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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wacky? I Think Not

I read other blogs and today, I noticed the following on, "VIDEO: Wacky, over-the-top pageantry surrounding the Prix d'Amerique 2012 - plus race and post-race footage".  When you click on this link, you get the following video:

Now in general, I like Equidaily.  It is easy to navigate and while it is primarily a thoroughbred website, they will cover the standardbreds as well if they feel it is relevant.  I am also very happy that they found the time to cover the Prix d' Amerique with a story about the race and the replay besides this 'Wacky Celebration'.

Granted, this type of celebration is unusual for Americans. But maybe what Equidaily calls "Wacky" is what racing needs.  At many tracks, winning a major stakes race is treated the same as winning a race for $2,500 claimers.  Certainly considering the Prix d' Amerique is a thank you to America for its help in World War I and it is billed as Harness Racing's World Trotting Championship (it technically is not a European only event; remember Moni Maker?), what is wrong with some pageantry?  When I see TVG's coverage of major Japanese thoroughbred races, they have bands and pageantry as well.  What do these tracks have in common?  They are full; to the gills..

I realize it was called Wacky because it is so strange to us Americans and maybe that is the problem.  No, I don't expect every track to put on such pageantry or for every race day, but maybe if horse racing in general did go a little over the top on special days, our big races would draw full grandstands and maybe more full on the other days.

In the meanwhile, the next over the top racing day will be in May.  Not the Kentucky Derby, but the Elitlopp in Sweden.  Maybe those 'Wacky' Europeans know something about promoting horse racing we don't?

Pick 5 Players - Starting this Friday night, the Meadowlands will be offering a guaranteed $20,000 pool for the $.50 Pick-5 which starts with race one.  It seems guaranteed wagers are the way to go in the racing industry, but is it good for it?  We will talk about it tomorrow.

Let's Go Over This One More Time

There were people discussing Bill Finley's weekend list of winners and losers, where Jeff Gural was considered a winner with the Meadowlands having their first $3 million handle and with Lou Pena dropping his suit against his exclusion.  The discussion pointed out that Pena is still training horses at Yonkers Raceway.

Of course the comments got to what is the USTA doing about the cheats in the industry.  This train of thought indicates that people refuse to understand what the USTA is and isn't.  I can understand the people in the stands making this comment but for people in the industry making this comment shows poor communication between the USTA and their members.  So let's go through it again.

From the USTA's own website:

The U.S. Trotting Association is a not-for-profit association of Standardbred owners, breeders, drivers, trainers, and officials, organized to provide administrative, rulemaking, licensing and breed registry services to its members.

Our mission is to:
– License owners, trainers, drivers and officials.
– Formulate the rules of racing.
– Maintain and disseminate racing information and records.
– Serve as the registry for the Standardbred breed.
– Endeavor to ensure the integrity of harness racing.
– Insist on the humane treatment of Standardbreds.
– Promote the sport of harness racing and the Standardbred breed

Nowhere does it say the USTA is the policemen of the sport.  As most people know, that power belongs to the individual states.  Yes, the USTA may deny membership to some people for various reasons, but when you have some states not requiring USTA membership to participate, it weakens the power to keep certain undesirables from participating.  You may see people denied USTA membership racing, but if a state lets the person drive or train, there will be a record in the USTA database indicating a conditional license, often indicating a state is allowing someone to participate but they need to create a license of some type to keep the statistics to maintain the records of the breed.

If people want the USTA to takeover the policing of the sport, two things are going to happen.  Dues to participants and racetracks will skyrocket and all states who have harness racing need to approve a compact making the USTA or another national body; lets call it the USRA (United States Racing Association) to control the sport on a national level and administer judgement that all tracks and states must be willing to agree with.  It will require states to ceede control of the racing industry, including losing those political patronage jobs and surrender those fees they receive for licensing.  With some states or areas such as lower New York state flush with casino money, they may not want such a compact to exist as racing is honky dory for them (for now).

I would suggest the USTA send with license renewals, perhaps on the back of the license, a reminder of what the USTA is and what it isn't so we no longer have people for blaming the USTA for things they have no control of. has a headline regarding The New Lou which shows the alleged successor to Pena near the top of the Meadowlands training standings,  my assumption (and can't identify the people in the photo) is they are talking about the Burke Stable.  It is a little too early to claim the successor to the alleged exploits of Pena as we just completed the first month of racing; it may be just a case of having their horses ready for the start of the meet.  May I point out there are other trainers with a highter UTR; so it is a question of the number of starters this early in the season.  If this pace continues, say two months further in the season then we may be talking about something different.

If you are following those who some people are allegedly calling beards, PJ Farley is number two in the training standings though the standings are not overly impressive for him as there are other trainers with higher win percentages and UTRS.  I suspect as the season continues he will drop down in the standings.  Bearing is problematic, but as long as the horses are transferred to trainers with clean records it is hard to do something about it.  The industry needs to come up with rules regarding the transfer of horses from suspended trainers to other trainers to ensure there is something like the financial Chinese wall is erected.

Unfortunately, until horsemen demand such changes, it won't happen.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Dream Late Closing Event and Format

March 1 is the day nominations are due for the George Morton Levy Memorial Series ($1.5 million estimated total) and the Blue Chip Matchmaker.Pacing Series (estimated $1 million total) at Yonkers Raceway.  What is so special about these races?  They happen to be ideal the model for the late closing series.  At one time, late closing events used to last longer but then have gotten shorter with only two weeks of preliminaries and then the final.  It is just a question of who is hot at the moment.

Now these two series at Yonkers are not today's late closing events; they are a throw back to the old late closing series.  For five weeks, there are preliminaries and instead of dollars earned, it is the number of points which determines the horses who get into the race final.  Since the series is five weeks long, the chance of the hot horse winning is reduced; it becomes a case of the best overall performers making the final.  Of course entering the series (we will talk about the Levy), is not an inexpensive process as there is a $5,000 entry fee which gets added to the final.  $5,000 is no small entry fee for a late closer.

The beauty of this series is for each of the five weeks, each preliminary in the series goes for $50,000; not divided.  That means is if there are forty horses in the entry box, there will be five races worth $50,000 each weekly.  For horsemen, if their horses are up to it have five weeks to earn a significant amount of money and if you make it to the final, you can really cash in.

What makes this event even more unique is how they decide who gets to race in the final.  They use points, not money earned.  Not just points earned for the top five positions (50, 25, 12, 8, and 5 points), but also 25 points for just starting in the race.  You can't just win a race and take it easy or ship to another track; unless you win three or four legs of the series, you need to race each week because horses earn points just for racing.  Hence the first place horse in their preliminary earns 75 points, but a horse that finishes at least sixth through eighth still get 25 points so one bad week of racing or drawing a bad post doesn't eliminate you from the series.  As long as you race you have a chance.  The other thing is the Levy does not have any large number of entries in the final.  Since the conditions allows no more than one two horse entry in the race per trainer or owner, so you will not find any owner or trainer with a three or four horse entry in the race.

One day it would be nice if this series could be raced alternately between Yonkers and the Meadowlands each week even if Yonkers gets the final every year but if the Meadowlands is looking to ensure a good horse supply when the Pennsylvania tracks open, having some longer series similar to the Levy would be a good way to ensure horses stick around for at leat six weeks at the track as well as make for a better final.

In the meanwhile, speculation will soon start to build as to which horses enter the series. Since the series starts on March 24, the top horses are typically missing from action still, however for the horses that thrive at this type of year, it is a good chance to make some serious money.

Last Word on the Prix d' Amerique:   I found out that program pages created for PMU (the French tote company) were created for North American interests, similar to Prix d' Amerique pages provided by  Haness Racing Update.  The program pages were offered to the few ADWs carrying the race.  I don't know if the NJSEA didn't want to purchase the programs for their ADW customers, or no one could figure out how to get the program pages to the ADW customer.  All I can say is I hope a deal with Monmouth goes through soon so the NJSEA is out of the picture when it comes to NJAW.  No wonder Monmouth and the Meadowlands lost money; towards the end NJSEA ran the business the same way as NYC OTB was run.  How much could it have cost them to purchase the PMU North American program pages and put it on their website?  Did they even think of it?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

We Have a Long Way to Go for Global Simulcasting - Prix Results

The Meadowlands offered wagering on the entire Prix d' Amerique card.  I appreciate despite the transition of the Meadowlands to new operators, they realized the Prix was not on the original schedule (NJAW is still controlled by the NJSEA), so hats off to the Meadowlands for getting the Prix put on the schedule with less than a week to go.

That being said, the Prix d'Amerique simulcast shows America is not ready for global simulcasting. Here are a few of the problems that came up with the simulcast.

1.    While full card simulcasting was being offered via the NJAW, there was no streaming of the early races, so if you wagered on races 1-3 and the Prix, you didn't know if you won or lost until after the fact; probably by seeing the results posted.

2.    Besides the morning line, all the horses in each race showed odds of 99-1; you had no way to know if a horse was getting public support or not. In addition "Unknown" was a busy person and also a very busy stallion and dam. On the website, every owner, sire, dam, trainer and driver was Unknown.

3.    In addition, according to NJAW every race was supposedly at the distance of one mile including the 1 11/16 Prix D' Amerique. Purses were not reported correctly.

4.    Races did not show if they were monté races (race 1), or sulky races with an autostart or vault,

5.    You may say I am picky, but if they can get all the information correct for Australian and European thoroughbred racing, they should be able to get the information correct for French harness racing.

This should not be taken as a slamming of the Meadowlands. A lot of the problems I am sure were caused by Scientific Games, which runs the NJAW site for the NJSEA.  Whether it was the short notice, the inability to get the program information in a timely manner, or just the fact they don’t have enough staff on duty for an early (7:45am) first post to get the information up it was inexcusable.  Of course, there have been problems with other harness simulcasts when it comes to multiple heats so it may be Scientific Games doesn’t know enough about harness racing.

However, there were other problems which took place outside of the actual simulcast.

It might have been good if a program was provided for the racing card. NJAW gamblers were left to their own devices to find a program or something similar to handicap the races. If not for Harness Racing Update providing
program pages for the Prix d'Amerique, a lot of players would be using information which is not easy to use, especially if they forgot their high school French (as did I).  Or I suspect with the exception of the Prix, they just sat out the races. If HRU could get program information for the Prix, I am sure such information was available for the other races. How hard would it have been to put the program pages on the website of NJAW?  I am sure gamblers would have been happy to pay Trackmaster or the Daily Racing Form for program pages if they would have been made available (free program pages would have been better).

It may seem like I am nitpicking, but not really. Clearly the American standardbred industry has more to do when it comes to foreign simulcasting of harness racing, in particular with importing races.   Bad enough program information is not standardized which makes it a challenge for handicappers, but how do we expect to make harness racing popular as a global simulcasting product when people can't get reliable information to make wagers? While it is sad most harness tracks survive with taking wagers on thoroughbred races, wouldn’t it be nice if tracks looking for more revenue for purses and operating expenses could get it by taking wagers on standardbred racing from Europe or Australasia?  To do this, it will be essential to offer a simulcast product which people can bet on; be it racing in the morning from Europe or racing from Australasia in the evening. If the thoroughbred industry can manage global simulcasting, why can’t the standardbred industry?

You can't expect horseplayers to wager on foreign harness racing when they don't know anything more than the horse's name. So what happens is people say there is no interest in foreign harness racing when they sabotage themselves.  While I am focusing on NJAW, I am sure other ADWs had similar problems or didn’t even try.

Maybe there is no interest in wagering on foreign harness racing in the United States, but you can’t tell if you can’t get a simulcasting event right.  I am sure some of those NJAW horseplayers were done by the fourth race and went back to sleep or did other things; the frustration must have been tremendous.  However, for the Hambletonian and Breeders Crown events, Europe is anxious to take those races so I suspect there may be a market for their events if sufficient marketing is done to make gamblers aware of the races. .

Another opportunity presents itself in May for the Elitlopp. It would be good if the USTA could coordinate with Swedish standardbred authorities, ADWs and racetracks to ensure a full card simulcast from Solvalla of Elitlopp day takes place, making sure program information is available for American gamblers, making sure all tracks and ADW services have the opportunity to participate. Maybe then, we can see how much interest there is in simulcasting foreign standardbred races.

A longer term project is the standardization of racing information from the various standardbred racing authorities so each country can have past performance information gamblers can understand.  While each country may not be able to provide all the information foreign fans usually get, they should be able to provide information so foreign gamblers won’t scratch their head and say, what am I looking at?

Meanwhile, the 2012 Prix D' Amerique is now history and for the second year in the row, Ready Cash was an easy winner of the famed race.  While winning was easy for Ready Cash at 2-1, there was a much closer finish the rest of the way, with my top pick Roxanne Pick, at 32-1 coming in second with The Best Madrick coming in third at 80-1.  Maharajah, the horse expected to challenge Ready Cash finished fourth.  Timoko, another of my picks finished fifth.   The winning time for the 2,700 meters was a kilometer rate of 1'12"0.

Watch the race in the replay and tell me something like this couldn't catch on with North American horse players.  Note the video is very long.  If you want, you can start at the 3:00 minute mark and get an idea for the crowd and the vault start.  I would love to see the vault start here in some races.  People complain about recalls, but the race actually got started very quickly after the siren called for a restart. 

One thing I found very interesting was the loudness at times of the crowd.  It sounded like the time Zenyatta won the Breeders Cup in California.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gaming as Part of Redevelopment, Florida's Wild West

I read an article this morning about the Barrel Racing facility in Gretna, Florida and I must admit, I am a little less opposed to parimutuel barrel racing.  It seems Gadsden County in Florida, where Gretna is located, is the poorest county in Florida.  The county is 96% minority and reminds me a lot like Tunica, MS which at one point was the poorest county in the United States which became a mecca for casino gambling.  Did it solve all the problems of Tunica?  Probably not, but it was a shot in the arm and did provide for jobs.

Anyway, as the people in Gretna point out, they are not a bunch of hicks, they have been working with the developer of the Grenta entertainment facility for several years which has donated property for an indoor equine arena so it can become a year round destination for equine events as well as other improvements.  The city wants casino gambling as their way to get out of poverty.  Up to now, the developer has delivered everything they have promised and they also said they are here to stay if the casino referendum is invalidated by the state.

How many people know the people at Gretna have committed to building a regular quarter horse track for regular quarter horse racing?  Based on their track record, maybe they should not be doubted.  Yes, the people of Gretna and the developers may have pulled one over the state, but that is the fault of the state, not the people of Gretna.

The problem is Florida's rules regarding racing are so out of date and laisez-faire that it is like the wild west.  First of all, they have so many quarter horse licenses out there that I wonder if they really know how many there are?  The state first of all needs to better define what quarter horse racing is to avoid the barrel racing fiasco and prevent further abuse of the licenses.  After reading about Gretna, I am not sure parimutuel barrel racing should be outlawed, but perhaps restricted to a three year period to allow the funding and development of a traditional quarter horse race track in economically depressed areas.  At the end of three years, parimutuel barrel racing would not be allowed or severly restricted.

The second thing is the State of Florida needs to get those quarter horse licenses not being used back.  If the license is not being realistically used; and not one day of quarter horse racing, they should be automatically forfeited and the number of licenses reduced. 

Lastly, how can there be so many quarter horse licenses, a fair amount of thoroughbred licenses, yet only one standardbred licenses?  At one point there were more than one standardbred license in the state and admittedly some of the other tracks didn't do well.  Yet rather than allowing those licenses to remain in existence, the others were cancelled.  I am not suggesting a slew of standardbred licenses, but perhaps a few more licenses should exist.  A second license may allow Florida horsemen to race during the summer when Pompano is closed; perhaps at a track like Tampa Bay Downs, or a summer fair circuit to bring racing to new markets and keep the horsemen busy; perhaps in Gretna near Georgia where they are hoping to introduce standardbred racing.

The bottom line is horsemen complain when the state is over regulated, but the opposite is true.  Florida's racing is regulated so little that it is like the wild west.  It is time for someone to come in and bring order to Flordia's racing regulations.

Holding on to their last nickel:  One thing we have learned in America and Canada is harness horsemen hold on to their last nickel made with slot machines.  In Harness Racing Update, there is an article on how the runner market like crazy to get the Breeders Cup into an event which surpases the racing.  Yet, with all the money horsemen in slot states make, see what horsemen do to promote the sport.  Yes, the Breeders Crown is a big race, but once it is over, it is over.  Standardbred Canada asked for 5% of purse money for markeeting and they got a resounding no.  No lead up to the Crown, nothing.  We have the race happening and it goes away till next year.  Will harness horsemen ever learn?  I tend to doubt it.

Has it Been That Long?

Moni Maker is 19 years old?  Wasn't it just a few years ago that we saw Julie Krone take the Queen of Trotting around The Red Mile oval monté style, in a time trial?  The DRF, which to its credit is trying to do a good job covering harness racing had a feature on the Queen yesterday.  Time has treated her well, the only problem being arthritis which has slowed her down in the paddock.

Quite honestly, Moni Maker is probably the greatest trotter I have ever seen.  Unfortunately, in a sport that see dollar signs in breeding, the credit and accolades given to her back in 2000 have started to fade away as every new 'superstar' stallion showed up.  However, name the last American race horse that has had success in racing over in Europe against their best?

This being Prix d' Amerique weekend, how could we not show her winning the Prix d
 Amerique in 1999

As an added feature, her she is winning the final heat of the Elitlopp in Sweden:

Her last race in sulky was a victory in the Trot de Mondiale - Hippodrome de Montreal (2:38.3 - 1 3/8 mile).  Moni Maker also won at tracks such as Cagne de Sur, France and Turin, Italy.

They don't bred them like her anymore.  May she live a life of leisure for a long time as she rule her paddock.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Trés Bien - Good News for Prix d' Amerique Fans in NJ

News comes to me that streaming and wagering for the Prix d' Amerique will be offered on 4NJBETS starting at 9:25am.

I have located a program online.  The website for today and possibly tomorrow is  By Sunday morning you will likely need to drop the /demain/#top in the address.   While it is in French, you should be able to navigate it.  You can use it online or print it out.  If you want more specifics about the horse's races, just click on their name and you will get more information in a seperate tab.  You can even get past performances of recent races and filter them by monté or sulky; Autostart (starting gate) or Vault (standing start).

The Prix d'Amerique is the 4th race on the card which is where wagering begins.  Earlier this week, I gave my selections for it.  There are 9 races on the card so you will be able to wager on races 4-9.  Out of these races, they are all under sulky (no monté or under saddle races).  Races 5 and 7 use the starting gate while races 4, 6, 8, and 9 will be vaulted starts.

If you play, good luck.  Even if you don't play, the races are worth watching.

Good PR; Then There is Reality

The New Jersey Racing Commission (NJRC) has released the annual report of equine testing results for the previous year. A total of 18,777 blood and urine tests for prohibited substances were taken at The Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway. Only 25 positives were detected; 16 from Frreehold and nine from the Meadwowlands. The NJRC also indicated 51 out of competition tests were taken for EPO with none of those tests being positive. Of the total of 18,777 blood and urine tests performed for prohibited substances at harness racing tracks. Of 4,032 Blood Gas tests done, there was one positive.

With these results, how can we be worrying about a drug problem? This is testing for known medications; tests they have the abilitiy to test for. Well harness trainers are not idiots. If you can test for a certain drug, why would you use it? If these test results were to believed, why does Jeff Gural feel the need to exclude horsemen?

Because while this testing is important as it keeps honest people honest, it's not the honest people we need to worry about. We need to worry about those who find the medications where there is no testing for, the drugs we don't know about. How many horses are racing with those substances?
These test results are good for public relations. Those who have been involve with racing long enough know better.

Harness Racing Update reports that there is a reasonable chance for slots at the Meadowlands in 2017 as Senate President Sweeney and the Governor have said Atlantic City has five years to get their act together. This may be the case, however if a casino comes to Yonkers and Aqueduct, five years is too long as it will give New York a big advantage financially. By the way of you get HRU, don't forget to read the section who tells you who works for HRU; at times there are some inside jokes there.

Yesterday, we mentiond John Brennan's column about Lou Pena withdrawing his lawsuit and the possibiliy that a deal was worked out. In a later version of the story, Jeff Gural denied a deal was made claiming " It was soley his decision".

There is something I have neglected to mention. The new season of "Here They Comes", featuring Jessica Schroeder and Paul Ramlow, has been running for this season already. It really is a quick recap of what has happened and what will be happening in harness racing this week. It really is worth watching. This week's episode is below.

"Here They Come" -- 1_26_2011 -- USTA from USTA on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pena Drops Suit

John Brennan of The Record reports that Lou Pena had his suit dropped against Jeff Gural et al without prejudice.  By withdrawing the suit 'without prejudice', Pena has the ability to refile the lawsuit, something which would not be possible if there was a ruling after a trial.

Brennan is unsure if the suit was dropped because he felt he had no chance to win or if there was some type of truce with the Meadowlands regarding his expulsion.  I know at Pompano Park, Pena claimed his expulsion from the Meadowlands was temporary to give other trainers a head start according to some senior officials, but I tend to doubt any such assurances were given.  If anything, there may be an understanding this exclusion is not permanent in that next year Pena will be able to reapply to race and if he keeps his nose clean, he may be able to race, but I would be really surprised to see his return this year with the possible exception of stakes races.

Bob 'Hollywood' Heyden returns to the Meadowlands tonight and Saturday to help provide coverage of the winter late closing series which are concluding this weekend.  Expect him to be in the winner's circle on Saturday for his interviews with the winners.  This is part of the agreement for Heyden to be part of the Meadowlands team for important events.

Field Set for the Prix d' Amerique - Analysis and Selections

The field is set for the 92nd edition of the Prix d' Amerique at Vincennes-Paris.  As expected, a full field of 18 horses have declared for the race.  At this time, there is no indication 4NJBETS will be offering wagering (but we will continue to check), but for those who will have the ability to wager, here is the field and my analysis (any times listed are in kilometer rates).

Update: Wagering on the Prix d' Amerique is being offered by 4NJBETS.  The entire card is being offered but no video for the early races.

  1- Royal Dream (FR) – Jean-Philippe Dubois  The obvious horse.  Winner of last three races.  Does well on the vault start.  But a little suspect at the distance.  If you are shopping for odds, you will skip this one; especially in this overflow field.

  2- The Best Madrik (FR) – Jean-Etienne Dubois   Came up empty first race of the year.  Seems to have tailed off since September when racing easier company.  

  3- Roxane Griff (FR) – Eric Raffin   Loves this track.  While wins are few, finishes 2nd or 3rd often.  Timed in a 2850 meters race in 1'13"4 and 2700 meters at 1'13"0.  A trip can put him in the winners circle.

  4- Noras Bean – Stefan Söderkvist     Last victory at this distance came in Sweden, racing at Axevalla.  May find this a tougher bunch.

  5- Punchy (FR) – Jean Boillereau   Wins have been coming at smaller tracks.  This bunch may be much harder.

  6- Sévérino (FR) – Christian Bigeon  Won the Prix Tenor de Baune at the race distance of 2,700 meters in a kilometer rate of 1'12"9 and has occasionally had victories on the vault.  Outsider, but can't be eliminated.

  7- Main Wise As (FR) – Pierre Levesque   Seems to be able to handle the vault start but has not faired well at this race's distance.  Pass

  8- Private Love (FR) – Matthieu Abrivard  Realistically a monte horse.  Don't see in here.

  9- Quif de Villeneuve (FR) – Franck Leblanc    This son of Coktail Jet won last week's monte race, the Prix De Cornulier, earning the start in this race.  However, this horse is just as good in the sulky.  This mare is dangerous with no problem with the autostart.  Ignore at your peril. 

10- Save The Quick (FR)  – Jean-Michel Bazire  Finished second last week in the Prix De Cornulier.  Loves the standing start but best efforts are in monte races.  Does pick up a good driver in Bazire and this seems to be a good distance for the horse.  Not out of it.

11- Iceland (SE) – Bjorn Goop   Owned by Stefan Merlander, has not had a good season at Vincennes.  Last victory using a vault start was on October 22 in Sweden in a rate of 1'1"9.  Does pick up a big driver change with Bjorn Goop.  Because of the driver change, will not disregard.

12- Timoko (FR) – Richard Westerink    A logical pick to win it all.  May not be the fastest but consistently in the top two.  Loves Vincennes and won on Christmas day the Criterium Continental.  Best time at this distance is 1'12"0.

13- Perlando (FR) – Jos Verbeeck   Winner of last start in Holland and always seems to be put in a good effort.  However, best efforts come in autostart races; vault is a disadvantage.  But distance seems to be favorable.  If looking for a longshot, may be worth looking at.  Lifetime record of 1'10"7.

14- Orlando Sport (FR) – Sébastien Baude   A rank outsider.  Disqualified in last race at Vincennes and unplaced in prior start.  Last victory in Canes back on March 18, 2011 in a race with a starting gate, winning in 1'14"3.  I think one to easily dismiss.

15- Lisa America (FR) – Dominik Locqueneux  The often talked about Lisa America owned by Lou Guida.  Best efforts at Vincennes comes back in 2010.  Finished seventh in the Prix de Belgique being race timed in 1'13"4, but finished 3rd in the Prix de Bretange where she completed the 2700 meters in 1'13"6.  Seems to be able to handle the vault start.

16- Maharajah (SE)– Örjan Kihlström   This Swedish horse gives his best performance at Vincennes.  Finished fourth in the Prix de Belgique behind Royal Dream and Ready Cash.  Has a lifetime mark of 1'10"3 with a timing of 1'13"0 in the last race.  A contender but has not lived up to his early reputation.
17- Oyonnax (FR) – Yves Dreux   Definite outsider, but was the same when he won the Prix d' Amerique last time.  First start this year was in the Prix de Cornulier, a monte race won by Quif de Villeneuve.  His record before that monte race was less than inspiring. If anything can be said positive for Oyonnax is he is at his best with the vault starts.  Lifetime mark of 1'10"1 with last sulky race coming in with a kilometer mark of 1'11"6.  Last race at this distance he finished in 1'12"4.

18- Ready Cash (FR) – Franck Nivard    Has been on a tear of late, winning three races straight before finishing 3rd in his last start, losing to Royal Dream who draws post #1. Last race was at 2,875 meters, but did win at the Prix's 2,700 meters distance.  Record time is 1'10"3.  Last race was 1'10"6.

Selections: 3-12-9

Horse Rescue United has a decent part performance pages for the Prix only.
Thank you to for providing me with information to do my analysis.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Photo Credits

By now, you have noticed a new picture being used on the blog.  The picture is a start of a race at Tioga Downs.  The photo was taken by Fred  J Brown and is being used with his permission as well as the permission of Tioga Downs.  Thank you for allowing me to use a wonderful photo such as this.

To fully appreciate the photo, you may want to click on the title of an article and scroll down to see the whole picture uncovered.

Maybe not Sacrebleu? NYSS Notice

Hold on to your tickets.  I have now been informed that there is an attempt to get the Prix d' Amerique on 4NJBETS.  It has not been added to the schedule yet so I don't want to say one way or the other if there definitely will be the Prix d' Amerique on New Jersey's ADW.  Check back periodically for updates to see if it has been added to the schedule or not.  Right now, unless I hear otherwise, I would have to assume not, but it may change.

For those of you who may have planned on racing in the NYSS LC series this year, beaware of some changes.  The State Fair and the fair stakes have been merged into the Excelsior Division.  Some details may be found here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sacrebleu! No Prix D' Amerique in New Jersey

New Jersey racing fans who are used to wagering on the Prix D' Amerique at the Meadowlands or through 4NJBETS appear to be out of luck this year. 4NJBETS is still being run by the NJSEA and since the Meadowlands is now leased by a new operator, decisions on what is carried on 4NJBETS is made at Monmouth Park at least until a new operator is found for Monmouth Park.

It shouldn't come to anyone's surprise that a person at Monmouth Park likely knows nothing about the Prix D' Amerique so it appears it will not be carried this year within New Jersey as the people at Monmouth probably didn't even know about it when it came to setting up the schedule.

Well if decisions are goint to continue to be made at Monmouth Park, about what will be carried on the NJ simulcast and ADW network, we'll chalk up this year's lack of the Prix D' Amerique as victim of the transition or perhaps being it is rare that an American horse races in the Prix, it could be a money loser so that is why it's not being carried. The question is come May will there be Elitlopp coverage if an American horse races in it? Will there be coverage of the Gold Cup and Saucer which actually did better than the second string thoroughbred tracks last year on the ADW? Most important of all, will there be racing from the Delaware County Fair, home of the Little Brown Jug in September? To standardbred horseplayers, these are important questions.

If there is no one at Monmouth with the knowledge of what harness races are big to harness fans, it is the responsibility of Meadowland management to educate those responsible for setting up the schedule for their ADW. If 4NJBETS can't adequetely provide service to the New Jersey standardbred player, then it is time for the state to legally allow New Jersey residents to set up accounts with other ADWs so they can wager on the races they want.

I would suggest those outside of New Jersey who wish to wager on the Prix D' Amerique, check with your ADW to see if they will be offering wagering on it. There typically needs to be a hub location to establish the North American pool. I assume the Meadowlands was the hub in the past? Did anyone else take over the hub responsibilities?

The DRF Past Performance Pages Debut and Review

The DRF has debuted the new harness racing past performance pages.  There are two version of the past performance pages.The DRF Daily Harness PPs (sample) is basically your basic race program with comments available for selected races (based on the tracks they have people recording comments).  On the bottom of each race page, you will find selections from certain handicappers and consensus selections.  The cost per program (discounts are available) is a $1.50 per program. 

The other version they have is the DRF Harness Eye PPs (sample).  No doubt, you need to have better eye sight as there is more information on racing line.  In addition to the Daily Harness PPs, you will find each horses individual quarters, speed ratings, track variant and track bias (how many horses went wire to wire in the card).  The trainer of the horse is listed on each line   For races longer than a mile, they also list the mile fraction as well as the final time and shows the horse's record for the last three years at a particular track.  Other features are also provided.  The one problem I have with the Harness Eye PP's is track sizes are not being reported .  Where as the basic report shows Chester Downs as a 5/8 track; the Harness Eye PPs does not indicate track size.  Another thing I don't care for is neither program uses the official track abbreviation for all tracks listed in the past performances.  So where as in official programs at tracks shows Chester Downs as Chst5/8, the DRF shows Chester Downs as ChD.  You also get more race lines per horse in the Harness Eye PPs.  Anyway, the cost per program (discounts are available ) is $2.75 per program.

Quite honestly, comparing the DRF and Trackmaster past performances, you do better with Trackmaster's Past Performance programs which are also priced at $1.50 as you get more information than with the DRF Daily Harness PP pages,  When comparing the Trackmaster Platinum Past Performance pages against the DRF Harness Eye PP, I prefer the DRF product even though it is $.25 more than the Trackmaster product.  I personally find the Trackmaster Platinum Past Performance pages too busy for my own liking.

The DRF offers discounts per number of programs while Trackmaster offers unlimited program plans.

Of course, everyone looks at different things when handicapping.  My suggestion is to try each program and see which one meets your handicapping needs.  The price differences for each 'basic' product and 'sophisticated' product are close enough that price should not be a factor in your decision.

Does Anyone Have Faith in Racing?

Another article discussing another state's horse racing industry pleading for slots.  This time it is Minnesota considering slots at Canterbury Park and Running Aces.  I have a question for everyone in horse racing (that is all racing breeds).

Does anyone have faith in horse racing anymore?  To be more precise, does anyone have faith in horse racing besides Jeff Gural?  Make no mistake, nothing would please Jeff Gural than getting slots at the Meadowlands, but it is his goal to make racing fun and self-supporting.  It seems the only thing anyone in racing (with the exception of California which has its own problems with casinos as a result of its compact with Indian gaming) knows is slots, slots, and slots.

Yes, I do reluctantly support slots at racetracks only because those tracks without slots are competing at a severe disadvantage but nothing would please me more than having every single slot machine yanked out of every racetrack in the United States.  I rather have track officials and horsemen get together and discuss how racing could survive on its own and compete against the casino industry.  Things like:

  1. Divorced from state racing commissions and establish a national regulatory body.
  2. Speed up these blooming horse races.  There is no reason why races can't be run five races in an hour.
  3. Lower takeout.
  4. Introduce new bets
  5. Set up a national racing calendar which sets up the schedule for racetracks throughout the country so there is not 30 or more thoroughbred and harness tracks operating at the same time.  Have each track run seasons and have them run from 10am in the morning until midnight on the East coast.  There is no reason why more than ten tracks from all breeds are running nationally).
  6. Provide alternative entertainment at the racetracks which would be held before or after the racing card so racetracks would become destination centers.
  7. Appreciate customers.  They are no longer degenerate gamblers.  The customer should be looked at no different than the person who attends baseball or other games.
  8. Remember why we are here.  We are here for the customers, not ourselves.
  9. Standardize rules with meaningful (severe fines and suspensions)..
  10. Establish a more reliable tote system where people are confident there is no past posting.
  11. Establish a national ADW system which will compete against the ADWs that will offer rebates to the heavy hitters yet instead of making their owner a profit, run as a non-profit and return more to the racetracks for purses and operating funds.
  12. Improve capital spending.  If a track does not maintain or improve their facilities, reduce the number of racing days.
  13. Ensure the humane treatment of race horses including retirement and post-racing careers.
  14. Speaking of humane treatment.  Concessions that people actually would want to eat, not have to eat.
  15. Uniform drug testing including referring class 1 and class 2 drugs to prosecutors.
  16. Establish regional training centers under the control of the national agency which would be the same as if they were stabled on the backstretch.  Horses would be shipped by the national agency to the respective tracks to prevent on the road doping.
  17. Commissioner or some other regulating board to rule on certain issues.
  18. Obtain a monopoly exemption from the US Government only for purposes of regulation to allow regulators to suspend those who need to be suspended until a hearing can be held to expel an individual when clearly necessary.
But no, that is too much work to even try.  We rather go on the welfare rolls and once the tap is closed off we'll all go home.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's Prix D'Amerique Time

We are in the final countdown for the Prix D'Amerique which will be held this coming Sunday, January 29, 2012 at Vincennes-Paris in France.  This ultimate event in racing for older horses also known as the World Harness Racing Championship will be contested for the 91st time and is scheduled to go off at 3:30pm Paris time.  Eighteen horses will contest for the €1,000,000 purse, racing at the classic distance of 2,700 meters (1.6777 miles).  The race is classified as a Grade 1 International event, the highest ranking possible in Europe.

For those who have seen the race before, a little known fact is if nine or less horses are entered, the race will be contested using the starting gate.  However, if as typical, more than nine horses are entered to compete for racing honors, the race will be started by what they call a 'loudspeaker start' which more resembles the standing start of the steeplechasers in this country.

The final field has not been drawn for the race but Ready Cash is the early favorite, winning three of the four major 'B' qualifying races (there are a total of six qualifying races).

That being said, I have collected for your review all the qualifying races for the Prix d' Amerique; enjoy viewing them.  My thanks to VarenneFan who posted these videos on YouTube.  If you want to see the best races in the world, subscribe to VarenneFan on YouTube.

The Prix d' Bretange won by Ready Cash:

The Prix du Bourbonnais also won by Ready Cash:

The Prix de Bourgogne also won by Ready Cash (starting to note a trend):

The Prix de Belgique won by Royal Dream (Ready Cash finished 3rd):

The Critérium Continental won by Timoko:

The Prix Ténor de Baune won by Sévérino:

And lastly, while not an official qualifying race, the Prix de Cornulier, a monté race where the winner is traditionally invited to the Prix d'Amerique.  This year, the winner was Quif de Villeneuve who set a new race record (mile rate of 1:55.4):

What a Difference a State Can Make

While racetracks in Illinois won't be getting slots, there is a big difference between New Jersey and Illinois, the racetracks got the casino industry by the proverbial, well you know what.  There won't be any new casinos in Illinois without the racetracks getting some compensation in the form of subsidies or impact fees.  It is not the racetracks hold much sway, it is the politicians from Southern Illinois, the ones who raise the racehorses in the state, grow the hay and grain for the industry are dead set against more casinos unless the tracks are compensated.

It is a complicated situation in the Land of Lincoln.  The casinos don't want to pay, the tracks don't want the money going ot the state first, as the state have tight pockets as they still haven't appropriated to racing the $27 million dollars the tenth casino in Illinois owes racing according to state law.  As an outsider looking in, if the casinos don't pay the racing industry subsidies directly, there is a good chance no new casinos, including the one planned for Chicago aren't going to get built.  It's nice to see racing in the drivers seat once.

PTP reports that in Ontario, they are considering moving the slots out of the racetracks and into the city proper; this in one of the most racing friendly provinces.  If the slots leave the racetracks you can imagine what is going to happen to purse and operating subsidies.  Not saying it is going to happen tomorrow, but believe me, if it could happen in Ontario, it can happy in __________ (fill in the blank).

Vintage Master is making his last career start this coming Saturday in the Presidential Series at the Meadowlands prior to heading to the breeding shed.  I realize Golden Receiver is the logical selection to win the race, but for sentimental reasons, I hope this six year old son of Western Ideal goes out on a winning note.

Prosecute Your Way to Integrity?  At this weekend's presentation before the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association, Jeff Gural indicated prosecution may be the way to restore integrity to harness racing in harness racing and if he has his way, New Jersey will be the place the prosecution will take place.  It is clear suspensions and fines are not stopping the shenaningans, so he may be right.  The question is will a district attorney or attorney general dedicate the resources towards such a prosecution.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pena Talks

Lou Pena was scouting out Pompano Park this weekend and was interviewed during Saturday night's racing program.  In the interview, it appears the legal challenge to get back into the Meadowlands is at an end as he said in his interview with Pompano's Frank D Salive  "I think for now I have exhausted all of the legal avenues of appeal so I'm at their mercy on whether The Meadowlands would take my entries in the future".  Pena is appreciative that Yonkers, Pocono and Chester are still accepting his entries.  At the present time, he has thirty-five horses at Gaitway Farms in New Jersey.

According to the press release, Pena claims that he has been told by "senior" management at the Meadowlands lower than Jeff Gural that this suspension may be temporary in order to give other trainers a head start in 2012 and he may be allowed in later in the season.  Now, I have no inside information, to contradict what Pena has said, but based on the fact he is not allowed to race at Tioga Downs or Vernon Downs, he may have been better off talking to Jeff Gural directly.  The best scenario I could see for Pena at the Meadowlands is if his entries would be accepted only for stakes races like the Meadowlands Pace.  There has been some speculation that Pena's three month exclusion at Yonkers Raceway was done so others would have a chance to rack up some wins, but after Gural's pronouncement on integrity, I just don't see Pena returning to the Meadowlands anytime soon.

Anyway, Pena did indicate he is considering joining some of his former California colleagues at Pompano Park in the fall if he is accepted and would be sending some of his better horses down to race there if he is permitted to race in Florida.

Trottingbreds in the News: For those not familiar with trottingbreds, here is an article in Tampa Bay Online about the only track, Sunshine Raceway which is dedicated to the trottingbred sport.
Sad Story:  It is never a pleasant story when you see children fighting over a parent's estate.  Apparently this is what is happening over the estate of Joseph Parisi, the prior owner of White Birch farms in New Jersey.  It has gotten so acrimonious that it has made the New York City newspapers.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Difference Between a Racino and a Racetrack

As earlier mentioned today, the Northeast had its first real winter snowfall.  About 4" to 6" of snow fell.  By late morning Yonkers Raceway had cancelled but the Meadowlands is racing tonight.  How can tracks a mere 18 miles (by road) come to different decisions?

Cleaning the track? Yonkers is a half mile track and the Meadowlands is a mile track.  One would think it would take longer to clean a track that is twice in size so that can't be the problem.

Getting the horses to the track?  Some of the horses come from the Goshen area of New York which did not have any more snow than the Yonkers-Meadowlands area, but some of those same horses race at the Meadowlands.  Besides, most of the horses come from the farms in New Jersey for both tracks.  If they can get to the Meadowlands, they can get to Yonkers; perhaps having to leave a little early.  So that can't be the problem.

Simulcasting problems?  True NYRA (Aqueduct closed for the day) but I am sure their ADW was operating as would their television channel in New York City.  As for the Meadowlands, I am sure they have been simulcasting all day.  That can't be it.

Parking Spaces?  Well, the Meadowlands has to clean parking spots for the customers to park in and they need to be able to get to the track so that takes some resources.  As for Yonkers Raceway, the same would need to be done but they also need to make sure their slot customers have parking spaces available for as sure as racing was cancelled at Yonkers, you can rest assured the casino kept on humming.  Could it be Yonkers cancelled to make sure enough parking spaces were available for their slot players?  That's a possibility.

Priority of Racing?  The Meadowlands is racing.  They handle on a Saturday night at least two million dollars via simulcasting and live racing.  No racing, no money coming in (even if the track has historically been losing money).  Yonkers?  Oh that's right, racing is the loss leader.  They actually lose money on racing so by being able to cancel racing, there is no need for tellers, or track crew for the night hours.  The betting they would have received would not cover the expenses of racing tonight plus the purses.  The money stays in the purse account and will get paid out another evening, jacking those purses up.  So the snow gives them an excuse to cancel racing tonight and reduce the losses from the racing side of the business at Yonkers.

So for racing fans, now you know the difference between a racino and a racetrack.  The racetrack will try to race if possible.  The racino looks at a snowstorm as an opportunity not to race.

$5 Million to Go

Note: When originially written the mentioned press release led me to believe this investment was in addition to the $75 milllion already collected.  It now seems the Clairvest investment was part of the $75 million.  I still think getting the $25 million remaining is academic.

Jeff Gural estimated that it would cost $100 million to build the new grandstand for the Meadowlands.  Having $75 million lined up, the doubters (which harness racing seems to have a lot of) figured in this economy, he would have a hard time getting the remaining $25 million to get the project underway.

Well, the magic number is now $5 million as Gural got an investor who bought in to the project for $20 million.  Clairvest, a Canadian private equity management firm committed this much to the project.  Actually, Clairvest is investing $4 million while the balance of its investment is coming from funds it invests for investors.

Only $5 million remains to be raised.  Do the doubters still think Gural will never get the $100 million he needs?  When will people learn not to bet against this man?  Maybe it is because this is an industry which tends to go round and round and accomplish nothing.  Gural has no time for this.  He has a goal and he gets there; no time for saying you can't.

Well the Northeast is finally getting its first snowfall, if you don't include the October 29 nor'easter which dropped about 8" in this area.  For those who don't think there will be racing this evening, the Meadowlands is still hoping to race.  With the snow expected to start tapering off after noon and wrap up around 4pm, there is still a good chance racing will be occurring there.  Yonkers Raceway has already cancelled..  However, for those who are concerned, it is time to handicap Northfield Park, they close as frequently as the New York Mets win the world series.  Actually, I wish it wouldn't stop snowing that quick; nothing nicer than seeing a trotter racing in the snow (the drivers will probably have a different idea).  If you prefer warmer environs, Pompano Park and Cal Expo will be certainly be racing tonight.

Being it is a snowy day here, those of you who are going through cabin fever and missed it the first time, PTP had a great blog entry about lobbying politicians.  Granted he aimed high, but the point has been made.  It is time for racing to use some of that slot revenue to lobby for horse racing.  If you don't read PTP regularly, you really should.  While I tend to focus on the standardbreds, PTP tends to cover harness and throughbred racing from the business side.  He should be on your must read list.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Kiss Chi-Town Slots Good Bye

The sad reality is slots in Chicago racetracks are dead.  The Governor is against it, the casinos are against it because it would put slots at the tracks near existing casinos.

That is the bad side of it.  The good news is it appears the casinos are ready to pay impact fees to the tracks to get them out of the slot bills.  The question is how will the casinos pay the money to the tracks.  The casinos realize to get Southern Illinois legislators to go along with a non-racetrack slot bill, they are going to have to pay to play.

The problem right now is how to get the payment to the tracks?  Some want the fees to go through the government as a pass through.  The racetracks, based on prior experience with the state wants no part of it.  Some want the tracks to enter into a contract with the casinos directly so the payment goes straight to the tracks; not giving the state a chance to appropriate the fees as they have done in the past.

It is clear racetracks will get some help.  The question is how the help will come.  They won't be getting a full loaf (the casinos), but they will get half a loaf (impact fees).  As we all know half a loaf is better than no loaf.  New Jersey horsemen would dies for a piece of a loaf.  I have one message for Illinois racetracks and horsemen.  Don't blow it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gold Cup and Saucer Documentary

You have heard me talk about the Gold Cup and Saucer for several years.  Now, a documentary has been produced about the 2011 Gold Cup and Saucer and the nine days leading up to it and what it means for Charlottetown.

It is a little over an hour, but definitely worth watching.

Exhibition Drive from Jeremy Larter on Vimeo.

Trackmaster, DRF, USTA Forge a New Deal But Still Miss The Mark

Today it was announced that Trackmaster, the Daily Racing From, and the USTA have a new deal to allow Harness Eye and the Daily Harness Racing Program, staples of the metropolitan New York area to be offered through the DRF website and a few selected sites.  Quite honestly, being the two publishing companies are owned by the same company, any losses by one will be gained by the other.  For those outside of the greater New York Metropolitan area, harness players will get a chance to uses the same handicapping tools that have been available since the Yonkers-Roosevelt circuit was intact.

As much as I applaud this agreement, they still miss the boat.  The agreement does not allow for American harness tracks to offer free programs on their website as is allowed in Canada.  I am not saying they need to contain the proprietary handicapping information of Trackmaster or the Harness Eye, but individual tracks should be able to offer the bare bones basic program you got at the track before Trackmaster took over as the controller of the past performance information.

Trackmaster or Harness Eye, serious handicappers are going to want to and will be willing to pay for their proprietary information, but for the person just starting out, that basic program online is likely all they want; anything more is going to confuse the novices.  The key is to get the program in their hands or on their screen.  Making them pay for it is a discouragement.

Best Wishes for a Speedy Recovery to Billy Parker Jr at Monticello Raceway who had prostate surgery and will be sidelined until March.  I always liked Zeke and personally think he has not been given the recognition in the sport he deserves.  Yes, he's a journeyman toiling it out in one of the smaller racing markets but if you knew what he went through, you would appreciate him more for turning his life around.

Kodak Files for Bankruptcy, What Racing Has In Common

A sad bit of Americana is biting the bullet as news comes that the venerable Eastman Kodak Company has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy today.  What does Kodak and horse racing have in common.  For 131 years, Kodak depended on film to fund the company, believing film would always be used.  Finally, it awoke and realized this fad, digital cameras heralded the digital age, but it still thought it could survive by keeping on selling film and developing it. 

Eventually it realized too late that film was history and they went into the digital printer business, but too late to save the company.  Unfortunately for Kodak, no one proposed that they be able to build a filcino where you could by film and play the slot machines.

Which brings us to horse racing.  As mentioned in the famous Zelinski Report, harness racing hasn't changed it's business model from the 1950's (and this applies to the runners as well) and it finally woke up and realized society was passing it by.  Sure racing could survive, but the format (delivery, type of product, type of wagering) would have to change.  The only difference between Kodak and racing is that state governments started having problems and needed financial help so they gave racetracks slots to share the profits with.    Sure, racing added simulcasting and reluctantly added account wagering, and in a stroke of genius, developed the Strategic Wagering Program but who are we kidding?  It is still the 'same pig with lipstick on it'; the same product with no prospect of drawing in new fans.  The racing hasn't changed, the type of bets are essentially the same; the time between races is painfully long, and the takeout for racing is still in the film age while casinos offer takeouts in the digital age.  

For those of us who truly love racing, we can only hope leadership can arise and get racing into this digital age before time runs out.  Let's face it slots, is keeping the business from going into Chapter 11.

Fortunately, there is a glimmer in East Rutherford, NJ.  A slight Europeanzation of the sport with a 1 1/2 mile series with fourteen horses; the promise of a 16 horse 1 1/8 mile race down the road with the Hambletonian Society.  Who knows how European the racing will get?  Don't be surprised to see more innovations both on and off the track at the Meadowlands.

In a perverted sort of way, what Christie did to the Meadowlands may be a blessing as it gave Jeff Gural the opportunity to get into a market where the horsemen are equally desperate trying to avoid their own Chapter 11 and willing to make changes they would unwilling to make with slot machines. 

Personally, I think Gural has basically told the rest of the industry to keep on fiddling like the orchestra on the Titanic while he has work to do revamping this sport.  When he comes up with a model that works, the rest of the industry can either join him or go down with the ship (I apologize if the analogy causes heartache with anyone at this time, re: the Italian Cruise ship).  This has been noticed in Canada where Gural will be speaking this weekend in front of a sold out crowd.  Certainly he has his detractors but in an industry which fights change it is to be expected.  All I can say to the deteractors is remember Kodak.

Congratulations Italy, You Are in the Same Mess We Are In

I don't know if congratulations is the right word.  What we have is another country's horse racing industry racing itself to the edge of the cliff when all of a sudden they realized they had a problem and wondered "How do we turn around from here?".

You can guess the answer; slot machines!  Two MPs (Members of Parliament) are proposing the use of slot revenue to revive the sport which has been shut down this year so far due to the perilous financial constraints they are in.  There will be no racing in Italy until financing for purses (slots) has been secured.  Remember, Italy is a Euro country and they are having their own problems so giving horse racing slot revenue is far from a slam dunk.

Of course North American Harness racing has been living on the edge of the cliff since it got slot machines as racetracks and horsemen have done virtually nothing to get racing turned around and walking away from the cliff edge.  Pull the slot revenue and racing goes over the cliff.  There is a glimmer of hope in the United States (and North America) as a trio of tracks, two of them 'B' tracks (Meadowlands, Tioga and Vernon Downs) are actually trying to reinvent the racing model and drag the rest of the industry along with it to change the game to give it life.

Welcome Italy to our world.  Hopefully you get your slot revenue and make the changes needed to walk away from the cliff before you get pushed over.  Somehow, assuming they get their temporary support from slots, I have a feeling they will be further away from the edge of the cliff than we will be five years from now, because right now North America racing is a lot closer to falling off the cliff than we realize.

Hopefully we don't meet at the bottom of the cliff.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Promotions: If They Won't Come to Racetrack, You Bring the Racetrack to Them

One thing racetracks tend not to do is think out of the box when it comes to promotions.  They basically think what do we need to do to get people to come out to the track?  Typically it boils down to a mystery tote ticket or a give away T-shirt or baseball cap.  This is fine, but all it does is get people already exposed to the track back to the track; it does little to get new people in the door.

Now, if you think out of the box, you may think more along, to paraphrase an expression, "If they won't come to the racetrack, have the racetrack come to them" and this is exactly what happens in Te Anau, New Zealand where they have the Te Anau street races.  By the way, Te Anau does not have a racetrack in town.  What they do is on one of the streets in Te Anau, they put down a small racing surface and they have a set of twelve two horse races.  Attendees can buy pseudo-currency to make bets on the races as well as food and beverage.  At the end of the day, there is a Dutch auction for travel vouchers and electronics.  All profits for the day go to local charities and harness racing wins good will..

The day turns into quite a social event as these pictures show.  People have a great time, the harness racing community and local racetrack establish good will, and no doubt some of these people who see these races undoubtedly decide to go visit the nearest racetrack for a night of racing.

Certainly this is thinking out of the box and not an inexpensive event to put on which requires the cooperation of horsemen.  But you will also likely get the most publicity in your local newspapers (and television)that you have seen in years. 

Sometimes you just have to think out of the box.  Let's see if there is any North American track that will try an event like this.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Meadowlands Racing Menu Changes and a New Attitude

I had a previous chat with Mike Newlin, the General Manager of the Meadowlands, and he indicated after the first couple of weeks of racing, there would be some changes to the betting menu.  Well, the changes are here:
  • The dollar Superfectas have been eliminated.  A couple more dime Superfectas will be added, but not on races that start the 'Pick' wagers.  While the dime Supers are back they will need to be wheeled or boxed with a minimum total wager of $.20.  More about this later.
  • As for the Pick 3s, last year, the rolling Pick 3s had the least amount of wagering interest, that is why they were all but eliminated (only the last three races).  However, customers want Pick 3s so a few more Pick 3s will be offered.  Hopefully, with fewer Pick 3s, they will be better supported.

Some people noticed the Superfecta had been raised to a 20% takeout but it is still one of the lowest rates around for the wager.  What they did not notice is at the same time the Pick 3 was reduced to a 20% takeout. (corrected)

While the $1 Superfecta is history, it should be noted while everyone noticed the $1 Superfecta pools were less than half of the dime Superfecta pools, it came at the expense of the Exacta and Trifecta pools which were diluted without increasing the total handle.  That's right, the dime Superfecta was not adding to the total handle, just money shifted away from other pools.  This shows what happens when there are too many wagers in a single race, you just cannibalize the pools and reduce the churn.  That is why not all the $1 Superfectas are going to be replaced with dime Supers; only a few.  

Earlier today I mentioned some of the changes at the track, I neglected to mention that in the dining room, there is no longer a table minimum or a seating charge so if you elect to dine at the track, you won't feel obligated to order a certain amount of food to hit the minimum and the money you spend can now be spent on dinner itself, not just the privilege of sitting there.  I plan to get to the track soon so I can report back on how low the food prices have gone in addition to the quality and variety as well as have a pleasant evening at the track.

This past weekend in Harness Racing Update, there was some conversation about how little advertising was done for the Meadowlands meet this year thus far.   Mike Newlin, the General Manager at the Meadowlands was kind enough to tell me what kind of advertising was done to promote the opening of the meet.  Here is the list of advertising thus far for the first two weeks of racing:

  • Television commercials on all of the area cable networks
  • Radio spots
  • Online banner ads
  • Print advertising in the larger New Jersey newspapers, The Star Ledger and The Record as well as local community papers.
  • Ten billboards taken out on all of the major highways near the Meadowlands including Route 17, Route 80 and the New Jersey Turnpike as well as a giant digital board on Route 495 going towards the Lincoln Tunnel to benefit those people who work in New Jersey and live in New York.
Compared to what I have seen in the past, this is a gigantic increase in promotion.  From what I recall, in the past few years, advertising other than for the Hambletonian was non-existent or minimal; certainly not this level of commitment.

There is certainly a new attitude at the Meadowlands and it is refreshing when compared to the past  moribound feeling.  If you live in the area, there is no reason why you shouldn't go for a night at the track and see how much has changed.  I can tell you about all the changes, but the best way to is for you to experience it yourself.

Traditionalists Rejoice and Hambletonian Society Delivers for 4yos

Traditionalists rejoice.  Jeff Gural has signed a contract with the Hambletonian Society to continue to host the race at the Meadowlands for an additional thirty years.  While the race will not be going back to its winning of two heats in a single day to be declared Hambletonian Champion, starting in 2013, heat racing returns to the Hambletonian.  That's right, if more than 13 horses enter the Hambletonian, the race will be split into eliminations to be contested not the week before, but the same day and then the top finishers will return for a final heat with the winner considered the Hambletonian Champion.  The Hambletonian Oaks, has the option of racing the elimination the week before or the same day as the final.

This year, the purse will remain a guaranteed $1.5 million, but starting in 2013, the Hambletonian will be reduced to a $1 million purse with fees reduced and all horses that start in the final will earn purse money.

In 2014, the Hambletonian Society will introduce the Hambletonian Maturity which will be open to eligible four year olds, helping meet Jeff Gural's idea of making it profitable for 4 year olds to keep racing.  The race will be at a distance of 1 1/8 miles and limited to a field of 16 starters with all horses earning purse money.  The Maturity will have a purse of $400,000.

This makes sense.  First of all, in the stated goal of making a day of racing exciting for those in attendance, nothing like a two heat race to make the day special.  As far as I was concerned, the Hambletonian in the current format was basically just a race with a large purse; the heats should make the race something special.  Going back to winning two heats in one day may be too much, so this is a good compromise.

Then for the Maturity, those attending the races get to see sixteen horses racing a longer distance; again something different; making the event something special to win.

Yes, the Hambletonian purse will be reduced to pay for the Hambletonian Maturity, but $1 million will still get the attention of the press.  Wagering on a multi-heat Hambletonian is bound to do well in Europe and their appreciation of  older trotters racing a further distance is sure to keep their wagering interest; and sixteen starters is normal in Europe.  Foreign simulcasting-wise, this is a winner.

As far as I am concerned, these changes can't come soon enough.  This homogenized type of racing we have needs to change.  Even better, it probably saves multi-heats for the LBJ and Kentucky Futurity that had been talking about going to single heats.

How is The Meadowlands Doing Thus Far?

While some people focus on the negative with the New Meadowlands, people need to give them a break; they have had control of the Meadowlands a total of twenty-five days, lets look at some of the positives thus far.

The Meadowlands is successful in drawing in more people to the track.  During the first five days of racing, their online attendance has increased 24.9%; no doubt some of this being helped by Free Fridays when there is no admission charge to the track and live racing programs are free (something that will occur all season).  But these people are not just sightseers as the on-track handle has increased 32.3% for those five days as well.  The overall Meadowlands pool has increased 1.8% over the same days last year with fewer races carded.  Maybe 1.8% doesn't impress you but considering how handle had been dropping, the increase is a welcome change.. 

Even those who have season boxes benefit.  The prices have been reduced by 60% over last year's prices with the same number of racing days last year.  So those regulars who come often are getting a benefit as well..

Yes, it costs $2 instead of a $1 to get into the track on Thursdays and Saturdays but that includes a live racing program so compared to prior years there is no net price increase.  The only difference is that everyone comes in getting a program.  So people who just come along with their spouses or friends, may crack open the program and make a bet; something they didn't do before.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"Bearding" and the Reality

I spent all day thinking about this subject, and quite honestly, I chucked a column on the problem with bearding.  I did some research on one particular high profile case and found a certain trainer got possession of a suspended trainer's horses with the rules followed.

Now, certainly the racing commission does not have these rules with anticipation of the original trainer getting involved and I am sure there are many times the old trainer follows the rules and stays out of things, maybe it is someone who worked for him that has taken over; that is the way things are set up and if there is a problem, blaming the tracks is not the answer; the issue is with the racing commissions.

While most trainers follow the rules regarding trainer suspensions, there are those few who undoubtedly 'cheat'.  They do so at their own peril for if they were to get caught, the original and current trainer would have the proverbial book thrown at them.  However, let's face it; the rules have not kept up with modern technology.  In the old days, if there was any suspicion of bearding, the racing commission could demand the records of the home phones and they could check who was calling who.  These days, there is the Internet, cell phones (including disposable phones) that make such tracking much harder and perhaps the biggest problem in tracking who is doing the real training is the fact many tracks closed their backstretches.  Clearly, tracking those that are tempted to cheat is much tougher.  While suspending trainers is the way to go when there are medication violations, Ontario racing officials have the proper answer to the problem; suspend the horses as was done with Crys Dream this past year.

Owners need to be accountable when they select a trainer.  Anyone who signs up can access Pathways and see the record of a trainer and how many infractions they have.  From their 'resume' an owner can decide on who to hire.  If a trainer gets caught for a medication infraction, the trainer should continue to be suspended, but the horse who was the subject of the infraction, should be suspended as well.

Suspension may be a harsh penalty, but the only way you are going to get the problem of medication violations solved is if the owners share in the penalty.  When they realize they are not going to get a free ride when a trainer gets caught, maybe then owners will watch who they hire to train.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Problem With Exclusion

As we are seeing from the current actions at the Meadowlands, exclusion is turning into a tool to get those people management feels counters their best business interests out of the way.  Of course, the problem is there is nothing to keep those people from racing at any other site.

First of all, you will never hear the reason why a person is asked to leave.  You see (saw) the battle with Lou Pena and the Meadowlands over the right to exclude; that is the exception.  Could you see what would happen if the Saginaw Raceway sent John Doe or anyone else a letter saying we will not accept any further entries from you because of your alleged drugging of race horses?  You will be seeing that track in court real quick for defamation of character.  I guess you can say we are denying you privileges of racing at The Track due to the number of infractions on your record but then when you are in court, you better be able to show that the number of infractions of the remaining participants have less infractions than the person you excluded.  So by nature, you need to say 'thanks, but we think it would be best for all if you didn't race here".

Typically, that person will be showing up at another racetrack to ply their trade.  You may ask how they could have that person racing at their track when they were excluded at another track?  First of all, unless the excluded person makes a point of making it public, you may guess but will never know for sure that a person has been excluded.  First of all, the person will already have made a point of racing elsewhere along with a story of how they decided to shift their operations.  If the grapevine suggests a person has been excluded, try to find out from the track he/she has been racing at why they were excluded. 

Ever go look for another job and try to get an official recommendation from the company?  Most likely all your old company will tell them is you worked for them from X to Y and your ending salary was Z.  If you were terminated from your past employer due to a cause, they may play the game "Is Tom eligible for re-hiring?", the other company may answer "Yes" or "No"; with 'No' being the code word for this person is toxic.  If Tom ever finds out that a company foolishly told your potential employer why you were fired, even if for theft, there is a good chance your old employer will be expecting a visit to court for defamation of character.  With racing, the track may even deny the exclusion, but if another track told them you were excluded, you can rest assured they would never tell them why you were excluded.

So exclusion really is a way for one track to get rid of a person, but it merely passes the person on to another track.  That's the problem with exclusion.  However, because we don't have any national regulatory agency, exclusion is the best tool available to get a problem individual of your race grounds.  A simple letter, saying we will no longer accept entries from you as of a certain date, is a lot easier than waiting for your racing commission to revoke a license of individual it being a state agency must go through a much longer legal process, which admittedly, many racing commissions rather not handle.

Forget about a commissioner.  Unless the racing states sign a compact to form a national racing regulatory organization to regulate the sport, exclusion is the best way to handle the problem.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Business Growers; Where is Hollywood?

What does The Raceway at the Western Fair District and The Meadowlands have in common?  Both track are trying to get more people in the seats and betting.  So what?  Ask yourself if your local track is really working to get more people to go to the track or if they merely go through the motions with a periodic promotion?  In Harness Racing Update, there is a cover story on Western Fair and Greg Blanchard and their attempts to get their track more business.  Through their tireless efforts, including re-branding The Raceway, and expanding into the states, this London, Ontario racetrack is now the number two track in Ontario behind the WEG tracks.

We can expect a similar effort at the Meadowlands starting this year, but really taking off once the new grandstand is built.  Sure there are some initial bobbles, such as raising the takeout on the Superfectas  to 20% and the  confusion caused by having different minimums on the Superfecta (currently $.10 and $1).  Some people complain about only one Pick 3 on the race card.  I assume General Manager Mike Newlin and his staff will be monitoring betting and demand and making changes accordingly.  Of course, being a slot track, The Raceway has a little more ease in making changes, but make no mistake, the Meadowlands will be returning to its former greatness; it is just going to be a little slower.

One of the changes is a claiming series for $7,500 claimers at a distance of 1 1/4 miles which was won in week 1 by Tearful Image in 2:57.2.  Betting was off a little from last week in the ninth race; whether it was the odd distance, $7,500 claimers, or both  is hard to say.  The fact is the Meadowlands is willing to make changes instead of playing it safe  The Raceway in London, Ontario is doing  similar things, may they both be rewarded.

Many people have been wondering happened to  Bob 'Hollywood' Heyden, a staple o the Meadowlands for many years.  It turns out he retired in August but will be working for the Meadowlands on special projects.  He will be co-host of the television show in February and then will be working on special event days, such as Meadowlands Pace night and the Hambletonian..