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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Q&A with Bob Marks

Bob Marks has been involved in harness racing for many years from racing fan, public handicapper, television, and the breeding industry, now working for Perretti Farms in marketing.  Bob has seen the highs and lows in the industry, from the glory days of New York racing and the emergence of the Meadowlands to the current state of racing in New Jersey.

Needless to say it is a whole new world in racing as well as breeding so we decided to ask Bob some questions to gauge his thoughts on the current status of harness racing.   

AS:  When did you get interested in horse racing?
BM: When you grew up near Roosevelt and Aqueduct, you knew all about horse racing.  My oldest memory is watching Native Dancer charging at Dark Star in whatever Derby that was on one of those funny looking round screen televisions.

AS:  What attracted you to harness racing over thoroughbred racing?
BM: I probably could have gone either way but harness racing at night was much easier to get to.

AS:  Have you owned any race horses?  If not, why not?  If so, who was your favorite?

BM: Was the defacto owner of a filly named Silk Storm as I paid her bills and often rode in the truck when she raced. I think she earned $26,000 one year while her expenses were nearly that so I realized it was not a poor man’s game.

AS:  Who is your all-time favorite horse you have ever seen race and why?
BM:  I’d say Meadow Skipper was my all time favorite but there were so many over the years.

AS:  Who would you say is your all-time favorite driver and why?
BM:  I never had a favorite driver as there were so many great ones, though it’s hard to top Buddy Gilmour and John Campbell.   George Sholty when he was young could make even the faintest hearted quitter afraid to stop.

AS:  Being there for the glory days of Roosevelt and Yonkers Raceway, what would be your favorite moment at either of these tracks and what would be the worst moment?

BM: My all time favorite moment had to be Nov 7th, 1964 at Yonkers when Klanchen lengthened stride at the head of the stretch and I knew she’d complete the perfect night when I bet and collected on all nine winners.   The worst moment was the riots at both Yonkers and Roosevelt when I saw raging humanity at its ugliest.

AS:  What was the cause of the riots?
BM:  At Yonkers, it was a perceived boat race involving Miss Chief Moken while at Roosevelt it happened after a backstretch pile up in which only two horses wound up finishing.  The second horse must have been timed in 7 minutes or so as the driver got up from the ground and gently guided his horse to the finish despite a broken sulky wheel.  Win and place payouts were eventually made but the crowd got ugly demanding the race be declared a no contest and ultimately streamed onto the track.  

AS:  Besides the rise of alternate gaming and lotteries, what do you think happened to make the public less interested in horse racing in general and harness racing specifically?

BM: Track management’s utter disregard for the needs of the customers ensured the evolution to apathy.

AS:  How did you end up working on the breeding side of the business?  Which breeding farms have you worked for?
BM: Was always a student of breeding and was writing breeding articles in the 60’s… Did 15 years of yearling prognostications for Hub Rail.  In the early 1980’s Boardwalk Farms came along, my TV career was waning and it happened.

AS:  What TV career?  Most people would only know you from your days at Perretti Farms. 
BM:  I actually did a cable show entitled Accent on Racing for Meadowlands Cablevision when it was in its infancy. I did the show for several years and a few of the faces that became familiar on the Racing from the Meadowlands show got some early camera time on Accent On Racing.  There was also a brief stint doing Racing from Roosevelt with Bruce Beck and Al Kraseuski in 1982 but that wasn’t renewed.   Most people don’t know but I was one of the original chart commentators for Sports Eye at Roosevelt and Yonkers long before The Meadowlands was a gleam in Mr. Werblin’s eye.     

AS:  Who would you say was the best sire you came across in harness racing?
BM:  Meadow Skipper was probably the best sire of any breed since Adam if he actually existed.  He never needed a top mare, yet remade the pacing breed in how own image and could get greatness from the most unlikely places.

AS:   Since you mentioned your favorite sire, which was the best stallion that didn’t become a commercial success and why do you think this happened?

BM: That might have been Steady Beau who died not long after siring Steady Star especially considering his eye catching small first crop was sired while he was in Tennessee.

AS:  Who is the best broodmare you have ever come across?  Why?
BM: Romola Hanover dam of three all time greats to Dancer Hanover.  Currently,  Amour Angus and Rich N Elegant are fantastic [Editor’s note:  Rich N Elegant recently passed away in November].  Add Classic Wish to that list especially if her Somebeach turns out to be good.

AS:  Do you think whipping is a problem in the sport?

BM: Absolutely not. In a lifetime at racetracks, I never once heard anyone with live tickets imploring his jockey or driver during a heated stretch duel “Oh please be gentle”.

AS:  But do you think whipping hurts racing acquire new gamblers? 
BM:  Gamblers gamble to win.  Never once heard anyone say “ I lost $50 on that race but that was fun-maybe I can lose some more next race”.  It might turn off some spectators who probably would never have evolved into serious fans or gamblers anyway.     

AS: What does Perretti do with stallions and broodmares whose careers in breeding are over?  What about those who no longer fit Perretti’s long term strategy?

BM: Matt’s Scooter and Winkys Gill are still here and in fact both will be photographed on Wednesday for a project Ellen Harvey is featuring.

AS:  What about unwanted broodmares?  Are any of them pensioned?
BM:  We have no unwanted broodmares and /or horses.  They are pensioned and well cared for to live out their days.  

AS:  If you were the so-called racing commissioner, what would be the top three things you would do unilaterally if you could?

BM:  Other than order the immediate incarceration of anyone foolish enough to appoint me commissioner?  First order of business would be to address the purse structure as it’s ludicrous for cheap claimers to race of 80-99% of their listed value while young starting out horses racing for tidbits.  Then seriously consider some form of revenue sharing for the casino subsidies similar to the way the NFL does it. Seems absurd to have all of what maybe the temporary eggs in one regional basket while neighboring baskets starve.  Address the partnerization trend.  You’ll never convince the betting public that partnerization is NOT a conflict of interest-especially when from the outside looking in harness racing is perceived as an insider’s game.       

AS:  Some people say racing is in an unsustainable situation.  While horse owners and horsemen in racino states are prospering, that prosperity doesn’t seem to have transferred down to the breeder.  Do you agree with this and if so, why do you think this has happened?
BM:  Very simple, every used car was a new car at some point in its life no matter how many owners it has gone through. As a new car, the dealer and the factory both got paid.  Conversely, every AGED RACE HORSE was a yearling at some point in its life with one major differential. The consignor (dealer) and the breeder (factory) seldom receives par value. While some yearlings oversell considerably, they are few and far between compared to the vast majority that undersell.   

AS:  Where in the past, you may have seen some stakes-caliber horses owned by two or three partners, these days it seems like these horses have many partners.  Does this cause any real or perceived integrity issues?
BM:  Huge! This is the partnerization problem I was talking about earlier.  Does anyone really think that bettors believe partners don’t talk to each other? Consignors know all too well that owners who used to bid against each other now partner up and piece out desired yearlings.

AS:  Some people argue people are buying race ready horses instead of yearlings because the cost involved with getting a horse to the races.  Do you think standardbred racing should have maiden and non-winners of up to four races lifetime racing for more money than lower your lower claiming classes?  What about offering the same types of races as claiming conditioned races with the conditioned races going for more money?
BM:  As I said before, the purse structure is out of whack and needs drastic repair.  The exact format for re-aligning purses is up for discussion.   

AS:  Let’s talk briefly about two year old racing.  Should they be racing less at that age; perhaps starting in August or limiting the number of starts?

BM:  When people pay money for yearlings, they need to recoup some investment in a timely manner. Since we’ve escalated the maturity cycle in standardbreds where they come to their speed earlier than in years past, 2-year-old racing is a sign of the times.  Now whether or not they go too much too early is another matter!   

AS:  What do you think of the new policy being implemented with foals of 2014 where some tracks will not accept nominations to stakes races if sired by a stallion at the age of four (unless due to a medical exemption)?
BM:  That policy should be via INCENTIVE not legislatively mandated.  If the opportunities are right, the stars will linger longer.

AS:  In Europe, many of the top older horses race and breed in the same year.  Why has that practice not taken hold in North America?
BM:  Probably because of existing regulations mandating that stallions be in residence for designated periods in order to maintain state eligibilities. 

AS:  Assuming there was no legal impediment; do you think the standardbred breed would be better served if stallions had to be approved for breeding based on earnings or race record criteria, instead of allowing any stallion to become a breeder? 

BM:  The market weeds itself out.  The good studs endure. The rest will fall by the wayside.

AS:  When the Meadowlands first opened in 1976, it was credited with giving harness racing a big boost.  Looking back, do you think there were any unintended problems which came out of the Meadowlands opening?
BM:  In the long run assembling all the top horses and horsemen in one location became TOP HEAVY leading to the demise of other regional strongholds.

AS:  It’s no secret that New Jersey’s breeding program has fallen on lean times with surrounding states having racinos and New Jersey having lost their subsidies.  Many stallions have left and the number of foals born has dropped considerably; forcing many farms to close, almost causing Perretti Farms to become one of the casualties. 

BM:  There is no sense in rehashing this as it has been documented before elsewhere.

AS:  Semen transport has reduced the need to bring broodmares to the stallion to get covered.  Would it help breeding farms in New Jersey if the New Jersey developed some type of NJ foaled stakes program to encourage broodmares to reside in New Jersey to provide alternate sources of income for breeding farms?
BM:   Certainly, some ideas are already being considered by various groups.

AS:  New Jersey racetracks increase purses for NJ sired or owned horses.  Would you like to see this program to be modified to also include NJ foaled horses as a means to support the breeding industry?

BM:  At this point, I would not be against it.

AS:  Everyone talks about the Meadowlands but there is Freehold Raceway as well in New Jersey.  Could the breeding industry survive without Freehold Raceway?  Why or why not?
BM:  Freehold has become incidental to much of the breeding world.  Unfortunately one can project the Pennwood people eventually converting Freehold to some type of OTW with much of the land absorbed by the existing mall on the other side of route 9.  

AS:  The Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway are forced to race fewer days due to the lack of subsidies and casinos.  If you could be the master scheduler of race dates in New Jersey, how would you schedule and coordinate their race meets in order to maximize the benefit to the breeding industry?

BM:  I think tracks must be sensitive to customer replenishment before they worry about the breeding industry. Fans are the answer as why on earth would anyone buy a race horse unless they are a fan of HORSE RACING.

AS:  Since you brought it up, what it the key to replenishing the customer base?  What are the biggest obstacles to growing the customer base?
BM:  If I knew the answer to that, I might consider your commissionership offer.

AS:  Years ago, the NJSS had a fair division along with the Garden State Stakes which featured non-wagering racing at fairgrounds such as Johnson Park, Flemington Fairgrounds, Cowtown Fairgrounds, and some training facilities.  The program was discontinued due to the expense involved.  In hindsight, do you think eliminating this racing circuit has cost racing a valuable tool to get non-gamblers interested in the sport?

BM:  Absolutely the fairs were fantastic for allowing people an opportunity to mingle with the racing fraternity and smell the horseflesh so to speak.  

AS:  With the decision to move Perretti Stallions to Pennsylvania, New Jersey has a dearth of stallions?  Of those remaining in New Jersey who are the best trotting and pacing sires?  
BM:  Muscle Hill is still here.

AS:  Some people are saying the NJSS should switch over to a broodmare residency program where the offspring of mares who spend 180 days a year in New Jersey would be eligible to race in stakes.  What are your thoughts on this?

BM:  I don’t know if 180 is the operative number but it’s certainly a program worth exploring.

AS:  Do you see Perretti’s NJ farm being used for anything or does it remain for sale?
BM: The status quo has not been changed it is on the market.

AS:  If you had to bet, what do you think the chances for obtaining slots at the Meadowlands or at other tracks?

BM:  Ultimately slots will come to the Meadowlands area though it may take years before the Atlantic City exclusive is discarded. It’s obvious to some that gambling needs to have a constant population replenishment pool due to the inevitability of loss syndrome. The customer base must lose and requires constant replenishment. The Meadowlands area is in the heart of megalopolis.  

AS:  Thank you for your time.
BM:  You’re welcome.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have a great site here, and I really enjoyed reading this article. Even though I have seen Bob Marks at Perretti Farms and the horse sales, there was a lot in this article that I never knew before -- and it is always informative to hear his opinions.