For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Monday, January 31, 2011

New Jersey Racing Bills Approved, Tioga and Vernon Schedules Announced

Governor Christie has signed the legislation authorizing Exchange Wagering as well as Single Pool Wagering into law in New Jersey.  It is a formality that the NJSEA will select Betfair to run the exchange wagering pools, but it will be a question of negotiating the fees to be charged and when the NJRC and the Attorney General sign-off on the deal.  Hopefully, we will see exchange wagering in place by May.

As for single-pool wagering, it is promoted as away to allow huge bets to be placed without causing the odds to take a hit (and protect tracks from losses) in addition to accommodating new wagers which can be introduced as a result of implementing the single-pool methodology.  The single-pool legislation does not mean it will be implemented any time soon; it just allows for its implementation. 

In other NJ-related news, SBOANJ President Tom Luchento was named Co-NJ Horseman of the Year by the New Jersey Equine Advisory Board.  In a bit of irony, the award is named the Governor's Trophy.

Meanwhile, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs has announced their tentative schedules pending the approval of the NYSRWB.  Vernon Downs opens their meet on Friday, April 15 while Tioga Downs raises the curtain on the 2011 meet on Saturday, May 7 (Kentucky Derby Day).

No news yet regarding the takeout rates for the 2011 season at these two tracks but I would assume the rates will, at worst remain the same at Tioga, being the lowest rates in the United States for harness racing. As for Vernon Downs, I suspect the horsemen will once again reject any attempt to do something to improve the wagering business there as they seem to take delight in being a thorn in management's side.

As many of you know, usually when I talk about the thoroughbred world, it usually is about some type of injustice.  Well, we can add the absurd to the list.  Thanks to Pull the Pocket and Standardbred Canada for alerting us to the races in Australia being cancelled at one track do to kangaroos taking to the course.   While you can go to the SC website for the 'roos, PTP also shows the bears crossing the track at Sudbury Downs.  I'll add in the infamous Rabbit incident at Northlands Park (one of two, though the second one didn't cause a spill).

It makes our animal encounters in the States seem so darn boring.  I've seen skunks near the tote board at the Meadowlands, the incident of a large bird meeting it's unfortunate demise in the first turn at the Meadowlands and recall seeing on television of a video of deer deciding to cross the track at Turfway Park during a race.  But I admit, these encounters pale to the ones our friends Down Under and up North experience. 

Could Federal Intervention Be Racing's Salvation?

What is the major difference between harness racing in the United States and France?  French trotting is operated by the French Government.  One central group, Cheval Francais, controls the entire sport in France.  Unfortunately, in the United States this is not possible as racing is left to be run at the state level and with eighteen states hosting harness racing, it means there are eighteen different organizations running the show.  Needless to say each group is running things to their own benefit forcing a lack of a standard policy with regards to rules and scheduling in each state.

We can't get states to agree to  race schedules coordinated between states; we can't keep undesirables in one state from racing in another state.  Instead of spreading the race meets around with limited runs ,we have at times twenty tracks racing at the same time.  Everytime the USTA attempts to limit stud books, there is the threat of a court fight.  Clearly, the sport is its own worst enemy as everyone has their own self-interests clouding their decisions.

I know the standardbred industry fears federal regulation primarly because what would now take eighteen separate efforts to ban horse racing from the PETA-groups would be consolidated into a single effort, the possibility of being required to microchip their horses would make it easier to track what is really happening with standardbreds but the fact is federal regulation, with an anti-trust exemption may be what is needed to protect the survivability of the sport.

Let's assume that the USTA became the federal agency for regulating harness racing.  Rather than allowing every stallion from becoming breeding stock, the USTA could have a stud book where acceptance into the book would require certain standards.  A USTA could set up a master schedule for all harness tracks to race logical race meets at specific times so there are not too many tracks racing at the same time.  Miscreants, after being given their due process rights to a hearing can be forever banned from the sport throughout the country   Likewise as in France, the recognition that standardbreds are less popular could result in a similar scheduling for the standardbred prime time being fall and winter while the thoroughbreds get the spring and summer.

Yes, the Interstate racing compact may standardized rules ,but the power to regulate remain with the states.  Each state will be looking to maximize the interests of their own state.  A federal agency, will hear all sides but their ruling would hopefully be fairer to all.  More importantly, federal regulation may allow racing to compete against alternate gaming interests of the state. 

Poll Time - Ice Racing

There are several ways of handicapping a standardbred race in the world.  Here are a few ways a horse can be handicapped.

  1. Better horses draw outside -   Typically done in handicaps or when races are combined.  If a regular handicap, the racing secretary puts the better horses further out on the gate.
  2. Draw the second tier - A different concept.  What about putting the better horses behind the lower class horses; give them a somewhat of a disadvantage of having to clear more horses by racing from behind at the start.
  3. Race a specified distance behind - Admittedly typically used in standing starts.  What if we could start a horse 20 yards behind his weaker opposition.
Why don't you look at the poll and give it a vote.  If you had to consider how we handicap races, which way would you want it done?

With all the cold weather and snow we have been getting, I found an article on ice racing up at Saranac Lake, NY.  Wouldn't if be great if we could resume this tradition, even if just a promotional activity? 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ready Cash Wins the Prix d'Amerique

The favorites took the top two spots in the Prix d'Ameruique when Ready Cash beat Mahrajah by half a length.

Wouldn't it be great if we had something like this in North America.  Granted, the French Government runs horse racing in France, but look at the pre-race show prior to the Prix d'Amerique in the following video.  While you look at the preliminary activities, take a look at the grandstand.  And we get excited when 24,000 people show up to the Hambletonian?

Maybe we can learn something from the French?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Raising the Classified Issue Again

The quote from that one gambler who gave up harness racing the day classified racing went away got me thinking.  No doubt long term readers of my blog know I am a big fan of classified racing.  Not only is it a way to make harness racing more accessible for those wanting to try the game, I do believe it makes races more competitive; more likely we will see horses bunched up at the wire instead of drawn out at the end.

One place I think we could all agree there should be some type of classified racing would be for two year old racing.  Bad enough we race two year olds so early but other than a nw1pm win or being thrown in with three year olds, they generally get tossed into open races.  As a result, many two year olds get burned out attempting to race against horses that are far ahead of them in ability or they succeed and don't come back as a three year old.

What I would propose is for two year olds, there be a form of classified/conditioned racing.  We would have straight non-winners of 1, 2, and 3 parimutuel races for two year olds exclusively (no monetary conditions), and once they reach their third parimutuel victory, they would be classified as 2yo Preferred until they win their fifth start at which time they would be classified as 2yo Open.  Under this proposal, other than sire stakes races, for a two year old to be eligible for the early stakes races, they would have to be listed as 2yo Preferred.  Come August a horse would need to be listed as 2yo Open to compete in what we would call tier 1 stakes races and Preferred to compete in tier 2 stakes races.  This way, you would hopefully have two year olds with similar experience levels competing against each other.  This way they would be able to compete against horses of comparative ability.  Yes, I know classifying stakes races as tier 1 or 2 is another issue we would need to address, but for illustration purposes I would suggest races like the Tompkins-Geers would be listed as a tier two race and races like the Woodrow Wilson would be tier 1.

I would still like to see classified racing for older horses, but at least by having classified racing for two year olds, we may preserve some of our juvenile horses which fall to the wayside each year.

Beating a Dead Horse, Oh Maryland...

A study in Australia shows that whipping a thoroughbred in the later stages of a race is a waste of time; you can call it beating a dead horse.  The study shows by the time the field gets into the stretch, the horses muscles are so tired that the whip is useless.  According to the study, jockeys would be best concerned with getting their horse into a place to win and let 'er go, sans whip.  Needless to say, the thoroughbred interests are screaming bloody murder over this study which was financed by the RSPCA and through the cooperation of Racing New South Wales.  Ironically, one of the biggest objectors to the study in Racing Australia of which Racing NSW is part of.

So if this study on thoroughbreds shows the use of a whip late in a race is worthless with results to the outcome of a race, could the same logic apply to standardbreds?  Pull the Pocket goes into this line of thinking and believes the same logic applies.  At this point, let's assume this study is correct.  How do we educate our industry participants and horseplayers to accept the study?  We will need to address this as the industry has nothing to gain by continuing to beat the proverbial dead horse.

We have had for roughly a year the new whipping rules in Ontario and with the exception of some outrage over changing the official order of finish, the rule has worked pretty well.  I am not aware of any accidents caused by the new rules, only fines and imposed vacations for those who refuse to adapt.  Speed records in Ontario are continuing to be set.  One could argue using the whip is more dangerous; after all, how many times do you see a tiring horse go off-stride when being whipped, possibly causing an accident?

Penn National is the apparent winner in the Rosecroft Sweepstakes, winning the rights to the now shuttered racetrack.  With Penn National owning already 49% of the Maryland Jockey Club, one has to wonder what their real motive is for purchasing Rosecroft.  Are they truly looking to restore harness racing to the half-miler, or could they be purchasing the track to keep it closed down?

Elsewhere, there have been some early revues of Ocean Downs on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and at present, the only parimutuel track in Maryland with pari-mutuel wagering.  Early reports indicate the grandstand has become a casino with the clubhouse providing limited seating opportunities.  One report suggests there are a total of three mutuel windows on the grrandstand tarmac with no protection from the rain for horseplayers.  There is still a clubhouse of 30 tables which has not bee n updated  While things may not be as bad as being reported at Ocean Downs, the MRC should be making sure enough attention is beting taken to provide for the horseplayers.  After all, it is easier to fix the problems now than during the racing season.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Meadowlands Late Closing Finals; O'Brien Awards Simulcast

The Meadowlands wraps up the first round of their late closing series Saturday night with the final of The Complex, Clyde Hirt, and the Presidential Series.  The finals come after two weeks of eliminations.  One thing I would like to know is what happend to late closing series?  I recall preliminary legs of three or four weeks for events like the Presdidential, but now they contest only two preliminary legs.  I imagine it has more to do with the abundnace of late closing events which tracks like the Meadowlands and Woodbine hold.  Once you are seemingly eliminated from the series finals, these owners and trainers want to move on to the next series.  This is why I always like series like the Levy Memorial at Yonkers where there are six preliminary legs which are used to determine the final field; it is more of an ironman competition.

Anyway, here is my analysis of the three stakes finals for Saturday evening:

Meadowlands 3rd Pace - $65,000; The Complex Final - 5YOS and Under that are NW4PM or $125,000LT
   1 - Code Word (Campbell, pp 4, 4-1) - Improved with stable change and draws best of entry
1A - Windsong Gorgeous (Sears, pp 8, 4-1) - Runner up to #5 in last three starts.  Post only hinderance.
1B - Southern Allie (Gingras, pp 9,  4-1) - Appears overmatched.  May be best used as a sacrificial lamb.
1C - Get It Now (A Miller, pp 10, 4-1) -  Draws the worst of it.  Unlikely member of entry.
  2 - Unicorn Hanover (Simpson, pp 1, 15-1) -  Rail an advantage.  Leaves early but expect a late falter..
  3 - Born To Rockn Roll (Dube, pp 2, 15-1) - Has not been able to show any life in this series.  Pass.
  4 - Thunder's Fury (Pierce, pp 3,  15-1) - No chance in last; may land share.
  5 - St Elmo Hero (Tetrick, pp 5, 1-2) - Going for win #23.  Willing to take less than 1-2?
  6 - Mccelland (D Miller, pp 6, 6-1) - May try to sting the favorite from here.  Possible upset chance?
  7 - Urgent Action (Silverman, pp 7, 10-1) - Has shown little thus far.
Selections: 6-5-1
Coupled: Code Word, Windsong Gorgeous, Southern Allie, Get It Now

Meadowlands 5th Pace - $62,600; Clyde Hirt Final; 4YOS and Under S&G that are NW3 PM or $75,000 LT
  1 - Buckeye In Charge (D Miller, 15-1) - Has shown little in series.  Don't see improvement.
  2 - No Monkeys Allowed (Gingras, 10-1) - Gelding seems to be returning to Chester form.  Don't ignore.
  3  - Freddy Day Hanover (Pierce, 15-1) - Draws a decent post and may be upset chance.
  4 - Royal Cam-Hall (Marohn, 15-1) - Draws better, may improve chances for share.
  5  - Diablo Seelster (Simpson, 8-1) - Pena trainee may be the one ot be with the bad draw of favorite.
  6  - Snipper Seelsster (Campbell, 5-1) - Two of three this year.  Logical contender.
  7 - Highland Rocks (Tetrick, 10-1) -  Tough spot this week. 
  8 - Meirs Hanover (Sears, 4-1) - Most logical choice to score the minor upset. 
  9 - Touch The Rock (Dube, 8-1) - Draws outside after a couple of inside efforts; pass here.
10 - Summer Camp (A Miller, 2-1) - Winner of five straight draws the worst of it.  May be overbet.
Selections: 8-10-6

Meadowlands 6th Pace - $127,000 - Presidential Final - FFA
  1 - River Shark (Gingras, pp 5, 8-1) - Mid-pack start little help for him.
1A - Handsome Harry (Simpson, pp 8, 8-1) - Solid contender just over his head at this level.
  2 - Bettor Sweet (Campbell, pp 6, 5-2) - DH winner last week looks to be up front through race.  May falter.
2A - Western Shore (Dube, pp 9, 5-2) - Contender gets saddled with poor post.
  3  - Blatantly Good (A Miller, pp 7, 5-1) - Best efforts are on the smaller ovals.  Pass.
3A - Real Celebration (Tetrick, pp 10, 5-1) - Post ten eliminates.
  4 - Alexie Mattosie (D Miller, pp 1, 4-1) - DH Winner draws inside of #2 this week. Consider. 
  5 - Golden Receiver (Pierce,  pp 2, 10-1) - If   looking for an upset choice, he may be the one.
  6 - Vlos (Sears, pp 3, 9-5) - Will seek front and may get it.  Think he may be too presssued to win.
  7 - Schoolkids (Berry, pp 4, 15-1) - Expect more later this year; pass today.
Selections: 4-5-3
Coupled: River Shark and Handsome Harry; Bettor Sweet and Western Shore; Blatantly Good and Real Celebration

Are you a harness racing fan or gambler, but not connected to the industry?  HANA may be looking for you.

For those South of the Border who are interested in who win's year-end awards in Canada, the O'Brien Awards are being broadcasted over the Internet this year.  It is always interesting to see who wins the awards North of the lower forty-eight as performances in Canada have greater weight than efforts in the United States; the reverse of what happens with the USHWA awards. The awards kick-off this Saturday at 9pm.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Words from the Gamblers

Harness racing these days, can be best described as "The Best of Times and the Worst of Times".  Those racing at racinos are having money falling into their hands, all while they are racing in front of few people at the track or even on the Interent; some of them seemingly content to keep on going until the cow runs dry.

Then you have those racing at tracks without slots and not fortunate enough to be racing at the Meadowlands.  For them, being an owner is a struggle, trying to find that lightning in the bottle attempting to get a horse that at least pays its way.  Honest trainers, who come from families who have been in the business, are struggling to pay the bills, wondering how much longer they can stay in the business before they have to give up the family business and go working at some service industry job.  Drivers, who do not train, have to find part time jobs to allow them to keep on driving.

What do all these people have in common?  Those at the non-slots tracks are wondering where things went wrong.  Those at racino tracks are going to be wondering what went wrong.  I came across some comments from certain individuals which I print below.  Mind you, these are the opinions of the individuals; not mine.  Some of the facts may be true, some may be perception.  However, I do feel whether real or not, they partially explain the decline we are experiencing.

Here is a comment from a former owner, trainer, and driver:

My obsession, when it comes to racing is; honest races, tough judges, no unexplainable reversals of form, professional televising of the races.(You see, this all benefits ME).

Some tracks (Yonkers, Northville, Saratoga Harness and others) seem to be trying to hide the race from the bettor. Other tracks (Balmoral, Dover, Harrington, most actually) do their best allow the bettor see every competitive horse. I don't play the tracks with the "crap' camera work.

Here are comments from a gambler who gave up harness racing for poker:

I have played this drug infested game for 35 years and I would say my numbers as a bettor would be in the top 1 percent for all those years.

I'm mostly into poker these days as I find harness racing unbeatable. Now in years past I believed that the track take was by far the biggest problem with racing and today its a minor problem compared to the speed tracks with very little movement after the quarter and unlike thouroughbreds where speed horses are in front, the standerbred game usually has the favorites up front and this produces small payoffs.  Drugs, ... and speed tracks make the game unbeatable.

Now another problem, We need new blood [drivers] in the game at every racetrack [as] the same 10 guys drive every race on that card and soft racing on no movement tracks make harness racing look like a joke.

 Be like the [thorough]breds where you have a colony of 50 jockeys and less friendships on the track will arise, A colony of 50 drivers will make less soft racing happen, The suits think that if they put boring chalk handicappers who give you 10 reasons every race why they should win and announcers who glorify 3 dollar shots that racing will grow. 

Now as a poker player I can tell you that poker is in huge decline as [the] dead money has dried up as is the case at the track, I just came back from Atlantic City and Los Angelos [sic] and both places are in huge decline. Without dead money in pools or games, the gaming world will be in decline.

This person also refers to the stupid suits (his words) that run the tracks.  Presumably, he is referring to those people who run the track who seem to accept the status quo. 

Comments from another person who has given up harness racing for the thoroughbreds:

In my time in New York, I saw Adios Butler, Torpid, Jamin, Bret Hanover, Widower Creed, Royal Pastime, Adios Oregon, Galophone and all the other greats of the 50s and 60s. I never would have believed that any seemingly minor change in the game could send me to the thoroughbreds forever. However, when they abandoned the classification system (rating horses as Free For All, Junior Free For All, AA, A, BB, B, CC, C and D), and moved over to the conditioned races, I was gone. I was no longer interested and haven't been since.

From time to time, I have gone to Pompano Park, but trying to decipher the conditions just never appealed to me. And I guarantee you that there are an untold number of racing fans who feel the same way. Classified racing made it easy for a novice to walk in on any night and feel as if he had a chance.

The funny thing, is many of these comments have been echoed for years with little action having been taken to address these concerns (perceptions).  A few tracks have tried to re-introduce classified racing, only to be forced to go back to conditioned racing after the horsemen complained too much.  But the racing, for the most part, become very boring.  As for me, I like to win, but if at least I get some excitement for my wager, losing is not as bad; at least I was in it for a while.  Now, I can often tell before the quarter mile is completed if I have a chance or not. 

The question is, are there any people out there willing to take a chance to address these issues and can they get the power to do so?  That is the million dollar question.

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

It was the Best of Times.  Here we are at awards season and people are talking about who will win what award, and the SBOANJ issues a press release that Big Jim's first parimutuel start likely occuring in the NJ Classic which is sponsored by the SBOANJ.  No doubt a big thing for the SBOANJ who sponsors the race.  Reading stories like this suggest evertyhing is wonderful in the racing world.  Before long. horsemen will be getting together in Florida congratulating the division remembers.  Slot money is coming in, making racing profitable for many owners.  Everything is beautiful.

It was the Worst of Times.  The Harris Poll conducted a poll asking Americans what their favorite sport is.  Horse racing gets 1% of the votes down from 4% in 1985.  But there is good news for "Not Sure", fans, they move ahead of racing by getting 3% of the vote.  If there is any good news here for horse racing fans, we do beat Women's Pro Basketball, Women's Tennis (Despite Maria Sharpova still competing) and Women's Soccer.  Granted, it is years since racing has been popular but when you fall below "Not Sure" things are not good.  Less gamblers are playing racing either giving up the game, betting less or chosing alternative gaming options.  Whether people are in the grandstands or sitting in front of the computer, it can't be disputed that the handle is decreasing. 

People are asking me why St Elmo Hero's twenty-two straight wins is not getting any interest from the mainstream press.  I think the Harris Poll says it all.  Why is any newspaper or sports program going to take note of a horse like St Elmo Hero's when the sport gets so low of a rating.  I assure you if harness racing was separated from thoroughbred racing we probably would have fallen below the three women's sports mentioned.

I just wish people would spend more time trying to fix the sport than promoting the anticipated race schedule of a horse racing in four months.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Instead of Complaining, Let's Solve the Second Tier Dilemna

In what is hailed as great news, the Little Brown Jug Society has announced that for the year 2011, if nineteen horses are entered into the Jug or Jugette, the elimination races will be carded as fields of six, six, and seven instead of the prior method which would have two fields with second tier horses; a field of ten and a field of nine.  Starting in 2012, the total number of entries will be limited to twenty-four horses based on earnings so there will be no trailers in any eliminations.  Also, starting this year, there will be no race-off for the Jugette; the winner of the second heat will be winner of the Jugette (the race-off for the Jug continues).

Once again, the rules of the race has been altered to accomodate owners and trainers complaining about the second tier.  Now, to be honest, as much as I enjoy the Little Brown Jug, I could care less about these types of rule changes occuring at a fair that races five days a year.  My problem is with the extended pari-mutuel tracks who accomodate certain connections as if they were spoiled little children (yes, I said that) who threaten to take their horse home instead of entering  into a race which they may draw the second tier.  By accomodating these horsemen, all they do is put on an inferior product for the customer, chasing them away to the next gambling product.
As Bob Marks, states in the February edition of HoofBeats Direct

Races need to be exciting and entertaining. One need not be a rocket scientist to conclude that the incumbent style of racing has been a contributing factor to the apathy level harness racing currently suffers amongst its dwindling fan base....there’s no question that the actual racing must appear to be a bit more visually competitive than it so often does....

Five and six horse fields are not exciting.  In addition, due to complaints of horsemen regarding the second tier, the gambling public must deal with eliminations the prior week.  How often do we see horses put in subpar efforts in eliminations which are not worth wagering on, yet they come alive the following week?  As Marks says:  

Yes, we all want “horse” to come back with [enough] for next week’s race and that would be fine if we raced only for ourselves. Unfortunately, that way of thinking is in direct contradiction to the requirements of the betting public.  After all, once the bet is lost, it is lost.

Then, too, there are those seemingly endless successions of poor betting propositions, ..., the endless array of marginally competitive stake eliminations ....

You can read Marks' complete comments in the February edition of HoofBeats.

I understand the horsemen racing at slot-supported tracks don't care about the customer because if they did, they'd offer the betting public full fields so there would be a product worth wagering on, but they don't.   Instead, they complain about all the fees they paid to get into the race only to draw in the second tier.  Granted, if I owned a horse I'd rather be racing on the gate than following another horse up to the start, but I also know without anyone watching the races and betting on them, there won't be no race to compete in.  Sometimes you just need to suck it up and try to make lemonade out of lemons.  Just look at Prairie Meadows which will be loosing their harness meet after 2011 and Iowa horsemen who will be racing exclusively on a fair circuit because there was little wagering or interest by the gambling public. 

Unless horsemen are going to agree to racing in divisions or limiting entries to the top money earners, horsemen need to take one for the team.  That being said we can compromise, offer compensation to the owner which draws the second tier.  For example, the Hambletonian has a $12,500 starting fee for eliminations and another $12,500 for starting in the final.  Let's say the 2012 Hambletonian draws 12 entrants.  Right now, the race would be divided into two six horse fields.  What if the elimination wasn't divided and there was only one elimination race with the two horses drawing the second tier receiving a refund of half their starting fee for the elimination to compensate them for racing from the second tier?  

There are creative ways of handling the second tier yet meeting the needs of the wagering public.  Rather than complaining about the evil of the second tier, why not use that energy to come up with a solution which satisfies everyone?

Is What's Bad for Atlantic City Bad for the Meadowlands?

Those darn 'slot barns'.  What Atlantic City casinos used to call racinos, is taking it to Atlantic City and will continue to do so.  In a report released Monday, New York's gaming revenue is expected to increase 32% this year as the Aqueduct Racino is scheduled to open and Yonkers Raceway continues to experience growth in it's business (they recently announced plans for a 40,000 square foot addition to their gaming floor.

So how is Atlantic City doing?  They lost 41% of their business since 2006 and are forecast to loose an additional 13% of revenue this year.  And what is going to happen to when New York allows table games in two or three years?

I've said it before and I will say it again.  The casino gambling industry has matured and has become a commodity.  There is no reason why people will travel to Atlantic City when they can travel to a local casino, be it a racino or a stand alone casino.

So what does this mean to the Meadowlands?  Many people have been saying the casino industry 'owns' the New Jersey government.  We may see if this is the case as negotiations towards a lease for the Meadowlands continue.  With building a new grandstand in the plans of Jeff Gural, if at least a thirty year lease isn't offered, it is more than likely Gural and company will have to drop their plans to lease the Meadowlands as it will not make economic sense to invest that much money in a new facility for a shorter period of time.  It will also show that these negotiations to save racing at the Meadowlands was a sham negotiation from the start on behalf of the New Jersey government.   

Of course, if an expansion of casino gaming in the state of New Jersey does occur, there is no assurance it will end up at the Meadowlands.  The City of Newark has had a lot of power within the state legislature in recent years and Democratic Mayor Booker has formed an alliance of convenience with Republican Governor Christie, so don't rule out the possibility of a casino showing up in Newark (and possibly Jersey City) instead of the Meadowlands. 

Before horsemen count on the inevitability of casino gambling coming to the Meadowlands, remember money sets political agendas be it New Jersey or any other state.  If Gural is able to pull off a lease, it is not time to return to the typical pattern of ambivalence and just wait for the slot revenue to show up; it may never come.

Freehold Cuts Purses:  Freehold Raceway has announced that starting next week, purse would be cut 15%.  It is not known yet if purses will be cut across the board 15% or if it will be an aggregate 15% cut.

The Reactor Returns

Auckland Reactor trialed (qualified) for the first time since he returned to New Zealand by winning the 2400m trial for winners of 2 or more races behind the mobile barrier.  He won by a neck in 3:04.9 (mile rate of 2:03.9) with the last 800m (approx 1/2 mile) in 55.8 and the last 400m (approx 1/4 mile) in :27.

To us North Americans, this may not be an impressive return to racing for the New Zealand wonder but checking his record before his disasterous North American campaign, the last time he raced a  2400m mobile start in New Zealand back on March 1, 2008 at Wyndham Raceway, the final time was 3:01.8 (MR 2:01.8), so he is about two second off his mile rate when compared to his race against 3yo colts and geldings.

Certainly considering the layoff it was a good first effot.  He is next scheduled to trial next Wednesday at   Motukarara before being entered into his first parimutuel start on February 12 at Ashburton when we will see if he is back into his form before he headed to North America.  My guess is he is.

No, I don't think having Auckland Reactor trained by Kelvin Harrison was the problem.  What we had was a horse which neede to get used to humid weather conditions who had some physical problems requiring surgery.  I wish the Reactir would have remained in North America and returned to the races in the winter months when the Open trotting ranks are easier than during the summer months and let the Reactor work his way up to the true opene leveds he would have had to compete against during the summer. 

Maybe Auckland Reactor was the real deal, maybe he was a fraud.  We will never know.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Boycott Wars

Let's take a brief detour through the thoroughbred world.  HANA is a supporter of the boycott of California thoroughbred racing due to its recent rise in the takeout rate for exotic wagers which was promoted to benefit the TOC (Thoroughbred Owners of California).  The logic of the dysfunctional CHRB decision is that they equate horse racing with attending a basketball game (entertainment) and since the exotic takeout rates in California were some of the lowest in the land, they felt they could increase their takeout and still be a desirable product as their rates would still be lower than some tracks.  Only one problem.  Horseplayers of all breeds are complaining about takeout rates being too high.  With the sensitivity of horseplayers towards takeout, no increase of a takeout rate is going to be appreciated by a horseplayer, even if it is still cheaper than another product.

Let's put it this way.  You buy a generic ketchup at $1.49 a bottle.  You can buy a name brand for $1.89 a bottle.  If they raise the price of the generic ketchup to $1.69 a bottle, are you going to be happy?  Most likely not.  Only problem is many of the thoroughbred horseplayers around the country are "mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore" and have called for a boycott. 

Well, regardless of how they try to present their figures, it is clear the boycott of the California thoroughbred racing product has been successful thus far; successful enough that some renegade members of the TOC have asked the CHRB to rollback the takeout rate increase.  If you need any proof that the boycott is working, the Paulick Report, a leading thoroughbred racing news site, which accepts advertising from the California thoroughbred industry, launched what would be considered an attack on Jeff Platt, who happens to be the President of HANA in an effort to discredit HANA and the boycott.  In fairness to Mr. Paulick, he does indicate he looks out for the interests of the horse owner first.

In an article/editorial Paulick discusses how the racing industry made it possible for rebate shops to function by selling their signal too cheaply.  Perhaps the industry did sell their signal to cheaply, no one forced them to let the genie out of the bottle.  I'll even agree with Mr. Paulick that the rebate shops are no friends of racing.

Where Mr. Paulick goes awry is on his attack on Platt and HANA, claiming Platt is a pimp and HANA is no friend of racetracks, obviously in an attempt to get racetracks to no longer work with HANA.  It should be noted that HANA is receiving an award from the USHWA for their efforts on behalf of harness racing so the harness racing industry has no problem with HANA's efforts. 

Paulick's argument with Platt is that he claims he has no financial interest in Rebate shops yet in his business, he gets compensated for every new customer he directs to a rebate shop.  Paulick claims Platt is twisting words to defend his business, yet in Platt's own advertising, on the website where he promotes rebate shops and attempts to drum up business by placing those seeking rebates with the company the gambler gets the best benefit, Platt clearly points out the following in the middle of his advertisement:
I'm a full time player and handicapping software author. I do not operate an ADW - nor do I have a financial stake (ownership interest) in an ADW.

At the end of the advertisement, Platt also indicates:

Full disclosure: If you take me up on my offer, once you are signed up and start earning rebates, I receive compensation in the form of a referral fee.

If you read the whole advertisement, you know exactly where Platt gets his compensation.  There is nothing hidden going on here.   

Okay, so Mr. Platt makes his living selling handicapping software and directing gamblers who wager enough to rebate shops.  May I point out if the takeout rates were low enough, the rebate shops would go out of business as gamblers will have no need to seek out rebates.

The main goal of Paulick's article does seem to be to discredit HANA and the work they do.  Mind you this is the same group that goes all out to promote any track that has taken steps to help the horseplayer, most notably to harness fans, Tioga Downs when they cut their takeout rate to the lowest allowed in New York. 

In response to Paulick's attack article/editorial, HANA released a statement on their blog, which clearly indicates that there has always been a wall between Platt's private business and his volunteer efforts on behalf of horseplayers, big and small.

Those tracks who do not deal with HANA seem to be of the opinion that everyone but horsplayers are free to band together and consider gamblers dolts who should be grateful for the opportunity to bet at whatever price you want to charge.  Tracks which deal with HANA seem to acknowledge horseplayers are not idiots, they are customers and as such they are free to group together to have their voices heard.  It is smart business for a track to listen to what the customer has to say and see if they can work with them to increase their own business.

Perhaps from Mr. Paulicks own editorial, we can deduce where he stands on the issue?

Prix d' Amerique Time - The Greatest Race You Won't Bet

This coming Sunday is France's big race, the Prix d' Amerique being held at Vincennes in Paris.  Here is a commercial promoting the big event (in French):

The Prix d' Amerique is perhaps the greatest harness racing in the world and odds are you won't see the race.  If you are fortunate enought to be able to watch the race, there is a good chance if you are betting, you will be doing your handicapping will be little more than guessing, knowing little about the contestants in the race.

Yes, the Prix is run in France, but for such a major race, you would expect part of their website would be in English to accomodate the international significance of the race.  Well, you would be wrong.  Yes, I took French in high school, but it has been many years since I had to use my French skills so short of a few words (such as bonjour and merci), one inappropriate phrase, and one curse word, my ability to comprehend French ranges between extremely limited to non-existent.  For races of such magnitude, websites should offer versions in the major languages of the world; something we should learn in North America as well (If you have any level of French ability, visiting the site  (France's OTW site) a few days before the races as it may offer you some minor assistance, in that you will be able to get some type of program to look at.  Note:  Someone found a link to an English translation of the Prix's website.

Yes, you may read a few stories about some of the contenders for the Prix at the USTA or other industry websites, but it really is hit or miss and usually concentrates on the top choices.  The best story on the race thus far is on Harnesslink's website., but even this I would not want to depend on for handicapping a race.

As for the program which may eventually be available for you; it is once again a perfect example of the need to standardize some of the information so bettors all over will have information to work off of.  Of coursre, this asssumes you are able to track a program down in the first place.

So this Sunday, I may be watching the Prix d'Amerique but I won't be wagering.  It shouldn't be this hard to handicap a race. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why Not Racing Under Saddle?

Yesterday at Vincennes,Olga du Biwetz won the $1 million Prix De Cornulier, a race contested at approvimately 1 15/16 miles.  This win makes here a favorite to win next week's Prix d' Amerique.

But the point of this article is how North American standardbred interests are missing a potentially lucrative avenue for wagering dollars.  Watch the replay of the race and form your own opinon.  One thing you will not see in the video is the start.  No starting gate, is used.  The start is similar to the start used by the steeplechase races; post position really doesn't matter.  Once the starter feels the hores are in line, the field is released.

Why may racing under saddle work in attracting new bettors?  The lack of the sulky.  The horses, while not as close to each other as they are in the thoroughbreds, race tight enough and will help lose the perception people have about horses getting boxed in.  Races like this will give thoroughbred horse players another reason to take a look at standardbred racing.

No, I am not suggesting we give up our sulkies, far from it. But we need to take a serious look at racing under saddle, not the half hearted attempt we had before.  There we had exhibition races with a few horses quickly trained to race under saddle which resulted in boring competitions in numerous cases.  How is that going to excite people into seriously considering RUS as anything more than a novelty?  Here is a race from three years ago at Hoosier Park.  Five horses entered and they basically stayed clear of each other.

What is needed is a commitment from certain tracks to put on meaningful RUS races on the calendar in 2012 offering respectable money which would make it feasible for stables to train good horses to race under saddle.  We could then develop our own circuit of RUS horses to go to various race tracks to compete in races, the same way as the steeplechasers visit running tracks.  If our drivers are not experienced enough in racing under saddle, then let's get some thoroughbred jockeys to race in these events to keep the races exciting.

If you look at the French race, how many horses wree in the race?  Many horse to make the races attractive to bettors who want larger fields, something possible due to the lack of the sulky.  No cecond tier worries either.

We need to take a real look at the possibility of racing under saddle.  It may be part of the revenue stream we are looking for.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Reviving New Jersey's Moribound Breeding Industry and Gural Speaks

There is no secret that the New Jersey breeding industry is in the toilet and unless the Meadowlands is saved, the final flush is about to occur, but even with the Meadowlands being saved, the limited racing opportunities which will exist at the Meadowlands will do little to revive the industry; stabilization at best is what there is to look forward to which is not much as many of the NJ yearlings were sold below cost which is a situation unsustainable. 

Here is my plan for reviving the New Jersey breeding industry.

  1. Modify the program which has some races designated with a 25% bonus for New Jersey Owned and Sired, (sometimes preferred) to become a program for New Jersey Sired or Foaled.  This way, breeding farms which have open space due to artificial insemination could induce mares which are bred to other states stallions to reside in New Jersey making up some of the business loss.  Realistically, New Jersey horsemen will be unwilling to eliminate the New Jersey owned condition so they would continue to be included with a 15% bonus paid to them.
  2. Introduce a new program for New Jersey sired horses with a 50% bonus for maidens through non-winners of three races.  This will allow racing opportunities for those owners with not ready or never ready for stakes time a chance to recoup part of their investment.  Meaning races at the Meadowlands would go for the following purses for NJ Sired horses:  Maidens (or nw1cd), would race for $11,250 (instead of $7,500); nw2cd would race for $13,500 (instead of $9,000) and nw3cd would race for $18,750 instead of $12,500).  At Freehold, these horses would race for similar incentives.
  3. For lack of a better term, replace the NJ Green Acres races at Freehold and have a New Jersey Sires Stakes Silver division for those horses who are a step bellow the better New Jersey bred stakes horses to give them a chance to earn decent money as a two, three or four year old campaign).  For those that did not quite make the big time, the New Jerseys Sires Stakes would have a four year old program.
  4. For the top tier NJ Sired, rename the NJSS to the NJSS Gold division for two and three year olds and add a division for four year olds to reflect Mr. Gural's intention to limit open stakes races for horses sired by five year olds and up; leaving opportunities for the four year olds to earn big money.
  5. More stakes races for NJ Sired horses, again not only for the top horses, but races designed for the second stringers.
Of course the question comes how do we to pay for these new programs?  The bonuses paid for NJ Sired and NJ Sired and Foaled programs will come from the regular purse account.  I would restrict the breeders awards only to those horses who were sired and foaled in New Jersey, with the remaining funds being used to help seed the NJSS Silver division..  I would suggest introducing a 3% surcharge on all claims to be used towards funding the NJSS program.  Additional financial resources may be needed, but these will need to be raised without increasing the takeout.

Inquiring minds have to ask why does Tioga Downs easily come to a 5 year agreement with their horsemen, yet it is almost impossible to come to a deal with Vernon Downs horsemen?  What makes it even harder to understand this is many of the horsemen race at both tracks.  The only conclusion I have can come to is the leadership of the Vernon Horsemen needs to be replaced. 

Jeff Gural spoke last night at the Meadowlands.  For those who missed it, here is the interview (it is in two parts):

   Jeff Gural Interview Part 1

Jeff Gural Interview Part 2

Friday, January 21, 2011

Here Lies the Crux of the Problem; How Bad are Things Really?

In a Hootbeat Blog Column, Carol Hodes talks about how nice it would have been to have an undo button to correct some of the mistakes made by racing regards the Casinos.  This one statement pretty much sums up her arguments:

As a fan of horse racing, I would like to go back to the 1970s and 1980s and undo the lotteries and casinos that chipped away at our business and sucked in our gamblers

Like many people, Ms. Hodes, a person who I have the most respect for, the problem was with the lotteries and the casinos.

No doubt the tracks should have realized the threat that the casinos and lotteries would have had on their business, but as typical, there is no realization that the racing game is broken; the same game it was back in the 1950's had not and for the most part has not changed in those sixty years. Couldn't part of the problem been the staleness of the product; the unwillingness of racing to change with regard to takeout or to take advantage of advances in technology?  The unwillingness of the game to become more customer friendly, being democratic to the whales and the $2 bettor at the same time?

Yes, a good bit of our problem was not recognizing the changing gambling scene.  However, to not recognize the unwillingness of racing to change the game to meet the public's wants and desires has something to do with it.  Racing should not cry they are the victims in the long horrid saga underway, maybe the guns was put to our heads, but did we need to help pull the trigger?

Another thing came out of the NJRC meeting this week; test results from 2010On the equine side, 28,855 tests were done on were standardbreds of which 16 standardbreds came back with positive tests.  This means a total of  .05% of the horses racing in New Jersey tested for illegal drugs.  The question is if this is the case, why does harness racing have such a bad reputation when it comes to cheating (for the record thoroughbreds came back with a .14% percentage of drug positives)?  Now obviously, you can only test for what you know of, but rest assured there are unscrupulous trainers of all breeds who are willing to try the next great thing, but the fact remains at least in New Jersey, while both sports are essentially clean based on the existing drug testing, thoroughbreds percentage-wise came up with an almost 3X higher rate of drug positives.  Care to speculate why harness racing has the bad reputation and not thoroughbred racing?

Kill This Bill Now

Two new racing bills have made advances in the NJ Legislature, all in the name to keep racing alive in New Jersey.  One bill would allow a one year transition period where NJSEA and the acquiror of the Meadowlands jointly run the racetrack until the new ownership group is approved by the NJRC.  This bill makes sense.  Then there is the other bill.

That bill, would allow the minimum number of racing days at Freehold and the Meadowlands go to seventy-five days a year each.   Under the proposed legislation the NJRC would approve a license for Freehold to race, but would have no say as to the number of days being raced there; that would be decided upon by the SBOANJ.  If we are to believe the SBOANJ's own press, Freehold Raceway management would have no say on how many days they would race.  It is unknown if Freehold agreed with this legislation, but one would have to wonder how they would acquiesce to such a proposal. 

As long as relations between track management and the SBOANJ are fine, there would be no problem, but if relations sour, the SBOANJ could force Freehold Raceway to race more days than they can afford to race.  I am not talking about purse money; if horsemen are foolish enough to insist on racing 120 days, they can race for $900 purses if so desired, but the track is responsible for hiring the track crew, concession people, tellers, security, officials, and the like needed to run the meet.  If the bill provided for mutual consent in number of days to be raced, it would be one thing, but as written, it is a bad bill.  The bill should be revised or killed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

NJRC Turns Down Fair Start Rule

Yesterday, the New Jersey Racing Commission voted down the proposal to introduce the Fair Start Rule to New Jersey.  According to unidentified sources, the commission had some concerns about the rule proposal, but were not completely opposed to the concept.   The rejection of the rule proposal will be published in the New Jersey Register and once the specifics are known, I will report on it.  Perhaps once the objections are known they can be addressed in a new proposal.  Hopefully, it will not take another 18 months for the proposal to make its way through the rule making process once if it is resubmitted.

In the meanwhile, New Jersey, like other states in the United States with the exception of North Dakota, harness racing is the one gaming sport where the gambler can lose their money before the game (the race) even begins.  If you are concerned enough about not being protected, I suggest you consider wagering on the races in Ontario instead.  Otherwise, let the gambler beware.  has an excellent story about how people are trying to figure out where the loss of handle on Meadowlands races are coming from.  Supposedly, some of the biggest loss is coming from within New Jersey.  I would suggest part of the problem comes from the poor quality fall meet which was contested and the fact top drivers fled to Yonkers and other points during that time for greener pastures.  Though many of the drivers and better horses are back, people don't realize it as the Meadowlands advertising budget is likely severely limited.  For example, the Meadowlands result show which was once shown on TVG and on SNY are no only shown on SNY and are shown on TVG at 6:30am in the morning.  Advertising efforts may not may not change until track ownership has transferred since I am sure the state has handcuffed the NJSEA when it comes to spending money.  In the meanwhile, the only thing certain is purse cuts would appear to be on their way. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Time for the Harness Drivers League?

I read (yeah, this old geezer still reads the newspaper), that a new league is being established for Poker. This league will be set up in a PGA format with the majority of professional poker players needing to earn their ‘card’ to compete in the league. The expectation is there will be at four televised league matches. Famed poker player Annie Duke will be the league commissioner.

Relax, I am not calling for a league commissioner in this article so for those of you who hate the idea, your blood pressure may return to normal. Also, you will be glad that for one blog entry you are not going to read about “see how popular poker is, what did we do wrong” either. We have talked about this so many times and undoubtedly will again in the future that we are going to give this topic a rest today.

What I am calling for is the establishment of the Harness Driving League (HDL). The HDL will be a season-long competition of drivers at various tracks throughout the United States and Canada, where drivers will visit each week a different racetrack earning points towards a end of season championship, like NASCAR. No, this will not be like the Tioga Driving Championship where they invite the top money earners to drive in a series of races which would tend to have the best drivers in the country (read that primarily Meadowlands drivers); it would be a competition which would have interest throughout all of North America for harness racing fans; there would be an angle for each state/province. This is the way I envision how the league would work.

Each state and province (the Maritimes would be considered one province as would Manitoba and Saskatchewan) would select a driver to represent it. The driver will have to have had their ‘A’ license for at least five years, not be under suspension in any state or province, be eligible for licensing in each state or province, and must be willing to travel to each competition, be it in Alberta, California, or New York. If the driver was ever denied a license due to integrity issues, they would not be allowed to participate. The driver would be selected by having the highest UDR on a state-wide level (including pari-mutuel fairs), so in the case of any driver who drives in New Jersey, you would calculate a combined UDR for the Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway consisting only of pari-mutuel races provided the driver has at least 250 or more starts in that state/province (less if it is a limited opportunity state/province). If a driver would be the driver from multiple states, the driver would represent the state where he has the highest UDR. If the top driver who is willing to participate is already the participant for a different state, the next highest driver willing to participate would be the participant. An alternate for each state/province would be selected in case the main driver was unavailable to compete due to injury or illness. Under this standard, there would be representatives from:

California                   Maine                                   New York                     Manitoba/Saskatchewan

Delaware                   Maryland                              Ohio                             Maritimes

Florida                       Massachusetts                     Pennsylvania                Quebec

Illinois                        Michigan                              Virginia

Indiana                       Minnesota                           Alberta

Iowa                           New Hampshire (if racing)     British Columbia

Kentucky                    New Jesey                          Quebec

Now, realizing top drivers would not want to give up drives in stakes races, the season would start after the Breeders Crown and end the last week of March. With twenty-four competitors, each week would have four byes. The twenty drivers remaining that week will randomly draw into group one or two, with group one race at one track on Friday night and group two racing at a different track on Saturday night. The entire card regardless of group one or two will feature league races only and will have ten starters each, even on the half mile track. Horses and post positions would be drawn randomly with the exception of each driver getting the same number of second tier drives when racing on a half of five eighths mile oval each night. Each track will offer $10,000 in prize money to be distributed to the top five drivers for that night in the 50-25-12-8-5 percentages. Points depending on each races finish will carry over thorough out the season. Three quarters the way through the season, the top ten drivers would remain for the playoffs, with the points be erased. They would remain to race on Saturday nights at the various tracks under the same format and scoring. The only difference is at the end of the playoffs, there will be an overall prize fund of $100,000 where once again the prized would be divided in a 50-25-12-8-5 percentage formula based on the total points earned during the playoffs.

To encourage maximum exposure each week the league races would be available at all simulcast locations and contracts would be written so the races would be available to all ADWs. With these drivers from all racing jurisdictions competing, there will be local interest to stimulate racing and allow each track participating to get exposure. With racing in the league occurring during the off season, you may see drivers racing on all types of tracks and horses, with it possible that the HDL making a stop at minor tracks including tracks like Fraser Downs, Charlottetown Driving Park, Buffalo as well as tracks like Yonkers, Meadowlands, and Cal Expo and Dover Downs.

To help stir interest, before the first set of races, there could be future head-to-head wagering between drivers as well as weekly head-to –head wagering on the night’s competition, once you know who is driving who. You could not automatically assume the Meadowlands/Yonkers driver would win the championship because the drivers are the best. Yes, in a race of top money earning drivers, that may be the case, but when picked by UDR it is possible only one or two ‘star’ drovers get into the competition, making the racing more wide-open for the drivers.

No, we may not expand interest in harness racing with the HDL, but you we should be able to draw increased interest from our existing base during the sloer part of the racing calendar. It is a proposal worth exploring.

There has been a recent movement to bring American-type sulkies to Australasia. Those days may be coming to an end or slowing down with the recent death of Ghadasbest in Australia. It is alleged that driver Lance Justice used an illegal sulky due to its weight and size. Apparently, after the race was concluded while Ghadasbest was in the passing lane, another horse inside of him pushed Ghadasbest (wmv - not graphic) into the horse driven by Lance Justice which 'butchered' Ghadabest.  Horsemen have complained about the design of the passing lane at Melton Park and it appears that had a significant influence on the tragic accident.

Horsemen, Ahmed Taiba, whose horse had to be put down, claims there is no legitimate reason for American-style sulkies in Australasia as there is a big difference in the racing styles between the North American and Australia/New Zealand.  Taiba, has lawyers at the ready to fight for the outlaw of the American-style sulky if Harness Racing Victoria does not act.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Disappointing Numbers at Big M

Harness Racing Update reports that the first five days of racing at the Meadowlands has resulted in a huge 19.5% drop in handle when compared to the first five days of the 2010 meet.  The publication attributes the decline due to the uncertainty regarding the future of the track and suspects gamblers have either switched to other harness tracks or thoroughbred racing. 

I have a different take on the precipitous drop of the betting handle.  The fall meet.  This past fall meet was such a disaster quality-wise that many gamblers just gave up on the Meadowlands and moved on to other wagering opportunities.  Sadly, most probably moved over to the runners.  Being horseplayers are creatures of habit, it will take a long time before these gamblers 'rediscover' the Meadowlands and it probably requires an aggressive advertising campaign to get them back.  Unfortunately, until the issue of the long-term future of the Meadowlands is resolved, the chances of any such advertising campaign is low on the 'to do' list. 

Much ado has been made about a Press of Atlantic City report where there is speculation as to whether or not Governor Christie will veto the legislation that provides for a purse subsidy via an allocation formula to be determined by the New Jersey Racing Commission.  The speculation has it that the Governor could veto the whole bill, conditionally veto the part about a purse subsidy, or let the bill go through as is and in effect veto the distributions when the NJRC makes the allocations.  As Governor, Christie can veto the minutes of  a NJRC meeting and kill of any purse allocations the commission can make.  Why the industry is worrying about this now, I have no clue.

If Jeff Gural does not reach a lease agreement with the NJSEA (which gets reviewed by the Governor), whether or not there will be subsidy money is immaterial.  Secondly, I don't know if the Governor would be that devious.  After all, being the money comes from the casino industry and not the state, he an approve the subsidy saying it is not state funds and the fact that in three years there will no longer be any subsidies.  The point is worrying about this now is so premature.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Changing Face of North American Harness Racing

Imagine looking at your program and seeing races at the distance of 1609 meters (1 mile), a race at 2011 meters (1 1/4 miles), or a race at 2615 meters (1 3/8 miles).  What about starting gate or vault start?  Horses, with a 20 yard handicap or a second tier?  Outrageous you think?  Don't be so certain.

As racing handles continue to decline with or without the Meadowlands, there will be a greater need to mine the simulcasting market on a global level.  With Canada and the United States being the only countries that race at the standard mile all the time (almost), single tier only (for the most part), exclusively with a starting gate (though I imagine we may find an unsanctioned race meet somewhere where it is not the case), and the rest of the world (Europe, Australasia, South America) racing odd distances, with a starting gate or a vault start, with second tiers or distance handicaps, who do you think is going to change to meet the demand of the global customer?  It is a numbers game; especially with the sport being healthier in other countries.  In fact, would it be too bold to suggest the possibility of monte racing?

I am not saying these changes are going to occur next week or next year, but I suspect within the next five years we are going to start moving towards a global standardization of the sport.  What about our American purists?  Well, maybe here is one advantage of having the majority of our fans being senior citizens.  As time goes on there will be less purists we'll have to worry about.   

Right now, come Breeders Crown and Hambletonian Days, the foreign market can tolerate our vanilla flavor of racing, but do you think on a daily basis they will be content with the same flavor of racing each day?  My guess is no.  If we want wagering from Europe, Australasia, even South America on a daily basis, we are going to have to give the customers there what they want; not what we want to give them.

Why do you think global thoroughbred racing is so successful?  Because regardless of the country you are racing in, the game is basically the same.  Sure, their races may be in meters, but when you convert the distances from meters to furlongs, they are similar distances.  Some tracks are not flat, having some hills in the course, but a gambler in the United States will have no problem wagering on races in Japan, Australia, England, Singapore (as they do now) and vice versa.  If harness racing is ever going to seriously try to exploit the global simulcasting market, it is going to be necessary to standardize the product and who do you think is going to accomodate who, two countries in North America or the rest of the world?

It's going to be Darwinism at its finest.  Adopt or die. 

Time to Let Walter Case Jr Return

This is probably the hardest blog entry I have written.  It is time that Walter Case, Jr. is allowed to return to racing.  Why is this entry hard to write?  For a long time I was opposed to his returning; livid when he showed up at Plainridge Race Course in 2008.  How could someone with his record be allowed to return to racing?

Well, my opinion has changed so I need to explain why I feel he deserves to return.  Followers of harness racing for any length of time are aware of Walter's talents; virtually the leading driver at almost any track he raced on.  And on a half mile track, he was the second coming of Herve Filion; no one drove as hard as Walter Case did .  In fact, he drove a little too hard.  Case wracked up penalties for kicking horses as often as most people changed their underwear.  Tracks would welcome him as he was a celebrity, they almost always asked him to move on when he did not change his ways.  Many states gave Walter a probationary license as he could not keep his feet in the stirrups, but he did drive aggressively, winning at a more than impressive rate.

Then of course, there was a question of substance abuse.  Like many people in society, Walter has had problems with illegal drugs and he seemed unable to shake those demons.  Then came the criminal problems with his altercation with his last wife.  There is no defense for what he did but he served  his time and has been on parole. 

Reports have it that Walter is changed man.  Clean of substance abuse finally, married once again to a woman who supports what he does.  The criminal offense can not be excused but being he has served his time, so it is an issue for him to deal with his family and his children; at this time it is a private matter.

With the demons supposedly behind him, why not let him return?  I am not aware of any race fixing allegations.  I am not suggesting he be given a warm welcome back when he returns, but if he has truly become a changed man and his prior fines have been paid, it is time to give him one more chance and a license to drive again.  For sure, a probationary license and kept on a strict leash..  If in New York, let an agreement permit him to drive at tracks like Buffalo and Batavia with random drug testing for a year.  After that year, let him move up to Saratoga and Tioga.  If he truly has changed and kept his nose clean, then allow him the possibility to move on to the "A' tracks.  That assuming the tracks are willing to let him drive there.  Like the NCAA, ban him for a period of times from participating in driving championships.   

Let's make it clear, the industry owes Walter nothing.  That being said, if he truly has changed what are we saying as a society if we don't give a supposedly changed person that one last chance to redeem themselves.after six years away (if you ignore that brief time at Plainridge)? 

I am not saying we welcome him back, but the time has come to let Walter Case, Jr. return.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Do Not Pass Go Before Paying Your Fine"

I'm not naming names, but so far in January, a driver has been cited four times by the judges at his home track for violating a rule which prohibits The brutal use of a whip or crop, punching, jabbing or kicking a horse or using a whip so as to interfere with or cause disturbance to any other horse or driver in a race is prohibited and shall be considered a violation of this rule.  Specifically, the driver was cited for not keeping both feet in the stirrups, resulting in his kicking the horse.  What amazed me is the fines for the last three times haven't been increasing.

Being we are fourteen days in the New Year (as of Friday) and this driver got cited at his home track four times in 2011 already, it was pretty damn impressive I must say.  This means if he continues on this pace for the whole year he will be cited one hundred and four times.  That could be a record.

Now, being curious, I had to look at his statistics for last year to see if he hit the century mark for the same infraction.  Imagine my disappointment when I found out he was cited at his home track for the violation only twenty-one times.  Most of the time, he got fined $100, every once in a while the judges got 'tough' and gave him a $200 fine.  Total number of days off for violating this rule?  Zero.

Now I know some people feel that kicking a horse is no big deal, but the fact is if there is a rule against it, it needs to be enforced.

I'm not here to pick on any driver and quite honestly, any post mentioning this driver or any guesses will not get posted.  Rest assured if I did something wrong twenty two times in one year, my father would have said, "Son, we have a problem.  What are we going to do about it?"  You can also be assured, I would not have been happy when something got done about it. 

Well, at this particular track, it is more like "Do not pass Go until you pay your fine".  It kind of reminds me of the days I went bowling and every time you missed a one pin spare you had to put a dollar in the kitty.  Obviously, this driver has not learned his lesson and the judges at the track have no intention of sitting this driver down and say "Son, we have a problem.  What are we going to do about it?".

As a result, it is only safe to assume, the driver considers these fines a cost of  doing business and quite frankly, the judges at this particular track apparently don't give a (pardon the expression), a flying crap about it; otherwise, they would be giving this driver a few days off to sit in the corner to think about what he has done.

I have argued in the past that fines need to be indexed so they are sufficient enough to discipline errant individuals a lesson, so they are not considered a cost of doing business and this is a perfect example why something needs to be done about it..  However, I am more annoyed at the judges, who don't seem to have any interest in seriously addressing this problem.  I also wonder why this track has not stepped up and  suggested to this driver, that perhaps he would be better off racing elsewhere.

Have we gotten so complacent that no one is willing to say "Son, we have a problem.  What are we going to do about it"?           

The Demise of Prairie Meadows - Why Should it Matter to You

The likely final pari-mutuel meet at Prairie Meadows is scheduled for October 7-22.  The racing commission has indicated that it is unlikely to force Prairie Meadows to host a pari-mutuel meet after the 2011 season, saying racing should be restricted to the fair circuit.

Prairie Meadows hosts thoroughbred, quarterhorse, and presently standardbred racing at their track and has become a destination track for thoroughbred racing.  The quarterhorse meet is not as successful as the runners, but the public has apparently rejected standardbred racing.  Last year, Prairie Meadows lost $26,000 a day running a harness meet. 

What makes Prairie Meadows situation of interest elsewhere is the track is a racino, complete with slot machines and table games, so the purses were subsidized by the casino.  For years, Prairie Meadows has sought to get rid of harness racing citing no interest in the product either locally or nationally and it appears after 2011, they will get their wish.

Fortunately, for Iowa horsemen, Prairie Meadows has been and will continue making a significant annual donations to the Iowa harness fair circuit so Iowa horsemen will still have venues to races at, just without wagering.  Attempts are being considered to codify the need for Prairie Meadows to continue to support the county fair circuit once the standardbreds leave Iowa's biggest stage for horse racing.  However, their breeding industry will take a big hit and remain the domain of backyard breeders, 

All it is taking Prairie Meadows to get rid of standardbred racing is promising to continue supporting the fair circuit as part of its 501(c)4 efforts.  No lobbying or offering a payoff to the legislature to get rid of harness racing; just proving a business case to the regulators at the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC).  Now, before people get to angry at the IRGC, they have required Prairie Meadows to continue hosting the standardbreds while they wanted to get of the trotters for several years, but even the IRGC has recognized the futility of mandating pari-mutuel standardbred racing.  The public has voted.

Now, if you are not an Iowa horsemen why should you care about what is happening at Prairie Meadows?  Wagering and lack of interest matters.  At least in Iowa, just racing for casino subsidies was not sufficient to maintain harness racing.  No support of the product in Iowa, no support of the product via simulcasting and ADWs has caused the upcoming demise of harness racing at Prairie Meadows. 

Granted, since Prairie Meadows is a track which raced more than one breed of racing, it was easier to get rid of the standardbreds as they will still be supporting racing in the state.  But the upcoming conclusion to harness racing at Prairie Meadows should make horsemen elsewhere whose purse account is 80-95% slot-derived reason to pause.  Racing in front of empty grandstands is unacceptable.  I realize the majority of wagering occurs via ADWs and simulcasting, but you have to work at developing a critical mass of on-track attendance and wagering to show there is interest in your product.

On most days, racetracks tend to be places for studio racing; the set can no longer be closed.  We need to have racing in front of a live audience.  Horsemen can't depend on racetracks to promote the sport, they will still be there with their slot machines spinning and card games being played; they may even keep importing races for simulcasting.  But if horsemen don't invest in themselves, they may be on the outside looking in.

The business case has been made in Iowa.  It can be made elsewhere.

Friday, January 14, 2011

First Pennsylvania, Now Indiana, Whose Next?

Last year, the Pennsylvania horsemen got their slot revenue cut by the legislature.  In a new report from Dean at Pull the Pocket, Indiana horsemen are looking at at 43% cut in their slot revenue as part of the new budget.  In Maine, they dodged the bullet this past year, but the question to be asked is who's next to get the slot revenue slashed?

Horsemen keep saying helping horse racing was part of the deal for allowing slots at the racetrack and state governments should keep their hands off of it as it was a promise to the industry.  Well, as we just saw in Illinois, we know how much a promise of a politician means.  The fact is, unless there was a constitutional amendment to get slots at the track and the amendment mentioned a  hard  percentage, your slot revenue is as secure as a tower of playing cards; all it takes is one legislative bill to kick the bottom card out from the tower and it can all disappear, like that.

Jeff Gural understands this.  This is why he is trying to build his horse gambling business at Tioga and Vernon Downs and he is looking at leasing the Meadowlands with the prospect of no slots.  It's about time others in the industry understand it too.  Sooner or later, racing is going to have to stand on its own two feet. There is no time to waste in making the product gambler and customer friendly because without slot revenue, those gamblers are going to be your best friend.  Better start treating them with the respect they deserve.    

Time to Bite The Bullet

News comes, courtesy of Harness Racing Update, that Yonkers Raceway is planning to change the distance of all their races to a 1 1/16 miles probably around February 1.  While this ties in nicely to my column of yesterday, it brings to the table that the North American past performance lines must change to accommodate the odd distance.. 

The time has come for mile rates to be used in the past performance programs instead of the actual times.  First of all, if a horse that has been racing at Yonkers at the  1 1/16 mile distance ships to another track, be it Monticello or the Meadowlands, shouldn't the gambler be able to have accurate information to compare the horses?  Right now, a horse could have won twelve starts at Yonkers at 1 1/16 with no wins elsewhere and ship to a track like the Meadowlands and the best win time this year will say "No Win Time at Std Dist".  What good is that to the handicapper? 

Let's say a horse has been racing at Freehold and his fastest win time was 1:58.3.  Now the same horse ships up to Yonkers Raceway and wins a 1 1/16 race at a mile rate of 1:54.  Six more races go by and that impressive win drops off the program and the horse ships to another track.  What is the program going to show as the best win time of the year?  1:58.3.  We are misleading the public as to this horse's ability. 

The conversion to mile rates is not difficult.  First of all for those tracks which continue racing at the standard  mile distance, the mile rate will be the actual time.  Only for those tracks where races are run at odd distances would the change be different.  Let's say we are dealing with a race at Yonkers run at the 1 1/16 distance, the fractional times may be converted to quarter mile rates while the final and actual times would be reflected at the mile rate.  Initially on the program, we may want to list the distance the best win time (reflected in mile rate was attained).  As more tracks card odd distance races, we can drop the distance the best win time was attained and report the best win time at the distance being contested today.

But it is not all about Yonkers.  Right now, we are defrauding the public when a horse racing at Maywood moves to another track due to its policy of the quick start, where they release their field 175 feet before the start, in effect lengthening the race.  Granted the the extra distance seems to be small, but it would be more accurate if their times were reported in mile rates. 

In addition, other tracks are starting to field occasional odd distance races be they sprints or routes.  As time goes on, the expectation here is the standard mile distance will become just another distance our horses race at.  The conversion to using the mile rate is inevitable, we may as well do it now. 

Lastly, reporting races in mile rates would be bringing our timing of races in line with non-North American harness racing countries, making our programs easier for them to understand our programs and facilitate simulcast wagering on North American races, something essential as the product becomes more globalized.    

Looking at some of the bigger races this weekend, here are my selections for four of them:

Friday, January 13th - Meadowlands 10th Race - $32,000 Mares Invitational
   3 - Ideal Nectarine (A Miller, 8-1)
   4 - Laughandbehappy (D. Miller, 2-1)
1A - Mano Cornuto (J Campbell, 6-1)

Saturday, January 14th - Meadowlands 5th Race - $50,000 Presidential Series FFA 1st Leg
6 - Bettor Sweet (J Campbell, 2-1)
3 - River Shark (D Dube, 7-2)
8 - Schoolkids (B Sears, 12-1)

Saturday, January 14th - Meadowlands 10th Race - $50,000 Presidential Series FFA 1st Leg
6 - Western Shore (D Dube, 3-1)
3 - Vlos (B Sears, 2-1)
9 - Thisbigdogwillfight (A Miller, 12-1)

Saturday, January 14th - Pompano Park 9th Race - $12,000 WO $10,000LT HDCP
   5 - Daley Deposit Only (D Daley, 9-2)
   4 - Four Starz Bling (B Ranger, 9-5)
1A - Mc Ryan Michael (R Macomber, 3-1)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

So You Have Them Racing, But....

Monticello Raceway is one of the latest tracks to institute a 14 day rule.  The 14 day rule provides if a horse draws post seven or eight and scratches without permission of the state vet, the horse is ineligible to drop in the box for 14 days.  This is the same rule Yonkers Raceway has so each race secretary has agreed to reciprocate, meaning a trainer can't just ship to the nearest track and bypass this sanction.

The tracks love it as it means less trifecta and superfecta wagering being cancelled which is lucrative to the the tracks, but does this improve things for the horseplayer if the horse merely goes through the motions and follows the field around the track?  Of course, not all trainers will have their horses go through an unofficial workout; some will make an effort, but take a look at your program of horses that race on a half mile track and see how many horses drawing post seven or eight making little more than a half-hearted effort if even that.  Yes, a good handicapper will consider the post position in their handicapping, so you can argue there is no real harm to the gambler.

There may be no immediate harm to the gambler, but you for this very reason, you find people avoiding wagering on the half mile tracks and when the majority of our raceways are half mile ovals, this is not a good thing..  After all, when you can typically eliminate two horses safely without any thinking, you are now down to handicapping a six horse race.  The next result is pathetically low payoffs; just the thing we don't need in an effort to attract new gamblers.  After all, how many people are going to be excited about cashing that $3.40 win ticket?

With the majority of raceways being half mile ovals, this is a real problem for the industry; one it better try to solve seriously.  The way I see it, half mile tracks have three options:

  1. Score six across with post positions seven and eight starting behind the one and two horse.
  2. Score six across with post positions seven and eight starting behind the one and two horse and lengthen the race to a 1 1/4 mile race to give the seven and eight horse a better chance to get involved in the race.
  3. Score eight across and race at distances of 1 1/4 or 1 1/2 miles to give the outside horses a better chance of getting involved in the race.
I do know Yonkers tried option #1 once for a short time and dropped it, but I am not sure why the experiment stopped.  Was it it made no difference or were the horsemen refusing to enter those races?  If option #1 was given a fair chance and it didn't work out, then it is time to try options 2 or 3.

After all, what's the sense of ensuring eight horses start in a race if all eight aren't going to compete?  The racing secretary is doing a disservice to the gambler as much as the trainer who has their horse from the seven or eight hole playing follow the field.

Web Changes - Dont Post

I just took a look at the website and see some things which may need to be changed. Of course you have the final say:

1. Home Page – Introduction is not clear.

D.A.R. Dignity After Racing is a horse rescue and lobbying group. We quickly grew out of facebook. Our organization is to support rule changes to protect our standardbreds from ending up in dead stock. Sales being sold for meat and to get some kind of retirement in place for both horse & Grooms

I think it would be clearer if it said

Dignity After Racing (D.A.R.) is an advocacy and lobbying group whose aim is to work with horse rescue for standardbreds. Our organization goals are to promote rule changes to protect our standardbreds from ending up in grade sales where they are typically sold for slaughter. Our ultimate goal is to get some kind of retirement homes for our standardbreds and the grooms that took care of them during their racing careers.

2. The title says D.A.R Dignity After Racing. Elsewhere we refer to D.A.R. We need to be consistent. Either we use periods or not.

3. Contact Us – Often Go Daddy offers some free email accounts. Putting people’s email accounts out on the website allow them to get grabbed by search engines. I would suggest assigning e-mail accounts and behind the scenes they can be routed to the individual’s email accounts.

4. Goals – These are not the goals we have on Facebook. You did not want to mention some of the ultimate goals as you would get horsemen in arms over the fact you are looking to get some of their purse money. If that is still your concern, I would suggest using the following:

Goals of Dignity After Racing (D.A.R.)

1) To lobby for rule and bylaw changes to help protect the standardbred race and breeding horses from ending up in feed lots by putting sanctions and/or fines into place for owners & trainers who purposely put their horses into grade sales or sell their horses directly or indirectly to kill brokers.

2) Establishment of at least two surrender stalls at each fair (provided a rescue group is willing to take the horses from the fair within 24 hours) and at each extended pari-mutuel meet where owners can surrender their horses without any penalty.

3) To provide outreach to those involved in the standardbred industry as to the alternatives to slaughter.

4) Mandate registrations of horses that have been adopted to be marked not for racing or breeding purposes. Any foal of a mare adopted will not be eligible for registration for racing purposes.

5) Begin conversations with those groups that use standardbreds for farming and transportation purposes to let them know the standardbred industry wants to take care of these horses when they are no longer suitable for the work they desire.

6) To encourage the establishment of a buyback program to purchase horses that do not draw bids exceeding killer prices in two consecutive legitimate sales. These horses will be evaluated and if necessary, euthanized; otherwise sent to a legitimate rescue group.

7) To lobby for the establishment of a USTA (and SC) level of membership for dealers of Standardbreds who will not sell to kill brokers or slaughters and agree to apply to rules to ensure the safety and well being of horses they handle and agreeing to rules to be established to ensure the horse’s welfare.

8) To lobby the USTA for an establishment of a registry of stolen standardbreds.

9) To have all registered standardbreds embedded with computer ID chips under the skin to help catch the few horses that slip past us at the sales as well as to identify previously identified stolen standardbreds.

10) To set up a safety net farm system for owners & trainers who cease operations and are unable to support their horses so they have a place to turn to before things get out of control.

5. I would list the creed before the goals; a more logical placing on the web site.

6. For the creed, I would add a blank line between paragraphs. Such as:

Dignity After Racing (D.A.R.) Creed

Dignity After Racing (D.A.R.) is an advocacy group of standardbred breeders, owners, horsemen, rescue groups, and lovers of the standardbred horse seeking to reduce, if not eliminate the slaughter of standardbreds once their careers are over. It is our intention to seek the cooperation of the United States Trotting Association (USTA) in adopting rules and bylaws to safeguard registered and unregistered standardbreds as well as penalize those members who permit their horses to go to slaughter, as well as work with the various racing commissions and racetracks to encourage them to take steps to better protect our standardbred athletes. Realizing standardbreds are also used in non-racing tasks such as being used by the Amish community for farming and transportation, it is our hope to open a dialogue with the Amish community to encourage the improved welfare of the standardbred and choosing retirement of the standardbred instead of the sale and shipping to slaughter.

D.A.R. does not seek to eliminate legitimate horse rescue groups that rescue standardbreds, but to work in concert with them. We recognize their efforts in the past and look forward to their efforts in the future.

Dignity After Racing affirms there is no such thing as humane slaughter and calls for the outlawing of horse slaughter in North America. Horses in the North America are not raised as food animals and as such are not fit for human consumption. Contrary to myth, the majority of horses sent to slaughter are healthy horses, not sick and infirmed. That being said, we recognize there are times death is the responsible option for a horse; that's when euthanasia is called for. Responsible horse ownership means not only being able to provide for a horse while it is active, but being able to provide and look out for a horse’s best interest once their career is over, be it retirement, responsible adoption or euthanasia with euthanasia being the last option.

Dignity After Racing (D.A.R.) is not affiliated with the United States Trotting Association.

7. We mentioned things like a blog as well as Press Releases (perhaps DAR in the News). I would add pages for those even if not yet ready. A comment such as ‘Will Soon Be Available’ will let people know it is coming. The way it is now, people will visit once and never come back. You want them to keep coming back. Speaking of Press Releases, do I just send them to you and you’ll take care of getting them posted or will I have the ability of adding them.

8. Not mentioned before was a bio page. With a bio page, you can give a description of the board officers (their credentials) with an optional photo. Some may not be comfortable with their pictures being posted. You may wish to consider this.

9. Is there a way people can join? I know there is no dues structure (yet) but may want the names to develop a mailing list that D.A.R. can use. Just an idea?