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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.

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