For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Pat on the Back (and a Healthy Dose of Self-Denial)

The SOA of New York has issued a press release promoting the second to none overnight program Yonkers Raceway has. I can't help but notice only a fleeting mention of their stakes program and no mention of their late closing series. The stakes program, while offering nice size purses are poorly received by horsemen, mostly due to the expensive payment schedules involved in getting to the starting gate, so the track ends up carding short fields, some requiring to be scheduled as non-wagering events. Yonkers management has finally heard the complaints by many who say it is too expensive to race in the stakes races at Yonkers, and are laying down the gauntlet to horsemen next year by cutting sustaining fees in half for the Yonkers and Hudson Filly Trots as well as reduce the starting fees to challenge horsemen complaining about the payments to enter.

As for their late closing series, by the end of April their late closing schedule has concluded for the year as there is only one late closing event for green (Sagamore Hill) horses and (Petticoat) fillies, followed by the Levy Memorial (Matchmaker) series for FFA (mostly winter FFA) horses.  

That being said, I have no problem with anyone tooting their own horn and as a fan of half mile track racing, I would be following Yonkers' racing much more if they moved their starting line back close to its original location, but the real reason I bring up the SOA's press release is it exemplifies the self-denial racino horsemen are going through. First of all, wouldn't you think with a self-described ‘second to none’ overnight program, their handle should also be 'second to none'? Of course, this is not the case. A strong overnight program with marginal wagering (compared to a couple other tracks) is an example of an artificially propped up racing program which suggests all is not well in the racing industry. But like horsemen all over, not just the SOA of NY, it’s the purses which matter.

The SOA of New York in their press release does bring up a very important item of concern, in particular, how the NYSRWB has decided in a cost-savings move to no longer do post-racing drug testing of claimed horses. Without the knowledge of knowing your horse is definitely going to be tested if claimed, some unscrupulous trainers may decide to ‘assist’ a horse get through a race, hoping to get him/her claimed away.  A successful claiming system requires the potential purchaser to know the horse being raced is what they are buying, not a chemically-supported fake who immediately falls apart after the claim.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Meadowlands Progress Report

Talk about the Meadowlands fall from grace is greatly exaggerated. Need proof of this? Let's take a look at the Meadowlands' key numbers year to year through the first 57 days of the 2011 and 2012 meetings:

Live Racing Attendance  On-track Wagering Meadowlands Races
2011 2012 2011 2012
136,155 153,976 $14,760,910 $17,332,056
Increase 13.10% Increase 17.40%
 Export Wagering Meadowlands Races  All Source Wagering  Meadowlands Races
2011 2012 2011 2012
$103,738,392 $108,623,179 $118,499,302 $125,955,220
Increase 4.70% Increase 6.30%

As I discussed in a previous post, the past is the past, but if you compare the first 57 dates under the New Meadowlands LLC management compared to the first 57 dates of 2011 which were under the management of the NJSEA, notice the increases. Name me another American track that has seen an attendance increase of 13% or on-track wagering on their live races of over 17%.

In addition to these figures, you will see the Meadowlands export signal increased, albeit at a slower rate (4.7%), resulting in an overall handle increase of 6.3%. It is true to the gambler handle is handle and bigger pools are always more attractive for wagering, but with regards to benefiting the track's bottom line and the horsemen's purse account, the export signal handle would have had to increase 116% just to equal the benefit the on-track handle increase achieved, plus on-track wagering increase contributes to programs such as the NJSS and breeder awards while the export signal contributes nothing to these other programs. Of course, you want on-track and export wagering to grow as much as possible, but as you see, there is a valid reason in attempting to maximize on-track wagering.

Is the Meadowlands doing that bad? I think they are making good progress and moving in the right direction.  If you need proof of this, name another track which releases its daily attendance and total handle figures without having to pry those figures from track management. No, the purses aren't as big as some racino tracks, but what would those racino horsemen be racing for if not for slot subsidies? 

Detractors need to take a reality check.

Friday Miscellanery

Sunday afternoon, this year's monté season opens with two divisions for open trotters competing at Historic Track in Goshen, New York. There are a few notable in both divisions as the 3rd race, as both Casis and Grain of Truth are making their maiden starts under the saddle while Ray Schnittker makes his (race) riding debut aboard Grain of Truth. In the second division, carded as race ten, Lemon Pepper and Dream Kid make their maiden debuts under the saddle. Being these races are not conditioned, I am not sure if the horses match up but hopefully these races successfully kick off the 2012 monté season as the effort is made to eventually offer these races for pari-mutuel wagering.

From a Red Mile press-release, it appears the Lexington, KY oval is beginning to embrace the untapped overseas market by scheduling their race cards to accommodate foreign wagering. Week one has Thursday-Saturday racing at 1pm to tap into the Australian and New Zealand markets. Sunday afternoons have a 1pm first post to allow fans in Scandinavia to wager on trotting event through their wagering systems.

With Googoo Gaagaa not being eligible to the Hambletonian, an invitation to the Nat-Ray has been promised providing the horse continuing to perform at the level he has been. At the same time, people are starting to talk about the need for the Hambletonian to accept supplemental entries. I for one, think accepting supplemental entries in the Hambletonian would be a big mistake. It is a question of fairness. Why should people who pay the nomination and sustaining payments of $2,775 only to fall to the wayside, not even going in the Hambletonian, when someone can just show up a few days before the race if they know they have a world beater and pay their way at the last moment. Harness racing is a gambling sport, there is no reason why owners/trainers should be able to be able to traipse into a race like the Hambletonian while countless others make their payments and fall by the wayside.  If you want to get into the big races, prepare to play the game like everyone else.

Kudos to the PHHA for making a significant contribution towards the purchase of state of the art equipment for the University of Pennsylvania so they may continue the campaign against the use of illegal drugs. Perhaps the most important decision made is to support one lab to detect those drugs not yet identified. It may not be a politically popular decision as typically each state tries to support their own state's testing labs, but the fact is if you want to make a dent into the use of illegal drugs, you need to support one lab to achieve the biggest bang for the dollar; especially when the financial resources are limited.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Look Forward, Stop Living in the Past

I must confess, I am sick and tired about hearing how racing at the Meadowlands has declined as well as the complaints about racing not being like the good old days.  What is the sense bemoaning about the good old days?  It is a brand new world in racing and in this world, slots rule when it comes to racing.  Unless the Meadowlands gets slots or the surrounding states were to yank slot revenue from racing, there is nothing the Meadowlands can do in the immediate future about improving the quality of their racing program, short of racing even fewer days or gutting their stakes program.  So there is no sense complaining about the quality of racing; it is what it is, which by the way is a lot better than most tracks in the nation, even those with racinos. 

I also don't understand the complaint about the drivers.  Many of  the top drivers have remained loyal to the Meadowlands but of course, there are those who will go where the money is.  Is this the fault of management?  People complaining how the drivers leave for the big money events elsewhere; that has always happened even when the Meadowlands was the top dog when it came to overnight purses.  Yes, there are unfamiliar drivers at the Meadowlands, isn't that what happened each year when the Meadowlands first began operating when racing secretary Joe DeFrank used to comb tracks to get some of their top drivers to come to the Meadowlands?  Some made it, some didn't. This is not a new phenomenon.  Personally, I look at it as an opportunity for better payoffs.  Here is a chart of the drivers with the highest ROIs.

Tony Morgan1960%
Daryl Bier26278%
Victor Kirby1130%
George Brennan2273%
Harry Landy3252%
Tony Hall3644%
Corey Callahan18143%
Stephen Smith7342%
Dan Noble5019%
Mark Lancaster109%
Yannick Gingras4843%
All the other drivers have a negative ROI. 

Let's take a look at the drivers who have a UDR of at least .200 and ten starts or more:

Driver UDR
Jimmy Takter 0.500
Daryl Bier 0.453
Tony Hall 0.420
Brian Sears 0.335
Yannick Gingras 0.315
Tim Tetrick 0.289
Bret Holland 0.285
David Miller 0.265
Trond Smedshammer 0.250
Ron Pierce  0.241
James Morrill 0.236
Corey Callahan 0.229
George Brennan 0.227
Mike Lachance 0.227
Andy Miller 0.227
Mark Lancaster 0.222
Dan Noble 0.207
Out of the seventeen drivers with a UDR of .200 or better with at least ten starts, five of the drivers (Daryl Bier, Tony Hall, Bret Holland, Mark Lancaster, and Dan Noble) can be considered 'newcomers'.  The point is some of these 'non-Meadowlands' drivers make things interesting for the horseplayer, and potentially profitable.  Also, while the cast of drivers has changed, this is nothing new for the Meadowlands. 
There is no sense worrying about the past; the future is what counts.  Embrace the current product for what it is and look ahead.  The new grandstand, the new ideas to get more people in the track, and a crack team working on getting the betting handle up.  The handle didn't get to the level it is overnight, it is going to take time to build it up once again.
There is loyalty to the Meadowlands by at least one driver. Tonight Yannick Gingras will be driving in the first two races at Yonkers Raceway in NYSS events but instead of deciding to spend the night at Yonkers to take advantage of the more lucrative purses at the Westchester oval, he is making the infamous Yonkers-East Rutherford commute to resume driving at the Meadowlands card starting with their fifth race.

The Next Big Problem for Racing

Remember the story in Harnesslink a while ago, where the horse dealers were operating on the backstretch at Monticello Raceway? The racetrack evicted the dealers from the backstretch and threatened to take action against the license of horsemen found to be taking part in the practice of selling a horse for slaughter in an effort to solve the problem. All's well that ends well?   Let's just say rumors suggest otherwise.

This is not a Monticello Raceway problem. It's an industry-wide problem which needs to be addressed. Tracks need to step up and offer surrender stalls for those owners/trainers who have horses whose racing careers have reached the end and they need to kick the horse dealers off the backstretch.  Yes, they may just do business elsewhere, but you don't have to make things easy for those who want to unload their horses and put them in a precarious situation.  Perhaps most importantly, tracks need to take action against those who deal with those dealers who ship horses to slaughter, directly or indirectly. 

The USTA, Jockey Club, and state racing commissions need to develp a system to track the movement of race horses so when one 'disappears', questions may be asked of the last registered owner and if the trainer/owner can't come up with a satisfactory answer, action needs to be taken against them.  In addition, once a horse is sold, the owner must be required to show the horse has been sold and to whom.

Right now medication is the big issue, but once that issue is resolved, the unwanted horse is going to be the next issue which will bite racing in the proverbial butt.  For once, can't we be proactive instead of reactive.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Babies On Parade

This Thursday evening, racing returns to the Meadowlands, kicking off three days-a-week racing.  This Thursday, debuts the John Simpson Memorial Stakes at the Meadowlands for the first time and the first four races of hte night card showcase the two year old trotters with one division of the Simpson for 2yo trotting colts and geldings and three divisions for trotting fillies.

Betting two year olds at this time of year when they are making their first pari-mutuel starts makes it somewhat  challenging to handicap races.  You have some world beaters on paper who have looked super sharp in the morning, but will those races show up in the evening under the lguhts?  What I am going to do is give you my selections for the first four races plus the horse to look out for (i.e., the longshot play).

1st Trot $27,065; John Simpson Memorial - 2yo Colts and Geldings
   1 - Dewycolorintheline (Lachance, 9-5)
1B - Caveat Emptor (Schnittker, 9-5)
1A - Sinatra Hall (Gregory, 9-5)
   2 - Kegler Hanover (Takter, 2-1)
   5 - Lindys Creditline (MacDonald, 3-1)
Coupled: Dewycolorintheline, Sinatra Hall, and Caveat Emptor; Kegler Hanover and Corky
Horse to Look Out For: 3 - Zapta (Ingrassia, 8-1)

2nd Trot $10,588; John Simpson Memorial - 2yo Fillies (1st Div)
6 - To Dreeam On (Takter, 4-5)
5 - Tru Day Dream (O'Mara, 8-1)
4 - Andie Sphia (MacDonald, 9-2)
Horse to Look Out For: 5 - Tru Day Dream, O'Mara, 8-1)

3rd Trot; $10,588; John Simpson Memorial - 2yo Fillies (2nd Div)
1 - Royal Assets (Schnittker, 2-1)
6 - Ladyfinger (D Miller, 4-1)
4 - Lady Rivera (Pierce, 5-1)
3 - Morningstar (Takter, 5-2)
Coupled: Royal Assets and Right Away
Horse to Look Out For: 4 - Lady Riviera (Pierce, 5-1)

4TH Trot; $10,588; John Simpson Memorial - 2yo Fillies (3rd Div)
8 - Miss Steele (A Miller, 3-1)
1 - Muscles Secret (Schnittker, 5-2)
5 - Dewey Lane (D Miller, 6-1)
Horse to Look Out For: 7 - Bull Spreader (Lachance, 10-1)

Another Yonkers Flop

To no one's surprise, once again there will be no eliminations for the Yonkers Trot and Hudson Filly Trot as only five horses entered the box for the Yonkers Trot and three entered for the Hudson Filly Trot.  True, these races have marquee horses going as Googoo Gaagaa will compete with the boys and Check Me Out will lead the trio in the filly stake.

Once again, people will talk about how no one wants to race on the half mile track.  For those who feel this way, I say poppycock.  If the payments for the stakes races were lower or more added money was contributed to the final purses, people would enter and take their chance in drawing the outside posts.  Let's compare the payments for the Hambletonian and Yonkers Trot:

Hambletonian Yonkers Trot 
Nomination Fee $25.00 $25.00
2yo Sustaining Fee $500.00 $600.00
3yo Sustaining Fee $2,250.00 $2,000.00
Starting Fee - Elimination $12,500.00 $10,000.00
Starting Fee - Final $12,500.00 $10,000.00
Total Payments $27,775.00 $22,625.00
Purse for Final $1,500,000.00 $445,594.00
Payment to Purse Ratio 1.85% 5.08%

This year, if you make it into the final, you will have contributed 5% of the net final purse to race in the Yonkers Trot but only 2% to race in the Hambletonian.  To get to the $40,000 elimination at Yonkers (if there was one), it would have cost you $12,625 and you run the risk of drawing the dreaded post seven or eight.  For the Hambletonian, it will cost you $15,250 to get into a $70,000 elimination where you may draw posts eight, nine, or ten.  Based on this information, would you enter your horse in the Yonkers Trot? 

For all the talk about the great purses at Yonkers Raceway, they certainly don't invest it in their stakes races, they leave it up to the owners to pay a much bigger chunk of the purse.  Hence, we have  the lack of starters.  I assure you if the Yonkers Trot went for a guaranteed $750,000 or the starting fees were reduced, more horses would drop in and risk the outside posts; the numbers make sense.

Yonkers needs to decide whether or not they want to be real players when it comes to stakes races.  Either lower the fees to get into the races or raise the added money to make it worthwhile to enter.  Otherwise, hosting these races with so few horses is not worth the investment and the track would be better served to scrap these races.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Only Certainty Seems to be the Status Quo

People talk about how strong the racing industry is because of the large purses it is offering.  Thanks to large purses, horsemen are doing well, blacksmiths, grooms, and people growing the hay are doing well.  Of course, this is due to the state providing purse subsidies from slots.  If not for these subsidies, many tracks would race for about 10% of the current purse level, resulting in many owners, horsemen, trainers, grooms, blacksmiths, hay producers, and breeders going out of business.  No wonder horsemen fight so hard for slots or maintaining subsidy levels.

Now, let's say the state gave a subsidy to another industry to produce its product.  As a result of this subsidy, workers are making good salaries; people who grow bamboo, make beads, and producing wire are kept employed.  Only one problem, there is no real demand for the end product by the general public, after all when was the last time you saw someone use an abacus?  The state has a financial problem.  Should they continue to keep the abacus manufacturing industry strong by providing them with assistance keeping all those people employed or should the state re-route those funds to something which would benefit the general public even though it would put many people out of work?  If you are honest to yourself, there is a good chance you will say the abacus industry should not be supported.

So the next time you are racing in front of an empty grandstand or your mutuel pools are minuscule, ask yourself if racing is a strong industry. 

What is particularly frustrating, other than offering guaranteed pools, you don't hear much about doing anything to improve the demand for the racing product.  Little talk about takeout rates or new wagering types.  No one suggesting the industry attempt to take back business from the ADWs by forming a partnership to operate an ADW to compete against the existing ADWs.  No one talking about solving the problem of late odd changes after a race goes off, curtailing the number of race days to have the product match the demand for it so we may have pools worth wagering into, nothing about making owners accountable for the sins of their trainers when they gravitate towards questionable trainers, talk about getting rid of beards.  All we hear about is closing backstretches and reducing costs.  For an industry which is not doing all that well, it seems the status quo would not be acceptable, yet with the exception of the rare few, the status quo seems to be acceptable.

Quick Notes

How do you handicap horses of layoffs?  HANA Harness has an article regarding this.

Exchange wagering may be coming to California, more specifically at Los Alamitos.  The thoroughbred horsemen and trainers keep refusing to give their blessing on exchange wagering so TVG has approached Los Al regarding introducing exchange wagering.  The CHRB will be voting on the issue at their next board meeting.  Apparently, the standardbred industry has plenty in common with thoroughbred horsemen, in particular the fear of trying anything new for fear it will hurt purse accounts.  What should happen is if approved, Los Al should have exclusive rights to exchange wagering in the Golden State for a period of five years; stupidity of the horsemen and owners should be punished.  In the meanwhile, no action seems to be taking place in New Jersey regarding exchange wagering, another state which has legalized it.

Tioga Downs is offering a $500 bonus for the trainer of each winning horse on their July 4 program.  It will be interesting to see if the racing gets more competitive or not.

Bill Finley writes for ESPN about Googoo Gaagaaa, in particular about the success trainer Richard Hans is having with this pacing-sired trotter.  Make no mistake, Googoo Gaagaa is this year's feel good story in harness racing, something the sport sorely needs in the year of the druggist.  When it comes to breeding, the Hans basically threw out the rulebook, albeit by necessity.  It is far too early to say, but wouldn't it be great if Googoo Gaagaa becomes the next Vivid Photo, coming off the beaten path to dominate the sophomore crop?  Time will tell.

I failed to mention yesterday that starting next week, Yonkers Raceway will be increasing their guarantee for their late Pick 4 on Tuesday evenings.  The new guarantee will be $25,000.

Thanks to SBOANJ publicist Carol Hodes for bringing the website Recollections to my attention.  This website goes down memory lane in harness racing, primarily concentrating in Canada.  The current featured article deals with the life of 'Jack' Campbell, the late father of Jim and John Campbell who recently passed away.  Those who have an interest in the good ol' days may very well want to bookmark this website.

I came upon a nice article about thoroughbred jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. and how she is currently doing double duty as a jockey and mother of a nine month-old at Arlington Park.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about the article was the part how gender bias is not the issue it once was in thoroughbred racing.  Shame the same can't be said about harness racing where if you don't own it, women don't get a chance to go behind the sulky in races.  For harness racing to seriously attract female players, we need women in the sulkys.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Monday Miscellanery

Martha Maxine, the mare who turned out to be a horse died this past Saturday night at Mohawk Racetrack at the age of eight in the eighth race, a $30,000 claiming event.  Maxine broke at the start and was distanced the whole way around until he fell at before the 3/4 pole.  While the cause of death is not yet known, the horse was probably doomed the moment the race started.  Martha Maxine was claimed out of the race, so unless there has been a rule change voiding claims when a horse drops dead in a race, the claimant is not going to be very happy.

Rumor has it the Liberals were not happy with WEG CEO and Preside Nick Eaves comments regarding the end of Slot at Racetracks program and how there was a good chance the last Queen's Plate has been run.  Allegedly, the Liberal party's leadership had cancelled their tables for the big day at Woodbine.  I guess the Liberals don't appreciate the public hearing and seeing first hand what may be happening, so the Liberals were upset that WEG hasn't just rolled over and died.

Running Aces last night set an all-time track record for an eleven race card handling $225,096.  Not exactly big numbers for serious gamblers, but it is a step in the right direction; something not occurring often enough. 

Harnesslink has run an article about Jeff Gural who is on a mission to get rid of the cheats from harness racing and how he has no qualms about using his exclusionary rights.  Gural questions why other tracks don't do the same.  A very good question.  Also, Gural has gotten regulators and some trainers to agree in concept to standardize medication rules between Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, following the New York model as a guide; that means regulated withdrawal times and the ability to look at veterinarian records.  This of course is a start and since Gural initiated this discussion, one would expect a response by the SOA of NY.  In fact, I am surprised a comment has not yet come out.  I guess when there is talk about using New York rules, the SOA of NY can't find as much fault. 

When asked about Lou Pena, Gural made an indirect comment which refers to the smell test that Pull The Pocket had talked about today.  I for one, have a few other trainers in mind that would flunk my smell test.  You don't have to know what someone is using to know they are cheating. 

The tone of the article is somewhat muted.  Harnesslink has not been particularly talking kindly about Gural, finding objection to some of the steps he has taken.

While we don't typically cover thoroughbred racing, the Paulick Report indicates Monmouth Park has the inside track for hosting the 2013 Breeders' Cup with all the nonsense going on at NYRA.  I think this would be great for the NJTHA and I let me say I for one would be very happy if Monmouth Park was awarded the Cup. 

Speaking of the Breeders Cup, one must wonder what the status is of next year's Breeders Crown if WEG can't support holding the event.  I can't see the Meadowlands at this point being able to support it either.  My guess is we may find the Breeders Crown at Pocono next year if the status quo falters.

Jay Bergman is probably right when he says the Meadowlands handle is suffering because a lot of  the name drivers flee the  Meadowlands for stakes races elsewhere, leaving the Meadowlands with less-recognized drivers.  Bergman refers to the current meet as 'Tioga South' when talking about the drivers colony and horses.  I personally don't mind the newcomers driving as I feel it opens up the prices a bit as the drivers are somewhat a wild card, but I can see where the heavy hitters don't.  I'm not sure changing the racing schedule that much would help, New Jersey needs a spring meet for NJSS events and others.  If there is a problem with the new drivers, it is they are being integrated in the spring.  I would suggest attempting to integrate some new drivers during the winter months so come spring, they will have developed a reputation, good or bad.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Still Time to Head to Historic Track

A field getting away at Historic Track

I am a little bit late this year, but the Grand Circuit is visiting Goshen Historic Track in New York this coming weekend starting June 29 thru July 2.  Hall of Fame Day is Sunday, July 1.  If you have never attended the races at Historic Track, you really need to make an effort to go. 

You may think how good can the horses be at Goshen, but you would be surprised.  There have been some really good horses that have graced the historic oval as trainers like Ray Schnittker make their Historic Track as their base of operation.  Tomorrow's champion may be racing in front of your eyes.

The schedule this year is as follows:
  • Friday, June 29 - Landmark Stakes for 2 and 3yos (both sexes and gaits)
  • Saturday, June 30 - New York Excelsior/State Fair Stakes - 3yo pacers; CKG Billings Amateur Driving Series; Catskill Amateur Drivers Pace
  • Sunday, July 1 - Hall of Fame Day; New York Excelsior/State Fair Stakes - 3yo trotters; Hall of Fame Pace (Invitational); Ladies Invitational
  • Monday, July 2 - New York County Fair Races - 2 and 3yos (both gaits)
A field heading into the final turn at Historic Track.

Post Time each day is 1:00pm.  Admission for adults is $5.00.  One of the neat things about Historic Track is you can roam all around the track and backstretch during each day's racing plus you never know who you are going to run into, and not just on Hall of Fame Day.  True there is no wagering, but quite honestly, you won't miss it.

 If you want to see pari-mutuel racing in the evening, the Meadowlands races Thursday-Saturday while Yonkers Raceway races each evening except Sunday during the Goshen meet.  Monticello Raceway races Monday and Tuesday at 12:50pm and if you are around for July 4, they will be racing their only night card of the year starting at 5:30pm which culminates in their renowned fireworks display.

If you are looking for sightseeing, you are not far away from West Point and Bear Mountain State Park (fireworks on Friday night).  Of course, don't forget the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame next door!

Prophetic Visions Ignored

 For reasons that defy logic, the harness racing community believes that the racinois more important than marketing their own products. How long will profitable casino operations allow the harness racing parasite to steal from their bottom line? - Gil Winston, 2008 Future of Harness Racing Forum

We can dispute whether or not the OLG's decision makes business sense for them, but one can't dispute the fact the government and OLG has decided horse racing is no longer worthy of receiving financial payments in the form of operating revenue from slots. We also can't dispute that racing has done little to make their industry more popular with the racing public. You see, while the racing industry considers purses paid out and the amount of money yearlings go for as their metric for success, the government looks at the general public's response by measuring the metric called wagering handle. Ontario is basically following the same decision Quebec made several years ago, that racing is a lost cause. They talk about racing becoming self-supporting, which is a nice way to say 'you're on your own' cutting the lifeline and racing will either rise or sink to their own fortunes.

Winston at the 2008 forum also said, Racinomarketing is focused on their revenue base – slots – and rightly so. Racinos are businesses that are first and foremost beholding to shareholders. How long will it be before powerful shareholders are able to cajole, wheedle and lobby their presence in to the mindsets of legislators who hold the means to disengage the harness racing albatross from the throats of casino operations?

At least in Canada, most racetracks are tied to agricultural societies so as long as the government was willing to allow racing to get a share of the facility payments, the tracks have been willing. Unfortunately, with the exception of Prairie Meadows, there may not be a 501(c)4 (Public Benefit Corporation) which supports horse racing so the time will come when American casino operators will seek to pull the plug on racing if things don't improve. What is American racing's game plan for marketing the sport? Is racing's leaders willing or able to develop successful marketing plans? Only time will tell us.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Weekend Spot Races

For this weekend, we are going to take a look at a few races taking place on the East Coast, in particular, the Meadowlands and Pocono Downs,  Something I noticed is two  year olds hitting the tracks on parimutuel cards.  While we are not looking at any of those races, don't be surprised to see them showing up on the racing card of your favorite tracks.

Friday, June 22

M1 - 5th Trot - $25,000; King of the Fours Final - nw4000cd
  2 - Luv Ya Tyler (Callahan, 8-1)
1B - Big Sky Angelinea (D Miller, 2-1)  
  4 - Zumba Mouse (A Miller, 2-1)
  3 - Valdez (Gingras, 12-1)
Coupled: Big Sky Bats, Big Sky Huricane, Big Sky Angelina

Saturday, June 23

M1 - 2nd Trot - $40,000; Titan Cup Prep
2 - Arch Madness (Ssmedshammer, 9-5)
4 - Hot Shot Blue Chip (Dube, 6-1)
7 - Big Rigs (Hall, 5-1)
3 - Chapter Seven (Tetrick, 5-2)

M1 - 6th Pace - $30,000l King of The Fifteen's Final - $15,000 Claimers (No Claiming)
3 - All Shuttle (Dube, 5-2)
6 - Inform (Roberts, 9-2)
7 - Onthewingsofnangel (McIlmurray, 12-1)
Couped: Myra's Hiho, Awesome Armbro N

PcD5/8 - 12th Trot - $500,000; The Earl Beal Jr. Memorial - 3yo Open
  6 - Googoo Gaagaa (Callahan, 5-2)
1A - Uncle Peter (Pierce, 3-1)
  4 - Stormin Normand (Palone, 7-2)
  3 - Frost Bites K (Tetrick, 8-1)

Coupled: Nothing But Class, Uncle Peter, Little Brown Fox

A Career Ended Before it Started

On Thursday, a feel good story about twelve year old Joey Chindano winning his first harness race, a matinee at Goshen Historic Track last week, was sent out in a press release.  A potential future star in harness racing who indicated he would like to have a career driving made his debut, partially thanks to his father who trains horses. primarily for the benefit of his son.  What a great story it was, a look at the potential future of harness racing.

On Friday, thanks to Harnesslink, we find out the youngster who could have been the future of harness racing has hung up his silks for good, and a father who was training horses has gotten rid of his racing stock, now out of the business.  From the highs of two Sundays ago to the lows of last Sunday, what happened?

According to Harnesslink, the presiding judge of the matinee racing (a different judge from the grand circuit meet coming up next week) meet, told the twelve year old and father that he could not race his own horse in the three horse matinee race.  Needless to say Chindano was crushed, very well ending a career, nipping it in the bud, and getting a trainer to quit the business.  Something was missing, it didn't make sense that the judge would just ban him from driving his own horse. 

According to Harness Racing Update, there was concern with a twelve year old driving a two year old in a race based on the driver's limited experience.  To be honest, I see the judge's concern and it seems totally reasonable.  However, if there was no rule which stated an inexperienced driver could not race a two year old, the judges should have allowed Chindano to drive the horse after talking to his legal guardian (his father) to ascertain the boy's experience. This apparently was not done and now the youngster is out of racing along with his father.

I must admit to being somewhat conflicted about what happened.  To have any inexperienced driver driving a green two year old is a risky proposition; after all they are more likely to go off-stride and do something unpredictable.  However, it is the family's own horse and there was no stated track rule which prohibited a youngster from driving a two year old in a race, obviously not anticipating a need for it.  What I can say is it was an unfortunate situation, handled badly by both sides. 

The track should have consulted with the guardian of young Chindano to check on his experience with the two year old in question, possibly getting the guardian to sign a waiver when the entry was taken.  The Chindanos' should have given it a day or two before deciding to leave the business, enough time to realize why the decision was made; not allowing the twelve year old to drive the two year old to protect the young man, not to hurt him.  Cooler heads all around could have prevented the whole situation.

Hopefully, the Chindanos will reconsider their decision.  After all the youth is our future.  However, if they don't, the blame should not fall on Mr. Fielding, the judge in question.  Hopefully, Historic Track or the State of New York will come up with a rule regarding this type of situation so this type of situation in the future may be avoided.

Woodbine/Mohawk to Shutter Doors on April 1, 2012? - WEG CEO Nick Eaves is alluding to the potential closure of Woodbine/Mohawk if no new source of revenue comes into the WEG tracks to replace the Slots at Racetracks program.  Yes, there is enough wagering at the track to support much more modest purses, but apparently, there is not enough wagering to cover the operating expenses of the track.  Posturing or a real threat?  Only time will tell.

Casey Back in the Bike?  My call here is it won't be too long until Walter Case Jr. is back in the bike in the state of Massachusetts.  At this week's hearing the hearing officer had one question for Case, whether or not he has been arrested since he had his license restored in 2008?  Case told the officer he has not been.  My argument in this particular situation has always been if Case was fit enough for licensing in 2008, what has changed that the Massachusetts Racing Commission now feels he is no longer fit?  Sounds like the hearing officer was asking himself the same question.  We should know more by the end of next week.   

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cowardice Personified

Allow this Yank to interject his two cents into Canadian Politics, more specifically Ontario politics.  As expected, the minority Liberal Party's budget for Ontario was approved 52-35 which allows for the OLG to continue with their termination of the Slots at Racetracks program.  Good decision or bad, the government had the right to do what they are doing.  For their vote, come the next election they will have to answer to the voters for this vote amongst others.

What I have a problem with is the New Democratic Party (NDP) abstaining from the vote, trying to have it both ways.  A vote by the NDP against the budget would have resulted in its defeat and an election which no one wanted, while a vote by the NDP to support the budget would have put its members on record of approving the budget so the party abstained from voting so they can have it both ways.  For any party, abstaining en masse from a critical vote which will impact so many people, not just within the racing and equine-related industry as the government's budget calls for the privatization of many governmental function is unconscionable and quite frankly juvenile.  I personally have more respect for a person who votes against my interest than the coward who abstains.  These MPPs were elected to represent their constituents and it is done by vote 'aye' or 'nay' when the time comes.  From my perch south of the border, Canadian voters would be well-served to consider the NDP's abstention from the budget vote as an 'aye' vote and to remember their cowardice.  

Pennsylvania harness racing fans who like longshots were in seventh heaven yesterday.  At The Meadows, the seventh race was won by Susquehanna Belle (#9, Mark Wilder) who paid $149.40 only to be followed in the 11th race by Blueridge Dagon who lit up the board paying $177.20 (#8, Richard Stillings).  As lucrative as those two races may have been, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs had top honors yesterday for it's fifteenth and final race where Celebrity Scandal (#6, Mark Simons) paid a whopping $373.20 to win as well as a $181.60 place dividend.  Betting $2 WPS on Celebrity Scandal would have returned a generous $569.80 for the $6 investment.    
Racing Under Saddle returns to the Meadowlands on Hambletonian Day, August 4, as the field of trotters will be racing for a purse of $15,000 in an exhibition race.  Based on the hard work these riders and their charges have been undergoing, this race should be far more competititve than previous attempts.  For those heading to Goshen Historic Track for their four day race meet, you will be able to get a preview as there will be a race contested there.  For those Facebook users who are interested in racing under saddle, make sure to check out RUS America.

Hambletonian winner, Vivid Photo, is being officially retired Saturday at Pocono Downs.  This year, the now ten year old gelding has clearly shown that he has long passed the prime of his racing career and his owners Roger Hammer and Todd Schadel made the appropriate decision to stop with the horse and permit him to enjoy a life of leisure.  After all, if winning his owners $3.2 million doesn't entitle you to a life of leisure, nothing does. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Final Nail?

Barring any last minute surprises, the Ontario provincial budget should be approved today, which basically memorializes the end of the Slots at Racetracks program.  Horsemen no doubt feel betrayed and hurt.  It may be no one wants to get tarred and feathered, but I can't help with all the anger towards the Liberals and NDP in Ontario, you don't see anyone within the industry venting how did the racing allow this to happen to themselves; relying on slot revenue and doing virtually nothing to revamp the game to make themselves more desirable to the general public.

Not that I don't hold the government partially responsible for racing being in the shape it is in.  After all, it allowed alternative gaming to come into the states and provinces while they themselves treated racing as if it had a monopoly, failing to give racing the opportunity to innovate and improve the game.  I must confess, I am not sure racing would have responded as it should have, but they should have been given the opportunity to do so.  At this point, states should reduce the red tape it puts racing through.  Tracks should be allowed to offer promotional events, set their own takeout rates, minimum wager amounts, etc. without regulatory approval.  Yes, the state should ensure tracks are offering what they claim, but if tracks have to compete against other gaming options, untie their hands.

Lou Pena's attorneys are seeking a stay of the NYSRWB suspension in the courts.  A decision is hoped for by the end of this week.

I have known people that would bet on anything. If they saw two cockroaches, they would have been looking for action on the roaches. Well, apparently, there is nothing that horse trainers won't try to get an edge. The New York Times had a story about dermophin, a drug which apparently comes naturally from the back of the Waxy Monkey Tree Frog, though apparently some resourceful chemists have been able to synthesize the drug which is forty times more powerful than morphine. A test has been created and so far only quarter horses and thoroughbreds have come up positive for it, basically in Central and the Western United States though one would need to be naive to think it couldn't have crossed over to the standardbreds.

Pete Rose cut the ribbon formally opening the slot parlor at Scioto Downs yesterday. When you think of it, who else would you want to cut the ribbon on your racino? It seems to be a natural....

Am I missing something?  If memory serves me well, I recall Back to the Track has gotten a lot more noise by this time in the past.  It seems things are a lot more quiet this time around. 

Scioto Downs is dealing with the dreaded sevenitis, eightitis, and nineitis diseases by telling horsemen if theiir horses get these illnesses and they want to race the next week, they will automatically be assigned the post position they were assigned the week before.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Star Ledger Reports

For those wondering about the strategy of promoting the Meadowlands, here is a report from The Star Ledger regarding the 'gimmicks' being offered by the Big M which explains it all, in particular last Friday's events.

Do they all bet?  No.  Those that bet, will they bet a lot?  Probably not.  The point is you can't just depend on getting your existing customer base, at the track or at home, to wager more, you need to develop the next generation of customers.  Of course, this does not mean you ignore your existing customers, just you can't go in one direction, you need to appeal to both groups, existing gamblers and potential gamblers.

Minimum Driving Standards

This past weekend, I saw a drive at an east coast racetrack which quite simply was the most horrible drive I have seen in recent memory.  To prevent embarrassment to the driver in question, I won't name him/her nor will I mention the track or what happened.  Suffice it to say it was not a question of giving a horse a horrible drive with respect to the gambler or owner but it was a matter of safety to those on the track and how its impact on the race's outcome.

This particular driver drives less than 4 drives per year in recent years, yet, the individual has a full license.  My question is how can someone who drives so little be allowed to drive at pari-mutuel tracks?  It is not fair to gamblers who wager on a race to run the risk of a driver messing up the race for other horses by creating a hazard within a race and more importantly, it's not fair to ask the drivers in the race to compete against such a driver where they need to worry more about a driver in the race instead of the horses.  This is not a knock against the driver I saw this past weekend, it could be the best driver in the world; if out due to illness or injury, they would have to be rusty if they drove so little.

Harness racing has a responsibility to put the best product possible on the track and that means when it comes to drivers, ensuring we are dealing with drivers who are able to perform to a certain level of competency.  To allow a person who obtains a full or amateur license to maintain the license simply by renewing their USTA membership is unacceptable.  If professionals licensed in states need to take continuing education courses to maintain their license, should we not require harness drivers to meet minimum requirements in order to maintain their license?

Harness racing needs to institute its own version of continuing education; points earned in drives.  I propose, with the exception of non-wagering amateur races, drivers be required to successfully earn a minimum of 250 points over a two year period but no less than a 100 points in any one year.  A successful (no driving infractions) drive in a pari-mutuel race earns 10 points; qualifying races 5 points.  This means, assuming a driver only races in pari-mutuel events, a driver may have as few as 10 drives in any one year but must have at least 25 drives in a two year period (2 qualifying races would count as one drive). 

If a driver does not meet these requirements by the end of a calendar year, the license would revert to a lapsed status requiring the driver to drive in a certain number of qualifying races before being allowed to drive in pari-mutuel races.  At that point, the driver must compete successfully in at least 10 pari-mutuel races in a twelve month period in order to be restored to a full license.  These are minimum standards, the final standard may require a higher number of drives.

If harness racing wants serious gamblers playing its races, the last thing the sport needs is a driver in a race being a hazard to fellow drivers and horses.  The proposed standard is not an unreasonable number of starts to ask a driver to compete in.  It is time to protect the gambler and horseman at the same time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Coming Out Party?

Could there be another pacer joining the conversation when it comes to discussing the top three year old pacers?  It may very well be the case as Heston Blue Chip made his case in a non-wagering event at Tioga Downs yesterday in a scorching 1:49.2.  You may say what is so special about a 1:49.2 finish on a 5/8th mile oval?  It was how he did it as the four horse race basically turned into a $27,844 official workout for the 3yo pacer, going through fractions of :26.3, :55.1, 1:22 before Tim Tetrick flipped a switch at the 3/4's and to come home in a :27.2 after showing a quick burst of speed to open up a little on the field before coming home in hand.  At the wire, it was clear Heston Blue Chip had plenty left in the tank.  This winner of now fourteen out of sixteen races will next race in one more NYSS race at Yonkers Raceway before stepping out against open company in the Meadowlands Pace eliminations.  Don't be surprised if you see this colt in the thick of things in New Jersey.   

I can't help but wonder what the North America Cup will look like in the future with the end of the Slots at Racetrack program this coming March.  I am pretty sure it will continue to be contested, but I imagine the $1.5 million purse may become history in the next year or two.  It will join the Meadowlands Pace as major races with the purse being reduced.  This year's Meadowlands Pace will go for $800,000, a $200,000 reduction.  However, if more money needs to be dedicated to overnights in order to fill racing cards at the Meadowlands, will next year's Pace go for less?  Time will tell.

A while back, I talked about introducing the Skewbald colored standardbred in the United States to add some 'color' to the sport.  Since then, I found out why this has not happened in North America when I talked to a friend in Australia, where the first attempts were made to reintroduce the Skewbald.  Sam says:

The Skewbald, didn't really take off over here.  There was a couple of stallions that stood at stud, but nothing really found there way to the race track, mate.  To be honest with you, they were a flop.

The main reason, was  the stallion, poor performers, low earnings and no time against their name. There were a couple racing in NSW and Queensland, one horse went ok, winning a couple of races but no superstar.

A Skewbald stood at stud here in Tasmania, the closet his foals got to the race track were as outriders.

They are nice horses, but you will not find any of then at Metro tracks, maybe the odd one at a country track.

Perhaps, the skewbald could be introduced back into the North American bloodlines, but it would take time to successfully get the right mix in order to get them up to racing speed, something the commercial breeder has no time and to be honest cash flow to work on.  Maybe there would be a market for the skewbald standardbred for non-racing purposes, but that market is too small to breed for.  So it appears the Skewbald Standardbred will remain a curiosity.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Coronation

Someone didn't give Randy Waples and Thinking Out Loud notice of the coronation as they won the Pepsi North America Cup last night at Mohawk Racetrack in a Canadian record-tying performance of 1:47.4. 

You see, despite the notice by many that Sweet Lou was going to be coronated in the North America Cup, the scribes and experts forgot one thing, the race is not won on paper but on the track.  Sweet Lou may very well be the champion 3yo colt when all is said and done this year, but horses are not computer models, but living beings who need to compete and deal with the cards they are dealt with

Actually, I thought it was a gutsy performance by Sweet Lou who finished fourth, a mere 1 1/4 lengths behind the winner, getting passed in the last sixteenth of the mile, a victim of a blistering pace.  While his connections are no doubt disappointed, there is no shame in Sweet Lou's performance.  Some may say Palone made his move to early, but with those fractions (:25.4, :52.1, 1:20.3), the outcome sitting third may have been the same.

You can say, shoulda, coulda, woulda, but that is what makes racing exciting.  Drivers need to make decisions and sometimes they work out, sometimes they don't.  You can be the best handicapper in the world which will improve your odds over the novice gambler, but it all boils down to luck.

And that is why races are won on the track, not on paper.  A replay of the North America Cup follows. 

As a side note, it was nice to see the race come down to an exciting late come from behind finish.  Too often, drivers act like the race is a coronation and they race for second money.  For $1.5 million, drivers should be contesting the race from the start and not allowing a horse to win wire-to-wire unchallenged.

On the other side of the pond, Commander Crowe wins another race, the  €150.000 Kymi Grand Prix at Kouvola-Finland, winning easily in a 1.12.0 kilometer rate for the 2100 meters.

Friday night the Meadowlands had camel and ostrich racing as well as a sportscaster charity race (there was another race on Saturday) resulting in a season high crowd of over 5,000.  Did the handle go up as a  result?  No, but at least it got people in the door and if they had a positive experience, they will be back.  In addition, it got the Meadowlands on the local news.  You got to get noticed and people in the door to get the handle up.   Damage can happen quickly, but it takes time to recover.

Harness Racing Update reported on Saturday that Walter Case Jr. will be getting a hearing in front of the Massachusetts Racing Commission regarding reinstating his driver's license.  The hearing is scheduled for this Thursday.  As I have stated before, if they licensed him before and he has not had any racing or personal problems, how do they justify denying him a license?  Here is hoping the hearing goes well for Casey.

Cal Expo closed out their final meet as an operator as negotiations for a new operator to take over standardbred racing in the Golden State.  While no agreement is in place, there is optimism and an unofficial target of harness racing resuming this November, two months later than previously anticipated.  Hopefully, a new operator will have the resources to upgrade the racing program in the Golden State to make it more significant in the standardbred world.

Happy Fathers Day to All You Dads Out There

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Miscellanery

One has to wonder with the world of racing changing in Ontario, why are they not cutting purses to take some of their purse account and bank it for next year to soften the blow the government is intent on delivering the industry?  No way the purses or racing dates will be the same next year but if the projection is purses will be cut 60% after March, 2013, cutting purses 20% the balance of this year will at least soften the blow for next year, perhaps giving the industry another year to get its house in order.  Tracks which have already announced they will be closing may continue to race at current purse levels, drawing their purse account to zero, but it seems irresponsible to do it for those tracks intent on continuing racing.

But there are different opinions on this and Cangamble is a blogger who feels the OLG decision is not final (I disagree).  However, assuming it is, he has ideas on how racing can compete and it involes using the $50 million transition aid package to develop software to develop a Canadian answer to the V75.

Why am I so high on Jeff Gural?  For the same reasons Dean Hoffman likes what Gural is doing.  Yes, it is not the way things have always been done but guess what?  What we have always done is not working and it seems most of the industry can't get off their arse to change.  I may be wrong, but I envision what comes out of the Meadowlands in the next four years will serve the model for successful racing in the future.  Those who don't like it will either be dragged along kicking and screaming or they will fall to the wayside.

Churchill Downs is changing the way fields are determined for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby starting in 2013.  Points will be awarded based on how a horse finishes in 36 races leading up to the Kentucky Derby starting in the 2yo season.  The idea for the change is to build up more interest for the Derby by having a road to the Kentucky Derby.

Could something like this work for harness racing?  It could, but it likely won't happen anytime soon.   Just the same, there is no reason our major stakes can't institute a way to determine fields as done in the Battle of the Brandywine, be it points earned in races or money earned.  Elimination races are a blight on our sport.

My selections for the stakes on Mohawk's  Pepsi North America Cup card are available here.

For those late nighters, here are my selections for Cal Expo's Saturday night Late Pick 4 featuring at 15% take out and a $20,000 guarantee with a must payout situation.  These races (and possibly a few races earlier) will be shown on TVG.  As you may know, this is the end of the Cal Expo spring meet and it may be a while until racing resumes in the Golden State, if at all.  Actually, things are looking pretty good for racing to continue at Cal Expo as negotiations with European Wagering Services has been moving along .  While a deal could fall through, Cal Expo management is keeping the backstretch open as they feel a deal will get done.  One thing is for sure, it appears racing will not resume on August 24 as it was supposed to as the new operator needs to get licensed and apply for race dates once a deal is done.  The big question is when does racing resume and how many California horsemen are going to be around when harness racing resumes?

Anyway, here are my picks (listed in order of preference):

  9th Race - 7, 2, 4, 3
10th Race - 2, 6, 7, 4
11th Race - 5, 6, 9, 1
12th Race - 6, 8, 9, 1