For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Saturday, March 31, 2012

It is Time for Commissions to Act

We can only speculate why Andrew Harris has been excluded from Woodbine and the Meadowlands as neither track will publicly explain why.  It is more about the suspended Casie Coleman.  Both tracks likely said 'enough'; ownership of horses changing to remove Coleman; a simple transfer of Coleman's stable to her assistant; not even having to move the horse to a different stall.  These two tracks were not going to allow what appears to be a flagrant circumvention of the rules go without any consequences.

This is not about bashing Casie Coleman.  She just happens to be an example of what is happening throughout the industry; the use of beards.  Her's is just flagrant.

Of course, not every circumvention of the rules are that obvious.  We have had individuals with a grooms license automatically become a trainer and take over the horses from another trainer.  Transfers of horses to another trainer with little success all of a sudden becoming a force to be reckoned with and other abuses of the system. 

It would not surprise me if these two tracks along with Tioga and Vernon Downs become allies in restoring the integrity of the sport.  Expect the exclusion rule to be used in the future by these tracks for trainer changes that fail the smell test.  If it smells like a circumvention, it will be treated like a circumvention. 

However, those tracks willing to take such efforts should not have to.  The racing commissions are failing big time by not investigating trainer changes and ownership changes.  Racing commissions should implement an assistant trainer category and keep a database of which assistant trainer works for which trainer.  The USTA should allow free access to Pathways to racing commissions and there should be a way for tracking transfers of horses or ownership horses from a suspended individual to another entity and have it come up on a report.  They should allow assistant trainers to upgrade their license and become trainers but they should not allow the suspended trainer to send their horses to them.  There should be a way to track transfers of horses from trainer to trainer so not to see a horse stop at a 'neutral' trainer to only end up in the former assistant trainer's barn until the original suspension is served. 

Common sense should also take place.  Licensees should not be a trainer in one state and a groom in another state, which is sometimes done when a state has looser guidelines for a 'mere' groom.  How does a groom go to a trainer without becoming an assistant trainer or as now done, how do we simply allow a groom to become a trainer and take over horses from a suspended trainer without being challenged?

Yes it costs money, but the industry must deal with the beard problem once and for all.  I understand it isn't easy, sometimes they will get away with it, but we must make it difficult and when they do get caught, the hammer must come down on them hard.

If we can't get hold of this problem, we are in trouble.  It is money people don't want to spend, but it must be done.  If racing commissions don't want to do the work themselves, then outsource it to a central group willing to do the work as it will be more cost efficient.  The point is just do it.  It shouldn't have to be up to the tracks to do the work commissions should be doing.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Oops. Standardbreds Get the Black Eye

At the recent USTA meeting, the official policy regarding Lasix was to continue using it as a therapeutic medication for bleeders on race days.  Okay, we all probably expected that.

Well news comes today that the Jockey Club updated their Reformed Medication Rules.  One thing of note is they stated that thoroughbred horses should run only when they have no race day medication, including Lasix.

Seems we have a disconnect here.  One thing for sure, on the case of medication, harness racing comes out looking worse.

Hat's Off to Meadowlands and Woodbine, Boo Yonkers and NYSRWB

Kudos to officials at the Meadowlands and Woodbine for refusing to accept entries by Andrew Harris during the term of Casie Coleman's suspension.  For those who aren't aware, Coleman is serving a 45 day suspension for a medication violation in Canada.  So what happened when she got suspended, she transferred the horses to Andrew Harris who is her assistant trainer in New York.  In a case of being the most flagrant use of a beard, the two tracks said no way and are refusing to accept entries from him.  The net result is a Hat's Off to the Meadowlands and Woodbine for refusing to be played for a fool.

On the other hand, a Bronx Cheer to Yonkers Raceway and the NYSRWB who seems to have no problem accepting entries from Andrew Harris, who has been racing horses who were previously listed as being in the Coleman stable, including Levy contestant Reibercrombe, who was suspended for ninety days.  While originally scratched and an appeal was made, somehow the NYSRWB found a technicality to allow the horse to race despite the suspension.  In addition, as Brett Sturmann notes, Coleman who was a part owner of the horse in Canada is no longer an owner now.  Will the horse become partially owned by Coleman afterwards once again?  Regardless, Yonkers Raceway should have done the same thing the Meadowlands and Woodbine are doing regarding this flagrant bearding, so a big Boo to Yonkers Raceway for lacking the courage to act against an obvious ploy to circumvent racing rules.

Transfers of horses under suspension should be initiated by the owner and not the trainer,  While it shouldn't have to be, it appears the racetracks are the ones who are going to be the ones who will need to be vigilant against bearding.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Dominos Are Tumbling

First the Ontario provincial government informed the racing industry that the $345 million paid to horse racing purse accounts in the province will be ending as of March 13, 2013.  While only three tracks so far no their fate, there is sure to be more collateral damage; to what extent remains to be seen.

Then this week, we heard the New Brunswick provincial government is ending it subsidy support of the harness racing industry as of March 31, 2013 to the tune of $600,000 (that's a lot of money in New Brunswick racing terms).

Now we hear the Saskatchewan provincial government yesterday informed the harness horsemen there that they are out of luck, to be loosing $320,000 which covers the purses and operating expenses of sixteen out of the twenty dates racing is contested in the province.  Specifically, the horsemen there were informed: The horse racing grant has provided a subsidy for operations and purses at racetracks in the province for many years. However, in a time where the government is reviewing all its spending in relation to its core priorities, this support is not considered a priority.

Who knows if another domino will be falling in Canada?  I suspect we will find out shortly.

The point being, for those in the United States who still want to insist it can't happen to them, all it takes is one state to take back the subsidy, to tell the racing industry that "in relation to its core priorities, this support is not considered a priority" and there is a very good chance that it will set in motion a bunch of states saying, "Hey, why not?"

All it takes is one domino to fall....

A Retirement of Note; Classified Racing Returns

One of the great ones has been retired and it may be a horse you never heard of.  Monkey King, the New Zealand wonder has been retired at the age of nine (July 1 is the universal birthday in the Southern Hemisphere).  Monkey King is the winner of $3,487,401 lifetime, making him the richest New Zealand bred horse.  His lifetime mark was 1:50.8 in winning the Miracle Mile in Australia. 

Unfortunately for Monkey King, his legacy may have been somewhat cheapened by his connections who, by some estimates, kept racing him a year and a half too long.  Instead of a retirement ceremony, he was quietly yesterday when his connections realized there was no sense to keep going and threw the towel in.  But he was one of the great ones, racing against the likes of Monkey King, Auckland Reactor (who in spite of his North American disaster is still a great horses), and others.

Here is a video of his last win, back on September 18, 2011 in a Grade 3 stakes event at 2,600 meters from a standing start.

Here's wishing Monkey King a well deserved retirement.

Pull the Pocket has another must-read post today regarding what is going on in Ontario.  Basically, it asks the question as to what does racing do now in Ontario now that the budget has been passed with the $345 million cut to horse racing via the Slots at Tracks program.  Do they spend the money the government is giving them this year to help transition to the forced self-sufficency, or do they just take all the money they get from the slots and throw it in purses and throw themselves a de facto going out of business party? 

There is also some signs of glimmer in PTP's post.  We all know by the super sized trainers that people who really have no interest in racing other than as a means to make money have come into the sport making it in effect an arms race; who can afford to spend the most on vet bills and vet trainers to make a quick return and run the horses into the ground.  Could it really be, that once the slot money is gone, racing in Ontario becomes a sport of those who truly love racing for racing sake remain and the days of the massive vet bills go away and what remains is people who race their horses basically on hay and water, love their horses for what they are and not as an investment mechanism, will give them time off when they need it instead of having them raced into the ground?  It may sound naiive,  but I that is what I think will happen and quite honestly, I don't think that is a bad thing.  Maybe then, we will have people who will agree to race short meets and have the sport go back to what it once was, a sport instead of big business.

Classified racing has returned to Pompano Park.  Before people get upset, conditioned and claiming races still exist, but the Isle Miles are here and it appears horsemen like it.  And why not; it gets horses raced who normally wouldn't get a chance to race.  The way it works is any horse entered in a claiming race for $6,000 or more and conditioned horses entered in nw3cd or higher where their races don't fill, get placed into the Isle Mile pool automatically ($6,000 and $8,000 claimers have an option not to transfer) where the racing secretary will handicap the horses and file Isle Mile 1, Isle Mile 2, Isle Mile 3, and on down.  This seems like a win-win situation.  The track fills its races, horsemen get their horses raced instead of sitting in the barn, and handicappers get easier races to handicap.  In other words, it is best of both worlds.

A couple of notes:

It looks like Rockingham Park is not going to resume live racing any time soon as the state's House of Representatives defeated an expanded gaming bill which may have paved the way for live racing at Rockingham Park.

In the thoroughbred world, the Thoroughbred Racing Protection Bureau (TRPB) paid a visit to a trainer at Tampa Bay Downs.  Why the reason for the visit?  A 46% win rate.  Admittedly, I don't know much about the trainer or Tampa Bay Downs, but anyone who is that successful should expect a visit from racing officials to check out their operation.  Super trainers occur in even in thoroughbred racing as well.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Educating the Public and Sobering Up

Many people will recognize Sam Landy as the owner of Congress Hill Farm and the father of rising star Harry Landy.  He can now add lobbyist to his title as he is promoting the Open Space Pace on September 29 at Freehold Raceway.  Recently, he went to a Freehold Borough Council meeting to explain what is being planned for September 29.  His goal?  It's two-fold; to get 5,000 people to the races that day and more importantly, get people in Monmouth County ro realize the importance of horse racing is in their county and how it contributes to open space by means of the farms.

The day will start with a horse parade down one of the major streets in Freehold and will then continue a the raceway where people will learn how much fun a day at the races will be.  Of course, other people outside of Monmouth County are welcome to attend.  I congratulate Landy on this effort.  The days of opening the gates and having people just come to the track are over.  You need to bring the racing to the people.  Let them know it is not just a gambling location, it is an engine in the local economy.  Best of luck to Sam Landy and his committee in organizing this event.

PTP talks about the budget cuts in New Brunswick and Ontario and their impact on racing.  It is a much read.    However, two statements in the Ontairo budget speech stick out.  The government remains committed to supporting horseracing through its reduction to the Province’s pari-mutuel tax. This leaves wagering revenues with the industry for programming support.  That's sounds good.  Unfortunately, it is like a drug addict getting high all the time who is abusing (not physically) all those around him.  One day the addict gets sober and realizes everyone has left them and says "OMG, what have I done?".

Well it appears at least in Canada, racing's dealer is cutting them off and when racing sobers up, it isn't going to be pretty.

Harness Racing Victoria brings us a video helmet cam view of a Monté race from Tabcorp Melton.  I won't say it is the most compelling under saddle race as the field is not as big as it is in France, but it is something we don't get to see in North America.  However, with the USTA willing to license riders for racing under saddle, expect to see some resurgence of exhibition races, especially in the Metropolitan New York area. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Palone Hits the 15K Mark

This afternoon Dave Palone hit the 15,000 mark in wins at The Meadows and was greeted by the North American all-time dash winner, Herve Filion who has amassed 15,180 victories.  The question should be asked how long until Filion's record is smashed?  My guess is by early summer it will happen if not sooner.

The detractors no doubt will say Palone didn't do it in the Metropolitan New York area in an attempt to cheapen his accomplishment.  Rubbish.  For anyone to be around to amass 15,000 victories is an accomplishment which should not be cheapened.  In addition to the Meadows, Palone drives the on the Grand Circuit where he takes on the name drivers.  There will be no asterisks when he sets the all time mark.

Congratulations Dave Palone on hitting 15,000 victories.  On now to breaking 15,180.

The New York Times and the Fallout

A couple of days ago, reported how The New York Times investigation into horseracing breakdowns painted a bad picture on thoroughbred racing because the data was incorrectly collected and was weighted heavily by quarter horse statistics.  In addition, the accusation was made that The Times piece was deliberately skewed to paint racing as being bad in an attempt to increase circulation; in effect engaging in tabloid reporting.  Yet, blogger Bill Shanklin conceded there are real problems with thoroughbred racing which need to be addressed.  If you haven't seen the original article by The Times, you can read it here.

Ah, we usually don't get charges about the 'elite media' when it comes to horse racing.  Granted it is true the article showed a bias, but let me clue you in on something people in the media don't want you to know.  Despite the media's proclamations that reporting is unbiased, it is often not the case.  Even if a person attempts to be unbiased, their personal beliefs will get into a story.  The difference between a blogger and a newspaper is a Blogger will (should) admit what they write reflects their opinion.  As in political debates, people will de-emphasize the points that go against their premise and highlight the statistics which back up their case.  So what we have here is shooting the messenger while attempting to minimize the size of the problem. 

What can't be denied is the eighteen thoroughbreds who were euthanized after breaking down on the Aqueduct winter track since the start of the year.  Perhaps, the methodology used (basically picking up where the words 'broke down', 'vanned off' appeared in the charts) was indeed flawed, but where will the media get correct figures on breakdowns as many tracks/states don't report this information to the Jockey Club?  No matter how you slice it, racing has a problem which has not been addressed properly either through lack of will or an inability to get their hands around the problem.  Slot money may have just exasperated it.

As a result of The New York Times report, the proverbial fan has been hit and has resulted in a press release issued by U.S. Senator Tom Udall, which calls for passsage of legislation proposed by Udall and Congressman Ed Whitfield which calls for federal regulation of racing with regards to medication and doping of race horses.  Will it ever happen?  Who knows, but I dread if and when the next high-profile breakdown occurs.  It goes without saying if and when such legislation is enacted, harness racing will be caught up in it; after all, why the number of breakdowns is not as great as our counterparts, the medication issue in standardbred racing is well documented.

I know the horse racing industry dreads federal intervention.   To be honest, in many ways the industry would welcome federal action in the belief the government has the means to develop testing which may catch the cheats, but they dread what other medications (such as lasix) may get banned as well.  Then, if you are a subscriber to the slippery slope theory, once the government gets involved with regulating racing, it makes it much easier for the federal government to outlaw racing.  Let's face it, it is much easier if you only have to lobby one government body instead of individual state governments.

Monticello being strangled by strangles - Monticello Raceway is in lockdown mode as a result of an outbreak of strangles at Saratoga Raceway as the number of cases of strangles now reaches fourteen horses.  No horses are being allowed to come into Monticello Raceway's backstretch and any horses which leave are not being allowed back in.  As a result, Monticello's racing is limited to those on the backstretch.  Due to the lockdown, expect short fields for the next two weeks as horses are scratched and the cancellation of some races where the majority of horses entered were to be shippers for race cards which were already drawn prior to the embargo.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Maybe Days Are Not the Answer

I am beginning to think that fines and suspensions are not the way to deal with medication positives, especially after seeing trainers handing their horses over to assistant trainers to run the stable.  Ideally, when a trainer is suspended, they should be hurt more by their stable being split up and then have to rustle up new clients once their suspension has been served.

Some people will argue forcing some stables to be dissolved may be injuring innocent people (grooms, assistant trainers, and so) who had nothing to do with medication violations because there will be no job for them available during the suspension and when the trainer returns.  Clearly giving trainers 30 to 45 day suspensions are not doing much either as after the horses are transferred, they spend most of their time often on vacation or working on the farm with some other horses.

What if we replaced 30 and 45 day suspensions with fines instead?  I am not talking about $500 to,000 fines.  What if the first fine was more like $5,000-$10,000?  A second infraction was $20,000 and a third infraction was $50,000.  Clearly we are not talking about accidental violations of a therapeutic medication approved for use being used by accident inside the withdrawal period; I am talking the use of medications not permitted.

Clearly enforced vacations are not doing the job.  Maybe taking massive amounts of money out of trainers pockets will.  What is the worst thing which can happen?  It can't be worse than it is now.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Few Thoughts for a Dreary Sunday

Well, a small moral victory on Saturday night at Yonkers.  Out of the six legs of the Levy, I had three winners and in the last leg, a small trifecta picked straight.  I didn't get rich, but at least I redeemed myself somewhat for Friday night's horrible showing in the Matchmaker series and an additional two races at the Meadowlands.

Making the Best of Reinstatement:  Initially, the NYSRWB ordered the scratch of Reibercrombe from the Levy because it was under a ninety day suspension but was reinstated after the owners appealed the decision to the commission.  With the Crys Dream situation probably in the back of the mind, the NYSRWB considered the horse having been placed on the stewards list for having tested positive since New York doesn't suspend horses.  Since in his last race in Canada, Reibercrombe tested negative, the NYSRWB reasoned the horse had come off the stewards list.  Hence, they decided to reinstate Reibercrombie who promptly rewarded his owners by winning his leg of the Levy, paying  $32.00 to win.  Now, that's what I call taking advantage of an opening.

Truth be told, while I think the ORC  ruling should have stood, the fact is New York doesn't have a similar rule so they were free to interpret the suspension anyway they wanted to.  This happens in other cases when one state suspends a driver for something another state doesn't consider an offense.  Maybe one day we can have a standardized code (rules) so we don't have these types of interpretations in the future.

Racing Commissioner Redux:  Somehow with the latest debate over marketing the sport, there are people calling for a commissioner.  I have no problem with a commissioner per se, but I think those people calling for a great omnipotent commissioner are wrong.   If there is to be a commissioner, his/her duties should be to enforce the rules of a national racing body; in effect the Executive Director of the national body, a person who follows rules set forth and doesn't create them.  No one person should set policy.

Distance Racing?  For those who say odd distance races would never be accepted by the public, let's take a look at the handle at the Meadowlands for the 2nd and 4th races at a mile and the 3rd race at 1 1/2 miles.

Race 2 (1 mile)        9 starters     WPS - $40,826   Exacta - $51,158   Trifecta - $43,472   Pick-3 offered.
Race 3 (1 1/2 mi)     9 starters     WPS - $46,480   Exacta - $50,372   Trifecta - $41,746   Superfecta offered.
Race 4 (1 mile)        6 starters      WPS - $56,298   Exacta - $60,618   Trifecta - $60,202  Pick-6 offered.

Yes, the fourth race handled more money than the second or third race, but that can partially be attributed to later arrivals at the track and simulcast locations.  However, if you look compare the  second and third races, the Exactas and Trifectas are down (roughly $800 and $1,700 respectively), but the WPS pool was roughly $5,600 higher in the third race.

At first glance, it shows the gamblers are not staying away from these races overall.  Of course, you can't say one way or the other what the long term trend may be for these odd distance races, but it does show gamblers are willing to give these races a try.  It seems worth continuing the experiment (the condition sheet calls for another 1 1/2 mile tilt this coming Friday) and possibly expanding it to include more races on a card; perhaps trying varying distances.  A late closing series with variable distance races may be worth pursuing. 

Initially, the problem doesn't appear to be the bettors; they seem willing to give it a try.  The problem appears to be the hesitance of trainers to drop horses into these odd distance races.  For odd distance racing to be successful, we need to get not only the lower class horses in these events, but get better horses in the entry box.  Ultimately, if longer and odd distance racing doesn't take, it will likely be because of the horsemen.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Peeler's Return and a Bronx Cheer for Yours Truly

In the first leg of the Blue Chip Matchmaker series, See You At Peelers finished in a dead heat for first in her leg with a mile in 1:52.4.  It wasn't pretty, but considering how last year ended, it must have brought smiles to her connections.  She had to survive an inquiry for lugging in in the stretch.  Clearly she was not 100%, but she completed her mile strongly and more importantly, she defeated some older horses.  

As for my selections last night, I deserve the Bronx Cheer, getting only one winner on the top and it paid $2.50, that being Chancey Lady who finished in a dead heat with SYAP.  In the fifth race where Androvette finished third but there was no show wagering, there were some great place prices.  In particular Hula Z Tam, who finished second, paid $60.00 to place.  We had a few close calls, but you don't get paid for close calls.  I guess this is why I don't enter handicapping contests.  Anyway, we will give it another whirl tonight in betting the George Morton Levy Memorial divisions.

The Meadowlands' Spring Survivor Pacing Series has been modified due to less nominations being made.  Instead of eliminating horses the first week, all horses are eligible to return for the second week with the best horses in summary moving on to the semi-final.  It would have been naive to think with the Meadowlands now being leased by Jeff Gural that horsemen who formerly left New Jersey for the glory of Pennsylvania would have remained this year to race at the Meadowlands.  At least until the championship series, the Meadowlands will need to be creative in filling their race cards.

Speaking of Gural, he submitted a letter to the editor of Harness Racing Update and it corrected the misconception a reader had about how Gural made more money by racing fewer days at the Meadowlands.  In reality, it is likely reducing the losses and keeps the purses at the levels they are.  But perhaps the most interesting thing in the letter was Gural's hope to schedule some races using the old conventional sulky to see how the new sulkies have changed the speed and style of racing.  It runs out you can't seem to find enough of those sulkies and necessary equipment in order to be used in races.  If you happen to have an old race bike; keep it in good shape.  You likely have a museum piece on your hands.

PTP posted yesterday a tongue in cheek pop quiz regarding racing which should appear to race fans, regardless of breed,  I was laughing after completing the quiz which is sad despite the fact I scored a perfect eleven for eleven, because the answers don't paint racing of thoroughbred and standardbred racing in a good light.

The New York Times has a story on how thoroughbred and quarter horse racing has seen the number of deaths of horses increase as a result of racinos and the use of illegal drugs.  There is no mention of standardbred racing, sadly because it is considered insignificant.  Fortunately, harness racing's breakdowns on the track are far and few in between, but I am sure we have our own skeletons in the closet.  One of them is some states allowing trainers who get caught to transfer their stables to assistant trainers, another issue is the fact fines and suspensions in some states are a joke.  If you plan to view the video attached to the story, be warned it is somewhat graphic.

George Morton Levy Series Kicks Off and Miscellanery

Saturday brings us six divisions of the George Morton Levy Series at Yonkers Raceway, featuring Atochia,  Pacer of the Year Foiled Again, One More Laugh who has yet to show he can handle the aged FFA class, and others.  This series is probably the best late closing series in the nation; five weeks of eliminations prior to the $500,000 final.  If we had more series like the Levy, we would have no problem with being able to attract older horses to keep on racing.

I must make a comment here.  There is something wrong when a trainer (Casie Coleman) can just turn her stable over to another trainer (Andrew Harris).  I am not even talking about suspending the horses, but stables shouldn't be turned over wholesale to a trainer only to return back to the trainer when they come back from the suspension.  It is a mockery.

Scratched; Now We're Not - Reibercrombie is being allowed to race after being scratched after being suspended for 90 days by the Ontario Racing Commission after getting a medication positive (see above story).  A stay has been issued.  I understand the racing commission allows for hearings, and that is fine but what should happen if the appeal is denied, is any earnings from this week should be forfeited.

 Saratoga Raceway Shut Down: A horse that raced at Saratoga Raceway has developed strangles resulting in racing being cancelled until April 11. Any horses thave have raced at Saratoga or trainer that raced there has been delcared person or horse non-grata from Buffalo Raceway and other tracks are sure to issue restrictions.  Some of the horses racing in the Levy had recently raced at Saratoga so there may be some scratches forthcoming.  This will also not help the Meadowlands which also gets horses that have raced at Saratoga.

As with the Blue Chip Matchmaker which was contested last night, I will post my selections for the six divisions along with comments.

3rd YR - $50,000 Pace - George Morton Levy Series - FFA Horses and Geldings 1st Leg 1st Division
3 - Powser Of Tara N (Holland, 12-1) -  Look who he ran against in NZ.  From inside may control his destiny. Only if long.
2 - Art Two D Two (Buter, 8-1) - Finally gets post relief.  Must make most of it.
1 - Macraider N (Brennan, 5-1) - Chance if up front at the quarter.  Will he get it?
4 - Strand Hanover (Sears, 8-5) -  Off two race win streak returns to the half.  Too chalky for me.

4th YR - $50,000 Pace - George Morton Levy Series - FFA Horses and Geldings 1st Leg 2nd Division
1 - Code Word (Gingras, 8-5) - Seems to have gotten the draw.  One to beat.
2 - Foreign Officer (Pantaleano, 4-1) - Must hold on in the stretch.  Threat if rated.
5 - One More Laugh (Schnittker, 6-1) - Has yet to show he has made the transition to Aged FFAller.

5th YR - $50,000 Pace - George Morton Levy Series - FFA Horses and Geldings 1st Leg 3rd Division
2 - Clear Vision (Gingras, 3-1) - Understandably tired in season debut.  Threat if gets away good.
5 - Power Of A Moment (Holland, 5-1) - Needs to get involved early.  Should land share.
3 - Fitz's Z Tam (Sears, 4-1) - Must be able to throttle back at start.
4 - Mainland Key N (Goodell, 5-1) - Appears to be best of rest.

6th YR - $50,000 Pace - George Morton Levy Series - FFA Horses and Geldings 1st Leg 4th Division
4 - Silent Swing (Macdonald, 5-1) - This veteran just keeps on going.  Has chance before others get a couple under belt.
1 - Summer Camp (Bartlett, 8-5) - Gets in against seemingly easier.  Rail not as big a help as to others.
3 - Southern Allie (Gingras, 4-1) - Winner in Mea Pref Hcp returns East for Burke.  Share with trip.

8th YR - $50,000 Pace - George Morton Levy Series - FFA Horses and Geldings 1st Leg 5th Division
3 - Atochia (Gingras, 8-5) - Has one under the belt.  Looks to be easy win if tight.
4 - Nob Hill High (Stratton, 8-1) - Steps up off of win and tries luck.  Lands share with trip.
5 - Rock To Glory (Goodell, 3-1) - Has been at top of game and eligible to do better than rated.
2 - Flipper J (Sears, 6-1) - Fell short at the Spa from bad post.  Factor here. 

9th YR - $50,000 Pace - George Morton Levy Series - FFA Horses and Geldings 1st Leg 6th Division
5 - Real Nice (Bartlett, 4-1) - May be able to take advantage of Foiled Again possibly being short.
6 - Foiled Again (Gingras, 7-5) - Love the horse, hate the odds especially in first start.  Your move.
1 - Blatantly Good (Brennan, 8-5) - Should get involved from the rail

Friday, March 23, 2012

Stakes Rule for Off-spring of 4yo Stallions Published

The new conditions for stakes which will restrict the off-spring of 4yo sires at the Meadowlands, Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs and the WEG tracks  have been published.

Talk about a lengthy condition.  Unfortunately, it is needed to provide for what exemptions are to be permitted and what documentation is needed.  One good thing about the condition is it allows for the off-spring of horses that breed and race in their 4yo season.  Maybe this will promote the dual duty of horses, which would be a win-win for everyone.

This condition will be re-evaluated after a two year trial period.  Not that I expect the concept to go away, but being people are extremely resourceful in figuring out ways to get around rules, it may need fine-tuning.  I am also realistic.  If other tracks don't join in the movement, it may be necessary for business purposes to jettison the rules.

Hopefully, the industry gets behind this rule.  I am probably too optimistic as it seems most people are unwilling to make changes which may benefit the industry in the long run., but it is worth a try.

It will be interesting to see what the feedback will be now that the condition has been published.

Friday Highlights

This weekend starts the major racing season with the kick-off of the Bluechip Matchmaker Series for FFA Mare at Yonkers Raceway tonight.  Krispy Apple and See You at Peelers begin their 2012 racing season with a lot of hope, yet question marks regarding SYAP as it remains to be seen if her heart difficulties which marred the end of last year have been solved.  Rest assured Team Takter will be holding their collected breathes until the race is over.  In addition, at the Meadowlands, the final of the Night Styles late closing series and a 1 1/2 mile contest has been carded for $15,000 claimers.

Some people no longer subscribe to the old rule that you don't bet 4yos against older horses during the early part of the year.  While there are always exceptions, I still am a firm believer of this rule.  To me, a 4yo needs to be really good in order for me to play them against a group of older horses.  For me, around July, the difference closes as the younger horse has been toughened up.  We will start seeing if this rule applies with Krispy Apple and See You At Peelers on Friday night.

Here are my selections and comments for the selected races.

3rd YR - $40,000 Pace; Blue Chip Matchmaker Series (FFA Mares) - 1st Leg 1st Division
3 - Synergy Seelster (Macdonald, 12-1) - Looking for early upset.  Parked out at Stga, raced well in Wdb7/8 late closers.
6 - Breakheart Pass (Bartlett, 5-1) - Winner in last week's Open.  The legitimate won to beat.
4 - Keepers Destiny (Goodell, 4-1) - Winner two straight in top class.  Took week off to freshen.
7 - Krispy Apple (Tetrickm 8-5) - 4yo starts campaign of excellent start.  Want a look, especially at 8-5.

4th YR - $40,000 Pace; Blue Chip Matchmaker Series (FFA Mares) - 1st Leg 2nd Division
2 - Naughtytiltheend (Holland, 5-1) - Closed in last from impossible post.  Draws inside this week.
6 - On The Glass (Goodell, 5-1) - Impeded at start in last and finished 2nd in lower company.  Lands share despite hike.
7 - Queen Of Royalty (Buuter, 8-1) - Ships in from Woodbine and likes outside.  Don't ignore.

5th YR - $40,000 Pace; Blue Chip Matchmaker Series (FFA Mares) - 1st Leg 3rd Division
3 - Anndrovette (Tetrick, 6-5) - Looked sharp in Overbid final.  The one to beat.
7 - Rocklamation (Brennan, 4-1) - Second best here but draws poorly.
1 - Up Front Kellie Jo (Macdonald, 8-1) - Just missed in a freshner at Stga.  Lands share from rail.
8 - Special Sweetheart (Merton, 12-1) -  Best of rest.  Consider for Supers.

7th YR - $40,000 Pace; Blue Chip Matchmaker Series (FFA Mares) - 1st Leg 4th Division
4 - Shacked Up (Goodell, 6-1) -Nice return last start.  Needs a trip to win.
6 - Keystone Katherine (Macdonald, 8-1) - Steps up off win.  Post may hurt.  May still land share.
3 - Fox Valley Sage (Manzi, 4-1) - Draws much better.  Factor with trip.

8th YR - $40,000 Pace; Blue Chip Matchmaker Series (FFA Mares) - 1st Leg 5th Division
4 - Chancey Lady (Tetrick, 3-1) - Class edge over these at this time.  The likely winner.
7 - Billmar Scooter (Buter, 10-1) - Raced well in last.  Can land share with trip.
3 - See You At Peelers (Sears, 5-1) - All signs look good.  Remember Takter said it may take a start or two.
1 - Artic Fire N (Rattray, 10-1) - Draws the rail.  May grab last spot from the rail.

3rd M1 - $10,000 Trot; Claiming Price $15,000 - 1 1/2 Miles
1 - Idle Time (Pierce, 9-5) - Wary of price but should be able to go on forever.
8 - Halfpipe (Vanderkemp, 7-2) - Look  straightened out.  May have closing move.
2 - Nowerland Firebird (Landy, 15-1) - Toss last.  Hard to gauge.   Brings value to exotics?
6 - Rev It Now (A Miller, 9-2) - Better rating may land minor share.

6th M1 - $46,000 Pace; Night Styles Final (nw3 or $50,000lt)
8 - Just A Glimpse (A Miller, 7-2) - Been consistent, draws better than last week's winner.
3 - Tu Sei Bella (Noble, 4-1) - Can be winner if top choice falters.  Will land share.
7 - Miss Behave (Morrill, 8-1) - Recovered off break in last.  Needs a trip to improve projection.

Another Article:  Thanks to Pull the Pocket for locating this story.  It is written about thoroughbreds, but can just as easily be talking about standardbreds.  The article will really appeal to those that watched and complained about the cancellation of the HBO show "Luck".

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Some Final Thoughts

Some Final thoughts on this week's USTA meeting....

The poll regarding the USTA meeting I have been conducting through this blog really doesn't have enough votes to be statistically significant, and didn't ask what a respondent's relationship to harness racing is, but so far, the vote shows most people are not happy with the results of the meeting.  At this point, two thirds of the respondents have indicated they were not satisfied to some degree with the outcome of the meetings; only eleven percent were satisfied to some degree.  The poll is still open, so if you haven't voted there is still time to do so.

Now, I will admit, some of these voters may have been influenced by what I have been saying on the blog, but I've seen some other comments.  One person was very succinct in their comment, saying "Why should we care anymore"?  Derick Giwner, from the DRF who was there on the second day of the meeting attended the communications meeting so he was in the room to hear the banter claims, "I heard way too often the acceptance that our industry should rely just on the VLT/Slot money....even if the day never comes when gaming and the tracks are surgically removed at the hip by politicians, there is no harm pursuing avenues to change the sometimes negative perception of our sport and do what we can to increase handle and attendance through marketing and capital improvements."  This goes in line with what I have been saying.  Having directors who have given up on trying to make changes to improve the sport need to go.  Let the ones who still have hope lead the way.

Here is a marketing idea which really doesn't cost the sport anything.  Women being attracted to this sport as gamblers is a real problem; you see it every racetrack.  Now, I am not suggesting the following will get us a 50-50 mix at the track, but it should improve interest in the sport, the same way Chantal Sutherland gets the attention of women in thoroughbred racing.  We need more women drivers.  At the current time, when compared to thoroughbred racing, the presence of women in the sulky is poor.  The only way you see a woman in the bike is typically if they own and train their own horse.  Perhaps the best example of this was last year at the Delaware County Fair when Devan Miller, who was driving a horse owned by her father all summer at the Ohio county fairs, was yanked off the horse to be driven by none other than her own father in a minor stakes race.  Women just don't get a fair chance.

We need to do something to get women in the race bike more frequently but in a way which makes them earn their way, giving them no special treatment over men.  It is time to revamp the provisional driver license and give provisional drivers an allowance in overnight events, similar to what is done in Australia which I discussed this past December.  I am not suggesting it be as complicated as the Australian rule; it can be simplified such as this:

  • Still require twelve satisfactory drives in a year or fifteen satisfactory drives in two years in qualifying races before being granted a provisional license.
  • Still require a probationary period for the first fifteen pari-mutuel starts where the provisional driver may be required to repeat a certain number of qualifying drives.
  • When racing with a provisional license, horses will be given an allowance of one class in overnights below the Preferred class.  No allowance will be given in the Preferred class or higher in overnights as well as in early and late closing events and stake races.  In these races, a provisional driver may compete provided they have at least twenty-five pari-mutuel wins but no allowance shall be granted.
  • The one class allowance in
    • a race conditioned by races is one win (i.e., a horse that is nw3lt is eligible to race with nw2lt) 
    • a race conditioned by earnings is one earnings class as designated by the classes defined by the racing secretary (i.e., a horse eligible for nw6000cd is eligible to compete in nw4000cd)
    • a claiming race is one claiming price (i.e.,  a $5,000 claimer eligible to compete in a $4,000 claiming race for a $5,000 claiming tag excluding allowances)
    • a claiming handicap race is the ability to draw inside as if entered for the lower claiming price as specified in the conditions, excluding allowances(i.e, a $10-$15,000 claiming handicap, a $12,500 claimer may draw with the $10,000 claimers)
  • Major tracks may require a driver to have at least fifteen wins at a minor track before a driver is allowed to compete.
  • The term of a provisional license will be 100 wins or two years, whichever comes first
  • If named on a horse prior to the end of the driver's provisional period due to wins, the allowance may still be claimed for races previously programmed for.
Owners and trainers wanting to take advantage of the class allowance will use the provisional drivers.  Since many of these provisional drivers will come from people working for trainers, a lot of them will be women but will include men.  This will allow provisional drivers the opportunity to get experience and build up their reputation, hopefully allowing them an opportunity to make a name for themselves and not be hindered by sex.

So that concludes my talking about the Directors meeting.  Now back to racing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

USTA Endorses the Use of Salix (Lasix); What About the Real Problem?

At the USTA Board of Directors meeting on Monday, the regulatory committee adopted the USTA's position on the use of Salix (formerly known as Lasix). The position adopted was "The race day use of the therapeutic substance furosemide under controlled condition be continued as the most effective and humane treatment of the racehorse.”

Truth is I can't argue with the decision of the panel regarding the use of Salix in standardbred racing.  After all, what would happen to these horses if they couldn't race?   What does disturb me is the fact that we allow horses that bleed to be used for breeding purposes. Clearly bleeding is not a desirable trait in a horse and every attempt should be made to minimize the occurrence of horses that bleed from EIPH.

If we breed a bleeder to a bleeder, is there any surprise that bleeding would occur in their off-spring? After all, a South African study regarding thoroughbreds indicates "... epistaxis as associated with EIPH in Southern African Thoroughbred sires has a strong genetic basis. Genetic trends indicating an increase in epistaxis were also found. Affected stallions and those racing whilst being treated with furosemide should be barred from breeding and not be considered as future sires."

As the study shows epistaxis, which is nose bleeding in horses actually comes from EIPH and not the nose as previously thought. Why are we using a thoroughbred study? The same reason the USTA relied on a South African thoroughbred study when deciding that Salix should be allowed; no sufficient study involving standardbreds has been done but it is safe to assume if it is genetic in thoroughbreds, it is genetic in standardbreds. A more recent study shows the genetic predisposition to bleeding comes more often from the sire than the dam.

Needless to say, whether or not we allow the use of Salix is a red herring; the real question which needs to be asked is why we are not doing anything to eliminate the problem at its root? Why are we allowing bleeders to become sires? Responsible breeding would be attempting to eliminate this undesirable trait from the breed or at least minimize it as much as possible. Clearly in the desire to breed faster horses, the fact a horse raced on lasix has been disregarded.

I would propose the following, prefacing it with I am no expert on breeding:

What should happen is any major race (perhaps one day to be determined as Grade 1), the rules should not allow the use of any race-day medication, be it lasix, bute, or something else. In addition, the USTA should adopt a rule which indicates any stallion foal born starting a certain year who have been certified to have bled three times during their racing career (twice if less than twenty starts), shall not be approved for stallion duty; the year being set to not impact any resulting off-spring from a breeding which occurred that year of adoption.

In addition, since the majority of our horses are now racing on lasix, it is likely necessary to introduce new blood into the standardbred breed by allowing the importation of foreign stallions from approved stud books who are no more than 1/4 North American standardbred to stand stud provided they have not been certified as multiple occurrence bleeders in their home country. As an encouragement, to those willing to import these stallions, they would be allowed to cover 20% more mares for their first five years of stud duty in the United States.

Of course this is what should be done. Breeders will certainly feel different. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

It's Not Just the Trotters

I came across an article in the DRF talking about the breakdowns that have been occurring at Aqueduct with the racing over the winter track. An investigation is on-going regarding the problem, but there is speculation with slot fueled purses, some horsemen are throwing anything in to these races to get a chance at these purses.  With the bottom claiming price being $7,500 it can tempting to run  cheap horses as often as possible as the purses for this class have been running between $27-$30,000.  Aqueduct is setting the bottom claiming tag now to $10,000 and cutting the purses for the cheapest horses to avoid trainers running them too quickly.

While this is not a good situation for horse racing, I came upon a quote in the article which goes to show you that thoroughbred horsemen don't get it either when it comes to slots.  Thoroughbred trainer David Jacobsen is quoted in the article as saying:

These purses are great for the game. 

Given the chance, I would ask Mr. Jacobsen,"How is it good for the game?  It is good for the owners; good for the trainers; good for the jockeys, but answer me this, "'How is it good for the gambler?'"

I suspect after thinking quickly, he may say something about the fans getting a better class of horse, but otherwise, he may be shuffling his feet and looking at me with a quizzical look.  Certainly the 18 breakdowns on the Aqueduct winter track since January 1 can't be good for the game and I tend to doubt even the most hardened horse player enjoys seeing a horse go down.  The bottom line is the fans are getting nothing out of these gigantic purses.  To this day, it is the same product the fans were getting before slots came to Aqueduct.

While harness racing fortunately does not have a high breakdown rate like the runners, standardbred fans have a lot in common with their thoroughbred compatriots.  While slot profits are "great for the game, horse players for all practical purposes reap no benefit.  It is as if the horse people would just as soon close the grandstand and just race around the track as the gambler no longer figures in the game.. For the most part, none of  this has been good for the fan. For them it is the same old game. 

Does anyone care?

Great Article; Have Your Say

Great Article: Thanks to, I found a great article if you are a real fan of the sport. This article talks about a gentleman in Maine who has been documenting all the old racetracks in Maine that have gone by the wayside. It is a good read.

It is clear that I was not overly pleased with the just concluded USTA meeting.  That being said, you may have a totally different opinion regarding the meeting; perhaps you are very pleased with how things worked out?  Here is your chance to have your say.

Feel free to take the survey if you wish.  If there was anything in particular you were pleased or not please with, feel free to leave a response.  As long as it is respectful, it will be posted.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Beyer Speaks; Time for Leadership Change

Blogger Note:  This article has been modified from the original one published as it comes to my attention some of the information used to publish the original entry may have been incorrect. Hence, the column has been updated accordingly.

At yesterday's USTA meeting, the theme presented by certain speakers is slot machine revenue is not a subsidy, it is a partnership between the state and horse racing to strengthen the individual state's racing industry by providing money to strengthen the breeding and racing industries by increasing purses.  If you note, there was no mention about the states expecting the racing industry to increase interest by the general public.  Now to be fair, there are people who realize racing needs to attempt to draw in new customers, that is one reason why the successful thoroughbred "Night School" program is coming to harness racing, but the industry's main emphasis is slot machines.  How can racing become more popular and stronger if the only goal is to fight to keep the money the states give away instead of improving the product?      

In yesterday's The Washington Post (registration required, free), the title of racing columnist Andrew Beyer's article says it all, "Money from slots has done nothing to improve horse racing."  As Beyer writes, there is something wrong when $5,000 claimers are running for purses of  $25,000.  Now harness racing is not this luck, but the fact is at some tracks slot machines have owners and horsemen downright giddy; especially when you consider pre-slot day purses such as the $800 purses at Dover Downs.

Despite the protests to the contrary, let's not kid ourselves; the only reason slots are in the racetracks of America is the state governments needed money and the quickest way to get revenue without increasing taxes on the taxpayers, which is political suicide, is by installing slot machines. It couldn't have cared where they put the machines, but to make it more palatable to the anti-gambling foes, they put it at existing racetracks under the guise of helping an industry survive.  It was a quick way to get the machines up and running fast and generating revenue for states.  Racing played its part in this scheme by repeating the mantra that bigger purses would attract better racing which would result in better attendance and increased handle.  Well, we have the bigger purses, a few tracks are showing this year an improvement but overall, interest in racing (attendance and handle) has declined.

But now as slots have become more acceptable and states realize slots are not racing's magic bullet with respect to customers, new states considering gambling are not looking to put slots at racetracks but are offering slot and casino licenses to the highest bidder.  As states are scrambling for more revenue, they have no problem changing the deal with racing, claiming the sport hasn't done little, if anything to improve demand for the sport.  Once again, let me repeat this, any law can be changed by the legislature if there is a desire to do.  One budget shortfall is all which is needed to change the tune of legislators.  It may not be all or none, it may be a slow bleeding of slot revenue.

Nothing was more distressing to me when comments by some at the USTA meeting basically insisted that racing must keep fighting for and to maintain slot machines.  Yes, if we are to keep purses high, slot revenue is essential, especially unless the sport is willing to make some drastic changes in the way it does business for slots do nothing to stimulate interest of the wagering and non-wagering public.  Unfortunately, at this point it appears the primary answer to racing's ills are slots, slots, slots.  This type of attitude must change and if members of the USTA leadership or Board of Directors feel slots is the answer to everything, then it is time for them to step aside and make room for someone who feels racing can make the changes necessary to make it relevant on its own.

Now, I realize there may have been years of frustration, road blocks, and failed initiatives which may have knocked the enthusiasm of some of the Board.  I also realize besides its official duties, the USTA is a defacto trade organization, looking out for the best interest of members, not the fans and horseplayers.  Making it even harder, the USTA is a membership based organization which survives primarily on dues.  Aggravate the membership and some of them are going to walk, leaving you with less revenue to work with.  Not an enviable position to be in for any leader at the district level or on the national level..

That being said, leaders of any organization need to be optimistic of what the organization is promoting.  Would you want to go into battle with leaders who feels the effort is futile or would you prefer leaders, who despite the odds stacked against them, believe they can still win even if the chance is small?  They need to motivate, be cheerleaders, and if necessary, keep fighting the same old battles if they truly believe the battle needs to be fought.  

Leaders must also be a realist.  The industry is in trouble, we are producing too much product (racing) for the demand (gambling dollars).  No, we probably can't save all the tracks, some horsemen are going to be out of work, some owners may walk away.  When a patient is seriously infected, you sometimes have to amputate a limb in order to save the patient. 

Being an optimist and a realist at the same time?  Is it possible?  Sure it is; it occurs in industry all the time.  Organizations hire turnaround experts to come in and make the tough decisions.  Now I realize the USTA is not a regular company but it is time to get individuals who believes in the product and willing to work their butt off for the sport in leadership roles if current members of the Board are unwilling.

The industry needs more revenue; it needs to recapture some of the money lost to the ADWs.  Form a non-profit ADW with thoroughbred and quarter horse interests which will run the ADW like any other and compete against them in pricing (rebates); the only difference being, after covering their expenses, the majority of the commission goes to the track and horsemen.  It may not be the same as a bet wagered on track, but it is a lot better than the 1.5% that goes to your purse account now (and to the track). 

Work towards instituting exchange wagering where possible to attract a new type of player who wants fast action and offer in-running wagering.  Tell the horsemen they must agree to regional coordination of scheduling.

Like the Gural plan for marketing but state laws restrict how slot revenue can be spent?  Make appearances in front of state legislatures, asking them to allow portions of the purse account to be used for the marketing of the sport.  Quite honestly the only people who would keep the legislators from doing this would be the horsemen and breeders who worked on crafting the original bill.  The state says no?  You don't put your hands up, you go back the next year if you believe it is what needs to be done.  After all, why should casinos have the freedom to do certain things while the states continue to shackle racing?

A problem with rules that are not uniform and fines and suspensions too weak?  Racing compacts are the answer.  Yes, it may be hard to accomplish it.  You don't give up.

The ideal leaders are individuals who challenge those who say "We can't" by asking "Why, not"?  If it is state law, work towards changing it.  It doesn't work the first time?  Change tact and try again.

The Board of Directors as constituted needs to go.  The number of directors is just too cumbersome.  How can any corporation change direction if you need the consensus of these many people?   There should be a smaller, more nimble board to make the decisions.  Any organization with a board so big will be strangled by the bureaucracy.  The right people need to be on the consolidated board.  What is needed is people who can say "Yes we can" instead of "No we can't".

Let this year be the year of "Yes we can".  If you don't believe in that, you need to step aside.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Barriers to Marketing; Summary of Rule Proposals

Today, Jason Settlemoir presented a proposal that the USTA form a committee to study marketing and funds for drug testing with funds coming from the slot fund.  It was made clear for marketing purposes, such funds would be used to promote racing in slot states and not in non-racino jurisdictions.  

Joe Faraldo, as expected, voiced his opposition to the proposal.  His feeling is if racetracks are making $300 million in slot revenue and horsemen are getting $100 million in purse enhancements, he feels a partnership would be the racetracks contributing 75% to the horsemen's 25%; anything else would be not constitute a true partnership.  To be fair, he has indicated that the SOA and YR have been doing marketing on a 50-50 split in an amount greater than the proposed .5% of the purse account.

While in the perfect world Faraldo might be right, this is not a perfect world; slots are not going to disappear from the tracks, but horsemen may.  Who needs the marketing more?  Also, despite being told no marketing dollars would be spent in non-racino dates, there was an insinuation this marketing fund would be used to televise Meadowlands races. 

Ignoring horsemen groups objecting, the biggest problem to the Gural proposal may be the regulation of the industry.  As mentioned by a couple of speakers, how purse funds are spent is dictated by state law and/or commissoin rules.  Even if a horsemen's group wanted to dedicate funds to a marketing campaign, they likely would not be able to contribute under current rules.  Whether or not you agree with the Gural plan, it is obvious the regulation of horse racing is so regulated where casinos are not as micromanged in some states; thus putting racing at a competitive disadvantage.  This is something which must be worked on regardless of the Gural draft proposal.  Racing must be free to innovate and if racing commissions are tying the industries hands behind the back, what hope is there to compete fairly?    

From the discussion which was cut short, it was clear there continues to be a parochial view by some in the room (not just New York horsemen), as if each state was in a perfect silo and what happens in my own state is what is important.  Until the racing industry in general gets away from this narrow view, horse racing will continue to suffer.

Anyway, the USTA has formed a working group to study the Gural proposal and to also determine how much and where current marketing dollars are being expended.

Perhaps, the most distressing thing I heard was the talk slot revenue is not a subsidy but a partnership; language which is being used in Ontario at this time.  The New York slot law was cited in how the purpose of the law was to stimulate the breeding industry and racing through higher purses.  To those who think this can't change, you are mistaken.  Whether you call it a partnership, subsidy, or welfare, the legislatures can change any law they want as long as it is not restricted by a state's constitution.  Like companies that form partnerships, a state legislature can end any partnership they want by law.  My questions is how long will a state maintain a partnership where wagering levels overall continue to decline and interest in the product falls?

As usual, the end of the USTA annual meeting, rule proposals are voted on.  Regarding rule changes which impact the horseplayer, none of the proposals were approved.  Here is a summary of the decisions made by the Rules Committee which was affirmed by the Board of Directors:

  • Proposal 1 - A proposal to make it a violation for not making a reasonable effort to keep holes closed - Defeated.
  • Proposal 2 - A proposal to make it a requirement that when a horse pulls to the outside, it must make a reasonable attempt to advance - Defeated.
  • Proposal 3 - A proposal that a trotter that has successfuly qualified with hopples may go back and forth with regards to hopples without another qualifier. - Defeated 
  • Proposal 5 - A proposal to mandate driver changes at least an hour before a matinee, qualifying,  or country fair race; otherwise the judges will have the ability to scratch the horse - Defeated
  • Proposal 7  - Changing the timing of races to hundreths of a second - Withrdrawn. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nero Fiddles While Rome Burns

At today's USTA General Session, Phil Langley defended the USTA against claims that the Board of Directors are 'old foogeys who are disconnected from racing'.  I will agree with Phil that complaints like this are unfounded, the problem is the lack of any cohesiveness and the apparent malaise that there is nothing we can really do it address the problems of racing.  I don't know if it these directors have subconsciously given up on the sport; the fact each state horsemen's group goes their own way; everyone has their self interest and the hell with conceding one inch.  My feeling is everyone has their self interest and to hell with everyone else.  This was apparent with the first veiled discussion of Jeff Gurals proposal regarding whether horsemen should contribute to drug testing and/or marketing the sport..

From the discussion at the general meeting, it appears the Board of Directors is divided with regards to whether horsemen should dedicate a portion of their purse account towards marketing and drug testing.  Not that they discussed the issue, but they spent time debating who should send out surveys.  It is also clear this Faraldo-Gural feud has become toxic; the SOA getting upset with the Gural survey that they decided they needed to send out a counter survey.  People got bent out of shape about a related question which was asked on the USTA website, with individuals demanding the question be taken down.  What the answer to this feud is, I don't know, but the industry needs to get past the personalities and look at the issue at hand logically.  As for Mr. Faraldo, I say there is nothing wrong with a healthy debate on the issues, but when one starts to make it personal by filling the debate with petty little swipes at the other opinion, it needs to stop.  We all know you don't like Jeff Gural and probably the feeling is mutual.  At least Mr. Gural doesn't go for cheap shots.  I suggest the trade magazine take any letter by these two which contain petty swipes at individuals and do what should be done with such letters; circular file them or 'hit the delete' key. 

Otherwise, tomorrow has streaming video of the Communications meeting where this issue is scheduled to come up.  Let's see how dug in each group is.  Sadly, don't be surprised if nothing comes of the discussion.  It reminds me of the story abour Rome burning while Nero fiddled.

During any real debate on this issue, horsemen should ask themselves this.  If Penn National Gaming (or any other gaming company that owns a racino) isn't going to spend money advertising or on furthering drug testing, should we just do nothing as a matter of principle and watch the industry sink towards its destruction or should we do something to try to stay afloat?  That pretty much sums up the issue.  You can kick, scream, and complain about the track operator not investing money, but that isn't going to change things.  Your future is in your own hands; decide what you want to do.  I am sure most racinos will be ready to kick you out at the first chance they can.

Meanwhile, read today's Get it Write column in HRU and read Bob Pandalfo's thoughts on racing. He is right in almost everything he says in the column. The sport is boring; the game has too many favorites; the outside posts are an even greater death sentence which it once was.

Where, I think he is wrong is his request to go back to the conventional sulky. I am not saying he is wrong in what he says; it just isn't going to happen. The USTA would be hit with so many anti-trust suits like the infamous Cheetah lawsuit which almost bankrupted the USTA out of existence. To tell these companies that they can no longer sell their product just because we feel it's best this way is clearly anti-competitive. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no way to push him/her back into the bottle.

That being said, the USTA may be able to stop the bleeding by passing a rule saying no new sulky models will be accepted but there to, it would require careful treading so not to run into anti-competitive grounds. This way, all existing companies will be able to sell the models they have created and let the market decide which model is the best. If there is too much demand for a particular model, the original manufacturer can always license the design to other sulky makers and collect royalties.

The key to making the game exciting is to change what we can control, that being the distance of races; adopt a rule giving 'junior drivers' an allowance of one class; adding more horses to each field; racing under saddle; handicap races by distance as done in Europe. All things which may minimize the advantage a particular sulky may have over another. Racing should be about the horse; not the person who can buy the latest in technology.

It's Too Logical, Hence, We Will Never Do It.

In the Asbury Park Press, there is an article regarding the NJTHA talking to officials at PARX racing (formerly Philadelphia Park) about developing a regional racing circuit.  The impetus of this is political reality.  With racing in New Jersey going alone (sans subsidies) and Pennsylvania horsemen looking at the potential of reduced state support, there are discussions being taken to have PARX taking off in July and August and Monmouth not racing in the fall.  This would not eliminate the overlap; for example there is the month of June, but it would allow both racetracks to maximize their purse dollars as well as sharing employees.  In addition, with one less signal competing against each other, it stands to reason that wagering handle would increase as people following the racing circuit would have only one track to wager on instead of two.

Now admittedly, it is necessity which is having the two track operators discussing this and there is nothing to say it will come to pass.  Were it not the fact Pennsylvania tracks are facing a cut in state support, there is a good chance, PARX officials wouldn't even be engaging in these talks.

Well, there is a necessity for standardbred racing.  Yes, the same issue applies to New Jersey and Pennsylvania harness horsemen as well, but there is another issue at play in our sport; anemic to near non-existent handles; otherwise known as too much product for demand.  Nowhere is this as obvious as in the New York-Philadelphia corridor.  In this area, we have Chester Downs, Dover Downs, Freehold Raceway, Harrington Raceway, Meadowlands, Monticello Raceway, Pocono Downs, and Yonkers Raceway.  That's right, eight tracks in relative geographical proximity to each other. 

Starting in April, we will have seven standarbred tracks racing at the same time, all competing for the same gambling dollar.  It was one thing before simulcasting and ADWs, when the market was truly local and there was no casino gaming, but in the current market, how assinine is this?  It defies logic and boggles the mind of anyone who has common sense, but then no one has ever accused the standardbred industry of being logical.

Let me make it clear, I would never suggest having only one track racing at a given time in this region, but it is obvious that seven tracks at one time is clear insanity.  Do we need Monticello and Freehold to race at the same time in the day?  Do we need Chester, Dover, Meadowlands, Pocono, and Yonkers to race at the same time at night?  It would never happen if not for slot subsidies.  It would be logical if Freehold and Monticello shared a schedule where they would race between 1-4pm; Dover, and Harrington race between 4-7pm; and Chester, Meadowlands, Pocono Downs, and Yonkers starting at 7pm, with only one track being open for live racing during each timeframe.  Ideally, the schedule would have the afternoon track racing Monday-Wednesday and the night track racing Thursday-Saturday with the 4pm tracks racing as many days as they wish; thus allowing drivers to race each day instead of only two or three days a week. 

Track management (especially racinos) would love the reduced operating costs, the availability of race horses, increased handle, and the ability to offer really good purses.  Racing secretaries would love the opportunity to card full fields and straight conditions, not conditions which sound like a legal document. 

As for the gamblers, taking the different takeout out rates out of the equation, they would love it. Top purses would attract the best drivers and horses making the races very competitive.  Full fields in every race.  Those gamblers who like live racing and the casual gamblers would have definite seasons to look forward to giving it a boutique feeling, yet ending before these people have been tapped out completely and lost forever. 

But horsemen would hate it, despite the fact they would be racing for phenomenal purses.  Their attitude is race as many days possible at each track even if they are racing for cheap purses.  They would like to wake up in the same bed each day (which admittedly, you can't blame them) instead of having to rent an apartment or house when the circuit visits a track further than they would like to commute.  They fear the loss of training bills if you can't race at a local track all year, assuming they would have to turn horses out a good part of the year when their local track is closed.  As for the owners, what happens if their horse is unable to race during the local meet?  Also, we must acknowledge there is a likely a fear that some trainers and drivers will find themselves moving elsewhere or forced out of the business; crowded out. 

Never mind tracks can offer races with preference to horsse which have raced on the circuit to ensure horses in the area get first crack at racing to avoid the scenario of a New York owner missing the Yonkers meet losing out for the yearr.  There are ways to address the fears of most horsemen if they were willing to listen to reason.

Make no mistake, some trainers and drivers may find themselves moving on to other circuits or possibly leaving racing but the question is do we want to stabilize racing for most in the long run or do we want to race as many days as possible offering inferior races, less than full fields, and anemic handles, to the horsemen's short term benefit but find out down the road everyone is out of work?

This is an example for the Mid-Atlantic region.  Similar could be done for Northern New York included in a Northeast Circuit, a Northern Midwest and a Southern Midwest Circuit, and Far West circuit including Cal Expo.  This way, we would never have more than five tracks racing at the same time instead of twenty tracks racing at the same time in the United States.  This makes sense, but we don't have the parties willing to give this a chance.

It may be necessity for the NJTHA and Parx Racing to consider this for thoroughbred racing but why can't standardbred racing even talk about working together for their mutuel benefit?  If someone could explain this to me, it would be much apppreciated. Clearly, what we are doing isn't working.

Update on the New York Sixteen:  Remember the sixteen trainers who got caught violating the medication rules in New York for giving a medication too close to race day.  Sentences were handed out to all trainers but one, April Aldrich, who had pending a hearing regarding whether she would be able to keep her trainers license.  Since, the original story broke, a final disposition to her case has been reached.  On February 8, April Aldrich stipulated to violating NYSRWB rules with regards to two horses.  As a result, instead of having her license revoked, the negotiated settlement called for a $2,000 fine and a suspension for 225 days.  Aldrich will be able to return to training as of September 22 this year.  Some people may not be satisfied with this plea arrangement, but these occur in the judicial system as well.  Rest assured should Ms. Aldrich run into problems in the future, the NYSRWB will not be as willing to make a deail.

"It's a Dying Industry and We Can Help Them" says New Jersey State Senator Lesniak.  Is he talking about horse racing?  No, he is talking about Atlantic City casinos.  Isn't it ironic, that Atlantic City was saying this about horse racing when arguing that horse racing shouldn't be given subsidies anymore?  Yet, they are begging the state and getting the support they wanted to deny horse racing.  How the story changes when the shoe is on the other foot.  Why New Jersey feels the need to help only one industry at this time I don't know.  If a corporation has a problem with two lines of business they attempt to work on them both at the same time.  For the legislature and Governor to ignore one industry in favor of another is reckless and unfair.  There is no reason why the state can't work to strengthen both industries.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday Tidbits

The United States Trotting Association's annual meeting opens up tomorrow and will be available for live streaming video from their website both on Sunday and Monday.  I have been told there may be fireworks at the Board of Directors meetings, but I wouldn't expect it to happen during the general sessions available to live streaming; I would expect any disagreements to be aired in private.

It looks like New York State  is on their way towards a constitutional amendment referendum to allow seven casinos in the state.  While track operators are in favor of this bill, the amendment as discussed does not specify the casinos will be at racetracks and the Governor is in favor for a bidding contest.  when asked specifically about slots being at the racetracks, Governor Cuomo was quoted as saying "We haven’t had any discussions about where, who, how — so I don’t think there should be any assumptions."  The bill has to pass once again in 2013 before it can go to the voters.  One thing for certain is if limiting it to seven licenses and them being regionally distributed, two tracks (including thoroughbred) will be unhappy.  If up for competitive bidding, a lot more may be on the outside looking in.

Dan Noble Heading to the Meadowlands - Albeit for a few weekend initially, last year's dash winning driver takes the opportunity to give the Meadowlands a whirl while the Levy series is underway.  A win-win situation.  Noble gets the opportunity to get experience on the Meadowlands mile oval and the Meadowlands gets a new talented driver for a a chance to consider joining the driving colony on a regular basis.

As you may recall, last weekend was the Polar Mare Plunge, benefiting "Wells for Ghana".  Harness racing's own "compassionate firework" Heather Moffitt and friend were going to hit the 41 degree water in support of the charity.  Never to do things half way, Heather recorded the event and added some tongue in cheek humor to it.

Of course, if you didn't pledge for this year's Polar Mare Plunge, you can still make a donation by going to the Wells for Ghana website.
Ironic:  Chabad of Orange County, supported the Harness Racing Museum by holding its Purim Party there.  Now we are not trying to give a religious lesson here, but here is an organization whose members, are not about to be seen at any racetrack soon, yet they were able to support the museum by renting it for a party.  However, many people who earn their living in harness racing can't seem to be bothered to spend $35 a year to become a member of the museum which honors their industry.  How Ironic is that?

Cohen Returns

Andrew Cohen returns to Harness Racing Update to chime in on the latest Faraldo-Gural feud and to no surprise, Cohen finds that Faraldo is out of step.  Out of step is an understatement.  His latest missive (which you can find a link to here) is an out and out disgrace.  Faraldo calls the poll questions a push poll; which is proven to be a complete lie when the poll questions were made available in editions of HRU and the Horsemen and Fair World's Weekend Update.  Look at these questions (page 3) and tell me these questions are a push poll and why you think they are.

Make no mistake, Joe Faraldo is representing his constituents well, but sitting there in the ivory tower which is Yonkers Raceway with a massive population center, it is easy to say your way is the way to go.  Yes, the SOA spent a $1 million (as they claim) to get Yonkers Raceway's races on the NYRA simulcast television channel.  When you consider what the horsemen get from slots at Yonkers, what is that million dollars out of their purse account and how long does it take to recover that million?

Let's see what Faraldo could do as the head of the horsemen's association at a track like Monticello Raceway or a Hazel Park and see how his strategy works.  How good are Yonkers purses if they had to do without purse subsidies?    Half of what the Meadowlands pays out on purses or less?  How many people would be at the track? 

You talk about how you occasionally hit a $1 million handle.  How much of that comes from on-track wagers.  If you handle a $1 million through wagers from out of state, that gets you $35,000 a night or less for your purse account.  See how long your purse account lasts without slots.  There is talk about New York putting out for bid seven full casino licenses.  Say New York State does an Ontario on you and puts those licenses out to bidding.  Those casino companies have a lot more money to bid than most racetracks, perhaps even out-bidding Yonkers.  If that is the case, how much are those slot machines going to handle at Yonkers?  Clearly the weather at Yonkers is sunny, but if the weather turns stormy, your ship may be swamped.

To Mr. Faraldo, it is easy to say the way things have been done work wonderful when you wear your rose colored glasses.  Try taking your glasses off and look at the rest of the industry.  Let's see you give up the leadership of the SOA and become head of the MHHA at Monticello where that racino has a $5,700 top purse.  Go to Hazel Park or Cal Expo where there are no slots and see how things are doing there and tell us you way is the way to go for the industry.  I would suggest your tune would change.

Come down from your ivory tower and join the rest of those in the industry.  You will see the error of your ways.  It is a whole different  world out there and it shows you despite slots, harness racing is an industry hanging on precariously.  I suggest you take off your rose colored glasses and get a clear look of things.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Racino Era is Drawing to a Close

Here ye, Here ye, "The Racino Era is Drawing to a Close".  Remember when we told ourselves that we needed slot machines as a temporary band-aid to fix the racing industry?  Many of us forgot the fact it was to be temporary assistance and we are now being reminded of it.  With Ontario, perhaps the most pro-racing state/provincem, declaring the end of the Slots at Racetrack program; Pennsylvania looking to redirect some of racing's share for their own use; casino companies and your fellow racinos pouring money into neighboring states to prevent non-racino states from approving new racinos as they realize we have reached a saturation point to prevent dilution, it is clear to those who can look clearly that we have past the peak for racinos.  Granted, there may be a few victories for racing, but it is akin to buying a house just past the peak of  the housing bubble, before anyone realizes the bubble has completely burst; any victory will be short-lived.

This being said, it would serve well for those who do not have the slots to abandon their pursuit and prepare for living without them.  It would also benefit those who have the machines to start planning for a so-called divorce from them.  Racinos as far as racing is concerned, are going to become casinos.  Some horsemen may be tossed out of their 'slot machine marital home' but this will not be avoided.  There may be some short term avoidance of the divorce but sooner or later you're going to get kicked out of the house.

So what does the racing and breeding industry need to do?  First, accept the fact your meal ticket is being revoked.  Times are going to get tough.  As employees of the Meadowlands had to accept a 20% cut in their salaries to maintain their jobs, horsemen, breeders and owners need to recognize there will be sacrifices coming, some of it painful.  Some people are going to be displaced from the overall racing industry.  It can't be avoided as it like a patient who has been recently diagnosed with cancer, you need to remove part of the body in order to save the overall life of the person.  However, the coming end of the racino industry does not need to be the end of racing; in the long run there can be a healthy, vibrant industry if we are willing to work at it.

As previously discussed, there needs to be some fundamental organizational changes; there is no need to discuss them again.  Let's look at some additional things need to be done.

  • Time to compete against the slots - Get rid of the attitude that we can't compete against the slot machines.  We can compete against them if we want and are willing to.
  • Takeouts need to be slashed (aka Handle Matter) - The only way you can seriously compete against slots and other casino games is by reducing the takeout by slashing them.  Hialeah Park had the idea this year when they reduced their takeout rates to 12% across the board.  No need to have different prices for different types of wagers; the gambler is still buying the same product.  The only way to win back gamblers from casinos is to offer a product which is similarly priced.  Yes, I realize we can never get to the same price they offer on slots, but we can certainly try to get as close to them as possible.  Do we have to get to the final pricing overnight?  No, but we need to expect to get there within five years of starting.  In order to do this, there needs to be shared pain which means...
  • Cut purses - Initially, purses are going to have to be cut, deeply.  Day one of the takeout cuts, a slew of gamblers are not going to come running back to the track; we need to win them back which is going to take some time.  As a result, the handle will not increase day one to recover the cuts in the takeout, but as time goes on and people see that racing is becoming a better value than it once was and it is not a temporary gimmick, people will start to return and bet more.  We need to remember we acted like we were the only game in town so there is ill will with the gambler; we need to earn their trust back.
  • Cut (not eliminate) breeder awards and sires stakes purses - Remember shared sacrifice?  If you look at what makes up your takeout rate, you will see that a percentage of the handle is dedicated to these programs.  We can't get takeout rates where we need to get them without cutting contributions to these programs.  Once the business begins to recover, they will be able to share in the upswing as well.  Volume (churn) will make up for it.
  • Prices paid to supporting industries will need to be cut -  The cost of vet services, feed, blacksmith, horses and equipment will be forced into price reductions.  It is plain math; if you earn less you must pay less.  Those who refuse to cut their prices will be forced out and those who cut their prices will be able to prosper.  It will require consolidation, doing things smart (economies of scale), institute technology where possible, and creativity such as breeders developing a non-racing market for horses that are not race worthy (pleasure and show horses).  It will also mean trainers will be forced to use more horsemanship than 'alternative therapries'.  Basically, all industries supporting racing will experience a deflationary period, but in the end, those who remain should do better.
  • Embrace new wagering platforms - Hello exchange wagering.  No sense fighting it.  Get those individuals who do things like day trading involved in the game and permit in-race wagering where people can bet up to the time the results are declared official.  Churn is a wonderful thing.
  • Embrace longer races - It is quite simple, with in-race wagering, the more time a race takes to complete, the more wagering can take place.  Volume and churn matters and you need to do whatever you can do to stimulate wagering volume.  Brokerage houses make money on those $9.99 trades because there are a lot more of those trades than there are of traditional retail trades.  The concept applies here.
  • Alternative Entertainment Options - Tracks have bills to pay.  They need to expand into alternative entertainment options.  Look at what the NJTHA is trying to do with Monmouth Park; they got the idea right.   
  • Not Every Track Needs to be a Palace (Studio Racing) - With the majority of wagering being done off-track, there is no need to have all those fixed costs.  There is nothing wrong with some of those minor leagure tracks razing the grandstand and cater almost exclusively to the off-track gambler.  Have a small open grandstand and a few betting windows and concessions for those who want to come to the track for racing must always welcome a live audience (think Goshen's Historic Track).  The fact remains, racing has primarily become a studio sport.  If you can't offer all the alternative entertainment options, go bare bones.

The future of racing is not that gloomy for those willing to adapt and survive.  Jobs will be lost, there is no doubt about it.  It may become harsh for a while as the shakeout begins, but let's not kid ourselves, there are some trainers and drivers out there who probably wouldn't be able to survive talent-wise if not for slot fueled purses.  Those with ability will be able to remain in the business while those who are not as good will be forced to alternate careers, or will choose not to be in this business if they don't have the natural gift.  This may sound harsh, but does everyone who wants to be a professional ballplayer get to do it?  Why should racing be any different?