For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Racing Black Eye Continues

The New York Times has published its second article about how slot fueled purses has made racing a much more dangerous game for the horses and jockeys alike.  Once again, harness racing is spared from any focus in the article and while it is certainly a relief to the standardbred industry that they don't need to defend themselves against claims of abusive practices to the horses, don't kid yourself; harness racing has also been impacted negatively by slot revenue.

Horses being bought and sold via the claiming route so often you would think these horses were like trading cards.  If you have a horse who may be claimed in the next race, how much incentive do you have to keep the horse on the farm if they are sore?  In the old days, you were discouraged from racing horses hard each week because you were going to have the horse around for a long time.  Now, realizing the horse may not be around next week, most horses are driven with maximum effort because the horse may not be in your barn next week.

Probably the only thing keeping standardbred racing from being as bad as thoroughbred racing is the horsemen's own greed.  By insisting to race as many days as possible, purses don't get as ridiculous as they are in thoroughbred racing where they traditionally have shorter race meets.  Could you imagine what it would look like if some slot tracks raced only half the dates they currently have?  We would be right up there getting the bad press the thoroughbred racing is getting.

UPDATE: People in the industry are complaining about the running of the article during Derby week.  Of course if the problem didn't exist, there would be no article to write.

Were there signs that the OLG Slots at Tracks program was in danger as early as last year?  According to Cangamble, there was.  I realize it is always easy to look back and say 'Now, I see', but if slots is the lifeblood for horse racing, how come no one noticed and started lobbying to maintain the current program at that time?

Will you be wagering on the Kentucky Derby this weekend? Take the poll on the upper right-hand side of the blog and cast your vote.

Construct the Molson Pace Win 4.  The Raceway at Western Fair District are asking HANA members to decide which races will be combined with the Molson Pace to build the $15,000 guaranteed pool Win 4 on May 25.  Cast your vote here.  While you're at it, if you are a harness racing gambler, consider becoming a member of HANA and specify you wager on harness racing (it's free).  Through HANA, harness racing horseplayers, small or large, have an organization representing them.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Loneliest Week of the Year

If you think harness racing typically gets short-changed and you are a true blue fan of the sport, this is going to be one of the loneliest weeks of the year, especially if you are like me who could care less about the Kentucky Derby.  One reason being I never did very well betting the runners.  I won't even be watching it on Saturday, basically because I don't want to watch any possible breakdowns.  You see, I have seen more than enough thoroughbred breakdowns in my life which is one reason I don't follow the thoroughbreds anymore.  How bad was it?  One day I was at Monmouth and in three of the first four races I wagered on horses that broke down, earning myself the nickname of KOD amongst my thoroughbred friends; a name I am not particularly proud of.

So, it is going to be a lonely week for me.  While everyone will be caught up in Derby Fever, I will be looking forward to the Lady Suffolk and Dexter Cup this Friday and Saturday at Freehold Raceway and writing a few blog entries this week which hopefully will be read by people and not bypassed.  Basically, I am going to feel like the child who knows they are going to be the last person picked for a team; standing around, looking down, and shuffling my feet.  You get the picture.

But I have to hand it to the thoroughbred people.  When you think about it, Derby talk actually started the day after the Breeders Cup was contested and as soon as the Belmont Stakes is over, people start talking about the Breeders Cup races.  Now granted, you have to be someone interested in horse racing, otherwise you probably have only heard about the Kentucky Derby in the last week or two.

That being said, give credit where credit is due to the thoroughbred people.  They managed to make the most of these events for marketing purposes.  It also has something to say about the popularity of harness racing in American culture which is pretty sad, especially when at one time, harness racing was actually the more popular of the two styles of racing.  It begs to be asked what happened to make harness racing so unpopular?  Without going into detail, suffice it to be said our reputation had been tarnished, perhaps overly tarnished, but self-inflicted.

Anyway, I can take solace in knowing the Hambletonian is just over three months away.

No Hambletonian Telecast This Year - Yes, there will be no telecast of the Hambletonian this year on television as Jeff Gural has decided to take the $100,000 (it costs $200,000 to get it on some type of television) the Meadowlands normally spends on the Hambletonian and use that money to market the event in the local market and to get people to come out to the track.  While I would typically be one of the first people hopping up and down mad at such a decision, Gural gets a pass for this year.  With the Hambletonian being during the Olympics, it would be wasting money to televise it as the ratings would be even more anemic than usual.  After all, even the Kentucky Derby would probably get lost if it was contested during the Olympics.

$50 for Falsifying a License Application - I wish someone would explain me why someone would be fined only $50 for falsifying a license application to participate in racing?  I understand some people want a job and figure if they don't put everything down they may be denied, but what kind of message does this send?  Make it a significantly larger fine and less people will falsify their license applications.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday Stakes Action

The standardbred stakes season kicks off in earnest today with the finals of the Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Memorial pacing series at Yonkers Raceway, part of the first round of HANA Harness' The Pen vs. The Chip Handicapping Challenge - The Road to the Breeders Crown, races which feature FFA pacers of both sexes. 

In addition, the three year olds get into gear this weekend with The Courageous Lady for 3yo pacing fillies at Northfield Park.  This afternoon, 3yo trotting colts and geldings will be vying for the six open slots in an elimination for The Dexter Cup which will be contested at Freehold Raceway next Saturday (also part of HANA Harness' handicapping challenge).

Here are my selections for each of these races; listed in order of their anticipated post time.

9th Fhld - Trot - $46,100; Dexter Cup Elimination - (Top six advance; Frostbite K and Southwind Austin received byes)
6 - Market Share (Gregory, 5-2) - Makes seasonal debut off strong qualifiers.  Wins at first asking.
1 - Astarsborn Hanover (Tetrick, 5-1) - Off to slow start but Schnittker has been owning this race of late; consider.
3 - Trouble (A Miller, 7-2) - Raced credibly in Survivor Series.  Has ability on the half mile
4 - Not Afraid (Takter, 9-2) - Second in last two legs of Survivor Series.  May very well improve ranking.
Coupled: #1 - Astarsborn Hanover, #1A - On The Podium

7th YR - Pace - $297,000; Bluechip Matchmaker Series Final - FFA Mares (No Show Wagering)
1 - Rocklamation (Gingras, 5-1) - Will ride pocket and try to pounce at the end.
2 - See You At Peelers (Sears, 4-5) - Will get the lead easily.  Question is will she get pressured or not?
3 - Androvette (Tetrick, 3-1) - Don't believe last line at all.  Will have her "A' game ready.
Coupled: #1 Rocklamation, #1A - Ginger And Fred

9th YR - Pace - $455,000; George Morton Levy Memorial Series Final - FFA
   2 - Blatantly Good (Brennan, 8-1) - Takes advantage of the post; possible upset.
   1 - Atochia (Pierce, 6-5) - Gets good position and makes move in stretch; enough?
1A - Foiled Again (Gingras, 6-5) - Week off and bad draw comprimises chance.
   3 - Art Z (B. Miller, 6-1) - Completes trifecta with a good trip.
Coupled: #1 - Atochia, #1A - Foiled Again

11th Nfld - Pace - $86,000; The Courageous Lady - 3yo Fillies
5 - Frontierpan (Wilder, 4-1) - Has tightner under belt.  Slight nod
2 - Destiny's Chance (Palone, 2-1) - Can win it all; can't play at these odds.
7 - Darena Hanover (Hall, 6-1) - Love the horse; hate the post.  Don't ignore.
1 - Podges Lady (Stahl, 7-2) - Completes superfecta with the rail.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Harness Racing Zen

A Moment of Harness Racing Zen - I can't embed the video on my blog, but to me there is nothing like racing on a country track.  Plain and simple.  Well, they have this type of racing in France as well. While the sound is not the best, click on this link and see a race from a regional track in France, specifically Neuillé Pont Pierre.  I find this type of racing relaxing.

In this ADW era, I wonder if racing could survive if we had tracks like this instead of our existing tracks; tracks where people could come relax and wager.  I have a feeling operating a race meeting like this would be profitable as the operating  expenses would be much less.  Let the big gamblers wager on their computers and let those who appreciate racing as a sport first show up at the track.

Let me know, would you wager on races at a track like this and/or would you go to a race meeting like this?  I know I sure would.  Even watching from home, this racing is so tranquil and a nod to our past.

Who are the Idiots? Let's go to the Blackboard

Bill Finley raises a very good question in the lead article of today's HRU.  It can basically be summed up as "When talking about slots players and horse players, who are the idiots?"  Unfortunately, the answer is horseplayers and Finley is absolutely correct.

No doubt, slot players don't want to figure out how to play horses, but then why would they?  "You want me to figure out a hard game and pay 17-32% for the privilege of bumbling along at the beginning?  I can put my mind on a mini vacation and hopefully win money and only pay 9%", the slot player would say.

How can you argue with that logic?  The answer is you can't.  Let's go to the virtual blackboard:

Bad Luck Luc goes to Chester Philadelphia with $40.  He decides to play $20 on the horses and $20 on the slots.  He decides he is going to make only $2 superfecta wagers on the horses and pull of the slots.  In this fictional example, he loses on each $2 bet only the expense of playing the game (takeout) which is 32% for the horses and 9% for the slots.  How long would he last playing each game?

Bet 1
Bet 2
Bet 3 
Bet 4
Bet 5
Bet 6
Bet 7
Bet 8
Bet 9
Bet 10
and it continues on....

Bet 26
Bet 27
Bet 28
Bet 29

Since he has a self imposed $2 minimum wager, he's done with the horses after his 29th wager and is going home with $1.44 left in his pocket from the horses and  $14.78 left from the slots.  But he says to himself, let me see how much longer I can play the slots with the $14.78.  So it continues....

Bet 95
Bet 96
Bet 97
Bet 98
Bet 99
Bet 100
Bet 101

Since Luc sticks to his $2 wager on the slots, he is done after his 101st wager.  So after completing his experiment, he realizes his $20 allowed him to make 28 wagers while the same $20 allowed him to make 101 wagers on the slots; 72 more wagers.  Hmmm, what do you think he is going to play next time?

Of course it doesn't go this way in real life as there are a lot more variables.  What Luc's fictional experiment shows us is the cost of playing each game.  But the point is made, you are going to get less action for the money playing the horses.  So if you are a newcomer to gaming, and someone tells you how much more 'action' you can get playing the slots than the horses, which game are you going to play?  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Killing Fields?

According to a report from QMI Agency in Ontario, there is talk of foals being euthanized immediately after birth.  The reason for this decision?  If a horse lives more than an hour, the stud fees are owed to the stallion's owner and there is a real fear that breeders will take a bloodbath in the current Ontario environment if they have to pay the stud fees and the upkeep of the horses until the yearling sales, only to get pennies on the dollar when it comes to selling prices.

I am sure it is happening, but hopefully not to the level the horse industry wants Ontarians to think.  I am sure the story was released to shock Ontarians to put pressure on the government to 'stabilize' the racing industry.  I am sure if there is any mass euthanisia taking place, it is being done on foals from non-descript bloodlines.  Personally, I find this abhorrent, but it is easy for me to sit here and say breeders need to lose their shirts by bringing these foals to market as yearlings.  If there is any solace, it is better they be euthanized than end up in the slaughterhouse.  Unfortunately, I suspect some broodmares and stallions may not be as fortunate.

Personally, I think any breeders that are doing this are overreacting.  There will be racing next year, albeit fewer days.  Purses look to be much smaller, but even Woodbine, before the Slots at Tracks program was having purses of $7,000 for maidens.  Now realizing wagering is down, maidens may go for $5,000.  Of course, there will be fewer racing opportunities available in the province as some tracks go out of business.  Also, breeders should realize their horses can go into the United States and race as there is a horse shortage on the East Coast.  They would get racing opportunities, of course without the benefit of a sires stakes program.  No doubt, what they would receive for their yearlings will be significantly lower, but to worry about $600 yearling prices as a rule is a bit extreme.

However, if foal euthanasia is taking place, it lies on the hands of the Liberals in the Ontario provincial Parliament.  If the government is determined to end the Slots at Tracks program next year, it is their perogative to do so.  But blood is on the government's hands because they should have had a transitional program to announce at the same time they announced the end of the Slots at Tracks program conceptually, if not details. 

When Quebec suddenly closed the slots tap in their province suddenly forcing the track operator into bankruptcy and liquidation, at least they announced a program where they were going to subsidize Quebec breeders for the end of racing; giving them so much per foals in decreasing amounts over a few years in order for the breeders to orderly transition out of horse breeding.  This way, Quebec breeders would be able to sell their horses in other provinces or in the United States for decreased prices without losing their shirt.  If Ontario is insisting on ending their slots program, they should have a program similar to Quebec's.  Raising horses is not like growing corn.  It takes several years before an off-spring of a horse is ready for sale.  For this, the government is to be held at fault.  They had no clue on how breeding works or they just had a blatant disregard for the industry.

The Curtain Rises on Vernon Downs

The curtain rises Friday evening at Vernon Downs for their 2012 race meet.  I know most heavy hitters avoid tracks like Vernon due to the handle not being large enough to wager on but form seems to hold well here.  Also, Vernon has a lot of trotting races which is something I like (realizing I am in the minority). 

At the early part of the meet, it is going to be a little harder to handicap as you have horses that haven't raced since last year or haven't raced in forty-five days in the box.  Something to consider is Roman Lopez has been hot in the qualifiers leading up to this meet.  Of course, qualifying success does not necessarily translate to pari-mutuel success, but you may wish to give Lopez's horses a little closer look.

The wagering menus at Vernon Downs is as follows:

Daily Double:  Races 1-2; Last two races
Exacta, Trifecta, Superfectas - All races
Pick 3 - Races 3-5
Pick 4 - Races 7-10

Without further ado, here are my selections for Friday night's card at Vernon Downs.  I have listed driver's choices.  Other driver changes have been made but are not noted; typically because the change was not from another driver in the race or the original driver was required to drive the another horse (horse trained by them or a family member).

1st Trot - $5,200; $7,500-$10,000 Claiming Handicap
3 - Steubenmeanmachine (Whittemore, 12-1) - Drops back to winning level.  Worth a shot.
7 - Forrest County (Kinney, 9-2) - Has prepped well for this meet; post hampers.
8 - Ziegler Hanover (Lems, 7-2) - Canadian shipper saddle with worst post.
1 - Play Right (Lopez, 6-1) - Best of rest.  Seems to have horses ready.
#8 - Driver's choice over #5.

2nd Pace - $6,200; FM Non-winners $4,501 Last 5 Starts
2 - RD Blues (Rice, 9-2) - Appears to lay over this field.
4 - Tia Maria Hanover (Huckabone, 3-1) - Prepped at the Meadowlands; could take it all.
6 - Mctootsie (Paquet, 2-1) - Way over her head in last; should show better here.
7 - Harlem Rockturne (Whittemore, 6-1) - Shows ability; saddled with poor post.

3rd Trot - $3,400; Non-winners 2 PM Races or $7,500 Lifetime
5 - Vixy (Lems, 5-1) - Appears to have matured over winter.  Worth a good look here.
2 - Steuben Lone Pine (Fisher, 6-1) - Dominated NY sires late closers last year.  Translates against open stock?
4 - Moonglow (Antonacci, 9-2) - Another who went well against state breds.  Seems step below #2.
7 - J'Omama (Brunet, 8-1) - Highly regarded filly makes seasonal debut.  Lives up to hopes?  We'll see.
#9 - Driver's choice over #3. 
#5 - Driver's choice over #8.

4th Trot - $6,200; Non-winners $4,501 Last 5 Starts
2 - Love U Overandover (Duer, 5-2) - Pompano shipper finds class relief here.
7 - Rhythmic Moves (Brunet, 7-2) - Would be top pick if not for #2.
4 - Client Nine (Plano, 6-1) - Lost all chance in stretch in last.  Threat if flat.
6 - Guinever's Star (Okusko, 8-1) - Hasn't come back well.  May improve with return to the big track.

5th Pace - $4,100; FM Non-winners $2,501 Last 5 Starts
2 - Sinspirational (Lems, 7-2) - May have finally gotten act together.  Worth the odds?
1 - Look Up (Paquet, 8-1) - Consistent sort.  Should handle layoff.
5 - Laugh Away (Whittemore, 5-2) - Fits well here.  May improve rating. 
4 - Determined Lady (Plano, 12-1) - Qualified well.  Picks up pieces.

6th Pace - $9,500; FM Open (Post Positions Assigned by Earnings Last 5) - No Superfecta
6 - Bunny In The Bank (Switzer, 9-5) - Lays over this field.
4 - Dovetail (Paquet, 6-1) - Seems to be best of the rest.
1 - Forty Three (Capizzano, 3-1) - Good qualifier, but this is a significant hike.

7th Trot - $7,600; Winners over $12,500 Lifetime
5 - Aruba Vacation (Paquet, 6-1) - Ships over from Tioga ready to go.
8 - Under The Stars (Whittemore, 9-2) - Drops down but gets bad draw.
9 - Glorious Winner (Lopez, 12-1) - Came home well in qualifier.  May need another start.
3 - New Yorks Fines (Conner, 8-1) - Two winning qualifiers, but stepping up here.

8th Pace - $3,400; FM Winners 1 but not 3 PM races or $7,500 Lifetime
1 - Winbak Your Kash (Bailey, 9-2) - Deserves top choice
3 - Table Games (Lopez, 5-2) - Another raring to go.  Could up end top pick.
6 - Izzy (Rice, 8-1) - Raced well against state breds.  Must step up.
2 -  Donna Party (Whittemore, 7-2) - Must get straightened out.  Has potential.

9th Trot - $4,100; Non-winners $2,501 Last 5 Starts
3 - Broadway Matador (Nassimos, 10-1) - Gets weak nod in weak field.
4 - Tioga Thunder (Capizzano, 7-2) - Brilliant qualifier.  May have found his spot.
8 - Red Light (Huckabone, 9-2) - A Brainard reclamation project. Turn around that quick?
5 - Victoria Hall (Harp, 8-1) - Winless last year.  May be good enough to finish in the superfecta.
#2 - Driver's choice over #1, #7.

10th Pace - $3,800; FM $4,000-$6,000 Claiming Handicap
5 - Canaco Star (Kinney, 5-2) - Should be hard to beat she gets the early lead.
4 - Moon Lake (Nassimos, 8-1) - Stays close to challenge at the end.
9 - Pounne De Luxe (Davis, 6-1) - Fits this level.  Post hurts.
2 - Jo Pa's Wish (Davis, 15-1) - Picks up the pieces and may work way in superfecta).

Looking for a New Market? Go West

I realize harness racing is now in a survival mode, but if they ever were looking for a new market, the answer may be out west; Montana and Wyoming to be precise.  It seems they already have chariot racing, where they race with two horses (actually thoroughbred and quarter horses) pulling the 'chariot'.  According to an article I came across, chariot racing has been going on in the region since the 1940's as farmers would challenge each other in races (sounds familiar, doesn't it).  The states have pari-mutuel racing with thoroughbreds, quarter horses, paints, appaloosas, and arabians already, albeit at small tracks and short meets.

Of course, before there is any expansion, standardbred interests would need a good business plan as the last thing we would want is another Prairie Meadows or Canterbury Downs situation occurring.  But it seems to me, if people are already used to chariot racing (albeit without wagering), it would not be a stretch for them to accept regular standardbred racing; it seems to be a natural progression.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Are the Slot Customers Lost?

In response to Bill Finley's column regarding his trip to Chester Downs where he asked slot players why they don't play the horses, there were several responses to the article at his request to find out why people think slot players don't play the horses and if there was something which could be done to get them to play.

So it begs to be asked, can slot players be converted to equine gamblers or is it a lost cause? 

With the way we currently produce our racing product, it is a waste even attempting to get slot players interested in slots.   Why? Let me list the reasons....

  • Two minutes of action followed by 15-20 minutes of inactivity.
  • Keep people waiting after post time.
  • After a while, you see one race, you've seen it all.
  • The mile track (controversial opinion to say the least)
  • Difficulty handicapping races with confusing conditions.
  • Thinking
  • Little reward for the risk.
  • You usually need to bet a lot to have a chance at a big payoff.
  • Integrity issues including "We are family".
  • You want me to buy a program so I can lose money at your track?
  • Takeout, takeout, takeout
  • Captive track operators (the entertainment experience)
  • Too late baby.
Let me go into detail with regards to each.

Two minutes of action followed by 15-20 minutes of inactivity -  The races is over and you go make your bet.  What do you do next?  You sit around, twiddling your fingers waiting for the next race to begin.  People these days don't want to sit around waiting for the next race.  Either we need to get races to go off a lot quicker or provide entertainment for those waiting till next race goes off.  How about instant racing on people's smart phones between the live races?

Keep people waiting after post time - Post time means nothing these days.  Whether it is the standard two minute delay or worse, all you are going to do is tick these people off and extend the boredom between races.  Could you imagine being at a roulette table after the croupier says 'No more bets' and  then sit for two minutes until the game begins?  We need to get to the point where post time means post time; the late bettors will learn to wager earlier if they know the tracks means it.

After a while, you see one race, you've seen them all - Standard doesn't need to mean every race is a mile with a starting gate.  In addition, depending on a track, the races seem to go the same way.  We need to race various distances, different starting methods, monté versus sulky.  Keep people interested.

The mile track - Yes, I know a lot of heavy hitters like the mile track because post doesn't matter as much and there are less chances to get caught in traffic.  It also means having to stand or sit in front of a television screen/monitor to see what is going on.  Usually, the sound isn't good enough to hear what is happening, and you have to deal with the wrong numbers being posted in the running order (all tracks should have Trakus).  Say what you want, the half or five-eighth ovals are better.  First of all, you can actually see what is happening without the benefit of a television screen.  You can see exciting things like a three wide move down the backstretch, etc.  Remember, slot players are visual and they want to see action.  They are not going to want to see a television show to watch a race.

Difficulty handicapping races with difficult conditions - I've talked about this before, but I will spare you the usual promotion of classified racing.  Conditions are too confusing; people need to learn how to read a program; novices have no chance when competing against seasoned players; they tend to be donors (aka Chumps).  Slot machines are equal opportunity bandits.

Thinking - Slot players don't think.  Their biggest decision is how many coins/lines to play.  Remember the machines they used to have in casinos where they had mechanical horses with fixed odds and you make a bet based only on the odds (yes, they really were slot machines)?  What if we had a way to offer fixed odds quiniellas where you just went to a machine and made your picks based on the odds, instead of mechanical horses, you based it on live races?  The quiniella would be offered only through these machines.  

Little reward for the risk - Throw a dollar in a slot machines and you can win $10,000.  You can bet $2 on a horse and you can win $2.40, or some amount less than $10 when you bet to win.  Even if you bet the exactas, you can get a $19 payoff.  Races are so predictable these days that you have plenty of horses less than 2-1 win.  That's like getting the cherry on the slot machine.  Yes, you get those occasional bombs, but how often does it happen and even then, realistically how big is that payoff going to be? 

You usually need to bet a lot to have a chance to win a big payoff - How many combinations do you typically need to play to win a Pick 4 or more?  Yes, you only need one ticket but odds are unless you are looking for that $9.90 Pick 4, you need to cover many more combos.  You hear about syndicates bringing down a Pick x pool.  When did you ever hear of a syndicate to play a slot machine?  You need only one pull to win big on a slot machine.  Why not introduce wagers like a Double Quiniella or Double Exactas to allow people to bet a little and have a chance to win something worth talking about with little cash outlay?

Integrity issues, including "We Are Family" - When it comes to gambling, people tend to be suspicious.  When you have two or three Millers in a race, John Campbell not driving for his brother, and you see three or four horses from the Takter or Burke stable in a race, people are going to think the worst.  Then there are the real integrity issues.  Yes, slot machines are programmed to pay out only so much, but it is known and it is dumb luck if you are on the machine at the wrong or right time.  I know harness racing is a family sport, but when people in the same extended family with the same name participating in the same race, people can't help but wonder.

You want ME to buy a program so I can lose money? - Does anything really need to be said here.  Basic programs should be free, no ifs, ands, or buts.  Charge for advanced programs but give people the basic information so they can follow it.

Takeout, Takeout, Takeout - While slot players are mindless when it comes to playing the game, they know there may be a 5 to 8% takeout on a slot machine; not the 15% or more on the horses.  Slot players may be nickeled and dimed to death on these machines, but we take a lot more out of them on each wager.  They may lose either way, but it is hard to beat the 35% takeout some tracks charge on exotics (Hello Harrah's).

Captive track operators (the entertainment business) - At present racing has racino operators by the proverbial...well, never mind, you know what I mean.  So while they offer casino customers comps, nice facilities and other amenities, the track operators subjects their racing customers to old, non-updated facilities (if not run down), no amenities, and who need to buy every beverage they drink, and the usual fast food fare.  Nothing like telling a customer they're not welcome when they are stuck in a facility which looks like cold war East Berlin and slot players are in facilities that look like Monte Carlo.  People may find it hard to believe, but the horsemen would do a lot better in the long run if they had instant racing to supplement their purses and kept people busy instead of having tracks being operated by people who resent racing.

Too Late People - We're exposing people to racing much too late.  Think back to when you were first exposed to racing.  We lost fair racing or eliminated it on our own because it lost money so we don't expose kids to racing when they are young.  Take a child to a track?  If it's a racino, you have poor facilities and are treated like a second class citizen.  We should be subsidizing racing at fairs to keep them going and possibly introduce fair racing elsewhere. 

Unless we address these issues, we are going to be wasting our time trying to get slot players to play the horses.  The first bad night and they will be back at their slot machines, never to return.  For many of these people, you have one chance to get them so you better do it right the first time.

Harrah's Chester Downs becoming Harrah's Philadelphia Racetrack (we will skip the casino part) as of April 29.  The new track symbol will be PHL, this according to the USTA.

A harness racing Life At Ten incident? -  Certainly not to the magnitude of Life At Ten, but Lets Getit Started died in the fourth race on Saturday night at the Meadowlands.  The horse barely made it to the starting line and dropped to the track before the quarter pole where he likely suffered a heart attack or a ruptured aorta.  Tragic as it was, there may not have been anything which could have been done for Lets Getit Started.  I am not suggesting anything improper occurred, but I hope the judges asked driver Dan Noble if the horse showed any sign of problems before hand and if so, why didn't he report it and suggest the horse be scratched?  I would ask trainer Jeff Webster if the horse showed any problems in the earlier warm ups.  I would like to know if Noble asked for the horse to be scratched and the judges declined, shades of what Ben Webster alleged with the great pacing mare Tarport Hap?  But most of all, if the horse was under such distress, why wasn't the horse pulled up right away when it was obvious something was wrong?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Time to Change Focus in Ontario

Any realistic chance of stopping the end of the Ontario Lottery's Slots at Tracks program has come to an end as the NDP has indicated it would support the Liberal party's budget, thus not forcing new elections.  As for what happens to racing, there is some talk of 'transitional aid' for racing, but what it will be is unknown.  However, being it is to be a one time expenditure, I don't think it will allow for an orderly transition from slot revenue for purses to handle based solely on wagering.  As much as racing doesn't like what is happening, it is time to end the fight to maintain the Slots at Tracks program and work with the politicians to develop as robust a transitional program as possible.

Contrary to what some people have said, this won't be the end of racing in Ontario.  For sure, the gravy train is going to come to an end but even the Liberals anticipate five to six racetracks surviving in the province.  It is possible some tracks will maintain operation of the slots and even expanded gambling, but even then, the splits mandated under the current program may change or not even be mandated.  Fortunately, some tracks operate as non-profit agricultural societies, so for them it would seem any distribution would be fair.

For American interests, the question needs to be asked does the argument being made in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada gain any traction in the United States.  You have states looking for revenue and there is nothing to say a governor in a state makes the same argument that is being made in Ontario or Saskatchewan.  Racetracks need to get to their state's governors and legislators to argue their case and educate the legislators before the axe is threatening to swing.

HANA Harness' The Pen vs. The Chip Handicapping Challenge - The Road to the Breeders Crown kicks off this Saturday night at Yonkers Raceway.  By Saturday morning, the handicappers' selections should be posted on the contest site.  One nice element of the competition is the handicappers are playing for standardbred horse rescues as there is a $2,100 grand prize and some individual tracks will be making donations to rescues as part of the contest.  Another thing nice about this contest is with the hope of attracting novice or gamblers who typically don't follow harness racing, occasionally the handicappers will dispense some insights on handicapping.

News from Australia indicates two-time Australian harness horse of the year (three-time aged pacer of the year) Village Kid, has passed away at the age of 31.  At the time of his retirement, he was the highest earning pacing gelding to have retired.

Here is a video of Village Kid winning the 1987 Miracle Mile:

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Racino Model is Flawed

Despite what some people will tell you, the commonly used model for racinos is seriously flawed.  Individuals will tell you the racing industry has never been better in that we have all-time high purses which has allowed the breeding industry in racino states to prosper.  I will argue instead of it being the support racing needed while it retooled, it instead was a program which, in effect, delivered crack to an addict.

The biggest problem with racino legislation?  It has rewarded and promoted mediocrity instead of encouraging true growth in the industry for all breeds.  What incentive does racing have to improve the product when tracks and horsemen can continue on their existing path and become handsomely rewarded with all time high purses; purses even higher than they ever were in racing's heyday? 

You are seeing the answer now; very little incentive.  You could argue if there has been any improvement in the industry for the gambler, it has come from ADWs, companies who merely resell the product tracks put out.  It is basically the same product it has always been but the reseller puts so little into the industry, they can afford to offer rebates to their customers, making the cost of wagering a little less.  Otherwise, it is basically your grandfather's horse racing; a little more watered down, but basically the same.

In hindsight, racino legislation should have been written to stabilize the level of the purses being raced for at the time of implementation, perhaps the highest level over the prior five years and tracks should have been reimbursed for the cost of operating slots and for capital improvements in racetrack operations and a minimal profit.  The industry would have been stabilized, but it would be up to the industry to improve the product to increase the profitability of the industry.  In other words, if you want to race for more money,  you need to innovate.  If tracks want to become more profitable, tracks need to improve the gambling experience.

Rewarding an industry for not doing anything is not the way to do things.  This is why every cut in slot revenue hurts the industry.  Horseplayers became an inconvenient reality.  We need the gambler to become a more important piece in the industry's profitability puzzle..

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Arch Madness Elitlopp Bound

Apparently, Arch Madness as another dance on his European dance card.  While Arch Madness was already heading over to Europe for the Oslo Grand Prix, Elitlopp officials have invited the American trotter to compete in this year's edition of the famed race along with Windsong Geant of Canada and Timoko of France.  Thirteen more horses are yet to be invited to compete in the Elitlopp to be contested in Solvalla Racetrack.  The full story in Swedish is available here (the Google translation into English makes an interesting read).

The Human Factor of Judging

We don't like to think of it, but racing is judged by humans, which means they can and will make mistakes.  Either they miss something during a race (and no one claims an objection) either by looking at what is going on up front or blinking their eyes at the wrong time, or when the inquiry goes up the judges feel the video is not conclusive, the rule leaves wiggle room, or dare we say, the judges misinterpret the rule and blow the call.

Truth is, while harness racing revolves around gambling at the pari-mutuel tracks, payoffs are based on the outcome of a game and when there are humans officiating a game, mistakes can be made.  Mistakes are made everyday in baseball, basketball, football, and hockey either through non-calls or blown calls.  Fortunately, most of the times a blown call doesn't impact the outcome of the game and even if it does, it is just one game out of many; there is typically plenty of opportunities to recover from a mistake. 

Even in professional sports where there is video, it doesn't mean a blown call is overturned.  For example in football, for a ruling on the field to be overturn, the video replay must be 100% conclusive.  On the whole, the official's ruling holds supreme.  Of course, since most people are not wagering on sporting events (at least legally), most mistakes are forgotten by the time the next game is contested.

Of course with racing, the difference is each race is an isolated event and errors are much more critical.  Anytime the judges make a decision, someone is going to be happy or miffed, to put it delicately.  Therefore, it is important the judges make the correct decision.  But as we all know, since the judges are human, even the best judge is going to make the occasional mistake.  Fortunately for owners, there is an appeal process which can rectify an errant call but for the gambler, there is no second chance to get it right.  If you have been playing this game for any length of time, you have likely been on both ends of a blown call, something which will be of little comfort if it costs you a big score.

This is why it is essential for racing commissions to review their judges.  An appointment to the judges stand should not be considered a permanent appointment.  Anytime there is an inquiry or a rare objection, it is essential that the racing commission reviews those races in addition to a random sampling of races to check the judges' decisions or no-decisions for accuracy, even if the race doesn't end up in front of the commission as part of an appeal. If an unacceptable number of blown calls or non-calls are made, judges should be reassigned, retrained, or replaced as appropriate.

Commissions owe the gamblers nothing less.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

You Are the Consumer

Thanks to Pull the Pocket for bringing attention to the current feud between TVG and Twinspires over Twinspires' Avoid the Quarter Hog marketing campaign.  As Pull the Pocket has reported on his blog, TVG has sent a cease and desist letter to Twinspires claiming their ad campaign is 'misleading', for claiming TVG charges a quarter for each wager (where the fee is capped off at $19.95 a month) or you can pay a flat $19.95 fee which provides for free online streaming (otherwise it is an additional $5.95 per month).  Regardless of which way you go, you will get your fee(s) refunded if you wager $2,500 per month (only $200 a month to get the online streaming fee refunded).  For the record, other than a $5.00 for credit card deposits into your account, there are no fees involved with Twinspires (there are reasonable requirements to get access to their live video, such as wagering $50 over the last five days you used their video product; to make sure you just don't open an account to get free video).

Now, whether or not TVG escalates this complaint remains to be seen.  Not being a lawyer, I don't know if they have the proverbial leg to stand on but after looking at the website dedicated to 'Avoiding the Quarter Hog', there is no mention of the actual TVG fees, perhaps hoping you assume TVG charges a quarter per wager on an unlimited basis.  I will leave it to these two companies to fight it out amongst themselves.

Now, as far as I am concerned, I prefer going to the track.  To me there is nothing like hearing the hooves hitting the track and hearing the sulky wheels woosh as they go by and dare I say, the smells when the wind blows the right or wrong (depending on your perspective) way.  However, even I have an ADW account because there are times you can't get to the track.

Regardless how this dispute plays out, I find it personally objectionable for any ADW to charge me to wager.  Now granted, if you are a serious gambler, odds are you are going to get your fees refunded to you and will be eligible for rebates on top of that, but if you are more of a recreational or $2 player, odds are you would be owing fees.  Will you be profitable for an ADW if you are a $2 player?  Maybe, maybe not, but considering how much it costs to handle your account and the expense the ADW will have in placing your bet, the cost to the ADW is negligible, especially when you consider how much out of each bet the ADW gets to pocket for themselves.

Being I am basically a win wager gambler, that $.25 fee is similar to the surcharge New Yorks' OTBs  charge; they don't see me anymore since I got my ADW account.  To me, it is a matter of principle.  You don't charge me for the privilege of making money off of me.

Bottom line is, you are the consumer and unless you are a resident of a state like New Jersey where there is only one legal ADW available, you have a choice.  Just remember, they need you more than you need them.  As the consumer, you're in the driver's seat so do your due diligence and select the ADW(s) that fit your needs.

After all, it is your money.

NJTHA lease of Monmouth Park Upheld - On to the courts. John Brennan of The Record, goes into detail about the hearing officer's report.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

You Make the Call

So, is it easy to be a judge?  Let's take a look at the 9th race from Pocono Downs this past Tuesday evening.  In this race, #7 Emily Do was a nose in front ahead of #9 ENS Gliding Condor, but there was an inquiry for a possible violation of the breaking rule.

Take a look at the finish of the race as well as the two slow-motion views and you make the call.

According to the Pocono Downs judges, there was no violation of the breaking rule.  In fact, from looking at the chart of the race, no break was noted so the judges must have decided Emily Do was merely rough-gaited before the wire.

My initial thought was WTF?  How could the horse have stayed up?  I then went and looked at it step by step and have concluded while I still think the #7 should have been disqualified, I can see why she stayed up.  I  can also see if the second place horse appeals the judges' decision, there is a chance that the original decision does get overturned.

It did look like she threw in a couple of pacing strides which would have been fine except it was a trotting event.  At the wire, the horse was back on her gait.

So we go to the breaking rule in Pennsylvania.

§ 183.292. Breaking.

(a) When a horse breaks from its gait in trotting or pacing, the driver shall at once, where clearance exists, take the horse to the outside and pull it to its gait.

(b) The following shall be considered violations of section 12Q:

  (1) Failure to properly attempt to pull the horse to its gait.

  (2) Failure to take to the outside where clearance exists.

  (3) Failure to lose ground by the break.

(c) If there has been no failure on the part of the driver in complying with subsection (b)(1)—(3), the horse may not be set back unless a contending horse on his gait is lapped on the hind quarter of the breaking horse at the finish.

(d) The judges may set any horse back one or more places if in their judgment any of the violations listed in this section have been committed, and the driver may be penalized

Let's step throug through the rule.

183.292(a) - The horse was on the outside so there was clearance.  As for pulling it to the gait it is covered elsewhere.

183.292(b).1 - Well, it was a couple of bad strides and the horse went back to its gait.  Does a driver react that quick to get a horse back on stride?  I don't know.  Let's give David Miller the benefit of the doubt.

183.292(b).2 - Well, the horse was on the outside so by default Miller did take her outside.

183.292(b).3 - I didn't see the horse lose ground.  This would have been the point I would have taken the horse down.  Apparently the judges felt there was not enough time to get the horse to lose ground, or they felt the #9 came back to the #7, not the #7 gaining on the #9. 

183.292(c) - No lap on break as Emily Do got back on the trot right on the wire.  Doesn't apply.

183,292(d) - "The judges may..." not "The judges shall...".  Probably the way they word these things, certainly if one of the conditions are violated, the horse comes down.  The question is did it?

The point here is not that the judges blew the call, or not.  While I would have taken her down, I can understand why the judges didn't.  I disagree with their decision, and you are going to have some people unhappy either way; especially those who had the horses in question in their wagers.   

Bottom line is, its not easy being the judge. 

Ontario's (Canada's) Fight for Our Future

The Canadian Sportsman has put out a 24 page insert, titled "Fight for Our Future" which talks about what the impact would be on the racing industry if the OLG Slots at Track program would be ended.  It is a powerful piece which they hope gets seen by the decision makers in Toronto and elsewhere.

It really is a fight for Canada's horse racing future.  Let's face it, especially with harness racing, Ontario is the promised land.  Horsemen in Alberta, British Columbia, and elsewhere in the nation always have the hope they come upon a horse which can compete in Ontario for the lucrative purses and a prolonged racing season.  For some of them, that one horse they come across may be what keeps them in the business.  Without the possibility of getting that one horse, a horse person in Manitoba or elsewhere may just hang it up and leave the business.  This decision by the Liberals in Ontario impacts the whole nation.

If you know someone in Ontario, pass a long this link to the supplement.  You may be educating someone to see the damage this current policy will have on racing.

Friday Spot Races

With the Blue Chip Matchmaker in the final week of eliminations, it would pay to look at the point totals of those competing in this week's races to see which horses are on the bubble; those who run the risk of not qualifying for next week's final.  Those who have not locked in their positions or still have a chance of qualifying will need to put in their best efforts, while those who have already punched their ticket for the main event may be leaving something in the tank for next week.

While we look at the four Matchmaker eliminations, we will also look at the finals of Pocono Downs' Bobby Weiss trotting series for 3&4yos that were non-winners of 3 extended pari-mutuel races or $50,000 lifetime through January 1, 2012, and the trotting invitational at the Meadowlands.

4th YR - $40,000 Pace; Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Mare FFA - 5th Preliminary; 1st Division
1 - Krispy Apple (Tetrick, 4-1) - Expect an all out effort here as anything less may find her outside looking in.
4 - Western Silk (Brennan, 7-5) - Class of the race, the one to beat but poor odds.
7 - Lightning Treasure (Sears, 9-5) - Draws the worst of it.  Needs miracle to advance, but should land share.

6th YR - $40,000 Pace; Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Mare FFA - 5th Preliminary; 2nd Division
5 - Chancey Lady (Tertick, 4-5) - Ran up against the hot horse in last two; no such problem here.
2 - Billmar Scooter (Goodell, 6-1) - Must race big if any chance to advance.  Will be hoping for a trip.
1 - Mystical Diva (Sears, 4-1) - Costly break at start last week; should land share.

7th YR - $40,000 Pace; Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Mare FFA - 5th Preliminary; 3rd Division (Win Only)
7 - See You At Peelers (Sears, 3-5) - Took week off.  Will either get lead or follow along.  No value here.
6 - Ginger And Fred (Bartlett, 5-1) - Bubble horse needs decent effort to advance.  Expect him to follow SYAP.
3 - Arctic Fire N (Rattray, 15-1) - Lands share with trip.  May add value to triple.

9th YR - $40,000 Pace; Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Mare FFA - 5th Preliminary; 4th Division (Win Only)
4 - Rocklamation (Sears, 8-5) - Only one to worry about and that one has the seven hole.
7 - Anndrovette (Tetrick, 4-5) - Best horse on paper but with the seven hole, may be looking ahead.
1 - P Note Blue Chip (Brennan, 10-1) - Won last time at the rail; may improve trifecta pay-off.

10th PCD5/8 - $30,000 Trot; Bobby Weiss Series Final - 3&4yos LC
1 - Upfrontstrikesgold (Buter, 5-2) - Looks to extend win streak to three.  Takes advantage of rail.
6 - All Munky Business (Morrill, 6-1) - Seems a likely second but if trip goes her way, look out.  Hot driver.
4 - Outlaw (Callahan, 3-1) - Flawless since arriving from DE.  Just a question of where he finishes in the money.
3 - Quantum Confident (Napolitano, 10-1) - Should complete the superfecta.

10th M1 - $30,000 Trot - Invitational
2 - Arch MAdness (Smedshammer, 8-5) - Class of race.  Should win easily.
1 - Hava Kadabra (Gingras, 15-1) - Looked good prior to series at Woodbine.  At these odds, worth a good look.
6 - Fountainbleu Volo (D Miller, 3-1) - Draws outside Arch Madness this week.  Lands share.
8 - In Focus (Pierce, 6-1) - Nice horse.  Goes from the rail to the outside post.  Picks up the rest.

Rocknroll Hanover continues to shine.  I'm not one that follows the breeding end of the business, but it seems me with the success of Rocknroll Hanover in the breeding shed, he is going to be a dominant sire for quite a while. Perretti Farms has been adding some nice broodmares to their band since it has become apparent things were not as rosy in other states/provinces; obviously thinking New Jersey may be heading for a renaissance down the road.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What is Illogical to Some is Logical to Others and a PSA

I must admit, what is going on in Ontario's got me wondering what the motive is to end the Tracks at Slots program.  Now, before I go on any further, remember I am a Yankee, so the background of this situation I don't know.  Maybe it is just that the Liberals have decided racing has had enough of a chance to get the industry back on track and they decided to pull the plug on the program the same way it was done in Quebec; except in Quebec they at least offered breeders a subsidy for a couple of years in order to help them transition into other agricultural endeavors.  Maybe they are looking for a better net share of the profits as they expand their offerings.  While the OLG currently grosses 75%, remember they are paying the employees and offering benefits.  Under the current plans, the new operators of casinos will be responsible for paying employees so even if they only get 70% of the take, the OLG may come out ahead.

Of course, a valid question to be asked is if it takes two to three years to get new casinos built, what is Ontario going to do revenue-wise in the interim, the period where the Tracks at Slots program is dead and these casinos open?  There is a good chance that after pulling the machines at the few tracks, that the OLG will negotiate interim deals with the remaining tracks to make up the difference, and yes, some of these racinos may remain and even get table games to make up the loss of income.

But what about those in the racing business; the 65,000 people the industry claim make their living on horse racing?  We can argue about the number of people who are employed directly or indirectly in the racing industry, but let's be honest, horse racing is not going to be wiped off the landscape in Ontario.  The number of people who are going to lose their jobs may be half or less.  Ontario is not Quebec; some tracks will remain and they will need horsemen and the associated industries.  Other horsemen will be heading to the United States to work.

The industry claims the Liberals' plans are illogical.  There, they are wrong.  Racing may feel things are illogical because they are being impacted.  However, government doesn't do things willy nilly; they know what they are doing and to them it is certainly not illogical.  Unfortunately, you may never hear from the Liberals what their intentions are based on and that is not fair.  If you are going to impact so many people's livelihoods, they have an obligation to be upfront and honest.

Pull the Pocket has a piece today where he talks about the New York Franchise Board not being impressed with the 'rejuvination' of racing at the NYRA tracks.  Why?  They want to know where the customers are.  Basically, they see horsemen getting rich but no real attempt to get new people involved in the sport, with respect to gambling.  Basically, we are seeing the Daffy Duck syndrome.  What is that?  Think of the cartoon episode where Daffy Duck (Racing) discovers a giant bucket of gold and jewels and starts screaming "It's Mine You Understand, Mine, All Mine" while Bugs Bunny (the gambler) just stands there watching. Perhaps if Ontario horsemen and tracks invested some of their pot of gold in the form of reducing takeout and improving the gaming experience, horsemen in Ontario wouldn't be where they are now.. 

HANA Harness has a new press release today in anticipation of their handicapping challenge which kicks off next week.  In this press release, Pen and Chip handicappers discuss what they feel is the most important and most overrated handicapping angles.

Permit me to get way off topic here.  If you have teenagers attending proms this year, or they have friends with driving licenses, you may want to have them look at the following video.  I know you think your children would never drink under age, but just remember what you were doing when you were their age.  I know what I did.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Speed Hurts

Despite the emphasis on final times by breeders and racehorse owners, speed is hurting harness racing.  How can that be?  It is because there is a big disconnect as to what the industry participants want and what the wagering public wants.  It goes without saying why breeders want the fastest horses; it is what the owner wants as generally the fastest horses are the ones that win races most of the time.  Gamblers see it differently.

If racing was a sport like baseball, then all would be wonderful.  Speed would be valued by the public as batting averages and ERA are.  Unfortunately, few of racing's fans are there just to admire the horses and their speed.  Racing is a gambling sport and as such, if people are going to wager they want the potential of getting not only a decent reward for the risk and they want excitement.  To be perfectly honest, the way racing is so speed favoring these days, excitement is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind.  As for payoffs, we know from the parade of favorites that are winning consistently the payoffs, in particular with straight wagers, is lacking.

The problem with half mile track racing is not as much the size of the track, but the fact speed dominates racing these days; that is what makes the outside post positions more daunting than in the past.  If speed was not so dominating, we would be seeing horses making three wide moves in the backstretch and the race actively contested during the entire mile on a consistent basis.  Races are much more predictable, not just on the half, but on larger size ovals as well.

What can be done with regards to making the sport less speed favoring?  It would be nice to say let's go back to the old conventional sulky but it will never happen.  First of all, good luck trying to find enough of those old wooden race bikes; you won't.  Also, horsemen have spent so much money purchasing these sulkys that no one is going to want to just throw them in the scrap heap.  That being said, perhaps the USTA could pass a rule saying no further designs of sulkys will be approved, but it would still depend on the individual racing commissions to go along with it, plus the USTA must be willing to risk litigation by manufacturers.

So if little, if anything, can be done with the sulky design, what options are left?  Throwing in different distances to slow the races up would help, keeping races between a 1 to 1 7/8 mile range.  If nothing else, it would make races a little less predictable.  I would avoid sprint races because if racing is so speed favoring, what is racing shorter distances going to accomplish?

But perhaps the biggest problem contributing to harness racing's speed bias is too many tracks operating at the same time; basically we have diluted the horse population that it is very hard to put together competitive fields.  As a result, you have occurrences where you get one, two, or three horses that stand out in a race and the rest of the field can't keep up with them.  If you can't keep up with a horse, how are you going to beat it?  Fewer tracks operating at a given track will give a racing secretary a deeper horse population and allow them to card the most competitive races possible.  Unfortunately, horsemen prefer the diluted horse population as it means they can get their horses raced more frequently, which is real nice when you are at a track with slot-infused purses. 

Are horsemen willing to make a sacrifice to give the gambler the more exciting and competitve races they crave?  I'll let you answer that. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fate of Ontario Racing Known on April 24?

The Liberal party in Ontario is presenting the budget, which calls for eliminating the $354 payment to horse racing in the province through eliminating the Slots at Tracks program, for a vote on April 24.  If the budget goes down to defeat, it will be in effect a 'no confidence' vote and force new provincial elections by the end of May.  Depending on how the election goes, the Liberal party may be forced from a leadership role in the government which means the Slots at Tracks program may be salvaged.  Of course this means the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservatives must have their members vote to defeat the budget.

Of course, in an effort to save their leadership role, the Liberals are negotiating with the NDP on some demands the NDP has to secure their votes and save their government as the Progressive Conservatives have already indicated they would vote to topple the government.  If the NDP agrees to form a coalition with the Liberal Party to get the budget passed, the decision to end the Slots at Tracks program may survive. 

A recent poll paid for by the Canadian Union of Public Employees suggests the Progressive Conservatives would lead a new minority government with the NDP becoming the official opposition and the governing Liberal Party becoming the smallest party represented in the Provincial Parliament.  Of course, polls paid for by special interest groups may have an inherent bias in the poll questions to get the results they want. UPDATE:  An article in the National Post suggests while the Liberal Party is losing favor with the general public overall, based on an analysis with regards to localized support, the Liberals appear they would retain control despite a loss of seats in the provincial parliment as they would have the most seats of all parties.

The bottom line it means a suspenseful eight days until the formal budget vote.  In the meanwhile, Ontario horsemen are holding their collective breaths.

Time to Tinker with the Levy and Matchmaker

So far in the George Morton Levy Memorial Series at Yonkers Raceway, it has been the Atochia, Foiled Again, and Real Nice show with these horses dominating the series through the first four legs.  See You at Peelers and Androvette have been dominating in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series, pretty much making these races snoozefests.  It seems to be a safe bet that the winner of the two finals will come from these horses.

Many will argue the problem with these series thus far is primarily half track racing.  I will argue the problem with these races is they are too early in the season, with most of the top horses from both sexes not yet being ready which allows the few top horses that are ready to compete to eat the 'not ready for prime time horses' for dinner.  In effect, you have the top horses competing against nothing more than high-level conditioned horses.

To make the Levy and Matchmaker a better event there needs to be a change in the format and/or timing of these series.  Now let me state first of all, these races are the property of Yonkers Raceway so to expect the track to give up the finals of these races is out of the question.  With that stated up front, we know there are those horses who will not race on the half mile track, unwilling to take a chance with a bad post position draw, but we can't worry about those horses who won't participate despite the lucrative purses.

There are two ways the series could be improved.  If it wished to remain a completely stand alone event at the start of the season, Yonkers Raceway could partner with four other tracks in the region and let them have preliminary legs in addition to Yonkers.  The same point system could be used with the top point earners in the five preliminary legs returning to Yonkers Raceway for the finals.  By having only one preliminary and the final at Yonkers, other top horses may be willing to participate in the series as it would be likely the other four preliminaries would be held on 5/8 mile ovals and bigger.

Another option would be for allowing other stake races to be used as preliminaries to get into the finals to be held at Yonkers.  This would result in the Levy finals being held later in the year; likely not before June.  Again, points can be earned by eligible horses earning points in these stakes races and then have the highest point earners compete in the finals.

Regardless of which approach would be used, racing fans at multiple tracks would have the opportunity to see the best horses in training competing in a mini-circuit at different size tracks, with the added cachet of being part of the road to the Levy (or Matchmaker).  The races would be more competitive with regards to level of competition and those trainers who hate half mile racing may be willing to have their horses go over to Yonkers for at least the final (possibly taking a chance to skipping a preliminary leg to avoid two races on a half mile oval).

The Levy and the Matchmaker are races with big purses.  The level of competition should match the purses.  It is time to tinker with the event.  Otherwise, we can expect these series to be races where the top horses coast through the series and the second tier horses take advantage of the early season scheduling to get a chance at minor spoils and then go back to the levels they belong racing in.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

When Should a Racing Commission Pull the Plug?

Horsemen love to race as much as possible.  Kentucky has few harness dates with 2012 having only 65 days; 29 days at The Red Mile (including the 8 Grand Circuit dates), and the balance of the dates being split between Bluegrass Downs and Thunder Ridge Raceway, so the last thing anyone wants to do is race less days. 

This weekend, the 2012 season kicked off at Thunder Ridge Raceway and it was received the way it typically has been; badly.  So bad that in those pools which were reported, one race had a whopping $117 in WPS wagers, but that was out of the norm as many races had WPS pools combining to less than $20.  There were a total of 13 races contested over the three days.   

Horsemen fared better, thanks to incoming simulcast revenue and wagers placed at Thunder Ridge's two OTBs.  Due to a purse account shortage, the meet opened up with Maidens going for $700 and the Open class going for $1,200.  However, the purses are going to their regular levels this coming week with the bottom class of maidens and $2,000 claimers racing for $1,000 and the best horses on the grounds racing for $1,600 and instead of thirteen races contested during opening week, with some more horses qualifying there should be more races this week.  However, one thing which won't change much is the handle.  There will be many races where horses are not bet to win (place, or show as well).

To say this meet is a public embarrassment is an understatement.  Could you imagine being at a track where exotic wagers are refunded  for lack of wagering or there are no win payoffs because no one wagered on the winning horse?  To be quite frank, presenting this type of product only hurts the sport in the long run with the public.

Yet, the KHRC continues to allow Thunder Ridge to race where it is obvious the product has been rejected by the wagering public.  I can only assume the reason Thunder Ridge is racing is the hope of slots coming to Kentucky one day.  I imagine the horsemen love it because at least there is somewhere in Kentucky where they can earn some purse money; otherwise they would be forced to race out of state or wait for a shorter race calender, having to wait for the meet to begin at Bluegrass Downs. 

What the KHRC should be telling Thunder Ridge is if they can't get their racing product improved with respect to wagering within a certain period of time, they will no longer be licensed.  As for the horsemen losing race dates, make Bluegrass Downs and the Red Mile race additional days to compensate the horsemen if you must, but to allow racing continue where the public has so clearly rejected it is not in the best interest of the sport.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Monticello Responds to Reports

In response to an article in Harnesslink which was also referenced here and no doubt other places, Monticello Raceway has issued the following press release.

(Track management to impose a lifetime ban on anyone engaging in the practice of buying or selling horses for slaughter)

In response to David Mattia’s recent article published at, Monticello Raceway has zero tolerance for the predatory practices described in his article.   We are fully investigating the allegations and are attempting to obtain the identity of any individuals who have information or who are alleged to engage in these practices.  Monticello Raceway executives have met with the Chairman of the Racing and Wagering Board, the Presiding Judge at Monticello Raceway and representatives of Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association.   Monticello Raceway does not permit unlicensed individuals in our paddock or backstretch areas and we will impose a lifetime ban and report to the Racing and Wagering Board any person believed to be engaging in buying or selling horses in our backstretch areas for the purpose of sending them to the slaughterhouse. 

Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini stated that, “Anyone who uses their license to gain access to the backstretch for purposes of horse slaughter will be subject to Board review and possible revocation.”  Cliff Ehrlich, the President and General Manager of Monticello Raceway said, “Anyone who engages in buying or selling horses for purposes other than providing a lifetime of care for the horse is not welcome at Monticello Raceway.” 

It's good to see Monticello taking action.  Will it permantly stop the backstretch kill buyer, only time will tell.  One thing for sure, other racetracks need to ask themselves what is happening on their backstretch and resolve the problem before they end up in the next article.