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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Classified Thoughts

The classified system, apparently you love it or hate it. There has been plenty of conversation regarding the classified system being proposed for the Meadowlands. In fact Standardbred Canada has a poll regarding the classified system. As of this writing 49% say the classified system will be good for the horsemen and the customer; 31% say it will benefit neither.

I understand the hesitation regarding the classified system. While I am a fan of classified racing in theory, I was not a fan of it when it was conducted at Tioga Downs. The idea of classifying horses relative to which horses drop into the entry box each week is a horrible idea for the gambler. A horse could be classified as B3 one week and the following week classified as C1 not because their  performance got worse, but dropped in class just because some better horses show up. 

If you are going to have classified racing, horses should be classified based on their ability and their ability alone. A horse's classification should change only if their ability to race improves or declines,  not because some better horses ship in the following week.  The racing secretary can still card races based on which horses drop in the box, but at least the gambler is not going to be subjected to fake class hikes or drops.   

Question 7, which permits the expansion of gaming in Maryland passed on Election Day.  In addition to allowing table games at existing slot parlors, it authorizes the establishment of a new casino in Prince George county.  While bidding for the one license will be conducted, speculation has it that it is pre-determined to be at National Harbor which means Rosecroft Raceway is once again in jeopardy of closing.  However, this story has plenty of chapters remaining.  

Lest anyone think harness racing is the only one in trouble, Hollywood Park may be racing its last fall meet as speculation has it after their spring meet which begins in April, Hollywood may meet the same fate as Bay Meadows, becoming a housing development

New Jersey standardbred horsemen can't catch a break.  First they get hit with Superstorm Sandy, which stops racing at Freehold due to the lack of power.  Today, Freehold is closed not from Sandy, but a nor'easter which dropped a foot of snow in the Freehold area.  With luck, the raceway will resume racing on Friday, but the way things are going, it may be Saturday.  This is four racing days which standardbred horsemen can barely afford to lose. 


Bill said...

The closing of Freestate Raceway in Laurel, Maryland, known as Laurel Raceway when it opened in 1948 (I think), set harness racing on the Western Shore of Maryland (i.e. the Baltimore/Washington suburbs) on a path that I don't believe is a miracle by the politicians in Baltimore and Annapolis. This fateful decision placed all harness racing on the Western shore at Rosecroft, a once beautiful racetrack in a depressed area at the far western edge of Prince Georges County. Closer to prosperous Virginia suburbs, that"s for sure, but a pretty long and arduous drive for Maryland harness fans in the suburbs of DC between Washington and Baltimore, and north of Washington towards Pennsylvania where, just for one example, the famous Yankee slugger Charlie Keller ran an outstanding breeding operation for many years, and amazingly, even now, a champion trotter named GooGooGaa Gaa has emerged farther east from Frederick in the countryside north of Baltimore. Aside from moving away from a substantial number of fans, a consolidation in one county (and closing Freestate which just happens to be in Howard County, one of the more prosperous counties in the United States) is not helpful in Annapolis, where broader support involving more county delegations is often critical to achieving any form of success. Frankly, the only harness racing presence in the Maryland suburbs between Washington and Baltimore that I know of is a wooden cut out replica of a harness driver and horse erected at the north edge of the area where Freestate once area that is now a Car Max and a Toyota dealer. I guarantee you that most people, if they even see this harness driver and horse, probably have no idea what this is all about.

You are correct that there are more chapters that need to play out, but I suspect that the hullabaloo over Option 7, with opposition to a casino at National Harbor (not Rosecroft) funded by Penn National Gaming, operator of thoroughbred racetracks in West Virginia and Pennsylvania (and maybe elsewhere, I don't really know) , has likely poisoned the atmosphere for resurrection of harness racing at Rosecroft. Political support seems to have emerged for a multidimensional gaming operation at the National Harbor Resort, which, with the sudden departure of a proposed Disney attraction a year or so ago, is apparently in danger of becoming a huge white elephant on the bank of the Potomac River between Rosecroft and Virginia. Millions of dollars were spent lobbying on both sides of Option 7.....Penn National had announced they will close Rosecroft if they do not receive approval for a casino at the racetrack. The likelihood of a casino at Rosecroft seems highly unlikely at this juncture. So, at this point, it is really a West Virginia/Pennsylvania based casino company, which owns and operates Charles Town racetrack and casino in West Virginia, that is waging this battle. I suspect that more Maryland and Washington DC money was spent at West Virginia's Charles Town, than at Dover, Harrington, and Delaware Park. But, I don't really know and I haven't seen data on this. Your overall point is still absolutely correct.....West Virginia and Delaware will not benefit from Maryland's emerging casino operations.

Bill said...


Delaware passed slots legislation in 1996.....West Virginia followed suit, and much later, Pennsylvania passed slots legislation. Prior to the slots legislation in neighboring states, Maryland was a strong racing state in terms of both harness and thoroughbred racing. Now, tragically and sadly, Maryland is trying to play catch up having given its neighbors a 15 year head start. This is a sad commentary on Maryland's political leadership, though the current governor, Martin O"Malley, has worked very hard to address the failings of his predecessors and a legislature prone to inactivity and quarrelling. At least the historically strong thoroughbred industry seems to be re-awakening.....but the harness industry on the Western shore especially, seems to be in very, very serious trouble.

What would change the situation dramatically would be a bold step by the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore to build a new racetrack for racing near the site of the new Baltimore casino. This would give Maryland a unique product, and a unique position in the sub-New York battle for the entertainment dollar. Historic Pimlico will not last much longer, and the harness industry literally has no where to go. In Maryland, it seems that it always takes an absolute catastrophe to get political leaders to look ahead. Maybe they will see what is happening....but I am not very hopeful.