For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Horse Slaughter - Now What?

As you may be aware, thanks to congressional action, the slaughter of horses for human consumption has once again become legal in the United States.  Perhaps of no coincidence, Forbes has published the first of a multi-part story on how the thoroughbred industry is silent about their horses which are sent to slaughter.  One of the points being made is slaughter of horses is being done in slaughterhouses not designed for horses.  The article does have links to disturbing pictures and video and I will leave it to you to decide whether or not to look at it.

There was also a CBC series on the mistreatment of horses being slaughtered, very similar to the problems which previously occurred in the United States and realistically, these problems are likely to re-appear in the United States.  Once again, the video available may be disturbing to some, but listening to the reports may be informative.

I would like to address one fallacy of supporters of humane slaughter keep bringing up.  By being slaughtered in the United States, horses will not have to travel as far to be slaughtered.  Most likely, any equine slaughterhouse will be out West.  Currently a horse destined for slaughter from New York will go to Quebec.  Let's say the slaughterhouse is in Wyoming.  Shipping a horse to Wyoming is shorter the horse than being sent to Quebec?  I think not.

I have been encouraged by the response of racing horsemen who are quite upset about the change in the law legalizing horse slaughter and they want to know what the standardbred world can do about it with many wanting the USTA to take steps.  Now make no mistake about it, the people at the USTA don't like the slaughter of standardbreds, however the attitude is the horse is the private property of the owner and while they can offer alternatives, they can't do anything to force owners to do things with their horses.  Hence, there is little which can be done by the USTA to prevent horse slaughter, short of reducing breeding books.  Perhaps the only thing the USTA could do is require horses to be microchipped in an effort to keep track of horses.  However, in the past, members have expressed their objection to it unless the government requires it.

It is also important to realize while those who oppose slaughter are vocal, those who are quiet on the issue are either ambivalent about the subject or support directly or indirectly horse slaughter; often in the format of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Unfortunately, it is important to acknowledge there is not going to be a home for every retired standardbred even if the industry attempted a 100% save rate.  Horses are not like maintaining dogs.  The fact is some horses will have to die.  Rescues are full, having trouble getting horses adopted and there are simply too many horses coming of the track to find homes for them all.  That doesn't mean horses need to be sent to slaughterhouses; but the fact is some horses are going to have to die and for them, humane euthanasia should be the only option available.

So what can be done?  Unfortunately, some steps will need to be taken on the state (racing commission) level; some steps necessary on the federal level.  Here is a list of some of the steps which can be taken.

State (Racing Commission) Level 
  • Have racing commissions license bloodstock agents and require them to prove they are not dealing with horses that end up at grade auctions or representing slaughterhouses.
  • Have racing commissions ban kill buyers and non-approved horse buyers from the backstretch of the racetrack or other facilities under the control of the racing commission.  This won't stop selling horses to these people, but it will make it more inconvenient. 
  • Provided an approved rescue(s) is willing, mandate racetracks to provide surrender stalls where horsemen can drop off horses they no long want with no questions asked so horse rescues can pick up surrendered horses.  Ownership of the horse shall pass with the horse being designated as a pleasure horse only.
  • Have a small percentage of the handle be dedicated to a fund to support approved horse rescues and to pay for humane euthanasia (based on the evaluation of the state vet and/or approved rescues).
  • Define what constitutes an approved rescues; not rescues connected with horse buyers.  Rescues must have some type of accreditation and are subject to inspection by the racing commission.
  • Require the owner or trainer to report to the racing commission whenever ownership of a horse has changed and report the price paid and have the racing commission report the transfer of the horse to the USTA.
  • Provide for discounted euthanasia and disposal days for all breed of horses owned by citizens of the state provided they can prove ownership of the horse.

Federal Level
Like it or not, the United States Government has decided horses are food animals.  Being the European Commission has instituted a rule where a horse which has been treated with certain medications may not be slaughtered for 180 days since their last use of certain medications on the horse, the federal government has a responsibiliy to ensure horses meet these requirements.  Hence:

  • Yearlings and pregnant horses are ineligible for slaughter.
  • Require all horses to be microchiped to ensure the tracking of the animal and ownership.
  • Require the ownership of the equine to be recorded and a photo of the horse.
  • Establish a database of horses being microchipped and the use of medicines on them.
  • Require all veternarians to record what medications have been given to equines and when they were administrated.
  • Require a USDA inspector to be present at all grade horse sales to scan the microchip and produce a passport with a picture of the horse and a list of medications administered during the last 180 days and designate if horse may be sold as a food animal or not which must be announced at the auction.  No horse without a passport may be sold.
  • At border crossings, vehicles heading to processing plants must be inspected to make sure all horses on the truck have passports indicating the horse may be slaughtered.  No horse with a passport indicating the horse is ineligible for slaughter may be on said vehicle.  The vehicles must be designed to allow a border inspector to scan each horse to match to the passports.
  • At slaughterhouses in the United States, a USDA inspector must scan the horse and if no passport is included, the inspector must confirm the horse is eligible for slaughter.  Any horse sent to a slaughterhhouse and not eligible to be slaughtered for food must be euthanized and disposed of at the cost of the slaughterhouse.
  • At all slaughterhouses, there must be video cameras installed throughout the plant to allow for third party inspection to ensure all established procedures are followed.  Third parties may bring formal complaints against slaughterhouses.
  • Existing rules regarding 'downers', etc. must be followed.
Make no mistake, whether at the racing commission or federal level, it will require a lot of work to be done to get even some of these protections implemented.  However, the rules at the racing commission will be used to reduce the number of horses heading into the slaughter pipeline and the federal proposals will ensure those unfortunate horses are treated humanely.  It is the least we can do for these animals being thrown into the food chain.

The Promised Land is in Sight

According to The Record, the lease for Jeff Gural to takeover the Meadowlands should be completed within days.  The last of the negotiations should be completed today with the final lease agreement prepared and ready to be signed on Monday.

As suspected, the teller dispute is a non-issue.  An orientation this month was held where many tellers signed an agreement to take a 20% pay cut.  The only outstanding issue with them is health benefits which will be addressed once the suit of two tellers against their own union is resolved. 

This will be another late year to definitely confirm racing begining January 6.  According to the article, the NJRC must approve racing to begin at their December 20 meeting.

The Illinois Legislature's veto session has ended without moving forward on a gaming bill.  This means once again, racing will begin another year without the prospect of slots.  I would not be surprised to see some of these horses and drivers making a move to New Jersey, especially after the Pennsylvania tracks reopening.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

United States Legalizes Horse Slaughter Again

With little fanfare, last week the United States Congress finally accomplished something; they resumed federal funding of the USDA to inspect horses to be slaughtered for human consumption.  Note a campaign promise of Barack Obama was to outlaw the slaughtering of horses. 

Well first there was Kobe Beef. Before you know it, there will be BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Horse. After all, how long do you think in this time of fiscal restraint do you think the government will continue to have the BLM house the wild horses?

Certain parties have argued that horse slaughter continues at the same rate, but we are forcing horses to travel further to be killed and there is no American control over slaughter in Canada and Mexico.  The real truth is since the ban on slaughter in the United States, the floor price of horse meat had fallen and breeders have gone out of business.

Those who won this battle claim the horses will be slaughtered more humanely.  What a load of bull.  Before the ban, there were many complaints documented about horse cruelty and there is no reason to think things will be better.  If you slaughter one horse, it may be humane because you have the time to do it right and other horses may not smell the blood.  However, there is no way in agribusiness can slaughter, where time is of essence, be humane.  Under the pressure to meet production quotas, do you think they are going to stop the slaughter line just because the person who was supposed to render the horse unconscious made a mistake?  Of course not, they will just keep going subjecting that horse to an even more horrible death.  Being horses will be lined up in the slaughter line, how do you think these flight animals are going to act when they smell the blood and hear the sounds of horses screaming?  There is nothing humane about it.  As a co-leader of a pro-slaughter group mentioned,  in particular they are looking at existing facilities that are already processing large mammals that could be retrofitted to handle horses relatively quickly

Oh, but what about the fact USDA inspectors will be on the job?  Well they were on the job when horses were slaughtered last time where all those documented violations occurred.  What about the times when the inspectors are not on the floor as there have been cases in the past when inspectors weren't present.  It won't be long until we start seeing undercover videos of inhumane acts before long.

It remains to be seen if the USDA will be complying with the EU standards that a horse can not have been treated with medications commonly used in horse racing legally within 180 days of slaughter and if so, how strict will they be when it comes to enforcing the standard. 

This has nothing to do about making horse slaughter more humane.  As usual, it is about making money, and the horses have lost big time.  It's about breeders (breeders in general, not talking about standardbred breeders) being able to make some money sending horses to slaughter instead of spending money humanely euthanizing horses and disposing of the body. While horse slaughter will not begin immediately as those states who have shuttered up slaughter plants have banned horse slaughter.  Any state that has not specifically banned horse slaughter are possibilities for a slaughter facility.

What about horse rescues?  The moment the first slaughter facility in the United States is running, the price of horse meat will go up meaning it will cost more for rescues to buy horses at auctions, meaning less horses will be saved.

Now is the time for the racing to make it harder for a horse to end up at slaughter.  With horse slaughter coming to the United States, older horses and horses that can no longer race may be worth more dead than alive.  It is easier to give away a horse for free when the kill buyer offers only $100 than when they offer $400.

Tuesday Briefs

A columnist is Massachusetts claims casinos funding horse racing is inherently unfair.  The writer, Aaron Nicodemus is so wrong.  You see if horse racing was an unregulated business like Walmart (which he cites in his column) Nicodemus would have a valid argument.  But in some ways, it was the regulation of horse racing by the state which does not allow racing to respond to be competitive.  Don't you think if Plainridge Racecourse and Suffolk Downs was unregulated, they would have taken some different steps to keep their business going well?  Like it or not, gambling is regulated in Massachussets and other states and the legislation passed could have restricted casinos to the racetracks as they already have gambling.  As much as I think racing on the whole is doing nothing but collecting their welfare payments,  the fee the casinos are being required to pay is a fee for giving the casino industry the right to run casinos instead of exclusively to the racetracks.  Mr. Nicodemus, this is not capitalism; it is regulated industry so the whole model is different.

Bringing More Integrity to Harness Racing.  One of the biggest problems harness racing has is its nepotistic roots.  The family owns horses, trains horses and drives them.

Let's take a look at the Thoroughbred rule in Ontario:

9.15.01 A jockey or an aprentice jockey shall not:
(a) be an owner or trainer of any thoroughbred race horse,
(b) compete in any race against a horse owned or trained by his or her spouse, or
(c) compete in any race against a horse owned by his or her mother, father, brother or

Yet in harness racing, the Canadian rule is:

25.08 A driver shall not drive for any other person in a race in which one of the horses he/she trains or owns has been declared into race, except where such horses are coupled as an entry

The fact is if you can drive a horse you own, there is one less person involved, making it easier to hide a conspiracy.  As much as it would upset tradition and the way things are one now, it would be best if harness racing started to evolve towards the thoroughbred rules when it comes to who can't own a horse and who you can't compete against.

Instant Racing a KY Success.  While Instant Racing is not my cup of tea, apparently it is going like gangbusters at Kentucky Downs.  Why the success?  Apparently people like horse racing but hate the fact they have to wait 15-30 minutes between races.  Rather than racing every 15-30 minutes, perhaps we need to find a way to have live racing more frequently.  People want action, and for the majority of horse fans, seeing a screen with odds for the next race isn't meeting their needs,  

Chasing customers away.  With the economy being as poor as it is, most businesses offer incentives to get people in their virtual or real doors.  Apparently, not some in the gambling business.  Be it CDI, cutting incentives for all than those betting $25,000 a month; be it tracks considering raising takeout rates; to some tracks wanting to charge admission again, you would think it was a "happy days are here again" economy again.  It is not just horse racing, as some casinos are taking incentives away.  Some companies don't get it or they think all gamblers are degenerates who will keep on coming.  While they may not be gambling incentives, there are plenty of entertainment options out there.

Vernon Downs bucked the national trend in wagering with their on-track handle increasing 4% and the wagering on their product at simulcast sites increasing a staggering 35% .  Having some stakes races is what you need to introduce your product to those who would normally not look at your product. 

Why does Cal Expo get ignored?  I can't help but wonder why no one talks about Cal Expo?  In the latest release on, they talk about each Pick 4 having a 15% takeout and the late takeouts having $10,000 guaranteed Pick 4 pools on Thursday and Friday through the USTA Strategic Wagering Pool.  On Saturday nights, while the late Pick 4 has a 0% takeout for those who wager on track or through, those who wager elsewhere still get the 15% takeout.  In addition, there is a $10,000 guaranteed pool for that Pick 4.  Especially, with most of the wagering done on the East Coast, the late Pick 4 is the only game in town.

They can't wait for horse racing.  At least it seems that way to some 300 people in Meriwether County, GA, when the sheriff deputies showed up last Sunday to raid what we will call Meriwether Downs.  Seems like the last few weeks there was some horse racing with wagering going on at the facility and someone I assume who would have voted no on the GA parimutuel bill or had a really bad day at the track must have tipped of the sheriff department that there was a racetrack in their county taking wagers.  When the police showed up, the operation apparently looked like your regular running track with the exception of the lack of tote machines.  The Sheriff's department confiscated everything, including the beer and liquor from the concession stand, starting gate.  Without tote machines, I assume we can say Georgia was the first state with exchange wagering.

Speaking of thoroughbred racing, Chief Steward for the KHRC, John Veitch, has been dismissed 'without cause' as the final report on the Life At Ten indicdent is being finished up.  Clearly he is the sacrificial lamb for the whole Life At Ten indicident at the 2010 Breeders Cup,  Did Vietch make errors?  I am not sure.  Yes, in hindsight he blew it but there were no rules in place for handling comments made on television. But in the same way, if they had to refund $10 million in wagers on Life At Ten both the Breeders Cup and Churchill Downs would not have been happy.  It seems to me they are looking to make John Veitch the sacrificial lamb for a situation which could not have been foreseen at the time.  Yes, being fired 'without cause' means in theory he could get another job, but with the high profile of this case, everyone knows why he has been fired.  I suspect barring legal action, John Veitch's career has been wrongly ended.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Meet the Australian Cohen

In light of the scathing departure of Andrew Cohen from writing a regular column in HRU, I would like to introduce you to the Australian Emilio Rosati and his wife Maria are doing what they did twenty years ago; they sold all their stock.  This time however it is different.  They are selling all their stock and not looking back; a prominent owner leaving the sport for good.  In Australia, they are losing an owner of forty years.  In his own words:

"It has been a good year when you look at those results but it was the week-in, week-out races that were hurting me," Rosati said. "You watch some horses win heats of big races but then they can't go a yard in the final because they know they are being watched closely."

However, Rosati had become disillusioned watching his horses getting beaten by "things that would jump out of the ground".

"I was going out and paying for the best yearlings in Australia, New Zealand and the US and then someone would bring something with no form from New Zealand and beat me," Rosati said. "That happens in racing but these things were winning four, five, six in a row.

"They were there paying only $12,000 for them, so I went over and asked a few questions and got told the horse couldn't run two minutes over [in New Zealand] and they were coming and running 1:54 at Menangle. That doesn't happen. The bottle was ruling again..."

Sounds familiar doesn't it?  That shouldn't be surprising as it seems the route for illegal medication typically starts in Australasia and works its way to these shores.  Based on the way some of our horses shed seconds after a claim, one can't help but wonder if the same problems which hit Australasia has reached our shores.

In the case of the United States, we lost a columnist.  In Australia, they have lost a major owner.  Then we ask why we can't attract new owners to the sport. 

The one thing is NSW harness racing is sending out letters telling people they are no longer welcome and people will be gone, a little late but at least being done.  Our regulatory rules are a joke and easily delayed by the courts.  The whole regulatory process needs to be toughened up and even if there is a slight delay, the state can bring the charges up and there needs to be a national racing board which holds a hearing and issues rulings.  This way we don't have those bringing the charges acting as the judge; preserving due process; a common grounds of appeal in the courts.

For further information on the Australian scandal where the police are arresting horsemen, click here.

What I Want for Christmas

Dear Santa, it may seem I am writing you early this year, but being I missed Black Friday, I didn't want to take my chance and miss Cyber-Monday; after all some of these items may be difficult to find so letting you use the computer to find them may help you out.  Plus being the list is long you may need some extra time.

Was I good this year?  Well it depends on what you are talking about.  Admittedly, my handicapping could have been better, but I think my columns were good for the most part; maybe there was one or two columns which deserved breaking out the wet noodle.

I'll send you my personal list later, this list is the one I want for harness racing:

  1. All racetracks with 15% takeouts for all wagers (racinos 10%).  Oh, I know it could be better, but let's get to where we need to be in small steps.  Why racinos lower?  So little of their handle comes from wagering anyway, what's the big deal with a lower takeout?
  2. The End of the Faraldo-Gural feud.  It is so predictable that as soon as Jeff says it's sunny outside, you wait for Joe to respond with a press release indicating it is partly cloudy.  Make no mistake, Faraldo has a responsibility to represent his constituents at Yonkers, but is there a need for him to get involved elsewhere in the state?
  3. Speaking of Joe Faraldo, can someone reprogram the SOA's computers so they can't type out "an upstate racino owner" or "Gural"?  It seems he sends out as many anti-Gural missives as Senator Chuck Schumer sends out press releases.  Not that I wish Faraldo ill-will.  In fact, I would like to see him run and win election to the United States Senate at the next election; this way we can see if he can break the record of press conferences and press releases in one year that Senator Schumer holds.
  4. A constitutional amendment in New York allowing table games at racetracks with table games debuting in 2014.  The sooner full casinos are allowed in New York, the sooner they will realize in New Jersey there is no North Jersey market for Atlantic City and a racino can come to the Meadowlands.
  5. A means to keep those people opposed to racinos from going across the border to gamble in another state's racino.  We don't like hypocrites. 
  6. Change the mind of Illinois Governor Quinn with regards to slots at racetracks.
  7. A fair start rule in all racing states.  A bet should not be lost while you are still selling tickets on the same race.
  8. Banning kill buyers and horse dealers from the backstretch of racetracks all the time, but in particular on qualifying days.  Instead institute surrender stalls where horsemen can turn in a horse with no questions asked, turn in the papers and allow horse rescues to take possession of the horses.
  9. Make people elsewhere in the States aware of racing at Cal Expo.  These people are fighting every year to stay alive out there; it would be nice to see some effort to support them.  Maybe some leading drivers pay a visit for some type of driving championship.
  10. A license for New Meadowlands LLC and for the new owners of Monmouth Park.  This saga has been going on so long it seems like an updated version of War and Peace.
  11. A racetrack that makes a profit without slots and a manual documenting how they did it.
  12. Meaningful fines and suspensions indexed on a participant's success in the sport.  We should not read on Facebook a driver or trainer laughing about what they did and hear the "$100 fine was a cost of doing business".
  13. Horsemen at racinos allocating a part of their purse account handle towards horse rescue and promotion of the sport.
  14. The USTA and Standardbred Canada working jointly on promotional ideas.  Being horsemen don't seem to be so generous giving either organization a lot of money; perhaps a joint effort would maximize development plans.
  15. The USTA making the Pathway reports on the fines and suspensions of participants for free.  If we want owners to choose honest trainers, let's give them an easy way to look up records of rogue trainers so they can avoid them.
  16. Harness Eye Past Performances available on the Internet.
  17. Allow racetracks to provide basic programs on their website for free.
  18. Monté racing becoming more serious and have it in 2013 as a pari-mutuel option on a circuit like steeplechase racing is conducted at thoroughbred tracks. 
  19. No back stabbing between thoroughbred, quarter horse, and standardbred horsemen.  If you thought peace on earth is a challenging,try this one.
  20. The Hambletonian Society adopting the 'Gural rule' regarding banning off-spring of 4yo sires from their races including the Hambletonian.
  21. Leave Lou Pena alone.  I understand the controversy regarding him and truth be told I have my doubts, but on the West Coast he actually was one of the more progressive trainers when it came to training methods.  Also, it is easier to have more consistent success with $30,000 claimers than the $2,500 claimers that race at Cal Expo.  If and when hard proof is found, then the sport can take care of him.  All I know is there have been more resources spent on catching him than anyone else in the sport and they have not pinned anything on him since he became the hottest trainer since Billy Haughton and Stanley Dancer.  All we are doing is self destructing while complaining about Pena..  See the #22.
  22. Let's have horsemen in racino'sracino tracks are broke; racinos could care less.  Like it or not, it is up to horsemen to pay for developing new testing.
  23. A way to track assistant trainers.  If the trainer gets suspendend, assistant trainers should not be allowed to take over their horses.  We don't need beards in racing.
  24. Uniform racing rules including whipping rules.  Despite what people say, you can get rid of whips.
  25. Term limits for horsemen associations and USTA Directors.  Like politics, there are times people in office too long treat their position as a fiefdom and forget why they are there.  I am not saying  they can't serve again, but perhaps after four years of serving in office, a two year break may not be a bad idea.
  26. We have Powerball, Mega Millions, how about V75 as a lottery game?  No people won't be able to pick their selections (that runs into horse racing gambling laws and many states won't allow you to buy a ticket at your local newspaper outlet), but the results will be determined based on the results of seven races.  We can have a weekly V75 television show showing those races and the USTA can be the agency running the lottery, distributing part of the profits to the tracks holding the races (and all tracks will get a chance to participate) and the rest being used by the USTA for marketing and product development.
  27. An ADW run by racetracks to compete against existing ADWs, offering rebates and similar perks; this way more of the handle can be kept by racetracks instead of  earning a pittance.
  28. Simple conditions that don't require a law degree to read.
  29. More racing dates in Michigan, for all breeds. 
  30. Continued racing at Rosecroft past 2012.
  31. Organized and coordinated race meets.  We don't need or have the demand for 21 tracks racing hin the summer,
  32. Legalize Pari-mutuel races in Georgia.
  33. More stake races on the same day.  We don't need four horses from the Burke, Takter, name the stable in the same race.  With more stakes, horses can race in different races instead of one race.
  34. Get rid of elimination races.  Either seed horses by earnings for Group 1 type races, and other races be raced in divisions instead of eliminations.  Eliminations are a sore spot.
  35. If we need to have eliminations, finals should be open draws.
  36. A fixed tote system, including a means to shut betting windows when a race actually starts.  Integrity in betting is essential.
  37. And finally, I am thankful that we had Stan Bergstein, a man who spoke his piece, developed the claiming race as a racing secretary in Chicago, writer extraordinaire, and the biggest champion for harness racing.  For a while I was an outsider at college as everyone sat around watching SNL, but I couldn't join them until I saw Racing from Yonkers or Roosevelt.  Stan will be missed by me and countless others.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Musings

Here's an intersting article on harness racing in Sweden.  It seems everyone knows something about the sport.  Obviously, they are doing something right and we are doing it wrong.  Meanwhile, Equidaily reports on a fight between harness and thoroughbred horsemen that may end the running of thoroughbred racing at Jargeso, where thorougbred racing has been conducted over one hundred years, threatening the  racing of the Swedish Derby.

Do we need to make racing more fairer to novices?  Drivers have their own sulkys, the new sulky of the month is the hotest thing in town, so if you change drivers you may be racing with a different sulky.  I knew one trainer that switched to an open briddle when he was ready to bet and then went back to a different briddle.  Changing hopple lengths, shoes, head poles, etc.  A lot more potential equipment changes on a standardbred than a thoroughbred.

In Greyhound racing, the dog has to establish a racing weight before the meet begins.  More than two pounds different, the dog is scratched.  Maybe we need to do something when trainers make changes.  First of all, let the owner or trainer supply the sulky, not the driver.  Have a harness horse have a standard equipment configuration.(Last stsart of previous year or for first time starter, the way it races)  Any time a horse's standard configuration changes, make the horse qualify and in the comment line list what what was changed.  Want to change sulky types?  You need to qualify.  Want to change briddle typess? Qualify.  Want to change the length of the hopples more than two inches, from the stated length?  Qualify.  Only slight changes in hopple lengths and shoes which are often weather or track dependent would be exempt.  This way, a horse player at least gets and idea of how the horse  races with equipment change(s).  This protects the beginner gamblers and with the need to qualify when making changes, having to qualify, there are less chances for trainers to play games.  Would it work?  Maybe we would be less surprsied with four second changes in races.)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Smoken Up Wins the Miracle Mile

Smoken Up wins the Miracle Mile at Tabcorp Menangle for his second straight victory in the $500,000 Grade 1 race defeating Karloo Mick by 1.1 meters 1:51.8 with Themightyquinn another 1.5 meters back.  This is the seventh double winner of the Miracle Mile since 1967.  Smoken Up is a warhorse with this being his 55th victory in 102 lifetime starts.

Cohen Fallout

There continues to be a big fallout from Andrew Cohen's decision not to be a regular columnist for Harness Racing Update  and let me tell you, the people are firmly in Cohen's corner.  I counted eleven articles supporting Cohen, one column opposing him and even that was a bit 'the cup is half-full' thinking so there is tacit agreement in that article that Cohen is right.  Now these are not angry gamblers writing, these are active or former participants in the sport as owners or horsemen writing in.

What is troubling is as of now none of the powers to be in the industry have written in.  Perhaps, it is the Thanksgiving Day weekend, perhaps it is not knowing how to respond.  No comment from the typically verbal Joe Faraldo of the SBOA of NY who rivals Senator Chuck Shummer in press-releases; no comments from the Harness Horsemens International, no comments from the USTA, no comments from any of the racing commissions.  You would think aftere the attack on Yonkers Raceway regarding their treatnent of Lou Pena, there would have been some statement from Yonkers Raceway; instead silence rules.  Not one person who can speak with some authority in the industry has come out to concur or disagree with Cohen's remarks.

Some people make comments about how Cohen was involved only five years in the sport as an active participant.  They forget about his fathers involvement with the sport in the days of Blue Bonnents.  One thing Cohen isn't is wet behind the ears.  If anything, his five active years in this sport may be the reason he doesn't accept business as ususal.  Did Cohen at times go overboard on any one issue?  Perhaps, but then don't we all at times go off?

The one thing this industry doesn't want to hear is what Cohen has to say.  While I have no proof, I suspect Cohen's departure from the Horsemen and Fair World had to do with his outspokeness there and the effect it may have had on the magazine due to its dependence on industry advertising.  I suspect his outspokeness impacted advertising revenue so someone had to go.  This time I feel Andrew Cohen, has just had enough, not seeing the sport ever taking the steps to clean itself up.

The fact that harness racing has lost its one muckraking journalist is a shame.  Many will be happy he is no longer writing a column with regularity.but in the long run, I suspect history will vindicate him on many points.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Track Complicity

At Flambro Downs they had qualifiers this morning and the horsemen were there ready to race.  The only problem is the kill buyers/horse dealers were on the backstretch as well.  Word has it that seven horses lost big time; on a trailer to a destination(s) unknown.

We talk about horse rescue and treating our retired horses well.  As long as racetracks allow these horse dealers on the backstretch, they are a complicit in the problem.   This is not to say if tracks didn't allow these dealers on the track the problem of 'retired' horses ending up in undesirable places would be solved, but the tracks should not be making it easier for the horsemen to dispose of unwanted racing stock.

A much better idea would be to allow surrender stalls at the tracks run by horse rescues.  If a horseman doesn't want a horse anymore, he could hand over the papers and the horse with no questions asked and let these rescues deal with the horses.  This way, if the worst was to occur, it would be a case of euthanasia, not factory slaughter. 

In the meanwhile, tracks can say the problem is with horsemen, but the tracks have blood on their hands as well.

In the biggest week of racing in NSW Australia, arrests have been made regarding race fixing charges including one of the leading drivers, Greg Bennett.  Racing seems to have a way to self-destruct at the time more attention is given to it.

Cohen Says Farewell

Andrew Cohen, columnest for Harness Racing Update has written his last regular column for the publication, moving on to new endeavors.  However, with his departure, he takes aim at what he considers the lack of transparency and the lack of accountability when it comes to race fixing and doping.

Perhaps the worst thing that came out of his article was his admission he would not be able to write a column as he did in 2006 for Barrons where he extolled "the virtues of harness racing. I was a new owner then and to the weekly business paper’s rich and famous audience I made the case that our industry was well worthy of the investment of time and money. I wrote: “Race-fixing practices that were once way too common are on their way out. New testing technologies are being used to ensure that horse doping is both uncovered and punished.”

When you have a columnist who takes a 180 degree change in opinion there is a problem.  Considering how few journalists there are covering harness racing, a loss of a columnist is a tragedy.  How did we get to this point?

No, I am not about to write a column on anyone individual.  The problem is we have an industry that is financially 'bankrupt'.  How can I say that with the racinos?  It is easy as it is an industry in a bubble.  Non-racinos are basically broke and they can't afford to spend money on better testing.  The racinos who are racing because they have too have no interest in spending money on improving testing for drugs.

Horsemen at racinos have money, but to think they are going to spend money on improving testing is naiive.  You will hear them say that is the tracks' and regulator's job to rout out cheating..  So what about the regulators?  Regulators in some states get their funding directly from the tracks.  Well, if the tracks are watching what they are spending, do you think they are going to encourage the regulators to spend more money on developing new testing?

But the worst part is the regulation of the sport itself.  Go look at the USTA's fines and suspensions list and you will see fines and suspensions which instead of hurting offending participants are more like the cost of doing business.  At times it seems like a revolving door.  The industry fines a trainer or driver who makes $1,000 a year the same as the person who earns $100,000 a year.  What kind of discouragement is that?  When they finally put the hammer down on some individuals, the regulators often come to a settlement, probably to cut litigation costs; once again due to the tracks funding regulation directly or indirectly and the encouragement to cust costs.  Someone has to really be bad before they get thrown out.  Why don't the regulators keep track of assistant trainers and  who is working for who so we can't have these assistant trainers beome beards.

I think there are plenty of honest people in the sport. But I am not naive.  Instead of blaming an attitude of "I see no evil, I hear no evil", the problem is with the way the industry is regulated.  Until you make the sport's penalties so severe that people won't dare try to gain an advantage, some people will continue to push the envelope.  Maybe we need to have some type of national regulation; something needs to be done..  :

In the meanwhile, I wish Andrew Cohen success in future endeavors and hopefully things will change so he feels he can return to harness racing journalism on a regular basis.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Forest City Pace - Debuting in California and Illinois

This Saturday, the $195,000 Forest City Pace, the signature event for older pacing mares will be contested at The Raceway at Western Fair District (formerly known as Western Fair Raceway).

A strong field has been assembled for this year's edition of the Forest City Pace these nine mares have earned a combined $10.5 million in pures with five of them earning at least a million dollars.  Included in this field is recent Breeders Crown winner Anndrovette, a winner of 11 of 19 this season for $747,338 in earnings.  She will not have the best post possible in the field, but she’ll have Tim Tetrick making his first ever appearance at The Raceway.  Also returning is last year's champion Dreamfair Eternal who established a stakes record of 1:54.3 and has Chris Christoforou in the bike once again looking to pull down the Forest City Pace as in last year's race.

The field for the Forest City Pace will line up as follows:
1. Warrawee Koine (Trevor Henry)  9-2
2. Voelz Hanover (Mario Baillargeon)  8-1
3. Seriously (Jody Jamieson)  - Early Scratch
3. Ginger And Fred (Trevor Henry)   4-1
4. Blissful Smile (Scott Zeron)  7-1
5. Dreamfair Eternal (Chris Christoforou)  6-1
6. Anndrovette (Tim Tetrick)  7-5
7. Chancey Lady (Luc Ouellette)   6-1
8. Ticket To Rock (Jody Jamieson)  5-1

For those making the trip to The Raceway, there will be an autograph session from 5:30pm-6:30pm featuring Tim Tetrick, Jody Jamieson and Trevor Henry.  Fans will be given a complimentary poster with photos of all three drivers on it when they arrive.

California racing fans are not shut out of the Forest City Pace.  California will be taking the Fillies and Mares Preferred Pace (race 11) as well as the The Forest City Pace (race 12).  This is the first time California is taking The Track at Western Fair District's signal for the first time.

For those in Illinois, the complete racing program will be carried at Balmoral Park/Maywood and will be available on their ADW

Normal simulcasting and ADW outlets are also carrying the race such as NJAW in New Jersey.

As always, free racing programs and streaming video is available at The Track at Western Fair District's website.  Post time for the first race is 7:05pm.

Some Weekend Racing Action

Having a little time to look at a few races this weekend, here are three races I have decided to take a look at.  For the benefit of those in California who will be seeing two races from The Raceway at Western Fair District, I have handicaped those two races and I also handicap the Matron Stakes for 3yo Pacers at Dover Downs.  Here is my analysis.  Something to note about The Raceway; they race seven across so post position eight scores from the second tier.

11-26-2011 The Raceway 11th Pace - $12,000; Fillies & Mares Preferred
1  Mach Me Not (Jason Brewer, 6-1) - Comes off a win at Georgian Downs, Share with rail.
2  JingleJangleJingle (Jody Jamieson, 9-2) - Jamieson lowers morning line.  Will need to step up a notch.
3  Grandma Dorothy (Greg Dustin, 8-5) -  Has hit peak form.  Just not sure he will repeat.
4  Call Me Yours (Stuart Sowerby, 10-1) - Leaves WEG circuit and has had three Qs.  Won last by 18.  Ready?
5  Sammy Syd (Michael Whelan, 8-1) - Filled race at 61-1 and finished 3rd.  Has tough spor.
6  Misty Moonstone (Scott Zeron, 3-1) - Just missed in last.  Could be the one to beat.
7  Putnam Mackenzie (Trevor Henry, 15-1) - Draws the outside in the field.  Not likely.
8  Desinger Dreams (Tim Tetrick, 12-1) - May be a tough trip for Tetrick from second tier. May sneak into exotics.
#8 Designer Dreams scores from the second tier.
Selections: 6-1-3-8

11-26-2011 The Raceway - $195,000; Forest City Pace - Final
1  Warrawee Koine (Jason Brewer, 9-2) -  Stepping up.  Don't see.
2  Voelz Hanover (Mario Baillargeon, 8-1) - Consistent sort.  Wiill need to show her best.
3  Ginger and Fred (Trevor Henry, 4-1) - Fringe play in last; almost month off.
4  Blissful Smilee (Scott Zeron, 7-1) - Impossible trips in BC.  Has raced well since.
5  Dreamfair Eternal (Chris Christoforou, 6-1) - Looks to repeat.  Not out of the question.
6   Anndrovetter (Tim Tetrick, 7-5) - Been racing incredible.  But matter of layoff.
7  Chancey Lady (Robert Shepherd, 6-1) - Leaves behind early speed.  May land share.
8  Ticket to Rock (Jody Jamieson, 5-1) - Behind slow leaver.  Hard pressed.
#7 Chancey Lady L and #8 Ticket To Rock score from the second tier.
Selections: 5-4-7-2

11-27-2011 Dover Downs - $221,465; Matron Stakes Fianl -3yo colts and geldings (No Place or Show Wagering)
   2 American Romance (Kakaley, 10-1) - No change in last.  Was better in the Progress.
   1  Hugadragon (Gingras, 2-5) - Elimination winner is weaker part of entry.
   3  Samandar (Tetrick, 8-1) - Able to grab second last week against fave.
1A  Westwardho Hanover (Palone, 2-5) -  Looks to be the best.
   4  Eighteen (D Miller, 15-1) - Can't see.
   5  Lizard Lomg (Pierce, 12-1) - May complete trifecta.
   6  :Lookingforadventure (Callahan, 15-1) - Can't recommend
   7  Mr Tommy Fra (A Mller, 12-1) - Post hurts.  Will need to move early get get involved.
Selections: 1A-3-1-5

WLKY in Kentucky did a report on horse slaughtering of thoroughbrds which starts at the auctions of the United States.  While they did not report on standardbreds, rest assurd many of them follow the same route and will do so until the USTA makes animal retirement or humane euthanasia mandatory.

Another Track for Sale

Hey, want to buy a track at a great price?  $400,000 gets you a 54 acre former country fair site complete with grandstand.  Now, I can't say it is a turn key operation as the government razed quite a few of the buildings, but the grandstand remains as does the track; though admittedly, it does look like the military had artillery practice on the track one time. 

When you consider how much Jeff Gural is spending to resurrect the Meadowlands, what is $400,000?  A mere side expense.  Of course the problem is this track is located in Michigan and is the former Saginaw Downs Racetrack.  The site is being put back up for sale after Saginaw bought it for low income housing without following HUD's rules so they need to sell the site to repay the government.

If you look at the picture in the article, you will see how bad the facility looks now, but thanks to YouTube, here is a look back at the facility when they did race there.

Not only would you be buying a racetrack, but a piece of history.  At one time, the Chicago White Sox had a minor league baseball team that played in the infield of the racetrack and there was an independent team that played here prior to World War II.  You can read about this history here.

Realistically, with the status of horse racing in Michigan, where pures for all breeds and the number of racing days are severely curtailed, you would have to be foolish to buy this track.  It seems another track will be forever lost to history. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Think Before Excluding

In Derick Giwner's blog on the DRF, Derick talks about how much devastation the banishment from Yonkers cost Lou Pena as he is now down to about 25 horses from his 100-110 horses.  Basically, Pena has to almost start from scratch. 

Pena's expulsion didn't just hurt him; how many people did he have to let go of since he lost all those horses?  Some may have been picked up by other trainers, some may have been unemployed during this whole period. 

I am not saying exclusions should not be done, but some serious thinking needs to be done before you drop the hammer.  Not only are you getting rid of the person you want to get rid of, other people suffer with them.

Hall of Shame

I would like to start the Hall of Shame.  The Hall of Shame involves all forms of horse racing.

The first entrant to the Hall of Shame is MGM CEO Gary Barber who let his $30,000 claiming purchase go to the livestock sale where he was purchased by a rescue group for $100 at which time it was found out who had owned him by checking his tattoo.  Certainly a CEO of MGM could afford to take care of a thoroughbred that didn't make it to the races, but apparently he didn't care.  For that, Gary Barber is the first honoree of the Hall of Shame.  I would suggest if Mr. Barber can't afford to keep the horses he buys, he shouldn't bother owning then.

Pena Returns to Yonkers; Mega-9 Comes to Pompano

Harness Racing Update reports Lou Pena's temporary exile from Yonkers Raceway has ended.  As you may remember, Pena was 'asked' on August 4 not to enter horses into the entry box at Yonkers Raceway but was told at that time he would be free to request reinstatement at a later state.  Apparently, he was invited in for a meeting yesterday and was told that Yonkers would accept his entries once again, so you will see his first entry racing on Saturday night.

Rumor had it that Pena was ejected to see if there was any impact one way or the other by him not racing at Yonkers and if that rumor is correct, Pena's departure from Yonkers was had either a negligible or negative impact to the handle.  The other thing to consider is his stable has cooled off considerably at the other tracks he was racing at (Pocono and Chester) and that he has not been found guilty of any use of a miracle drug and does not have a recent record of violations.  With Pocono Downs closed, management at Yonkers may have felt continuing the exclusion when he would soon have no other tracks to race at would have been unfair without some hard evidence.

I think Yonkers Raceway made the right decision.  Yes, any privately owned track has the right to exclude anyone they feel will have a negative impact on their business and I will argue for their right to do so. I am aware that Pena will likely be denied access to the Meadowlands once Jeff Gural has a license to operate it and that is Gural's decision and right to do so, if he feels it is best for his business.

However, the use of exclusionary power is an example of having great power and "With great power comes great responsibility (thank you Stan Lee and Spider Man)".  Other than one positive this summer, Pena's record of late has been clean.  As much as things have seemed to good to be true, the fact remains there has been nothing to pin on him.  Maybe the drop of his UTRs convinced Yonkers to allow him back, feeling the law of averages have caught up with him.  Then again, it may be a case that with the winter season starting, his horses would be needed to keep the entry box full. 

To be sure, the subject of Lou Pena will be one we will be talking about in 2012.  However, for now Yonkers Raceway has decided Pena is not bad for business and there is not enough smoke to keep him excluded.  As to his detractors, let the first one without sin through the first stone.

Some new wagers are coming to Pompano Park starting this weekend..  Feeling to many favorites win, Pompano felt a Pick6 wager would not work there so they decided to make their wager a Mega-9 with a $5,000 guaranteed pool.  The base bet is 10¢.  If no one picks all nine winners, 40% of the net pool will be carried over to the following day's pool and 60% will be paid out to the winner(s) with the most wins of the day.

Pompano also joins this weekend with the USTA Strategic Wagering program with a Pick-4 with a $5,000 minimum pool and a 15% takeout rate.  Both wagers should attract some interest, especially when the pools build up.

My questions to all these tracks that participate in these reduced takeout races, is if it makes sense for these guaranteed wagers, why wouldn't it work with your regular wagers?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Things to Be Thankful For

As many people will be traveling for the holiday, I decided to publish this early.

It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without my annual list of Things to be Thankful For.  So while you are with your family (or horses as the case may be Thursday), think of these things to be thankful for along with your own things.  If you think I missed anyone obvious, I apologize ahead of time.  Just add them on as a comment.  Just a brief note, while I will be around, expect fewer articles over the next couple of days.  Who knows?  I may even go a day without publishing.

Without further ado, things I am thankful for:

Thank you for See You At Peelers who got harness racing attention in Sports Illustrated and other magazines before health issues derailed her season.

Thanks to 'mediocrity' on the racing front for three year olds.  After years of domination throughout the season by one special horse, in a way it was refreshing to see that any horse could find its way winning a major stakes.

I'm thankful for the horsemen who keep fighting for Michigan racing.  With fewer dates and smaller purses, they keep racing from extinction in Michigan.  Even at the Croswell Fair, the Charles Coon Memorial Futurity continued to be raced even with purses slashed more than half from previous editions.  That's dedication to the Michigan horsemen.

I'm thankful for all the horsemen that race on the fair circuit.  You may not be racing for big purses, but you are introducing harness racing to a new generation.

How can you not be thankful for Dave McCaffrery, President of the IHHA and the rest of the Illinois horsemen's leadership who worked their butts off with thoroughbred horsemen jointly trying to get legislation passed for slots at the tracks as part of a larger gaming bill?  They got it done only to have the Governor shoot the bill down because it provided for slots at the tracks even though the Governor had no problem with establishing more casinos in the state.  Heaven forbid you put slots where there is already gambling.  The fact the Governor of a state which increased income taxes rates 67% this year doesn't want to reduce that burden on its citizens speaks volumes.  We would be remiss not to be thankful for the Illinois horsemen who remained in state and have been fighting the good fight.  May they eventually be rewarded

I’m thankful for USTA Director Chris Schick, whose hard work as head of the USTA Strategic Wagering Committee marked a major step forward for the organization’s appreciation of the bettor, whose patronage make this sport possible.  Thanks to the USTA Strategic Wagering Committee, some tracks are able to offer guaranteed pools which they would not have been able to without the Strategic Wagering Committee's assistance.

Speaking of helping the bettor, I am thankful for all the tracks that lowered their takeout rates on some or all their wagers this year.  Hat's off to Plainridge Racecourse that made their takeout rate 12% on all wagers.  Also, am I the only one to notice that Cal-Expo's Pick4s have been reduced to a 15% takeout?

While a little premature, thank you for coverage of harness racing in the Daily Racing Form and depending on how negotiations go with Trackmaster, the appearance of Harness Eye program pages on the DRF's website at the start of next year.

I am thankful for the establishment of HANA Harness, a part of the Horseplayers Association of North America which is concerned with harness racing.

For the directors and members of the CSOA for countless hours of work in order to get 'live' racing back to Rosecroft this year.  This year 20 dates; next year 54 days of racing.

What list would be complete without Jason Settlemoir?  Not only is he the Vice-President of Racing and Simulcasting at Tioga and Vernon Downs, he is the President of the USHWA, in charge of simulcasting at the Delaware County Fair as well as back up track announcer at Delaware.  He is more than proficient at calling races; he can call a race with the best of them.  Then again, what job doesn't Jason do?  I don't know. 

Murray Brown, Vice President and General Manager of the Standardbred Sales Company at Harrisburg, PA and in charge of Public Relations at Hanover Shoe Farms.  Murray doesn't go to work just at the sale, he spends a good part of the spring and summer months 'touring' the country to see the yearlings who will be in that year's Black Book.

For The Record's John Brennan, who has been blogging about the on-going saga at the Meadowlands.  While we are at it, let's not forget Harness Racing Update which picked one heck of a time to debut a publication and had the courage to go forward when the prudent decision may have been to wait until the Meadowlands situation sorted itself out. 

We need to be thankful for people like Heather Moffett, harness racing's Energizer Bunny.  Whether taking care of her family, putting together the Post Time Show, hosting PA Harnessweeek, supporting charities including being a spokesperson for some of them, there are not too many people like her who is a cheerleader for harness racing.

Speaking of Heather, here is her contribution to the list:  "I'm thankful for Check Me Out.  Because of her, I got to see the most amazing comeback in harness racing history.  I was at Dover Downs the night she went off stride in the first turn and was behind the field by a good 20 lengths and still caught up to the field AND crossed the wire first.  It was not just a race but an experience.  I have watched the replay at least a dozen times and when she comes wide around that last turn, I have gotten chills EVERY TIME!   I have never witnessed anything like that in my life and probably never will again."  Well, Heather, if all goes well, there is a good chance we will see Check Me Out in the Hambletonian next year according to Ray Schnittker.

As for me, I am thankful for Foiled Again and how he has stepped up to lose his reputation of being a half-mile track wonder. 

I am thankful for the connections of Rapide Lebel and Commander Crowe for crossing the Atlantic to do battle with Horse of the Year to be San Pail to give us perhaps one of the best races ever in Breeders Crown history.

The French, whose sense of spectacle and standards of hospitality are unmatched in the staging of the great trotting race, the Prix d’Amerique. And for trying to advance common pool wagering between countries.   Whatever the French are involved in, it will never be boring.

I am thankful for the re-appearance of racing under saddle racing at a major racetrack, leading hope that the USTA will be more serious this time and promote this type of racing like steeplechasing at thoroughbred tracks; with wagering.  

My fellow bloggers such as Pull the Pocket, Cangamble, and others.  Some of us covering the betting side of the business, some of us cover both breeds, and sometimes we disagree.  What we all do is have the best interests of the racing fans; something at times which seem to be lost by the industry.

Thanks to Nick Salvi, for volunteering to write press releases for the Grand Circuit Meet in Lexington, KY when there was no one else there to do it.  Of course the question needs to be asked why there wasn't anyone writing releases for Lexington before Nick showed up?

Lou Pena for his sponsoring of the Bronte Epilepsy Amateur Series at Cal-Expo.  Yes, I am well aware of Pena's reputation deserved or not, but a charity has been helped and Cal-Expo got publicity out of this for four weeks.  What other driver sponsored a racing series to benefit a charity?

Morris Bailey for leasing Monmouth Park.  You may think this is an unusual entry on a standardbred-centered blog, but the fact is the future of the Meadowlands and Monmouth park were intertwined.

Isis before
Isis after
People like Randy McCown who took in a starving standardbred that was 'rescued' by another standardbred rescue group for Horse Rescue United and rehabilitated her and is now up for adoption. 

Arian (the former Brickyard Dan)
 at his new home.

Speaking of charitable horse rescue groups, Standardbred Retirement Foundation, who was able to break through a log jam to rescue Brickyard Dan and get him to someone waiting to make a home for him.

Of course, I am thankful for Jean Rastetter for looking after Nick’s Fantasy for almost 14 years.  We need more people like Jean in the industry.  Thanks to John and Paula Campbell for making a donation to help fund maintaining Nick's Fantasy.

Thanks to the Starfish Organization.  This group of horsemen silently go around their business of saving standardbreds and providing for their upkeep until they can be placed into retraining.  We may never know all that they have done, but we can be assured they are there doing it; not looking for credit.

A thank you to the countless horsemen who do the right thing when they find a horse connected to them has found its way to a kill lot or grade auction..  Yes, we have a problem with too many horses finding themselves on the kill lot, but we would be remiss not to remember those that do the right thing when a horse they were connected to long ago ends up in a crisis situation and is rescued.

Tristan (post-surgery)-R along with a buddy
I would be remiss if I was not thankful for a horsewoman like Anouk Busch who in addition to training horses operates Horse Rescue United, a group that rescues primarily standardbreds but will rescue other horses as well, including a Belgian Draft horse, named Tristan; a horse purchased at New Holland for $35, outbidding a kill buyer only to find out at New Bolton that the horse had cancer of his right eye that went into the bone, leaving him with a few weeks to six months to live.  Well, after recently finding out the cancer appears not to have spread much, the cancerous eye was removed so Tristan can live out his life pain-free hopefully much longer.  Well, this terminal horse with a few weeks to six months to live has outlived the estimate by five months so far with hopefully many more months to go.

Tom Luchento for leading the fight for New Jersey horsemen, not only on saving the Meadowlands but for fighting to keep Freehold Raceway operating.  By all rights, Freehold should be dead, but we are looking forward to a 2012 season at the Monmouth County oval.

Was there any doubt Jeff Gural and his partners would be included in such a list?  Yes, you may be racing for more money at Yonkers, Pocono Downs and Chester Downs, but the death of the Meadowlands would have basically killed the industry.  It may not have been this year, but the death spiral would have begun.  Here is hoping Jeff could do something unique with his trio of racetracks.  Of course, the sad thing is those who were praising Gural for acquiring the Meadowlands are attacking him for making his stakes ineligible for horses sired by four year olds.  You don't like what he has done, go race where you are eligible; don't criticize him.  We would also be remiss to mention his many charitable contributions for the local community where Gural operates.

The corniest cliché of all, good health. Whether it be human or equine, you can’t have harness racing without healthy horses, and healthy people to bet on it and enjoy it with you.  Also, I am thankful for the friends I have made along this journey of blogging, in particular Bob Marks and Harnessphere regular Daryl.  

And sadly, for the last time, Stan Bergstein.  To have Stan as a representative of harness racing all these years was a blessing.  Not only as an innovator with the introduction of claiming races, but as a spokesman for the sport all these years.  Thank you Stan for a job well done; you will be missed.

May you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  To our friends North of the Border, sorry I missed your Thanksgiving.

Psst... Wanna Buy a Track?

Wouldn't it be great to expand harness racing's exposure?  Well, Yavapai Downs in Prescott Valley, Arizona goes under the auctioneer's hammer as part of a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Auction.  Arizona?  While there is currently no harness racing going on in Arizona, the law allows for harness racing.  The best thing for any prospective harness racing operator is they don't even have rules established for harness racing so you can get your own rules or the USTA's rules set up (there is even an article in their administrative code that has been reserved for harness racing). 

The best thing is the facility was renovated in 2009 thanks to a loan from the US Department of Agriculture, depending on how the auction is conducted you can also be a proud owner of a auto raceway, and fairgrounds with an indoor arena for non-racing events.

Okay, a little disclosure here is necessary.  There has been harness racing in Arizona and it was short-lived at the Phoenix Trotting Park and lasted 2 1/2 years in the early 1960s.  However, the track was built 20 miles outside of Phoenix in Goodyear, AZ, before any major highways went by the area.  You had to travel dirt roads to get there.  However, to compare harness racing then to the potential for success now is not possible.  The best thing is Yavapai Downs, fairgrounds, and motor park could probably be purchased for less than the $10 million invested in Phoenix Trotting Park (when adjusted for inflation).

But there is an interesting opportunity as long as one is willing to battle the thoroughbred horsemen there.  Up to now, Yavapai Downs raced thoroughbreds and quarterhorses.  Being standardbreds have not raced in Arizona in most people's lifetimes, the likelihood of standardbreds being successful on their own is not likely from day one.  However, if someone was to build inside the main track a quarterhorse track, we could have during the summer months a mixed quarterhorse-standardbred meet.  This would allow people to wager on familiar quarterhorses yet introduced them to standardbred racing.  Where would the standardbreds come from?  California during the two month break at Cal Expo.

The only major track currently operating in Arizona is Turf Paradise, so scheduling can be worked out easily.  The one problem is there is no racinos at the racetracks.

Make no mistake, it would be a challenge for standardbreds to get involved, but it is important to expand the market of harness racing into new states.  Even if you ran a two month mixed meet program at Yavapai intermingled with quarterhorses, you would introduce standardbred racing to a new audience which may improve the exposure of standardbred racing in the Southwest.

Unfortunately, the only casino gambling in Arizona is limited to Indian gaming so the chances of getting a racino is slim to none.  Therefore, a track operator would have to make their living on the OTB outlets, simulcasting and auxiliary facilities at the track.

Odds are no one with a standardbred background will be bidding on the track.

Speaking of racetracks, I can't help but wonder about the Ohio Governor's executive order to get slots installed in the state as quick as possible; most importantly, the part about allowing tracks/racinos to relocate in the state.  For example, yesterday there was a hearing regarding moving Raceway Park into the Northfield Park market.  I realize with the majority of the Ohio tracks selling out to casino companies, racing is a necessary evil, but this wholesale musical chairs approach to moving tracks into different markets shows how little they think about racing.  In fact, if they could get away with it, I suspect each of these casino companies would offer pari-mutuel Barrel racing with thoroughbreds and standardbreds if they could get away with it.  This is a perfect example of the problem of racinos.  While the horsemen look at racinos as their ticket to prosperity, in the long term these slot machines are going to lead to the demise of the racing industry right under their noses.  The shame is I am not sure the horsemen care.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanks to the Governor; Stallions One Year Reprieve

Who would have thought it.  The SBOANJ thanks the Governor for getting Freehold Raceway the money to raise their purses 30%.  I guess the giving season is truly here.

As speculated, WEG has announced starting with the foals of 2014, in many of their races, the conditions will be changed to ban horses sired by four year olds.  WEG is adopting these changes on a trial basis.  Which races are being impacted?  One must assume the major races such as the North American Cup will be included though the specific races will not be announced until early in 2012.  It will be interesting to see if any other racetracks will be adopting the rules as the more tracks who adopt such rules will make 4yos in the stallion shed a money losing option.

Murray Brown from Hanover Shoe Farms takes a minor objection to my article regarding the 4yo Quandry. He claims blaming the breeders is wrong.  Most breeders rather have the horses racing longer, but it is a question of an owner looking to cash in.  If an owner is determined to cash in at stud, it becomes a question of breeder A getting the horse or  breeder B getting the horse; you can't blame the breeder for locking the horse up as a matter of competition.  In this situation, the blame belongs to the owner; especially if the breeder does not take an ownership s take in the horse and just stands the stallion. 

However, we do have cases of breeding farms buying into a horse after their 2yo season or at the start of the 3yo season while they are still racing.  In this case, I would suggest the Breeder shares part of the blame as often those syndication deals state the horse will go to the stud shed after his three year old season.

Let's Talk Reality

This is the article I have been trying to avoid writing.  I thought somewhere, the industry would work together to improve the industry with a solution that didn't involve slots.  Boy, was I wrong.  The only time the industry works together is in a fight to get slots or other forms of gaming at their local track.  The funny thing is once the legislation is put in place to permit alternate gaming, the track is typically sold to a gaming company and they immediately take whatever steps they can to minimize racing to cut loses (perhaps Tioga Downs is the exception).

Are the horsemen upset?  Heck no.   The horsemen seem to be buying new sets of driving colors with bigger pockets so they can stuff whatever money they can in their pockets which has been mandated by the state before the spigot gets turned off.  It is like the promotion tracks used to run, the money machine; the only difference is all the horsemen are in the booth at one time grabbing together what they can.  The difference is this money machine doesn't shut off; what will happen is the state will merely shut the funnel of money being given to the racing industry.

If the states had any sense, they would do what Quebec did.  Cut out all the incentives for racing and pay the breeding farms for a year of two not to breed horses and allow them to time to convert to another agricultural business.  This industry is totally dysfunctional.  Breeders attempt to do what is best for them.  Horsemen attempt to do what is best for them.  Track operators attempt to do what is best for them.  Big time owners have learned to game the system to get their share of the slot revenue which owners of the lesser horses  are tolerated and customers are treated as a necessary evil, unless they can be directed to a slot machine..

Other than the USTA Strategic Wagering Program, what has the USTA accomplished for the promotion of the sport?  It is not lack of wanting to try to do more, it is the limited resources and the sixty-two representatives who are busy protecting their particular turf (be it breeding, racing, or track operation).  So the USTA gets two Zelinski reports and what has transpired since they have been received?  Nothing significant that I am aware of.

There is hope at the Meadowlands; not just because the Meadowlands has been saved, but the fact it is one of three tracks in the Gural portfolio allowing them the option to cross-market the tracks and try different things.  If survival of  harness racing comes, it will come from the models developed at Gural's tracks.  Yet he is worshiped for buying the Meadowlands and once that is done and he comes up with some new ideas, those ideas are treated by most people as something you try to scrape off the bottom of their shoes.

How come the simplest of ideas to get more revenue to racetracks and horsemen has not been tried?  Open up a track-operated ADW to compete against the existing ADWs.  Due to anti-trust laws you can't cut your signal off or price the signal too high, but the tracks can offer similar offers the other ADWs do; rebates and the such.  No, you won't get every dollar back but instead of getting so little of the gambling dollar back into the sport, you can get some of that revenue back for little effort.  Will this solve racing's problems?  No, but it is a start.  Another complaint is there is too much time between races.  What has been done to solve that problem?
I fear the biggest problems racing has is the old timer hold too much sway.  A rule should be passed to make any USTA director or horsemen association director over the age of 50 directors emeritus and invite them to the banquets.  All that would remain is people who have a long time left to dedicate to the sport and let them work on the problems maybe something would happen.

You have to hope.

Racing can be attractive again if people worked on it.  There are too many people concerned with filling their pockets with welfare payments that they forget to look at the bigger picture, fixing the product

Horsemen whine if they draw the second tier so we card races that our few gamblers have no interest in wagering on.  By guaranteeing elimination winners their choice of post position, we make the race for them easier to win because we want to reward them for their victory in the meanwhile there is no allowance made for the horse in the elimination which draws an impossible post position and races well enough to advance.  But we do this because this is what the horsemen want; not the customers.

Takeout is the lifeblood of every non-casino track yet with the exception of a few adjustments on some exotics, we continue to rip the gamblers off if they bet Win, Place, Show, Exactas or Trifectas.  Yet at racino tracks, where the handle would probably contribute enough money to card five races for $1,000 claimers, heaven forbid they reduce their takeouts.  Let's face it, they can offer 0% takeout on those wagers and not impact the purses of most races.

One of the complaints of the Zielinski Report was that racing is basically the same as it was back in the 1950s and here we are two reports later and nothing has changed significantly.

I understand the world has changed and racing may never be king again.  I wouldn't mind the alternative gaming at the tracks if they tried to fix the racing product, but no, racing becomes the ugly stepchild at racinos not worth trying to change. It is not the number of tracks which is the problem, it is the number of tracks racing at the same time which is the problem.  It is not a horse shortage which is our problem; it is the number of days each track operates a week.  In the United States, the racing commissions fail their goals miserably.  In Ontario, the ORC is one of the lead parties to modify the sport.  Neither side is exactly happy but they make sure the number of race days don't go nuts.

 Times a wasting.  Let's get those who really have a lot of time left iin racing together and work on solutions, ignoring those who are just riding out the wave.

Introducing the V86

Starting November 30, the V86 premieres at Solvalla Race Track in Sweden for a ten week trial, replacing the V64  For those locations in the United States carrying the wager, the minimum wager will be 5¢ per selection.  While the goal is to get all eight winners, you can win if you select seven or six horses in the sequence.  40% of the net pool gets distributed to the winners of eight races; 20% gets distributed to the winners of seven races; 40% of the pool goes to winners of six races.  As before, if the payoff for seven or six winners is less than approximately $3, that portion of the pool will be rolled over into the following week's pool.

Unlike the V64 or V75, a player has the option to make his wager only for eight out of eight winners.  If they are lucky enough to have all eight winners, they will be paid 2.5 times the winning dividend for picking eight horses.

Now lets not kid ourselves, this is definitely a lottery-type wager with an onerous 35% takeout rate.  However, it is projected based on testing that if only one person picks eight winners, they will take home (approximately $733,000 or $1,832,500 if playing only eight for eight).  They do project the average payoffs to be $14,659+ or $36,647 if playing only eight for eight) for eight winners; $146 for seven winners; $7.30 for six winners.  Now these are estimates as the currency exchange rate changes.

If you are a Swedish harness racing fan into these types of wagers, I would suggest you check with the mutuel manager of your wagering facility to make sure they will offer the V86 and if they will be offering the eight out of eight only option as this is a fundamental change to the way the Swedish lottery-type bets are handled.

Now, would this type of wager work in the United States?  If people were wagering a few dollars on the wager or if the tickets were being sold at lottery agents, I imagine it would work.  However, if offered like a Pick 6 is at the Meadowlands, it would kill the handle and the gambler with the onerous 35% takeout rate.  Let's face it, potentially a lot of money would go into the wager (especially with a carryover), but if people played more than a few dollars on it, the money would be taken out of circulation and the number of winners would be so few that most of the winnings would become dead money for purposes of churn as well.  Still, it would be interesting to see such a bet offered during the summer months on a Saturday night using early races on the card at eight tracks or at one track.