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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pena Heading to the Gallops?

In an exclusive one-on-one interview with, controversial trainer Lou Pena indicated he is seriously considering changing over to training thoroughbreds as a result of what he perceives was in effect a witch hunt.

"It seems to me that if you succeed, or do well in harness racing, you are branded a cheat", Pena claims in the interview, "Whereas in the galloping world if you keep winning they embrace you and dub you a champion".  To a certain degree, Pena is correct.  In thoroughbred racing, you don't see people trying to rip successful trainers apart, until they get that first serious positive.  Once that positive arrives, the rumors begin.

In the meanwhile, Pena must be happy to know that Cal-Expo would welcome Pena back provided he is licensed by the CHRB.  Being other individuals at Cal-Expo are refugees from commission problems elsewhere, I don't see obtaining a license in California will be a problem.

But one must ask does Pena have a point regarding being a victim of a de facto witch hunt?  I say yes.  Regardless of how you felt about Pena's eye-opening record and the way horses seemed to improve dramatically without hard evidence, any suspicions one has remains just that, suspicions.  Track operators have the right to exclude someone if they feel there is a business case for doing so, but with regards to licensure, without a smoking gun or a positive, the participant remains in good standing.

If a trainer fails the so-called 'smell test, there is nothing wrong with good old fashioned detective work, but getting the cooperation of another racing commission to provide veterinary records, something usually not done smells of 'Get Lou'.  Only then do officials find that allegedly that Pena violated the rules regarding withdrawal times, rules other states don't even have.  Normally, as long as a horse tests clean that is all which matters; a failed test brings the trainer sanctions. 

Yes, if the vet records are correct, it would appear Pena violated the New York rules of racing, but if not for his success, would the racing commission have taken the steps to get him?  Probably not.  How many other trainers likely violate the withdrawal rules in New York but does the state seek out vet records to investigate?  No, typically New York seeks veterinarian records only if positive(s) are detected.

So pending a decision by the NYGC to appeal or to proceed with the case, Pena is free to continue his trade and proclaim his innocence.  The court of public opinion may believe differently; this is something even the best lawyer can't fix.

Pena Victory a Victory for Horsemen; Training Center Investigations Okayed

The victory trainer Lou Pena won Wednesday in a New York Supreme Court can be best described as a temporary victory as the decision was not made on the merits of the case, but on technical issues.  That being said, the victory is an important victory not only for Lou Pena, but all horsemen in New York.

As you recall, Pena's license was revoked for allegedly violating New York medication rules as determined thanks to an unusual cooperation between the NJRC and the then NYSRWB (now the NYGC) where the veterinarian's records were reviewed; no drug positives were discovered.  Pena challenged the revocation and a hearing was held in late August.  Since then, Pena has been waiting for a decision which many expected to go against him in round one, one of many rounds to come.

According to HRU, New York rules require a decision in any appeal to be given within 30 days of the hearing date.  As of today, no decision has been released, a clear violation of the rules.  With six months having passed without a decision rendered, the judge ruled the NYGC has taken too long in making a decision and has ordered Pena's license restored for the time being.  While the NYGC can decide to appeal the judge's decision, my suspicion is they won't; they will allow Pena to train horses until a decision on Pena's appeal is released at which point Pena may once again find his license revoked.  With the judge planning to hold another hearing on March 15, the NYGC may find themselves pressed to issue the hearing officer's report before then.

While Pena's victory may be temporary, it is an important victory for all horsemen in the State of New York.  No licensee should find themselves in limbo for so long.  Granted, the Pena case is complicated in the fact there were so many alleged violations, but the fact remains a licensee is entitled to a ruling within 30 days.  Wisely, Pena's attorney gave the commission extra time, but six months of being in limbo is grossly unfair and an abuse of the commission's power.  Every licensee, regardless of their status, is entitled to a speedy disposition of their case and this is the message the New York Supreme Court judge made clear yesterday.  Even if Pena eventually loses his license, a precedent has been set for every horsemen to have their cases disposed of quickly by the NYGC.

So what does yesterday's decision mean for Pena?  As previously mentioned, this is a temporary victory and if the NYGC releases the decision of the hearing officer, Pena may find himself on the outside looking in once again.  In the meanwhile Pena has an impediment to resuming his career on the East Coast.  While I am sure many of his old patrons will be happy to return to Pena, whether they will return knowing any day he may have his license revoked again, remains to be seen.  Then there is a question as to where he may be welcomed on the East coast to race.  Clearly, the three Gural-operated tracks will continue to exclude Pena as will Freehold Raceway.  The question is what will Yonkers Raceway and Harrah's Philadelphia decide to do? 

Based on a DRF report, it may be Pena feels he may be done on the East Coast; at least for the foreseeable future.  The DRF reports that Pena is planning on staying in California and if once again licensed, train horses at Cal Expo as well as considering training thoroughbreds. Being other individuals who have run into regulatory problems on the East coast have been licensed in California, there is no reason to suspect California won't license Pena, especially if he applies before New York finally releases its decision.

Lost in the Pena news, the Meadowlands has reached an agreement with Showplace Farms (and Golden Shoe in New York) with regards to Brice Cote investigating cases at the training facilities.  Cote will only investigate trainers that have signed releases (via the racing application), Cote has access to the training facilities 24 hours a day but if outside the 9-5 window, must text management as to when he arrives and leaves the training center, and the Meadowlands must sign a waiver of responsibility if Cote or any other Meadowlands investigator is injured on the grounds of the training center.  This is fair agreement which protects all interests, including those who choose or are unable to race at the Meadowlands.  Reasonableness won out.

It's Official.  Effective tomorrow, March 1, 4NJBets will be operated by TVG.   NJAW customers will continue to access their account from the same website,  That is provided a few conditions can be met.  John Brennanwrites about these conditions.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Newsflash: Lou Pena Has Been Reinstated

A New York Supreme Court Judge has reinstated the license of harness trainer Lou Pena, the result of a hearing held on August 29-31.  As a result, Pena is able to resume owning and training horses immediately.  Of course, the New York Gaming Commission (NYGC), successor to the NYSRWB, has 30-60 days to appeal the decision.  Without seeing the judge's ruling, it is hard to say whether the NYGC will appeal.

It should be noted, even if he resumes training, there is no guarantee which tracks will allow Pena to participate.  It is certain he will remain excluded from the Meadowlands, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs. will be having an exclusive interview with Lou Pena forthcoming.

While the decision has not yet been released, back in May I suspected Pena would get his license back in civil court. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Transition My Arse

News comes in a blistering letter from Robert Burgess to the Premier/Agricultural, Finance, and Rural Affairs Ministers of Ontario that the government is planning on offering $10 million in purse enhancements to be split between the non-WEG tracks in the province.  This will lead to the death of racing in the province, despite Woodbine and Mohawk continuing to race. 

As Burgess indicated, offering $10 million to the whole province is an insult, after all $10 million is what purses at Western Fair District received from slots last year.  The government in effect wants to split what Western Fair received last year between Western Fair, Georgian Downs, Grand River, Hanover, Rideau Carleton, Flamboro Downs, Clinton, Dreseden, Hiawatha Horse Park, Kawartha Downs, Sudbury, Woodstock and presumably Fort Erie (thoroughbred) and Ajax Downs (quarter horses)?  Obviously not all these tracks will remain open after March 31 but even if five of these tracks remain open, what are horsemen going to be racing for?  Gas cards and a bag of oats with carrots thrown in for stakes races? 

It's a good thing Woodbine Entertainment has announced a policy stating if any horse previously stabled in the province is sent to slaughter, the owner and/or trainer will be denied stabling at its tracks.  However, the policy statement suggests owners who will no longer be able to support their horses or get them into horse rescues strongly consider euthanasia.  It would be nice if the policy indicated entries would be denied from people sending horses to slaughter, but the reality is if the policy was such, WEG would likely be unable to get enough entries for their racing cards come April 1.

Burgess demands SARP remain in effect and suggests horsemen will not allow slot parlors remain open if horsemen lose their 10% share of slot revenue.  Now, not being from Canada, I don't know how horsemen will be able to effect the closure of the slot parlors with the racetracks signing rental agreements with the OLG.  At best they can picket, hoping people turn away but how the authorities would react to picket lines remains to be seen.

 SARP unfortunately is dead, and unlikely to return, but to transition the industry with a mere $10 million for the B and C tracks for the balance of 2013 is patently unfair, especially since the provincial government has led the horsemen on for almost a year.  A true transition means slowly cutting the payments to the horse industry, not choking them to death.  I would suggest horsemen be given at least 75% of the revenue they received last year for purses, with purses then dropping the following year to a lower percentage.

However, Ontario's tragedy can be an advantage for American racing.  It is no secret there is a horse shortage in the United States for racing, especially as the industry wakes up from its winter doldrums and additional tracks open.  There should be a concerted effort by American tracks to recruit owners to send their horses to the United States to race instead of sending them to slaughter.  Granted, some of the horses racing at the 'B' and 'C' tracks of Ontario may not be the caliber some tracks would like to see, but as we have learned, gamblers rather watch and wager on competitive races than uncompetitive top quality races.  This would be a win-win situation.  Horses are not sent to slaughter and American tracks are ensured full fields their entire racing season.  Obviously the American market can't accept all the horses at risk, but a significant number can still be saved.

Some may feel until the Ontario situation resolves itself, recruiting horsemen and horses from Ontario may be equated to picking over Ontario's remains before the corpse is dead.  While the final chapter remains to be written, it seems certain the Ontario racing corpse will be on life support at best. 

It is now clear Ontario has far too many horses for the industry can't support and America has too little.  Perhaps some good can come out of this tragedy.  At a minimum, if not encouraging Canadian owners to head south, those desiring to ship to America should be welcomed.

Put a Fork in It

Thanks to a lack of government support, harness racing in Newfoundland has come to an end.  While St. Johns Entertainment Centre will remain open, harness racing is on hiatus for the foreseeable future due to the lack of government support.  With the lack of government assistance, purses were expected to total $15,000 for all of 2013; clearly a level which makes no sense.  For while the people of Newfoundland were never in racing for the money, there comes a point where you can't bleed to death either.

While the track will remain open for training, most horses will make an attempt to move to the mainland which with Ontario's problems, doesn't seem to be a good bet either.  In the meanwhile, I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of racing in Newfoundland; let's just call it a vacation.

So it is thirty three days until April 1, the first day of the post SAR program in Ontario and if you are Canadian do you know where you will be racing this year?  If you don't race on WEG's circuit, you are basically left in the dark.  You think you may be racing, but there is nothing in writing, or verbal for that matter.  How do you plan the balance of your season when you don't know if your local track will be operating and as bad as that is, you have no idea what your alternate options are nor your options for your horses.

Maybe the big Canadian stables are okay, they will be hurting but they know they still have a livelihood, a place to race.  But the smaller stables, the ones that can't get into WEG's circuit, or only at the bottom of the barrel occasionally, they are totally in the dark.  Will they have a chance to race at their local track, ship south of the border and hope they can compete, or do they send their charges to the abottoir (the lucky ones get euthanized)?  For the provincial government to put people in this position, is an act of malfeasance.  The blood of these horses will be on the provincial government.  However, the blame goes beyond the Liberal party; the NDP and PC share in the blame for they had the opportunity to bring this government down and slow the disengagement of slots from the racetracks at least until a well thought out plan was developed instead of flying from the seats of their pants.

As for the OLG's plans?  They are being somewhat frustrated as many communities they are approaching are saying 'Thanks, but no thanks'.  Government is supposed to support the people; it doesn't seem to be the case here.

Meanwhile, home in Indiana, Governor Pence doesn't want to shave the racing subsidy the industry gets from slots; he wants to eliminate it, a la Ontario style.  What pet project does Governor Pence want to use the diverted money for?  Medicaid.  The racing industry is raising the same arguments the horsemen have been raising in Ontario.  Personally, I tend to doubt that the subsidy will be completely eliminated, but don't be surprised if some type of cut is coming, for making sure the working poor get medical care trumps the entertainment business which horse racing is.

Why does  Keenland want to buy Thunder Ridge Raceway and move it 100 miles away and race quarter horses?  The Paulick Report discusses it.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Miscellanery

It finally happened.  In last night's tenth race at the Meadowlands, Gambler's Tale won from post position twelve, winning by two lengths, paying $22.40 to win.  It goes to show you that you can win from the second tier.

Speaking of it finally happened, the European horse meat scandal has finally reached America, at least accusation-wise, as the Daily Mail has reported the suspicions by some that horse meat contaminated with tree frog juice has made it into the European food chain.  The article doesn't say how they determined the presence of tree frog juice in the horse meat.  Of course, this is on top of the fact that some of the horse meat passed off for beef has already tested positive for bute.     

Do you have a child who wishes to become a veterinarian?  According to the New York Times, they may want to think twice, unless they want to graduate with a lifetime of debt.  It seems we are producing more veterinarians than ever while the demand is less.  We're not talking just about horses, there are less Fidos and Fluffys around these days and in this economy, people are unable to spend what they used to before 2008.  And for those parents planning to send their child to veterinarian school?  It's roughly $63,000 a year; that's after undergraduate school.

While Ready Cash lost the Prix d'Amérique, he has bounced back, winning all starts since then.  Today, Ready Cash won the 400,000€ Prix de Paris in kilometer rate of 1:14.8 (MR 2:00.35) for the 4,500 meters (2 5/8 miles).  Ready Cash came from last to first at the top of the stretch to win the race by a tight nose.  If you watch the entire race, relax; the race went in a time of 5:10.48.  While backers of Ready Cash collected their dividend, they could not have felt that good before the results were official, especially at odds of 1.60-1.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

NJRC to Decide on TVG on February 27

Speaking of cutting it close, the NJRC is slated at a meeting on February 27 to consider a petition by the NJSEA and Darby Development to have ODS Technologies L.P. (DBA TVG Networks) provide platform wagering services for NJAW.  If approval is given, the state will issue a vendor license to ODS Technologies L.P.  The meeting starts at 1:30pm.

If approval is given, TVG is currently scheduled to take over operations a mere day and a half later on March 1.

One would assume approval is a forgone conclusion, but until the proverbial fat lady signs, it's not a done deal.    Therefore, for thsoe waiting for their email from TVG, don't expect it prior to Wednesday afternoon at the earliest.

Book Review: Buckeye Side Wheelers & Keystone Tail Sitters

Frequenct VFTRG contributor Joe F. offers us a review of Ralph Jone's memoir.  For disclosure purposes, Joe F. does not know Ralph Jones or Kimberly Rinker.  I hope you enjoy his review:

Buckeye Side Wheelers & Keystone Tail Sitters: Reflections on Harness Racing’s Glory Days. By Ralph Jones as told to Kimberly Rinker. 64 pages. $9.95 @ The Harness Racing Museum.

By Ralph Jones
Harness Racing lifer, Ralph Jones, who has been to every Little Brown Jug since 1947, recently published a memoir—as told to Kimberly Rinker—about the various roles he played during “Harness Racing’s Glory Days.” Rinker notes in her Foreword that the 86-year-old Ohio native has served “as a judge, as Deputy Executive Secretary for the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission, and as a harness racing journalist, publicist and photographer.” He gives us a personal survey of his eighty years around the sport.

Mr. Jones was introduced to racing at the country fairs around his native Delaware County as a small child. At that time it was pretty much a free-for-all out on the track as there were no cameras and the judges were generally in no position to catch a driver cutting another’s tires off. Fellow Buckeye Steve Phillips didn’t introduced the mobile starting gate at Roosevelt Raceway until 1946 so Ralph spent his youth tolerating the helter-skelter running starts that were the norm back then. Many of the starts were handicapped, and sometimes handicap barriers were used, while at others the horses scored out Indian-file. Ralph’s reminiscences about the various games played by the drivers in an effort to gain an edge and the countervailing measures the judges employed to insure a fair start are very amusing.

Ralph spent a lot of time at the Delaware track around the time it was built in 1939. He got to watch great horses like Adios, Nibble Hanover, King’s Counsel and Little Pat. Eddie Cobb, Dick Buxton and Gene Reigle were regulars. World War II kept Jones from the first Jug, won by Ensign Hanover in 1946 for Curly Smart, but he hasn’t missed one since.
The book is full of anecdotes culled from Jones’s seven year stint working for Bowman Brown at The Harness Horse, another seven years as Publicity Director at Hempt Farms and fifteen years with the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Fair Commission. Many pertain to horses but those involving people always stress family connections: Gene Sears, his son Jay and grandson Brian; Roy Reigle, his son Gene and grandson Bruce; Billy Haughton and son Peter. He does the same with regard to the bloodlines of the horses he brings up. Harness racing is all about the bonds formed between people and horses for Ralph Jones. One of his prized possessions is a stopwatch given to him as a young man by Sep Palin, the trainer-driver of Greyhound.

In a chapter on speed, he marvels at how fast today’s horses go. He tells Rinker, “Of course back then if you had a horse that could go in 2:10, you had a world beater….If you could beat 2:20 you had a pretty decent trotter or pacer.” Later on he shakes his head over Rock N Roll Heaven’s twin :49.2 heats at Delaware.
The Chapter on “The Little Brown Jug: Through the Years” offers his recollection of Knight Dream, Tar Heel, Adios Harry, Bret Hanover, Hot Hitter and numerous other Jug winners. Many of these call up his personal relationships with owners, drivers and trainers. His observations on these colts, and a filly, and the circumstances of their triumphs are informative and entertaining. There is also quite a bit about the Red Mile and some of the exceptional performances he witnessed there. Pictures from Mr. Jones own collection as well as the USTA archives are interspersed throughout the book. If you approach harness racing from a long term perspective you might want to check it out.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Burke Puts Himself in the Bullseye

In today's HRU, Ron Burke proclaims he is not a cheater, in response to all which has been written (and talked) about him.  As in politics, this puts Burke in the bulls eye; reminding me of the time Gary Hart was running for the White House challenged the press to follow him, claiming he was a faithful husband, only to be caught cheating.  When one challenges the media to disprove their innocence, the media will be looking.

I must confess.  While I have had my suspicions with certain trainers, the Burke stable has never been one of them.  Yes, they win a lot of races, but then they have a lot of horses to race so there is seldom a race at the Meadowlands where the Burke stable is not present so you will naturally see more of his horses in the winners circle.  Through last night at the Meadowlands, the Burke Stable has 16 more winners than any other stable there, but those 28 wins comes from 133 starters, meaning the stable has a 21% win rate.  However, when you look at win percentage, the Burke Stable is 9th at the Meadowlands (the statistics coming courtesy of Statsmaster):

Robert Seligman15640%
Steven Weaver30930%
Nick Sunrick26727%
Scott Di Domenico23626%
Henrick Lundell13323%
Joseph Oliseno22523%
Tony Alagna14321%
Kathleen Allen14321%
Ronald Burke1332821%

The only thing the Burke Stable can be accused of with certainty is being too big an operation, almost corporate-like something we usually don't see in harness racing.  You can argue whether stables this big are good for harness racing (I don't think they are) or not, but having a stable as big as the Burke stable doesn't mean someone is cheating.

I had mentioned in an earlier column that TVG will take over operation of starting March 1.  While details are yet to be officially sent to account holders, I did have an exchange with representatives of TVG who in addition to confirming their taking over of, has confirmed existing account holders will not be assessed any fees per wager or video.  While this is welcome news, there are some questions which remain.  For example, under the current system one can go to the track and make deposits to and withdrawals from your account; you can wager using your account while at the track.  TVG has a rewards program, will NJ customers be able to participate in the player rewards program?  Instead of speculating, these questions and others will be answered in an upcoming communication which existing account holders will be receiving from TVG.

Personally, I think on the whole the move to TVG will be beneficial for existing account holders.  Also, the move to TVG will make it easier for New Jersey to implement exchange wagering when it finally gets the go-ahead in the Garden State.

California racing is known for raising their takeouts when it comes to thoroughbred racing; takeout rates in California harness racing are a bargain when compared to their running cousins.  But on the plus side, the California Horse Racing Board is perhaps the most open when it comes to the public being kept informed as to what is going on.  Take a look at their website and see the information which is made available to you, the general public.  Other states should be as open as California when it comes to the regulation of the sport.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Stretch the Race and Bait the Carrot

So far those twelve horse races at the Meadowlands has not shown the desired result as for the most part, those second tier horses have not made their presence known in the payoffs.  Is it the fact races at 1 1/16 mile are not long enough or is it drivers/trainers who have drawn the second tier are just giving up before the gate opens?

I suspect it is a bit of both.  I would suggest making the races 1 1/8 miles long to give the second tier horses a better chance to get involved but in addition to that, I would offer a bounty system where an incentive fee is paid for those horses from the second tier who finish in the money; with a higher amount if they win the race.  Perhaps a little incentive may make drivers attempt to change their perception of the second tier.

It may be worth a try because while you can have fifteen horses in a race, if no one expects the second tier to get involved, you are still wagering on a ten horse race.

Those that thought Plainrdige Racecourse was going to waltz to their slot license may not be as confident as three other developers have formally announced they are going for the one slot license in the state.  Cordish Companies, Rush Street Gaming, and Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment have entered the fray.  These three had previously announced their intention to get into the Massachusetts gaming market, but up to now, it was unknown if they were going to go for full casino licenses or compete for the sole slot parlor license.

This is not to say Plainridge won't win out in the end, but with more competitors, there is always the chance for an adverse decision as there is for an appeal in the courts by a loser to tie things up.

Running Aces Harness Park has issued a release as to why they are suspending multi-breed simulcasting in the state, keeping Canterbury from taking harness signals as well as keeping Running Aces from the lucrative thoroubhred signal.  Under the agreement which Running Aces was entitled to re-open for negotiations, they had to pay $150,000 a year to Canterbury Park for the privilege of carrying thoroughbred simulcasting; money not for purses, but to management.  Truth is, the net result was Running Aces was roughly breaking even on simulcasting due to the subsidy to Canterbury Park.  Clearly, the amount Canterbury Park was sending to Running Aces for harness simulcasting was not as much as Running Aces was sending to Canterbury so rather than en-rich Canterbury Park, Running Aces has decided to halt simulcasting until a new agreement is worked out.  This is likely to impact the thoroughbred purses.

As you may recall, Running Aces had also stopped making purse payments from their card room to Cantebury Park citing breaches of the contract by Canterbury.  This has made the thoroughbred horsemen hopping mad as they are trying to get Running Aces' harness license pulled.  Quite honestly, after abandoning Running Aces to receive purse enhancements from an Indian tribe, is this money needed?  That being said, it will be up to the Minnesota HRC to sort this out. 

Oklahoma Legislature Approves Horse Slaughter

The Oklahoma legislature has approved horse slaughtering of horses for human consumption in their state.  No news if the governor will sign off.

What is so wrong with this legislation?  Let's start with the alleged reason they want to allow the slaughtering of horses.  They claim to many horses are being abandoned and slaughter is a humane way of handling the problem.  Dare I say few if any of these legislators have ever seen a commercial slaughterhouse slaughter a horse.  If they did, I would be curious to see if they still considered it 'humane'.

One of my other problems with this legislation is it once again, lets the general horse owner off the hook for failing to be good owners of horses.  Instead of this quick solution, why doesn't the state mandate micro chipping and institute fines for any horse found abandoned and/or abused by their owner.  Instituting such a law would then force owners to do the responsible thing and end a horses life with humane euthanasia; in effect require responsible treatment of horses.

Lastly, in the ultimate irony, while allowing horse slaughter in Oklahoma for human consumption, it bans the sale of horse meat in the state.  Why?  Because horse meat is full of toxic chemicals due to the drugs and medication given them.  So while they won't allow Oklahomans to eat the meat due to safety concerns, they have no qualms about selling it to others.

Quite honestly, my problem with horse slaughter laws is two fold.  One is we are giving irresponsible horse owners the opportunity to get away from being responsible and good guardians of their horses.  If an owner can't do right by their horse then maybe they shouldn't be owning them.    Secondly, under the guise of humane, and the only thing humane about it is the shorter drive to a slaughter house, the real motive is profit.  Making money for those that trade in horses.

As far as I am concerned, any states that approve horse slaughter are states that should not be visited.  I would ask all horse loving people to boycott those states and visit and spend your money in states which are animal friendly.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

So Long Workaholic and Amrbro Goal

The renowned trotter Workaholic passed in France at the age of 30.  I remember Workaholic when he won the Breeders Crown for 2yo trotters at the Red Mile, way back in 1984 at the Red Mile. 

His death was at the French National Stud which purchased him back in 1989 after he had a marginal breeding career in the states due to fertility issues.  When racing in the United States, he was trained by Continental Farms, the group known as the Swedish Invasion as the farm was run by Jan Johnson, Hakan Waller, and Berndt Lindstedt. While Workaholic didn't come back to lead the 3yo division in 1985, there was still enough interest in him as he was purchased by the French National Stud for 1.7 million Euros ($2.27 million in current dollars).  He was a successful stud over in France.

Just another sign of the passing of a generation of horses and gamblers.  Ask how many people about Workaholic and odds are they will tell you about someone at the office.

Since this entry was originally posted, word comes that Armbro Goal died in Denmark at the age of 28.  Here is Armbro Goal winning the 1988 Hambletonian.

The Delaware Harness Racing Commission learned they are on the hook for $102,000 for not adhering to their promise of rehiring former judge Don Harmon who was found innocent of charges of altering a judging sheet. A jury awarded Harmon $102,000 in damages but a lower court ruled that promise could not be actionable on. However, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled since a jury award was based on this promise, the DHRC could not escape the jury verdict.

The highly touted Revel Casino in Atlantic City for which Governor Christie was a big cheerleader as part of Atlantic City's revival has filed for Chapter 11 protection.  Yes, this is the same casino which Governor Christie called 'a game changer for Atlantic City'.  Expect to see this boondoggle in some campaign ad during this upcoming election cycle.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Time for Classified Racing at Freehold?

With the success of classified racing at the Meadowlands, one must wonder why classified racing has not expanded.  A logical place for classified racing would be Freehold Raceway, the fellow standardbred track in New Jersey.

First of all, let's make it clear that the classes at the two tracks would be different.  A FFA horse at Freehold may be only a B-1 at the Meadowlands, but most handicappers are educated enough to realize the classification at each track is unique; you can't say there is an equivalency in quality.

Here is a perfect example of why classified racing would be appropriate for Freehold.  Freehold raced on President's Day and here are some conditions used: 

  • Race 2 - Non-Winners $1,500 last 5 starts (Non-Winners last 3 allowed $500); Winners Over $20,000 in 2012-13 ineligible  AE:N/W 3 Ext. P-M races life.
  • Race 3 - Non-Winners $1,500 last 5 starts (Non-Winners last 3 allowed $500); Winners over $20,000 in 2012-13 ineligible  AE:Non-Winners 3 Extended Pari-Mutuel races life  Opt. Claim $5,000 - (NJSO Preferred)
  • Race 5 - The same conditions as Race 3 except an Optional Claim at a $6,000 tag.
  • Race 6 - Non-Winners $3,500 in last 5 starts (Non-Winners last 3 allowed $500); Winners over $30,000 in 2012-13 ineligible  AE:Non-Winners 5 Extended Pari-Mutuel races life
  • Race 7 - Non-Winners $4,500 in last 5 starts (Non-Winners last 3 allowed $1,000)  AE:Non-Winners 6 Extended Pari-Mutuel races life. Opt. Claim $15,000
  • Race 9 - Non-Winners $2,500 last 5 starts (Non-Winners last 3 allowed $700); Winners over $25,000 in 2012-13 ineligible  AE:Non-Winners 4 Extended Pari-Mutuel races life.
  • Race 11 - Fillies & Mares - Non-Winners $1,500 in last 5 starts (Non-Winners last 3 allowed $500); Winners over $20,000 in 2012-13 ineligible.  AE:Non-Winners 3 Extended Pari-Mutuel races life  Opt. Claim $6,000

Wouldn't it be easier if Race Secretary Karen Fagliarone classified these horses into classes instead of having to write races like this?  As with the Meadowlands, classifying horses may ensure competitive races, perhaps even making the outside posts more competitive.  This is not to say Freehold racing stock would not require the use of C-3, B-3, and A-3 where as the Meadowlands avoid using the 3's.

Handle at Freehold has been hurting the past few years.  Isn't it worth trying classified racing and see if an increase in handle can be achieved?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Meadowlands Maturity and FFA Series

VFTRG contributor Joe F. has taken a look at the Meadowlands Maturities and the new FFA series at the Meadowlands.  Turns out the Meadowlands Maturity is a throwback to the Realization Stakes which used to be contested at the old Roosevelt Raceway 1962-1975.  Here is his report.

Racing will have a new look at The Meadowlands in May. For openers, the Graduate, which has been a fixture at the track since 1978, and has been won by the likes of Direct Scooter, Cam Fella, Call For Rain, Gallo Blue Chip and Shark Gesture, will be no more. Not long ago Mark Harder was lamenting the fact that with the dissolution of the Spring Pacing Championship at Woodbine, he has nowhere to race Golden Receiver until the Graduate. Sorry, Mark. It looks like the Graduate is gone, too.

New on the calendar will be the 100K Meadowlands Maturity races for four-year-old trotters and pacers. The field will max out at ten and eligibility will be based on lifetime earnings at the time of entry. It’s great to see this concept revived. Back in the day the Realization was a big deal. The purse was close to 100K and the race generally took place in April or May. The distance, for both gaits, was a mile and a sixteenth. Henry T, Bret, Romeo and Albatross all won the Realization. And Speedy Scot, Nevele Pride and Speedy Crown were winners of the trotting division. Two mares, Sprite Rodney, the dam of Spartan Hanover, and Flamboyant, also won. In 1968 Lloyd Lloyds supplemented the latter to the race for 10K and Bill Haughton brought her home a winner at 1/5. So CMO and Maven have precedent on their side.

What newly minted four-year-olds will be entered in the Maturity? Will returning front benchers like Market Share, Intimidate and Googoo Gaagaa fill the trot spots? Will Michael’s Power, Sweet Lou, Heston Blue Chip, ARNRD and the like fill the pacing Maturity? Or will there be openings for hoses like Holdingallthecards, who are short on lifetime earnings but are racing well in the here and now? The track would be very disappointed to see the 16W, Super Bowl and Singer crowd populating those races.
Last year four-year-old Mister Herbie had his coming out party in the Glory’s Comet in March and April at Woodbine. There were 50 and 60K preliminary legs and a 125K final. And pacers new to the open ranks could do the same in the companion Spring Pacing Championship. But those series have both been eliminated, so a trotter like Intimidate, who has never ventured south of Niagara Falls, may be forced to make that trip for the Maturity.

In order to qualify for the 500K finals of the new Meadowlands FFA series a horse must compete in no less than half of the preliminary races; seeing as there are nine for each gait, that would be five races. The Allerage and BC are the two for each gait not held at the Meadowlands. The point allocation system [see below] is set up in such a way that it discourages winners from skipping legs. For example, in the case of the Exit 16W and Singer, both of which are being contested right now, a winner receives 100% more points than a second place finisher and 76% more than a third place finisher. The first five places get points. They don’t want a dominant winner knocked out due to a break or a star-crossed performance. In the new FFA series all participants get points and the winner gets less than 30% more points than the second place horse and 57% more points than the third place finisher. So, between the base requirement to start in five preliminary legs and the stingy allocation of points to the top finishers, most of the better FFA horses should be on a short leash, which is where Mr. Gural wants them.

Meadowlands FFA Series
1st Place = 35 Points  1st Place = 18 Points 
2nd Place = 25 Points  2ndPlace = 13 Points 
3rd Place = 15 Points  3rd Place = 8 Points 
4th Place = 10 Points  4th Place = 5 Points 
5th Place = 8 Points  5th Place = 4 Points 
6th Place = 5 Points  6th Place = 3 Points 
7th Place = 4 Points  7th Place = 2 Points 
8th Place = 2 Points  8th Place and all other starters = 1 Point
9th Place and all other starters = 1 Point 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Are You Playing the Meadowlands?

If not, the question has to be why?  Right now, the Meadowlands is the best value for the recreational and serious gambler.  Find me one other track where you can get so many solid win or longshot payoffs for horses winning.  Clearly, the value is there.

Sure, there are some favorites that win and even a few odds-on horses crossing the wire first but for the most part, while the handicapping has become a little more difficult, the rewards for selecting a winner are greater than ever.  Even if you are someone who bets every race (likely a recreational gambler), it has come to the point where winning one race all night may be all you need to come out ahead or at least make it an inexpensive evening. 

Of course, the way you have been handicapping may need to change.  I myself am still tweaking my handicapping, but I know when it comes to my favorite wager, the Daily Double, if I pick two horses looking like favorites, to win both halves of the Double, the selection is an automatic toss.  Quite honestly, the chance of two favorites winning in a row has become so small, it is not worth the risk of backing the favorites in the Double.  Even just following class hikes in the classified races can be profitable.  Last week Camart Hanover won a C-2 dash over 1 1/16 miles and drew the rail this week in C-1 company at a mile distance.  Granted, it is difficult figuring a horse that is coming off an odd distance race back to a mile when there is no standard reporting such as the time at the mile or a mile rate for the race overall, but letting him go at 27-1?  Backing Camart Hanover just because the odds were too high for a horse that won last week would have brought home a $56.60 mutuel.

Time will tell if this lasts, but right now you can't dispute the fact Racing Secretary Peter Koch has done a very good job putting together competitive fields.  Come March when other area tracks start opening up we will have to see what happens but right now, being away from the endless parade of favorites or near favorites winning is a welcome site.

Keep you parade of favorites you get at other tracks, the Meadowlands is the track for me.

For something different, I found the following race from Argentina.  If you understand Spanish, you will appreciate the race more.  Granted, the red truck following the field was somewhat distracting, but if you look at the racetrack, it is nice and simple, nary a tote board in the infield.  What's nice is the country feel, a place you can  go to relax and wager; hopefully going home with more than you came with.  In some ways, it is a shame American tracks don't have this relaxed an atmosphere.  I would love to see someone try to have a racetrack like this in the States and see how it works out.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Briefs

Thunder Ridge Raceway is on the way out according to the Paulick Report.  Assuming historic racing is ratified by the Kentucky Supreme Court of the legislature, plans are to convert the harness license to a quarter horse license and relocate the track to a new location.  It remains to be seen if the harness dates already scheduled for Thunder Ridge must be raced even if a deal is completed.

Anyone who had delusions that all the Ontario racetracks will be racing this year, albeit shorter seasons better take note of the Premier Wynne's statement that racing must contract to be sustainable.    Specifically, Wynne claimed, "My vision for horse racing is that it be sustainable, and in order to be sustainable, it has to be smaller, and that’s the transition we’re in right now”.   It's sounding like a game of musical chairs but who knows how many chairs have been pulled?

Normally, I mourn the loss of any harness track but considering the joke racing has become at Thunder Ridge, it is time to put that track out of its misery.  Of course, as poor as the racing at Thunder Ridge has been, it means even fewer days of racing in the Bluegrass State for harness racing.  Somehow, the industry needs to come up with a way to extend their racing season in Kentucky.  The industry can't survive on harness racing in June at Bluegrass Downs and then at the Red Mile in August and September before the Grand Circuit meet begins.

Sounds similar to the nonsense a few years ago with Rosecroft.  The thoroughbred horsemen are asking the Minnesota Racing Commission to shut down Running Aces for refusing to pay the thoroughbred purse accounts 3% of the card room revenue, a payment stopped since Running Aces claimed in a suit that Canterbury Park violated the terms of the contract.  Time will see if arguably the most successful racing at a new racetrack gets nipped in the bud.  A more logical solution instead of pulling the license would be to have Running Aces put the money in an escrow account pending the outcome of litigation.

It has been reported elsewhere that TVG will be taking over, assuming regulatory approval is received.  As poor as the existing NJAW system is, there are no fees involved in having an account so as long as existing NJAW holders are grandfathered in without having to pay TVG's traditional fees, the transition to TVG will be a welcomed development.  On the other hand, if existing 4njbets customers are charged the standard fees of TVG, the small time player may be left without a viable ADW option due to the expense involved.  As per New Jersey law, horseplayers will still be denied the option to shop around for an ADW.  Harness Racing Update reports the target date is March 1, it remains to be seen if regulatory approval is received in time for that date.    

Action Speaks Louder than Words

HRU reports that Golden Shoe Training Center in Bullville, NY is joining Showplace Farms in balking at Brice Cote, Jeff Gural's investigator showing up to investigate potential problems.  Attorney Jeff Pocarro, who is representing Showplace Farms as well, apparently sent a letter to Gural after Cote showed up at Golden Shoe.  The same objections were reportedly listed in the Golden Shoe letter as were in the Showplace letter. 

I said it before, and I will say it again.  This is an industry which refuses to clean itself up in perception and/or reality.  Granted, I can understand the training facilities wanting releases from liability should Cote get injured on their grounds and they should get those releases, but to have an investigator announce their presence and limit their visits to set hours is an impingement to any meaningful investigation.  

Gural has already indicated his concern is trainers racing at the Meadowlands, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs; people who have agreed to allow an investigator access to their horses.  There could be the biggest chemist-trainer in the world racing at Hick Downs and it is not his concern; his concern is to ensure racing at the three tracks he operates is as above board as possible.  Trainers already excluded from the tracks he operates or other tracks need not worry about Cote snooping around; for you it is business as usual.

This is so frustrating.  Everyone says they want clean racing, yet every time someone tries to do something about it, without fail it seems some group attempts to block these efforts.  Whether it is horsemen groups blocking a state racing commission from instituting an out of competition testing program or training facilities attempting to block a track operator attempting to ensure a level playing field at his tracks, after a while you have to start wondering what the heck is really going on here.

Gamblers don't want to hear the excuses or the legal arguments why there can't be out of competition testing or investigators to ensure integrity; they want the most honest racing they can get.  People in the industry can talk from here to the high heavens about how most trainers are honest, hard working people and how the cheats are in the minority and that may very well be true, but while they are saying one thing, the actions of some are saying something totally different and it isn't painting a pretty picture.  This is what the gamblers are seeing.

I would suggest the various groups within racing start thinking more about the picture they are painting for the public before they try to shoot down the next attempt to ensure honest racing.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thursday News Briefs

Happy Valentines Day.  Thanks to the upcoming harness racing documentary film, "I Am, A Harness Racing Horse", here are some holiday greetings to share.

Attention Pick-5 Players: Cal Expo has now raised their guarantee on their Pick-5 to a $40,000 gross pool with a 16% takeout rate.

Florida harness racing fans are in for a treat.  Race caller extraordinaire Larry Lederman will be calling the races at Pompano Park on March 3 and 4th.  In addition, during the month of March, Pompano will be racing Sunday nights instead of Thursday evenings as they are seeking more exposure for their Pick-4 with an industry low takeout rate of 10%.

Best wishes to Rachel Alexandra who is in serious condition following surgery after giving birth to a foal.  Apparently, the foal kicked during birth which caused injury to Rachel's small colon.  The foal is fine and is being tended to by a nurse mare.

Law and Order: The ORC has taken strong action against trainer Bertrand Pelletier has been handed a 14 year suspension and $60,000 fine for allegedly having a horse detected as racing with EPO.  Thanks to an observant equipment judge for noticing a nick, an out-of-competition blood test was ordered. After hearing of incidents where it appears a judge in the paddock has fallen down on their duties, it is nice to hear of one being super observant.  As for the suspension, this is the way it should be.  Get the alleged cheater out of racing; he can appeal it but while appealing, he should be on the sidelines.  Unfortunately, the American judicial system rarely allows this to happen.

The Blooded Horse Sale just completed their Winter Sale and there were horses sold for a decent price, ssuch as Haulin Laser at $30,000.  Unfortunately, there are some horses which sold for under $500.  No doubt some of these horses were purchased by bargain hunters, trainers willing to take a chance; others possibly to be used as buggy horses by the Amish.  However, some of these horses may not be that lucky.  I understand these auctions can't keep people from attending and buying horses, but it would be nice if these known standardbred sales had minimums to ensure horses weren't being purchased directly for slaughter.

I would be remiss not to mention the reorganization taking place at Woodbine Entertainment which has resulted in a loss of 109 jobs plus reclassification of others.  This reorganization was made necessary as a result of the end of the SAR program.  Some people will argue if these many people are losing jobs, they must have been unnecessary.  Far from it.  Remember Woodbine Entertainment consists of two race tracks of which Mohawk was an active track even when dark because the standardbreds were stabled there and the track was used for training and qualifiers even when the standardbreds were racing at Woodbine .  In addition to the two tracks, there are four off-track wagering sites and HPI.  When you consider the size of Woodbine Entertainment, those 109 jobs lost were not meaningless.  No doubt some of the reogranization survivors will be wearing two or even three hats for a long while.

I have been avoding discussing the European Horse Meat scandal.  For those who are not aware, some suppliers have allegedly been selling horsemeat as beef and the meat has made it to the retail markets causing an uproar because not all of Europe finds it appropriate to eat horse.  Now news comes out that some of this faux beef has tested positive for bute, a medication which permanently makes a horse ineligible for human consumption in the European Union.  In the meanwhile, governments are pointing fingers at each other, claiming the faux beef must be coming from other countries. 

What makes this ironic is the EU is very strict with the regulations concering horses being used for human consumption, requiring a stable to table passport with all the medications tracked.  Granted this scandal is likely the result of criminal enterprises, but if tainted meat is getting into the public food supply, can you imagine what kind of horse meat is coming from the United States where there is no such stable to table passport?  The slaughter of American horses should be discountinued for its cruelty, it is a matter of health for consumers.   

On top of this, Oklahoma seems to be ready to legalize slaughterhouses for horses, claiming it is 'humane'.  Every politician who claims a slaughterhouse is a humane way to solve the problem of unwanted horses, should be required to be on the floor of a slaughterhouse for a full day and take part in the slaughtering process.  Let's see what they say after they experience it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wendesday Briefs

Attention Illinois Residents:  Annoyed you can't use your ADW account due to the authorizing law sunsetting on December 31?  HANA has issued an action alert listing steps you can take to get access to your account.

We are now 45 days away from D-Day in Ontario, the end of SAR, and while I am sure negotiations are on-going, only horsemen at Woodbine and Mohawk know they have somewhere to race come April 1.  Everyone else?  Not so lucky as they have no idea if they will have careers or jobs come April 1. At least there will be some type of standardbred and thoroughbred industry come April 1.  Albeit small, there is no idea if there will be a quarter horse industry in Ontario as there is no news regarding Ajax Downs and Fort Erie where there has been some mixed breed cards in the past.

I understand SAR is dead, but to be this close to the deadline without people knowing if they will be employed or not is unconscionable.  At a minimum, the OLG should extend the SAR program until they can finalize any agreements necessary to schedule a racing calendar for 2013, even if the extension is month-to-month.  Is giving racing employees two months notice of their future too much to ask for?

I know these days Maryland racing is off the beaten path but standardbred horsemen racing at Rosecroft will be doing relatively well this year with purses increaseing 33% from last year's purses thanks to revenue from the slots program in the state.  Their bottom class, non-winners of $750 in last three starts will be racing for $3,000; winners over $4,000 in last three starts will be racing for as much as $7,000; bottom $5,000 claimers will be racing for $3,500.  No, not exactly uber purses as in some slot states, but still a pretty decent purse structure.  Of course, depending on what happens with the sole gaming licenes in Prince George County, it remains to be seen if racing goes past 2013.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Free Program Redux

PTP has an episode of "You Was There" when Ray Kroc turned down the idea of charging people to see his restaurants' menu.  Stupid idea isn't it?  Yet we charge horseplayers to get a program to see who is racing as well as their past performance lines.  What happens?  Less wagering.

There was one track which used to make their past performance programs available and as a result, I used to make a few wagers on their card each night.  Then someone came in and stopped them and since then, I haven't wagered a nickel on that track.  I guess you could say with regards to that track, I was an impulse gambler.  Why don't I buy a program for that track and make my wagers?  As a recreational gambler, I am not about to buy a program to make possibly two or three wagers; I'll make my wagers one track and play those races.

Standardbred Canada and the greyhound industry partially get it.  They may charge you for a program if you walk into the track and get a program but if you are willing to use your own ink and paper, you can download a program from the Internet for free.  Yes, they are the traditional basic programs but at least you are giving your customers something to use. 

I understand why American harness tracks aren't allowed to regularly make their programs available online for free, but quite honestly that position is going to have to change and deep down, they know it.  After all, why else are race pages for Strategic Wagering events available for free? 

I am not saying put your DRF or Trackmaster programs online without charging; put the basic no-frills program online.  The people who want speed and class ratings, individual quarters for each horse, a horses's record at a particular track and other information will still buy those programs but at least those impulse gamblers will have something to look at and make some wagers. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

An Entry I Hate to Post

First the good news.  It was nice to hear Larry Lederman call a race at the Meadowlands Saturday evening.  Even one race from Larry is like listening to a masterpiece.  Here's hoping we hear Larry for a long time.

Now, for the bad news.  When I heard this story my initial thought was not to further publicize the story for it involves a driver who drove one of the most famous horses of all time.  Being Standardbred Canada has printed a story about this, I feel free to talk about it.

I had first heard about the problems Rodney Farms had last fall and made a few inquiries to see if some people would be interested in their older broodmares and breeding stock.  Since then, apparently things have gotten worse.  Worse enough that the story went public.

If the name Rodney Farms sounds familiar, there is a good reason for it.  Rodney Farms is the operation of Barbara and Clint Galbraith, of Niatross fame.  While I don't know the specifics, they have fallen upon hard times financially, some of it from 'bad decisions' that were self-inflicted, a bad economy, and a partnership dispute; no doubt exacerbated by Clint's accident back in 2010.  With no income coming in from the breeding or racing side of the business, the financial pit got only larger.

My concern is for the horses and in many ways, that is Barbara Galbraith's.  I've been told by a reliable source the Galbraiths have been attempting to re-home some of the older broodmares for years with little success, refusing to send them to a grade auction or put them down.  They have been selling equipment off to pay feed bills.  Perhaps the horses are not kept in the best of conditions but as the local humane society says, there is nothing 'actionable' at this time so they are not being subjected to abuse.

What would be nice is if some horse people would come to the rescue and take some of the horses which need new homes.  Ideally, the horses would be taken in groups as these mares have lived for years in the same herd structure.  Otherwise, the local humane society will take them and either put down, split up and shuffle around the horses and risk having their finances drained, or worse yet, force the horses to be sold at auction where slaughter is a distinct possibility.   

For those who wonder why I don't suggest helping the Galbraiths directly, it is not I am insensitive to their plight. Far from it.  If so inclined to help a horseman or breeder who has fallen on hard times, I would suggest contacting your local horsemen or breeders association.  Odds are there is someone locally who could use your support.  You just may not be hearing about it.

Extending the FFA Season

Frequent VFTRG contributor Joe F. takes a look at the new Meadowlands FFA Championship races and how it extends the season for FFAllers.

The two new Meadowlands FFA Championship races which will take place on Saturday November 30 should stretch the season on both ends. Last year the Cutler Prep took place on May 4 and drew an ordinary field. The Cutler itself, which was staged a week later, was won by Mister Herbie. Chapter Seven didn’t kick off his season until six weeks later in the Titan Cup Prep. That sort of thing should be less likely to happen now that the Cutler, which is scheduled for May 18, is a source of points for the 500K year-end Championship.
Chapter Seven called it a career on November 10, after competing in the American-National at Balmoral. This year a horse of his caliber would certainly be hanging on for another three weeks to compete in the FFA Championship.

Last season’s Titan Cup, which had a seven horse field after two scratches, did feature Chapter Seven, who won easily at 1/5, but there was no Herbie. (He was off for several weeks after the Earl Rowe.) This race, which has been held at the Meadowlands since 1979, and  carried a 202K purse in addition to the 40K Prep last year, seems to have disappeared from the schedule. In 2012 it took place on June 29, but it has apparently been replaced by a 50K Meadowlands FFA Championship Trot on June 21.
The Allerage Open, which drew six starters in 2012, will also benefit from being a point source for the FFA Championship.

On the pacing side of the equation, Casie Coleman chose to pass on the US Pacing Championship and the William Haughton with Betterthancheddar last year. With the talent pool being so thin at the top of that division, Cheddar’s absence reduced those two stakes to a pair of wire jobs by Golden Receiver. About that time Cheddar toyed with an open field at Mohawk, winning easily at 2/5. We’re less likely to see that sort of thing happen this year.
Last year we had the Indiana Pacing Derby the week after the BC and the American–National, along with the Forest City for the mares, the following week. As is the case with the trotters, there is a now a very good reason to stick around for an extra month.

The added bonus, of course, is the prospect of seeing a Captaintreacherous or Wheeling N Dealin take on the best older horses at the end of the year, just like they used to do at Hollywood Park. And even if the top ranked colts pass on the opportunity, we get to see their connections squirm out of it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

An Industry Determined to Self-Destruct

Since I have been writing this blog for the past four years, I have been amazed by those who are doing their best to keep this industry afloat and yes, grow.  I have also shaken my head at those people who seem to do their best to frustrate such efforts, typically happy with the status quo, milking the industry until it goes extinct.

But now, according to Harness Racing Update, we come to an incident which clearly shows how there are people in this industry determined not only to frustrate positive steps but to also help the industry self-destruct.  While the Meadowlands is seeing handles they have not attained for several years and there is a new sense of optimism at the East Rutherford track with gamblers feeling for the first time in a while that management and horsemen are doing their best to provide races with the highest possible integrity, we have someone trying to kill that momentum.

HRU reports that Showplace Farms, one of the major training facilities in New Jersey is trying to put restrictions on Gural investigator Brice Cote regarding his prospective actions at the Englishtown, NJ facility.  To be fair, some of Showplace's requests are reasonable, while others are not.  According to HRU, Showplace is asking that Cote:
--Has a sit-down with Showplace management to discuss his plans.
--Furnishes photocopies of a New Jersey Racing Commission license.

--Agrees to a mutually agreed-upon Indemnification Agreement.
--Agrees to sign in out at the Showplace offices each time he visits the facility.
--Agrees to show up at the farm only during normal training hours

A sit down with Showplace management for a general discussion of how his investigations will take place is reasonable.  Asking for a photocopy of a NJRC license is problematic in that the racing commission does not license  external investigators since all investigations presently are performed by in-house investigators.  Agreeing to a mutually agreed-upon indemnification agreement seems to be appropriate, depending what the terms are.  Agreeing to have Brice Cote sign in and out at the Showplace office each time he visits the facility is a non-starter as is agreeing to show up at the farm during 'normal' training hours.

Let me remind you of what all trainers needed to sign to compete at the Meadowlands this year.

27. In consideration of the Meadowlands granting me the privilege of racing at Meadowlands Racetrack, I hereby appoint the Meadowlands Racetrack, its officers, agents or representatives as my agent for the limited purpose and authority to enter, without prior notice, the ship in stalls at Meadowlands Racetrack and/or any other premises, either in-state or out-of-state, including but not limited to any off -track stabling facilities, farms, training centers or other racetrack facilities, for the purpose of checking on the wellbeing and health of any racehorse listed on this application or entered in any upcoming Meadowlands race by me as trainer. Checking the wellbeing and health of any such racehorse shall include but not be limited to the taking of blood or urine or other testing procedures by the Meadowlands officer, agent or representative.  By acknowledgement of this limited agency given by me to the Meadowlands officers, agents or representatives, I acknowledge and agree that the Meadowlands officer, agent or representative is my agent or guest or invitee and is permitted to enter any of the above mentioned premises as my agent, guest or invitee. Additionally, I agree to produce at my own cost and within 24 hours of a request by the Meadowlands officer, agent or representative, any horse listed on this application or any horse which is entered in any Meadowlands race which is under my custody and control and which I am listed as trainer of record, for the purpose of blood, urine or other testing procedures at a designated location at Meadowlands Racetrack or other location designated by the Meadowlands.  In Meadowlands sole discretion and for good cause shown, this time frame can be extended at my written request. In the event of non-cooperation and failure to adhere to these conditions, I am subject to the loss of privileges to enter horses at Meadowlands Racetrack. By signing this application, I further acknowledge and agree that the grant of racing privileges at the Meadowlands Racetrack is a privilege afforded me by Meadowlands Racetrack and is not a property right.

By signing this agreement, the trainers have made Cote their agent, someone who is entitled to enter any training facility as if he was their own employee; unfettered access.  Why any public training facility would attempt to block what their tenants have agreed upon is beyond me.  Do stable employees need to sign in and out and show up only during normal business hours (are there normal business hours in the horse industry)?
Can you imagine an investigator having to sign-in or sign-out at an office where he is seeking to investigate potential wrong doing?  Talk about losing the element of surprise.  Being limited to arrive at a training facility only during normal business hours?  It is reassuring to know a trainer, if predisposed to cheating will only treat their horses between the hours of 9 to 5.

One has to wonder if this became an issue since Cote mentioned in an earlier interview with HRU, "If I have information that people are doing something that is criminal I will take it to the proper authorities. I will be the informant, or whatever you would like to call it. I will bring the information to them and work in concert with them so they can continue their investigation".   This is not to suggest any particular trainer is doing something wrong or training centers condone cheating, but just the same, perhaps statements like this may be having some trainers thinking of moving their base of operations to other states, especially if they are not racing at the Meadowlands, which could impact the bottom line for those who operate training centers.
What are those horseplayers who follow racing closely going to think if this story gets better known?  Are they going to ask themselves what really goes on at these training centers, reinforce their perceptions of cheating?  Being NJ training centers are used by trainers who race at other tracks besides the Meadowlands, does it hurt the integrity of racing at those tracks as well?

I understand the concern some may have regarding how far Brice Cote may go in his investigations.  What happens if investigating a Meadowlands trainer he comes across a possible problem with a trainer who doesn't race at the Meadowlands?  A reasonable solution may be establishing guidelines where any such potential problem with a trainer with no connection to a Meadowlands trainer is discovered, that particular incident is off-limits to Cote and his staff; it is referred to the proper authorities for them to decide what if anything is to be done. 
The one thing we know is if Showplace (and possibly other training centers) and the Meadowlands doesn't reach a mutually acceptable solution, trainers racing at the Meadowlands stabled at Showplace will likely have to move to other training centers (assuming room is available) or find their entries being refused.  If the trainers leave Showplace and the training facility is unable to fill those vacated stalls do they seek redress for lost income?

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this whole mess is someone is finally taking a stand for the gambler and 'clean' trainer by trying to level the playing field by attempting to keep the cheats out of their racetrack and instead of supporting the effort, others are trying to throw up roadblocks.   

I understand the feelings some may have in feeling Jeff Gural's effort to restore racing integrity to his tracks may be overreaching but may I remind them if horsemen were not loathe to self-police themselves in the past and when necessary informed the authorities of wrong doers, we would not be at the point we are at now.