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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hambletonian Day Thoughts

So Hambletonian Day 2012 is in the books.  I imagine you are already aware of the outcomes of the races so I won't go into it here (if you haven't, take a look at this link for the non-Hambletonian races and this link for the Hambletonian).  All I can say with regards to the wagering end is I must thank Personal Style for saving my day.  I was sitting there having a losing day when I took a look at the program and realized in the event of a speed duel, Personal Style looked like the only one who could come home like a freight train.  Not that I really thought there would be a speed duel because these days, it seems everyone races conservatively because there is too much money at stake.  But hey, at 55-1, why not toss a couple of bucks her way? 

Well, there wasn't a speed duel, but Check Me Out was taken out when a knee boot slipped on her causing the champion to make a break.  I couldn't have figured Check Me Out would wipe out Maven either as a result of interference.  And while Personal Style didn't exactly come home like a freight train, she was able to nip Win Missy B at the wire to pay a whopping $116.40 for win.

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. 

As for Hambletonian Day, it was a hot, humid day, already highly uncomfortable at 10:00am when the gates opened.  Looking around, it seemed like the usual carnival setting in Paddock Park, awaiting the kids.   Concessions were set up all over the park, apron, and the building.  There was plenty for all to enjoy and the grandstand level seemed a little more busier than last year, probably due to the heat.  I have no doubt those who came to the track had a pleasant, if not profitable day.

Master Pine (Helene Gregory) winning the $15,000 RUS Open at the Meadowlands (Mike Lizzi Photo)
When three of the participants were late to the gate in the monté race, I thought here we go, another non-competitive race but it turned out to be an exciting race with a thrilling stretch duel between Master Pine and Take My Picture with Master Pine able to snare the victory at the wire to win in 1:57.1 giving Helene 'Julie Krone' Gregory her second victory (with different horses) out of three starts this season.  The 1:57.1 smashed the North American race record but kept Moni Maker's time trial record at the Red Mile intact.  To see the RUS event, click on this link and select Race 16 on August 4.  I talked to a few people after the race and they indicated they would be interested in wagering on this type of racing; it being a welcome difference.

As for the racing card, it was a fantastic card of racing.  Yes, the list of stakes races changed with the Woodrow Wilson being added to the card along with the NJ Classic and Miss New Jersey paces.  I didn't miss the Oliver Wendell Holmes which quite honestly was anti-climatic in the past coming after the Meadowlands Pace.  Being Hambletonian Day is the busiest day at the track, it was nice to see the NJ-sired horses being showcased on the Hambletonian Day card.  With the racing card being trot heavy, including the Hambletonian, I understand having a NJ-sired trotting race would be difficult; perhaps the SBOANJ can develop a stakes race for aged NJ-sired trotters which could be carded on the racing card in the future.

On the business side of the story, the total handle was reported up with common pool wagering in North America being $6,227,077, up from $5,602,567 in 2011, an increase of 9% this year   The total attendance for the day was 24,521 vs 2011's 25,770 which on the surface may be disappointing but when you consider the heat and humidity of the day plus the fact the Olympics were on in nice air-conditioned homes, you can understand the drop in attendance.  You must also consider the Meadowlands eliminated phantom customers this year by increasing the admission charge, eliminating turnstile churning by those who used to come in multiple times to get additional hats for the old $1 admission.  While the admission fee was higher this year, it included your program and the quality of the hats were better. 

Then there were external factors affecting attendance.  Tolls to cross the Hudson River went up this past September with cars now paying  tolls of $12; an amount which for some people was enough to discourage them from heading over from their side of the Hudson.  While the economy supposedly is improving, the unemployment rates in New York (8.9%) and New Jersey (9.2%, fourth worst in nation) continue to be relatively high which discourages discretionary spending.  That being said, the key to any business is how to minimize the impacts of the economic downturn on their business.   

With regards to the CBS Sports Network telecast, it was good though I don't expect the ratings to increase due to the Oylmpics.  I recall one mention of jockey which was quickly corrected right away and talk of a furlong but for the most part, harness racing was the topic of the day with Donna Baton Barrows even telling the audience she has grown a respect for the standardbred.  The show was produced well.  The question is where to place such a broadcast in the future.  To return to network television is very expensive and quite honest, as long as the industry must pay for a shows production makes little sense.  To put the show on a CBS Sports Network, while a good show may be too much of a niche network to be on to gain audience.  The key is if looking to have a television presence, the key is to get on a national sports channel. 

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