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Sunday, March 18, 2012

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.

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