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Friday, March 8, 2013

Discussing the Meadowlands FFA Championships

Frequent VFTRG contributor Joe F. discusses the new Meadowlands FFA Trotting and Pacing Championships:

There are a few surprises emerging with regard to the new Meadowlands FFA Trotting and Pacing Championship. On the trotting side, neither Intimidate nor San Pail has been nominated. Intimidate, the Justice Hall gelding out of Quebec, mauled the opposition in the BC and distanced the field in the voting for the O’Brien for three-year-old colt trotters. He didn’t race outside of Canada last year, but was expected to be a player in the FFA division in 2013.

The question of the day:
When you saw Intimidate crush his brothers in the BC elimination and final, did you:
1 Say, “Justice Hall may be Speedy Crown reincarnated.”
2 Wonder if Nevele Pride had come back to life in another body.
3 Scratch your head until your hair fell out.

Aside from a couple of summer qualifiers, San Pail has only made four starts in the last sixteen months. His last one was a loss to Windsong Geant in an open at Woodbine in April. Since that time San Pail has been recovering from an ankle injury. Trainer/owner Rod Hughes gives periodic enigmatic interviews where he talks about waiting for Pail to tell him what to do. Hughes seems to be fixated on the Maple Leaf which takes place four months from now.
The first trotting leg where points are allocated is the Cutler elimination—or a $50,000 open, if no elimination is necessary—on May 11. It costs less than $5,000 to keep a horse eligible to the FFA Championship until then, so one can assume Blais and Hughes weren’t interested In entering Intimidate or San Pail in the race. Daylon and Windsong Geant are also passing on the FFA Championship. Herbie is staked to the race, as well as Knows Nothing, Cheddar, Panther Hanover, Warrawee Needy, Alsace Hanover, Modern Legend, Casimir Jitterbug and Lucky Jet, so there’s a good showing from up North.

On the pacing side, it’s pretty much all hands on deck. Atochia and Aracache are missing from last year’s aged class, and Bob MacIntosh’s duo, Thinking Out Loud and Dapper Dude, are absent from the newly minted four-year-old contingent. The first point race for the pacers is a $50,000 open on May 11. Jeff Gural was very successful in getting the four-year-olds to step up: half of the pacing nominees are four, and the same goes for the trotters. Foiled is the oldest pacer, at nine, while there are two eight-year-olds—Golden Receiver and Bettor Sweet. Arch is the oldest trotter, at nine, and there are no eight-year-olds. This represents a marked contrast to a couple of years ago when the aged trotting division was a virtual AARP chapter. The 2011 BC consisted of one five-year-old, three six-year-olds, two seven year-olds and an eight-year-old.
Of course, all those four-year-olds have to elbow their elders aside to make the final. And with nine preliminary legs on each side attrition can take a toll on the field: seventeen were staked to the Aquarius but there are only five going to the post in Saturday’s second leg.

There are six sons of Andover Hall nominated and, beyond that, 39% of the trotting nominees trace back to the Garland Lobell-Amour Angus pairing on top. There are eight millionaires nominated on the trotting side, with two of those—Market Share and LBF—being four-year-olds. Thirteen—36%--of the pacers are millionaires, with six of those being four-year-olds. Five Rocknrolls are staked to the series.
“ Sponsors reserve the right to conduct any of the legs or the final at a distance other than one mile.” Now that’s an interesting caveat. Can you imagine the outcry that would occur if they threw a mile and an eighth leg in there. It would certainly make it more interesting.

Post positions are determined by open draw so a high point total is not advantageous in that regard, however, points are used as a tie breaker, and beyond that, a horse’s connections can do the math and bet on the probability of making the final while skipping a start or two.
There are no supplemental entries allowed, so improving horses like Holdingallthecards, Modern Family and DW’s NY Yank can’t grow into the race.

This has the potential to be a big success.

Other Notes:

Today is D-Day in Ontario.  There will be a press conference at Grand River Raceway today by the government to discuss the future of horse racing in the province as a deal has been reached.  According to reports thus far Grand River, Western Fair, Clinton Raceway, and Hanover Raceway have reached transitional agreements to keep racing this year; at what level remains to be seen.  Things appear to be looking up somewhat as Premier Wynne has instructed instruct the OLG to integrate horse racing back into the modernization strategy.  After all, if it was bad news would the Premier be holding the press conference?

Kudos to Jeff Gural for excluding Andrew Harris during the period of Casie Coleman's suspension.  Recognizing the change in trainers from Coleman to Harris for what it is, Gural made the decision not to honor any declarations from the Coleman stable (Harris is normally in charge of Coleman's stable in the New York area).  If racing commissions won't take a stand on obvious bearding, at least Gural will.  To be fair, the impact on the Coleman operation is minimal as they made only three starts at the Meadowlands this year.

The Meadowlands is not the only track with improving business.  Last weekend at Cal Expo, the handle for both Friday and Saturday night broke the $1 million barrier.  The daily average is now $845,421, an increase of 26.5 percent over last year.  Their field size is averaging nine horses per race for each gait.  For the record, last Friday and Saturday, Yonkers Raceway's handle was $780,890 and $832,463 respectively.

It goes to show you while quality is nice, it is competitive full fields which draws handle.  It appears the new operators of the Cal Expo meet, Watch and Wager, LLC is doing a good job.  If there is one down side, it was the need to drop Thursday nights from their schedule.  To really get better horses out west, it is essential California gets a third night of racing.

American-based Jenny Melander has been invited to ride in a RUS stakes series final in Australia, the first RUS race offering pari-mutuel wagering down under. Melander's invitation comes as a result of her winning a $20,000 RUS exhibition race at The Red Mile last year, and she will be joined by Nicole Marsing, the winner of the Swedish Monté Championship, thus being the two foreign riders invited to compete. With RUS still being an exhibition even in 2013, a victory by Melander may be a boost towards getting RUS mainstream with wagering in North America

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