For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Smoken Up - Smokes Them Up (Breaks 1:50 Mark)

No, it is not Niatross breaking Steady Star's world record in a time trial, but we can't let Smoken Up's 1:48.5 (time revised) at Tabcorp Park Menangle go without mention, being the first pacer in the Southern Hemisphere go break the magical 1:50 mark.  To see the race, click on this link (WMV) which comes to us courtesy of Harness Racing Australia.  From what is reported, the track conditions were not optimal.  The fractions for the race were :25.7  :56.1   1:23.7  1:48.5, with the individual fractions :25.7, :27.4, :27.6, :27.9.  Congratulations to trainer/driver Lance Justice. 

Something interesting happened in this race.  When Lance Justice took Smoken Up to the rail, he apparently crowded Mr Feelgood and  received an eight day suspension after the race but the horse remained up.  If this happened in North America, Smoken Up would have likely been disqualified for interference.  Which way is the fairest way to handle it for the gambler?  An argument can be made either way.

Traditionally in North America, you get disqualified for interference, no if and or buts; none of this did it change the outcome of the race.  The runners, make a disqualification only if it impacts the outcome of the race which apparently is the way they did it in Australia. 

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Premature? Perhaps. Confident? Yes

So much for taking the weekend off. 

After reading Harness Racing Update today, a person may be wondering about my last blog entry?  "Pacingguy?  Don't you see they are only racing through May?  There may be no lease."  My answer to that is, maybe the column was premature, but I am confident a deal will be done.

What about the thoroughbred threat to keep all running signals out of the Meadowlands (and OTWs)?  Is that real?  Unfortunately, it is.  You see, under the current Interstate Horse Racing Act, any track within New Jersey does have the right to veto simulcasting of same breed racing within 60 miles, provided it is currently active (which I assume means conducting live racing).  Unfortunately, Monmouth and the Meadowlands are within the 60 mile radius so the thoroughbred horsemen have the right to block the signal of runners meaning the Meadowlands would only be able to carry harness racing and quarterhorse signals when Monmouth is conducting its meet.

So now after reading this, you must be really saying I must be nuts to be so confident.  Well, I believe common sense will prevail.  Yes, in some ways the runners have the standardbred horsemen by the proverbial 'baseballs', but rest assured the standardbred horsemen can squeeze the thoroughbred horsemens' 'baseballs' pretty darn hard as well.   It has been referred to as the Nuclear Option.  Let me explain to you what I feel the nuclear option would be.

 Monmouth denies simulcasting rights to thoroughbred races to the Meadowlands and their OTWs; Meadowlands retaliates by denying harness racing simulcasting rights to Monmouth Park (granted not as big a blow, but done for retaliation purposes and I assume at least the Meadowlands' signal does well there).  Meadowlands races becomes a one mile Freehold Raceway.  Meadowlands opens its own thoroughbred meet with a competing horsemen's group which bans Monmouth from simulcasting races during its meet.  Monmouth and other thoroughbred signals shut out of Northern New Jersey means reducing Monmouth Park to a 141 day Northhampton Fair type-race meet virtually destroying the breeding industry in New Jersey for both breeds and pretty much making Monmouth not popular with other throroughbred tracks who may no longer access the Northern New Jersey market.  As you can see, not very popular outcome for either side.

There are two other reasons I feel it will never come to the nuclear option and hopefully a mutually beneficial agreement will be concluded.  First, there is the possibility of legislative intervention to hammer out a mutually agreeable settlement.  Yes, Oceanport will strongly support Monmouth Park as a major employer, but remember the majority of Monmouth county horse farms are standardbred.  Northern New Jersey will align itself with the Meadowlands so neither side will be able to claim a major knockout punch, some type of resolution will occur.

Lastly, there is the Christie Bomb.  I have said it before that the Governor wants both industries to survive on its own.  Christie holds the Sword of Damocles over everyones' head via the the NJRC.  For a track to send or receive a signal from another track, the New Jersey Racing Commission must approve all agreements.  At first, the NJRC would attempt to negotiate a settlement which will work for everyone.  If that fails, being the Governor gets to review all NJRC meeting minutes, it could be a case of Monmouth's request to send their signal to Calder; vetoed.  Gulfstream Park's request to send its signal to the Monmouth Park; vetoed.  I believe the Governor will make it clear to all the children in the play box it is time to play nice or he will make it living hell for all of them.

The eventual outcome will be Monmouth will receive at least for a period of time a portion of the thoroughbred simulcast revenue from the Meadowlands.  However, the thoroughbred horsemen will be forced to recognize that the idea of running a 141 day race meet is sheer folly at this time.  The revenue is not there at this time.  It may not be a 75 day meet, but 141 days is out of the question.

This is why I am confident that there will be a resolution to this problem.  Despite all the bravado of the sides, it will be recognized some compromise will be necessary.  The thoroughbred horsemen will not get all they want and the standardbred horsemen will have to give up something.  The key is to strike a balance which is mutually acceptable and workable to all of them.

So harness interests, read my last blog entry and take note.  It is time to change attitudes.  You (will) have been given a new lease on life; don't blow it.

Won't it be nice when we get to just talk about horses?  Hopefully, that time will come soon, for everyone.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Not Quite Soup but Looking Good - Now What?

Well, the elusive lease has not been finalized due to the issue of revenue sharing between the thoroughbreds and standadrbreds, but it appears the two sides are close enough that the state is allowing the Meadowlands to race through the rest of this month to clean up the revenue sharing and other minor issues.  As before, the horsemen are on the hook for any shortfalls which may occur if  a lease is not finalized.

I must confess, I have caused a bit of a firestorm when I claimed I felt the thoroughbred horsemen are owed no special revenue privileges for thoroughbred racing conducted out of state where few, if any NJ thoroughbred horsemen participate, the same way I would feel regarding the Meadowlands horsemen trying to claim special revenue privileges from harness racing at Cal Expo.    It further irks me when the standardbred industry accepts the fact they are going to have to do it on their own yet the thoroughbred industry has illusions of grander picking off the standardbreds' proverbial pockets.  A proposal I made earlier this year I feel would be a compromise to allow the thoroughbred horsemen a period of time to improve their product and get special financial incentives for a limited time.  However, being the Meadowlands is racing next Friday, I suspect cooler heads are prevailing and a reasonable solution is being developed.

Just a word of thanks to my thoroughbred readers who have been supportive of my comments.  This is not to say they agree with my position fully, but they feel I did not cross the line.  For those unfamiliar, Freehold Raceway is a private racetrack and while there is a connection between the two tracks, it is only in that a Meadowlands trainer who has a $4,000 claimer has a place to race a horse.  Simulcasting revenue between the two tracks are not shared; meaning what goes to the purse account at Freehold stays there and what goes into the purse account at the Meadowlands stays there and is not shared so basically it is two different classes of horse owners and trainers (for the most part)..

Despite a lease not being signed, a  collective sigh of relief is heard as the patient appears to have been saved. The Meadowlands, left on its deathbed only a year ago, and near death two weeks ago has been resuscitated by the Jeff Gural-led group. Sure there has been a lot of pain and sacrifice by employees and horsemen, some who admittedly were totally innocent in the decline of the Meadowlands. But it is a new day. Barring some highly unlikely curve balls, the patient has risen from his death bed, a new management team will be in place, and we’ll likely say good bye to some old friends and get on with what we do best, racing.

And that is what I am scared about. Not as much about the new team which will be stepping in to run the Meadowlands, the future there appears to be bright. No doubt Jason Settlemoir (and fellow members of the Tioga/Vernon team) will be coming down to New Jersey at least on a part time basis to consult on the running of the Meadowlands and new ideas will be tried at the Meadowlands with some ideas working while others will not. With the new style of management coming to the Meadowlands, not only can the Meadowlands be revived, the industry has a living laboratory which has the potential of developing a new model for running a racetrack and stabilize or dare I say, regenerate the sport?

My fear is primarily of the horsemen. How many of them are like the chain smoker who stops smoking when they find a spot on their lungs and promise never to smoke again, only to resume once the spot turns out to be nothing? When the Meadowlands was threatened with closing, they did the right thing by agreeing to a greatly reduced schedule to accommodate the lack of subsidies of any kind. But now that the situation is stabilized, I fear the urge for cigarettes will return. In this case, the cigarettes are called racinos.

As soon as the ink is dried on the lease, the campaign for a casino will begin anew. Would the operators of the Meadowlands welcome them?  Sure but unlike the horsemen they realize they may never come. The horsemen on the other hand, will be focused on casinos, getting one at the Meadowlands and getting their share and while doing this, they will take the attitude of holding on until Christie’s Atlantic City gamble fails, stifling any thoughts of making the necessary changes to make the racing product desirable.

Do I think casinos are coming to North Jersey? Eventually yes, but no time soon. If Governor Christie wins re-election, the soonest slots may come is 2018. If the Governor leaves or changes his mind, but no change is made in the Senate Leadership, you have a Senate President who refuses to post a bill allowing the expansion of casino gambling. And let me ask this question, should a casino(s) come to North Jersey; are you so sure it will be coming to the Meadowlands? What makes you think a casino will not be placed in more economically depressed area(s) such as Newark or Bayonne; close enough to New York, but in cities who could use the economic engine casinos would bring. Bergen County would not be considered a country with a need for a big economic engine at this time so even if those casinos come there is no assurance it will be at the Meadowlands with horse racing getting their share. That’s the mystery of politics, as much as you think you know how things will go, you may surprised when you see the final legislation.

What horsemen and management need to do is focus on rebuilding a sport. We know from experience Gural's racetrack management is committed in reshaping the way business is done in horse racing to attract new customers and more wagering. What about the horsemen? Are they willing to invest in accepting a reduction in takeouts? Sure, guaranteed Pick 4s will attract interest from seasoned gamblers, but what will it do for the person who doesn’t even know you exist? Offering 15% Superfectas yet offer win wagers with higher takeouts is not the way to attract new customers. Getting out in the community and building good will is the way to get people to come to the track as an afternoon or evening of family entertainment. Management can’t do it alone; it needs the cooperation of the horsemen.

Earlier I mentioned how the Meadowlands is now a laboratory for harness racing. Successes at the Meadowlands may be transferable and used to attract interest at smaller, less stable tracks; some with casinos who down the road may be without their crutch.

The potential for the Meadowlands is great. Horsemen must be progressive and work with management. Exchange wagering and new wagers are on the horizon, but without integrity, these new wagers are destined for failure. It may not be until January, 2013 when the new grandstand opens but with the cooperation of the horsemen, it is possible harness racing in New Jersey once again leads harness racing to a new golden age. Or if we fall back to our old ways, we may find ourselves squandering our last chance.

Forget about casinos and worry about fixing the racing product. Everything else will work itself out.

Black Eye for Maine Harness Racing

A bill to ban the transport of horses from out of state to Quebec for slaughter has been withdrawn from consideration in Augusta, ME. It also bans residents of Maine from selling horses for slaughter. According to the article, Rep. Gary Knight's bill would have The original bill also proposed the registration of horses for export, a registry of ownership for purposes of export, a penalty of $5,000 for failing to register, and the reclassification of horses from livestock to companion animals.

While the bill is being withdrawn now, if no compromise bill is offered, it will be resubmitted excluding the registration requirements.  Horse breeders objected to the bill because they felt they need an economical and 'humane' way to dispose of the horses as it could cost up to $500 to euthanize and bury a horse.

Why does Maine Harness Racing get the bad eye here?  Being harness racing is the only commercial racing breed in Maine, it figures to point the figure there.  Yes, some people in the industry do care about their horses, but others just look at them as a profit center.  I realize Maine breds do not command large amounts of money but if they can't afford $500 to do the right thing, I suggest they are breeding horses that have no business being bred.  As for those who feel slaughter is humane, I would like to know how many of them have gone to a Quebec slaughterhouse and witnessed a slaughter live and in person? 

Have I Gone to Far? - A Note About Comments

In my recent entry, Have I Gone to Far?, regarding the column where I call the attempt of thoroughbred horsemen to attempt to extort subsidies from the Meadowlands or attempt to derail its leasing, I asked for comments regarding my original article.  Let me share with you the one comment I received thus far, from a person named 'Anomynous'.

Hey Fool

Why have none of comments made by thoroughbred horsemen been published on your blog?

The truth hurts doesn't it.
Making the assumption (I feel pretty safe about this) the above individual is a person connected in some way to thoroughbred racing, it might be a good time to review my policy about comments which I have stated before and have always adhered to.  As long as a comment is respectful (I made an exception for this response), does not make libelous comments, is not obscene, and is related to horse racing (no political ads please), it will be printed whether or not I agree with the person's opinion.
For the record, up to this point, there has been no responses made by known thoroughbred horsemen on my blog to delete.  I did note the comment counter for the entry in question is incorrect, but it is not from my deleting comments as the comment counter would go down (if this problem persists, I will report it to Blogger as a potential problem). 
Being my blog is 98% about harness racing, I assume it is a blog many thoroughbred horsemen would not be looking for or be interested in.  For the record, I have deleted comments in the past; often when they make unsubstantiated comments, are abusive, or making accusations so serious without any proof that it may have been libelous.  The standard applies when the comments are about people I like and those I don't care for.  But I never deleted a comment because a writer disagrees with what I said.  My feeling is if a person takes the time to respond, they have the right to expect it being published.   
I know of thoroughbred bloggers who have responded and their comments have been posted.  I admit, one response to one of those bloggers may have been harsh which made is why I wrote the article, "Have I Gone to Far?" because maybe I did go to far and wanted to know what my readers thought.  I will be reaching out to that individual to apologize if he felt I did. 
So no, I have not deleted any blog responses by thoroughbred horsemen or standardbred horsemen for that fact (as I am sure I have made some of them angry in the past) because they disagree with me.  I welcome comments from anyone as long as they follow my known standards and are somewhat relevant.  As long as you follow the standards, rest assured your response will be published.  
All I ask is you direct your comments to the proper thread.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Horsemen Fight it, the Government will Take Care of It

Today, we earlier learned that due to push back from some horsemen, the RCI will reconsider the idea of banning Lasix from race horses and are asking the RMTC summit to seek out alternatives to Lasix.

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Mike Udall fron New Mexico is planning on introducing legislation in the U.S. Senate to prohibit performance enhancement substances from race horses within one year.  Under his proposed legislation, a trainer found guilty of three positives will be permanently banned from the sport and any horse that tests positive three times will be banned from racing for two years.

Now I am not saying Senator Udall's proposal will pass; this time.  However, it horsemen continue to resist against outlawing performance enhancing medications and those that have the potential to mask them, eventually the government will step in and do it for us.  Sooner or later racing will be drug free.  It is just a question if we get pulled kicking and screaming. 

Matchmaker, Levy Finals and Vernon Too.

Whew, what a couple of weeks it has been.  Unless some important breaking news develops, this will be my last post until Sunday (I will check periodically for comments); one of three for the day.   Fat chance I realize, but I can hope.

With this last scheduled post for a couple of days, let's look at the Matchmaker and Levy Memorial finals at Yonkers Raceway on Saturday evening.  In addition, we will take a look at the weekend races at Vernon Downs.

Saturday night Yonkers Raceway
6th Pace - $301,000; Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Final - FFA Mares (1 mile)
1    Ginger And Fred (pp 1, Gingras, 8-5) - Been one of the most consistent in series and draws the rail.  Pick here.
1A  Breakheart Pass (pp 5, Tetrick, 8-5) - Don't think he will be involved from post five.
2    Save My Shark (pp 2, Pantaleano, 6-1) - Drew poorly in last preliminary.  Eligible to improve.
3    Hula's Z Tam (pp 3, Lachance, 6-1) - Needs to break through seconditis here.  Not sure that will happen.
4    Tomorrowpan (pp 4, Dube, 4-1) - Winner of two legs, so can't be ignored, but is tackling the #1 here.
5    All Spirit (pp 6, Brennan, 5-1) - Second best in my view, just peaking at right time.  May be value play.
6    Giveittoemstraight (pp 7, Bartlett, 12-1) - Pena trainee has been able to consistently pick up checks.  Lucky to do so from here.
7    Symphony In Motion (pp 8, Miller, 15-1) - Wrong time to draw post eight.  Pass.
Selections: 1-5-2

9th Pace - $495,000; George Morton Levy Memorial Pace Final - FFA (1 mile)
1   This Is Wyatt (pp 1, Goodell, 3-1) - Winner of final tune-up gets my pick for the minor upset.
1A Foreign Officer (pp 7, Pantaleano, 3-1) -  Post draw hurts this one.  Pass.
2    Southern Allie (pp 2, Miller, 6-5) - Has tailed off from early starts in serious, don't expect a reversal.
2A Foiled Again (pp 6, Gingras, 6-5) - Swept first four preliminary legs and took week off.  Can that have been a mistake?
3    Blatantly Good (pp 3, Bartlett, 5-1) - Seems to put on better performance when money on the line. 
4   Gallant Yankee (pp 4, Tetrick, 5-1) - Has had a good series.  Wouldn't shock me but not my pick.
5   Real Nice (pp 5, Brennan, 6-1) - Will try to leave and hope to steal on the engine.  Not likely.
6   Giddy Up Lucky (pp 8, Dube, 12-1) -  Draws the worst but may close for third.
Selections: 1A-3-6

In brief, here are my selections for Friday night at Vernon Downs:
1st - 2-4-1
2nd - 7-5-4,
3rd - 5-2-8
4tth - 6-9-7-5
5th - 7-3-1
6th - 2-3-4
7th -  6-4-3-1
8th - 4-2-3
9th - 6-1-5
10th - 8-4-1
11th - 7-8-5
12th - 4-8-1-2

And for Saturday night, here are my Vernon selections in the brief.
1st - 4-3-5
2nd - 5-1-6
3rd - 7-5-4
4th -  5-7-8-1
5th - 1-4-6
6th - 3-6-5
7th - 2-6-7-1
8th - 5-6-4
9th - 1-5-8
10th - 1-2-3
11th - 1-7-8
12th - 6-8-9-2

Starting next week, with Tioga Downs reopening, I will feature Tioga races with their reduced takeout over Vernon Downs unless Vernon has special races.

Meadowlands May 7 Start? -  Jeff Gural has a meeting with Governor Christie tomorrow and based on that meeting, a decision will be made whether racing will resume next week.  Odds are if racing resumes next week, there is a good chance a reasonable settlement with the NJ thoroughbred horsemen.  A decision not to go will suggest the issue of revenue sharing of simulcasting revenue will be a bigger roadblock than it should be.  You can see a press release from Jeff Gural here.

Scratch the Xanadu Casino:  Earlier this week I mentioned Xanadu could have been used as a casino.  Well, that is apparently off the table.  The company that operates Mall of the America is expected to take over the project and rename the monstrosity as American Dream|Meadowlands and open in 2013.  Of particular delight to New Jersey residents, that ugly design on the facade will be eliminated.  It is also reported that they are seeking to buy additional parcels of land to expand the project. 

More competition for Monticello?  Rumor has it that Mohegan Sun, operator of Pocono Downs may be ready to partner with a developer to develop a convention center and racino in Liberty, NY near Monticello Raceway.  Now, Monticello has a lot to worry about but it would be premature to worry that this new development will ever reach fruition, at least under the current developer.  The project was started a while ago and almost immediately ran into financial problems.  In fact, the remaining property the developor still has control of is under foreclosure action at this time.  Like I said Monticello has other worries to deal with as their stock is trading around  $.63 a share and is not trading on any major stock exchange.

Atlantic City Race Course Comes Alive - South Jersey thoroughbred fans do have a treat starting today.  ACRC's six day race meet begins today and continues daily through Tuesday.  So if you want to take part of their all turf meet, you have only a few days to attend.  I know their signal is available to ADWs so if interested, you can look them up.  I only mention it because it will be interesting to see their attendance during this one week racing festival.

Have I Gone to Far?

Click on the above title to get a story from Dave Little which summarizes the extortion that the thoroughbred industry is looking to attempt to hold up the opening of the Meadowlands.  But I have a question to ask my readers?

Am I wrong when I call out the thoroughbred industry in New Jersey for attempting to shaft the standardbred industry to allow them refuse to accept the new economic realities?  Am I over reacting to what has happened in Minnesota, Iowa, Maryland and elsewhere?   Read the comments in the Michigan Bred Claimer and see how there is a thoroughbred representative taking apparent delight on how they believe they have Hazel Park by their  'baseballs'   Harness and thoroughbred interests have been working to get parimutuel racing in Georgia, but does anyone doubt if the legislation is approved, the runners will do all they can to keep harness racing out of the state even if they helped in the campaign?

Now,  I am not naive, if the harness industry was more financial secure and better organized, we may be in the the reverse situation and that is a shame.  We are all in the parimutuel industry and if we worked together without trying to rip the other down things mmay work out better..

Yet, we play in the sandbox with them and we act surprised when they get their daggers out.  Standardbred Canada covers a lot of thoroughbred racing for a harness breed registry.  Why do we act like we will get a fair deal with the runners when they get the opportunity to look out for themselves?

Want an example of the hostility to the standardbred industry?  For years, harness racing has had colored saddle pads and when the thoroughbred industry went to colored pads, they deliberately changed the color scheme so not to conform with harness racing which would have made things easier for all horsreplayers, but no

Years ago driver Art Giambrone developed rear view mirrors for a sulky helmet so he could see what was going on behind him easier.  Why do I feel whenever we get into a meeting with the thoroughbred industry that helmet should be mandatory equipment so we can see the stabbing coming? .

I want to hear from you.  Am I wrong, right, or am I missing something?  Clearly this is not the way it should be, can we ever get to the point where the breeds work together and then not try to screw the other?     

A Sweetheart Deal for Florida Horsemen

Isle of Capri horsemen have hit the lottery at Pompano Park in their latest four year contract with management.  Among some of the highlights of the contract (from the perspective of horsemen) are:

  • A guaranteed 45 week race schedule for a total of 140 racing days.  Too many days under normal circumstances, but being in some ways Pompano Park is like Cal Expo, isolated, reasonable.
  • A $2.5 million non-statutory subsidy to purses (for each year with protection against inflation) this in addition to statutory simulcasting and card room revenue..
  • Forgiveness of a roughly $10 million purse account deficit
  • The greater of 7.5% of the total purse amount or $625,000 per year to fund Florida-bred stakes and breeder awards.
  • A guarantee that there will be no assessment for future purse account deficits.
  • The understanding that during the term of the contract neither party will attempt to influence legislation that will injure the other party.
 Some are probably asking did the Florida horsemen deserve the deal?  You betcha!  Others are probably asking, what do I do to get such a deal?  The answer to that is you need a strong lawsuit that could devastate not only Isle of Capri but thoroughbred horsemen in the state as the FSBOA had a strong case which could have made slot machines once again illegal in the Florida for parimutuel facilities as the standardbred horsemen argued the enabling legislation was unconstitutional in that Article III, Section 10 of the Florida Constitution specifies the Legislature is constitutionally barred from passing general laws that impact only specific parties or areas of the state unless constitutional requirements are met; otherwise violating the equal protection law.

What did the cited-legislation do that violated the law?  It only required as a condition of licensure for slot machines, that the thoroughbred tracks must have a contract with their horsemen groups for revenue sharing and did not specify such a contract for standardbred interests.  In effect, Pompano Park got to keep all the slot revenue for themselves and did not find themselves inclined to share in their new found wealth (until this year).  With the FSBOA's request for summary judgement declaring the law unconstitutional coming up, as what happens with most lawsuits, both sides decide to come to an agreement rather than taking their chances in a court of law and in Isle of Capri's case, I suspect they felt they had a good chance of losing.

It is no secret that Florida is a pro-thoroughbred state as there are multiple thoroughbred tracks and only one standardbred track.  There are available quarterhorse licenses, four thoroughbred licenses issued in Florida, and only one standardbred license in the whole state.  Quarterhorse licensees are also allowed to also host no more than 50% of their total races as thoroughbred races.  If someone wanted to open up another harness track, in the state, it would be illegal to unless Pompano Park closed and then, I would suspect the thoroughbred interests would attempt to get that license revoked so it would not be available to be reissued (I am sorry, these days I do not think well of our thoroughbred brethren).  So with the strength the thoroughbred industry has in the state, they were able to influence the enabling legislation to make sure they were protected.  As for the standardbred industry, the legislature doesn't listen.  The FSBOA was willing to drop the lawsuit if the Florida legislature was willing to correct the legislation which apparently, they did not do,

So good to the FSBOA for getting a sweetheart deal.  They deserved it and probably more.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cal Expo Pick 4 Picks for Thursday Evening - Pisto's Selections (Updated)

For those of you taking advantage of the $10,000 Guaranteed Pick 4 at Cal Expo Thursday night, we have Pisto's selections for the Late Pick 4 to get a local feel for how the sequence should play out.  For those who are curious about being able to see the races, if your ADW doesn't show the races life, the Cal Expo website has live streaming video on their website so you can check the races out here.  I have not yet had a chance to look at either of the Pick 4s on Thursday evening and if time permits, I will add them after Pisto's picks for the late Pick 4.

Here is Pisto's analysis:

Red Star Wild One gets top pick in kickoff leg of Pick 4

The Thursday night Cal Expo Guaranteed Gross Late Pick 4 Pool of $10,000 kicks off in race 6 and Red Star Wild One (#7) gets the nod for the top pick. A winner of 5 of 17 starts in 2011, the race looks like it sets up perfectly for his mad late kick. Rounding out Pisto’s $40 Late Pick 4 ticket are:

Race 6- 7
Race 7- 1,3,4,5
Race 8- 6,7
Race 9- 1,2,4,5,6

The Early and Late Pick 4’s at Cal Expo on Thursday and Saturday nights carry a reduced takeout of 15%. The Late Pick 4 Guaranteed Gross Pool on Saturdays is $15,000

I have finally had the opportunity to look at the two Pick 4s for Thursday evening and want to share my selections with you.  First up is the early Pick 4 with a 15% takeout but not guaranteed gross pool.

In the second race, I like Deano's Hi Ho. (#3, 8-1).  In his last start, he started out of post ten in an optional $4,000 claiming event and finished seventh, 3 1/2 lengths of the winner.  When he raced in this class, a conditioned claiming race for non-winners of one, he was consistently picking up checks.  With the drop down, and the move inside, he may be a worthwhile horse to enter in your ticket.  After him, Afinetouchofclass (#2, 4-1) attempted to wire the field in his last start to quit at the end.  A better rated trip may get him into the winner's circle.  As for the heavy morning line favorite No Strings (#1, 6-5), it is true he held together in a CA Sire stakes event, but he finished 18 lengths off.  He shows to many breaks for me to include him; I'll risk the change of him beating me.  I would use the #2 and #3 in this race.

In the third race, I like Letter of Intent (#6, 2-1) as my top pick.  He has been racing consistent in $2,500 claimers group 1 and 2 company and the drop to group 3 may be all he needs.  Princess Joy (#2, 8-1) is a cautions second choice.  Yes, he was clear in the stretch and finished a well beaten 3rd at 40-1, so he is either improving or got lucky last week.  If you are looking to add a longshot to your sequence, she may be worth a look.  The other one you want to look at is K D Shenanigans (#1, 12-1).  The horse drops down after getting horrible posts and never had a chance in recent starts.  The rail may be what the doctor ordered.  I would certainly include #6 in the sequence, and depending on your bank roll, consider including #1 and/or #2 on your ticket.

The fourth race is another field of conditioned claimer and Hi Fidelity (#3, 8-5) looks hard to go buy.  She got destroyed after trying to wire them in the sires stakes but adds Lasix the first time which suggests she bled in her last start.    She drops down from a horrible trip in her previous race and in her last attempt in the CA Sire Sakes, she tired to fifth.  With the Lasix, she may be a different horse this week.  The other horse, I like is the Fraiser Downs invader Moody Miss (#5, 7-2) who picks up Steve Wiseman.  This mare has been racing more than credible in $6,000 claiming up in British Columbia.  If tight, she will be there.

In the fifth race finale, maidens take to the track; not exactly the way you want to end a Pick 4 sequence.  I am going to attempt a single with Ally Chandon (#5, 3-1).  She has a record of 3-0-2-1 so she seems ready to move up and break her maiden.  Hence in this race, I would go with #5.

Early Pick 4 Selections:  2,3/1,2,6/ 3,5/5 - $12 investment.   

Now moving on to the late Pick 4 with the guaranteed $10,000 pool, here are my selections for that sequence:

In the sixth race, while I like Red Star Wild One (#7, 3-1), like Pisto does, I can't single him.  Paul The Powerful (#1,2-1) draws the rail after a couple of outside attempts and has been the favorite in the last five starts.  More importantly, he has been claimed in 3 of his last four starts which indicates he is a hot horse on the track.  From the rail, while not as fast in the stretch as Red Star Wild One, the speed may not help Pisto's top selection. My selections here are #1 and #7,

The seventh race is a field of NW2 pacers.  Here I see two horses for consideration.  Achy Breaky Art (#3, 7-2) lost his chance to win his last start, a sire stakes event when he humped in the stretch.  Prior to that, he won two straight races.  If not for the fact he broke on April 2 as well, he would be a likely single. 
Since we can't be sure Achy Breaky Hart won't jump again, I will back him up with MJ's Last Dance (#8, 9-2) who one a NW3/7,500 claiming event and two out his last three.  Yes, he moves outside, but he did win when he raced from the outside so the post is not a concern for me.  My selections are #3 and #8.

The eighth race is a Group 2 field of $2,500 trotting claimers and is where I will likely go deepest.  Boo Coo Blush (#7, 5-2) has been racing well since her last qualifier.  The only question here is whether or not she can handle the outer post.  Maledictorian (#3, 6-1), Went three wide last week to finish third.  A better drive this week, may be the difference and offers some value.  Franky Provolone (#6, 5-2) attempted to wire the field in his last start for group 1 pacers and quit in the deep stretch.  The slight class drop may be the difference  I'm looking at including #3, 6, and 7 on my ticket.

Finally, the ninth race, the last leg of the sequence is a field of straight $4k claimers.   Doit By the Clock (#4, 9-2) is my top pick as he has been sharp in his last two starts coming of a scratch.  Picking up Rick Plano only improves his changes.  Hanover D G N  (#5, 7-2) finished third last weeks after having no cover.  A better trip give this veteran a chance.  Lastly, if you are looking for a little value Larry Horse (#7, 6-1) won his last in this company but moves to the far outside. Whether or he handles the outside, is the question.  Fourth leg selections are #4,5, and 7.

Late Pick 4 Selection: 1,7/3,8/3,6,7/4,5,7 Total Investment - $36

Good Luck tonight.

California-New Zealand Friendship Challenge

This weekend, Cal Expo is hosting a California-New Zealand Friendship Challenge for amateur drivers from California and New Zealand.  Being for years the traditional importation route for New Zealand horses was to come from the Land of the Kiwis and stop in California to race and then depending on their success in the Sunshine State, they would either stay in California or make their way East.

Those of you who live near Cal Expo should come on out and support the amatuers from both countries, especially on Saturday night when they have their $15,000 guaranteed Pick 4 pool with the 0% takeout on track (and via Twinspires).  It promises to be an interesting evening.

Here is the press release about the event.

California-New Zealand Friendship Challenge Gets Underway At Cal Expo

Friday (April 29) & Saturday (April 30) night at Cal Expo will find the California-New Zealand Friendship Challenge, with four amateur drivers from Down Under, including a married couple, taking on the locals in a six-race event.

The Challenge will cover three races on Friday and three on Saturday. Steve and Karen Hollander, Derek Moore and Danny Blakemore make up the New Zealand squad, while eight of our amateurs will compete in these contests.

Steve and Karen Hollander, parents of twin 11-year-old boys Robbie and Jack, live on a 40-acre sheep farm north of Auckland which has it’s own track for training horses. Steve has been driving in the amateur events since they started nine years ago. In addition to racing, his hobbies include rugby, hockey, golf, cricket, tennis, basketball and scrabble.

Karen Hollander has been driving for some seven years. In 2005, she won the New Zealand Amateur Champs and represented her country in the World Cup in Austria. Last year, Karen won the North Island Champs and was named Driver of the Year. She holds a training license and her other interests include golf, fishing, fitness and many outdoor pursuits.

Derek Moore was raised on a farm and rode competitively in horse shows and FEI jumping events for many years. He is now living near Auckland and breeds and races both standardbreds and thoroughbreds, with those performers racing successfully in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, England and the United States. He joined the amateur movement in his country in 2002.

Danny Blakemore has been involved in harness racing since 1984, has been driving since 1998 and has held a trainer’s license for six years. He won the North Island Drivers Championship for the 2010-11 season and is a committee member (director) of the Kumeu Trotting Club. His is involved in the video industry and his hobbies include playing soccer and watching harness races.



Rick Bertrand (977-36-82-100)
Danny Blakemore (93-25-14-6)
Susan Boyce (576-47-61-76)
Jeff Cimini (46-5-2-1)
Chris Hernandez (1020-92-109-85)
Karen Hollander (106-15-20-19)
Steve Hollander (135-15-16-20)
Karen Isbell (103-3-7-14)
Bennie Mancino (117-7-6-5)
Derek Moore (63-6-6-6)
David Siegel (1255-160-169-152)
Robert Stepien (209-23-25-31)

(Cal Expo)

The Thoroughbred Extortion

Hold off breaking out the champagne bottles to a Meadowlands lease.  The thoroughbred industry is about to to attempt to throw a bomb into the Meadowlands lease over simulcasting dollars.  As reported by Harness Racing Update, the thoroughbred horsemen are threatening to pull their thoroughbred signal (and alluding to having other thoroughbred tracks pull their signal from the Meadowlands) over their demand to get simulcasting revenue from the Meadowlands.  As Harness Racing Update reports, traditionally when the NJSEA ran both tracks, the bred racing got the money raised in simulcasting; as a result the standardbreds got 2/3rds of the simulcasting handle.  Even though the runners were not at the Meadowlands last year, they were given their typical percentage because the two tracks were owned by the NJSEA.  This year, it's a whole new game and Jeff Gural is not willing to play the NJTHA's game.  Yes, 80% of the simulcast handle is on the runners, but with 2/3rds of the horses racing in New Jersey standardbreds, they make up a bigger component of the state equine economic engine.

Well, my first suggestion to the NJTHA is to stop threatening to pull all thoroughbred signals from the Meadowlands, that is unless you wish to be subject to anti-trust violations.  What we are seeing here is an attempt to extort from the Meadowlands as the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) did to Rosecroft Raceway which forced them into bankruptcy.  Yes, you have the right to pull Monmouth's signal from any Meadowlands operated facility as the harness horsemen have the right to pull their signal from any Monmouth Park operated facility but under current law, it is clear how the purses are to be divided.  Secondly, tell me which out of state thoroughbred track is going to want to keep their signal out of the nation's number one simulcasting center long term and deny themselves the purse money that would be coming their way?  And let's face it, pulling Monmouth's signal out of the Meadowlands will be suicidal for Monmouth as well.

As for the NJTHA's threat they were not given the chance to bid for the contract, I covered that yesterday, but for those that missed it, let me summarize.  If not an emergency situation a RFP would have been issued for the Meadowlands and it would have included a line requiring the facility be used to conduct a standardbred meet of at least 141 days, the same terms (replacing the breed) of the RFP for Monmouth.  I tend to doubt the NJTHA would have been bidding on such a RFP.

Let's face it, it is all about the New Jersey thoroughbred industry now feeling secure about itself, trying to screw the standardbred industry in New Jersey as the thoroughbred industry attempted to do in Minnesota, as they attempted to do in Iowa (also attempting to screw the quarter horse industry) and as was done in Maryland.  We play nice in the sand box when necessary and once the runners feel confident out come the knives to stab in the back of the other breeds (Unless things are different in Canada, this is one of the reasons why I can and never will understand Standardbred Canada's willingness to promote thoroughbred racing on their website.).

The problem is the days of long race meets are over.  Granted, I am not a follower of thoroughbred racing, but name one thoroughbred racetrack which runs long race meets without a racino that has survived?  The only one I am aware of is NYRA and they have only avoided bankruptcy twice with the state bailing them out.  The future of racing, of all breeds is smaller boutique meets.  The NJTHA has to recognize 141 days of inferior racing is going to be greeted with a yawn on track, and a yawn off track.  The standardbred industry in New Jersey has reluctantly recognized this and is cutting their harness meets down to 75-80 days and that is without a subsidy.

The problem is New Jersey bred thoroughbreds are inferior to many other state breds and they know without having a 141 day meet, they can't financially make it.  They only agreed to a shorter meet last year because they received subsidies not only from the casinos, but ironically the standardbred industry. The NJ Breds were able to be financially profitable only because they were running for money which they are not worth; after all how much demand is there for fields of $5,000 claimers?.  Well, the time has come where they are going to have to run on their own merit which means purses significantly lower from last year.  So their choice is to cut racing days so their simulcasting revenue gets divided over fewer days (like the Meadowlands is doing) and/or improve their racing stock (as the Meadowlands learned inferior stock leads to lower handles).

But the NJTHA does have another option if they wish to continue to do business as usual, they can talk to their racing brethren at Atlantic City Race Course and lease their facility.  No, their facilities leave much to be desired, but if they race during a period where fewer tracks are operating and being most wagering is being done off-track anyway, the lack of fan-friendly facilities should not matter.  

But realistically, a compromise will be made where the thoroughbred industry will be able to extort more revenue from the standardbred industry than they are statutorily required to.  So in the spirit of extending a brotherly hand, something which would never occur should the shoe be on the other foot, let me offer a proposal.

For five years, both Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands will agree to carry each other's signal and treat each as a 'premier' simulcast signal, meaning they will get preference when it comes to showing races on the larger television screens and their big races will be promoted as simulcast feature events. 

Let's say each track is scheduled to race 75 days.  Any wagers made at the Meadowlands or Monmouth on the other track's races will essentially be treated as if being wagered at the sending track, with only a .5% commission being taken out by each track taking the wager to cover the expense.  If one track, decides to race more days than the other track, say the Meadowlands races 75 days and Monmouth is racing 100 days, an average daily handle for Monmouth bet at the Meadowlands will be determined and the Meadowlands will take a .5% commission for the average daily handle bet through the Meadowlands for 75 days and the Meadowlands will receive the standard commission for the average daily handle on the remainder of the days.  The opposite will apply for Monmouth taking the Meadowlands' races.  This way, if as the NJTHA is saying more money is bet on thoroughbreds, they will come out ahead of the Meadowlands horsemen for their product, yet the out of state tracks will be treated the same as dictated by current law.

During these five years, it will be up to the NJ thoroughbred horsemen to upgrade their racing stock and make their product more desirable on a national level.  At the end of the five years, the agreement will end and normal simulcasting standards will resume.  With more money currently being wagered on Monmouth races than the Meadowlands races, I am sure this agreement is more than beneficial to the thoroughbred interests and should be detremental enough to the Meadowlands for the NJTHA's liking.

Harness interests are still talking about a May 7 start to the new standardbred meet.  It may be possible, but rather than starting off with a quickly thrown together product at the start, it would probably behoove them to wait a week or two and get the meet started organized and offering the best racing product possible.  It is supposed to be a new era at the Meadowlands so you want to start out on the best possible foot so if it means delaying the new meet, so be it.

One day, I do really hope to concentrate on racing horses.  It would be a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Local 137 Approves Contract

The Executive Board of Local 137 has unaminously approved a revised contract with the Gural-led group which appears to clear the way for Jeff Gural to lease the Meadowlands.  A legal ruling was received by the executive board indicated their approval removed the need for a vote from the general membership.

This is not without any concession by the Gural-led group.  While the workers will have to accept a 20% cut in pay at the conclusion of the current contract, wording which the union felt threatened senority rights was removed, thus ensuring senority rights are preserved without doubt.  In addition, the contract was further sweetened to modify the definition of what constitutes a full time employee for pension and benefits to reflect the gross reduction of racing dates.  To qualify for full time status an employee must work 200 shifts a year with live and simulcast racing shifts counting the same. 

The reality of the situation is a win-win.  Yes, the tellers had to accept a painful 20% pay cut and considering what has happened to them in the past, I understand the anger.  Unfortunately, they were taking the frustration out on the wrong person.  The tellers are an unfortunate victim of circumstances as are a lot of people.  While everyone was focusing on the pay cuts, the Gural-led group was also sacrificing by agreeing to losing a projected $1 million a month until the new grandstand is opened with the possibility of a casino at the Meadowlands, conceivably not occuring before 2018 if the Governor is re-elected to a second term and still without a guarantee that the horsemen would share in it.  But the win part for the union was their getting their senority rights and ability to obtain full time status clarified so no one should lose benefits due to the revised schedule nor should anyone fear being dumped for someone making a smaller salary.  Hopefully, the animosity of the past two months can be put behind as everyone moves forward.

Will the Meadowlands resume racing May 7.  Nothing has been said yet, but my assumption is it is unlikely; a delay of a week or two seems inevitable.  Remember, there are still a few minor issues in the lease which need to be addressed but they appear not to be show stoppers, the main issue the division of simulcating revenues with the thoroughbred horsemen.  It appears the lease may be finalized by the end of the week.  However, the threatened layoffs should be cancelled and simulcasting should continue without interuption.

Those in the harness racing world and New Jersey in particular will be sleeping easier tonight.

An Open Letter to John Brennan

Blogger's Note: The following is an open letter I sent to John Brennan, a reporter for The Record, who has been doing excellent unbiased reporting on the Meadowlands situations.

Mr. Brennan,

I must once again congratulate your reporting on the Meadowlands situation. The amount of work and even handedness approach you take to the Meadowlands’ story is to be applauded. I hope your colleagues nominate your reporting for a Pulitzer. With regards to the story (Another Bid for Track?, Tuesday, April 26) about the complaints the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen Association (NJTHA), in reality is not as significant as you report it; yet.

Permit me to offer some background information to put things in perspective.

The relationship between the thoroughbred and standardbred horsemen is traditionally a complex situation throughout the nation, everyone plays nice in the sandbox together when they have mutual goals as they did when the Hanson Report came out, but once the situation is stabilized and one side sees an opening, one group will attempt to stab the other one in the back for their own benefit. Due to its dominance, it typically is the thoroughbred horsemen which is the one doing the stabbing and this is what is happening here. Once the situation stabilized for the thoroughbred horsemen, they decided to see if they could displace the standardbred industry from New Jersey (Freehold may not survive without the Meadowlands) by requesting to put a bid in to take over the Meadowlands, a place where the thoroughbred meets are even less successful than standardbred meets, being a stone throw away from NYRA tracks and lacking a racino.

A decision was made by the Christie Administration to allow each breed to survive without the help of state or Atlantic City subsidies with Monmouth Park being the home for thoroughbred racing and the Meadowlands being the home for harness racing. Hence, if a RFP was put out for the Meadowlands, I am certain a one line insertion in the RFP indicating “The Meadowlands Racetrack must be used primarily for the conducting of standardbred racing”, would have been included taking the interest of the NJTHA away as I am sure the NJTHA has no interest in running a harness meet. Clearly the NJTHA sole intention was to obtain all the funding possible for their purses to the detriment of the standardbred industry, including the breeders. This despite the fact that the lease proposed by the state apparently has some protection for the thoroughbred industry with regards to simulcasting as The Record and other sources have reported there would be a six day turf meet which would preserve the thoroughbred horsemen’s right to simulcasting revenue, hence explaining why the NJTHA has indicated it will not object if Mr. Gural secures the lease.

The question you bring up as to why there were no RFPs for the Meadowlands is premature at this point. As the Governor’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak indicated, there clearly were “exigent (emergency) circumstances” which necessitated the Meadowlands to be offered for lease without a RFP. By the time the decision was made officially that the state would divest itself of the two racetracks, the Meadowlands was perhaps two months away from opening while there were seven months until the next Monmouth Park meet. Furthermore, the state was and is prepared to open the Monmouth meet as the sole operator with the new leaseholder taking possession around June 1, but the state has already agreed to run the meet longer if necessary. On the other hand, the State of New Jersey had made it known that they would not invest another dime in running the Meadowlands and if an operator was not found to take over the Meadowlands, it would be closed immediately on January 1st despite a meet being scheduled to commence on January 7, so it was essential the RFP route be suspended due to the emergency circumstances. Yes, the Meadowlands is being operated by the state on a $1.2 million dollar loan, but if a lease is not signed by Mr. Gural, the standardbred horsemen must replay this loan, In addition, as The Record has reported, the Meadowlands, with the exception of a week of racing for the Hambletonian (which they are contractually obligated to conduct), will not reopen without a lease being in place. A totally different situation than Monmouth Park.

If the state was willing to operate the Meadowlands while seeking out a leaseholder for the Meadowlands or Mr. Gural walks away I would concur “exigent circumstances” no longer exist and the NJSEA would either have to decide to permanently close the Meadowlands or put out a request for RFPs and I am sure if the RFP required standardbred racing to be a major component of operating the Meadowlands, the NJTHA would not be a bidder. Failure to put a RFP out then would certainly be a newsworthy story.

The timing of this story is certainly unfortunate with Local 137 and Jeff Gural not yet having reached a contract agreement which may be pivitol to securing a lease of the Meadowlands. There is the potential this story may embolden Local 137 leadership which not only jeopardizes their own employees, but the countless other employees that work at the Meadowlands and the entire standardbred industry in New Jersesy and elsewhere. It may have been best if the two sides were left to negotiate their contract without what I am certain is unintentional influence.

Once again, I congratulate you on your excellent reporting and look forward to reading more as this story continues to unfold.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lunacy in Pennsylvania; No RFP Issues

Chester Downs and Pocono Downs realize they are competing against each other for the Open classes.  So what they are going to do is swap Opens so at least each week they will have full fields of Open horses instead of short fields or fields filled with inferior horses.  Smart move.

So what the tracks are going to do is offer $60,000 Opens instead of $30K or $35K purses.  Pure insanity.  What is the logic of doubling the purses of these opens?  Are these horse going to be racing at Vernon Downs for $10,000 instead of race at Freehold where they no longer even card Open classes?  Okay, maybe some horses that have had a short commute to one of these tracks will have every other week a much longer commute.  I can see increasing the purses $5,000 to compensate the horsemen for the extra traveling (gas has gone up), but to double the purses are simply obscene.

Over at PTP, Dean suggests instead of increasing the purses, use some of that excess money to seed some Pick 4s with a lower takeout to increase wagering action.  I have a similar but what I think would be a better idea.  If they have too much money that they don't know what to do with it, why not lower takeout rates on all wagers?  Especially since the amount of money wagered on the races contribute so little to the purse account?  Then maybe we can get a track which can attract the deep pools harness racing needs in the event the Meadowlands doesn't reopen.

Thoroughbred horsemen are wondering why RFPs were asked for with regards to Monmouth Park and no such RFPs were issued for the Meadowlands.  According to the NJTHA, they wanted an option to bid $1 a year to lease the Meadowlands and they claim they sent in their inquiry the day Jeff Gural met with Governor Christie.  Well, now the thoroughbred horsemen have said they would not stand in the way of Gural taking over the Meadowlands, probably because there will be a six day thoroughbred turf meet at the Meadowlands to preserve their share of simulcasting revenue.  However, we should be glad that the Governor went with Gural because rest assured a leased Meadowlands by the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen would have meant the end of harness racing there as they had no interest in running a harness meet.

Still, one wonders what statute gave the state permission to lease the Meadowlands without requesting RFPs?  Was it the fact the meet was about to start?  Or was it felt that Jeff Gural brought a specialized skill which could not be found elsewhere, making bidding unecessary.  Worse yet, is this an achille heel which will bite people in the butt later?  The fact no one else has made noise yet makes it unlikely a challenge will be made.  However, if a racino is forthcoming, it is possible the issue will be raised.

This is another reason why I feel Gural will not walk away from the Meadowlands regardless of what happens with the tellers.  The thoroughbred horsemen are ready once again to step in and bid for the Meadowlands if Jeff Gural walks away.  If Gural does walk away, the Governor may have a hard time not talking to the thoroughbred people which could result in the Meadowlands being lost forever to harness racing.

Stable Responsibility Rule

Remember the old days, when in the racing program they would list the trainer and the stable he/she works for?  The rationale was you would have a stable, say the William Haughton stable that had horses all over the country racing.  Obviously Billy Haughton couldn't be at each track training the horses, so there would be an assistant trainer in charge, be it in the case of Billy, his sons Tommy or Peter, or 'Apples' Thomas.  They got away from listing both the stable and the trainer for the obvious reason, why list William Haughton if son Peter was training a horse.

Well, with this era of the Super Trainer, maybe it is time to go back and list both the trainer and the stable and while we are at it, if a horse comes back positive, let the trainer and stable be suspended, depending on the type of medication violation.  No doubt some people would feel it would be overly harsh.  If trainer Joe gets a positive, why should the whole stable be suspended?  Well, to not use names of any real trainer, let's say trainer Mary Doe trains the horses that race for the John Smith stable at Balmoral Park, while John Smith trains the main string at the Meadowlands.  Do you think Mary Doe is going to use a drug that is not approved for horses without her employer's permission? Of course not.  Therefore, to just suspend Mary Doe is not realistic, John Smith should pay the price as well, and if Mary Doe was using a drug like that on a horse without John Smith's permission, John will be sure to fire  Mary Doe.

Now of course, a rule like this should be reserved for serious medication violations, such as using drugs that are clearly performance enhancing and not approved for horses.  I am not suggesting the entire stable be suspended for an error in withdrawal times, overage or underage levels of medications, or use of Class 3 or 4 medications.  But if a trainer is caught using Class 1 or 2 medications, the whole stable should be suspended as the trainer is an employee of the stable.  Now, if the John Smith stable sends a horse to Fraiser Downs where they don't have horses and they ask a local trainer to look after the horse for one week and that trainer gets a positive on one of the horses the local trainer trains, of course the Stable shouldn't be penalized.

However, in this era of the Super Trainer and Super Stables, maybe the prospect of finding one hundred plus horses sitting on the sideline for a period of time will discourage the use of illegal medications.  Maybe a Stable Responsibility Rule is just what we need.

By the way, for people who think harness racing has a much bigger problem with medications, I suggest you look at the RMTC's recent rulings list.  Yes, there are more thoroughbred tracks than harness, but the overwhelming majority of positives are for thoroughbred trainers.

Meadowlands News:  Word has it that Local 137 will vote again this week.  This may be the week things finally are decided (how many times have we said this before).  Unfortunately, this is a situation where the tellers are going to lose regardless on how they vote and I can actually understand if they vote against the contract.  Over this weekend, Harness Racing Update interviewed a teller who said if the union accepts the contract, he will be earning what he did 20 to 25 years ago.  Now, let's make an assumption this person has been a lifer at the Meadowlands and has been there since 1976.  This contract proposal calls for a 20% cut in salary where their $24 maximum rate goes down to roughly $20.  Remember there was a 15% pay cut under the Whitman Administraton, which means the maximum salary was roughly $28 back in 1996, which means from the height of their salary, some tellers will have taken a net 29% pay cut.  I can understand why some employees prefer unemployment (especially when it is extended).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Musings

Updated to include video of Dry Gulch's victory.

The Newark Star Ledger, in a rare occurrence publishes a positive article regarding the Meadowlands.  It talks about the importance the Meadowlands has for harness racing in New Jersey and the nation.  More importantly, it talks about how Jeff Gural plans to make racing fun again.  Granted, the whales may not be coming back so fast, but wouldn't it be nice to see harness racing a 'must do' event again?  This is one of the things I am excited about a Gural takeover of the Meadowlands.  The handle will come, but to see the day coming to the track is fun and its revitalization being a model for track operators elsewhere come to fruition.  I suspect with him being in charge, wagering will be a whole new game when compared against the current model.  Of course, the question is will Gural lease the track with Local 137 so far not on board?  Right now, I'll give it a 3-5 shot.  First of all I think the union will come on board, but Gural knows how important keeping the Meadowlands alive is and I don't think he is going to let the tellers kill it off.  Not that the tellers will beat Gural.  Let's just say, if they don't come to an agreement on an extention, things may get a little messy when their contract expires.  Again, it is only my opinion and it may very well happen as Harness Racing Update interviewed a teller who is in support of the plan who feels when push comes to shove, the contract will not be approved (they also are saying Gural will still walk away which is still the official line).

Okay, I'll admit it, St Elmo Hero is the real deal.  Up to now, I was convinced it was a matter of him beating the winter stock, but he has now won 26 out of 27 starts, the one loss likely caused by losing a shoe in a race.  He is now winning against Open company at Woodbine.  I am still certain he will have some difficulty against the FFA ranks in the summer, but I don't know anyone who would have problems with owning what could easily be described as a JFA horse.  But as I have been wrong before, who knows, he may win a few races against the FFA horses after all.  And to think St Elmo Hero almost ended up being sent for slaughter.. 

Dry Gulch defeated One More Laugh at Vernon Downs Saturday night, in 1:51.1 with Diamond Stick Pin finishing third in a four horse race (there were two late scratches).  You may find it surprising that a former $8,000 claimer defeated One More Laugh and paid a generous $10.20.  Easiest money I have made in a long time; even the track handicapper had Dry Gulch as the favorite.

I know some are still talking about out how Team Brainard purchased Dry Gulch after he raced in an $8,000 claimer and picked up four seconds at Pompano Park in his first start for the new connections.  Now Dry Gulch was in a late closer in Lexington in October last year which suggests the horse had shown signs of talent at three, including picking up a 1:52.1 mark at the Meadowlands over a sloppy track, so maybe the drop into an $8,000 claimer was a move to try to steal a purse (which went wrong when he drew post seven) and Brainard, who had spotted something, decided to buy him.  But then since we saw a lot of this last year from certain trainers, I imagine people can't help but talk.

Schnittker was not pleased with the outcome of the race.  Plans are for OML to head to Pocono Downs and hopefully not come back to race at Vernon.  Granted it was his first start back, but I imagine Ray is somewhat concerned.

Next Saturday night is the first big money night of the season with the finals of the Matchmaker and Levy Memorial series at Yonkers Raceway.  We know who the eight finalists will be for the Bluechip Matchmaker series (Ginger and Fred, All Spirit, Save My Shark, Breakheart Pass, Chancey Lady, Tomorrowpan, Hulas Z Tam, Ticket To Rock).  While we don't know who the eight finalists will be for the Levy as the points are not yey tabulated for week five, we will be seeing if Foiled Again, the monster of the half mile track who took the week off after winning his first four eliminations, can win his third Levy final; this one worth $495,000.  It still pays to be a half mile specialist.

I  am beginning to think I am the only person in America not paying attention to the Kentucky Derby.  The Derby is one of those races that attracts interest from horseplayers of all breeds.  For the fun of it, take my Derby interest poll to the left of the blog and see if you are someone who follows the whole road to the Derby, follow it come Derby week, or are apparently a freak like me who doesn't follow it at all,  I must admit I am envious of the thoroughbreds as I don't know if we will ever have a race which attracts the interest of horseplayers all over.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tackling the Cal-Expo Pick 4, Get Ready for Resistance - Updated

Note: Updated to include Pisto's selections for the late Pick 4 at Cal Expo.

It's Saturday so it means it's time for Cal Expo's Saturday night $15,000 guaranteed pool Late Pick 4 which features a 0% takeout for Cal Expo on-track players as well as Twin Spires players.  In addition, Cal Expo has an early Pick 4 which while it lacks a guaranteed pool, does offer a 15% takeout.

Some people have questioned why someone on the East coast is spending time on Cal Expo's Pick 4, especially in a blog.  The answer is easy, to some in the standardbred industry, Cal Expo may as well be in another country.  Yes, they are an island of harness racing all the way on the West coast, but they still deserve some attention and if no one else is going to bring attention to them, I will.

Since each race is a Superfecta, I will pick my top four horses in each race though I may not use them in the Pick 4.

Early Pick 4 (Races 4-7)
4th Pace - $1,600; Claiming $2,500 - NW100PS
5 - Bronte (Wiseman, 5-1) - Drops to rock bottom after two three-wide starts.  It is now or never.
8 - TK Diehard (Kennedy,12-1) - Actually a decent effort in higher company; if can get involved early may be a factor.
6 - Brooklets Drifter (Svendson, 3-1) - Finished well-beaten second in this class.  Your call at these odds.
3 - Thatwilldo A (Succarotte, 7-2) - Attempted to wire field in amateur event and faltered late.  Best effort in a while.  Better rated with regular driver?

5th Pace - $2,900; Conditioned Claiming $9,000
3 - Lucky Peterson (Succarotte, 9-2) - Ships in from Fraiser Downs where racing better.  Last start this class just missed.  Ready first asking?
4 - Lillybrookecruiser (Cisco,  5-2) - At top of game and must be included in any exotic.
6 - Amigo De Gacrci (Svendsen, 9-5) - Can go a long way with live cover.  Does he get it?
2 - Frakeutu Bluegrass (Maier, 9-2) - Ben sharp against slightly better.  May improve rating.

6th Pace - $1,700; Claiming $2,500 - NW150PS
8 - Jessalilpeace (L Plano, 5-1) - Been drivien agressive and takes slight drop.  Chance in wide open contest.
5 - Hino Legacy (Succarotte, 2-1) - A patient drive may make a factor.
7 - Explosive Strike (Svendson, 8-1) - Has been consistent in this class but don't expect 8-1 due to post.
6 - The Ridge (Kennedy, 12-1) - Came up flat last week,  If can toss, you have a decent chance.

7th Pace - $1,900; Claiming $2,500 - NW250PS
5 - Bo Knows Power (Svendsen, 9-5) - Has been going well for the most part in open claiming, drops down to winning level.
2 - The Future (Cisco, 7-2) - Bad luck in recent.  Driver change may wake this one up.  Can win it all with luck.
3 - Bronte Anas Boy (L Plano, 8-5) - Drops out of open company.  New reignster may make the difference.
1 - Thouartthegreatest (Kennedy, 10-1) - Draws rail off a win.  Can;t eliminate.
Early Pick 4 Selection: 5,8/3,4/5,8/5 - $8 play

Late Pick 4 (Races 11-14) - $15,000 Guarantee Pick 4
11th Pace - $2,000; Claiming $2,500
7 - Davbro Bromac N (Wiseman, 5-1) - Won despite bad cover.  Wins with any type of trip.
4 - Flase Accusations (Lackey, 5-1) - Locked in tight quarters in last.  Can upset with a trip.
6 - Powergaiterdotcom (Maier, 5-2) - Been driving agressive of late.  Threat with trip.
1 - Srious Art  (L Plano, 2-1) - Moving up after three start.  Tries open company.  May improve rating.

12th Pace - $2,000; Claiming $2,500 FM
1 - Well Heeled (Sevendsen, 6-5) - Winner of two straight and draws rail.  One to beat.
2 - Majestic Lass (R Plano, 9-5) - Winner after grabbing live cover.  Don't know if he gets it here.
7 - Laughts Last - Another Fraiser Downs invader.  May wake up on drop down to bottom class.
4 - Whoop And Shout (L Plano, 3-1) - Won last week in amateur event.  Fractions better rated this week,

13th Pace - $2,000; Claimiubg $2,500
1 - Night Screamer (Kennedy, 7-2) - Been live each start of late; week to take top prize.
3 - Keywood Haniver (Svendsen, 6-1) - Winner of last start but scratched injured last start.  Your guess
4 - Columbia Court (Weisman, 9-2) - Destroyed nw250ps in last race.  May handle class hike)
7 - Check Raisin (R. Plano, 6-1) - Best perf the rest, but must overcome post.

14th Pace - $1,900; Claiming $2,500 - NW250PS
1 - Jaccka Invoke N (L Plano, 2-1) - Just missed in last start.  Give another chance.
7 - Tammy's War box (Wiseman, 6-1) - Suffered broken equipment in last.  Was good before
2 - Intheghetto (Gray, 8-1) - If driver gets any kind of trip can be there at the end.
9 - Anelectricmachine (Cisco, 8-1) - Good lines, horrible post.  Picks up pieces with best.
Selections: 4,6,7/1/1,3,4/1,7 - $18 play

Here are Pisto's (track handicapper) Selections for the late Pick 4 at Cal Expo:
Devilish Donny is the anchor single in the Cal Expo Guaranteed $15,000 Gross Pool LATE PICK 4 which carries a 15% Takeout. (Winners reward of 0% Takeout if winning wager is made at or On Track at Cal Expo)

Devilish Donny is the “single” in the 3rd leg of tonight’s Cal Expo Late Pick 4. He is teamed back up with Rocky Stidham who has guided the 10 year old to most of his almost $175,000 in lifetime earnings.

All of the Cal Expo Late Pick 4 races should be hotly contested and here are the Pisto Picks for the 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th races.

Cal Expo Late Pick 4 $15,000 Guaranteed Gross Pool & 15% Takeout
$45 Ticket
Race 11- 1-2-5-6-7
Race 12- 1-2-3
Race 13- 6
Race 14- 1-6-8

$12 Ticket
Race 11- 1-7
Race 12- 1-2
Race 13- 6
Race 14- 1-6-8

Growing the Business Back: Canadian thoroughbred track Hastings Park is taking steps to reverse the trend in attendance and has already been somewhat successful with the minority of those in attendance senior citizens.  How are they doing it?  The strategy: make race day an event with DJs, quality food, beverage and service, and providing entertainment between races; sounds similar to the Gural method at Tioga Downs.  As they call it, growing back their business making it a destination location for those 19-40.  It seems obvious that a plain old racetrack is destined to be moribound; a track needs to be provide more than racing to be a viable destination.

Harness Tracks of America has endorsed the concept of banning race day medications with five years.  Now, the USTA board of directors will be surveying their directors before developing a position on a race day medication ban.  It will be interesting to see how the membership responds to this potential ground breaking change.  One thing harness racing doesn't have is forward thinking horsemen.  The thought of racing without lasix or bute (in those states which allow it) will likely cause angst to trainers.  In fairness, it won't be harness racing trainers alone saying hold your horses, the thoroughbred horsemen have already expressed concern.  A decision should be forthcoming before the RMTC conference this summer.  Will horsemen agree to give the racing public what it wants, or will it dig their heels in?  I think we know the answer.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Latest News and Horse Racing Too!

Another update from Jim Brennan from the Record about yesterday's meeting.  There were a couple more politicians in attendance and in addition to the Tellers, other unions attended the meeting as well.  I am not sure the unions heard all they wanted to here.  Jim's source told the unions that the 20% pay cut is non-negotiable.  They were reminded that with the Bayonne OTW coming on line in a year or two, more jobs would be available with the assumption any employees being displaced at the Meadowlands would have first dibs on jobs there.  In addition, some of the politicians indicated their belief that slots may show up at the Meadowlands in a couple of years.  According to Brennan's source, more than one attendee left the meeting "cautiously optimistic".

If I was laying odds on whether the Meadowlnads deal happens or not, I would give it a 3-5 morning line.  Obviously a positive vote from the tellers would help, but at this point, I have a feeling too much time may have been invested and it would take a lot for Jeff Gural to walk away.  Not that Gural has too much invested in acquiring the Meadowlands right now; but he is perhaps the staunchest supporter of the game right now I don't know if he would walk away and risk a free fall.

Now this may shock you, but let's actually talk racing.  There are a couple of big overnight events occurring tonight and Saturday with some of our best FFAllers strutting their stuff.  Being some have made only one or are making their first start, is it possible there can be some upsets?  Let's take a look:

Pocono Downs, Friday, April 22
10th Trot - $30,000; Open Handicap
1  Rompaway Beau (Simpson, 8-1) - Scored big upset three starts ago, but has had trouble in last two; pass.
2  In Focus (Takter, 5-1) - Was making winning move last week when jumped in stretch.  Legitimate upset chance.
3  Winning Mister (A Miller, 4-1) - Finished second to #7 at Chester two back.  Just missed from seven hole last week; don't ignore.
4  All About Justice (Simons, 12-1) - Seems way overmatched.  Pass, 
5  Great Emancipator (Ackerman, 15-1) - 4yo returns from Pinehurst, NC.  Seems tough spot to make seasonal debut against older.
6  Enough Talk (Pierce, 2-1) - Returned with 1:56.2 qualifier at Pocono.  Don't forget gelding returned sharp of layoff after Sweden last year.
7  Arch Madness (Sears, 9-5) - Winner of two straight at Chester.  Is the tightest right now, but odds will be low.
Selections:  2-6-7-3

Vernon Downs, Saturday, April 23
10th Pace - $10,000; Open I (No Show Wagering)
1 - Firethorn (Mac Donald, 8-1) - Won Preferred at Rideau Carleton.  This is tougher.
2 - Four One One (Bailey, 10-1) - Flat in seasonal debut.  Must show more.
3 - Diamond Stick Pin (Okusko, 6-) - Been super consisted finished behind #4 in last.  Factor.
4 - Dry Gulch (Rice, 9-5) - Former 8K claimer has been hot since Brainard claimed.  Ignore at own peril.
5 - One More Laugh (Schnittker, 3-1) - Two sharp qualifiers at Pocono.  Meadowlands Pace winner may be ready.
6 - Vlos (Mollor, 5-1) - Freshened after Presidential.  May be tough this week. 
Selections: 4-5-3

Why Not Just Replace the Tellers? Here is Why.

A common theme you hear from all corners is why Jeff Gural doesn't just stop dealing with the tellers and when the contract expires on February 1, replace them.

Oh, if it was just that easy.  Actually, it is far from easy and full of pitfalls.

Let's get through with the legalities now.  I am not a lawyer, nor do I provide any legal advice. You should always consult a licensed attorney if you want completely accurate information or are in a situation where you have any issue with labor relations.  Taking legal advice from this blogger is foolish.  

Now, with those legalities taken care of, let me give you a layman's explanation of why "just replace the tellers" is not an easy thing to do.  Being I have had only one semester of Business Law at college, and the last I looked, there have been no television dramas with labor layers involved to learn from, I am far from an authority and am sure some of what I am about to say is incorrect.  There are those far more eminently qualified to discuss this subject, but being I lack the financial resources to consult such an authority, for purposes of our discussion what I am about to say should suffice.

My (very) limited understanding of labor law tells me if Jeff Gural decided he was not going to deal with this union and just replace the tellers, it is not that simple.  There is a contract with Local 137 which is still in effect.  As such, being a labor union is in place, he can not just ignore the union, but would have to continue to negotiate in good faith.  Were management to decide to terminate or modify the current collective bargaining agreement, they would need to notify the union and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) 60 days ahead of time and either side may request a mediator.

If no contract is agreed to by February 1, management could declare an impasse and impose the last best offer and let the employees work under that contract which likely would result in a strike. The other option management has is with no contract in place, it could lock the tellers out until a contract is worked out. If there were a strike, he could allow workers to cross the picket line and train/hire replacements for the others and after a period of time he can tell the tellers if they don’t come back by a certain date they will have lost their jobs for good.

Also remember in any labor dispute, the possibility of sabotage, rule book slowdown, or criminal mischief is a possibility but not a certainty.  So things could get messy.

In the meanwhile, expect the union to go to the National Labor and Relations Board (NLRB) accusing management of not negotiating in good faith and if an impasse is declared, the previously mentioned mediator comes into play as does the threat of lawsuits, petitions to the NJRC to not allow the Meadowlands to race until the teller situation is settled, etc. All of which management may very well prevail in, but once a third party is involved, you can never be certain as to how the cookie crumbles, known as the legal principle of cookie crumbulus (Okay, I made that one up).

But then the question comes do other unions honor the inevitable picket lines? I am not even talking about the Meadowlands' unions, which I assume would not, but groups like Teamsters (the ones that drive the trucks which deliver supplies to the track), Autotote workers who maintain the tote machines (assuming they are unionized), and whoever else may do business with the Meadowlands.

There is another option where union workers could vote to de-certify themselves or join another union if they felt their leadership was not working in their best interests.  But good luck with that and it too will be delayed by petitions to the NLRB from within the union itself.  All of this would have to be done without interference from management or they get into trouble.

Jeff Gural may ultimately prevail, but at what cost and aggravation? Now you know why he has been seeking contract extensions, so he doesn't need to deal with this mess once he takes over operations of the Meadowlands and until recently, he said without contract extensions, he would walk away.

If you want to get an explanation at the 10,000 foot level, you may read the following from the NLRB and you can peruse the FMCS website as well..

Remember, when all we talked about was racing?  I long for those days and hope it won't be much longer until we can..

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Local 137 Meets with 'Elected Officials' - Update

It has been reported that Local 137 officials met with "elected officials" today.  As of now, no word as who those elected officials may be.  Could it have included the Governor? It is my personal perspective of course, but I am not sure what kind of support an elected official could provide them, when the situation is accept the terms or go out of business.  The Governor conceivably could add some protection for the union in the lease agreement, but that would be highly unlikely.

As much as they may have received some support from elected officials, it is just as likely the reality of the situation was made clear to them; finding nothing but sympathy from these officials.  My guess is if anything comes out of this, some compromise in the contract will be made which is agreeable to all parties so everyone can claim victory and move on. 

Update: The meeting was between the tellers, State Senator Richard Codey and Assemblyman Ralph Caputo according to The Record's John Brennan. According to Brennan, who has done an excellent job of covering this story, SBOANJ president Tom Luchento is happy.  As I suspected, expect to see a compromise on the agreement that will make the 'lifers' happy; happy enough to let it get voted on.  Once the contract is voted on I would expect it will be passed as I suspect reality is settling in.  Think about it, why was the union upset when three non-negotiating committee tellers showed up to Gural's meeting yesterday?  They are concerned about losing their jobs and what they heard probably makes them want to vote on the agreement.  It is all about saving face now and saving face it will likely be.

Lost in the Noise, Tioga Downs Offers $10,000 Guaranteed Pool for Pick 6

With all the noise going around about the Meadowlands, some of the other harness racing news gets drowned out.  One such piece of news is that Tioga Downs will be offering a guaranteed $10,000 pool for the Pick 6.  Granted, it is not a 15% takeout but 21%, but for a track of Tioga's size, a guaranteed $10,000 pool for the Pick 6 is a big investment.  The Pick 6 will be offered only on Sundays during the meet, meaning the first Pick 6 will be offered on  Sunday, May 8.

Another good thing is I made my selections for Vernon Downs for Friday evening.  What can I say, I love the small tracks.  I can't help but wonder if Vernon Downs could ever replace the Meadowlands if it closed?  Yes, the racing stock would have to be upgraded considerably, but the fact it is in the boon docks shouldn't matter with the vast majority of wagering occuring off track.  Jeff Gural could pull it off; IF the horsemen would go along with it.  Anyway, here are my selections for Friday night:

Vernon Downs, Friday, April 22, 2011
1st Trot  - $3,300 Conditioned                           7th Trot - $8,000; Open II
2 - Jaffah's Victory  8-1                                         2 - Aviewtoakill  7-2 
3 - Two Black Clouds  5-2                                     9 - Boy Meets Grill  8-1
8 - Enzo  9-2                                                       4 - Skad's Winner  10-1
                                                                          7 - Crestwood Patriot  12-1  

2nd Pace - $3,500; Claiming Handicap FM         8th Pace - $4,300; Conditioned
1 - Alamode A  10-1                                              2 - Dana's Dragon  7-2
7 - Blaze of Color  8-1                                           3 - Pretty Lurleen   12-1
6 - C N Grey  5-2                                                  5 - Delightful Dancer  9-2

3rd Trot - $5,500; Claiming Handicap                 9th Trot - $10,000; Open
6 - Forrest County  7-2                                          6 - Fancy shot  5-2
5 - Corregidore  6-1                                               3 - Unshakeable  7-2
7 - Ivanhoe Diamant  5-2                                        5 - The Mad Duke  6-1

4th Pace - $5,500; Claiming Handicap FM         10th Pace - $10,000; FM Open
9 - Canaco Star  12-1                                            1 - On that Note  12-1
3- Pounne De Luxe  6-1                                         4 - Late Flyin N  8-1
7 - Kisssing Camels  8-1                                       3 - Fox Valley Sage  6-1
6 - My Girl Lora  5-2
                                                                          11th Pace - $3,500; Cond Claiming
5th Trot - $6,000; Conditioned                             4 - Smiling Major  9-2
8 - Vacation Day  5-2                                            5 - Dreamnbiu  6-1
2 - Catch That Yank  6-1                                       9 - Pan Taylor  7-2
6 - Saver  7-2
                                                                          12th Trot - $2,500; Conditioned
6th Pace - $3,000; Conditioned                           2 - Valley Crown  9-2
7 - Major Keson  10-1                                           3 - Famous Image  8-1
1 - Occupant  6-1                                                 8 - Tip The Tide  5-2
4 - Incredible Della  5-2                                         7 - Axis Of Evil  12-1