For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Strategic Wagering Initiative - A Little Tweak Please

I think the USTA's Strategic Wagering Initiative (SWI) is a great idea, for what it is intended to do.  The idea behind the initiative is to allow tracks to offer guaranteed pools they normally couldn't afford by going partners with the tracks in absorbing any potential shortfall in the pools.  This allows small market tracks which may only be able to afford a $5,000 guaranteed pool to offer a $10,000 guaranteed pool.  So in this respect the initiative is good in that it offers tracks who typically would be bypassed by big gamblers a chance of being seen and supported by the whales.  Offering free program pages for these races is also a great idea.

I am sure the hope of the SWI is to attract larger bettors to these tracks and give the individual tracks a boost in the arm with respect to handle.  There may even be the possibility of some thoroughbred gamblers coming over to harness racing, if only for these pools and that is an admirable goal as well.  Anything which brings attention to our harness tracks wagering-wise should be encouraged.

Now SWI is in its infancy and we are promised more tracks and different types of wagers will be included in subsequent months.  My hope is we will see some Pick 3s or even Superfectas included with guaranteed pools as this will allow some of the more modest gamblers to take advantage of the initiative.  Let's face it, Pick 4s and 6s tend to be out of the reach of the modest gambler.

Where there is a problem with SWI is the impact on other tracks.  Northfield, Balmoral and Yonkers are the April participants of the initiative and they are being promoted and gamblers offered free program pages for their Pick 4s races so it is natural that they will increase business on their Pick 4s.  But what about tracks that already offer a guaranteed Pick 4 which are not being included in the initiative?  No mention of the track; no free program pages; nothing.  What may be happening is gamblers who may play into their pools are diverted to the advertised pools to the detriment of a track already offering guarnateed wagers.

Cal Expo and the Meadowlands when they race are some of those tracks.  Cal Expo offeres a 15,000 guaranteed Late Pick 4 wager on Saturdays with a 15% takeout (if you wager at Cal Expo or through Twinspires you get offered a further incentive). Yet this wager runs the risk of being ignored as it is not any coverage through the SWI.  My take is if a harness track is willing to abosrb the complete risk in offering guaranteed pools without finnacial support of SWI; they should be included in the marketing anyway; complete with free program pages..  This way gamblers have more tracks to choose from and hopefully bolster more handles.  I understand SWI can't fund everyone that wants to participate at one time, but they should be able to offer them non-financial support.  Hopefully, the SWI will be modified to include these tracks in their marketing efforts in subsuequent months; it will only improve the program's results.

NJ Gaming Conference Today: Jeff Gural is one of the featured speakers at today's NJ Gaming Conference co-sponsored by the Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration and the Hall Institute of Public Policy - New Jersey.  Many people will be listening to Gural's speech for clues to see if the union's have made any move towards accepting concessions.  With tomorrow being the official April 1 deadline for a proposal, harness racing people will be listening for any possible clues.  If anything will be said about the negotiations, it will likely occur after the conference concludes. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pick 4 Players - Don't forget Cal Expo on Saturdays



Cal Expo has announced that beginning this Saturday, April 2, the Late Pick 4 guaranteed gross pool has been increased by 50 percent to $15,000.

Both the Early and Late Pick 4’s on Saturday feature a reduced takeout of 15 percent, with a winner’s bonus payout of 17.65 percent on the Late Pick 4 to winning tickets that are purchased on track at Cal Expo or on

“We are increasing the guarantee because of the overwhelming support and success of the Late Pick 4 promotion on Saturday nights,” said Cal Expo Director of Racing Dave Elliott. “The Cal Expo/Twin Spires promotion has produced an average handle increase of 37 percent and has resulted in bonus payouts approaching $10,000 since the promotion began on November 27, 2010.

“Our players have shown by their increased wagering that they approve of the Late Pick 4 promotion and we are hopeful the interest and handle on this wager will continue to grow as a result of increasing the guarantee by 50 percent, keeping the takeout at a 15 percent rate and offering the bonus payouts for those who wager at Cal Expo or on” (Cal Expo)

Editor's Note: This is not part of the USTA's strategic wagering initiative.  As such, program pages will not be provided for free by the USTA.  Don't forget even if you don't have a Twin Spires account or live in the Cal Expo area, it is still a $15,000 guaranteed Pick 4 at a 15%  takeout so it is worth playing anyway.  If you have a Twin Spires account or wager at Cal Expo and you hit the Pick 4 the bonus means you have a 0% takeout rate.

Would We Have Been Better off Without the Meadowlands?

Before I begin, let me state right now, that the survival of the Meadowlands is important to the standardbred industry.  While the standardbred industry would survive without the Meadowlands (sorry, doomsayers), the impact would be severe with an accelerated retraction in breeding and racetracks.  The impact on the equine industry in New Jersey would be severe (not that Governor Christie is overly concerned with that). 

But let's go back in time before 1976, when the Meadowlands opened and speculate what the industry would be looking like.  In some ways, not as bad as it is now as the Meadowlands changed several fundamentals of racing.

  1. The half mile track would still be king.  Without the Meadowlands being built, most people would still be exposed to racing on the 1/2 mile and  5/8 mile tracks.  The Meadowlands showed people what racing was like on the mile track.  Being the majority of our raceways are smaller than the mile track, gamblers would be more accepting of the smaller ovals.  It just was the way it was.
  2. The creation of the Meadowlands and its lucrative purses made race horses more of a commodity.  Prior to the the Meadowlands, your horses tended to race year in year out.  Each year, you could be sure Mickey Rodney would be competing on the New York circuit, basically in the same class.  Sportsmanship went out and investors came in (tax laws contributed to this).  Once the Meadowlands came into existence, many more horses did not last more than a season or a horse would be racing in the top conditioned classes one year and be racing at a B track the following year in much lower classes.  People talk about how the horses at Yonkers are not worth the claiming tags they race for now, but they never questioned claiming races for $100,000 and up at the Meadowlands?
  3. The trainer/driver would be alive and well.  Since the sport would not be full of the Wall Street types that looked at a horse as a tool to make profits, owners would be looking out at the big picture and be content letting the trainer driver the horse so it would not be gutted out by a catch driver.  With all due respect, horses would be driven by horsemen and not by some of the hacks out there who have no qualm about leaving a trainer with a lame horse.
  4. Horsemanship would be in and with less medication.  With purses lower, owners would be more willing to let a horse miss a week to recover.  With the Meadowlands open, Dr. Feelgood became a valued member of the training team.  
  5. There would be no rent a horse; the process of claiming a horse for one week and losing them the following week.  Rent a horse has tended to hurt the overall health of the horse as owners would not be looking long term but at the following week.
  6. More of the older horses would continue to race.  While there have always been syndications, it was restricted to the best horses while the others would continue to race.  Remember the weekly FFAs?  Those are a rare occurrence today, replaced by 'Opens'.  Don't confuse the two classes.  There is a big difference between the two classes.  In addition, horses would be seen at various tracks whereas now the best horses take up residence at the Meadowlands and hardly leave
  7. The expense of maintaining a horse would be much less than it is now.  Making horse ownership easier.
  8. The Meadowlands became the proverbial golden calf.  All the industry did was focus on the Meadowlands and ignored other tracks.  Had to get the Hambletonian to the Meadowlands; all the big races occurred in the metropolitan area for ratings.  The sport was changed to accommodate Madison Ave.  Heat racing went out of favor.  Breeding changed from endurance to speed to accommodate the Meadowlands.
  9. Lastly, the Meadowlands allowed the industry to take its eye off the ball.  The sport artificially grew too fast at a rate which could not be sustained.  As long as the Meadowlands did well, it didn't really matter what happened at the Jackson Raceways, Brandywines or even Balmoral.  The sport was content being a New York-centric market, practically abandoning California and other markets for the benefit of the Meadowlands.  Yes, those that raced at the Big M prospered while we ignored the warning signs of tracks closing.  Look at Iowa.  We had harness racing at Prairie Meadows and after this year Iowa horsemen are out of luck.  Canterbury Downs dropped the standardbreds.   Did anyone care what happened at the smaller tracks?  I suggest not.  Issues which needed to be addressed were ignored or not treated with the urgency needed because the Meadowlands prospered.  Now that the Meadowlands is failing or running into severe problems, all those problems the industry had but ignored are coming back to bite us in the proverbial butt.  If we addressed the problems then they may have been manageable, now we have a potential crisis on our hands with all the issues which were ignored over the years.
The Meadowlands has (and hopefully) will continue to be a factor in the sport; allowing the industry to fix its problems.  However, i can't help but think in the long run we would have been better off if the Meadowlands never came into existence.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nominees to Tioga & Vernon Downs Stakes Increase

With the March 15 payments taken and tallied, several of the marquee events scheduled for the 2011 Tioga & Vernon season have realized substantial increases.

The popular Free For All early closers are up slightly and have again captured the best and most recognizable equine personalities harness racing has to offer. The anticipation of the excitement created by the enduring stars of the sport speaks directly to the importance of their continued participation on the racetrack.

In last season’s inaugural Bettor’s Delight Open Pace, Hypnotic Blue Chip, Won The West and Foiled Again chased the now retired Shark Gesture to the wire in an overall Tioga track record of 1:48.3. Those three will find some extremely talented opposition awaiting them in their quest to capture this year’s trophy.

Dreamfair Eternal is slated to defend her 2010 Artiscape tiara (resulting in a divisional standard of 1:49.4) against a deep representation of the finest older pacing mares in the game. Both of these important races, each with an estimated purse of $200,000, will go at Tioga on Sunday, June 12.

The Miss Versatility for trotting mares has a leg at each track and Buck I St Pat will attempt to recapture the crown that Autumn Escapade wrestled away in 2010. The diagonal divas will make another appearance at Vernon Downs on September 2nd for the newly christened $200,000E Muscle Hill. On that same evening, The Credit Winner Open Trot (also estimated at $200,000) will feature last year’s winner Lucky Jim defending his title against reigning Older Trotter of the Year Enough Talk and 2010 3YO Breeders Crown winner Break The Bank K, among a number of formidable foes.

The numbers for the 2011 Empire Breeders Classic (EBC) for New York sired sophomores are up substantially over last season. That group of races will reward the connections of the participants with well in excess of $1 million in purses over Memorial Day weekend.

The Kindergarten Trotting Classics launched Breeders Crown winner Manofmanymissions’ career last year and those races are up 30‐40% in nominations going into this season. The Red Mile will host two Kindergarten legs in September with the finals to be raced at Vernon in late October.

Tioga & Vernon are proud to host the prestigious Historic stakes for the first time in 2011. The 3YO Historic events will be raced at Tioga in late June/early July and the 2YO races will go over Vernon’s 7/8’s mile oval on September 2nd.

The John F. Simpson Memorial stakes return to Tioga & Vernon in 2011 with the 3YO nominees up 74% over last year’s numbers.

The Tompkins‐Geers stakes have enjoyed a renaissance at Tioga since landing there in 2006 and will again offer a mid summer treat to the racing fans of Nichols, NY.

“It is very gratifying to see such an enthusiastic response to our stakes program. We wish to convey our appreciation to the faithful sponsors of these events; The Agriculture & New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund & New York Stallion Owners (EBC), Allerage Farms (Miss Versatility), Blue Chip Farm (Credit Winner & Bettor’s Delight), Brittany Farm (Artiscape), and the Muscle Hill Syndicate (Muscle Hill Mare Trot), and Hanover Shoe Farm’s Jim Simpson (John F. Simpson Memorial)," from Tioga/Vernon Racing VP Jason Settlemoir.

Nomination information will be posted on the Tioga & Vernon web sites soon. [Tioga/Vernon Downs]

No doubt the uncertainty at the Meadowlands has helped make some of these races like the Simpson Memorial increase in nomination size possible; after all how else do you explain a 74% increase in nominations?  Clearly, what has been a second string stakes event will be seeing some top horses competing this year.

But it goes past that.  Jeff Gural and his team at Tioga and Vernon Downs have been working on bring the best racing possible to their Southern Tier and Central New York tracks by putting together a strong stakes program; a program which rivals virtually any other harness track in the United States.  Yes, these are racinos, but how many other racinos are putting on stakes programs like this?  Perhaps they have their one or two signature races, but there are plenty of stakes opportunities at Tioga and Vernon; and you don't even need to be a NYSS-eligible horse to participate. With the exception of the Empire Breeders Classic, the races in the press release are unrestricted.

Unfortunately, there are not those many tacks willing to support a stakes program like this and that is a shame.  Stakes programs like Tioga and Vernon Downs would help mitigate some of the negative downside which would occur should the Meadowlands shut down.  It would also allow race fans to actually have a reason to come out to the track; to see some of the stars of racing at the local raceways instead of sitting in front of their computer.

As much as the Meadowlands brought harness racing much attention in the track's glory days, it was not without its costs.  In some ways, I think harness racing would have been better off without the Meadowlands ever being built, but to go into this now while the fate of the track is in question would be inappropriate as well as be ancient history.  Let me just say for now, having the best horses sequestered at the Meadowlands from May through early August is not in the long term interest of racing.

Don't think for one minute that I don't believe the closing of the Meadowlands would be a huge blow to the sport.  While it may have been better if it was never built, it was and has changed the face of the game forever.  It will be very hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Racing on Hay and Water - What a Concept

The RCI is calling for the phasing out of all medications and drugs for race horses over a five year period.  The goal is horses will need to race on hay and water as they do in the rest of racing outside of North America.  This marks a departure of the current process of checking for levels of substances, and is a transition to a zero tolerance. 

It is about time.  If the rest of the world can race with medication, why can't we?  Some will argue medication allows horses to have shorter layoffs, but it seems racing elsewhere can deal with it.  I am constantly amazed at how many horses who race in state that don't allow Bute automatically go on it when they ship into a state which permits it.  No more Lasix where there are conflicting studies showing its effectiveness other than being able to mask other medications.

I can't wait to see this zero tolerance proposal take effect (assuming it gets approved).  Then let's see how super the super trainers are.

Sharing the Pain

Jeff Gural was very forthcoming on Saturday night at the Meadowlands, but in one moment, he may have aggravated the situation with the labor unions who are being asked for concessions.  Towards the end of the interview, Gural jokingly made a comment about how he may not be able to afford to keep some of the talent at the Meadowlands and then the talent joked about it.  I am sure Gural meant it as a joke, but the fact is this may be part of the reason there is hesitance on the unions to negotiate salary cuts.

Now, I don't expect Mr. Gural on a public broadcast to indicate John Doe is about to lose their job or take a 40% pay cut to remain employed, but I suspect the mutuel clerks are being asked to make the concessions while the existing talent and management appear to remain untouched.  Now, I am certaintly not going to suggest who needs to remain or go in a reconstituted Meadowlands team, but the reality is with the labor movement under seige in the United States right now, the union leaders need to show their rank and file that they are not making all the sacrifices. Like it or not, some of the front officd is going to have to go,

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Don't Have a Friend in Indiana

Well, if the first week's conditions sheets at Hoosier Park is any indication, very few horsemen from the Meadowlands will be heading to Indiana.  As for those Illinois horsemen who have been waiting for Hoosier Park to open in order to head over, they may as well have put sentries on the border.  For the first week of the harness meet, it appears every race is written for Indiana Sired or Indiana Sired Preferred.  Great news if your horse is sired by an Indiana sired horse, but if you ship in with a horse sired from another state, you may have a better chance of running into a tornado than getting in to race.

I realize one of the reasons for allowing racing in a state is to promote breeding.  There certainly is no problem with writing some races for state breds, but to write all races for Indiana Sired or Indiana Sired Preferred is outrageous.  Could it be that Indiana Horsemen are afraid of the possible purse cuts coming the next fiscal year that they decided they needed to stuff their pockets with every nickel they can get their hands on? 

There is a certain amount of protectionism which is anticipated in racing, but it is another thing to basically put up a blockade.  I wonder how they would feel in Indiana if Hoosier Park's signal was not taken by out of state tracks or if out of state horsemen refused to send their signal to Hoosier Park until they write conditions  more reasonable.

Clearly, out of state horsemen don't have a friend in Indiana.  Just remember, retaliation is no fun.    

And Now We Wait....

With last night's closing of the 2011 Meadowlands Winter Meet, all that is left is the waiting; waiting for a decision to see if the Meadowlands is leased by Jeff Gural and Cantor Gaming. Is April 1 a hard date set by the state which won't move or is there flexibility in that deadline?

According to The Record, the unions have had a change of heart.  Will the unions, specifically the mutuel clerks union show flexibility in their game of chicken or are they willing to sink the whole deal or attempt to extract a pound of salt in the name salary cuts to and/or demand the sacrifice of on air-talent to placate their rank and file? Remember, the mutuel clerks are not just looking at this negotiation, but are setting the ground work for the negotiations with whomever wins the lease at Monmouth Park. Give too much now, and it will be hard to get it back at Monmouth when they renegotiate their contract at there. There are many dynamics involved and they just need to play out.

 At this point there is nothing really to do but wait. It is a matter of negotiations between the principal parties. Will the Meadowlands open on May 7 as tentatively scheduled; some time later, or in August to allow the NJSEA to fulfill the contact obligations towards the Hambletonian Society?  Now is the time we feel the most helpless, all the prep work has been done and Jeff Gural should be congratulated for his efforts; all which remains to see is if it was enough.

Calling all videographers:  Anyone have video of races on the NJSS Fair Circuit, in particular Johnson Park in Piscataway, NJ?  I would love to be able to go back in time to see some races from there and look back at a simpler time.  If you know of such videos being posted on Vimeo or YouTube, kindly let me know so I may post them on the blog.

In the meanwhile, I came across some video from Atlantic Canada for a flavor of Atlantic racing.  I would like to share a few of those videos with you now.  Many of us will never get the opportunity to see these races live.

Here are some Monctonians which used to be held at the defunct Champlain Raceway/ New Burnswick Downs.  You may be surprised to hear the name of some of the horses competing, like Guts, Bomb Rickles, Shipps Fella, Rompus Hanover..

A race at Northside Downs.

A race at Inverness Raceway.

A race from Fredricton Raceway:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Who Is Cantor Gaming?

One question many people may be wondering about is "Who is Cantor Gaming"; a potential partner in the Meadowlands leasing consortium? Cantor Gaming is a division of Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street firm, a leading company when it comes to mobile gaming. One of the products Cantor Gaming offers is In-Running Wagering for horse racing, meaning you can wager on a horse race as it is being run. Cantor also offers Inside Wagering which features short betting period where you can place your bets at a reduced commission which allows them to offer fixed odds. Based on the bets made during each interval, a new line is made for the next round. So it is possible that fixed odds wagering for horse racing may become a reality. More importantly, the assumption that Betfair will run exchange wagering in the State of New Jersey may be premature.

Of course, there is no way to ensure the new wagering ideas to be brought to the the Meadowlands by Cantor Gaming is guaranteed to be a success. Anyone remember the Choose Six wager, where you had to pick the winner of six races on the card which you decided you wanted to play? If you lost a leg, you could go back in and buy into the wager again as long as there were at least six races left. The wager did not last long.

Regardless, there is a good chance if this partnership gains the Meadowland, the face of wagering in horse racing may change forever especially with some changes to wagering legislation..

"Taking on the Rebate Shops"

Nothing strikes fear into the heart of serious horseplayers like those words, "Taking on the Rebate Shops".  To them, it is like driving a stake through the heart of the vampire; so terrifying that the first words these horseplayers often say is "I am done betting on horses".  Well, during last night's interview on the Meadowlands pre-racing show, Jeff Gural is the latest person to indicate it is time to take on the rebate shops.

For those unfamiliar with rebate shops, these are non-racing entities that take wagers on racetracks.  With the low overhead and bargain they get on taking the signal, there is enough money to offer rebates to their players yet still make a nice amount of profit; something a racetrack with their expenses of paying purses and running a race track don't have.  As a result, a lot of heavy gamblers seek out these rebate shops to lower their virtual takeout; allowing them not only to play longer, but to give them an advantage over smaller players.  Is it right to offer rebates?  I'll leave that to you to decide, but at present, it is the way it is.

So when rebate players hear words to the effect that a track is going to take on the rebate shops, they cringe.  They think of the plans of Plainridge Racecourse where they plan on taking on the rebate shops by charging them 8% to take their signal versus 1% for those who produce racing.  At an 8% charge, rebates will virtually disappear on Plainridge races; first of all the ADWs will not be able to afford a rebate and secondly, most ADWs will likely drop Plainridge from their menu.  Apparently, Plainridge feels (or hopes) that reducing their takeout to 15% on all wagers will make their signal attractive to those who bet through racetracks that the loss of revenue from ADWs won't matter.  They better hope they are right because many tracks are more than willing to sell their signal for a lot less (the standard rate is 3%, some tracks like Buffalo Raceway, give it a way for 1%).

Jeff Gural is no fool.  As we have seen at Tioga Downs, his management team has no qualms about lowering takeout rates and should they take over the Meadowlands, takeout rates there should drop as well.  Remember, this is a man who believes ultimately takeout rates on horseracing should be no higher than the takeout rate on casino games.  So yes, in time as the Meadowlands takeout rate drops, I expect to see the fee charged to rebate shops to increase.  Eventually, there may be little rebate available on the Meadowlands signal, but if the takeout eventually ends up at 10%, is there a need for a rebate?

Of course, there will always be someone looking for something, but eventually there will be a point where takeouts will be low enough that most people will wager without rebates and for those who still insist on a rebate, the tracks will be willing to leave money on the table.

So the words "taking on the rebate shops" should not automatically strike fear among the heavy gamblers.  If a track takes them on stupidly, there is plenty of reason for concern, but if a track takes them on smartly, it is a whole different game.  It's all in the execution.

One thing Harness Racing Update reported was Gural wants the right of exclusion for the Meadowlands.  Up to now, being the NJSEA is a semi-private governmental agency, the courts have refused to permit the Meadowlands from exercising private property rights.  It is only a matter of time before a court case involving the right of exclusion comes into play should a lease be signed and I wouldn't be surprised if this comes into play soon after the Meadowlands reopens as it has been reported that at least one trainer successful at the Meadowlands has not been allowed to race at Tioga in the past.  No doubt, someone will make the case that while the Meadowlands is leased, the fact it is on state-owned land should preclude management the right to private property rights.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Gural Optimistic, But....

Jeff Gural indicated he is optimistic he can come to an agreement to lease the Meadowlands.  If he is able to accomplish this, it can be an exciting time as he has indicated he is partnering with Cantor Gaming to raise the funds necessary. 

If this deals goes through, it can be an exciting time for harness racing as Cantor Gaming and Gural have talked about taking on the rebate shops, offering new wagers and turning things upside down; something racing has needed for a long while.  Of course, the devil is in the details and rest assured such talk is likely not to be appreciated on the other side of the Hudson River.

There is one problem.  The unions have not yet returned Gural's calls.  As you are aware, Gural needs concessions from the unions in order to make the deal work.  No doubt, what we are seeing is a game of chicken being played; basically each side trying to strengthen their hands in negotiations.  This is a game I expect the unions to lose because as painful as it will be for some of their members to lose jobs and/or accept wage cuts, the unions are not doing their members any service if  they are all out of business.  Plus, there is the nuclear option.

What is the nuclear option?  It is something which is being discussed elsewhere in NJ governmental agencies.  It is called outsourcing jobs.  If you recall, legislation has been passed to allow the NJSEA run the Meadowlands until the new Gural team gets licensed by the NJRC.  What happens if before Gural's team gets licensed, the NJSEA outsources all the jobs to a third party which is able to shed high salaried employees and/or offer them lower salaries and benefits?  If the Governor is agreeable, and he shows no love for labor unions, the NJSEA could outsource the union jobs before the Gural team takes over, giving him the reduced salary expense.  However, I expect cooler heads to prevail and the unions to begin negotiating once they've kept Gural cooling his heels.

But what about the April 1 deadline?  I suspect the April 1 deadline to be somewhat artificial. Yes, the state may start claiming back the $1.2 million they advanced the NJSEA for purses and the summer meet not start on May 7, but if a deal is reached within a reasonable time, I doubt the Governor would refuse to accept an offer.

No, we are not there yet, but I wouldn't bury the Meadowlands anytime soon..

Update: Taking on the rebate shops?  Of course, it is all speculation at this time but I suspect the idea of taking on rebate shops may be connected to an idea originally floated at Tioga Downs regarding bringing the takeout rate down to what a casisno charges (9%).  If they eventually get the takeout rate down that low, is there really a need for rebates? Again, the devil is in the details.  We will learn more as time goes on.

Waiting for the News

Everyone involved in harness racing is waiting with baited breath for Jeff Gural's conversation regarding the possible takeover of the Meadowlands.  Will he announce a deal has been done, negotiations are continuing, or a deal is unattainable, meaning we will be seeing the last two days of harness racing until August?

From my perspective, the news will trend positive, but not as good as we would like. I have no insight to what is going to be said, but if I had to guess, it would be negotiations are on-going.  Why would I say this?  First of all if something has been determined one way or the other, you can be certain something would have leaked out by now.  When it comes to political deals, leaks are all but certain.  If it was a negative report, do you think Mr. Gural or anyone else would go on the air during the pre-race show to say efforts to lease have failed when a simple press release would suffice?

My guess is Mr. Gural will be indicating negotiations are continuing and he is hopeful that an agreement will be reached by the deadline on April 1 leaving everyone on pins and needles for another week.  Whether a deal will be reached remains to be seen.  At this point it is not just getting the agreement of the NJSEA and Governor, but obtaining the $60 million in financing which is still needed.   

Of course, this is all conjecture.  We will hear for sure on the Meadowlands pre-race show starting at 6:30pm this evening.  You will be able to see this interview on RTN, and for NJAW customers, on their simulcast feed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

TVG Aims for Youth and It Stinks

TVG lowered the boom yesterday and canned some great television personalities; in particular dismissing on-air talent Bob Baedeker, Chris Kotulak, Frank Lyons, and Frank Mirahmadi as well as sixteen off the air employees.  The official reason given by Betfair (which owns by TVG) is they are “restructuring segments of company operations, including streamlining some production roles.”

While it may be true that Betfair is restructuring to cut costs (they lost their number one niche as a result of the TwinSpires-Youbet merger) and have lost quite a few signals for their television network, don't kid yourself;  the reason why the on-air talent was dismissed most likely has to do with a movement towards a younger generation to racing.  It seems tattooed, barefoot people and silliness are in, classy experienced  people are out.  Plain and simple; what TVG did stinks (actually another word comes to mind).

Now, I am not a thoroughbred person, so a lot of times TVG would be turned on when I was bored or looking for a diversion.  Bob Baedeker, known as Mr. B. was a quiet individual but extremely knowledgeable when it came to thoroughbreds; he added dignity.  As for Chris Kotulak, he was one of the nicest individuals you would ever like to meet; he had such a pleasant manner about him and his forte was the quarter horses.  I was not that familiar with Frank Lyons, but from what I did see of him, he appeared to be a little less reserved version of Mr. B.  As for Frank Mirhamadi, who is also a track announcer as is Chris Kotulak, he was a more seasoned individual who was extremely knowledgeable with his racing as he worked for NYRA and other tracks before coming to TVG.  Mirhamadi was the host of their Gate Crashers, which was a step back in time when you listened to races on the radio (necessitated by TVG not obtaining the rights to show certain California tracks live).  Harness fans, can relax as Gary Siebel has escaped the purge; likely because he is their resident standardbred expert and most of their talent knows little about harness racing.

I understand TVG and racing is seeking a younger audience, and like the rest of television, looks is a big plus.  But is it necessary to aim for the lowest common denominator instead of seasoned experience and dignity or is there room for some balance?  The reason I bring this up is not only because TVG dumped these individuals, but because the very same question is going to have to be asked and answered by every racetrack which has a racing show.  Do the Ellie Saramas' get dumped for a younger 'hot babe' version?  The experience of a Hollywood Heyden or a Sam McKee replaced with some younger hip man?  Do our racing shows become MTV-like?

"Well Dude, I really like that Lucky Jim.  That hot trainer, Julie Miller has him ready for a big effort this week".  Or "What about that horse Slow Poke being ridden by that cute jockey Chantal Sutherland?  How can you leave her out of the Trifecta ?"

I know the future of the world belongs to the youth, and with racing, it better belong to the youth.  Perhaps it is the fear I am about to be discarded by society (and it is a societal problem) for being over forty, but I would hope while we attempt to appeal to the younger generation, we don't completely consign those forty and over to the scrap heap.  Hopefully, racetracks and ADWs are able to find that right mix of youth and experience.

Today it is TVG, tomorrow it may very well be your local racetrack.  Whatever you do, please don't call me "Sir".  

The Curtain Rises on the Levy

Yes, the Meadowlands closes on Saturday evening, hopefully for a brief vacation.  However, the real action is across the river at Yonkers Raceway where the George Morton Levy Pacing Series kicks-off it's six week stand.  Arguably, the best horses currently racing will be taking their shot, hoping to qualify for the $493,000 final.  With six divisions in this first leg, clearly some trainers are taking their chance and as the five preliminary legs continue, obviously many of these horses will fall to the wayside.

What is it that makes the Levy special?  It the closest we will ever get to the glory days, where horses like Big Towner and Le Baron Rouge; horses that attracted horseplayers to the track, did battle week in, week out in true FFA battles.  Races like the Levy also encourage older horses to keep racing though admittedly, we need more races like this to keep the older horses out of the breeding shed.

The point system for the Levy keeps horses from dogging it in any one leg.  Each horse gets 25 points for just starting in the race with additional points awarded for those that finishe first through fifth.  The top eight horses point-wise in the series qualify for the $493,000 final.  Based on the scoring system, missing a week may have you on the outside looking in come the day of the final and with those 25 points awarded just for racing, a poor performance in any one leg may cost your dearly.

While I will be discussing only the Levy, the first six races of the card are the second leg of the Sagamore Hill Serires for the lesss experienced 3yo Colts, Horses and Geldings.  The final race on the card is a $28,000 Preferred Handicap.  Since the only overnight event is the last race, the first twelve races will be held at the traditional one mile distance.

Let's take a look at the six divisions of the Levy.  Horses are listed in post position order:

7th Pace - $50,000; George Morton Levy Memorial Pace 1st Leg (1st Div)
  2  Forgein Officer (Pantaleano, 9-5) - 4yo tries the half mile.  Been racing well.
  3  Wholly Louy (D Miller, 6-1) - Unable to handle this class last year.  Needs to show more.
  4  Barber Pole (C Manzi, 4-1) - Ambitiously placed by Teague.  Pass.
  1  Dreamlands Art (Gingras, 3-1) - Solid preparation but 4yo takes on older.
  5  Real Gentleman (Brenan, 8-1) - Pena Trainee needs to improve to factor.
  6  Keystone Rideau (Dube, 10-1) - War horse gets share with a trip.
  7  Trueys Legacy (Lewis, 12-1) - Finished 2nd in Meadowlands Invite at 112-1.  Better than that but bad post.
1A  Atochia (Bartlett, 3-1) - May be class of race but first start and eight hole says wait for later.
Coupled: Dreamlands Art and Atochia
Selections: 1-2-5

8th Pace - $50,000; George Morton Levy Memorial Pace 1st Leg (2nd Div)
  1  Foiled Again (Gingras, 4-5) - Half mile specialist is the one to beat.
  2  Whackamole Hanover (Dube, 15-1) - Appears to be shooting for the moon.  Safe to ignore.
1A  Dymond Joe Mindale (D Miller, 4-5) - Does get a good draw, completes strong entry.
  3  Erics Legend N (Goodell, 4-1) - Kiwi gave good effort in first North Am start.  May offer value.
  4  Poker Hat (Bartlett, 8-1) - Don't see here.
  5  Windfall Blue Chip (Manzi, 8-1) - Fringe 3yo last year takes on older; pass.
  6  Real Nice (Brennan, 6-1) - Never better but draws poorly.
  7  Aliveandwell N (Pantaleano, 20-1) - No chance against theres.
Coupled: Foiled Again and Dymond Joe Mindale
Selections: 1-3-6

9th Pace - $50,000; George Morton Levy Memorial Pace 1st Leg (3rd Div)
   2  Go Go Solano (Dube, 6-1) - Showed some life in last start.  May finally be finding his spot?
   3  Shark's Legacy (Bouchard, 12-1) - Not likely off recent.
   1  Lucky Bettor (Gingras, 3-1) - Lands share with a trip.
1A  Mcapulco (Brennan, 3-1) - Appears to be a live one.  Stronger half of entry.
  4  Southwind Lynx (Manzi, 8-1) - Has not returned well.  May have a problem?
  5  Gallant Yankee (Bartlett, 8-5) - Forced to take a road trip last week.  Returns and figures to be the best.
  6  Sand Savage (D Miller, 15-1) - Defeated top pick at the Spa last week but draws worse this week.
  7  Valentino (Pantaleano, 6-1) - Draws poorly but may be able to overcome.
Coupled: Lucky Bettor and Mcapulco
Selections: 5-7-1A

10th Pace - $50,000; George Morton Levy Memorial Pace 1st Leg (4th Div)
1  Pangiorno (Dube, 5-1) - Had blow out qualifier.  Enough in one of weaker divisions?
2  Lahaye (Brennan, 4-1) - Steps up in class but finally gets a good post draw in ages.
3  The Mohegan Pan (Bartlett, 6-1) - Can't recommend.
4  Jetty (Manzi, 15-1) - If you are looking for a longshot play; this may be it.
5  Forensic Z Tam (P Lachance, 8-1) - Lands share with best effort.
6  Mainland Key N (Goodell, 5-1) - Should improve with post relief.
7  Legal Litigator (Miller, 3-1) - Coleman trainee does not appear ready.
8  Versado (Gingras, 8-1) - Would need to show huge improvement from this spot
Selections: 6-5-4-2

11th Pace - $50,000; George Morton Levy Memorial Pace 1st Leg (5th Div)
1  This Is Wyatt (Goodell, 9-5) - Possibility from the rail.
2  Shoobee's Place (Bouchard, 10-1) - Not likely.
3  Corky Baran (Dube, 15-1) - This is not the Corky Baran of last year.  Pass till he shows last year's form.
4  Blueridge Western (Brennan, 4-1) - Loves track and well prepped.  May provide some value this week.
5  Southern Allie (Gingras, 8-1) - 4yo is reaching in this spot.
6  Doubletrouble (Bartlett, 6-1) - May grab share with trip.
7  Handsome Harry (D Miller, 8-1) - Expect to hear more from him in subsequent legs; not from this spot)
Selections: 4-1-6

12th Pace - $50,000; George Morton Levy Memorial Pace 1st Leg (6th Div)
1  River Shark (Brennan, 3-1) - Uncharacteristic break in last.  Toss start and he fits.
2  Blatantly Good (Bartlett, 5-1) - Better than he looks.  May pop here.
3  Classic Rock Nroll (Dube, 12-1) - Needs to show he belongs here.
4  Mr Massimo (Bouchard, 8-1) - Has had success over this oval before but must show more.
5  Mccedes (Gingras, 12-1) - Appears to be a fringe player here.  Pass.
6  Royal Morn (D Miller, 8-1) - Must fire out to be a factor.  Will he get the lead?  Guess is no.
7  Giddy Up Lucky (Goodell, 8-5) - Hot last season and makes return.  Could win at first asking but no value.
Selections: 2-1-7

Thursday Musings

The relocated Interdominions (relocated from Christchurch to Alexandria Park in Auckland due the earthquake that hit Christchurch starts this weekend.  The first leg of the Interdominion Trot and Pace will be run Friday evening in New Zealand (early hours of Saturday in North America).  While Auckland Reactor was scratched due to illness, the Pace has some perennial favorites like Monkey King, Smoken Up, Mr Feelgood, and of course, Blacks A Fake, aiming for his fifth Interdominion.  In the Trot, it will be interesting to see how the Swedish horse Annicka, performs in its New Zealand debut.  For more information on the Interdominions, visit their website.

For those who may not know, Woodbine Racetrack is now offering free race programs for their harness programs on their website.  These programs are slightly different from the typical programs you get for free or purchase at other tracks.  In addition to the standard information, the programs adds a point of call after the first 1/8th of a mile (WEG tracks only); replace the top of the stretch point of call with the position after 7/8th of a mile; using their Trackus system, shows you how many feet a horse traveled (WEG tracks only).  In addition, after each race, there are selections and comments about each horse and a chart which shows the statistics for a the particular driver/trainer combinations in the race.  You may access these programs at the Woodbine Racetrack website.

Expect a smile on the face of Jeff Gural today.  No, it has nothing to do with the Meadowlands but with his proposal that we keep our older horses race longer.  Due to the new methodology of allocating purses in Ontario, it is anticipated there will be a $9 million surplus in purse accounts this year.  COSA President Bill O'Donnell's suggestion?  Take those $9 million and create a series of stakes races for aged horses racing in the province.  Perhaps O'Donnell's idea is only for horses owned and sired in Ontario, but it is a step in the right direction.

It may be spring, but there is a deep freeze at Vernon Downs and we are not talking snow.  Once again, management is negotiating a contract with the HHA of Central New York.  Negotiating with the HHA of CNY is always a pleasure, like getting a tooth pulled as contract time with the Vernon horsemen is another chapter in the proxy war between Jeff Grual and Joe Faraldo; two people with totally different views as to what the future of harness racing should be.  Some will try to downplay this proxy war, but how else can you explain Tioga Downs horsemen never have a problem reaching an agreement while securing an agreement with Vernon Downs is like pulling teeth; especially with many horsemen racing at both tracks?  

One of the biggest problems is the issue of fractional wagering when it comes to exotic wagers such as those dime Superfectas.  Big time gamblers complain about the dime wagers because it allows smaller gamblers to cover wagers they normally wouldn't if they had to pay the full price to play the wager; removing value from the wager.  Of course, at some small tracks, if not for the dime wagers, there may be nothing in the pools.  Why does each Superfecta have to have a dime option?  Say you are a track which offers a $.50 Trifecta and a dime Superfecta in the same race.  Why not offer in one race a fractional Trifecta and a full price Superfecta and the next race offering both, offer a full price Trifecta and a dime Superfecta?  This way both types of gamblers are given opportunities to play into the type of pools they want.

Layoff's have come to TVG.  Ray Paulick tweets that it appears that  on-screen talent Bob Baedeker and Chris Kotulak are among the casualties.  Now, neither one were harness hosts, but I will miss Chris Kotulak; he was a pleasant presence on the television and I will miss him. No idea if layoffs are signs of financial difficulty or just typical corporate downsizing. 

April Guaranteed Pick 4 Guide

Yes, there is a month left to March, but the Pick 4 guaranteed pools being offered in conjunction with the USTA initiative are sprouting out all over.  To make it easier for you to see which tracks are offering guaranteed Pick 4s through this program and on what days (and races), here is a small chart for your reference.  I will also have a link on the left side of my blog home page to this entry so you may refer to it during the month:

  • Balmoral Park - Saturdays ($15,000) and Sundays ($25,000) - Last four races of the evening
  • Cal Expo - Thursdays ($10,000) starting April 14 - Races 6-9.
  • Northfield Park - Fridays and Saturdays ($10,000) - Races 8-11
  • Yonkers Raceway - Saturdays and Mondays ($15,000) - Races 7-10 (Late Pick 4 only)
In an effort to give gamblers a chance to participate in all of the Pick 4's. the tracks will attempt to stagger post times.  Tentative plans have race pages for the Pick 4 races to be offered for free.

In addition to participating in the USTA Pick 4 program, Cal Expo is continuing with their virtual 0% late Pick 4s for those customers who wager either on-track at Cal Expo or through their Twinspires ADW account. on Saturday nights.  The guaranteed pool at Cal Expo for the late Pick 4 is $15,000.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Let's Take a Look at Some New Wagers - Part 3

In our final installment, we will be looking at some parlay wagers in addition to wagers typically offered in Sweden.  In addition, we are going to look at a way to 'upgrade' the Exacta to appeal to novices.  The parlay wagers are interesting in they allow fractional wagering and have the potential to increase the handle as once the bets are made, they are locked in.  You will see two types of parlays, one for the gambler who is more risk adverse; the other for the ones that go for it all.

For those that missed either or both of the previous entries, here are links to first and second installment of this piece.

POKER BET WAGER - A combination parlay. For this example you are wagering a four race poker bet. The bettor selects the four races. In each of the races, you may pick the winner or a quiniella. Let's assume you are wagering on races 1-4. The proceeds of each leg are invested in the subsequent leg.
For this illustration 'X' means the proceeds of the prior leg multiplied by the payoff of the next leg (all payoffs are based on a dollar wager).  Four horse parlay: Races 1X2X3X4 (1 combination); Three horse parlay: Races 1X2X3, Races 1X2X4, Races 1X3X4, and Races 2X3X4 (4 combinations); Two horse parlay: Races 1X2, Races 1X3, Races 1X4, Races 2X3, Races 2X4, and Races 3X4 (6 combinations).  As long as one of your two horse parlays wins, you collect. A $1 Poker Bet would cost you $11 (11 combos). 

The only problem with the Poker Bet Wager as currently used is the fact it included the quiniella, a wager people tend to avoid.  However, if it can be modified to allow the gambler to select a Win wager or an Exacta, it should be workable.  The beauty of this wager is that it is bet into existing pools and has a great potential to increase handle.  As you can see, the Poker Bet is a conservative way to play a parlay.

ALL IN PARLAY WAGER - A parlay you win only if all your selections come in. You may use win and quiniella wagers. You decide the number of races to include. The proceeds of each leg get wagered on your selection in the next leg. If you lose one leg, you do not collect.  Once again, due to the hatred of the quiniella wager, it would need to include the exacta as an option.  Unlike the Poker Bet, the All In Parlay is not for the feint of heart.

Hedge Wager - Before we go to the Swedish wagers, I would like to offer a way to possibly increase play in the Exacta.  Let me introduce the Hedge Wager.  The hedge wager is actually a betting strategy for the exacta, but rather than intimidating newbies to the races, it provides an easy to understand way for them to wager on the exacta and back up their wager.  Let's say a bettor decides they want to play the 1-2 exacta.  If they play the Hedge wager of 1-2, 2/3 of their wager would be put into the exacta pool as 1-2 and 1/3 of their wager would be put into the excta pool as 2-1.  This way, if they have the right two horses for the exacta, they still collect something of the order is switched.  The payoffs would be based on the exacta payoffs, since it is wagered into the same pool. 

Let's say a $2 Exacta of 6-8 paid  $72.00.  If someone wagered using a hedge wager, the $2 Hedge wager of 6-8 would pay $48 and the $2 Hedge wager of 8-6 would pay $24.

Now, let's take a look at the Swedish wagers.

V3 WAGER - To win the V3 a bettor must pick the winner of three designated races; making your selection before each designated races as you go.  It is very similar to the Pick-3 except since you wager as you go, the chances of having to deal with a late scratch is reduced.  The only problem with this wager is that gamblers at the track would need to exchange tickets.  For those who bet through computers, it would be much easier to handle.

V64 WAGER - To win this wager, you need to select the winners of six designated races and you collect if you have four, five, or six winners. If you have four winners, you collect the dividend for having four winners. If you have five winners, you collect the dividends for having five and four winners. If you select all six winners, you get all three dividends. 

V65 WAGER - Same as the V64 instead there are no dividends for having four winners. Winners of five races collect their dividend and winners of all six races collect dividends for having six and five winners. 

V75 WAGER - The much talked about answer to racing's problems.  Typically held once a week at a designated track. The object is to select the winners of the seven designated races, but there are dividends for five and six winners. Unlike the V64 or V65, you only collect one dividend. The total pool is divided as 40% plus any carryover to the bettors who have all seven races; 20% to the bettors who have six winners selected; 40% to the bettors who have five winners selected. If the dividend for having five winners is under a specified amount, there is no payoff and the money is added to the carryover pool the following week.  Of course, one of the key advantages of the V75 is the ability of people to go to their lottery agents and make wagers; something which is not possible at this time in the United States.  Could this wager work in North America without the ability to sell tickets through lottery agents?  That is the million dollar question.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Has Horsemen Greed Snatched Defeat from the Jaws of Victory?

Here we are, the last week of harness racing at the Meadowlands; with luck until May.  Jeff Gural has presented his bid to take over the track.  Everyone breathing a sigh of relief; it looks like victory has been snatched from the jaws of defeat.  All we need to do is get a good final week of racing under the belt and wait until the 'T's are crossed and the 'I's are dotted, right?

Wrong.  Thursday's program has only nine races carded, which if not for two finals of late closing series, may have had only seven races carded.  A plea goes out to end the race meet on a high note for Friday and Saturday.  The entry box closes normally at 9AM, at 10AM the box was still open as it was reported the number of entries for Friday were poor.  As of noon, the overnight sheet has still not been published for Friday. UPDATE:  Friday has nine races - four races have short fields including a six and seven horse field.

This is the attitude of horsemen fighting for keeping the mecca of racing open?  Can't wait two weeks to get to Chester and Pocono Downs?    It seems to me horsemen have taken victory for granted and are looking out for #1. 

At this point, if horsemen are acting this way with their livelihood on the line, Jeff Gural must be wondering how they are going to act once the Meadowlands is saved; especially when there will be no subsidies?  Why should someone like Gural risk his reputation for a bunch of uncooperative ingrates?  I sure the hell wouldn't.

This has always been a problem with harness racing.  Everyone watches out for themselves and sacrifice for the common good is rare.  The SBOANJ has tried to work with Gural but the rank and file hasn't.  What the horsemen may have done is snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  Even if Gural was willing to move forward, what financial institution would be foolish to invest in a business which depends on a bunch of loose cannons?

If Gural pulls out, the horsemen will curse Gural out because it is human nature not to look oneself in the mirror and take the blame yourself.  You figured you can do what you want and let everyone else sacrifice.  Well, one problem, everyone else was looking for you to make the sacrifice.  The truth is the failure of obtaining a lease for the Meadowlands would be a collective effort.

So assuming the Meadowlands is toast, I wonder how happy horsemen will be trying to get their horses raced at Chester, Pocono, and Yonkers where they will be lucky to get in to race once a month.   How happy will they be when the need to race for $1,800 purses at Balmoral next winter (assuming there is a meet at Balmoral)?  The ironic thing is many of these horsemen will be trying to race at Tioga and Vernon Downs.  Well, if there is a good side to this, it may be Cal Expo, which always has a shortage of horses, may be able to get some additional horses to race as there will be horses unable to get in to race on the East coast.  Of course, the horsemen won't blame themselves, they will paint themselves as a the victim.

And the shame is, we were so close.  But greed may have won out.

Update:  Jeff Gural will be on the Meadowlands pre-show Friday evening.

Let's Take a Look at Some New Wagers - Part 2

In our last installment, we discussed North American wagers typically not offered at harness tracks.  Today, we head abroad and see what wagers they offer and if any of them are adaptable to the North American racing scene.

PLACE WAGER (the foreign edition) - If eight or more horses compete in a race, a bettor wins the place wager if a horse comes in second or third. If less than eight horses competing, a bettor wins only if the horse they select comes in second.  With the implementation of the revised place wager, show wagering would be eliminated allowing that money to be redistributed to other wagers.  At the same time it may also offer better payoffs for place gamblers.

DUET WAGER - A Duet wager is similar to a quiniella wager. To win the duet, the two horses you select must finish in the top three positions in any order.  As a result, there will be three combinations of winning tickets. The pool will be divided three ways and paid out proportionally, as the current show wager is paid out.  Admittedly, this is a wager which will have no interest with serious gamblers.  However, for those novice gamblers and those who stick to WPS wagering, it may entice them to try exotic wagering.  Granted, payoffs are likely to be much more modest, but if you are able to get at least one long shot in the top three you can still get a decent payoff.  For this wager to work, you may need to eliminate exacta wagering in the particular race it was offered; perhaps a complimentary race to a Twin Quiniella or Twin Exacta we discussed in my last posting. 

BIG 6 WAGER - Similar to the Pick-6.  To win the Big 6, a gambler must select the winner of six designated races (may involve multiple tracks).  Besides being offered on races at multiple tracks, the main difference is it does not have to be a sequence of six consecutive races.

WIN SCOOP 6 WAGER - The Win Scoop 6 is traditionally offered once a week. To win this wager, you need to pick the winner of three designated races at two different tracks.  If no one hits the wager, there is a carry over to the next week.  The big difference is there is a jackpot pool.  While you are a winner if you select all six winners, you are eligible for a jackpot bonus by picking the winner of one designated race the following week.The bonus jackpot consists of money added by the tracks and gets added to each time the bonus is not hit.

PLACE SCOOP 6 WAGER - Traditionally offered once a week. To win this wager, you need to pick a horse to finish 1st or 2nd (or 3rd if more than eight horses in the race) in three races at two different tracks.  While the payoffs are obviously less than the Win Scoop 6, the wager may appeal to gamblers not willing to go for the big prize.

PLACE POT WAGER - A Pick-6 where the winning bettor must select a horse that finishes in the money (1st, 2nd, or 3rd if more than eight horses competed in the race) in six races.  Obvious, the chances for a carryover is greatly reduced in this wager.

Once again, let me know your opinions of any of these wagers.

In our final installment, we will look at some parlay wagers in addition to wagers offered in Sweden, including the V75.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Good News from SRF and a Damning Indictment

In light of the current scandal that has enveloped the TRF, the SRF has issued a press release:

The Standardbred Retirement Foundation is assuring its supporters that the management of the mission is in order and their horses well cared for.

Judith Bokman, the Standardbred Retirement Foundation’s (SRF) Executive Trustee, and one of the two founders of the organization shared, “SRF was the first to require that a veterinarian examine and report the condition of every horse it has placed for adoption. This procedure also applies to our horses at boarding facilities, and foster homes. This process is done semi-annually for the life of each SRF horse. If a report is not returned on time, shows inadequate care, or a Veterinarian’s comment strikes a concern we intervene. Our software program can produce pertinent information on every horse we are responsible for.”

“We manage our mission to help Standardbred horses very carefully and want our supporters to know”, explains Paula Campbell, SRF’s founding partner. “When a new horse comes in it is micro-chipped, then the search for an appropriate home begins. Horses generally have numerous adoptive homes as they live into their 30s, and adopters have changes in their lives. Often SRF’s aged horses find themselves back with us and retired at a boarding facility at our expense. It is an endless mission until a horse dies; the costs are astronomical. This is why we have a waiting list for new horses seeking help; we must work within our available funding for today and tomorrow.

"It is a tough mission to manage, and even tougher to fund. There are no regular funding streams, no grants from within the racing industry, no government support, and the number of people who have a heart for a horse is small. SRF has rescued many horses other charities have put in adoptive homes that were left without any follow-up; it has also rescued horses when other charities have gone defunct due to lack of funds.

“Racing is a multi-billion dollar industry and its by-product of tens of thousands of unwanted horses annually was never factored into the business plan. A charity should not be responsible for this. SRF is overwhelmed with the demand to help horses; the waiting list is well over a hundred, and we struggle daily to raise funds. With the recent troubles other organizations are facing at the moment one can only hope that this will spark dramatic change from racing," Mrs. Bokman added.

"But for the moment our benefactors can rest at ease. Unless an adopter or boarding facility goes beyond the boundaries of the law, our horses are safe and accounted for, all our bills are paid to date, and our business is in order.” (SRF)

While Ms. Brokman and Campbell's statement is reassuring to supporters of the SRF, it is a damning indictment of the industry.  As she indicated, where is the funding from the industry (the Meadowlands and Freehold do support)?  Where is the support from the horsemen?  The breeders that produce these animals?  The states who profit from horse racing and racing regulatory agencies?

The problem the SRF is dealing with other responsible horse rescues are dealing with too.  This is why reputable horse rescue groups don't take in every horse that needs to be rescued.  The number of people who donate funds to rescue the horses is a relatively small number; ironically a lot of these donors are just horse lovers, with no connection to harness racing.  The fact the SRF and other legitimate rescues need to make such statements is a pox on our industry and it needs to stop.  Groups who make their living breeding and racing horses have a moral obligation to take care of our horses who no can no longer race. If you are in the industry and do nothing to take care of our unwanted horses, you are part of the problem.

Will you be part of the solution?

Let's Take a Look at Some New Wagers

Here in North America, horseplayers are basically given the choice of WPS, Exacta, Trifecta, Superfecta, Pentafecta, Daily Double, and Pick X wagers.  Some people feel quite comfortable with these wagers, feeling no need to add additional wagers to the wagering menu.  Others feel there are too many wagers in the mix already diluting pools.  But perhaps there are some other wagers out there in the rest of the world or even from the greyhound world which may be worth exploring.  My personal thought is some of these wagers can be winners provided they are just not added as another wager in a race to dilute pools further.  Over the next few days, depending on other news which may come up, I will discuss some of these additional wagers.  I'm not saying each of these wagers will be a winner; but they are worth discussing just the same.

I would like to hear your thoughts on some of these wagers.  Can they be winners or are they clunkers?

Today, let's look at some wagers offered in North America which are not traditionally offered at harness tracks.

DOUBLE QUINIELLA (a mainstay at greyhound tracks) - To win the double quiniella, a gambler must select the quiniella in two consecutive races. Both halves of the wager is wagered at the same time.  Sounds easy, doesn't it?  Not as easy as it sounds.  You try to pick the top two horses two races in a row in either order and see how you do.  The few times I have seen the Double Quiniella, it has tended to pay at least $200.00 and that was not with longshots.   No, not a large amount that may appeal to the heavy gambler, but for the novice or newcomer, the option to be able to play a wager for just $2 and have the possibility of winning a decent amount of money may be appealing.  For the experienced gambler who just does not have the financial resources to play the Pick-4+ wagers, it gives them a chance to participate in a wager that may pay well.

DOUBLE EXACTA - A variation of the Double Quiniella.  To win the double exacta, a gambler must select the exacta in two consecutive races. Both halves of the wager is wagered at the same time.  Much harder to hit than the Double Quiniella, which means it has the potential of even larger payoffs.  This wager typicall has a carryover feature (no consolation payoff) so the jackpot can build fast.  Once again, like the Double Quiniella, it gives those with less deep pockets a chance to play an exotic wager with a better than normal payoff with a reasonable chance of success.

TRI-SUPER WAGER (another greyhound racing wager) - To win the Tri-Super, a gambler must select the triple in one race and if they win that half, they get their share of 25% of the pool and exchange their ticket for a superfecta later in the program with the remaining 75% of the pool being added to the carryover (if there is one). To win the second half, the gambler must have the superfecta in exact order.  This is not a wager for the horseplayer lacking deep pockets.  For example, a gambler may box three horses in the first half of the Tri-Super and win it; that only entitles them to one 'straight' wager in the superfecta wager (though I imagine something can be done to allow someone who plays the trifecta half of the wager in greater multiples the option to play multiple combinations of the superfecta; for example if the base wager is $1, if someone plays a box in a $2 increment, they would have two chances at straight wagers in the superfecta).  Offer the start of the Tri-Super instead of the regular trifecta, but since the superfecta pool for this wager is completely separate from any other superfecta pool, you can offer a superfecta in the second leg as well.   

GRAND SLAM WAGER - The Grand Slam involves four consecutive races. To win the wager, the bettor's selection in the first three races must come in the money with the selection in the fourth race being the winning horse.  I have seen this wager offered primarily at NYRA tracks and maybe one harness track in New York, but it is not a widespread wager.  It basically is a watered down Pick-4.  The key to this wager is to be alive through the first three legs and hope for that bomb in the last leg.  A drawback is you can pick an 80-1 shot in the first leg and it can win, but if a 3-5 and 2-1 come in the money with your 80-1 shot, the 80-1 is not going to help you much.  However, get that 80-1 in the final leg and you can get a decent payoff.  Without a scratch, you will typically get nine winning combinations (i.e., 1,2,3/4,6,7/1,3,6/8).  The advantage of this wager is you get more people winning, and nothing helps keep people wagering on horses as winning does. 

PLACE-ALL WAGER - To win the Place-ALL, the bettor must select the horse that finishes first or second in each race on the card.  A wager usually seen on the Hollywood Park/Santa Anita circuit.  Obviously easier than a Pick-6, with respect to having your selections finish first or second in each leg of the wager, but you have to get through the entire card being able to pick a horse in the top two.  No you are not going to get mega payoffs with the Place-All and there are no carryovers, but depending on the number of races on the card you can get payoffs in the mid-$500 if favorites prevail.  Get one or two races where the favorites don't run first or second and you can get pay-offs in the thousands.

Next time we leave the friendly confines of North America to look at some other types.

The Good and the Bad of Plainridge's Announcement

Plainridge Racetrack has announced that they will be cutting their takeout to 15% on all wagers for the upcoming season.  For those on track and those betting through a live racetrack, this is a great opportunity to consider wagering on Plainridge.  The bad news is for those who wager at racetracks which no longer offer live racing or ADWs, it may be hard to get Plainridge's signal to wager on.

Plainridge is attempting to reward those that produce racing product by offering them a nominal 1% to carry their signal.  But in attempt to get more from tracks which have ceased live racing or ADWs; doing nothing to contribute live product and raking in big profits because they don't have to produce live racing, they are charging them 8%.  Being Plainridge is not a high demand signal, expect many ADWs to say 'no thanks'.

As is reporting, Plainridge President, Garry Pionkowski is repprted as saying, "We are tired of 8x10 offices equipped with just a phone line and computer pillaging horsemen and racetrack revenues.  It is time someone stood up to these fly by night operators who are making millions on the backs of horsemen's and racetrack operations."

My suspicion is Plainridge will be left with making a statement but little handle.  Unless a lot more; and I mean a lot more tracks adopt such a philosophy, Plainridge's signal will be offered limited distribution.  Unfortunately for Plainridge, a lot of tracks will not go along with Plainridge's philosophy; for fear of getting shut out.

I wish Plainridge luck in their efforts, they will need it.  In the meanwhile, if you like harness racing and can get access to Plainridge when their season begins in May, enjoy the discount.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Looking for a Buddy and Saving Them

On April 17, 2011, Horse Rescue United, a horse rescue group organized by harness trainer Anouk Busch will be sponsoring their first open house to allow member of HRU and others to come see some of the horses HRU has rescued.  While HRU has horses available of all breeds, based on Anouk's background the preference is to rescue standardbreds.  Come out and visit HRU's farm and see some of their success stories and if you are intrigued, you may be on the way to becoming an owner of retired horse or you may feel like supporting their work.  If you are in the NYC-Philadelphia metro area, you may be interested in spending a day in New Egypt, NJ.  This link provides plenty of information regarding this event.  If nothing else, it should be a great day for the family.

Horse Rescue took a big hit this weekend with news about The Thoroughbred Retirement Fund's alleged problems which were reported in the New York Times.  Ray Paulick, a trustee of TRF, speaking for himself in his Paulick Report, discussed the situation.  Of course news reports at times tend to make things look worse than they may be and there is no doubt with the economic collapse, donations to the TRF dropped severely.  Perhaps they grew to big in taking in too many unadoptable race horses than they could handle, but what was the option they had?  The problem I suspect has more to do with the lack of a dependable revenue stream to secure their mission.  Yes, grants from foundations are wonderful, but grants can come and go.   As much as I don't like the idea of higher takeout rates, a fixed percentage of the takeout rate should go towards the care of breed specific horees; ideally equally split by ADWs, horsemen, and tracks; those that make money based on racing.  I also feel no organization should grow to have 1,500 horses under their control as it is hard to keep track of them all.  If TRF truly was in dire straits as reported, as difficult as it would have been, if they realized they could not support all the horses under their charge and were unable to off load some to other rescues, the correct decision may have been to euthanize the oldest and most infirm of the horses under their care instead of allegedly sacrificing care on all the horses.

In the meanwhile, the smaller rescues, like Horse Rescue United and the Standardbred Retirement Foundation continue to do their work.  Do they take in as many horses as they would like?  No, but they are dependent on donations from the public and know the dangers of growing to big; fearful of not being able to take care of their charges properly and face issues like TRF allegedly did.  So before people get critical of these smaller groups for not taking in every horse that people want them to do, realize there is no such thing as a money tree.  Contributions are the lifeline of these organizations, big and small.  Before your criticize any rescue, you should be asking if you are doing anything to help fund one or more of these rescues.  If you aren't and have the ability to do so, you may be part of the problem. 

When Can We Expect D Day?

No doubt if you are reading this article you are interested in what is going to happen to the Meadowlands.  The meet ends this coming weekend on March 26 and then, depending on what decision is made on the proposal Jeff Gural submitted to the Governor, the Meadowlands will open on May 7 or July 30 for approximately a week so the NJSEA can meet its contractual obligations to host the Hambletonian on August 6.  In the meanwhile, horsemen (at least those that didn't bail out the moment Chester and Pocono Downs opened), will be left wondering what will be the future of harness racing in New Jersey.

Don't kid yourself, this decision is bigger than the Meadowlands.  Most immediately, will be the future of Freehold Raceway.  Purses there were recently cut to $1,800 for $4,000 claimers.  If the Meadowlands doesn't reopen under Gural's management, the NJSEA gets the first $1.2 million dollars of simulcast revenue from the Meadowlands (it would remain open as a simulcasting outlet for now), from the harness horsemen.  With no live racing at the Meadowlands, where will the $1.2 million come from?  The horsemen at Freehold raceway.  Anyone care to wonder how low the purses would go until that is made up?  Can you say $2,500 claimers?

Jeff Gural has made it known he wants things settled quick enough to let the horsemen know where they stand (ideally March 26).  Others suspect it will take three or four weeks before Christie blesses or vetoes the deal.  Make no mistake, without a subsidy the temptation for the top horses will be to race at Chester and Yonkers.  The question is where will the next tier of horses be going if a decision is not made quickly?  My guess is Hoosier Park which begins racing on March 31 and ends before the possibility of a significant cut to purses occurs which may result in an even weaker roster of horses to card races from come May 7.

Runners returning to the Big M?  Assuming the Gural team obtains the lease for the Meadowlands, don't be surprised if an Atlantic City Race Course type meet of turf racing becomes an annual event at the Meadowlands.  Why would this possibly happen?  With the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park presumably having different owners, the thoroughbreds may no longer have a claim to any simulcasting revenue from the Meadowlands.  With a mini-meet, they could preserve their right to a share of the simulcasting wagering at the Meadowlands.  Absurd you say?  Perhaps, but realistically if the thoroughbred horsemen don't get a share of the simulcast wagering at the Meadowlands, watch how fewer and fewer thoroughbred signals are made available to the Meadowlands.  For a track which handles $2.5 million on a typical Saturday on thoroughbred races, they can't afford to lose this revenue.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday Musings

If you follow racing at all, you can't help but follow the Life At Ten incident at last year's Breeders Crown.  As you know, Life At Ten's jockey told ESPN before the race began that the horse did not feel right but nothing was done.  The starting gate opened, and the horse was almost immediately eased, taking millions of dollars with him.  Well, this past week the KHRC issued their report (four months in the making) and they decided the jockey, John Velasquez and steward, John Veitch were to be the sacrificial lambs.  No doubt both made mistakes, but it was magnified by the presence of ESPN. The truth is this happens almost every day at your local racetrack regardless of breed.  Does a driver who warms up a horse say someting when a horse doesn't warm up right before the race?  They don't want to lose their drives for a trainer (ask yourself when was the last time you saw a horse scratched after the post parade).  As for steward Veitch, how reluctant are judges to scratch a horse that has a lot of money wagered on them?  I once mentioned before how Ben Webster wanted to scratch the great pacing mare Tarport Hap from a race at the Meadowlands and they refused to scratch her because she had so much money wagered on her; less than a quarter mile into the race, she laid on the track dying (she probably wouldn't have been saved if she was scratched).

The fact is Life At Ten situations occur every day at racetracks around the country; the only difference was this was a high profile event.  If ESPN did not interview John Velasquez during the post parade, no one would be saying squat about what happened; it would have been chalked up as one of those things.  You may rest assured that at whatever racetrack and breed you support, horses will continue to race when they are not sound enough for their condition and judges and tracks will be reluctant to scratch horses that have huge amounts of money on them.  It is part of the game, perhaps an ugly part, but part of the game.

Greyhound racing in North America is on its way out.  An article in the St. Petersburg Times indicates a bill has been proposed to allow the sixteen dog tracks to drop racing and continue to offer card games and slot machines (depending on where they are located).  Also, they want to allow them to offer Internet poker with out of state dog tracks.  The bill would not require racetracks to drop greyhound racing, but it allows them the option without losing their license to operate.  As reported by the newspaper, "The market has dictated already that this may be a dying industry, but I don't think it's dead," said Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, sponsor of the bill. "I do believe there should be some dog racing where the people want it, and it should be dictated by the people and not by government."  Sounds familiar?  Unless the standardbred industry acts, we can be talking about similar legislation in other states.  In some ways, wasn't the Hanson report saying the same thing?  The question is do the horsemen care?

Chester and Pocno Downs will both be open by Tuesday evening, yet Tioga Downs makes news with a  10% across the board increase in purses.  The top horses on the grounds will be racing for $16,500,  Last year there was an influx of horses from Pompano Park due to their closing for the summer.  Despite the fact Pompano will continue racing, I don't think Tioga will have a problem filling their race cards.

Jeff Gural had his first meeting with Governor Christie's staff regarding his proposal to save the Meadowlands.  To no one's surprise, the proposal was not accepted as is.  This shouldn't cause concern, at this point; this is all part of the common negotiations which typically occurs in these types of matters.  I do have one concern.  Why there was no competitive bidding for the Meadowlands lease?  Now make no mistake, I don't think anyone other than Jeff Gural wold want it, but the NJSEA put out a RFP for Monmouth Park and eight groups expressed interest.  I can't help but wonder if the Meadowlands becomes profitable once again or should the prospect of slots come back, someone is going to bring up the lack of bidding for the Meadowlands to get their hands on the track..

In California, the CHRB is considering eliminating the coupled entry rule completely to make up for the shortage of horses that plagues the state and create more wagering interests.  Under the proposal, all the track will have to do is mention at the bottom of the program the names of the owners who have an interesting in the uncoupled entry.  Why is this important, once this rule takes hold in California, it will likely sweep East.

Lucky Jim and Cassis qualified at the Meadowlands yesterday, getting ready to make their seasonal debuts.  Prime time is almost here.  The question is where will they be racing this spring and summer?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Free Start Rule Lives?

In today's NJRC meeting, the racing commission has announced they will be post for public comment a proposed rule change for implementing a fair start rule; this after voting down a previous proposal which was submitted.  My understanding for the first proposal's failure was that it did not specify what happened if a horse somehow finished in the money after not reaching the fair start pole.  You would have thought the commissioners would have known what would happen; after all the original proposal was to emulate the Ontario rule.  That being said, I guess legal technicalities need to be followed so it was voted down.  I guess the racing commission found merit in the concept, because it is now back.  Hopefully, it won't take another year plus for it to come to a vote.

In addition, with Freehold hurting, they are cutting some days from their spring meet and adding it to the fall meet; hoping to drop them all together if the law cutting the number of race dates goes into effect.  The meet ends in May instead of June and races on three days a week instead of the four days now.

Tomorrow night is the Four Leaf Clover series.  Who would have thought the Meadowland's racing secretary would have had to make calls to get enough horses to start?  It is a whole new game these days and I don't think I like it.  Chester Downs opens this evening and Pocono Downs raises its curtain on Tuesday evening..

Thursday, March 17, 2011

News Flash: The Ball is in the Governor's Court

As reported by The Record, Jeff Gural has submitted a proposal to take over the Meadowlands.  This proposal now goes to the Governor's office.  I imagine this is not the final offer; there may be some back and forth.  Time will tell if the Governor is looking for too much or is truly interested in horse racing surviving at the Meadowlands.

The Leading Indicators Are Poor; Traitors Getting Out of Dodge

News Item: Meadowlands owners and trainers get out of Dodge early.  With just two weekends left to the standardbred meet at the Meadowlands, the annual exodus of horses entering the box at the Meadowlands has begun.  For this Saturday's card, fifty less horses were in the entry box.  What a disgrace.  With the Meadowlands fighting for their survival, you would think horsemen would have supported the entry box there for two more weeks before heading to Chester.  Forget about putting on a strong card to encourage Jeff Gural to keep working on financing.  Worrying about themselves is why the entire industry is in trouble.  The funny thing is if the Meadowlands doesn't reopen, these very same horsemen will be bitching about having nowhere to race in the early part of the year.

Some people claim with the highest purses ever seen in ages; times have never been better to get involved in harness racing.  Well, do you remember the dot com bubble?  Well, harness racing is in a bubble and it is just a matter of when the bubble bursts.  What fueled the bubble?  There is no secret that slot revenue has fueled the market for ownership at the highest levels.  But at the lower levels, the market is starting to show signs of getting ready to burst.

What do I base this on?  Let's take a look at the leading indicators for harness racing; breeding.  In an article from, they talk about Peter Koch having problems filling the races for the final two weeks of the Meadowlands winter meet with Chester Downs opening this weekend (Friday to be exact.).  The specific clue we are in a bubble is in the end of the article.  Specifically: Fewer horses are being bred and registered every year. The U.S. Trotting Association’s numbers show just 7,256 foals registered in 2009, down from 8,627 in 2008, with that figure down from 9,767 in 2006.

The breeding industry is a leading indicator for harness racing and despite the purses being offered at many harness tracks thanks to racinos, many breeders are being killed at the yearling sales.  Sure you have your $200,000 yearlings being sold, but how many yearlings are being sold at a loss or barely breaking even?  Each year, we see breeders falling off the map, and fewer yearlings being bred and registered.  If the racing industry was so strong, why are some breeders going broke?  Some would argue these breeders have stallions that are out of demand right now, but most commercial brokers have stopped breeding the backyard yearlings.  For sure, if you have a yearling that does not have perfect conformation or is from a state where the racing situation is not that great, that will hurt prices, but with less yearlings foaled each year, the demand for raceway stock should be increasing given the availability of racinos, resulting in a stabilization of prices for the second tier horses; something which has not happened. 

The same stakes caliber yearling buyers continue buying but despite the reduction in the number of yearlings, the raceway market is getting soft.  The question is when does the bubble burst?  It may be as soon as April 1 if Jeff Gural is unable to consumate a lease for the Meadowlands, it may be later when slot revenue and purses decline.  All we know is the market strength is at the highest tiers with the foundation starting to quiver.

So remember, if you want to know how harness racing will do in the long run, just look at the leading indicators.

HANA Harness Group Goes Twitting

In a means to contact more harness racing fans, the HANA Harness Working Group has joined the Tweeter world.  If you use Twitter, make sure you follow HANAHarness and see tweets related to harness racing and its gambling public.

Here is a sample of some Tweets from HANAHarness since they have gone live:

Bravo #westernfair

Who needs Jockeys? In Canada, we have Unarnessed-Behind the Scenes Coming

Can't help but think the Mar 31 forum on gaming in NJ will be more of the same. HANA should be there.

The Meadowlands meet end March 26 but the important date is March 31. . Cautiously optimistic

Harness racing fans who want to join HANA's Harness working group should email

As you can see, HANAHarness is concerned more about harness racing from the horseplayers' viewpoint, something not typically covered extensively by the industry's press.  So if you are a member of Twitter, and you are a horseplayer, why not follow HANAHarness?  They'd love to see you there.

Let's Talk Racing; Unharnessed Preview

With all the issues we have been talking about of late, maybe it is time to just go back to good old fashioned racing.  In this vein, let's take a look at some races coming up around the nation primarily tonight and tomorrow night.  We will be looking at races from the Meadowlands, Yonkers, Chester Downs (opening day) and the Saturday night feature racing at Pompano Park.

Meadowlands - Thursday, March 17 - 3rd Trot; $20,000 - The Horse and Groom LC
1 - Rompaway Alvin (Campbell, 10-1) - Winless this year; don't see rail helping.
2 - B Winner K (Tetrick, 15-1) - Scratched last week and been racing rough.  Will pass.
3 - Arriba Amigo (Sears, 3-1) - Five win race streek ended last week by #4; draws inside may help.
4 - Affirmed Action (Pierce, 9-5) - Undefeated this year but does not draw rail.
5 - Mystery Photo (A Miller, 4-1) - Jumped off last start but shows some class.
6 - Bookem (D Miller, 12-1) - Toss last.  Had some decent efforts at Woodbine.
7 - Captain Primeau (Gingras, 8-1) - Not likely to get involved.
8 - Bastille (Mettinis, 10-1) - Don't see ear;y s[eed hp;domg/
Selections: 3-4-8

Meadowlands - Thursday, March 17, 5th Pace; $16,000 - Night Styles LC
1 - Prairie Ganache (Pierce, 15-1) - Didn't show much against cheaper.  Tought spot here.
2 - Some Girls Do (Sears, 9-5) -  Toss last.  Swept Tender Loving Care.  Don't ignore.
3 - Odds On  Riesling (A Miller, 6-1)- Freshened.  Not out of it.  Upset chance.
4 - Sowhatsyourpoint (Camplbell, 8-1) - On paper belongs here, but want to see race over the oval.
5 - Sagebruh Susie (Gingras, 4-1) - Made unfortunate break in final of TLC.  Expect better.
6 - Only The World (Tetrick, 5-1) - Class edge over this field and Tetrick returns.
7 - Flying Mocha (Berry, 12-1) -Seems up against it.  Pass.
8 - Kimmy (D Miller (9-2) - Will need to clear early. 
Selections: 6-3-5

Meadowlands - Thursday, March 17, 6th Pace ; $16,000 - Night Styles LC
1 - Fax Me (Tetrick, 2-1) - Jumped in last start making winning move.  May win if flat.
2 - Adriana G (D Miller, 15-1) - Draws inside but don't se ethat a help.
3 - HF's Super Star (Simpson, 7-2) - May contend, but not at these odds.
4 - Little Maeve (Pierce, 8-1) - Lackluster qualifier, but raced in some strong events last year.
5 - Miss ATM (A Miller, 5-2) - Seems to be a false favorite here.
6 - Elegant Girl ( Sears, 5-1) - Makse seasonal debut.  Wantto see a start.
7 - Sammy L (Meittinis, 15-1) - Tries the big track today.  Needs more of it.
Selections: 1-3-5

Meadowlands - Thursday, March 17, 10th Trot; $20,000 - The Hosre and Groom LC
1 - Monsignor Flan (Campbell, 6-1) - Appears to have overcome early season breaking issues. 
2 - Manning Y (Meittinis, 8-1) - Impossible chance in last.  Could be a valid upset play.
3 - Don't Know Chip (Tetrick, 8-5) - Seems to be the best here.
4 - Souothwind Vavoom (Mcclure, 2-1) - Florida shipper had race to acclimate.  Expect to challenge.
5 - Folk Tail (Gingras, 5-1) - Couldn't hold on late.  Better rating makes contender.
6  Vacation  Day  (Paquent, 10-1) - Failed in Big M Debut.  Don't see much hope here.
7 - Current Ca Ching (Sears, 20-1) - Failed in seasonal debut; pass.
Selection: 2-3-4

Meadowlands - Friday, March 18, 6th Pace; $129,000 - Overbif Final - FFA Mares
1 - Laughandbehappy (D Miller, 3-1) - Musts attempt to wire field.
2 - Jasperthat A (A Miller, 15-1) -  Well positioned to possible land share.
3 - On the Glass (Gingras, 8-1) - Draws much better and maybe a value play.
4 - Not Enough (Pierce, 4-1) -  Can win with a trip.
5 - Omen Hanover (Berry, 15-1) - Seems to be up against it.
6 - Cuz She Can (Campbell, 6-1) - Not to be ignored here.
7 - Ideal Newton (Tetrick, 7-2) - Has been a factor with these.  Not to ignore.
8 - Western Graduate (Simpson, 15-1) -  Bad post eliminates.
9 - Ginger And Fred (Sears, 9-2) - Liable to pull of a big race at anytime.
Selections: 7-3-4

Yonkers - Friday, March 18, 5th Pace; $32,500 - 1 1/16 miles - F-M Open Handicap
1 - Hula's Z Tam (Lachance, 12-1) - Makes first start against older.  Pass.
2 - Legerdepan (Holland, 15-1) - Has not shown much of yet this year.
3 - Monochromatic (Bartlett, 10-1) - Steps up off three race win streak versus easier.
4 - Twin B Tiara (Gregory, 6-1) - Held her own against slightly better. Possibility.
5 - Save My Shark (Pantaleano, 5-1) - Showed against slightly better.  Consider.
6 - Up Front Kellie Jo (Manzi, 4-1) - Cat Man will need to get started early here.
7 - Giveittoemstaight (Brennan, 3-1) - Pena charge draws poorly when compared to last week.  Try to beat,
8 - Headpoles R Us (Anderson, 8-1) - Continues to be victimized by poor draw.  Wait for inside post.
Selections: 4-5-7

Yonkers - Friday, March 18, 7th Trot; $32,500 - 1 1/16 miles - Open Handicap 
1 - New Hampshire Boy (Brennan, 15-1) - Appears to be in tought spot.
2 - Trotting Troy (Anderson, 5-1) -  Will look to ride rail and hope inside opens lates.
3 - Neighsay Hanover ( Gregory, 8-5) - Classy sort should improve in third start.
4 - I Know Magic (Stratton, 10-1) - Will need to step up to be a factor.
5 - In Focus (Dube, 4-1) - Jumped as making winning move.  Threat if flat.
6 - Shoeless White Sox (Pantaleano, 8-1) - Don't see.
7 - Salutation Hanover (Manzi, 6-1) - Bad draw for Burke trainee.  Pass.
8 - Friendly Amigo (Bartlett, 6-1) - Must fire out and hope to back off fractions.
Selections: 5-8-3-1

Chester Downs - Friday, March 18, 9th Trot; $30,000 - Winners Over $25,000 Lifetime
1 - Wind Sufer (Goodell, 5-1) - Should benefit from the bigger oval.  Possibility.
2 - Winning Mister (Kakaley, 8-5) - Freshened off three race streak.
3 - Wuthering Haniver (Callahan, 8-1) - Flew late at Yonkers; possibility here.
4 - Pembroker Prayer (Buter, 3-1) - Class of field may need a start over the oval.
5 - Guiding Light (McCarthy, 10-1) - Seems to be out of it.
6 - Zitomira (Ingrassia, 12-1) - In though.  Pass.
Selections: 3-2-1

Pompano Park - Saturday, March 19; 3rd Pace; $14,000 - Winners Over $10,000LT Hdcp
1  - Sugar's Pride (Ranger, 10-1) - Just missed in last, but steps up.
2 - Mai Tai Guy (Schaut, 8-1) -  Winner in last and shows he can hold his own against this class.
3 - Dragon's Blood (Micallef,  5-1) - Lands shares with trip.
4 - Drive All Night (Napolitano, 4-1) - Tougher spot here.
5 - Disco Dragon (Hennessey, 9-2) - Can't rule out Brainard entree.  Wamt value to play.
6 - Sports Fanatic (Brown, 7-2) - Has yet to show good effort from the outer posts.
7 - Four Starz Bling (Harmer, 5-2) - No value from post seven.
Selections: 2-3-1

Canadian Harness Racing Show Debuts this Summer - The show, Unharnessed - Behind the Scenes
 makes it debut in Canada this summer.  Based on the preview, this show is just as good as Jockeys which was shown in the United States on Animal Planet.  If the funding is in place, this show should be purchased for broadcast in the Unitd States; even if shown on a delay.

For those who have not yet sean the preview, it is available here:

Unharnessed - Behind The Scenes Teaser Video from Kirk Taylor on Vimeo.