor that they are willing to be a transitional operator until a new operator is found.  Oceanport has a lot to ride on if Monmouth Park closed as a lot of property taxes would be lost.

Thursday Musings

The USTA Strategic Wagering Program has been an amazing success this year.  However, with the vast majority of the guarantees being spent on the exotic wagers, like Superfectas, Pick X wagers, it would be interesting to see what happens if they tried guaranteeing Win, Daily Double, and Exacta pools.  Yes, the heavy hitters are playing those Pick Xs, but it kills churn.  How about guaranteeing minimum pools in the Win Pool on certain races or even the early Double to see if it generates churn.  After all, churn is what keeps the tracks going.

Derick Giwner is upset over the fact that Tim Tetrick was left of the USHWA ballot for driver of the year.  In particular, he is upset over the fact that Kevin Switzer, Jr. made the list over Tetrick. I can understand his being upset that Tim Tetrick was omitted, but I think he took a cheap shot when he called Kevin Switzer, Jr.'s nomination 'laughable'.  Switzer is having his career year this year winning so far 302 starts and earning over $961,000 thus far.  Yes, it is Maine, and the competition may not be up to Chester standards, but a person with a .382 UDR is nothing to sneeze at, wherever they race.  I think Giwner could have made his point without trashing Switzer.  Giwner also needs help on deciding who he will vote for the Pacer of the Year and looking for assistance.

Thanks for the Info: The Harness Horsemen International issued a press release of their meeting in which they talk about “Jeff (Gural) was very candid in his speech regarding his vision for the future of racing at the Meadowlands in New Jersey".  Wouldn't it have been nice if they talked about it?

Hunting for an operator:  California standardbred horsemen are looking for someone to operate the harness meet at Cal Expo since the Cal Expo board announced they are getting out of the harness race meet business.  The article claims the track has not lost money, yet, but the Cal Expo Board claims they lost money last year and are on track to lose money this year.  I know it won't happen as he is tied up with the Meadowlands deal, but if they could find a Gural-type to run the Cal Expo meet, it would be interesting to see what he could do.  Is there someone who could step up and make Cal Expo an entertainment destination?

Priorities, priorities:  Great news for thoroughbred fans.  Pimlico has released their logo for the 2012 Preakness Stakes.  Preakeness fans must be relieved.  In the meanwhile, there are no thoroughbred race dates in Maryland because Monarch wants to race only 40 days next year.  There may be no racing in Maryland next year, but at least they got their Preakeness logo done.  Maybe now they can concentrate on the race date dilemna.

Good and had of betting exchanges:  The BBC reports eleven people were found guilty of fixing races after laying on the horse in the betting exchange.  The good news is they were able to detect it which should make anyone in the United States think twice before attempting a betting coup this way.

Meadowlands Update: Someone who follows racing in New Jersey feels the Meadowlands is okay despite the fact the Governor still wants to close the deals together.  So it looks like there will be racing at the Meadowlands in 2012, even if Gural will be directing the NJSEA in running the meet.  Hence, based on this information, no one should feel unsure there will be a meet this year,