For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Notes and Thoughts from Pocono

Here are some thoughts from the stakes action at Pocono Downs last night.  Captaintreacherous was simply amazing last night,  I must admit I am not sure how he managed to pull off his victory in the Max C. Hempt Memorial last night at Pocono in 1:49.2 on the off track.

And what more can be said about Foiled Again, the $5 million horse who won the Ben Franklin FFA in 1:49.2 on the sloppy track?  I've said it before and I will say it again, he reminds me of Rambling Willie.  For those who are thoroughbred fans, he reminds me of Forego (now I am showing my age).

New Yorkers need to contact their legislators to amend the racing law in the state to allow pari-mutuel racing on RUS events.  At the present time, it is illegal to even offer purses in non-wagering events; each horse currently must be paid the same to participate regardless of result.  Granted it may still take a little time to present a product on a regular basis in overnight events, but it takes time to change laws so we need to start now.  Besides, RUS can only increase interest in the sport.

A perfect example of watching the board before wagering came in the Earl Beal Jr.Memorial when Corky went off at 7-1 and won in 1:54.3.  I understand Smiling Eli was the favorite, but to me, there is no way he should have gone off at even money.  Of course it helps that Royalty For Life blew up before the quarter.

In early action on the card, Arch Madness looked more like the horse of old but still finished second to Uncle Peter in the first race Preferred Trot as Uncle Peter ran down Arch Madness to win in a world record 1:50.3.  Hard to believe Arch Madness is still winless this year; his first victory should come any time now.   In the Ben Franklin consolation, Bolt The Duer was victorious in 1:47.4 with Sweet Lou finishing third in the race.

Admittedly I don't watch Pocono action that often so last night provided me the opportunity to watch Lou Pena in action.  Pena was one for three last night.  His UTR is over .300 thus far.

The Ontario Horse Racing Transition Committee has come out with a draft report as to how racing should be supported in Ontario on an ongoing basis.  The current suggestion is there be a dollar for dollar match on commissions derived from live racing in the province with some consideration possible for foreign dollars wagered on the domestic product.  Wagering on races in the United States or elsewhere would not be eligible for matching.

There is also some talk of having an Ontario Live Racing group, a group which will be in charge of distributing purse money depending on the demand for the product at local tracks as well as in charge of branding the product.  It would not be far fetched to see them become like Harness Racing New Zealand which controls all aspects of racing in New Zealand.  There is talk about some lotteries or other gambling products to support racing.

Of concern to Ontario breeders is the potential to de-emphasize or end the Horse Improvement Program which puts the Ontario Sires Stakes and breeders awards at risk.  At this point though, this is only a draft for discussion purposes.

The Meadowlands handle increase continues to impress, even with the stakes action last night at Pocono Downs which pulled the best drivers away for the evening.  An 87% increase on Friday and a 43% increase on Saturday from last year.  Now granted last year was the bottom at the Meadowlands and handle really had nowhere to go but up, but I don't think even these results could have been forecast with or without the betting consortium.  As to the impact of the betting consortium, the impact is not as big as people think; the vast majority of the handle increase comes from regular gamblers.  Handle on track is also making a turn around; it's not just simulcasting.  Now I don't know if or how much the purse account was subsidized at the start of the meet, but I wold think a purse increase should be forthcoming.

Congratulations to Greg Blanchard upon being promoted to Raceway Manager at The Raceway at Western Fair District.  Greg has been one of the hardest working assistant general managers around and will continue to do a great job for WFD as it moves on in the post-slots era.

While it is great that New Jersey has established the Standardbred Development Fund to promote boarding and the foaling of standardbreds in the state, it does come at a cost; the loss of the Green Acres program at Freehold Raceway whose funding will now be used for the SDF.  As a result, by 2016 there will be no NJSS events at Freehold unless the schedule is revised.  Personally, what I would do is race the NJSS for 3yos at the Meadowlands and the 2yo events at Freehold to allow 2yos more time to develop before they compete for NJ-sired money.  This could be a win-win all around.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What an Intrepid Harness Racing Reporter Does for a Story

Posttime host Heather Vitale will be sure to see this video when she is eventually inducted into the Communicator's Corner of the HOF; that is provided she hasn't destroyed all the copies of the video.

All kidding aside, other than her pride, Heather was unscathed from the incident.  What Heather won't due to get the latest stories which is why she's a shoo-in to eventually be inducted in the Communicator's Corner of the Hall of Fame.  One of the things I loved about the incident is she didn't lose a beat when she went down and had a comeback line, never losing her sense of humor.

Just the same, here is hoping her co-host from PA Harnessweek doesn't catch wind of this tape because Steve Ross is sure not to let it go without a mention.

I wish the industry could find a place to use Heather on the grand stage of harness racing.  She should be an automatic choice for broadcasting teams for the Hambletonian, and Breeders Crown as she would be able to put together excellent feature stories.  I am not one for displacing anyone from a current job but if the broadcast team at the Little Brown Jug was expanded or someone stepped down, I would hope she would seriously be considered.  While we are at it, wouldn't it be nice if Sam McKee didn't have to carry the whole show at The Red Mile?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Where Were NJ Standardbred Lobbyists?

The New Jersey legislature has sent to the Governor for his signature legislation which will allow a licensed racing association to conduct parimutuel wagering on Atlantic City's beaches with each day of racing there coming at the expense of a race date where they are licensed to conduct racing.

My question is where were the standardbred lobbyists for within this bill an amendment was approved  to allow a thoroughbred track to also get a special permit to conduct wagering on a steeplechase meet conducted in the state, no doubt the prestigious meet at Far Hills.  Not that I have an objection with wagering on the steeplechase races, but why didn't anyone from the standardbred side attempt to get approval for a standardbred meet which could be conducted at a training facility such as Gaitway?  Wouldn't it be nice if sometime in late August between the Meadowlands closing and Freehold opened if a two day meet could have been held at Gaitway?  Not that anyone would have to apply for such a license right away but it would have been nice to have something in the back pocket if it was wanted later.

Two $10,000 divisions of RUS racing takes place on Saturday at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in early activity with the first division scheduled for a 6:10pm start and the second division set for 6:20pm.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pocono Downs Selections for Saturday, June 29

In perhaps one of the biggest evenings of racing at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs (after all the Breeders Crown will be raced later this year there), we have a quartet of top flight stakes races being contested on the sixteen race card; $300,000 James M. Lynch Memorial, $500,000 Max C. Hempt Memorial, $500,000 Ben Franklin FFA, and the $500,000 Earl Beal Jr. Memorial.  It may not be the Breeders Crown, it isn't Super Sunday, but it is Pretty Darn Special Saturday at Pocono Downs.  Why this quartet of races isn't being provided (cable) television coverage as Super Sunday gets I don't know.  You know it is a special week of racing when Arch Madness is competing in the first race of a race card.

One thing to watch for if you are thinking of dipping in the the wagering action at Pocono Downs is the takeout rates.  The Pick-3 is a reasonable 15% rake while exactas and doubles have a 20% rake.  Straight wagers have a 19% cut.  However, you really want to look out for the obscene rake on the trifecta and superfecta which come in at 30%.

Here are my abbreviated selections for the sixteen race card.

1st Trot - $25,000 Preferred Handicap
6 - Arch Madness (Sears, 5-2)
1 - Keystone Thomas (Pavia, 6-1)
5 - Uncle Peter (D Miller, 2-1)
2 - Holy Halibut (Kakaley, 10-1)

2nd Pace - $14,000 Claiming $20,000
1 - St Pete Star (Tetrick, 5-2)
2 - Rock N Roll Star (Naploitano, 4-1)
3 - Light Up The Sky (Kakaley, 9-2)
4 - Casino King (Pierce, 3-1)

3rd Trot - $50,000 Earl Beal Jr Memorial Consolation
4 - Banco Solo (Brennan, 4-1)
6 - Smoother Ride (Sears, 3-1)
2 - Boffin (Norris, 10-1)
1 - High Bridge (Gingras, 5-2)

4th Pace - $18,000 Claiming Handicap $25,000-$30,000
2 - Northern Mcardle (Tetrick, 9-2)
3 - Waylon Hanover (Pavia, 5-2)
4 - Blended Whiskey (Allard, 4-1)
7 - C'mon Buzz Off (Drury, 3-1)

5th Pace - $50,000 Ben Franklin FFA Consolation
2 - Rockincam (Sears, 5-2)
5 - Fred And Ginger (Pierce, 7-2)
4 - Heston Blue Chip (Tetrick, 6-1)

6th Pace - $16,000 4 and 5yos Claiming $25,000
5 - Best Ears (Morrill, 5-2)
4 - In Mint Condition (Wallis, 12-1)
9 - Nabber Again (Brennan, 5-1)
1 - Arsenal (Kakaley, 4-1)

7th Pace - $50,000 Max C. Hempt Memorial Consolation
3 - Good Day Mate (Pierce, 6-1)
5 - Lonewolf Currier (Sears, 5-2)
2 - Dedi's Dragon (Kakaley, 3-1)
9 - Ultimate Beachboy (Mccarthy, 15-1)

8th Pace - $25,000 Preferred
3 - Abelard Hanover (Milby, 7-2)
2 - Bet On The Law (Pavia, 3-1)
7 - Aracache Hanover (Mcnair, 5-2)

9th Pace - $300,000 James M. Lynch Memorial (3yo Fillies)
3 - Ms Caila J Fra (Allard, 4-1)
5 - Shebestingin (D Miller, 3-1)
4 - Charisma Hanover (Kakaley, 9-2)
7 - Jerseylicious (Callahan, 10-1)

10th Pace - $500,000 Max C. Hempt Memorial (3yo Open)
2 - Word Power (Callahan, 4-1)
4 - Rockin Amadeus, 12-1)
9 - Captaintreacherous (Tetrick, 5-2)
7 - Vegas Vacation (Sears, 7-2)

11th Pace - $500,000 Ben Franklin FFA
4 - Foiled Again (Gingras, 5-2)
7 - Modern Legend (Campbell, 10-1)
3 - Clear Vision (Kakaley, 12-1)
6 - Pet Rock (D Miller, 5-1)

12th Trot - $500,000 Earl Beal Jr. Memorial (3yo Open)
2 - Dontyouforgetit (Gingras, 3-1)
5 - Possessed Fashion, 6-1)
4 - Corky (D Miller, 5-1)
1 - Royalty For Life (Sears, 5-2)

13th Pace - $21,000 NW $24,000 Last 5 Starts 
8 - Raji's Blue Line (Pierce, 20-1)
5 - Arockin Hanover (Napolitano, 15-1)
9 - Foreign Officer (Sears, 8-1)
4 - Steelhead Hanover (Pavia, 4-1)

14th Pace - $21,000 NW $24,000 Last 5 Starts
1 - Townslight Hanover (Mccarthy, 3-1)
3 - Musselsfrmbrussels (Allard, 5-2)
8 - Miers Hanover (Kakaley, 10-1)
9 - Martial Bliss (Brennan, 15-1)

15th Pace - $19,000 NW $16,000 Last 5 Starts
1 - Shock It To 'Em (Pierce, 3-1)
4 - Take It Back Terry (Kakaley, 5-2)
2 - Keemosabe (Buter, 4-1)
8 - Maytime Terror (Napolitano, 20-1)

16th Pace - $15,000 NW $11,000 Last 5 Starts
2 - B N Bad (Pierce, 3-1)
4 - Laurent Hanover (Buter, 7-2)
1 - Alex Bullville (Pavia, 6-1)
5 - Moses Terror (Napolitano, 5-1)

Why Shouldn't Cheats Play the System?

If you recall, we recently reported how an Administrative Law Judge in Florida ruled that pari-mutuel barrel racing is not legal in the state and he ordered the state's regulators not to license the farce occurring in Gretna, Florida.  The division in charge of racing decided they would not appeal the judge's ruling.  Case closed, right?

Wrong.  While the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering didn't appeal the judge's ruling, they decided to just ignore it and then issued Gretna Racing a modified license to conduct 'flag-drop' racing.  Just in case you are wondering what flag-drop racing is, here is a sample in a non-parimutuel setting.

Obviously, this is a farce, to get around the judge's order as it is barrel racing with the exception being at one barrel you pick up a flag only to drop it into a container at another barrel.  Clearly a scam to allow them to continue to operate their card room and attempt to get slot machines.

When racing commissions willfully violate judges' orders, one has to wonder why shouldn't offenders of racing rules employ delay tactics?  After all, it is not as if the racing commissions are setting a good example.
'fkag drio

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Florida Shootout; Sounds Familiar?

Unless things change, Calder and Gulfstream Park are going to go head to head this summer starting July 1 and odds are it is going to be a bruising fight.  If I had to bet on a winner, I would think Gulfstream Park is going to come out ahead if this battle goes forward as Frank Stonarch is reportedly willing to subsidize purses.  Calder has basically told its horsemen if they ship a horse out to race at Gulfstream, they need not return with the horse for it will be denied access 

This sounds a lot like a re-run of the battle these two tracks ran against Hialeah years ago which resulted in Hialeah shutting down for a number of years before it reopened as a quarter horse track three years ago.  This can be blamed on a state that doesn't regulate the sport enough, allowing the tracks to race whenever they want.  One thing for sure, there will be short fields, most likely at both tracks.

So you may be wondering why I am talking about a dispute in Florida between two thoroughbred tracks.  When you think about it what is happening in Florida, is the situation in the NJ/NY/PA area that different?  Granted the battle is more polite, and the dates are approved by racing commissions but the problem is each state assigns dates in a vacuum.  As a result, you have tracks fighting each other for the same horses, often unable to have full fields and keeping racing secretaries awake at night if they are not digging out anti-acids from their desks.

The big difference between the situation in Florida and the Northeast is while it is the tracks doing battle against each other down South, it is basically the Northern horsemen doing battle; tracks would be more than happy to race fewer days to put on a better product.  Horsemen wanting to race 52 weeks a year at certain tracks so the horsemen can always race without traveling with other tracks trying to race at the same time provides an inferior product as well as a diluted handle. 

The solution to this is a regional or national organization to establish race dates on a regional basis to avoid too much competition and look out for the interests for all horsemen instead of couple tracks in effect bullying each other.

Assuming Governor Christies signs off on S-2759, and there is no reason to assume he won't, a program allowing stakes races for New Jersey foaled horses will become law.  True the amount of money going to NJ-sired horses alone may be reduced, but allowing NJ-foaled stakes race should help provide both Freehold Raceway and the Meadowlands with additional horses to race at their tracks.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Time to Retire Back to the Track?

Here we are, about ten days before this year's edition of Back to the Track (BTTT), which runs from July 6 through July 7.  I have to wonder if it is time to retire this program in lieu of something new; it seems fatigue has set in.  For example:

  • This year there is no national Pick X wagering bet being offered,
  • In the past some tracks worked together to offer wagers involving both tracks.
  • Monticello Raceway had a special race card in the past so they could be part of Back to the Track (admittedly, it may have last been a couple of years ago).
  • There is no centralized promotion such as the year they awarded trips to the Little Brown Jug at each track.
  • It appears each track was left to do their own thing this year.  Perhaps that was the way it has been in the past but some tracks seem to be taking BTTT  more seriously than others who are giving it short shift.  The following ratings are subjective, based not only on what they are doing but what I felt they could be doing considering their size.  Fair tracks are not included in the ratings.
    • A gold star goes to Buffalo Raceway, Balmoral Park,  Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Saratoga Raceway, Scioto Downs, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs for taking BTTT seriously.
    • A silver star goes to Maywood Park, Meadowlands, Scarborough Downs, Raceway Park 
    • A bronze star goes to Running Aces
    • No stars are awarded to Bangor Raceway, Harrah's Philadelphia, Hazel Park (has nothing to do with the fact they changed their dates for the promotion), Hoosier Park, and The Meadows; these tracks seem to be going through the motions. 
    • A Bronx Jeer goes to Ocean Downs which is awarding prizes of slot dollars.  Really, slot dollars?  I think they thought it is Back to the Casino.
    • An Incomplete gets awarded to Pompano Park.  While they are racing only on Saturday, there are no promotions listed; are they participating?
    • The MIA award goes to Players Bluegrass Downs and Yonkers Raceway which apparently have decided not to participate.

I know marketing dollars are tight for some tracks which may limit their level of participation but if there is going to be some industry-wide promotion, then there should be some minimum standard, perhaps some promotional activity that every track must participate in.  Why not a drawing to the Red Mile for Kentucky Futurity Day awarded to at every track with a grand price to see either the Prix d'Amerique or Elitlopp the following year being awarded to one person nationally?  Why not a national Pick-4 where the commission is donated to horse rescue or a charity like the American Cancer society?  How about giving one person at each track a percentage of a horse's earnings for the next year; not a local horse but one top horse on the national level?  It's all about branding the event.

If we are unable to brand Back to the Track, perhaps it is time to move on to the next promotion attempt.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Elimination Races and Their Problems

Regular contributor Joe F. talks about the problem with how elimination races are set up.  I have my own opinions on this and you will find my comments at the end of Joe's comments.

Dean Towers wrote a piece in Sunday’s edition of HRU about the sport’s tendency to govern stakes races in such a way that many of the best horses are eliminated from finals, or handicapped to the point that they may as well have been eliminated. His most extreme example is the Jug, which he says is more a post position event than a racing event. Amen to that. I thought I’d take a look at this issue in the context of Saturday’s elimination round for the Beal, Hempt, Lynch and Franklin at Pocono Downs. All elimination races were open draw, and the finals will be the same. There were two for the Lynch, with four fillies from one and five from the other making the cut, while the other three stakes each called for three elimination splits with three advancing from each.
If the eliminations were seeded, for example, the second Lynch division would not have last year’s champs, Nitelife and Rainbow, knocking heads. Ideally those two would have been separated. Charisma Hanover, a third place finisher from the outside post, was also in that division. Favorite, Shebestingin, was second from the outside in the first split.

What horses that we would want to see in the finals have been eliminated? PASS high roller, and last year’s Peter Haughton winner, Aperfectyankee, is out. Trainer-driver, Jim Oscarsson, had him floundering on the rim during a competitive opening quarter and he eventually broke stride. Smoother Ride, the Yankee Glide colt Sears pressured Corky with in the second division, finished fifth and is also out of the Beal final. And Jurgen Hanover, the 3/2 second choice to Smilin Eli in the third division, a colt that rode a seven win streak into Saturday’s elimination, is also out.
What colts made the cut in the Beal that could reasonably be termed shockers? Crystal Phenom, a fractious Broadway Hall colt that hasn’t been racing this kind and went off at 60/1, is a head scratcher. Piece tripped him in. He also got 80/1 shot, Fico, a colt with one lifetime win, against nw2, into the final. And Charlie Norris got 75/1 shot, Picture This, into the final. One can assume that most would prefer to see Jurgen, Smoother and Yankee in the Beal final.

Lonewolf Currier, winner of a recent 80K PASS race and second in the Rooney, is out of the Hempt final. He was the 2/5 favorite in the first division. Wake Up Peter, the 3/5 favorite in the second division, is also out.

Golden Receiver was last in his Franklin division and Rockincam also got knocked out of that first split. Sweet Lou, the favorite in the second division, broke on the first turn, and second and third choices, Heston BC and Fred And Ginger also got knocked out. Clear Vision, Our Lucky Chip and Modern Legend did survive. No Sweet Lou or HBC in the final. That hurts.

Another way to go is to make it a single day event with lifetime earnings determining the field; the RWJ and Artiscape are examples of this method. The Battle of Brandywine, Colonial and Valley Forge also rely on earnings, with a couple of consolation races for those with smaller bankrolls also carded. One problem is that this method doesn’t make an allowance for the new kid on the block. Smilin Eli, the Muscles colt that has propelled himself to the top of the division—at least until Wheeling N Dealin comes out from under the bed—off of three lifetime starts, would not qualify for the final on the basis of lifetime or year-to-date earnings. Yet, the very ordinary, Caveat Emptor, would qualify. The same would be true of pacing phenom, Word Power, who can choose between the Hempt or the Summer Survivor final on Saturday.

If they went by earnings, aside from Eli and Word Power, the winner of the first Hempt division, Emeritus Maximus, wouldn’t qualify, and neither would Sunfire Blue Chip, the winner of the second. Only one non-millionaire—Fred And Ginger—would make the Franklin final, so Dynamic Youth and Razzle Dazzle, winners of two of the three splits, would be out.

What about a sophisticated seeding system that takes into account the source of a horse’s earnings and attaches a value to it: what SS program was the source of that money and what is the the degree of difficulty involved in building a bankroll in that particular state? What about open money?

Most of the cash and ribbons won by the horses entered in the Beal, Hempt and Lynch elimination
round is from state bred events. Privileging the restricted races in one state or province over another would be the equivalent of tip toeing through a mine field. All of the restricted programs are fueled by fantasy, so any attempt to weigh the value of one against the others is doomed to failure. They wouldn’t stand for it.

I can’t say that post position was a major factor in eliminating the most worthy candidates from the Hempt, Beal or Lynch. Although the outside post draw did seem to impact Sweet Lou, Heston BC, Duer and Kingcole in the Franklin splits. That being said, post position was a major factor in Shebestingin, Word Power, Cheddar and Sweet Lou not winning. It was the same old story: go out fast, take a snooze, come home fast. Six of the eleven eliminations featured second quarters in :29 or above. There were six sub :28 final quarters and four that went in under :27. This led to a situation where eight of the eleven winners were placed first or second at the three-quarter mark and only Foiled was not first or second at the stretch call.

So Jurgen Hanover, Aperfectyankee, Lonewolf Currier, Wake Up Peter, Golden Receiver, Rockincam, Sweet Lou, Heston Blue Chip and Fred And Ginger won’t be entered in next week’s finals. Perhaps I’m reading too much into things, but I detect an undercurrent of hopelessness and despair in Towers’ plea for seeded eliminations and open draw finals. Maybe it’s just me.


I'm back with my take on this issue.  As many of you know, I feel elimination races are a scourge on the sport; opportunities where we show at times that 'this week doesn't count'  Some will argue the experienced gambler will factor this in to their handicapping but the last thing a handicapper should have to consider is whether or not someone is saving themselves for next week as it implies a lack of effort which should turn any horseplayer off.  

That being said, eliminations are here to stay for the foreseeable future.  Let me state it clearly, there should never be assigned post positions; be they eliminations or finals.  The open draw should always be used  One should never have to 'coax' a good effort out of a horse in order for them to put out their maximum effort.  You may say why should a horse who wins this week get saddled with post position eight on a half mile track in the final?  I would counter and ask why should a horse that was saddled with post position eight in the elimination and raced their heart out to finish fourth and qualify be rewarded with post position seven or eight automatically in the final?  Each race should stand on its own

As for seeding races, the problem comes with the coupled entry rule.  Some races allow for seeding but at times horses are assigned divisions to avoid creating a coupled entry  Hence, by avoiding a coupled entry, one race may have an unfair share of top horses competing versus another.

Where I disagree most is that the marquee horses deserve preferential treatment over the unknown horses.  If you pay to get into the race, all horses should be treated the same.  If we must seed races, it should be done as impartial as possible.  This is how I would recommend doing it.

When determining who gets into a race such as the Battle of Brandywine, I would look at unrestricted earnings with 3yo earnings counting twice as much as earnings as a two year old.  The same rule would be used for races with eliminations, the only difference is with seeding, determining which division or elimination one gets into should be done by a random draw.  After all, it is in the bettors interest to be able to assume there was no 'easy' division.

You may notice I mentioned unrestricted earnings.  What does that mean?  Earnings in sires stakes, or races otherwise restricted by place bred or horses with certain other lineage should not be considered when seeding or deciding which horses get to compete; it is the purse money from those races open to all which should be considered.  You could have earned $300,000 racing against PA-sired horses and that is fine and dandy, but if all you did was earn another $50,000 in open company a horse who earned $100,000 racing only in overnights deserves to get into the race, not the one dominating the state bred horses in whichever state. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Good Year to be a Harness Racing Fan

I have a confession to make.  For whatever reason, I was not much into racing last year.  Last year's crop of horses just didn't draw my attention.  It was a ho hum year and I am sure at times it showed in this blog

One year later, it is a different story.  The Meadowlands is beginning to recover  Problems in the Garden State remain but for now it seems to be adjusting to the reality that overnight racing was going to be quire ordinary but fortunately the gamblers (syndicate or not) are responding.  Despite what some people are saying, it may not be pretty in the Garden State but the racing industry appears to be adjusting nicely.

The racing this year has been much more interesting with the so-called Gural rule in place; not just at the Meadowlands but at WEG tracks.  The FFA ranks are much more interesting with the now four year olds continuing to race  Horses that didn't overly interest me last year now interest me as they compete against their more seasoned competition.  Who would ever have thought we would be seeing horses such as Market Share, Uncle Peter, Wishing Stone, and Arch Madness competing against each other.  Truth is in the past, the FFA class was FFA in name only but now, we are seeing true FFAllers doing battle with regularity.

We are still seeing aged campaigners like Foiled Again still being able to get that occasional victory.  Why his story may not be as compelling as Rambling Willie, in some ways Foiled Again seems to be a successor to the great Willie.

Those boring three year olds of last year have been replaced by a cast of equine characters that have caught my fancy.  Captaintreacherous, Jerseylicious, and others are making the sophomore pacing ranks interesting to watch while on the trotting side we have Smilin Eli making us wonder where his bottom is and Corky, who faltered last night at Pocono (yes he won, but a little luster came off), is sure to be heard from the rest of this year.  Not to forget the fillies, Ms Caila J Fra has been added to the mix.

The best thing is stakes season has really just kicked in, there is plenty more exciting racing coming our way.

Sure there are some forgetful stories, such as Thunder Ridge Raceway which thankfully, has most likely completed its final year of racing.  Make no mistake, the Kentucky horsemen needed that meet to earn some purse money, but let's not kid ourselves, its story will be grouped with the harness tracks of Phoenix and Las Vegas, mistakes which never should have happened.  Yet for all those bad stories we hear about horses who have been going on a tear such as Tracys Shadow whose win streak ended at eighteen,

North of the border, what was promised to be the destruction of the Ontario racing industry seems to have been averted; no doubt to late for some but finally the message was driven home that racing is an important economic engine to the Ontario economy.  Make no mistake, the glory days are gone but it appears Ontario will avoid the meltdown that struck Quebec. 

Yes, while last year was a bummer, this year is turning into a pretty good year for the harness racing fan.

This week's fines and suspension list shows us that Sheldon Ledford was recently denied a groom's license by regulators in Illinois.   If you want to know why even applying for a license was absurd, take a look here

Last Call:  If you haven't made your plans to go to the races at Goshen, New York for their four day meet and never have, now is the time do it.  The fourth of July features the New York County Fair Races; July 5 brings us the Landmark States for 2yo and 3yos; July 6 brings us amateur racing and the NYSS State Fair races for 3yo pacers of both sexes; July 7 the meet concludes with NYSS State Fair races for 3yo trotters, a RUS event, and Hall of Fame Trot.

Back to the Track:  It's been a while since you last went out to the track?  Why not check what your local track is doing on Back to the Track weekend which is July 5 thru July 7 and head out to the track?

I stumbled upon this Facebook page about Ali (or Alafiza as officially known) who is a registered Arabian horse that was burned in a fire.  Instead of the common answer of euthanizing the horse, his owners decided to give him a chance to recover.  It's a long battle but he is winning it.  Some of the pictures aren't pleasant to look at but what is wonderful is the will to live  If you have the time and are on Faceboook, you may want to give this page a look.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Miscellanery

Great news for RUS racing.  On the biggest night of racing, short of Breeders Crown night), there will be a RUS event at Pocono Downs to kick-off the RUS season for 2013.  It is an endorsement of RUS racing that Pocono Downs will off the event on a marquee evening.

Meanwhile, kudos to the PHHA, MSBOA, and PAHBPA for donating $700,000 towards the purchase of new equipment to be used for drug testing,  This equipment will allow Penn State to improve their testing for illicit drugs

Tonight is another leg of the 2013 Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge and the handicappers are focusing in on the two entries.  While they see the races as a lock, I am not so sure it is.  Make no mistake these entries are the likely winners, but there is still enough question to allow another horse to possibly cross the wire first  Value is the key here,

The DRF asks some trainers what to look for when wagering two year olds.  This is important as the first two year olds start making their pari-mutuel debuts.  One thing I don't understand is how certain tracks will put two year olds in against older horses.  But as bad as it is when race secretaries card those types of races, trainers do their babies a disservice when they drop them in these races.  They would be better off sending their babies to tracks where two year olds compete against each other.

Herve Fillion may have retired from active racing, but he hasn't hung up his colors for good.  He will be racing at Goshen in the Hall of Fame Trot on July 7.

A casino operator calls Poker not a game of skill despite what many people say.  I understand what he is saying, after all the dealing of cards is random.  It becomes a game of bluffing.  Sheldon Adelson also opposes online gaming as it is taking advantage of gamblers.  Even though Las Vegas will be offering online gaming soon, he will not allow his casinos to participate.  The article is an interesting read.

Preview of the TVG/Meadowlands FFA Trotting Series

Tonight is another leg of the TVG/Meadowlands FFA Trotting Series, another opportunity to earn a spot to the year end $500,000 final.  This week Market Share and Arch Madness join the fray.  The race would be easy to handicap if everyone has been racing regularly but many of the logical choices have a question mark  It's not that I expect bombs away here, but looking for value in this race is absolutely essential

10th Meadowlands Trot - $50,000; TVG/Meadowlands FFA (Horses are Listed in Post Position Order)
   1  Uncle Peter (D. Miller, 2-1) - Prepped well at Pocono; been sharp and figures to be in the thick of it
   2  Wishing Stone (Gingras, 8-5) - Won Maxie Lee and is a logical pick.  Does three week layout take the edge off?
   3  Sevruga (A, Miller, 7-2) - Overachieved in Cutler.  A step below the best here.
   4  Undercover Strike (Campbell 8-1) - Seems to be not up to these but can land share with best effort.
1A  Guccio (Takter, 2-1) - Won at Pocono and been sharp, but wins have been few.
  5  Big Sky Storm (Callahan, 25-1) - Would be a major upset if he gets on the ticket
  6  Knows Nothing (Allard, 15-1) - Picking up a check would be an accomplishment.  Pass.
2A  Market Share (Tetrick, 8-5) - Four year old making second start  Does he manage against the best aged?
  7  Another Amaretto (Lachance, 25-1) - Wondering what he is doing in here?
  8  Arch Madness (Smedshamer, 6-1) - Returns from racing Europe's best.  Only concern is trainer not sure if he's ready for a big effort.  Question mark,  At decent odds may be worth a look
Selections: 1-2-8-2A-3  Longshot Play #8

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hollywood Memories

(Updated to give credit for the article)
It was announced recently that Hollywood Park will face the same fate as Bay Meadows, facing the wrecking ball in order to build a new development on the renowned racetrack.  While news of its closure may mean nothing in modern day harness racing, at one time Hollywood Park had a strong connection with harness racing.  VFTRG contributor Joe F. looks back at some of the great harness racing moments at Hollywood Park.

Standardbreds in the Hollywood Paddock (Archival Photo)
In light of the impending demolition of Hollywood Park, here, in no particular order, are a few notable races that took place at that track. The powerful thoroughbred lobby saw to it that harness racing in California was confined to the daytime until mid-November of 1968, when the newly installed lights at Hollywood Park were finally fired up. The foggy nights and mile circumference of the track made for less than ideal viewing but that didn’t keep the venture from being very popular.

·         In November, 1970, Laverne Hanover, the third choice on the board, kept the jinx on sophomore pacers in the APC alive as he beat three-year-old champ, Most Happy Fella. George Sholty drove the winner while Stanley Dancer drove MHF. Horton Hanover finished third.

·         In October, 1960, Bye Bye Byrd, driven by Clint Hodgins, caught up to pacesetter Adios Butler in the American Pacing Classic. Triple B was the sports money king while The Butler was the fastest pacer ever off a :54.3 TT mark at Lexington. Three-year-old Bullet Hanover finished third, followed by Caduceus.

·         In November, 1961, five-year-old Adios Butler set a WR for a mile and an eighth in the APC. He was barred from the betting. Owner Paige West drove AB. The previous week he set a new WR for a mile and a sixteenth. The Butler had one more start, the following week at Roosevelt Raceway, after which he was retired to an undistinguished career as a stallion.

·         Four-year-old Dayan beat 4/5 favorite Fresh Yankee for the second time in two weeks in the $100,000 ATC at Hollywood Park in December, 1970. Dayan equaled the WR for a mile and an eighth for Billy Myer. Chiola Hanover and Dayan—the latter named for the famous Israeli general—were the two top sons of Hickory Smoke. The great race mare, Elma, the dam of Texas and Japa, was also by Hickory Smoke.

·         In November, 1972, three-year-old Super Bowl took his 18 race win streak into the mile and an eighth ATC; it was his last start before taking up residence at Hanover. Dancer cut out the mile but his charge ran out of gas during the final eighth. Dayan won, followed by Flower Child and Oppy.

·         In November, 1965, three-year-old filly Armbro Flight beat Harlan Dean and Speedy Rodney in the ATC. Elgin Armstrong labeled her the greatest horse bred in 100 years. She beat Noble Victory in the Kentucky Futurity five weeks prior to this race. The cantankerous mare disappointed as a broodmare, although her last foal, born when she was twenty-five, turned out to be Hambletonion winner, Armbro Goal.

·         Four-year-old Albatross scored a five length win over Nansemond and Horton Hanover in the ATC on December 2, 1972. The 1/9 favorite generated a $228 minus place pool and a $7,600 minus show pool. He retired with $1.2 million in earnings. This was also the last race for Nansemond and Horton Hanover.

·         In November, 1965, nine-year-old Cardigan Bay beat Adios Vic and Meadow Skipper in the APC. The win made Cardy three for four against Vic.

·         Vic’s win against Cardigan Bay came in the $10,000 Huntington Pace in October, 1965. Three-year-old Vic set a WR for a mile and a sixteenth, breaking Adios Butler’s record.

·         In 1974 three-year-old Handle With Care beat Sir Dalrae, Armbro Omaha and Armbro Nesbit in 1:54.4 in the Western Pace. No filly or mare had ever won in a faster time.

·         Four-year-old Marlu Pride set a TR of 1:57.2 at Hollywood Park in beating Fresh Yankee a neck in the $50,000 Pacific Trot for John Chapman.

·         Eight-year-old Fresh Yankee, the richest American bred harness horse to that point, won a rematch with Marlu Pride over a sloppy track in the ATC. The latter finished second, followed by Luther Hanover. Marlu Pride, a big black son of Hickory Pride, missed sixteen months with leg issues after this race. He was one of the most talented trotters ever, but he never really overcame his retinue of issues.

·         Best Of All went out a loser as he finished second to Overcall in his last start before joining the stallion ranks at Hanover Shoe Farm. The 2/5 favorite fell a half-length short for Bobby Williams. Del Insko drove Overcall. The latter was an abject failure as a stallion. Shirley’s Beau was his best. BOA was also a failure in that area. Cane Pace winner Boyden Hanover was probably his best.

·         In November, 1969, Overcall retired with twenty-two consecutive wins when he took the $100,000 APC by three lengths.

·         Sir Dalrae had a great year in 1973 and was voted HOY, but Invincible Shadow beat him in the APC.

·         Albatross capped his three-year-old campaign with four starts at HP. He beat Kentucky in an Invitational; won the $100,000 L. K. Shapiro over Winning Worthy and Nansemond; trounced the likes of Rum Customer, Kentucky, Isle of Wight and Horton Hanover in the  $51,000 Western Pace; then finished up by beating the same group plus Nansemond in the $100,000 mile and an eighth American Pacing Classic.

·         Adios Butler was barred in the betting in all of his 1961 starts at HP. No horse of any breed had ever been removed from the betting pool in California. When he swept the APC series that year, he broke the record for a mile and an eighth by three seconds, from the second tier.

·         Grandpa Jim swept the classic series at Hollywood Park as the five-year-old won the Earl Laird. Both were mainstays at Hollywood Park in the fall, and they each earned about $500,000 the hard way. Lady B Fast was their trotting partner. She won the ATC and the Pacific Trot in 1968.

·         Adios Vic beat Bret for the fourth time in the $20,000 Preview Pace at HP on October 30, 1966. As was his custom Jim Dennis sat off until the stretch with Vic. Bret lost for the fifth time in 67 starts. In none of those had he finished worse than second. There was a $12,000 minus show pool.

·         Bob Farrington’s Easy Prom upset Romeo Hanover for the second time in two weeks in the 1967 edition of the mile and an eighth ATC. Easy Prom had beaten Romeo, driven by Stanley Dancer, the week before in the Preview Pace. Del Miller drove Romeo in the ATC. True Duane was second and Fashion Tip third.

·         In 1965 HP carded a NB tune-up race for Cardigan Bay, Glad Rags and Adios Vic prior to the APC. Eddie Wheeler drove nine-year-old Cardigan Bay for Stanley Dancer. Vic made his patented late charge but Wheeler got Cardy home in :26.2 to hold the feared closer off.

·         Almost 24,000 were on hand as Bret Hanover finished worse than second for the first time in his career, in his final start, the mile and an eighth APC. Bret led until the last sixteenth when 8/1 shot, True Duane, a three-year-old driven by Chris Boring, swallowed him up. Cardigan Bay finished second. Frank Ervin made the tactical error of taking the field to the mile mark in a speedy 1:54.3. Bret, the 6/5 favorite, ended his career with 62 wins in 68 starts, and earnings in excess of $922,000. This was only the second time in his career that he went off at a price more than even money. Adios Vic, Cardigan Bay and True Duane were the only three horses to beat him. True Duane wasn’t much of a sire. His best was the gelding, Mirror Image, the fastest two-year-old pacer of 1973.

·         True Duane’s mile and an eighth record stood for 14 years, when Niatross broke it in 1980. That one also eclipsed Direct Scooter’s 1:54 race mile mark at HP with a mile in 1:52.1.

Allstar Weekend in the Poconos

Readers of this blog know I don't care for eliminations so I won't be going into any the eliminations with any big detail, but here is a 'quick' review of the eliminations being contested at Pocono Downs on Saturday night:

1st Race - James B Lynch Memorial (1st Division)
Jerseylicious is likely to be the favorite having raced a credible 3rd in the Fan Hanover and being the 'tightest' of the main contenders.  While Jerseylicious must not be ignored, I like Miss Cailia J Fra despite last racing on June 1; she won the NJSS defeating Jerseylicious so I look for her to come out on top.  Of course, Shebestingin can't be ignored winning five out of six starts this year.

2nd Race - Earl Beal Jr. Memorial (1st Division)
Looks to be a ho-hum race  Dontyouforgtit and Celebrity Maserati seem to be the two contenders in the race with Celebrity Maserati being my top pick having won the Dexter Cup at Freehold Raceway.  If I had to pick a third horse, I would go with Creatine.  Creatine blew up in his first start at Pocono downs but with it only being his third start of the year, he should be at full strength.

3rd Race - Max C Hempt Memorial (1st Division)
A wide open race so I am going to take a strong look at Good Day Mate.  True, he came from the second tier Stallion Series.  I am discounting his efforts at YR, figuring he didn't like the track.  Lonewolf Currier and Johnny Rock are likely favorites but the odds on these two will be prohibitive.

5th Race - James B Lynch Memorial (2nd Division)
This should be one heck of a race to love as 3-4 I Love the Nightlife and Charisma Hanover who is riding a five race winning streak.  If you can get close to 8-1 on Charimsa Hanvover, he is worth a wager.  Of course, Somewhereovertherainbow is not to be discounted.

6th Race - Earl Beal Jr. Memorial (2nd Division)
People will love Corky who won the Historic last week at Tioga but remember it was only a five horse field he defeated.  Royalty For Life finished second in the Breeders Crown last year and jumped in his fist p-m start of the year; coming of a solid 1:53.1 qualifier at the Meadowlands, he may be worth a second look.  Smoother Ride does most of his racing in the morning but despite that, he still looms large 

7th Race - Max C Hempt Memorial (2nd Division) 
Wale Up Peter raced huge in two starts at Mohawk and figures to have an easy race here.  He may be a horse worth support regardless of his odds.  Martini Hanover had no chance at Mohawk in his last start; he should land in the exotics.

8th Race - Ben Franklin FFA (1st Division)
The big  boys take to the stage and Betterthancheddar is the class of the race,   I am a little concerned with his giving up the lead in the Roll with Joe bit the fractions were torrid.  I am going to go with Clear Vision who at 8-1 may be an attractive wager; having horrible posts in the Open Hnadicaps at Yonkers  Either way, these two should be in your exotic tickets 

9th Race - Earl Beal Jr. Memorial (3rd Division)
Jurgen Hanover is undefeated this year with seven victories; his most recent in the Empire Breeders Classic at Tioga Downs.  The only other horse with a decent chance is Eli Hanover, another undefeated horse at 3 for 3, sweeping the NJSS at the Meadowlands.  I suspect we will see if Eli Hanover is the real deal, having to finish first or second to remain relevant in the early discussions of the end of year awards.  The advantage here goes to Jurgen Hanover.

10th Race - Max c Hempt Memorial (3rd Division)
Capatintreacherous is in this race  Is there anything else to say?  If there is a horse who can spoil Captaintreacherous's parade Saturday night it is Vegas Vacation.  With Rocking Amadeaus in the race looks to be an easy (and low paying trifecta of 4-1-8.

11th Race - Ben Franklin FFA (2nd Division)
I would stay away from Sweet Lou if you are a win player.  The horse has the ability but he has become the type of horse whose best efforts tend to come in the finals.  I wouldn't be shocked if he won, but just wouldn't expect it  Heston Blue Chip has been reported to be ready but his racing schedule this year is limited; having two starts to his credit for this year.  Razzle Dazzle has been freshened up but I want to see a race.  Fred and Ginger failed in the Gold Cup last week, yet he is a winner of two of the TVG Series tilts.  He would be my win pick. 

12th Race - Ben Franklin FFA (3rd Division)
The best elimination of the night is saved for last.  Pet Rock, Foiled Again, Hurricane Kingcole, and Bolt The Duer all do battle in this division and the understudies in the race are more than capable of springing an upset.  Pet Rock came form the second tier to win the Roll With Joe. Foiled Again finished second in the Roll With Joe after being roughed up during this race.  After sickness, Hurriane Kingcole stayed local to compete in a preferred pace at the Downs  After winning the Dan Patch, Bold The Duer stayed local to race in a higher level handicap at the Meadows.  This can be a win for the old timer so I cast my lot with Foiled Again.

One thing for sure, regardless of who wins tonight, if you are a harness racing fan within a reasonable distance, you may want to head over to Pocono Downs next weekend for the finals.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Brief Briefs

Looking at the Hambletonian/Breeders Crown Poll for this week I had to have a chuckle.  There was one vote for Tracys Shadow.  Now to be fair, this was not a first place vote.  I loved the Tracys Shadow story as much as anyone else (she has since gone down to defeat) and granted at the time the voter voted for her, she was 18 for 19 this year, but to put a $7,500 claimer on the list?  I have no doubt if the top horses had raced more by now, the voter wouldn't have voted for the now 18 for 20 mare, but still, was this taking the 'favorite son' policy a little to far?

There is an interesting race at Tioga Downs on Friday night in the fourth race, a race which would be pretty routine if not for the additional condition attached to the race for Fillies & Mares N/w $1,601 Last 5 Starts or N/w $13,500 in 2012/13 with 15 or more starts.  The race is being called the  "Old Sulky Race" with an added condition mandating older race bikes being used (not conventional sulkies).  It will be interesting to see how much slower the race will go than usual. 

Joe F Looks at the Pocono Eliminations

Elimination races for the Hempt, Lynch, Franklin and Beal stakes are on top this weekend at Pocono Downs so our reporterJoe F takes a look and previews the races.

The forecast calls for temps in the mid-seventies with a chance of a thunderstorm on Saturday at Pocono Downs. If the weather cooperates there may be an explosion of speed that outdoes the one that occurred there in 2012 during the elimination and final rounds of the Hempt, Lynch, Franklin and Beal stakes.

Last year the final of the $500,000 Beal was held on the same night as the elimination round for the other three; this year they are all in sync. The Beal served as Goo’s coming out party. He won his elimination by seven in a WR :51.3 and topped that in the final as he became the first trotter to break :51 on a 5/8 track. Stormin Normand was the only other starter to maintain contact with the winner and he finished a length back. Dan Patch winner Market Share skipped the Beal.
There are three eight horse eliminations for the Beal on Saturday—nine of them will make next week’s final. Celebrity Maserati and Peter Haughton winner Aperfectyankee will have a rematch in the first. Jimmy Takter’s Dontyouforgetit has the rail in that split. Corky takes on Royalty For Life in the second division. The latter won a split of the ISS and finished second to Wheeling N Dealin in the BC last year. His only 2013 start was a disaster as he was five off the gate at the start and ran part of the way home. He gets Tetrick here. EBC winner Jurgen Hanover, a winner of all seven starts this year, takes on the NJSS kingpin, Smilin Eli, in the third split.

Division top gun, Wheeling N Dealin is absent from a premium sophomore tilt for the second time this month. He wasn’t staked to the Goodtimes at Mohawk either. That’s a big disappointment. The top four finishers from the Goodtimes, including winner Flanagan Memory, are all missing from the Beal.
Last year’s Lynch proved to be a very exciting race as Jewel engaged the leader, Economy Terror, for the last 3/8 of a mile and finally won in a WR tying :49.2. The mark was jointly held by Peelers and Showherthemoney. Jewel was on a path to being considered an all-time great after winning the Lynch, but she subsequently lost the Shalee to Major Look, the EBC to Bettor B Lucky and the Valley Forge to stablemate, Romantic Moment. As was the case the previous year with that other New York bred, Peelers, greatness proved elusive.

Saturday’s second Lynch division is a beauty: Fan Hanover winner, I Luv The Nitelife, drew the four, with Somwherovrarainbow just outside of her. And if that isn’t enough, Adios Betty and Courageous Lady winner, Charisma Hanover, a perfect five for five for the Burke barn, starts from the outside. The first split matches Ms Caila J Fra, winner of the NJSS final over Jerseylicious and Nitelife, against the former—from the rail—and the outstanding Bettor’s Delight filly, Shebestingin, from the far outside. Jerseylicious started from the eight in last week’s Fan Hanover. Belle Boyd, Love Canal and L Dees Lioness are missing from the Lynch.
A Rocknroll Dance established himself as a player in last year’s Hempt. Elimination winners, Duer and Kingcole, knocked heads for the last 5/8 of a mile only to have Gingras get up at the wire and steal it with 17/1 Dance in a :48.3 mile. He won the Pace and Battle after that but from mid-August on it was one bad post, tough mile and poor finish after another. He’s now dropped fifteen straight.  Part-owner/trainer, Jim Mullinix, was presented with the 2012 Winner’s Circle Award by the Ohio chapter of the USHWA. Hello! Earth to Ohio. Talk about a horse in need of a new home.

The Captain, fresh off his Cup win, should handle the competition pretty easily in the third Hempt elimination. Casie Coleman bemoaned the bad racing luck of her Bettor’s Delight gelding, Vegas Vacation, in the Cup. This is his chance to prove her right: he drew the one for Sears in that division. The Summer Survivor Series phenom, Word Power, steps up this week. He drew the seven against Lonewolf Currier, Emeritus Maximus, Johny Rock and Source Of Pride in the first division of the Hempt. The $100,000 final of the Summer Survivor Series is the same night as the Hempt final. And Wake Up Peter is well positioned to win the second division as Bye Bye Byrd winner, Beach Memories, and Martini Hanover drew way outside of him. Fool Me Once, Sunshine Beach, Doctor Butch, Sir Carys Z Tam, Varadero Hanover and Twilight Bonfire are among the missing.
Aracache had his five minutes of fame when he won an elimination for last year’s Franklin in :48.1. Cheddar overpowered the field in the other with a  :48.3 mile. He came first up at the 3/8 and crushed the field in the final, too, tying the WR of :48. That win matched the stakes record held by Artistic Fella and Mr Big. Cheddar marked himself as the top dog in the division that night.

There were only two elimination divisions for the Franklin last year; there are three on Saturday. Cheddar, with two unsuccessful but promising starts in him, drew the outside in the first for his regular chauffeur, George Brennan. Golden Receiver, the last place finisher in his 2012 elimination, drew the two.  Heston Blue Chip finally takes on his peers in the second, from the outside post. Sweet Lou, given a week off after a head to head battle with Cheddar in the RWJ, drew just inside of HBC. RWJ winner, Pet Rock, starts from the rail in the third. Molson winner, State Treasurer, starts just outside of him. Foiled, Kingcole and Duer are also in the field.
As is often the case, elimination night for these four stakes may trump next week’s finals.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Joe F. Reviews the TVG FFA Trot

Friday night's 10th race at the Meadowlands is a $50,000 leg of the TVG FFA series for trotters.  A full field of ten will compete for points for the Meadowlands championship race at the end of the year  VFTRG contributor Joe F. takes a look at the field.
Market Share qualified Friday in :53 (:26) and makes his second start of the season, and first in the TVG series, Friday night. He beat a soft A-1/FFA field at M1 on May 31. Half the ten horse field consists of four-year-olds; it is completed by three five-year-olds, one six and nine-year-old Arch Madness.
Mister Herbie earned almost a million dollars last year battling Chapter Seven, and was probably the pre-season favorite in the series, but it appears his foot problems have resurfaced. Last year he missed seven weeks between the end of May and the third week of July. Herbie looked good finishing second to Modern Family in his Cutler elimination, but in the final he dropped back to eighth after leaving from the rail and failed to engage the field from that point forward.

Andy Miller backed the field down with Sevruga in the Cutler and played catch me if you can from the half on. The finish was dramatic with four across: Sevruga, Guccio, Wishing Stone and Modern Family. (The latter is not staked to the TVG.) Sevruga, an SJ’s Caviar gelding, leads the TVG standings with 48 points, followed by Wishing Stone with 38  and Guccio with 25. There are six full-fledged legs and one possible elimination left, and the road to making the top ten is wide open.
Wishing Stone wired the field in :52 in the Maxie Lee at the end of May, equaling the Harrah’s TR. Gingras backed the second quarter down to :29.3 and sprinted off to a three length win. The little guy has won three times for the Burke barn this year.

Guccio and Uncle Peter both won in a TR :51.1 at Pocono this month. The latter has won twice against lesser this year, and the same goes for his stablemate. Guccio is cursed with Takter in the bike every time out and Friday is no exception. Takter managed to win Saturday’s start against an inferior field at Pocono as the 2/5 favorite, but I wouldn’t count on that happening here. The trotters are much better and the drivers listed include: Tetrick, Gingras, David Miller, Mike Lachance and Andy Miller. Takter is a HOF trainer; not to be confused with a HOF driver.
On this weekend last year the Meadowlands offered the $40,000 Titan Prep. Winning Mister made the mile and Tetrick waltzed past him at the end to win in a WR :50.4. The same scenario played out the following week in the $200,000 final, with the exact same result. You wonder where they come up with the scratch to fund that high-dollar year-end final? This week’s open represents a $190,000 savings from last year’s Titan. That’s the source of part of it.

Arch had the misfortune to draw the ten as he makes his first start since returning from Europe. Last year he started the season with a bang but went winless for three months after racing overseas. On the other hand, two years ago he came back from his European sojourn and proceeded to win the Titan Prep, Titan Cup and a $60,000 open at Pocono in his first three starts. Then again, he was only seven-years-old at that time. Sears drove him in the Titan Cup and Buter in the open. His trainer will be sitting behind him Friday night.
San Pail was the big star in this division two years ago with 14 wins good for $1.2 million. Chapter Seven only made ten starts last year but he won eight of them for a million dollars and equaled the WR on a mile track. He was clearly the dominant force. No such star exists in 2013. Will Market Share step up? Many were skeptical about him last year. He won the right races—the high dollar Hambletonian and Canadian Trotting Classic—but Goo made him look bad in the Colonial and Intimidate embarrassed him in the BC. Heading off to the Heartland to dish out a couple of beat downs in the Am-Nat and the Galt didn’t make up for his weak showing in the BC. The elimination and final of the Dexter, three NJSS starts, the Zweig, Am-Nat and Galt: too many low-end wins.

Intimidate staked his claim to the division in the BC, but he’s keeping a low—as in nonexistent—profile. He hasn’t been nominated to much. Intimidate is staked to the Maple Leaf in mid-July, the Credit Winner in early September, and the BC.  Market Share, Wishing Stone and Guccio are eligible to the Allerage open at the Red Mile while Intimidate and Goo are not. It will be difficult for any aged trotter or pacer to win the division outside the context of the TVG. Some are concerned about that series marginalizing the aged H & G division BC races and it would seem their concern is justified.

Someone Explain This to Me

Horse racing in Atlantic City proper?  It can be the case this October, when the American version of Palio racing is planned to be run. 

Unlike the version in Italy where they race around the piazza, plans are to run their races on the beach.  Legislation has been proposed to allow an operator of a race meet at a racetrack to run these races with wagering provided they give up a corresponding number of days at the racetrack they have days scheduled.  Being ACRC has already completed their race meet, it looks like the NJTHA will step in and run this special meet (with wagering) and give up two of the dates they have at the Meadowlands.

I realize at times I have a myopic view of things; not wanting to do squat to help the Atlantic City casino interests, but why anyone would want to lift one finger to help a struggling industry that has been trying to destroy you puzzles me.  However, if there is a buck to be made, I guess principle goes out the window. 

I would love someone to explain the logic of this to me.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Winner No Matter How You Look at It

You may not have met Richard Scott  Truth is until I went looking for handicappers for HANA Harness' 2013 Grand Circuit Challenge which is sponsored by The Hambletonian Society, Chicago Harness, IHHA, Meadowlands, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs, I really didn't know of him as well

Richard was one of the first handicappers who volunteered to participate so we were happy to have him  While Scott comes across as a nice guy, he really didn't stand out from the other handicappers personality-wise.  That was until this past weekend

For the Tioga Downs leg, he gave me an exacta part wheel of 4/2,4,5.  This seemed out of character for him but being his selections were submitted far enough in time I asked him what he was trying to bet because there was time to change it  Richard wrote back that he meant it to be 3/2,4,5 as Maven was his favorite horse racing.  He mentioned he was thinking of going to win bets for the rest of the contest so he didn't mess up  The reason for this?  To put it in his words "I guess too much on my mind with the upcoming chemo/radiation treatments".

Being somewhat concerned I asked Richard, if he didn't mind sharing, what kind of cancer was it?"  Truth be told, cancer has become all so common I expected to hear something routine.  Was I wrong, big time

But before we go any further, let me set the story up the best way I can with this column which appeared on the USTA's website on October 5, 2011 which is being reprinted in its entirety, courtesy of the USTA.

Richard Scott’s greatest victory
Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - by Dean A. Hoffman


Dean Hoffman

Columbus, OH --- It was almost 30 years ago when I first met Richard Scott. He was then a second trainer for Howard Beissinger and I was doing an article on a pacing filly named Bardot Lobell. The chestnut filly became the first 1:55 freshman filly in the summer of 1982.

Richard talked to me at length about the filly’s training and I could immediately see that he was an intelligent, articulate young horseman.

Fast forward to today and Richard Scott isn’t celebrating a horse’s accomplishments on the track but instead celebrating his own victory on a personal health issue. We’ll return to that later.

Scott attended Miami University, a prestigious college in southwest Ohio, and majored in math, but his thoughts weren’t always on the classroom.

“I sometimes skipped the second half of my Western Civilization class to go to Lebanon Raceway,” says Scott.

After college was over, he got a job in a quality control lab at a nearby meat plant, but started to helping a friend who had horses at Lebanon. Ricke enjoyed it so much that he began to contemplate a career with horses. A friend who lived in Hamilton, Ohio put him in touch with Beissinger and they met in Lexington. Scott was hired on the spot despite his limited experience.

Dean A. Hoffman photo
Rick Scott (right) with Howard Beissinger at The Red Mile.

“The first day I was bitten by a horse very hard the first time I walked into the stall,” he says. “The next day I was stepped on. I started getting battle scars early.

“Howard and his assistants -- Mike Zeller, Jim Bowman, and Pete Wilkins -- really helped me the first year,” recalls Scott. “I asked a million questions and everyone was willing to help.”

The next summer Scott went on the road with a pacing filly named Bret’s Nicki and he found many people willing to help him wherever he shipped. Alas, Bret’s Nicki often found herself facing rivals like Silk Stockings and Tarport Hap and that made life miserable for her.

At the end of Scott’s first season, Zeller, a consummate horseman himself, told Scott he won the “rookie of the year” award.

Scott stayed with Beissinger a decade and savored the many trainers that trotted and paced through the stable and also savored the excellent horsemanship he learned from his colleagues. At times the stable had as many as 120 horses in its winter base in Florida.

Scott recalls the stable’s Temujin breaking Niatross’ world record when he won a heat in the 1982 Jug and Dance Spell winning the Hambo Oaks the same year.

The following year the Beissinger Stable had four horses in the Hambletonian and Beissinger chose not to drive any of them, giving John Campbell, Herve Filion and Bill O’Donnell their first drives in the Hambletonian.

After leaving Beissinger, Scott trained for Jerry Silverman for several years and also worked for Steve and Dave Elliott. Interspersed with the good times were a serious automobile accident and a marriage that didn’t last.

“Even though a great multi-tasker, I wasn’t able to concentrate fully on horses and a marriage,” he admits. “I lost focus and it all ended.”

He got out of the horse game and began working for Unisys in Trenton, New Jersey, handling records for Medicaid in the Garden State.

Then came the worst news of all. Rick was diagnosed with cancer and a tumor was found growing along his tongue toward the back of his throat. He underwent surgery, then radiation and chemotherapy.

When he seemed to be recovering, the cancer had returned. More surgeries. The cancer returned again.

“The only situation was the removal of my tongue, right jaw, bottom of my mouth, and part of my throat,” says Scott.

He’s managed to make the most of the rotten hand he was dealt and even finds time to help others in a similar predicament.

“I give occasional talks at the hospital to new cancer patients and tell them, ‘Never give up!’,” he says.

With the gameness that any horseman would admire, Scott says, “I would love to get stronger and maybe drive in a few amateur races and get involved in harness racing in some capacity.”

Rick’s friends all hope that happens.

Which brings us to today.  Obviously, with the news that a new round of chemo and radiation coming up, Scott has suffered another set back.  Seven years after his initial diagnosis and 24 surgeries, it turns out back in April, the doctors discovered the cancer had returned which necessitates the additional treatment.  He is unable to swallow so there is no eating or drinking for him; he gets nourishment through a feeding tube.  After going through all this, I guess he would have every reason to be concerned about his upcoming treatments.  His major concern?  That he will have recovered enough to spend another fall in Lexington to watch the races and meet up with some old friends.  Not a surprising attitude from someone who is a self-described fighter 

You would think he wouldn't want this article written.  Well you would be wrong.  "I like people to see that if you keep fighting that you can survive", said Richard.
As of today, Richard is in fifth place.  There is plenty of time left in this contest to come out on top but wherever he finishes, Scott is a winner to me.

So having had this conversation with Richard, we got into his experiences and opinions regarding harness racing; after all, a person whose primary concern is getting down to Lexington in the fall has harness racing in his blood.  So I asked this Tennessee native for his view on some issues.   Here is the interview:

Q:  How many years were you active in the industry?

A:  Twenty-one years from 1972 to1993.

Q:  Who was the best horse you took care of?

A:   My favorite was the 2 YO trotting filly of the year Ahhhh.  However, I took care of Speedy Somolli for a short time as well. 

Q:  Who is the best horse you have ever seen race and why were they the best?

A:   Niatross clearly was the best I have seen. He was just an amazing horse in all aspects.  That being said, I have many favorites and they usually are trotting mares.  I loved watching Buck I St Pat and now my favorite is Maven. These mares are so tough, you can just see the ears go back and they refuse to lose.

Q:  Did you train horses?  If so, who was the first horse to give you a training win and who was the best?

 A:  I never was an official trainer, but I was an assistant trainer for Howard Beissinger and also trained some for Jerry Silverman and David Elliott.  Some of the best horses for Beissinger were Speedy Somolli, Joie De Vie, Temujin, Dance Spell, Astro Hill, Bardot Lobell, Crowns Star, and Lindy Crown.


Q: Where did you first get involved in racing?

A:  Lebanon Raceway back in 1972.

Q:  Over the years, what are the best changes you have seen occur in harness racing?

A:  The breed is faster and the equipment is better.  Many of the old training methods have changed in response to the new faster breed.

There are lots of good young trainers and drivers coming along so the benefits everyone.


Q:  What is the worst thing you have seen in racing during this time?

A:   A lot of people say drugs but that isn't my opinion. It has always been around so the testing must be improved to handle the issue.  Almost every sport has a drug problem so new tests must constantly be found and each state needs to get on the same page.  For allowable medications there shouldn't be different medication limits and withdrawal times.  Make everything the same.

In my opinion, many of track surfaces just get harder and harder. It's tough enough to keep horses sound without having to pound on an unfavorable surface.  I know it's tough on track management because of cost but some solution must be found to the benefit of everyone.


Q:   If you were a commissioner of racing, what would be the first three things you would do?

A:   For a commissioner and committee to be effective, they must have some control over every track in every state.  I don't see a lot of states and tracks working together much at present and it will take a lot for them to fall in line.  The most important first step is to get everyone on the same page with the same goals in mind.  A successful business model will not work without a clearly defined mission statement and a list of objectives.   There has to be a specific goal in mind and the industry must work towards achieving them in unison.   We have to try to find the best people for what is needed. Not the richest, not the most favorite, not somebody’s relative; but the best candidate for the job.

Q:   What trainer do you admire the most these days and why?  What driver do you admire the most these days and why?

A:   My favorite trainer is Jonas Czernyson followed by Ron Burke.  Jonas is a quiet, consummate professional who does an outstanding job and his horses always look great on the track.  Ron Burke races everywhere with a huge stable and his horses stay sharp race after race. His organization is phenomenal.

Q:   I admire a lot of drivers.  John Campbell has been a huge part of racing and is a great ambassador for the sport. Mike Lachance and Cat Manzi have great hands when it comes to a trotter. Jim Morrill, Jr. and Andy Miller can spring an upset win at any time while Brian Sears, Tim Tetrick and George Brennan can win on any track; cut the mile or come from behind, it doesn’t matter. But the one driver I would choose to drive in a big race would be David Miller.   He is just an all around great driver and has been on top for many years.  

Each track has a top driver and many have been winning for many years. Dave Palone at The Meadows is unbeatable. Billy Parker Jr. has always been a winner and had to battle through cancer. I feel Billy Parker Jr. should be in the Hall of Fame. To win 11,000 races is a great feat and not many have been able to do it.

There always seems to be new top trainers and drivers in the sport.  Part of the fun is seeing the new ones come along.

Q:  Is whipping an issue that hurts racing?

A:  I don't believe it is. I have raced many, many horses and only a couple of times did I ever see a mark on the horse.

Q:  Do you think the problem of unwanted race horses ending up in slaughterhouses is a problem for racing?  Do you think the industry on the whole should do something about it?  Do you have any suggestions?

A:  It bothers me a lot but I don't have a solution. There are many organizations that take what unwanted horses they can and try to find homes for them. I wish they could be more visible attention-wise and could acquire funding somehow because they do a tremendous job on limited available funds. Funds somehow need to be set aside for this purpose.

Q:  Do you think racing can survive without slots?  What does it need to do in order to survive long term?

A:  Racing has survived without slots for a long time so I think in some sense it could survive; just not as many tracks or horses participating. I don't have the answer for survival but ways to draw new fans must be found. Bettors must be rewarded and smaller track takeouts would certainly help.

Q:  Thank you for your time.

A:   You are welcome.