For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Controversy at the Miracle Mile - Much Ado About Nothing

According to Harnesslink, controversy of sorts has arisen out of a decision to scratch Gaius Caesar from the Miracle Mile for violation Harness Racing New South Wales' (HRNSW) rules regarding the administration of a medication after 8:00am on race day.

Needless to say, the trainer, Darren Binsk, is hoping mad and is looking forward to the hearing next week over the alleged  violation of the rule.  Binsk admits ignorance of the rule which indicates know medication is to be given after 8:00am on race day, but feels for a big event like the Miracle Mile, HRNSW officials should make sure all parties are aware of the rules to avoid such problems.  But Binsk's biggest problem is the fact they are calling Stoma-Coat a medication.  After all, Stoma-Coat "Provides Natural Sources Of Calcium, Magnesium And Zinc In A Pleasantly Flavoured Liquid".   What can be wrong about this?

It is my opinion that Mr. Binsk is the one who has made the scratching of Gaius Caesar a controversy.  While it would have been nice if the stewards of HRNSW would have made sure all the competitors were aware of the rules, it is the competitor's responsibility to know the withdrawal rules.  Secondly, while Binsk claims it is not a medication but merely a mineral supplement, in reality it could be considered both.  While the ingredients seem innocuous enough, clearly lists it is for veterinary use only.  You see, Stoma-Guard is an antacid so while it may consist solely of minerals, the fact it is intended to be administered under the direction of a veterinarian belies Binsk's claims.

At this point, it appears the judges acted properly and the whole issue is much ado about nothing.  I understand the disappointment Mr. Binsk has, but he could take a lesson from the Godolphin scandal in England.  He should admit making a mistake or if he thinks he is in the right, remain quiet in public and make your case in the hearing.

For those legal beagles, here is a link to a story regarding the State of New Jersey's appeal of a decision to keep sports wagering from occurring. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Here We Go Again, It's Derby Time!

Sometimes you can't get the inflection right when you read something so let me make sure you understand where I am coming from:  "Here We Go Again (sigh),  It's Derby Time! (sighs again)". 

You know Derby Time, the period of time where talking about harness racing is right there along with curling (in the States at least), though admittedly North of the border, it may be curling is ahead of harness racing as you will get a million viewers watching The Scot Tournament of Hearts on television.

Before I get those ugly comments regarding my commenting on curling, let me remind you as someone born south of the border, our favorite sports involving men trying to kill each other (football) or smashing cars (IRL) and fighting about it afterwards (NASCAR).  So now that I offended American and Canadian alike, let me continue.

The fact is talking about harness racing to anyone, including most harness racing fans, is a waste of time because unless you are the New York Times getting ready to write a expose about drugs and/or breakdowns in thoroughbred racing, it seems everyone is caught up in Derby Fever.  That is except me, for I can't even tell you of one horse competing in the Run for the Roses.  I have nothing against thoroughbred racing, it's just not my thing; probably the result of seeing too many breakdowns at the track when I used to go to the Meadowlands and Monmouth for the runners (no doubt a statistical abnormality) or watching them on television (Ruffian vs. Foolish Pleasure, Barbaro, Eight Belles, Breeders Crown broadcasts, etc.).  I intellectually know all the statistical stuff, but when you watch a race half expecting to see another breakdown, it is time to wipe that sport of your radar.

But my idiosyncrasies aside, I have accepted how much more thoroughbred racing is known than standardbred racing.  Let's face it, while most harness racing fans will know the names of the major Derby contenders by Friday, come Hambletonian Day you will be hard pressed to find a thoroughbred fan to name one horse starting in the Hambletonian.  Heck, if you talk to a thoroughbred fan odds are they will insist Greyhound is a bus line, Dan Patch was a pirate, and Muscle Hill is the nickname of an illegal steroid being used by a professional sports player. 

Truth is we know thoroughbred racing has its own problems marketing their sport but at least they have the Triple Crown and Breeders Cup periods down pat.  I guess this is the time of year I lament how far harness racing has fallen, do you know at one time harness racing was more popular than thoroughbred racing?  It will irk me that standardbred media will be talking about the Derby as well.  By the end of the week somewhere some track(s) and/or publication will have a video feature asking harness drivers and trainers who they like in the Derby.  I will be so ecstatic if one of them would say "Who cares?"

Anyway, enjoy Derby week.  I know I will feel like the Maytag Repairman this week but rest assured when you want your harness racing fix, I'll be here.  All by myself.  

Matchmaker, Levy Finals; WV Rubmings?

A funny thing happened last night at Yonkers Raceway.  A Ron  Burke trainee didn't win either the Blue Chip Matchmaker or George M Levy Memorial series finals at Yonkers.  For sure, they picked up purse money but the winning horses were trained by Amber Buter (Feeling You) in the Matchmaker and Mark Silva (Razzle Dazzle) in the Levy.

The Blue Chip was a typical Yonkers race.  Leave early, allow someone to clear and slow up the second quarter and then sit in the hole the entire race to wait for the passing lane. Androvette may have raced the best of all of them coming from post eight to finish third after going a tough trip.

In the Levy, while it was a wire-to-wire victory, the race was more exciting at the end as Razzle Dazzle needed to hold of the field.  No doubt, being able to go :56.3 in the middle of the race allowed Razzle Dazzle to have the strength to hold on.  But as in many big races, no one seemed willing to take a chance and attack until the end of the race.

As predicted, the renowned sale of Something for Doc to allow Foiled Again to race in the final didn't pay dividends as the eight hole doomed him, running last the entire mile.  I am sure we will be hearing from Something for Doc later this year but that dreaded eight hole took another victim last night.

West Virginia legislators are eyeing slot revenue  as it was reported last year $92 million of gambling revenue was taken from slots to support racing.  $66 million went to thoroughbred racing with $9 million going to the breeding fund with the rest going to purses.  As the Sunday News-Register of Wheeling, WV found out through a FOIA request, the vast majority of money went to out of state owners and breeders (twenty-six states and the District of Columbia).  For Greyhound interests, some $26 million went to the industry, with $6 million going to their breeders development fund.  At least with the dogs, their development fund was restricted to WV breeders.  A cost benefit analysis is being undertaken to see how much of this slot money is actually helping the West Virginia horse industry versus other states to see if any changes should be made. 

While West Virginia's standardbred program is limited to the state fair, standardbred interests should keep an eye on the first state to approve racinos for a change in the program in WV can impact what goes on in other states.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Contact You Congressman

Last year, columnist Andrew Cohen wrote in The Atlantic about a disabled daughter of a Navy Captain who needed physical therapy.  As many of you may know, equine therapy (properly known as hippotherapy) is an approved and recognized form of physical therapy covered by insurance plans, except for TRICARE, the medical insurance plan which covers the military, their families, and retirees from the armed forces. 

In this case, Tricare initially paid for the therapy but then suddenly stopped covering it.  The reason?  Hippotherapy was allegedly unproven as being effective, this despite it being considered effective and proven in the private world.  TRICARE would pay for physical therapy which didn't work, but for a form of therapy the family was able to show was working, no such luck. 

Fortunately, someone has come to the family's aid to help pay for the physical therapy but donations don't come in forever, and no doubt there are others in the military or their families who could avail themselves of hippotherapy if TRICARE paid for the benefit.

Fortunately, as Cohen reports once again in The Atlantic, Representative Michael C. Burgess (R-TX) has introduced H.R. 1705, officially known as a bill "To amend title 10, United States Code, to provide for certain forms of physical therapy under the TRICARE program".  Under this legislation,  TRICARE would be authorized to cover hippotherapy.  As of now, there are two co-sponsors, Representatives Tom Colton (R-AR) and  Marc A. Veasey (D-TX).

Here is where you can come in, contact your Representative and ask them to co-sponsor H.R. 1705 and to commit to voting for the legislation if and when it comes to the House floor.  While you are at it, contact your U.S. Senators and ask them to support this bill when it comes to the Senate.  You can locate and contact your Congressman as well as contact your Senators using these links. 

Help push this proposed legislation through.  After all, doesn't our military deserve the same treatments available to civilians?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Monte Racing Gets a Late Closing Series

RUS America
This year, the Hambletonian Society is sponsoring a late closing series for monté racing at the Meadowlands.  The series, with two preliminary legs on July 19 and July 26 going for $10,000 (divided) concludes with the $25,000 (estimated) final of The Hambletonian Day Monte Trot which will be limited to the top twelve point earners in the series.

Once again, this will be an exhibition series with no wagering as the sport in North America is not yet ready for wagering, but hopefully we will be seeing RUS on wagering cards soon.  However, the conditions this year should ensure more competitive races as horses must have had a clean start under saddle within the last twelve months and must have completed the clean mile in 2:09 on the half mile oval; 2:07 on the five-eighths; 2:05 on tracks larger than the five-eighths oval.  More information is available here.   The nomination deadline (fee $200) is May 15 with a $100 starting fee for each preliminary leg.  With a total of $65,000 available for this series, hopefully trainers will be spending more time getting their horses acclimated under the saddle.

As of today, not many RUS races have been set up yet for the season with the exception of the Hambletonian Day Monte Trot series, but as last year, these races are sure to pop up. 

For those interested in Racing Under Saddle, you may visit the Monté America website or visit them on Facebook.

Play Along wtih HANA; NJ Horsemen Not Happy

The HANA Harness 2013 Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge sponsored by the Hambletonian Society, Chicago Harness, IHHA, Meadowlands, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs kicks off tonight with the $84,000 Courageous  Lady at Northfield Park.  A team of ten handicappers will be making their selections in Grand Circuit final races during the whole racing season and their selections will be available here.

To commemorate the kickoff of the contest, here is my analysis and my $30 in wagers on the race.

Nfld - 11th Pace - $84,000; The Courageous Lady - 3yo fillies
1  Miss Madi M (Stahl, 9-2) - A well beaten second to Charisma Hanover.  Looks to chase that one home again.
2  Diligent Prospect (Noble, 10-1) - Has the ability to go around the half.  Share with trip.
3  Champagne Tonight (Miller, 7-2) - Kicks season off a dominating qualifier.  Chance for minor upset.
4  Carols Desire (Wrenn, 4-1) - Steps up off strong qualifier.  This may be a little too difficult.
5  Charisma Hanover (Palone, 5-2) - Returned like a monster and figures to be the one to beat this week.
6  Whetstone Hanover ( Wilder, 12-1) - Draws poorly against these.  Pass.
7  Cams Macharena (Smith, 8-1) - Grassroots campaigner down from Woodbine.  May find way into the exotics. 
Selections: 5-2-7-4

The plays - There is no denying Charisma Hanover is the one to beat in this race but those 5-2 odds are false; Charisma is likely to go off at 4-5 or less.  Therefore, I will try for some exotics and hope to get a price.

$5 Exacta 5-2,7 ($10)
$5 Exacta 2,7-5 ($10)
$2 Exacta Box 3,5 ($4)
$1 Trifecta Box 2,5,7 ($6)

Northfield Park along with the USTA's Strategic Wagering Program has a $10,000 guaranteed Pick-4 on tap tonight along with a low 14% takeout rate.  With that rate, the wager is worth a look.

The contest continues tomorrow with the Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Finals at Yonkers Raceway.  The complete schedule of the contest may be found on the contest site.

Discord in New Jersey - For the first time, significant discord is brewing with the Garden State's horsemen groups and Monmouth Park over Gural's plans for slot revenue and racing dates if the Meadowlands gets slots machines, according to HRU.  Horsemen feel they would not get enough revenue from the slots, feel Freehold Raceway is being left out of the equation, and are upset that Gural is not planning on adding race dates at the Meadowlands.  Furthermore, the feeling is without cutting the Atlantic City casinos in for a share, any plan will be DOA.

I will be the first one to say horsemen should get more than 5% of the revenue; how much more is debatable.  In other states they get around 10% but that is with multiple racino locations; each track having their own casino.  With there being only one racino for all the tracks, 10% is not feasible.  That being said, there is no reason 8% could not be achieved.  As for Freehold Raceway, it is possible the SBOANJ can divert part of their share to Freehold for purses.

As for racing days, it would be nice if the Meadowlands could go back to five days a week but it isn't feasible.  While the Meadowlands would have higher purses and draw more horses to the entry box, the fact remains there are three other slot tracks in the vicinity so there will still be a horse shortage.  To go back to a five day a week schedule, there would be an abundance of six horse fields which horsemen may love but is not a good product.  I suspect four days would not work either, but three days a week during the entire meet is certainly reasonable.  If the tracks in New York and Pennsylvania would agree to a circuit, then the days could be increased further.

I would not be all that concerned at this point with this dispute.  This is Gural's first proposal, an opening salvo.  Once talk got serious, I suspect Atlantic City may be cut in (no need to cut them in if you can get away with it) as will the number of dates and percentages for horsemen be up for discussion.  Unlike other individuals, Gural realizes you can't just look at things in New Jersey and say to hell with everyone else; you need to consider the region.  If horsemen groups can realize the world doesn't start and end with New Jersey, an agreement can easily be reached which will be mutually satisfactory.     

It's Officially Elitlopp Season

Here is the official trailer for the 2013 Elitlopp.  It can only mean one thing, Elitlopp Season is upon us.  I must admit, I have to take educated guesses as to what the words mean but regardless, I know it says one thing 'Excitement'..  I can't wait for this year's edition to take place on Sunday, May 27..

Will there be any North American representatives?  I don't know, I hear who isn't going.  Hopefully North America has a chance to take honors.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Study in Contrast

As you may be aware, the Godolphin Stable got snagged in an anabolic steroid scandal as a result of the trainer.  This is what transpired this week.

  • The trainer acknowledged he made a catastrophic mistake thinking as long as a horse wasn't racing it could be given these steroids.  No denial.
  • The owner, shocked and embarrassed ordered all his horses tested for illegal drugs
  • A total of 15 horses tested positive for steroids.
  • Trainer is given an eight year ban for this.
  • Trainer accepts the penalty.
  • The horses are banned from racing until October 9.
  • The owner accepts this.

If this was in North America, this is what would have happened:
  • Trainer denies giving horse steroid.
  • The owner says nothing.
  • Trainer is suspended.  Trainer appeals, working its way from the racing commission to the highest possible court possible for this case, taking at least two years to resolve.
  • Horses are banned from racing in Canada (assuming the infraction was detected in Canada).
  • Horses are shipped to the United States to get around ban.
  • Horse banned from racing in the state.
  • Owner goes to court to overturn suspension of horse, possibly claims Canadian rules don't apply.
  • Horse races under temporary injunction.
  • Final disposition on horse ban occurs..

Oh, what a contrast it is.  Granted, I am sure Sheikh Mohammed doesn't need the money, but his good name is being sullied and it matters to him.  I'm not sure all owners in North America care about their name being sullied by associating with a trainer who gets nailed.

A Movie Star Retires

Remember the harness racing-themed movie earlier this year called "Amazing Racer"?  The equine star of the movie was Western Hurricane who spent most of his career racing at The Meadows and Pompano Park before heading out to Cal Expo where his career finally stalled at the age of nine.  Western Hurricane's last start was made back on January 17; a second place finish in a low-level conditioned claiming event, his third start this year.

Last Year, at the age of eight, Western Hurricane had only one victory out of seven starts.  Clearly, his best days had passed so his connections decided to retire him.  For his lifetime, Western Hurricane's career statistics are 172-26-19-30 with earnings of $84,572 with a lifetime mark of 1:53.3 set at Pompano Park at the age of four.  Starting mid-May, he will be at his new home enjoying retirement with his partner, another retired standardbred named "Archie".  He may not have been a champion, but his connections did the right thing; something all race horses deserve.  Here's wishing Western Hurricane a long happy retirement.

We all pretty much know how post positions are drawn, but do you know the specifics?  Leighton Worthy at Cal-Expo goes into detail on how the process goes, from the gathering of entries to the assignment of post positions.  For the most part, each track regardless of breed follows the same process. 

History buffs may be interested in this page from the Herald Statesman out of Yonkers, New York back on October 26, 1967.  You can see the entries for Thursday night at Yonkers, the results from Wednesday night as well as a couple articles.  The NYSS finals went back then for $60,000. On that Thursday night, the cheapest overnight race was the first race with a purse of $1,500.  It's interesting to see the drivers who competed back then,  Read how the Hudson Filly Trot was competed the night before in 2:06.1 and won by Flamboyant who was driven by who else but William Haughton.  This comes courtesy of 'Roosevelt Raceway' on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Picking a Dance Partner; Safe Sex Wins Out

Should sports betting or casino gambling come to the Meadowlands, New Meadowlands LLC has selected a dance partner as Hard Rock International has entered into an equity partnership with New Meadowlands Racetrack which extends into any new forms of gaming to come to the East Rutherford, NJ racetrack.  In addition to gaming, this position includes hotel and restaurant development.

While this is clearly, this is a partnership based on the assumption alternative gaming will come to the Meadowlands, it is possible the partnership may jointly stage concerts on dark days in the interim.

Speaking of the Meadowlands, how did the Meadowlands winter meet do?  Handle went up roughly 32.5% for the winter meet, accounting for 25% of all standardbred racing in the United States.  Will the Meadowlands be able to keep up such figures?  That is questionable with more tracks being open; the Pennsylvania tracks on their own has taken a hit on the field size at the Meadowlands and the last two Saturdays, the $3 million mark has been missed; something which was occurring with regularity this year. 

At Monticello Raceway, today's third race had an interesting finish.  Safe Sex finished ahead of Welcome Lover for the win.  As one person noted to me, Safe Sex raced uncovered (going wire to wire).  How much did this hunch exacta pay?  $14.00.

For the first time in years, the Dexter Cup at Freehold doesn't require eliminations.  The race will be contested as a single dash on May 4 at Freehold Raceway.

Try, try, and try again goes Penn National Gaming.  They have gone to the OSRC regarding their plans for indoor seating available for harness racing at their proposed track in Dayton, Ohio.  Their current proposal does not add any additional seats indoors, but a promise if the demand dictates it, they would add another thousand seats enclosed over two phases.  The OSRC will consider the proposal but without a firm definition as to what dictates demand, the chances any new indoors seating is slim.


More Ontario Fallout; The ORC Dictates

The Ontario Racing Commission has revised the standards for quarter horse, thoroughbred, and harness racing meets with respect to the daily purse distribution, number of races daily, purse account redistribution, and for standardbred racing, the minimum claiming prices.  We will concern ourselves with the standardbred changes.  Of course, these changes are necessary due to the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program on March 31. 

These changes give a good idea as to how the cancellation of SARP will impact the standardbred industry.  While most of these changes were expected, there will no doubt be controversy regarding purse account redistribution.

Racing dates fall into three levels, Grassroots, Signature, and Premier.  Depending on the level, the daily purse distributions (for overnight events) and the number of races to be contested (all races) are specified.  Grassroots programs would be similar to county fairs where there typically is no simulcasting.  Signature programs are typically simulcasted but the programs tend to be of interest within Canada.  Premier programs, the programs WEG (Mohawk, and Woodbine) contest are the best racing where simulcasting is expected to be exported outside of Canada, such as to the United States and other international markets.

 Here are the purse and number of race ranges for each level:

Grassroots program  $25,000-$35,000     8 to 10 races
Signature program   $45,000-$65,000    10 to 12 races
Premier program     $125,000+               10 to 13 races

Perhaps the most controversial issue of these new standards concerns purse distribution.  During the SAR period, redistribution of purse funds could only occur within tracks owned by the same operator. For example Windsor, Dresden, and Woodstock were owned by the same company.  Now, for all practical purposes, there is one aggregate purse account for the entire Ontario standardbred program.  If it is determined by that purses need to be boosted at a particular track, for example Hanover Raceway, money which traditionally would have been credited to WEG tracks could be re-directed if it was found necessary.

Lastly, to reflect the new purse structure, minimum claiming prices have been adjusted downwards at the various tracks.   Grassroots programs may have a minimum claiming price of $3,000; Signature programs $5,000; Premier programs $8,000.

What Would American Racing Do?

Perhaps one of the biggest news stories to come out of British Horse Racing recently is the drug positives for Gondolphin Stable at Newmarket where eleven of their horses tested positive for anabolic steroids.  The trainer,  Mahmood Al Zarooni has admitted to what he described as a "catastrophic error" and awaits a hearing by the British HRA.  The stable owner Sheikh Mohammed is reportedly livid over the findings but will await making internal changes until the hearing is held.

One would not be surprised if the Gondolphin owner will be making a change in trainers as he is undoubtedly embarrassed by this incident.  Of course, being his wife is the President of FEI, the body which regulates equestrian sports internationally, makes matters worse.

It will be interesting to see the final response by Sheikh Mohammed once the hearing is held, but one thing is for sure it is already different from the way standardbred and thoroughbred racing would handle it in the states.  Typically, you hear no comments by the owner regarding the trainer and there would be no talk of abandoning the trainer.  What typically happens is the horse gets transferred to an assistant trainer for the period of suspension with a good chance of returning to the original trainer afterwards.

Granted, the Sheikh and his stable have reputations to protect but it would be nice to think American owners valued their reputations as well.  One doesn't need to make declarations of outrage, but yanking your stable away from a trainer would be doing the same.  After all, action speaks louder than words.

Update:  Sheikh Mohammed has ordered all horses on the premises of the Newmarket Stable tested for illegal drugs and has indicated no horse will race from his stable until it can be assured all horses are racing clean.

Unless you expect hell to breakout, you may as well skip the Pick 4 Saturday night at Yonkers Raceway as the track has once again scheduled the sequence to include both the finals and consolations of the Matchmaker and Levy Memorial series.  No doubt management cards these races late in the program to keep people interested in the card but if they are looking for Pick 4 players, they need to keep the finals out of the sequence, possibly putting one or both consolations in the race.  It certainly doesn't help that Annieswesterncard and Foiled Again are coupled in the Levy as are Camille and Rocklamation as well as Krispy Apple and Androvette are coupled entries in the Matchmaker.  As far as I am concerned, these are races to watch, not to wager on.

If there is any buyer's remorse, it has to come from Mark Ford and his team who purchased points leader SomethingforDoc for an undisclosed amount as he drew the dreaded eight post in the Levy final.   Not that it is impossible to win from that position, but for the amount of money Ford likely paid for the horse, it is the worst possible post to draw.  If there is any consolation, Foiled Again will be his next door neighbor starting out of slot seven.

Not a big deal in the immediate sense of things, but Cal Expo,  Meadowlands, and The Red Mile have joined the Harness Tracks of America (HTA).  The more tracks which decide to join the HTA the better as it allows track operators the opportunity to speak with a single voice.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Joe F's Take on the Couragous Lady

VFTRG contributor Joe F. takes a look at this year's Courageous Lady at Northfield Park being contested this Friday.

The Courageous Lady, the first national open stakes race of 2013 for three-year-old pacers, will be held at Northfield Park on Friday night. The track has rejoined the Grand Circuit so the CL will no longer be a curiously scheduled stand-alone outlier. In addition, the HANA Grand Circuit handicapping challenge will commence with this race.
This has never been a top tier stakes race; the purse comes in at under $100,000. Three-year-old filly division winners have captured only 10% of the 38 editions held at Northfield and Monticello (Lady Catskill). Like its companion stake, the Cleveland Classic, which closes the season in mid-December, it is hit and miss when it comes to the talent level of its participants.

As is the case with other small track spring stakes—the Levy, Matchmaker and Molson—the Burke barn tends to be over represented; last year four of the eight fillies entered in the Courageous Lady were Burke’s; all of them raced uncoupled in the betting. Dave Palone cut a back down mile with the 2/5 favorite Destiny’s Chance only to have the pocket sitting Podges Lady come up the passing Lane and beat her.
Two years ago the race was split into two divisions with Ron Burke’s American Ideal filly, Some Girls Do, winning one division for Dave Palone at 1/5 and Robin Schadt’s, I Kill Time, taking the other at 4/5.

None of the top ten money winners in last year’s juvenile class are staked to the CL, so Somwherovrarainbow, I Luv The Nitelife and L Dees Lioness are not entered. However, Champagne Tonight, a very good Western Terror filly, who held her own with the best in PA last year, winning the $106,000 Meadow Cheer as well as another $114,000 PASS race, is in the field. Chances are she’s entered because her owner/trainer, Clair Umholtz, is based at Northfield. Champagne Tonight, who banked more than $200,000 in 2012, is making her seasonal debut in the race.
Ron Burke has two fillies in the seven horse field, Carol’s Desire, who will be driven by Ronnie Wrenn Jr and Charisma Hanover with Dave Palone.

Carol’s Desire is a full sister to Sheer Desire, the fastest 2-year-old pacer of 2008; she was a $25,000 Lexington purchase. She battled the top fillies in the PASS last year and won the $118,000 Kentuckiana in mid-September. Carol’s Desire beat NW2 at The Meadows a week ago at 1/5.
Burke’s other filly, Charisma Hanover, beat two other starters, Miss Madi M and Whetstone Hanover, at The Meadows last week. She wired the field handily in :52.4 at 1/5 for Dave Palone. Last year the $25,000 Dragon Again yearling purchase was no match for the top GC fillies. She’s half to Runover Feeling.

Miss Madi M—rail—was raced aggressively in finishing second to Charisma Hanover. Last year she was successful in the second tier PASS Stallion series. She was no match for the top fillies, but she did set a season’s record in winning the Standardbred at Delaware. She blew by Whetstone Hanover a couple of weeks ago, went up in the air, and still came back to beat that one.
Diligent Prospect was second in Miss Madi M’s Standardbred win. The Ponder filly, who made some money racing in the KYSS last year, drew the two. The $20,000 Lexington purchase hasn’t shown much in two 2013 starts.

Whetstone Hanover is a SBSW half-sister to Ace Of Pace, the Cams Card Shark filly who won the Countess Adios in 2010. She won first time out at The Meadows this year. She was a $30,000 yearling.
Tony O’Sullivan’s Mach Three filly, Cam’s Macharena, drew the outside. She won three races in the Ontario Sire Stakes Grassroots program last year, including the $50,000 final in the pouring rain at Grand River. The half-sister to Cam’s Van Go earned about $90,000. She has a couple of third place finishes against NW2 at Woodbine this month.

This year’s Courageous Lady features some fillies on the come and appears to be competitive. In recent years it’s been something of a secret; let’s see if the renewed Grand Circuit sponsorship gives it a publicity boost.

A Pathetic Showing by Standardbred Interests

The Responsible Horse Breeders Council (RHBC), a group of horse breeders organized by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), has come out in support of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act which bans the introduction of horse slaughter facilities in the United States as well as the import/export of horses for slaughter and horse parts intended for human consumption.  The reason behind the SAFE act is the fact horses are not raised as food animals and as such are treated with medications not suitable for animals intended for human consumption.

Some of you may be wondering what kind of group can the RHBC be if it was formed by the HSUS?  "The goal of the council is to decrease the number of horses in the United States who are at risk of being neglected, abused, or slaughtered for human consumption. Council members will work with the HSUS to discourage overbreeding and to promote responsible horse ownership and nationwide horse rescue and rehoming efforts".  Being a member also means taking a pledge to "...take back any horse they have bred should the horse become homeless or at-risk of being abused or sent to slaughter".  As of today, there are over one thousand horse breeders (racing and non-racing breeds) who have become members of the council.

So how well represented are Standardbred interests on this council?  9.  That's right, count 'em 9 breeders of standardbreds are members of this council.  You may ask how can a racing breed be expected to be members of this council?  Well, roughly 94 breeders of thoroughbreds feel they can be members.  There are 119 AQHA breeders who are members, this coming from a breed whose leadership endorses slaughter as a solution for unwanted horses.  Another way to look at this is by percentages.

Percentage of Breeders of Major Racing Breeds who are Members of RHBC (excludes Arabians, Donkeys, Mules)
American Quarter Horse members of RHBC - 53.6% (119) 
Standardbred breeder members of RHBC - 4.0% (9)
Thoroughbred breeder members of RHBC - 42.3% (94)

I know standardbred breeding is a tough business right now and it is tough to ask breeders to take back horses they have bred.  Still, make all the excuses you want, but it is a pretty pathetic showing of standardbred interests if you ask me.

My hat is off to those standardbred breeders who are members.  If you breed standardbreds and want to join the RHBC, you can do so at this link.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bypassing the Racino Step?

A new danger is lurking in the waters of horse racing.  Under a bill proposed in Illinois, SB1739 will authorize racetracks and ADWs to operate Internet gaming without sharing any of the profits with horsemen.  This bill as you can imagine has the support of Arlington Park and its parent company CDI which is trying to become another gaming concern. 

Why operate a brick and mortar racino when  you can just operate a server so it can host casino games?  The bill would require them to be involved with racing to operate Internet gaming, but other than holding a license to conduct racing there would be no need to share the wealth; clearly the horse racing license requirement is to keep the riverboats and regular casinos out of the Internet market in Illinois, for once doing to the casino companies what they have done to racing associations.

No idea if the bill will move forward in the current form or at all, but here we have the potential for the latest threat to racing, leap frogging the racino model and allowing the racing operators to fill their coffers while poaching the racing market; dropping the whole pretense of helping racing.

European Report and American Miscellanery

On Saturday, the Swedish horse Maharajah won the SEK 2,750,000 ($419,925US)  Olympic Trot in a kilometer rate of 1:11.0 (mile rate of 1:59.4) for the 2,140 meters ( 1 5/16 mi) distance, winning convincingly.  Mahrajah has been suffering some soreness issues of late  but when he is right, there is no one beating him

With this victory, Mahrajah becomes the favorite for the Elitlopp.

Meanwhile in France, Timoko stakes his claim as a main contender with his victory in the 2,140 meter (1 5/16) mile 200,000€ ($260,789US)  Prix d' Atlantique in a thrilling stretch drive in a 1:12.8 kilometer rate (1:57.1 mile rate).  Expect to see Timoko at the Elitlopp as well.

It is a rare occurrence, kudos to Harrah's Philadelphia (and likely the PHHA) for hosting Kid's Day at the track.  The racino is having Sundays this year designated as family days at the oval on the Delaware River and anything being done to get families to the track needs to be commended.   Long shot players also had an enjoyable day as there were back to back bombs yesterday with Sentry paying $150 to win in the eighth race only to be followed by Six Pistol paying $132.60 in the ninth race.  The result was a rare Pick-4 where two out of four winners collected.

In a Harnesslink exclusive, Billy Parker Jr. opens up and suggests why he has not been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  For all of you quick to say this is a good enough reason to keep Parker out, I suggest you read this column from the Times-Herald Record (you may need to open a free account to read) before passing judgment.  I am not making excuses for him but considering his life story, what he has accomplished is even more amazing.  I said once before, his story is feature film material.  This is a movie worth making, the triumph of the human spirit.

For those who say the Meadowlands doesn't matter, take a look at the corrected USTA wagering statistics for 2012 vs. 2013 as it now shows a 4.22% increase in handle year to date.  With the Meadowlands showing a significant bump in the mutuel pools and roughly 40% of the wagering on harness racing is wagered on the Meadowlands, there must be plenty of tracks in the continental United States taking a hit.

While the Meadowlands continues to improve handle significantly over last year's dates, it must be noted the last two Saturdays the Meadowlands' handle was below the $3 million level; no doubt the result of short fields.  While stakes races are on the card during the championship meet, mini-overnight late closing events will remain on the card in an effort to increase the size of overnight fields.

Standardbred Canada this weekend had a video clip where drivers were asked what was the strangest thing they ever saw in a race. 

Jack Darling's comments reminded me of something not mentioned, which is not surprising being they asked Canadian drivers, was a time at Freehold Raceway when a horse got loose and decided to see how the drivers live by climbing into the driver's lounge in the backstretch (I looked for the video of this but I couldn't find it).

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Matchmaker and Levy Final Fields

VFTRG contributor Joe F, brings us an early look at the composition of the final field makeups of the Blue Chip Matchmaker and George M Levy Memorial Series at Yonkers Raceway this coming Saturday, April 27 which happens to kick off the competition for the HANA Harness 2013 Grand Circuit Handicapping Contest.  Here is Joe's report:

It appears that the sale of Something For Doc—the top performer in the series—to Mark Ford has given Foiled Again the opportunity to make his fifth consecutive appearance in the Levy final. Either Forever Just or Nob Hill High, tied at 200 points, would have been elevated to the final had the sale not taken place. Forever Just was scratched from last night’s fourth division. Nob Hill High was a finalist last year.
Burke will have Foiled and Annies in the $450,000 final and Clear Vision in the $100,000 consolation. Gary Green has Dancin Yankee in the final and EZ Noah in the consolation, while Tony O’Sullivan has Casimir Jitterbug in the final and Classic Rock Nroll in the consolation.

Last year’s winner Atochia was shut out of both races, as was Rockincam.
It appears that these horses will race in the final: Something For Doc, Annies, Foiled, Razzle Dazzle, Dancin Yankee, Casimir Jitterbug, Versado and Second Wind.

This looks like the field in the consolation: Forever Just, Nob Hill High, Clear Vision, Electrofire, Classic Rock Nroll, E Z Noah, Lettucerocku and Schoobie’s Place.

The fact that five mares from the Burke barn are among the top eight Matchmaker point-getters after the five preliminary legs will open up spots in the final for some from other barns that would generally be relegated to the consolation pace. Camille and Rocklamation will fill Burke’s quota in the final so Ramalama and Ginger And Fred will drop down to the consolation. In turn, Bettor B Lucky, who qualified on points for the final, will be squeezed out entirely and the same thing will happen to Rock n Soul. Burke’s Darena Hanover would qualify for the reshuffled consolation pace but she too is a victim of the barn’s success.

The beneficiaries of all of this are Warrawee Koine, Eighthunrddolarbill and Ramona Disomma, all of whom should be elevated to the final.
The final should consist of: Anndrovette, Feeling You, Camille, Rocklamation, Krispy Apple, Warrawee Koine, Royal Cee Cee and Ramona Disomma.

The consolation field should consist of: Ramalama, Ginger And Fred, Handsoffmycookie, Full Picture, Docs Hope, Western Silk, Frontierpan, and Keepers Destiny.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Feeling Jilted? Move On; Dealing with Market Forces

Elsewhere on the Internet, people were talking about today's qualifiers at the Meadowlands; in particular the finale, which features Sweet Lou, Mel Mara, Romantic Moment, and others when the topic came up that all which is missing are two drivers.

No doubt, the two drivers being referenced were George Brennan and Brian Sears.  With regards to these two, I say good bye.  Don't get me wrong, I harbor no bad feelings to these two drivers who have decided to do what they feel is in their best interest financially.  Ideally, it would have been nice if they stayed at the Meadowlands during this period of rebuilding, but it is not for me to criticize them for doing what they felt they needed to do  

That being said, I don't know why people are stilling pining for them.  It may have been for all the right reasons but they have jilted the Meadowlands and by extension you the gambler.  What's the sense of continuing to mourn those who have deserted you?  Look at the positives.  With the departure of Brennan and Sears, would Corey Callahan have had the opportunity to shine this year?  Would some out of the out of state drivers had their chance to ply their trade in New Jersey? 

Look at it this way, when the Meadowlands opened up back in 1976, what would have happened if all the Yonkers/Roosevelt drivers uprooted themselves and jumped over to the Meadowlands?  Would some young upstarts by the names of Campbell, Remmen, O'Donnell, Paisley, Waples, Wing, and Wright have had the opportunity to come to New Jersey?  Some of these drivers made a name for themselves at the Meadowlands, others were not so fortunate and went back from where they came from but they had the chance.  The fact is change is good. 

As in love, there is a time to stop mourning and to start looking at your new prospects.  That time is now. 

I was talking to a trainer who races in the New York area and I asked if they had any Meadowlands horses.  The trainer responded while they admire what is going on at the Meadowlands, they are reluctant to race in ten horse fields.  To translate, race at Yonkers, you need to beat three horses to pick up a check; race at the Meadowlands, you need to beat five.

In the ideal world, purse earnings would be aligned with the horseplayers' interests; if a gambler can't collect on the horse's finish, the horse's connections shouldn't earn a check.  But then there is reality.  If trainers aren't going to race at the Meadowlands because it is 40% harder to earn a check, maybe it is time to recognize market forces and change the purse distribution to make it as attractive or more to race there.  If the Meadowlands and other mile tracks are in competition with other tracks for horses, maybe purse money needs to be paid to all finishers or through seventh place so once again, horsemen need to only beat three others to make money. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Sponsorship and a Court Case

TVG and the Meadowlands have announced TVG will be the title sponsor for the $4 million TVG FFA Series.  This has been the first significant sponsorship in the United States for harness racing (outside of races sponsored by breeding farms) since Cadillac sponsored the Hambletonian a while back (The North American Cup continues to be sponsored by Pepsi in Canada).

Granted, this is not a sponsorship by a non-racing corporation but for harness racing, having TVG provide sponsorship not only puts money in the coffers of the Meadowlands for naming rights, it guarantees TVG will cover the series as it does the thoroughbred races run with the Betfair moniker and confers instant legitimacy on these races.

Hopefully this is the first in many sponsorships in American harness racing and it leads the way to corporate sponsorships by non-racing entities.  May the Meadowlands be the first track to benefit from such sponsorship but may it not be the last for there is no reason why other tracks in geographically desired markets should not benefit from such an arrangement.   Of course, it requires someone at the track to have the specific duties of being responsible for sponsorships to work corporations.

On to the courts for the connections of Odds on Equuleus as the KHRC has informed the connections of the horse that the judge's controversial decision to disqualify him from the victory in the $85,800 Bluegrass Stakes at The Red Mile is not subject to appeal.  The connections of the horse will now be heading to the circuit court to get the relief they request. 

I have several problems with this.  Now let it be stated that I was one of the few individuals who thought the DQ was proper but be that the case, what the heck is going on that the KHRC refuses to allow the parties who feel aggrieved to have their day in front of the commission to present their case even if the decision is still it was a judgment call which may not be appealed?  As for the connections of Odds on Equuleus, going to court, in our litigious society should be expected but whatever happened to the days when the racing commission decision was accepted even if you disagreed with it?  After all the winner's share is $42,900; not exactly make or break for a stable of this size especially when you deduct the legal fees.  Grant it, it is their legal right to seek redress but I suspect a civil court is going to leave the decision to those who should know and demur to the KHRC.

New York State is considering a bill similar to the ban on the transport of horses for slaughter that New Jersey passed last year.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Vernon Downs Handicapping Showdown and a Swing and a Miss

Vernon Downs has announced sign-ups for their Handicapping Showdown Contest have begun with the contest beginning on Friday, April 26.  Pick a horse in any race on the Vernon card and as long as it finishes first, second, or third you advance to the next day's card.  Finish out of the money and you are eliminated.  Last handicapper standing wins $1,500 (runner-up wins $750) and enrollment is free.  Check out the Vernon Downs website for details.

In the what were they thinking department, Golden Gate Fields announced a brand new promotion, Bottomless Saturdays where $30 gets you unlimited well drinks at any bar at the track; program and admission included.  The rationale for the promotion?  Many 25 to 35 year olds say they don't have enough money for food, beverage, and wagering so they wanted to make it cheaper for the demographic to attend. 

Say what, $30 for unlimited liquor?  I don't know how much gambling would be going on as I suspect the vast majority of customers taking advantage of this offer would be either passed out or unable to find the betting windows.  More likely, there is a better chance of a mini-baby boom nine months later.  Well, anyway, I suspect the legal department finally woke up and put the kibosh on the plans as Bottomless Saturday this week has been cancelled. 

All kidding aside, the price of food and beverages has always been a sore spot with track goers, but quite honestly, as long as tracks used concession companies, those expenses will remain high (not to speak of quality).  If a track wishes to offer cheaper prices for food, they likely would have to bring the food services in-house, something most tracks wouldn't consider due to the expense of employees.  I would suggest instead of trying Bottomless Saturdays, offer a pre-paid food ticket which allows for a horseplayer a meal deal, including beverage for $5.00 or so.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Have You Buried this Axiom?

Remember when you looked for a race over the track before a stakes race?  Well, those days appear to be gone, at least for minor stakes.  The Meadowlands offered for this Friday (trotters) and Saturday (pacers) $20,000 prep races for 3yos eligible to the Simpson Memorial races.  Even better than getting a race over the track, if their race filled, all starters would have their starting fee paid for by the Meadowlands.

Needless to say, not only didn't the races draw full fields, the races didn't even fill enough to put them on the race card so despite the offer of the best overnight race restricted to 3yos in the area and the potential of having their starting fee paid for the Simpson, most horsemen decided to bypass this race.  The only race in the area to have a better purse for 3yos is the Bobby Weiss LC final ($30,000) at Pocono Downs for 3yo colt trotters, after that, the best purse to be found for 3yos outside of the Meadowlands was an $18,000 purse, $2,000 less than the Meadowlands was offering. 

Granted, with the Simpson not exactly known for massive purses, many trainers may be going into the Simpson off a qualifier, but it is still hard to believe they couldn't get at least one division of the prep races filled for each gait,  This is not a repudiation of the Meadowlands; it is the axiom about having a race over the track being consigned to the scrap heap.  What makes it worse is with the forty-five day rule, harness racing is getting more like thoroughbred racing.

Whether that is good or not for the handicapper is not the issue; it is what it is and any horseplayer that is betting as they did back in the early 2000's better alter their thinking or they are going to find themselves 'improving the breed' at the expense of their bankroll.

Darryl Kaplan of Standardbred Canada wrote in Trot magazine an article on what is needed to win back the slot player.  Will it be easy to do?  Heck not, but for racing to survive, it must try to convert slot players and if that's not possible, it must try to get its hands on potential slot players before the casino gets their hand on them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday Briefs

Some briefs for a subdued Tuesday morning:

Eric Cherry offered a proposal to help solve the overnight horse shortage.  His proposal calls for setting up races for the progeny of second and third tier sires to keep interest in their foals.  Is it the perfect solution?  Perhaps not, but Cherry proposes something which would certainly help the horse shortage raceways are having; at a minimum, it should be considered a starting point.

Speaking of a horse shortage, Friday night's card at the Meadowlands illustrates it best.  Out of thirteen races, only three drew full fields; seven drew eight or nine horses; three races less than three horses.  With regards to Simpson-eligible trotters and the $500 bonus, neither prep race filled.

Monday night, George Brennan and Gilbert Garcia-Herrera teamed together to go five for five at Yonkers Raceway.  I will admit this raised my eyes, but one must remember three of the five winners drew the three inside posts, most advantageous at Yonkers  Then I took a look at Statsmaster and see Garcia-Herrera is currently tied for third in the dash-winning category with Rene Allard, both with twenty-seven victories.  When it comes to first time claimers, he is not particularly active, claiming only six horses and winning half of them off the claim; seven trainers with more than one claim has a higher UTR when it comes to first time claims.  Headlines don't tell the whole story.

The handicappers have been selected for HANA Harness' 2013 Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge and looking at the handicappers' bios, it looks like it will be one humdinger of a contest.  The contest begins next Friday evening at Northfield Park.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Burke Juggernaut and Other Musings

The Burke stable had quite a weekend in the NYC metro area.  Let's look at his performance.  On Friday night, the Burke stable won four races at Yonkers, including three divisions of the Blue Chip Matchmaker series.  Saturday night at the Meadowlands, the Burke stable won a division of the Hudson River series while at Yonkers again the Burke stable had a good night winning three of four divisions of the George Morton Levy Memorial series (actually, in one division his horses finished 1-2).

Good for the Burke Stable.  Of course, what is good for the Burke stable is not necessarily good for the overall health of the industry. 

Before we go any further, this post is not about any speculation regarding what any stable may or may not be doing; it is about too many horses being under the control of one stable, albeit horses partially owned by the stable and how it discourages horse ownership and potentially sets the sport up for another Bulletproof Enterprises-type public relations scandal should something ever happen to cause the Burke empire to implode.  Let's make it clear, I am talking in the theoretical; I am not suggesting the Burke stable will be embroiled in any type of situation which would be scandalous; it's just when too many eggs are in one basket and the basket implodes, one heck of a mess reverbes outward.

More likely scenarios are some of the players in the yearling market will get out of the market realizing the insurmountble odds it is to overcome these power stables, especially when the stakes season begins in earnest and they need to compete against the Burke Juggernaut and other stables whose patrons comprise of über partnerships.  Needless to say, the other consequence is other owners who we wish to go into the yearling market will demur, sticking with raceway stock.

What can be done about it?  To be perfectly honest, the only thing I could think of is adopting a rule limiting the number of entries a trainer/owner can have in a race.  Perhaps doing something such as if an owner or trainer enters more than two horses with common ownership, the racing secretary will conduct a random drawing as to which horses will be allowed to race and scratch and refund any starting fees on the others though it may result in a decrease in nominations.  You could argue it would be unfair to these owners, I would suggest it would force owners and trainers to start being more selective in what they nominate their horses to, perhaps racing some in the lesser stakes.  Of course, there are other answers too.  Any suggestions?

The Meadowlands is trying a new way to fill their race cards; you can call it "Pay to Race".  This week's condition sheet has Prep races for the Simpson Memorials.  If a prep races fill with all Simposon-eligible horses, the Meadowlands will pay those horses who start their $500 starting fees for the stakes race.  It will be interesting to see how this works.

The naysayers will say it is just because Tim Tetrick and Yannick Gingras are over at Yonkers these recent weekends due to the Matchmaker and the Levy preliminary legs and because Brian Sears and George Brennan decided to drive full-time across the river, but Corey Callahan has really come into his own at the Meadowlands this season and I predict the rest of the meet will go well for him.  I always said he was going to be a rising star and it appears that prediction is coming true.  Of course, the true test will be when the Meadowlands Championship meet begins; for if Callahan is to be one of the big stars of the sport, he needs to win his share of stakes races at the Meadowlands and on the road.

George Morton Levy Memorial Update

Continuing where he left off, VFTRG contributor Joe F. takes a look at the Levy series thus far.

Ron Burke is apparently trying to sell Something For Doc or Annies so he can have Foiled eligible to the Levy final: right now those three are the top point getters in the series. Only two from a barn are allowed in the final and the same holds true for the consolation pace. He stated that all three will start next week. Foiled is only 18 points back of Annies and 25 behind Something For Doc. If Annies sits next week that will solve the problem. The 25 appearance points alone would be sufficient to move Foiled past him in the standings. If Doc sits, Foiled’s appearance points would put him in a tie with that one, and even the five points awarded for a fifth place finish would catapult Foiled into the final. The odd man out would fall into the role of favorite in the $75,000 consolation pace.
Unlike the Matchmaker, where 15 of the 18 divisions have featured a Burke entry, only three of the 20 splits of the Levy have had one, and two of those came on Saturday night.

Nick Surick’s Versado was positioned for a spot in the final, with a win, a second and a fourth place finish in the first three legs, but he scratched out of this week’s third division. He’ll need a good performance next week as well as some help to get there now, but he’s still in the mix for a spot in the consolation pace.
Razzle Dazzle, who was run into the ground battling Foiled on the front end in the second leg, redeemed himself with a late charge in round four. As of right now he qualifies for the final, but only by a handful of points. He’s tied with Nob Hill High for that last spot. Second Wind, Classic Rock N Roll, Versado, EZ Noah and Lettucerocku are all in position to move up from the consolation to the final with solid performances next week and help from those above them. Meanwhile Burke’s Clear Vision is a solid bet to be paired in the consolation with whichever Burke horse is deemed to be the odd man out in the qualifying group for the final.

Rockincam has been a big disappointment in the series. He missed the first leg, and the accompanying show up points, dead-heated for first with Classic Rock N Roll in the second and finished third in the third leg. This week he challenged Something For Doc up the back and wound up finishing sixth. He’s got some work to do to make the consolation.
Tony O’Sullivan is in good shape with Casimir Jitterbug well placed to make the final and Classic Rock N Roll slotted for the consolation. Again, because of the show up points what happens next week is key. With few exceptions, any horse that sits out has a problem.

Annies Westerncard, Burke’s seven-year-old Western Hanover gelding, who won only one race last year, may be the sharpest horse in the series. His wire-to-wire :51.4 win in last night’s second division was nasty. Last year’s winner Atochia, on the other hand, made a big sweep around the last turn, only to run dry at the end.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Ride on the Wild Side

I don't cover much with regards to the thoroughbreds, but someone brought this video to my attention so I thought I'd share it with you.  This is Saturday's 11th race at Pimlico.  Watch the #12 Spicer Club in the race (you will fully appreciate it if you watch the head on replay).

It is hard to believe the horse just lost the race after that rodeo drive (all the horse's fault).  The DRF comment explains it all.  All I can say is this jockey deserves more than the typical 10% they get.

Matchmaker Update

VFTRG contributor Joe F provides us with a Blue Chip Matchmaker Series update.

After four legs of the Blue Chip Matchmaker, the Burke barn has produced the winner of 8 (44%) of the 18 legs contested thus far. A Burke mare has been first or second in 72% of the splits. Of course, there has been an entry from that stable in 15 of those 18 legs so one would expect high numbers.
There’s one preliminary leg to go, but if the final were next week, four of Burke’s mares would qualify as top eight point getters—only two of them would be allowed to race in the final, however. Camille is tied for first with Anndrovette while Rocklamation is tied for second with Krispy Apple. Ginger And Fred, who was part of an entry with eventual winner Rocklamation in last year’s final, and Bettor B Lucky are the other two. Ramalama and Rock N Soul are already good bets to qualify for the consolation and Darena Hanover is right on the cusp, so you could conceivably have four Burke mares vying for two spots in the consolation pace.

A free breeding to a Blue Chip stallion for the first two finishers is an added bonus in this race. Ginger And Fred, who won in 2010, and Rocklamation already have one of those, so Camille would benefit most from that perk. There’s a time constraint on when the breeding must be used; this year’s winner must use it in 2014, 2015 or 2016. If the rules were the same in 2010, Ginger And Fred would forfeit hers if she doesn’t use it this year.
They want eight separate betting interests in the final, but PJ Fraley has Anndrovette and KA, both of whom are sure bets to make it, and Burke will have two in there. Last year Fraley’s Anndrovette and Chancey Lady raced uncoupled. Anndrovette and KA are owned by the same group while Camille and Rocklamation are not.

While Anndrovette and Camille are tied in points, the former proved herself the better mare last week and she did the same with Rocklamation on Friday. The final is an open draw and post position will mean everything. The two Burke mares are versatile, as is Anndrovette. Ka is locked into an overland trip, regardless of post position, and won’t be of much help to her stablemate. Thanks to the 25 appearance points doled out with each start and the overabundance of Burke entries, Warrawee Koine and Full Picture can leap into the final with good performances next week.
Trainer, Ettore Annunziata, would have Cannae Cammie in the consolation as of right now, and his mare, Frontierpan, would be a single point away from the consolation. They are under separate ownership. Again, because a couple of Burke mares are going to be squeezed out of the two finals, a mare like Frontierpan has a good chance of moving up. While the quality of competition is better than last year, the base numbers favor this year’s competitors: last year by the fourth round there were 27 mares left racing whereas only 21 started on Friday night. If you hang in there and bank those 125 appearance points for the five legs and perform in a half decent fashion, you’ll at least make the consolation pace. As Woody Allen said, half of life is showing up.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Doc's Bonanza Wins Open in Seasonal Debut at Thunder Ridge

Doc's Bonanza, getting away slow at the start, was able to come back and win his seasonal debut by a neck over Blueridge Straight to win the $2,000 Open at Thunder Ridge Racing.

Facing four other horses, driver Christopher Loney reined the six year old stallion to a winning time of 1:57.4 over a fast track for owner/trainer Mary Dawson.  At the start of the race, Sailor's Sky (Darrell Moore) battled the eventual second place finisher Blueridge Straight (Herman Hagerman) for the lead getting to the quarter in :27.4 with the eventual winner nowhere to be found.. 

Blueridge Straight then retook the lead and led the field through a half of :58 and three quarters in 1:28.3.  In the meanwhile, Doc's Bonanza who was fourth, back eleven and a half lengths at the first call slowly caught up to the field and challenged Blueridge Straight at the three quarter pole, managing to take a half length lead at the top of the stretch.

At that point, Doc's Bonanza was able to keep Blueridge Straight at bay to win by a neck.  Nine lengths back, Sailor's Sky held on to third while King Brutus was another half length back in fourth.  Happy Hour Hottie was never a factor, finishing a little over fourteen lengths back of the winner. 

The odds-on favorite paid $2.60 to win, while the second place horse, Blueridge Straight paid $2.10 to place.  The All-3 exacta paid $3.00.


Odds are this will be the first and last story you will ever ready about a race at Thunder Ridge Racing, not because Keenland is looking to buy Thunder Ridge's license and move the track to Corbin and change over to quarter horses, but because racing at Thunder Ridge is so meaningless to racing fans.  The total amount of money wagered in the WPS pools in the feature race was $39.  You will notice there was no place price for the winning horse because no one wagered on him for second.  Two of the five horses didn't even have a win wager placed on them.

I will say on the last race, the handle exploded with WPS wagering totalling $55; perhaps the horsemen who were not racing in the finale deciding to throw caution into the wind and making a few wagers.  The total amount of money wagered on WPS for the six race card was a total of $136.  The reporting of their exotic pools is spotty, but with one race having $8 wagered on the Exacta, I tend to doubt exotics added much to their handle.

Reading this, you may be thinking the racing at Thunder Ridge Racing is a joke.  The sad thing is the Kentucky Horsemen need this meet for once this meet is done, they are looking at a one month stand at Bluegrass Downs (fifteen days) before heading on to The Red Mile for a twenty-one day stand before having to ship out when the Grand Circuit meet begins.  So, for Kentucky horsemen, the seventeen days at Thunder Ridge are important; dates which appear to be at risk of disappearing with the other tracks likely not looking to take on the days lost. 

Perhaps instant racing will be what rescues standardbred racing, allowing Bluegrass Downs and The Red Mile to add racing dates.  One thing for sure, if the calendar is expanedd, it will be done without Thunder Ridge Raceway.

Trainer Lou Pena has found a home.  According to HRU, Lou Pena has had an entry accepted at Pocono Downs.  His horse is scheduled to race on Wednesday.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Case Returning? A Door Closed on Pena?

Two interesting stories from Harness Racing Update.  The first involves the possibility of Walter Case Jr. being licensed in Pennsylvania to race.  According to the article, the PHRC will look favorably at licensing Case provided a racetrack agrees to let him drive there; the only issue being no one wants to be the first one to stick their head out.

I for one am in the corner of letting Case return provided it is with a probationary license as he deserves a chance to prove that he has finally gotten control of his demons.  That being said, I must disagree with his attorney's characterization of this being a 'second' chance.  If given a license, this would be more like a fifth or sixth chance.  Here's hoping Walter is able to secure a track willing to let him race and the PHRC granting him a probationary license with mandatory drug testing part of the conditions and a requirement he keeps his foot from 'twitching'.

The second story regards embattled trainer Lou Pena.  While the PHRC has given Pena a license Harrah's has refused an entry from him, claiming they need to conduct a full review of his situation.  To make his situation worse, the NJRC has refused to license him and as a result, any recognized training facility in New Jersey is unable to house his racing stock, meaning he has lost his home base of Gaitway farms.  Losing a central training base makes it harder for Pena to have horses racing both in Pennsylvania and New York. (Update: Pena is starting a horse at Pocono Downs this coming Wednesday.)

Interesting is the fact Pena has not attempted to start a horse at Yonkers Raceway yet.  It may just be the case he doesn't yet have a horse he feels can compete over the half mile oval or, in what is pure speculation, it could be the grapevine has told Pena not to bother entering there.  If this is the case, what I feared could be coming true; while being licensed to race Pena may have a problem finding a track in the lucrative Northeast racino market willing to let him in.  He may have no choice but to return to California to race.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What's Keeping Zeke Out of Goshen?

Billy Parker Jr., is now working towards his 11,000th career victory up at Monticello Raceway.  With his current total of 10,931 victories, Parker is now number seven in the all-time dash winning category yet there is no talk about him getting into the Harness Racing Living Hall of Fame.

I've said it before and I will say it again, you really have to wonder why he hasn't been given proper consideration by the harness writers.  Besides being seventh all-time, Parker has won eighteen driving titles at tracks like Scarborough Downs, Foxboro Raceway, his current home track Monticello Raceway, and even Yonkers Raceway.  True, he has not driven on the Grand Circuit, but you don't win almost 11,000 races without having talent.

Here is the current top ten all-time dash winning drivers:

Dave Palone    -----15,714
Herve Filion     -----15,183
Cat Manzi         -----14,695
Tony Morgan*  ---14,416
Dave Magee    ----11,592
Walter Case, Jr* - 11.038
Billy Parker, Jr.* --10,931
Dave Miller*      ---10,610
John Campbell  -- 10.556
Mike Lachance  -- 10,309

*  Non-Living Hall of Fame Member

Some will claim Parker didn't drive on a major circuit, admittedly most of his Yonkers years were during the dark days with any regularity.  This should not disqualify Parker from membership to the Hall of Fame for we should remember at any track, there is a young upstart who comes upon the scene and gets the live drives while the veteran starts getting second and third call on driving assignment.  Parker has managed to remain a force in spite of this and reaching number five in the all-time standings is not out of the question.

Even baseball will elect players to the Hall of Fame even if they never played for a championship team; the individual record is what counts.  There has to be a time where Parker's individual record can't be ignored.

It is time for Billy Parker Jr. to get his due in Goshen.  Hopefully the USHWA membership will recognize his accomplishments sooner rather than later.

Thanks to G.g. Meyer for finding this video and to Mickey B Photography for taking this video of a field of horses at Maywood Park from the starting car as it provides us with a view of a race many don't have the opportunity to see.

Time to Use/Stop Misusing Social Media to Promote Racing

A grandmother is a perfect example of what racing is going against.  Watch the unbridled joy she exhibits upon being presented a symbolic check for winning $40 million in Ontario's Lotto game. 

You may be saying to me "Wait a minute, no one really comes to the racetrack expecting to win $30 million playing the horses, get  realistic", and you would be right.  The odds playing the races are nowhere as unbelievable as the lottery, there is no realistic way you can see payoffs like this.

Then we have slot winners at casinos.  While I have no picture to show you, if you go to your Facebook or Twitter account on the right day, you will find a picture or at least a congratulatory note about someone winning tens of thousands of dollars playing a particular slot game.  You may even find a posting telling you how it's possible to win millions playing their slots.  As you can see here, racinos are smart enough to publicize their big winners.

And if someone wins a million dollars or more on a slot machine, out goes the press release which is often published in newspapers.

So by now, you are ready to ask me "But wait, racing has nothing to promote like this".  Well, Gulfstream Park has their Rainbow Pick-6 but let's put that aside for a moment.  Granted, winning thousands of dollars on a single wager at the racetrack doesn't happen often, but on occasion we have that 'bomb' trifecta or Pick-4 wager which pays  $10,000 or more.  For example, Tuesday evening at Yonkers the late Pick-4 paid $23,421.  Look at Facebook and you will see no mention of it on the Empire City at Yonkers Raceway or the 'plain' Yonkers Raceway page.  No congratulating a particular horseplayer, no announcement that the Pick-4 paid over $23,000.  Nada.  Zilch.  Zippo.

Unfortunately, when it comes to racinos there is little, if any mention of racetrack carryovers or big hits.  Some don't even mention racing at all (Hello Harrah's Philadelphia). Then there is the case of at least one racino that has no presence on Facebook; they can't publicize anything through that outlet (they do have a Twitter account). I have encountered non-racino tracks with no mention of big payoffs either.  For all the good some horsemen associations claim to do, it would be nice if they have a little chat with management about posting some of the larger carryover pools and hits on their social media pages.

Then we have tracks who are proud about having a social media presence where racing is covered.  Don't; having a Facebook page where all you are talking about upcoming stakes and closing dates does not constitute an effective use of social media.  You should be using social media as an open gateway to your retail customers (gamblers).  A good guideline is any story which would be appropriate for the USTA's homepage does not qualify for a posting on your Facebook or Twitter account.  If you want to communicate new stakes and closings to horsemen, then I suggest using a SMS text system is the appropriate way of getting that information to horsemen's smart phones, not Facebook.

I have no problem with some mentioning of upcoming big races in social media, but remember a majority of your customers are just as happy to bet $2,000 claimers if it is a competitive field.  They don't care about who is coming to the track, they want to know about carryovers and big hits.  Most of your visitors to your social media sites are gamblers looking to make a score.  Give them what they want to read to induce them to bet on your product and possibly come out to the track that night..

No, baring the Rainbow Pick Six which is more lottery than anything else, racing may not have a life altering wager (at least until a V75-type wager arrives), but we do have some good payoffs to offer.  However, if social media is not used properly, who's going to know?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Vernon Downs Reopening - Time to Retool (Updated)

Editor's Note:  Yes, you may have seen this article before.  The article has been updated as the source for information relied upon initially had some inaccuracies.  The article now reflects a more accurate picture of the situation at Vernon Downs. 

Vernon Downs opens its 60th year of racing this Friday, April 12; the start of a 90 day race meet.  Truth is it really isn't 60 years of racing; it is a convenient marketing tool.  During this 60 year period, there were a couple of bankruptcies which kept the track dark, if not a step away from the wrecking ball.  There was a bankruptcy in August of 2004 which closed the track and didn't reopen until August, 2006 under the current management.  If memory serves me correctly, there may have been an earlier period where the track may have closed due to bankruptcy or other dispute.  That being said, racing is returning this Friday and it has been 60 years since the track opened for racing.

Make no mistake, without the presence of VLTs at Vernon Downs, the track would have been razed or look like Green Mountain Race Track in Pownal, VT; a derelict track still awaiting development since its closure in 1992. 

This is not to say Vernon's product is not being well received, the track on good nights have roughly a couple thousand people in attendance.  On-track wagering at Vernon Downs on their live product was up about 1% last year and their signal was well received as their export handle was up about 14%.  Where Vernon Downs is hurting is on their import handle, wagering on races at other tracks, including thoroughbred racing, was down. 

I wonder why more has not been done to improve the racing product at Vernon as well as getting it more attention in the simulcast market. You may not be able to get more people to the track on a nightly basis, but with a seven-eighths oval and the typical gambler's desire of the larger ovals, you would think the ability to increase interest in the product is there, just waiting to be uncovered.  After all, if Cal Expo can hit million dollar handles, there is no reason why Vernon can't produce similar results.  The key, as at most tracks is to get the pools as large as possible so to get more wagering on track as that is where the track and horsemen benefit the most.

Exchange wagering, something which is likely to be available at the Meadowlands in the not too distant future won't be available to Vernon Downs anytime soon due to objections Downstate.  Therefore, the key to making Vernon's product even more desirable is to get more exposure and increase handle.   Hence, here are my suggestions for Vernon Downs.
  • Pay to Play - As Cal Expo and the Raceway at Western Fair District has found, paying to be shown live on TVG has done plenty to get their product noticed and wagered on.  As much as customers have the ability to watch the races on their computer, watching the races on television puts it in front of the gambler's view, whereas on the computer someone has to take an effort to see it.
  • Minimize conflicts between Tioga and Vernon.  The two tracks should seldom race against each other. 
  • Start later and race faster - A 6:45 start gets you ahead of most Eastern harness tracks but it is during dinner time.  Start at the later post time of 8:00 when most tracks have started and at a minimum, the later races will be the only races on the East coast still being run.  With the later post time, races will need run faster to be done before midnight.
  • This may upset the local horsemen's group, but actively recruit stables and drivers from other tracks to come to Vernon.  Vernon has become a country club where the gang doesn't change and not challenged by outsiders.  Management has something to offer horsemen; in addition to racing at Vernon, Tioga is in their reach if they decide tot take advantage of it.  
  • Combine racing on television.  When racing together, intermingle Tioga and Vernon programs and offer exotic wagers between the two tracks.
The potential is there, someone needs to take advantage of it,

Sacré Bleu!

Today, The Jockey Club's bus will be at The Red Mile featuring the motif of America's Best Racing.  Granted, they are at The Red Mile because there is a meeting of thoroughbred farm managers in Kentucky being held there, but there it will be; at the door step of one of harness racing's most recognizable tracks, a promotion for thoroughbred racing. 

The bus is part of The Jockey Club's $5 million marketing campaign aimed at attracting younger gamblers towards horse racing.  I applaud the JC for attempting to get younger people interested in horse racing.  But what is harness racing doing to attract the younger generation?  Granted, there is no way the standardbred community can launch a $5 million campaign; a $1 million campaign is probably out of the question, but to do nothing is inexcusable.

I am not suggesting having a touring bus featuring a harness racing motif going around the country, but there has to be a way to expose younger people to harness racing.    How about developing a website using historical races where people can place fictional wagers on them?  Let them win prizes which players can collect at their local racetrack (perhaps dinner for two?) or send them during the summer an invitation to come to a BBQ at their local harness track only for them and a guest?  How about local tracks having festival-type events geared towards younger people?  Have (young) family members of local horsemen act as ambassadors to answer questions and explain things to younger patrons?  These are things which cost money, but are relatively low cost options.  Do something; something has to be done.

The Auditor General will review the OLG's decision to end the SARP program and to see if there was an impropriety involved.  While I don't expect to see the SARP program to be resuscitated in the current form, a finding of the Auditor General may get the casinos placed at racetracks.

Here is a new one.  Indiana is considering diverting $10 million from slot money which would be used to supplement purses and use it to improve auto racing facilities.  The money to be used to improve auto racing would actually be a loan but rest assured any repayments will not be returned to horse racing purse accounts.  The rationale?  Very similar to horse racing, the economic benefit to the state auto racing has.