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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Top Events of 2013

Yes, there are nineteen days remaining in 2013 but it is time to look back at the year of 2013.  The following is a list thirty-four events we feel worth mention in any year-end recap.  You may feel the order of some of these should be different, but they belong on the list regardless.

  1. Bee A Magician the likely Horse of the Year – For most of the year the story has been about Captaintreacherous with scant mention of the filly until later in the year when the Captain stumbled.  The end results is the three year old trotting filly will most likely be taking home the Horse of the Year hardware over the 3yo pacing colt.   I must agree, the filly earned it, that being said I look forward to seeing both return for their 4yo season.
  2. Captaintreacherous Takes on the Elders – Despite all the criticism Myron Bell took for keeping the Captain out of the Little Brown Jug, team Treacherous decided to take on the FFAllers in the TVG FFA Series.  While the Captain finished in sixth place, it was not an embarrassing finish; but it seemingly proves the axiom that three year olds are at a distinct disadvantage to older horses in the top classes.  No wonder it took thirty years for a three year old to try taking on the elders.  It may be another thirty years before someone does it again, especially if Captaintreacherous loses the Pacer of the Year award.  Which brings us to……
  3. Foiled Again Keeps on Ticking – It was a slow start for the 9 year old pacing gelding but Foiled Again ended the season like gangbusters, winning the Breeders Crown and the TVG FFA Series in addition to other races leading to some speculation he may take Pacer of the Year away from Captaintreacherous.  Foiled Again is scheduled to return to the racing wars in 2014 but will he be able to return and compete against the best, the same question asked earlier this year?  We will see but here’s hoping he is able to stave off father time.
  4. “It Should End with the Breeders Crown”  Replaces “It All Comes Down to the Breeders Crown” – While the TVG FFA Pace drew a full field, the Trot could only draw six horses; this for a race that goes for $500,000?  While a minor stakes, the Reynolds 3yo pacing colt event at the Meadowlands draws a six horse field while the 3yo pacing filly event gets cancelled when a whole two horses drop in?  With all due respect to the Cleveland Classic at Northfield Park which drew six horses as well, stakes season should end with the Breeders Crown as it seems stakes-caliber horses are like bears, they go into hibernation after the Breeders Crown.  May I suggest having the TVG FFA Series BEFORE the Breeders Crown?
  5. Lou Pena’s Suspension in New York is Tossed – No doubt many followers of the sport and horsemen were distressed to hear the NYSGC was ordered to drop the charges against Lou Pena with regards to his alleged violations.  We are not here to argue Pena’s innocence or guilt, but this judge sent an important message to regulators in New York and hopefully elsewhere;  a government agency can’t put someone on ice by violating their civil rights.  In New York, the rules dictate that the hearing officer must issue a report within 30 days of completion of a hearing.  Well last I looked, the 13 months plus it took to complete the report was more than 30 days prescribed by regulation.  The sad thing is all those scribes who lament about trainers and drivers who drag out their appeals to avoid justice were quiet when it came to the treatment of Pena.
  6. Anthony Coletta Severely Injured in Racing Accident at Harrah’s Philadelphia – In a scene reminiscent of the accident which killed Billy Haughton, young Coletta’s charge ran into a horse sending him flying into the air before hitting the ground and getting trampled in an accident on November 17.  As of today, Coletta sill has yet to regain consciousness but is breathing on his own.   It reminds us all that driving horses despite all the attempts to make it safer is still a dangerous profession.  One good which came out of this whole episode is how the entire harness community has rallied to help cover some of the bills.  If you haven’t yet made a donationand/or feel like making an additional one now,  you may send your check made out to “Stay Strong A. Coletta” and mail it to c/o TD Bank 2653 S. 5th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148.
  7. Apparently the Rule Book is for Suggestions Only – On the final day of the Grand Circuit meet at The Red Mile, both Tim Tetrick and Brian Sears are caught giving their charges a kick/the boot in the Tatersalls Pace.  The judge claims he has no problem with kicking a horse as long as it isn’t too bad despite the rule book claiming it’s a violation.  After an uproar the KHRC reverses course and assesses each driver a $500 fine.  In a state like Pennsylvania, the fine stays at $100 no matter how many times you commit the infraction.  Until fines are significant enough, drivers will continue to ignore the rules as a cost of doing business.
  8. Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment Opens – November 23 was opening night for the new Meadowlands grandstand which brought upon a new name of the facility of Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment.  Some were bowled over by the facility a few weren’t which is ironic considering how many other racetracks bypassed their grandstands when renovating or constructing their casino areas to the anger of horseplayers.  I guess it’s a case of the grass is always greener on the other side.
  9. Ontario Gets a New Plan – The provincial government in Ontario issued a new report which was the genesis of Ontario Racing Live, a five year plan for revitalizing horse racing in the province with an emphasis on live racing. Unfortunately it includes a 30% cut in the funds available to Ontario sired horses in 2013. The overall funding drops from 19.9 million to 14 million. Some in the industry are relieved that there will be racing in province and it is reflected in an increase in yearling prices (from panic-driven prices of the year before) while others, especially those who race on the grassroots circuit question if there is a future for them in the industry.
  10. Windsor Raceway is the First Track to Bow Out in Ontario – Windsor Raceway, owned by a for-profit organization didn’t even wait until the new plan once it became known the slot machines were being pulled out.  A trial meet was run in nearby Leamington and was well supported despite their $1,000 purse levels.  The hope is racing at Leamington will replace the racing which occurred at old Windsor Raceway.
  11. Quebec Renaissance Continues – In a province where standardbred racing was thought to be dead, the Quebec Jockey Club has announced purses will be increased in 2014 at Hippodrome 3R to $3 million over 40 racing days.  The minimum purse will be $3,000 with an average of $5,500 for overnights.
  12. Classified Racing Lives - The Meadowlands raced an entire meet with classified racing and will be continuing so for a second year.  The success of classified racing results in plans for classified racing to be introduced in 2014 at Freehold Raceway.  It remains to be seen if this is the start of something new or a Jersey-only phenomenon as attempts at classified racing had failed elsewhere, including Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs.
  13. Arlington Park May Have Sunk Racing in the Prairie State – As the year draws to a close, ADW wagering in Illinois is set to expire on January 31, 2014 resulting in racing in the state set to be severely curtailed to only 13 days at Balmoral Park with zero days at Maywood Park (a total of 90 days for thoroughbred racing) since the IRB will run out of money to police the sport.  The reason for the failure of having a new ADW bill?  Arlington Park, representing the interests of parent company Churchill Downs which operates TwinSpires, was against a funding formula for the IRB because it relied too much on increased taxes on ADWs.  A compromise was finally reached in time for the last day of legislative action in 2013 but the legislature refused to vote on the bill despite support in both houses.  The future of racing in Illinois may depend on a long shot chance for action on January 29 when the legislature convenes primarily for the State of the State address.
  14. MI-HBPA, Hazel Park and Northville Downs Tries to Stick the Knife in the Back of Standardbred Industry -  In a long drawn out affair in Michigan which accelerated thanks to the actions of former  Governor Granholm , the racetracks which are suffering like the horseman were demanding concessions from harness horsemen in legislation to be sent to Lansing.  When the standardbred horsemen felt they were getting double crossed by the tracks, the horsemen responded with their own changes.  In the meanwhile, the tracks informed the horsemen they were negotiating with the thoroughbred horsemen insinuating they would toss the trotters for the runners.  Sure enough, the MI-HBPA, finding a way to improve their lot were more than willing to do so at the expense of the standardbred horsemen by being willing to pay $400 a horse for the privilege to start in a race.   That’s right, virtually making every race a de facto stakes race.   This is something harness horsemen refused to do.  Think of it at $400 a horse, many horses earning a purse check would still lose money.  (Note: A longer explanation of this from the viewpoint of the MHHA may be found here).  Hence the tracks decided to amend their racing date applications to changeover to the running breeds after ten day harness meets, eliminating harness racing after 2014.  The future of harness racing in Michigan lies with the MGCB which should make a decision shortly since they last were scheduled to meet on December 11.  We will see if 'Tries to Stick the Knife' becomes 'Stick the Knife'.
  15. Death of Rocknroll Hanover – In what was a blow to the North American breed, Rocknroll Hanover passed away this year, the result of a case of stomach impaction.  The death of the son of Western Ideal no doubt helped contribute to ...
  16. Perretti Farms Throws in the Towel – Unsatisfied with the pace of things progressing in the State of New Jersey, Perretti Farms finally threw in the towel and had their final dispersal.  Perhaps the breeding farm most identified with the Meadowlands’ early success has decided it can’t wait any further.  To add insult to injury, Perretti Farms has gotten involved in owning thoroughbred race horses for racing only.  While Perretti still manages a couple of stallions (Lucky Chucky and Muscles Yankee) they will be standing in partnership with Winbak Farm in New York.  The door has been left open this little for a possible return to the standardbred industry if slots come to New Jersey.
  17. New Jersey Racing Commission Votes Down Fair Start Proposal – The NJRC which had previously sent a proposal for a Fair Start Rule back to its staff to work on last year earlier this year decided not to advertise the rule proposal a second time due to its impact on racetrack finances and purportedly because the tote companies could not ‘unscratch’ a horse if it made any winning combination (I guess the thought of not scratching the horse until after the race didn’t occur to them).  
  18. USTA Joins the Social Media Revolution Big Time – The USTA has implemented a new program to maximize its exposure on social media platforms initially by having Social Media Ambassadors who will help promote the sport via the more popular social media platforms.  As a result of the Ambassador program, it is hoped to build on the success of the #Hambo13 campaign.
  19. Everyone into Grand Circuit – Well, the good news is virtually every track in North America which had an unrestricted stake was invited into and accepted membership in the Grand Circuit.  The goal of having all the tracks in the Grand Circuit was to provide them all a way to market a stakes race as a member of the Grand Circuit.  Of course this is not your father (and mother)’s Grand Circuit as instead of weeks at tracks, it now is individual races which qualify.  The bad?  Too many races consisted of short fields and eliminations were part of the Grand Circuit; yes the bane of harness racing, but more than that it oversaturated the market with Grand Circuit events.  A good next step would be if the Grand Circuit only included finals in the Circuit or at minimum only finals were included in Grand Circuit year-end awards consideration.  A long term goal?  Perhaps have a final stop on the Grand Circuit each year where the top point earners got to compete in Super Finals or even the Breeders Crown.
  20. Captaintreacherous Wins the Pepsi North America Cup and Meadowlands Pace  The Captain won NA Cup 2013 in a then 1:48.3 career mark to be followed up by a win in 1:48.1 in the Meadowlands Pace.  With his victory in the Meadowlands Pace, Captaintreacherous  joined Niatross and Nihilator as the only horses to win the Woodrow Wilson at two and the Pace at three.   With the Woodrow Wilson discontinued in 2013, the Captain may be the last horse to complete the historic double.
  21. Royalty for Life Wins the Hambletonian – The 2013 Hambletonion was conducted under revised conditions. Same day heats were back for the first time in 17 years, although no colt could be asked to race more than two heats. Also, the ten finalists in the race would all get paid at least $10,000. A third change was that instead of picking their post as in the past, elimination winners would draw for posts one through five.  The best thing about the post position draw for the second heat?  At least it isn’t an (almost) automatic cakewalk for the rail horse.
  22. Vegas Vacation Wins the Little Brown Jug – Vegas Vacation who was arguably the second best three year old pacer in the country won the Little Brown Jug, a race which the Captain bypassed.   What made his performance even better was he won his elimination and final in identical times of 1:50 for a world record combined time of 3:40.  How he would have done if this was not the year of the Captain, we may never know but it should be interesting to see him as a 4yo.
  23. Four Year Old Stars Race and the World Didn’t End – Thanks to what is known as the ‘Gural Rule’ the top three year olds of 2012 didn’t head for the stallion shed instead returning to the racing wars in 2013.  The result?  Perhaps one of the deepest FFA classes, especially on the pacing side, in years which made for an exciting year.
  24. Elimination Racing Continues to be a Scourge – You know what I mean.  When the 2-5 Market Share goes back in the final TVG FFA Preliminary and really didn’t move until it’s too late but is guns blazing come the final it must leave racing fans shaking their heads, unless of course they have been around awhile.   Whatever happened to racing an odds on favorite as a odds on favorite is expected to do?  Not trying to single out Market Share as this seems to happen in many races, horse race so-so in eliminations and then seemingly comes on big when the real money is on the line.  One day the industry will discover a better way to handle this, though I can tell them two ways to do it now.  One. the highest money earners getting in possibly with ‘win it you are in’ races (if nominated) or two, starters with the highest points earned in the series such as the George Morton Levy Memorial Series get to race in the final.
  25. Billy Parker Jr. Number One Dash Winner and Still Denied Hall of Fame – Okay, we had to have a little sarcasm but based on what people have been saying why Billy Parker Jr. should be denied entry into the Hall of Fame is because he hasn’t won any major races or raced on racing’s main circuits.  So following that logic, Parker wouldn’t get in the Hall of Fame even if he took the number one dash winning spot from Dave Palone?  Zeke has won 11,069 (as of December 8th) races and ranks 6th on the all-time dash winning list.  The man deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
  26. “Johnny Longshot” Looks to be A Good Movie – Okay, this probably will belong on 2014’s list but based on the trailer, Emilio Estevez’s new film looks like it will really get harness racing exposure and do racing well and as it attract interest in theatres.  After “Amazing Racer” which went direct to video, racing can use a hit; something social media can really promote.
  27. Sydney Weaver Wins a ‘Double’ – Odds are you don’t know Sydney Weaver but you should.  This young lady won the USTA’s 2013 Marie Hill Youth Writing Contest (under 12 age group), just two years after winning Standardbred Canada’s essay contest in 2011 on “What Harness Racing Means to Me” .   Sydney became interested in harness racing when she represented a charity to benefit Easter Seals children by allowing them to go to camp.  She is also a licensed groom in Canada and the owner of the horse named Sydney Seelster  (a winner of at least five races for Sydney) and has plans to become a trainer in due time.  Pretty good work for a seventh grader in a wheelchair.   Okay, it may not be a top story but during this holiday season is there something wrong with a ‘feel good’ story?
  28. Disturbing Foal Production Numbers Released in Early 2013 - Between 2008 and 2012 the number of foals born in Kentucky, where a new residency sire stakes program is being instituted, were down more than 83%. New Jersey, which has also been forced to adjust to a lack of stallions by altering its program, saw a 65% reduction. And surprisingly enough, New York, which serves as a model of stability for other programs was down 26%. Pennsylvania, another supposedly stable state, showed a 17% reduction. The only state trending up was Ohio where 42% more foals were born during that period.
  29. Tracys Song - This eight-year-old Astreos mare who lives on the front end, won 21 of 24 starts this year. She set a Monticello track record of 18 consecutive wins. Tracys Song raced for a 7,500 claiming tag for owner Nancy Fugere and trainer Bob Lounsberry. Bruce Aldrich drove her in most of those wins. The USHWA Monticello-Goshen chapter voted her HOY.
  30. Name the Trainer - In mid-July New Jersey sire stakes champion Smilin Eli became embroiled in a controversy over exactly who his trainer was. Deshawn Minor was the trainer of record but state regulators had reason to believe that Carl Conte Jr, who was not properly licensed in New Jersey, was actually calling the shots. The colt was scratched from the Stanley Dancer and his start in the Hambletonian was in jeopardy. Owner Nicholas Cimino fired Minor and turned Eli over to trainer David Smith.
  31. Speed Ruled in September - A Rock N Roll Dance became the first to pace three successive sub 1:48 miles. He won his CPD elimination in 1:47.4 and the final in 1:48. And he also set a world record of 1:47.4 at Pocono. The latter was broken by Pet Rock in the Ewart Invitational at Scioto Downs. He won that in 1: 47.2. Pet Rock also set a world record of 1:48.1 when he won the Winbak Pace on Jug Day.
  32. Shoot Out at the Monticello Corral – On December 12, Monticello Raceway hosted a shoot out between #1 Ronnie Wrenn Jr. and #3 Bruce Aldrich in nationwide dash winners at the Raceway.  The two drivers with a combined 1,241 victories (going in to the contest) chose their amounts in each race, alternating first choice.   It’s nice in an industry focused on dollars earned someone decides to do a promotion based on the number of wins.  In the end, Bruce Aldrich Jr defeated Ronnie Wrenn Jr. 6 wins to 4.  I wish more tracks would do something like this.  John Manzi continues to amaze.
  33. Racing Under Saddle Returns for 2013 – After a successful kick-off year in this reincarnation, a summer and fall of RUS events took place both in the United States and Canada.  In Canada, the group RUS Ontario organized events at most racetracks in the province and were very successful in getting the attention of fans.  Both in the United States and Ontario, fans were eager to meet the participants, standing in line for autographs.  Helping to bring more attention to the monté discipline was the time trial by thoroughbred jockey Chantal Sutherland-Kruse at the Meadows and the win on Super Final Night at Mohawk Racetrack by jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson.  Discussions underway with the CPMA to allow pari-mutuel wagering on RUS in Canada as well as in the United States.
  34. VFTRG Now Has a Staff of Two – In November, occasional contributor Joe F. became a regular contributor to View from the Racetrack Grandstand.  Joe willing to come on board is a blessing as quite honestly, he loves talking about breeding and the sales, something quite honestly which is not in my wheelhouse.  While the blog is still written primarily from the racing fan’s view, the addition of Joe allows the blog to be more rounded when it comes to harness racing.  Ever curious who wrote which entry?  The bottom of each entry says who posted it plus Joe tends to end his posts with a ‘JF’.

Was something missed from the list?  Don't think something belonged on the list?  Feel free to let us know in the comments section.

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