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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Fate Of Plainridge Will Be Decided In Four Weeks

On November 22, 2011 Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill calling for the licensing of three casinos and one slots parlor. There have been numerous twists and turns along the way, but I’ll focus on the single slots license, which is closely tied to the fate of harness racing in Massachusetts. The competition for that license has been, in contrast to the Marx Brothers style battle over the casino licenses, by the book and devoid of theatrics. Well, not entirely. In April Plainridge point man Gary Piontkowski was forced out when it was discovered he’d helped himself to more than a million dollars from the track money room over the course of a number of years. He claimed it was no big deal. Some believed this surprise development would doom the Plainridge bid, but Penn National Gaming of Pennsylvania swooped in and seized this opportunity to gain a foothold in Massachusetts, and—not that it was high on their priority list-- save the day for harness racing. The fact that they have extensive experience dealing with the confluence of gaming and racing seemed to impress the gaming commission.

With four weeks to go until the slots license is awarded there are three applicants still in play: Raynham Park, the Cordish Companies (Leominster), and Penn National. All three have been deemed suitable by the commission and they all received positive feedback from the local voters. Leominster is in the central part of the state, while Plainville and Raynham are both south of Boston, with the former being more to the west and handy to Rhode Island. Still, the towns are only 20 miles apart along route 495.

Cordish has the least desirable location of the three and I’d say they are the least likely to win out. Raynham was a dog track until that form of racing was voted out in a 2008 referendum; since that time they’ve been functioning as a simulcast center. Their problem is that the governor granted the Wampanoag tribe the inside track on the casino license for Southeastern Massachusetts. And their preference is to build on land in Taunton, the town adjacent to Raynham. They have been slow to get their act together and the vultures are circling; Foxwoods has joined hands with the city of Fall River—20 miles south of Raynham—and they will be submitting a bid. I assume the commission would prefer that the single slots parlor not be in the same general vicinity as a casino, and the fact that there are so many questions associated with the Southeastern Mass casino location is not a plus for Raynham Park. Plainridge, on the other hand, is not close to a potential casino.

While the commission has supposedly been shielded from political influence, most of its members were appointed by various politicians, so political clout can’t be discounted. Gary Piontkowski is a Republican—not a popular breed on Beacon Hill—and a pal of former US Senator Scot Brown. Not much leverage there. Raynham, on the other hand, is owned and operated by 85-year-old George Carney, who has been working Massachusetts politicians for most of his life and knows how to get things done. His family has owned Raynham Park for 50 years. Part of his property now holds a septic treatment plant and another area is used for recycling construction materials. Carney has been hanging on, waiting for a slots/casino license. This may represent a do or die situation for him, just as it does for Plainridge, where 446 folks holding jobs directly linked to harness racing would be out of work if that bid is rejected. The stakes are high.

Plainridge races 100 days a year, from April to November. George Carney owns the Brockton Fairgrounds, which has a track and a grandstand. As part of his proposal he has pledged to present harness racing there for a relatively brief period during the summer. His partner, Greenwood Racing, has agreed to put five or six million dollars into refurbishing the track and facilities. The fact that Plainridge would save harness racing from extinction in Massachusetts is a major selling point for that proposal and I’m sure Carney and his partners felt they needed to make a good will gesture to the sport, but I can’t see it making a difference.

Another strange angle to this story—after all, it is Massachusetts—is that a powerful citizens’ campaign to repeal the casino law has been launched, and they are determined to get a question on the ballot in November. The case is currently before the Supreme Judicial Court. Each applicant for a casino/slots license cut a non-refundable $400,000 check to the state just to get into the game, and all of them have spent millions more on architects, lobbyists, lawyers etc. How could the state tell them nine months from now that the whole thing was an April Fools’ Day joke? Caesar’s is already suing the commission chairman over the way they were dealt with in the Suffolk Downs debacle. The decision on the slots license is due on February 28. Plainridge, which has already built a garage and retrofitted their building, promised the commission they would have the slots parlor up and running within six months of getting the license. That would be a couple of months before the ballot question appears before the voters. How stupid is that? Do you tell them to just shut it down? So if the good government casino haters get their way chaos will ensue.

Putting that insanity aside, Penn National has garnered support from local businesses by signing agreements with them. For instance, instead of building a hotel, they will funnel customers to existing hotels in the area. The track has also developed strong ties within the community over the years, and signed on Doug Flutie to be the face of the operation. While the Leominster proposal is rootless and uninspiring, and the Raynham proposal is at the mercy of the casino that could wind up next door, there is really no downside to Plainridge. The highway infrastructure is unmatched by any of the other slots or casino proposals; the survival of an industry comes along with it as a bonus; and the company behind it is absolutely solid. Yes, I’ve made up my mind: the slots license will go to Plainridge.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chicago Racing Comes off the Mat; Harrah's and Assault on Slot Revenue

The most important news in harness racing this morning is racing starts in Illinois on February 5 as the Illinois Legislature finally passed an ADW extension bill which means the IRB will be fully funded and allows for a full season of harness and thoroughbred racing in the Prairie State.  The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 47-4 while the House approved the legislation by a margin of 95-10.  As promised, Governor Quinn promptly signed the legislation once delivered to his desk.

Not that horsemen are out of the woods yet.  The IHHA must negotiate a contract with Balmoral and Maywood Park and depending whether or not the tracks are willing to defer recapture (to collect on past overpayments), horsemen may be racing with major purse cuts in place.   

Meanwhile, people are focusing on why Harrah's Philadelphia is still allowed to operate its casino.  My sources report the magic number is 140, as in race dates.  It seems the PGCB's position is Harrah's must run 140 race cards in 2014 to keep their casino license.  If this current situation (that they are monitoring) last up to the point where Harrah's cannot get those 140 days in, then they will take action.

In other news, Harrah's is meeting with the PHRC on Feb 3rd to iron out the problem with the track so it appears this situation will soon be rendered moot.

Assuming Harrah's is able to come to terms with the PHRC next week, there is an issue of arrogance by the gaming conglomerate in allowing the issue to get to this point which needs to be addressed.  It would be appropriate for the PHRC to assess financial penalties against the gaming company for ignoring previous requests.  Should a horseman have ignored the PHRC, they would have been suspended and fined.  There is no reason Harrah's should be treated any differently.

In related news, lawyers for the injured Anthony Coletta have filed a motion to compel Harrah's to permit a forensic investigation of the track surface to see if its condition was responsible for Coletta's injuries.  Up to now, Harrah's has denied the request.  The investigation not only will investigate the track surface but see if its maintenance was within the industry's best practices.  Update: The judge has granted the motion.  At the hearing Harrah's had no objection to the investigation despite the fact the lawyers claimed Harrah's denied access before.

January is not only the start of a new year, its time for the annual assault on Pennsylvania's slot revenue as Pennsylvania Representative Todd Stephens has proposed taking the entire Horse Racing Development Fund contribution from slot revenue and redirect it to schools which receive less than average state aid.  Specifically, it calls for $250 million to be transferred from the fund to schools.  While this proposal may go no where, it is a matter of time before the image of purses being won by Arab Shieks (t-bred), out of state millionaires and billionaires taking all the money will be hard to compete against, especially with the current anger towards income inequality.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Could Relaxed Racing Work Here?

Fate of Illinois Determined Today:  The Illinois Legislature meets today for the State of the Union Address.  If the legislature doesn't approve the ADW bill today, ADW wagering expires at the end of the week and thoroughbred and standardbred racing get their racing dates shaved big time (especially the trotters).  The Governor has already said he will sign the legislation, the two houses supposedly agree with the legislation; it is just a case of getting the legislators to take action today.  A no brainer right?  Well neither house has an ADW bill on the agenda for action today; it would need to be added at the last minute.  UPDATE: ADW bill passes State Senate.  The House will need to take up the legislation after Governor's SOTS Address.

In Australia, the running tracks have begun a campaign called Relaxed Racing, a program which emphasizes thoroughbred racing as a summer time event where friends and families can get together for an enjoyable day of racing and other events.  Could something like this work in the States?

One thing which makes it easier for this program in Australia is the fact their race meets are primarily festival meets to start with which makes it easier as they don't have five days a week racing for months on which helps make racing a special event in itself.  That being said, with many thoroughbred tracks set in a 'park' format with lawn areas, it is possible to do something like relaxed racing than it is at standardbred tracks which tend to lack green spaces.  Let's face it, it is kind of hard to expect people to set up picnic spaces on concrete or asphalt.

Still, this does not mean a similar program couldn't be created at American trotting tracks.  While we tend to have longer race meets, there is nothing to keep racetracks from having their own festivals, perhaps tied around their bigger events.  Events can be scheduled for before and after the races with perhaps an accelerated racing program to keep people around  for all the activities of the day.  Ideally, tie-in the festival with a local non-profit (such as a hospital) to build good will within the community.

Tracks can't afford to do this all the time during their year because odds are you will not be drawing high value gamblers to these events but you need to expose people to racing.  If you want to attract new gamblers, you need to have some type of outreach.  But in states like New Jersey where people tend to hit the shore on weekends, you need to market racing as a viable entertainment alternative.

Tracks can cede the summer months to other activities or it can make a play for the entertainment dollar during the period.  The choice is theirs.

Meanwhile in Australia, an owner has made an investment in the industry by offering to buy ten junior drivers a $15,000 horse no strings attached; the horses will become their own.

Sick People Out There - Wyoming Legislator Sue Wallis, one of the leading proponents of horse slaughter was found dead Tuesday morning from unknown causes.  Some people are actually happy at her passing; how sick.  While I and others certainly disagree with her stance on horse slaughter, she is a human being with a family and will be missed.  In the case of horse slaughter, one wants to win the battle by changing hearts, not gloating over someone's death.  I suspect many people don't know as a legislator she has supported many progressive causes, meaning in all likelihood if not for the horse slaughter issue, she would be a representative they would want representing them in the legislature.  Allow me to extend my condolences to her family on Wallis' passing.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday Briefs

Yonkers Raceway had a guaranteed Pick-5 on Monday night where the total wagered was $20,140.  Cynical minds want to know how long did Yonkers delay the race to cross the $20K line?  But less anyone thinks Yonkers is the only one to hold off a race until a guarantee is hit, this practice goes on elsewhere.

I understand tracks and horsemen don't want to make up any shortfalls but may it would be better to get the race to go off closer to post time and let it be known the track had to throw free money into the pool once in a while instead of trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the pockets of gamblers to avoid having to contribute to the pool?  People like winning 'free' money and the good will of not having to wait too long to get a race off is a positive as well.

Jay Bergman of the DRF has kicked off a mini-fire storm when he suggested Yonkers make some changes now to be ready for when their races get sent to France for wagering.  One radical idea was to start two horses in the second tier to get more wagering interests.  Needless to say, that idea has hit some as a lead ballon.  I think for the most part Bergman is correct.  Of course, ten horses on a half would require adding some distance to the races, something others will complain about.  Well, if  you are looking to get the French to wager on our product, you better do more of what is done in France, no the world, than hold fast to what we have been doing in North America.  Contrary to what we like to think, we are the exception, not the rule when it comes to racing in the world.

The one idea I don't like from Bergman's column is the idea to scrap two or three races where it is apparent a 1-9 or other short priced horse would win the race.  I understand no one wants to bet on a 1-9 shot, but others have entered in good faith so why should they be punished by missing a week because of where they drew in.  Want to avoid the problem?  Go to classified racing where the racing secretary can make sure that potential 1-9 shot is classified properly and goes off at higher odds.

Attention owners of 2yo pacers.  The Meadowlands Pace in 2015 is becoming a stakes event instead of an early closing event so there is a nomination fee which needs to be paid by March 15 for any two year old wishing to race in the stakes as a 3yo.

Let's change the focus of racing for a moment over to the greyhounds.  This is what we call dedicated race calling.  A track announcer at a New Zealand track doesn't miss a beat during a large 6.3 earthquake despite what is literally thrown at him.  The other thing I noticed towards the finish of the race are the gamblers who are standing around for the race finish.  That is what you call dedicated fans.

Continuing the expanded coverage of Bridgegate, only because the Governor is responsible for the current status of racing in the Garden State, it appears that Christie's appointee to the Chairmanship of the Port Authority of NY/NJ voted to rehabilitate a PATH station near a development his law firm was representing the developer.  How shocking?  NOT.  Why do you think political parties want to win elections?  To get their hands on political patronage jobs where they can get their friends so they can influence policy to suit them.  Another Christie appointee at the PA NY/NJ allegedly secured rights to build another development in the area four months before the vote.

This is hardly a New Jersey phenomenon.  If this was Wall Street, it would be akin to insider trading, knowing what was going to happen before the public did and act upon it.  But this is politics and while there are ethic rules in place to allegedly avoid conflict of interests, those rules are often skirted and if cited afterwards, seldom result in more than a slap of hand.

In politics, there is a fine line between business as usual and illegality and it often depends who is in control at the time of the state house and the legislature and to Christie's chagrin, the Democrats control the legislature. Expect to hear more dirt for a while but remember those who will be making the decisions on this investigation are far from lily white.  I am sure many of those who voted to impeach former Illinois Governor Rod Blogojevich were saying to themselves, 'That could just as easily been me getting nailed".

Monday, January 27, 2014

Maharajah Wins the Prix d'Amerique

It may have taken four tries, but Swedish sensation Maharajah, perhaps one of the most touted trotters in Sweden since he first stepped on the track, has won the Prix d'Amerique at Vincennes in Paris, France in a mile rate of 1:58 for the 2,700 meter race over a sloppy track.

The Prix highlights the European belief in stakes races leaning towards older horses as the race was restricted to 4-10 year old stallions.

One thing I love about the Prix d'Amerique  is the way they start the race without a starting gate; similar to the way steeplechase horses start races in the United States.  Also favorable is the fact 18 horses started the race which provides for more wagering opportunities and greater payoffs.  Let it be noted that for all practical purposes, all 18 horses started on the front row with the standing start being used.  Of course, a large field like this could not compete in a mile race and there a re few in North America willing  to change the way things are done so while the Prix d'Amerique is standardbred racing's greatest spectacle in the world, there is no way I see us emulating this in the United States and for that we are poorer..

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Partnering with the Devil

Another day, another story where the Ohio Racing Commission (ORC) is refusing to give a license to a racetrack over a dispute with a new racino operator.  This time, it involves the Mahoning Valley Race Course, a thoroughbred race track to be operated by Penn National Gaming, and the dispute is over the number of stalls (you know the thing harness tracks once had) on the backstretch.  Basically, the ORC has indicated the facility will not get their racing license (hence, their gaming license) unless they increase the number of stalls available for their race meet.

If not for the ORC, racing would be screwed in Ohio as it seems the racing commission is the only one really concerned with how the racetracks will operate with regards to backstretches and in the grandstand.  One has to wonder if the horsemen groups were consulted over the plans presented to the board or if the architectural work was all done without out any knowledge.  

On the harness side, Miami Valley Gaming (formerly Lebanon Raceway) has a conditional license, finally issued after the ORC has extracted from the track operator the requirement to hire mutuel clerks to work at the track and are working on sight lines so horseplayers can actually watch the races.  They have fought track operators in making sure a certain number of seats are available outside as well as inside with a proper view of the racetracks.  Without the ORC watching the casino operators and holding their feet to the fire, what kind of tracks would horsemen be racing at?  Tracks with no fans.

In Ohio, race fans have had the ORC protecting their interests somewhat but in other states fans have not been that lucky with fans sitting in the racino version of bombed out Berlin while the slot players are being blown away with modern decor.  In Pennsylvania, only after an accident which has left a driver in a coma, the racing commission comes in and takes away race dates from Harrah's until they address track concerns, this despite complaints about the racing surface apparently going on for years and never being addressed.  Not that the horsemen are guilt free being despite the fact horsemen knew of the track conditions for years, they continued to race lured by the siren call of slot-infused purses despite the risks to their own lives.  The same track refuses to open their clubhouse/dinning room for their equivalent to Kentuckty Derby Day (Super Sunday) because their known lack of interest in racing.  Does anyone really think the PGCB is going to pull Harrah's slot license and cost the state revenue?

What do most of these tracks have in common?  The desire to do the minimum required racing-wise to secure slot licenses.  Despite seeing how the sport is being short changed by these companies, horsemen in other states seeking slots are dying to get slots that they are willing to partner with the very same people  who have been screwing racing elsewhere to get slots.  For the short change goal of getting slot-fueled purses, racing continues to make deals with the Devil, knowing sooner than later the Devil will be extracting their price, to the detriment of horse racing.

Has racing of all breeds gotten to the point where they are willing to forfeit their future for short-term gains?  Certainly the horsemen organizations must know the Devil will collect his 'due' in this unholy partnership; knowing the clock is ticking and sooner or later their partners will turn on them, handing them up for sacrifice.

It sure seems that way and it is sad.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Changing the Wagering Menu

Horse racing has become in many ways a stale sport; wagering being one of them.  While exotics have been added to the menu, mostly Pick-X wagers, no changes have been made to the traditional, Win, Place, and Show wagering.  Quite honestly, it is time for a change.

It is time to put show wagering out to pasture.

Let's face it, with all the favorites who win, show wagering tends to be a low payoff wager, certainly not the wager which is going to attract newcomers to the sport.  Sure, there are those show payoffs which pay well, but they tend to be the results of failed bridge-jumping or the extreme long shot managing to get on the ticket.

In addition, in harness racing when you get short fields or standouts, tracks tend to cancel show wagering which disappoints the gambler.  Nothing more annoying than being told the wager you want is not being accepted.  The fact tracks are on the hook if a minus pool certainly doesn't help.

What should happen is that we adopt the European place wager, a wager which if there are more than six horses racing, is treated as if a show wager but if less than six horses, the wager is treated as a traditional place wager.  This way, the money which would be wagered on place and show wagers would likely be consolidated into one pool and if you get less than seven horses, the gambler has a better chance of getting a decent return.

Cal Expo is offering an on-track, on-line handicapping contest this evening where the winner earns $500.  There is no admission charge.  The contest combines over/under propositions with racing.  Why not take a look at the contest and give it a try?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Time to Teach Harrah's a Lesson

Yesterday, the PHRC conditionally suspended the 2014 race dates for Harrah's Philadelphia over its failure to respond to inquiries by the commission over their track condition.  Specifically, the state racing commission said:

And now, this 23rd day of January, 2014, after having requested specific information from Harrah's Philadelphia ("Harrah's") regarding its proposed plan to address race track surface issues on numerous occasions and having received no substantive information or documentation from Harrah's, the Commission suspends Harrah's 2014 race dates which this Commission previously approved on December 19, 2013.

I don't pretend to know when Harrah's first got inquiries from the racing commission regarding their track conditions nor will I speculate.  However. it is clear Harrah's has been thumbing their nose at the PHRC because the last thing they want to be doing is having racing..  It goes past not responding to requests about improving the track surface, it includes refusing to open the clubhouse and dining room  for Super Sunday which resulted in it being cancelled for 2014.

Harrah's was granted a slot license because they agreed to operate a racetrack and as such, operate a racetrack they should; properly.  To this person, it seems Harrah's needs to be taught a lesson that they need to treat their obligation to run a SAFE racing program seriously, at least until they manage to get the law changed allowing them to discontinue racing (you know they will be trying).  Ideally, the PHRC would revoke their racing license which would in turn put their gaming license at jeopardy, but let's face it, they won't because the state wants the gaming revenue.  Therefore, the PHRC should not merely temporarily revoke the race dates, they should hit Harrah's with a hefty fine; just as the casino company got hit with when they violated the rules of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Maybe then, Harrah's will treat their obligations seriously.

I guess it is a case of  you need to hit rock bottom before you decide to help yourself, but legislation has been signed into law in New Jersey which allows the thoroughbred and standardbred horsemen to contribute part of their purse account into a fund to be used for marketing racing to the general public.   The bill gives racetracks and both horsemen groups equal say on how such a program is to be run.  

Remember when the Ontario horsemen were asked to contribute into a fund to market racing?  The horsemen refused.  One has to wonder if they had enough foresight, if the problems in Ontario could have been avoided or mitigated.

Jason Settlemoir, General Manager and President of Meadowlands Racing and Gaming has an interview in HANA's February Newletter starting on page 11..


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thoughts from the Frozen Tundra

Eighteen horses have been listed to start in Sunday's Prix d'Amerique.  What a shame a quality race like the Prix is not available to most of North America for wagering.   Hopefully, the new Franco-American agreement being signed on Saturday will deal with this miscarriage and allow North Americans the ability to wager on future classic events.

The Meadowlands begins a Super Bowl-mandated hiatus and will be dark until February 6.  The final card before the break shows why it is tough to race special cards on typically dark days.  While there were only eleven races on the card, the total handle of $1,428,816 is certainly a downer.  It makes business sense to race consistently on the same days rather than racing on different days.

There have been articles of late showing how the mile tracks do a lot better with race handle than the old half mile ovals.  There is no doubt the mile tracks are doing a great job in attracting wagering,  but can half mile tracks recapture some of the old magic?  It can if tracks are willing to be innovative in how they present their product and horsemen are willing to support such changes.  Unfortunately, with many of these half milers in states allowing slots, there really is no incentive to innovate.  This is a shame for there is no better track than a half miler to get people hooked on harness racing, being able to see the race without the use of binoculars or depending on television monitors; something you can't do on the larger ovals.

Remember when racing commissions were charged with the promotion of horse racing in each state?  What happened in Michigan with regards to Hazel Park and Northville Downs dropping harness racing would never have been allowed to occur if the old Michigan Racing Commission was still in operation, but with the commission being rolled into the Michigan Gaming Control Board, a slot-focused organization, horse racing is a minor distraction to their work so allowing tracks to change their race dates and drop a breed is allowed as they don't care what happens to standardbred racing.  With Sports Creek Raceway likely to drop the trotters next year, harness racing is looking to be on its way out in Michigan, dying a slow death.

The Michigan HBPA is likely feeling pretty smug right now.  But most likely their product will not be of interest to many for simulcasting as I can't envision out of state stables shipping in to Michigan to race.  After all, why pay to enter your horse when there are plenty of tracks you can race at which don't require you to pay to race.  Without simulcasting dollars, how much will the mixed breeds actually be racing for?

Have a great Thursday everyone.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Entry Fees - The New Threat to Racing

The MGCB has given Hazel Park and Northville Downs permission to change their racing calendar to race 10 days of standardbred racing to be followed by mixed breed racing.  Once those 20 days of racing are completed, the only track which will continue to offer standardbred racing in Michigan will be Sports Creek Raceway though rumor has it they are considering the switch as well.

To say harness racing is in a perilous position in Michigan is an understatement indeed.   How did Michigan get to this point?  The thoroughbreds wanted to get out of Mt. Pleasant Meadows which will race its final meet in 2014.  They wanted out so badly they agreed each owner will pay a $400 entry fee each start to race on the Michigan bull-rings; a way to circumvent the rules regarding how handle is divided between the horsemen and the tracks.  Think of it, in a 10 horse race, the track will make $4,000 in entry fees so in effect, horsemen will be racing for a good chunk of their own money in each purse; the savings going to the track operators.

The problem is this threat goes beyond Michigan's border.  In British Columbia, Great Canadian Gaming Corp (GCGC) is in a battle with standardbred horsemen at Frasier Downs and thoroughbred horsemen at Hastings Park over race dates.  There, GCGC want to race minimal schedules for both breeds with the horsemen paying the expenses involved with racing and training if they want to race additional dates; in effect having horsemen pay to race out of the purse account.  Fortunately for standardbred interests, the thoroughbred horsemen share a common opposition to pay for the privilege of racing where the Michigan HBPA were so desperate to race, they were willing to 'pay to play'.  Of course, they don't realize while they will be paying $400 a start to race, who knows how much they will be asked to pay after their 5 year contract expires.

If you race outside of Michigan, don't be so confident you won't be asked to pay to start in an overnight event.  The precedent has been set.  Whether you race at a racino or a traditional racetrack, track operators are going to seek ways to cut their expenses.  It starts with charging stall rent, progresses to eliminating the backstretch, then when they are unable to cut expenses any further they will progress to increasing revenue and to get around state laws (if not changed), you will see yourself paying fees to race for your own money.

The die has been cast.  While the Michigan mixed-breed interests are feeling pretty good right now about running out the trotters and think they are sitting in the cat bird seat, it's just a matter of time until they are scorned by their out of state counterparts for starting this ugly trend.

A Franco-American Agreement in the Works

Kudos to Yonkers Raceway and the SOA of NY for the upcoming signing of an agreement to simulcast Yonkers Raceway races in France as well as importing French trotting races in return.

Lord knows I have had voiced my criticism of SOA leadership in the past, but in this case they are dead on right.  Harness racing is a global sport, albeit a niche in North America, and it is time we act like a global sport.  Besides opening up breeding, perhaps the most important thing which can be done is offering racing from other countries as well.  After all, a wager on a harness race, be it domestic or imported results in increased revenue for both track and horsemen.

Of course, to be successful, there is a need to standardize to a degree past performance data between the two countries.  This is why there is a need to adopt certain changes such as the mile rate and timing races in tenths.  In Europe with their policy of different distance races, they report race times in kilometer rates; a way to standardize finish times to make it easier to handicap and allow horses to earn lifetime marks where the distances vary.  While there is no need to go to kilometer rates, adoption of a mile rate would allow handicappers the ability to handicap races easier and allow horses to earn lifetime marks in non-mile events.  Of course, with the North American propensity for the mile distance, the mile rate would be the same as the actual final time of the race [for those unfamiliar with how the mile rate is calculated, it simply is taking the final time and extrapolating it to the mile distance.  The way envisioned, the past performance line will still show the actual win time but the horse's individual time would be reported in the mile rate (to save space on the cluttered program page).  If room could be found, the actual final time and mile rate could both be reported.

For those unfamiliar with how the mile rate is calculated, here are a couple of examples.

A horse races in a 5/8th of a mile dash timed in 1:19.  You divided the 1:19 by 5 (eighths) and then multiply it by 8 (8 eighths in a mile).  1:19/5 = 15.8 sec per 1/8th of a mile, 15..8*8 (eighths) =  2:06.4 mile rate.

A horse is timed in a 1 1/8 race as going in 2:02.  You divide the 2:02 by 9 (eighths) and then multiply it by 8 (8 eighths in a mile)   2:02/9 = :13.55 sec per 1/8th of a mile; 13.55*8 = 1:48.4 mile rate.

As for reporting times in tenths of a second, that is an easy change and is also how times are reported in every country but Canada and the United States.  It also provides for a more accurate past performance line.  Instead of giving a horse that is half a length behind the winner the same final time as the winner, the horse would be listed as a tenth of a second behind the leader while a horse a full length behind being listed as 2/10ths of a second behind.

Both of these proposals are to being voted upon at the annual USTA meeting.  Hopefully in light of the Yonkers agreement, the USTA board of directors will approve these proposals.

Just a brief reminder that the Meadowlands is racing tonight (1/22), the last card until after the Super Bowl.  Racing is set to resume on February 6.

Harness interests are putting up the good fight to uniform drug rules in New York.  While thoroughbred horsemen had no comments in opposition to the proposed rules, standardbred interests were sure to make their opposition known.  The big problem is the rules are written in mind of thoroughbred interests with little regard for standardbreds as the RMTC had little standardbred representation.

There is nothing wrong with standardized rules within each breed, but to paint all the breeds the same is foolish.  Yes, a horse is a horse but the demands of racing a standardbred versus a thoroughbred are totally different based on their racing schedule so a drug like clenbuterol which has a legitimate use in standardbred racing but is abused by thoroughbred horsemen should not be banned for use in standardbreds.

"We will continue to do whatever we can to make things better for horses", sounds like something I would say, right?  Actually, the quote is from Sue Wallis, a Wyoming state legislator and CEO of Unified Equine. a pro-horse slaughter group.  This is what George Orwell in 1984 would have called doublespeak.  As much as  I find slaughter highly distasteful (I am a vegetarian by choice), it would be one thing if a horse was raised as a cow is for food, but to take an animal raised for other purposes such as racing or pleasure riding is a betrayal of an implied code of horse ownership (and this is ignoring the fact the drugs given to horses is not intended for feed animals).  Apparently what is needed are laws that codify the responsibility of horse ownership and hold horse owners' feet to the fire.

The Horse Rescue United January auction is underway and you can bid on I Luv The Nitelife's shoes as well as other neat items.  Just like Horse Rescue United on Facebook and look for their January Auction album and get in on the bidding.  

Have a great Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tuesday Briefs

Snow is in the forecast for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast later today and tonight, so let me save you the trouble.  Yonkers Raceway will almost certainly be closed this evening.

The Asbury Park Press reports the NJRC is investigating the January 10 mishap at Freehold Raceway involving the starting car.  This can only be viewed as a positive for as far as I am concerned, it is not a question of assigning blame, but determining when conditions mandate the cancelling of racing for the protection of all.

Those who wager on New York races can easily see the takeout rates for the various tracks here.  Of the harness tracks, Tioga Downs has the lowest takeout rates but for those playing wagers like the Superfecta, and Pick-X wagers, beware of Yonkers Raceway's 25% takeout rate.  With many tracks these days offering 15% or 16% takeout rates on these wagers, there are better places to invest your money.

Being there are few outlets, if any, offering wagering on the Prix d'Amerique this Sunday from Vincennes Racetrack in Paris, it is understandable if you have not been paying attention.   Twenty five horses are eligible for one the eighteen starting places in the 2,700 meter race where the winner goes home with a nice 500,000€ payday.  Could you imagine us having an 18 horse field in a 1.667 mile event?  Of course not as we are stuck in maintaining a tradition which has gotten stale.  Anyway, if you want to read more about the Prix d'Amerique, visit the English version of the Prix's website.

Racing at Cal Expo continues on under Watch and Wager's management.  While they race two days a week, it is better than nothing.  Now, looking back at the minutes from the November meeting of the CHRB, it seems storm clouds may be beginning to gather regarding Watch and Wager's continued operation of the Cal Expo meet.  It seems Watch and Wager acquired the rights to the Cal Expo meet partially to set up an ADW.  While they have hub agreements in place with the quarter horse industry and harness, it seems being able to get a hub agreement with a California thoroughbred track which would allow Watch and Wager to offer thoroughbred wagering to California residents has been elusive.  At the November meeting, Watch and Wager indicated they would have to rethink operating Cal Expo if an agreement can not be finalized.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Great White North Tour Stop #9 - The Raceway at Western Fair District (Monday, January 20, 2014)

For stop number nine of the Great White North Tour, we return to one of our favorite Canadian tracks, The Raceway at Western Fair District.  Western Fair is a facility which for years has been improving its product and working on getting more people to the races, even while enjoying slot revenue; wisely not sitting on its laurels as some of the other Ontario tracks did.

For this Monday card, if you have TVG you should be able to follow the races live as the raceway has a relationship with TVG to get their races on television.  When you handicap the races, remember they race only seven across so post position eight starts in the second tier.

Western Fair District, Monday, January 20, 2014

1st Pace - $6,400; FM NW $5,000 LT
2 - Too Dalicious (Steward, 6-1)
3 - Squirt (Carroll, 10-1)
4 - Stonebridge Saucy (Harris, 9-5)
5 - Regal Again (Battin, 2-1)

2nd Trot - $4,400; NW $1,500 Last 3 Starts
2 - Just One Day (Holliday, 9-2)
5 - Chewey (Sparling, 4-1)
1 - Bridge On The Kwai (Steward, 5-2)
7 - Boots N Hearts (Wall, 15-1)

3rd Pace- $6,400; FM NW $5,000 LT 
4 - Kathys Kitchen (Johnson, 1-1)
5 - Young Luck (Battin, 4-1)
8 - Pretty Picasso (Horner, 6-1)
7 - Reasibablydeniably (Hardy, 15-1)
$2 Win #4 Paid $2.80
$2 Exacta 4-5 Paid $10.10

4th Pace - $7,400; FM NW $15,000 LT
2 - Quintenwhatyousay (Steward, 1-1)
7 - Carsons Cashin (Carroll, 15-1)
4 - Delta Grace Tone (Battin, 4-1)
1 - Arts Best (Plante, 7-2)
$2 Win #2 Paid $2.70

5th Pace - $3,800; FM $5,000 Claiming For W/O $999 Last 5 Starts
3 - Tail R Swift (Sparling, 7-2)
8 - Signal (Henry, 7-5)
7 - Woodmere Sandrop (Steward, 10-1)
1 - Harper Marie (Holliday, 6-1)

6th Trot - $2,700; $5,000 Claiming For NW $200 Last 3 or $1,200 Last 5 Starts
3 - Maximum Lindy (Sparling, 6-5)
7 - Random Arrival (Henry, 15-1)
2 - Yesterdays News (Carroll, 5-2)
4 - Carrland Hannah (Richardson, 6-1)
$2 Win #3 Paid $3.30
Scratched #5

7th Pace - $7,350; Preferred 3 (Super High Five)
3 - Hail The Taxi (Steward, 9-2)
2 - Slots Of Fun (Carroll, 9-5)
6 - Lawmen Reign (Battin, 6-1)
7 - Leafs And Wings (Coulter, 12-1)
9 - Flames Cammi Boy (Sparling, 15-1)

8th Pace - $4,400; NW $1,500 Last 3 Starts
2 - College Major (Steward, 9-5)
7 - Yankee Luke (Holliday, 8-1)
1 - Calgary Seelster (Coulter, 4-1)
4 - Oldfriendskentucky (Carroll, 20-1)

9th Pace - $11,000; Preferred 2 (Start of $5,000Gtd Pick-4)
5 - Smokin Bear (Coulter, 6-1)
1 - Rays San (Henry, 5-2)
6 - Hoboken Hanover (Sparling, 10-1)
2 - Clic K (Kerwoodd, 6-5)

10th Trot - $7,000; Preferred 3
5 - Loco Caball (Carroll, 10-1)
4 - Thunderaway (Richardson, 8-1)
2 - Savthelstdanceforme (Borth, 8-5)
6 - Windsun Fireball (Battin, 3-1)

11th Pace - $3,800; FM $5,000 Claiming for Winners Over $999 Last 5 Starts
5 - Carlynda Hanover (Holliday, 5-2)
1 - Future Life (Harris, 7-5)
3 - Whitefin Hanover (Steward, 6-1)
7 - Cons Legacy (Richardson, 20-1)

12th Trot - $4,000; $5,000 Claiming for Winners Over $999 Last 5 Starts (Super High 5)
1 - S J Moore (House, 6-1)
2 - Whitewater Rapids (Kerwood, 8-1)
9 - Strike A Light (Henry, 8-5)
3 - Rose of Mali (Sparling, 3-1)
5 - Victorys Peanut (Steward, 15-1)
$2 Win #1 Paid $8.70
$2 Exacta 1-2 Paid $30.50

Sunday, January 19, 2014

James Salter, A Man You Probably Never Knew but Should Have

I was shocked yesterday when I learned of the passing of James M. Salter II, who passed away on January 6, 2014 at the age of 80.  You probably didn't know Jim, but I was fortunate to have known him, even if only for a very short time.

Jim was working for a period of time on issues regarding the welfare of standardbred horses, in particular those whose racing careers had concluded and were at risk of slaughter.  He was working on a film project on standardbreds with someone within the industry.  As a result of their partnership, he became aware of my writings on this subject and he contacted me to exchange ideas and opinions as to what could be done.  We exchanged emails, passing articles we found to each other and talked a couple of times on the phone. We were going to get together for lunch one day when he was up in my neck of the woods but alas, the one time he was in my area, I was unavailable.

When I saw his obituary, I was shocked to learn Jim was 80 years old for his voice was a voice of vitality, a man full of life and enthusiasm.  He loved his work and he made it clear to you he enjoyed what he was doing.  Even when there were set backs, it never discouraged Jim as he vowed to continue on.

There are times people come into your life even for a brief time and they leave a lasting impression.  Jim was one of those individuals.  I am honored to have had him as a friend even if for the brief time it was.

My sympathies to Jim's family.  May his memory be a blessing to those who knew and loved him.

Politics New Jersey

For a special blog edition of VFTRG which we will call "Politics New Jersey", we will look at the possible impact of 'Bridgegate' on gambling and horse racing.

By now, everyone knows what Bridgegate is all about.  There are allegations that people connected to Governor Christie managed to close some lanes on the George Washington Bridge (the busiest bridge in the United States) in retaliation for the Mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat, not endorsing the Governor for his re-election bid.  So while people connected to the Governor have been implicated, as of now there is no evidence to connect the Governor with giving the orders or having direct knowledge of the alleged retribution.  Since then, there have been additional allegations made where retaliation has occurred for angering the Governor and/or his staff; meetings cancelled because the Jersey City Mayor stayed neutral in the election, Hoboken being denied Superstorm Sandy aid in retaliation for denying a development project of a group represented legally by a Christie-appointee on the Port Authority and other accusations .

Again, let it be made clear some of these charges may be business as usual in the Garden State and nothing may come of them, but there is a possibility 'business as normal ' may cause trouble depending on how far up Bridgegate goes and how far the investigative committees are willing to look..

As HRU reports, it was another bad year for Atlantic City Casinos as for the first time in 22 years, Atlantic City won less than $3 billion dollars.  One casino, the Atlantic Club has closed down, shut down by the new owners who purchased the casino in bankruptcy.  Though premature to call it a failure, online gaming revenue estimates are lower than anticipated (though some of this is due to credit card companies denying payments).  So the question to be asked is does this make it more likely for casinos at racetracks or at a minimum the Meadowlands?

Probably not.

Being an amateur political sage, I think it is safe to assume the Governor will not win the GOP Presidential nomination if he decides to run.  Hence, one can assume Christie will be Governor for his full term unless something came up which required him to depart early.  The Governor says his Atlantic City experiment has two more years to run which would suggest there would be no casino at the Meadowlands until 2017 at the earliest.

But what if the Governor leaves?  You still have Senate President Sweeney who is dead set against expanding gambling in New Jersey so no legislation will get through the Senate without Sweeney's approval.  However, one has to think if shenanigans were going on in North Jersey, then there is a good chance some arm-twisting was going on in South Jersey as well.  If, and that is a big if, some improper deals are uncovered which would force the Senate President (there are no allegations as of now, and it would be a Democratic-led investigation to go after the Democratic Senate President) to lose the Senate Presidency then something could happen, but otherwise, it will be the status quo.

The bottom line is a lot of things need to occur before casino gaming is considered for the Meadowlands, earlier than the 5 year period the Governor had declared.  At this point, there is nothing to suggest all the dominoes will fall in order for something to change early.

However, racing interests in the Garden State can keep hoping.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Foreign Legion of Harness Racing Draws a Good Handle

Cal Expo gets no respect in the harness racing world.  This, as one of our contributors called 'The Foreign Legion of Harness Racing', is no doubt an outpost where the quality of racing certainly is lacking.  Let's face it, shipping out to a track which races twice a week is not desirable.

Yet people are wagering on their product.  Last night, the handle at Cal Expo was $984,063, just shy of a million dollars.  Granted the vast majority is out of state funds which means the purse account remains low but there is interest in their product, as cheap the quality may be.  How many tracks would die for a handle this size?

How can this be?  First of all, quality is not everything.  Full, competitive fields is what gamblers want.  One can't dismiss the fact they are a West Coast track.  Try to find a track racing after 11:30 pm and Cal Expo is all there is unless you like the Quarter horses in which case Los Alamitos is an option.  Getting air time on TVG is also a help.  But perhaps the biggest benefit is the reduced takeout on the Pick-4 and Pick-5 with guaranteed pools.

It amazes me that some tracks don't get the idea of that paying to get on TVG or another racing channel makes sense.  As much as gamblers can get their race signals over the Internet, the fact is television still does get more exposure for racing.  Yet on slow nights you don't see many harness racing tracks taking advantage of the availability to buy face time.  Same with guaranteed pools and reduced takeouts.  Tracks need to take advantage of the tools they have available which gain the interest of gamblers.  Yet, some don't.

These tracks need to get with the program before they end up being 'The Foreign Legion of Harness Racing'.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Classic Returns; Splitting the Breeders Crown; Other Miscellanery

A welcome development in Quebec is the return of the Prix d'Ete, once one of the most prominent stakes races on the North American stakes calendar when raced at Hippodrome Blue Bonnets until its final running in 1992.  Back then, it was a major stakes which was one by horses like Albatross, Cam Fella, Niatross, and others.  While in its previous incarnation it was a stakes race for 3yo pacers, it will be a race for 4yos in 2014 and raced at Hippodrome 3R.

The purse for this race will be C$200,000, the richest race currently on the calendar for 4yos  this coming season.  What makes it more amazing is the fact the Quebec Jockey Club (don't ask me why its called that) is sponsoring this race, so soon after the industry in Quebec imploded thanks to the government removing financial support.  One hopes the industry will support the resurgent Quebec racing scene by seeing the continent's best 4yos in Quebec on September 21.

News also came out that the Breeders Crown format will be modified this year by splitting the races into a two night production; the filly and mare races racing on Friday, November 21 while the 3yo and Open races will be contested on Saturday, November 22.  This split card format should not surprise anyone as Jeff Gural had gone on record of saying if the Meadowlands were to host the Breeders Crown, it was his hope it could be raced over two nights.

While a single night of racing may be more aesthetically pleasing, splitting the races over two nights does make sense.  First of all, it makes for a weekend of excitement and can actually bring more tourism to the region with people knowing they will be in the NYC area for more than one night.  It also allows for two nights of larger than normal crowds which may improve overall handle (I see a LBJ-like hospitality tent for the general public in the future) plus it allows for other horses to race that weekend.  It also allows for improved wagering in the European and Australian market simulcasting markets as it allows the races to fit better into acceptable time slots than it would if all 12 races were contested on a single night.

My suggestion is you plan on attending the Breeders Crown  this year, make your hotel reservations now.

Trainer Adam Lambert has come out and announced he is one of two trainers banned from the Meadowlands for having a horse with high Cobalt readings.  He has announced his intentions to attempt getting reinstated claiming the drug is not illegal and it was his vet who administered it.  I suspect unless he can convince operator Jeff Gural to change his mind he will be unsuccessful for whether legal or not, the Meadowlands has the right of exclusion meaning they can someone for any reason.

The approved Federal Omnibus bill bans horse slaughter for human consumption once again in the United States.  Unlike the last time funding was cut, there is a provision in this soon to become law (awaiting a Presidential signature) that only permits horse meat inspections to resume once the FDA can ensure the meat will be fit for human consumption, something which can't be done presently due to medications used on horses, both racing and pleasure.  Of course,the pro-slaughter segment is not going to take this lying down.  Two slaughterhouses which were planning to slaughter horses are contemplating are considering a challenge based on the NAFTA treaty.

The pro-slaughter group correctly reminds us the banning of slaughter means horses will continue to be shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, but some states have banned the exporting of horses for slaughter and others may do so as well.  Yes, there is a problem with the neglect of horses but that is a red herring.  Slaughterhouses want healthy horses, not horses that are ill or malnourished.  It's the horses which are well kept which are at risk for slaughter so this argument doesn't hold water.  As for the fact they claim slaughter is humane, that's laughable if not the fact some people believe it.  The nation does have a problem with unwanted horses but slaughter is not the answer.  Holding people to the fire when they take on the responsibilities of horse ownership is the way to address the problem.  If they can't afford a horse, they shouldn't own one and if their situation changes where they can't afford a horse and are unable to re-home them, there is a far more humane way to get rid of a horse.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Repositioned Yonkers Trot And Breeders Crown

Periodic fits of outrage over the fact that the Yonkers Trot continues to serve as a leg of the Trotting Triple Crown are predictable, and inevitable since the track owns the rights to the title and concept. Some wanted the World Trotting Derby to take that spot, but that race is no more. Others lobbied for the Colonial, but that race has also been terminated. At least the Yonkers Trot is reliable; the race has been held continuously for 58 years, ever since Scott Frost won the inaugural edition in 1955.

Over the years the YT has been held in June, July, August and September; of late it has served as the first leg of the Triple Crown. Two years ago it was held on July 7, while last year it was stepped up three weeks to July 27, a week before the Hambletonion. Two years ago Archangel benefited from first quarter mayhem and in 2013 it was Dewycolorintheline who scooted away from a troubled start. No classics of late.

A look at this year's calendar indicates the Yonkers Trot will move ahead three months to October 25, when it will share a card with the Messenger, Hudson Filly and Lady Maud--Super Saturday at Yonkers. This would position the race about three weeks after the Kentucky Futurity and make it the third leg of the Triple Crown. The purse is $500,000. The Breeders Crown, which will carry a similar purse, will be raced at the Meadowlands a month later on November 22.

Winning the Triple Crown obviously isn't a priority for most of today's owners and trainers--Glidemaster was the last to do it in 2006--but it may be tougher for some to ignore the Yonkers Trot in late October than it was when the race was held in July. If a colt has captured two legs, why not go for the third. It will serve as a potentially lucrative stepping stone between the Futurity and the BC. Throw in the Canadian Trotting Classic in mid-September and it will be a busy autumn for Father Patrick and friends.

Typically the Messenger, Matron Series, American-National Series, Windy City and Galt take place after the Breeders Crown, but with the BC being raced so late in the season that probably won't happen in 2014. Also, the Progress Pace generally takes place on what is now BC weekend. I don't imagine the folks at Dover want to butt heads with the Crown. This should be interesting.

Press Release: 2014 Breeders Crown at Meadowlands Goes to Two-Night Format in November

The 2014 Breeders Crown at The Meadowlands will be raced over two nights in November, with the year-end championships divided into a four-race block of distaff  races on Friday, Nov. 21 and the remaining eight championship races held Saturday, Nov. 22.

The $500,000 Breeders Crown Trot and Pace for 3-year-old fillies, and a pair of $250,000 Crowns for Mare pacers and trotters will be raced on Friday night. All four $500,000 Two-Year-Old events, the $500,000 sophomore colt pace and trot and the $400,000 Crown Pace and $500,000 Crown Trot will be raced on Saturday night.

“We are very proud to bring The Breeders Crown back to The Meadowlands,” said Meadowlands Chairman Jeff Gural.  “Expanding the event to two nights is something I am very excited about.  It creates a weekend of championship racing and gives us an opportunity to be very innovative with new kinds of wagers, promotions and an opportunity to make the Breeders Crown experience even better for our customers. 

“The new facility at Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment offers excellent dining options including Pink, featuring the highest quality of food and Trotters, an Owners Club, where owners of horses racing in the Breeders Crown can enjoy elegant dining in a wonderful atmosphere while watching their horses compete.” continued Gural.

“Many will take advantage of our luxurious sky box suites to watch the races.  In addition, fans will be able to enjoy The Breeders Crown in high-definition at The Meadowlands and can watch the Championship races on massive 12 by 20 foot high-definition screens in Victory Sports Bar.  This will be a Breeders Crown experience unlike any other.”

Tom Charters, president of The Hambletonian Society, which owns and administrates the Breeders Crown series, is familiar with the demands of staging the event at rotating host tracks, as well as the Society’s flexibility in presenting the event.

“The Breeders Crown has been conducted in just about every format – single races, blocks of races, all 12 races on one night – and we try always to be sensitive to host track parameters while still getting the most “bang” out of the event in regard to publicity, TV and promotions,” said Charters.

 “The Meadowlands Racetrack has been home to many of harness racing’s most important events over the past 30 years,” continued Charters. “We look forward to the return of the Breeders Crown under Jeff Gural's management and especially look forward to the new facility. The horsemen of New Jersey and the SBOA of  NJ realize the importance of stakes racing in maintaining the profile of the New Meadowlands and have always been supportive of our efforts.” 

The one-mile oval in East Rutherford, New Jersey, has hosted 67 Breeders Crown races – more than any other racetrack and in 2014 will celebrate 30 years of Breeders Crown history. The Breeders Crown series has crowned champions in every division for trotters and pacers and has been the deciding factor in Horse of the Year honors since 1984. More than $164 million in purse money has been disbursed over 346 events. 

Press Release: SBOANJ Comments on Freehold Meeting


MANALAPAN, NJ – January 16, 2014 – In a 90-minute meeting, mediated by Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey President Tom Luchento, more than 150 horsemen had an opportunity to verbalize their concerns to Freehold management.

The meeting, conducted in the Renaissance Room at Freehold Raceway on January 15, was focused on track conditions, medical response and other issues triggered by the horrific spill that occurred in the fifth race on Friday, January 10, 2014.  Five drivers – Cat Manzi, Debra Rucker, Vincent Ginsburg, Chris Scicluna and Jim Pantaleano – ended up at area hospitals and a sixth driver, Rick Pantano, was also checked out after the starting gate slide into the field on the first turn.  Horses suffered cuts and bruises.

Representing Freehold were general manager Howard Bruno, director of racing Karen Fagliarone, starter Robert Blum and track supervisor Michael Fagliarone. 

“As a result of this meeting, we all seem to agree that there is a need for an independent track expert to review the track surface and the manner in which it is maintained,” said Luchento.  “We’ve also called upon Freehold to pay for the replacement of the racing bikes, colors, veterinarian bills and other costs that derived out of this accident.  Additionally, the owners of the horses that did not get to race because of the cancellation of the balance of the card on January 10 will be reimbursed $125.”

All seven of the starters in the fifth race will equally split the $4,300 purse. 

Some speakers described the freeze-thaw cycle of the afternoon of January 10 as the “perfect storm” for the track conditions to turn dangerous in a short amount of time.

Others expressed concern that if they complained or scratched horses on bad weather days, they would face retribution.  Both Luchento and Karen Fagliarone assured horsemen that this would not be the case and that it was important for there to be an open dialogue between drivers and the judges.

While outrider Beth Cumberland was praised for her quick response to gathering up the loose horses, there were questions about the slow response time for additional ambulances from local hospitals.  This was exacerbated by the volume of black ice road accidents in the region, it was explained.

Cat Manzi, who suffered multiple broken ribs and a punctured lung, was released from Jersey Shore University Medical Center on Wednesday, January 15.  Debbie Rucker, who had internal bleeding in her leg, was discharged the prior day.

-Submitted by Carol Hodes for SBOANJ

Banned in Freehold; Track Condition Discussed

The media, in the form of Harness Racing Update (HRU), attempted to attend the supposedly 'open' meeting between Freehold Raceway management and the SBOANJ yesterday and were promptly denied admittance to the meeting which suddenly became a private meeting.  After being threatened with arrest, HRU left the premises.

One can only speculate as to why the meeting became closed to the press.  My suspicion is the raceway didn't want any public reporting of the actual comments due to the fear of legal action being taken against them due to the starting gate mishap last Friday (HRU reports that Driver Debbie Rucker has been swarmed by lawyers who wish to represent her though she has made no decision to seek legal recourse).

Yes, Freehold and the SBOANJ had the right to make the meeting a closed meeting, but if doing so, the decision to close the meeting should have been made ahead of time for treating one of the few remaining independent press sources dedicated to harness racing this way is not smart business.  Could you see  a thoroughbred track doing something similar to the Daily Racing Form?  Highly unlikely.

After the meeting, track and SBOANJ representatives discussed in general terms what transpired in the meeting.  While the SBOANJ has had concerns over the track for the past couple of years, Pennwood (the operator of Freehold) has felt the track was in good shape.  Track management has now agreed to have a consultant come in and review the track conditions, presumably to make suggestions on if and how the track may be made safer.

Horsemen have been given assurances there would be no retribution if they go to the raceway management with concerns about or scratch out over track conditions as horsemen allegedly feared being punished for rocking the boat.  In addition, a drivers committee will be formed to bring track condition issues up with management, something similar to what is done at Monticello Raceway.

While the SBOANJ claims the track has ultimate responsibility for what happened, it appears they attempted to demur a bit to minimize legal exposure to the raceway.  As stated by SBOANJ President Tom Luchento, "...I know they did what they think was their best, but we’re going to follow up because what they think is best for the track may not be the best".

Hopefully after this meeting, something gets done and the same old becomes unacceptable to all involved.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Exchange Wagering Coming to NJ (for the Runners)

While Exchange Wagering seems to have hit a brick wall in California (there were reports Cal Expo was going to offer it starting in December), the DRF reports thoroughbred horsemen in NJ have reached a tentative agreement with Betfair to offer exchange wagering on Monmouth Park races starting with the opening of the 2014 race meet.  Such wagering would be restricted to NJ residents.  The NJRC has created rules for this type of wagering which is being reviewed by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).  Once reviewed and approved by the OAG a 60 day comment period will start after which the NJRC can formally adopt the rules and exchange wagering will be off to the races.

No news at this time where the standardbred horsemen and tracks stand with regards to Exchange Wagering.  Whether they wait to see how this form of wagering works at Monmouth for fear of killing handle or they join the debut remains to be seen.  Certainly at Freehold, it seems Exchange Wagering may be the only way to get more interest in its product as their regular pools are relatively small; of no interest to the whales.  As for the Meadowlands, which has been trying to increase on-track handle and having some success at it, there is an element of risk to their on-track handle growth though I think Exchange Wagering would increase wagering overall, especially in exotic pools since Exchange Wagering would only be for 'Win' wagers.  I suspect the standardbred horsemen were hoping to learn from the Cal Expo experiment but since that experiment has been stalled indefinitely, harness racing in NJ may have to dip its toes into the water first,


Wednesday Afternoon Briefs

Miami Valley is getting ready to race in three weeks.  Of course, having a license from the racing commission would help.  It is expected they will get the license but it has been like pulling teeth from the racino operator who has tried to do the bare minimum to get racing going so they could get their racino license.  The latest battle is regarding on how many tellers there will be (they wanted to have none) and the sight lines.

In Atlantic City, home of 11 casinos (the Atlantic Club closed for good yesterday), four more casinos dropped horse racing simulcasting, leaving only the Borgata offering it.  So if you are dragged down by your spouse to go to Atlantic City (why, I may ask?), show your support by going to the Borgata.

The quarter horse horsemen group representing 'horsemen' in Gretna, Florida took their appeal of the Administrative Law Judge's ruling that barrel racing was not allowed in Florida to the 1st District Court of Appeals in Florida and to say they didn't do very well based on the questions the judges peppered them with would be an understatement.  If you want, you can watch a replay of the hearing by clicking here.  Of course, they have since dropped barrel racing in Gretna and are now doing 'drop flag racing' in an effort to get around the original ruling.  This horsemen group is not the FQHRA organization which represents horsemen in bona fide parimutuel events at Hialeah Park.

Usually, I don't delve much into the runners, but Southern California Race caller Trevor Denman was recently on the Roger Stein Show in Southern California.  What he says is interesting and in some topics such as whipping and horse rescue what he says about thoroughbred racing should resonate in harness racing.  You can read his remarks here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Great White North Tour Stop #8 - Buffalo Raceway, Wednesday, January 15, 2013

If Mother Nature cooperates, Buffalo Raceway will kick off its 2014 Winter Meet tonight after cancelling the first three nights due to weather extremes (too cold, then thaw).  Buffalo Raceway is located at the Erie County Fairgrounds in Hamburg, New York.

Most horses who race at Buffalo race on the Batavia-Buffalo circuit and with Batavia closing the first week of December, many of these horses show no lines since the Batavia meet closed which makes determining which horses are ready to go at first asking somewhat challenging.  In addition to the circuit, horses occasionally find their way up from Northfield Park, Saratoga, and Monticello with the rare horse up from Yonkers Raceway.

If you follow the New York Sires Stakes at all, some of the drivers will be familiar to you.  In addition, you will find Billy Dobson, Ray Fisher Jr, and Peter Wrenn in the sulky.  Old time followers of the sport may be interested to know that Gerald Sarama and Jim Graham are training at Buffalo.

Exotic wager players will be happy to know the $.50 Trifecta, Pick-3, and Pick-4 are available at Buffalo along with the dime Superfecta.  Daily Double players will be happy to know there are four doublds available starting with races 1, 4, 8, and 12.

Here are my selections.

Buffalo Raceway (Wednesday, January 15, 2014)

1st Pace - $6,600; F&M NW $3,200 Last 5 Starts 
5 - Right On Ram (Beback, 7-2)
2 - A and G;s Doll (Cummings, 3-1)
3 - Ivy's Good News (Monti, 10-1)
$2 Win #5 Paid $4.90

2nd Trot - $5,800; $8,000 Claiming
4 - Self Professed (Mcallef, 6-1)
7 - Koekemoer (D McNeight, 12-1)
1 - Sleek Jessie (J McNeight, 10-1)

3rd Pace - $4,500; H&G $5,000 Claiming
1 - Beechwood Terror (Dobson, 5-1)
3 - George P Hanover (Wrenn, 3-1)
7 - Ohherecomesherbie (Monti, 10-1)
4 - Might Fella (Beback, 7-2)

4th Pace - $7,000; H&G 12,500 Claiming
7 - Exotic Toy (Cummings, 10-1)
4 - Ideal Bid (Flangen, 3-1)
3 - Release The Terror (Mcallef, 4-1)

5th Pace - $4,000, Winners 2-4 PM Lifetime (Start of $5,000 Guaranteed Pick-4)
1 - Lucky Ivan (Wrenn, 12-1)
5 - Ponyta Boy (D McNeight, 3-1)
3 - Tymal Torch (Byron, 4-1)

6th Pace- $3,200; F&M $4,000 Claiming
1 - Can U Be Fun (Mcallef, 3-1)
3 - Make Me Late (Beback, 7-2)
2 - Passion Starlet (Dobson, 6-1)
$2 Exacta Box 3-1 Paid $15.40 
$1 Trifecta Box 3-1-2 Paid $15.80 
Scratch #4

7th Pace - $10,500; F&M Open 1-2 Handicap
8 - Little Santamonica (Dobson,3-1)
2 - High Speed Life (Rice, 8-1)
3 - Red Star Fiona (Beback, 7-2)
5 - Hugs Again (Monti, 5-1)
$2 Win #8 Paid $3.60
$2 Exacta 8-2 Paid $35.80
$1 Trifecta 8-2-3 Paid $55.25

8th Pace - $6,600; F&M NW $3,200 Last 5 Starts 
1 - Trillian (Wrenn, 5-1)
2 - Steuben Ruthless (Cummings, 4-1)
6 -  Rocks N Bagels (Dobson, 3-1)
$1 Trifecta Box 6-1-2 Paid $34.25

9th Pace - $2,500; NW $1,000 Last 5 Starts
4 - Xcell Irish Spirit (Flangen, 4-1)
5 - A Little Crazy (Beback, 6-1)
1 - Listen Hanover 9Byron, 8-1)
8 - Body Guard (Monti, 5-1)

10th Trot - $3,200; $4,000 Claiming
2 - Tsunami Dream (Beback, 3-1)
7 - Gus Is All Lane (Fisher, 5-1)
6 - Stonetag (Dobson, 6-1)

11th Pace - $3,200; H&G $4,000 Claiming
1 - Mister Grin (Cummings, 3-1)
2 - Launching Tonight (Flangen, 5-1)
5 - Martin Hanover (Fisher, 7-2)
4 - Doctor Gates (Byron, 10-1)
Scratched #1 

12th Pace - $4,000; Winners 2-4 PM Lifetime
4 - Smokin Band (Wrenn, 4-1)
7 - Retrieve Forever (Byron, 5-1)
2 - Cross Creek Chug (Fisher, 10-1)

13th Pace - $3,200; H&G $4,000 Claiming
8 - Race Track Warrior (Wrenn, 8-1)
1 - Native Treasure (Fisher, 7-2)
4 - HMS Panafore (Byron, 6-1)
7 - M G Eneregik (Flangen, 10-1)  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday Morning Bites

In Florida, the suicide battle between Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course continues with the two tracks planning another year of competing against each other, starting July 1, 2014.  However, there does appear to be some conversation to see if a compromise could be reached for thoroughbred interests realize it is not in the best interests of thoroughbred racing to have two tracks, less than 10 miles apart, racing at the same time.

While Calder and Gulfstream Park are within the same state, no one seems to discuss the foolishness of having the Meadowlands and Yonkers Raceway racing at the same time.  Granted, the distance is about 20 miles (and 30 minutes if the GWB is not being used as a political weapon) and there are competing horsemen groups, involved but each track is poaching on each other's potential wagering handle.

Are you telling me, considering how few days the Meadowlands races, there is no way for the two racetracks to set up their schedules so they can co-exist and maximize their profitability?  Yes, there are few fans who actually attend the races but wouldn't it be better if the live track fan base was at one track instead of split between the two ovals.  I realize with slots, handle is not as important to the New York horsemen and being the apparent animosity between Joe Faraldo and Jeff Gural with their different philosophies regarding the future of racing, there is little desire to come to an accommodation despite the fact in the long run, it would be to the betterment of horsemen in both states.

Talk about snake bit.  Buffalo Raceway has cancelled opening night three times due to the weather.  If all goes to plan, Buffalo opens up Wednesday night, January 15 which happens to be the night Buffalo is scheduled to be part of the Great White North Tour.  The forecast currently calls for snow which is appropriate for the area.

Racing suffered a couple of losses this weekend with the passing of  Jack D. Parker Sr., father of drivers Jack Parker Jr. and Howard Parker.  He also has a daughter Lynne who raced on the NJ fair circuit when it existed.  In addition, Chip Noble passed away during the evening.  The adjective used to describe Noble the most is 'gentleman'.  I would like to extend my sympathy to both families.

Kudos to horsemen at Pompano Park who came to the rescue when Davie Police contacted the track about 5 stallions who were rescued from a farm being severely malnourished (a total of 19 horses were confiscated). These horses are now in the process of being rehabilitated.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

News Item: Harnesslink Reports Meeting of Horsemen and Freehold Management is Scheduled for Wednesday

It should never have had to get to this point but according to Harnesslink, Freehold management will be meeting with horsemen this Wednesday to discuss track conditions at the raceway and other items.  This comes on the heels of the crash involving the starting car and the field during the fifth race on Friday.

The one thing which puzzles me is why no horseman rode with the track crew between the races?  When the weather is dicey, a horseman should be riding along with the track crew in between each race looking for things such as icy or uneven thawing conditions as done at Monticello Raceway.

On other sites, some state if the mobile barrier was attached to a 4X4 instead of a traditional sedan, it may have prevented the situation.  It is true most tracks who replace gates are using 4X4s instead of cars, but there is a cost involved in upgrading.  Would it have prevented this problem?  Possibly, but the only way to prevent such problems 100% is to have cancelled racing.

Hopefully, the meeting on Wednesday will clear the air and things can move forward.

Racing in the Thaw, Spoiled Owners; Expand Wagering Opportunities

Freehold Raceway wisely cancelled racing on Saturday as a result of Friday's starting car mishap.  Now, I can not say for sure what transpired to cause this accident, but yesterday morning I went somewhere while it was in the 40's and while it was raining, the asphalt still was icy.  Yes. the temperature was above freezing for over 24 hours and  the ground was still cold enough to support ice.  Being asphalt is one of the materials which thaw first, I have to wonder if there was still spots of ice on the track just under the surface which contributed to the mishap.

This is not to assess blame on anyone; it has been years since it has gotten as cold as it did.  If you don't have to deal with a situation that often you tend to forget certain things.  But as a horseperson speculated to me:  On tracks where horses are stabled or raced on most days of the week, the track is worked seven days a week constantly meaning a track can be dealt with as it is frozen and as it thaws.  For tracks where there is no training and racing is limited to a few days a week, the track may be left alone for several days before being worked on by the crew which could  result in a track thawing unevenly and leave ice patches just under the surface.  (I have no way to know how the track at Freehold is handled).

However, it should be noted in colder climates such as Buffalo Raceway and in Canada, where freeze and thaw cycles occur with regularity, they don't think twice about cancelling racing when a thaw comes quickly. The takeaway is at raceways where there is not much familiarity with dealing with the thawing and freezing of tracks, it is better to error on the side of caution.

Fortunately, with regards to the drivers in the accident-marred race,  they seem to be well on their way to recovery.  For some it will take longer than others to return to the sulky, but return they will.

Update: Extreme Harness Racing offers their opinion and clearly assigns blame on Freehold (Facebook).  Not knowing the people behind Extreme Harness Racing, take it for what it is worth.

While there is talk of bringing back the trio of races which make up Super Sunday (Battle of the Brandywine, The Colonial, and Valley Forge next year, one wonders if the MSOA was given the opportunity to host the races at the Meadows this year.  The trio of races are controlled by the PHHA which represent horsemen in the Eastern part of the state.  Of course, we can't say the Meadows horsemen would want to take the races on as the Battle would likely have competed with their own signature race, the Adios, but perhaps the Colonial would have fit their schedule.

As for the owners who were unhappy with the amenities at Pocono Downs during the Breeders Crown, I suggest they open they eyes and take a good look at reality.  What other track was willing and able to handle the Breeders Crown last year?  Also consider, how great Super Sunday would be at Harrah's where they refuse to open the clubhouse for the day.  Be thankful there is a racino which takes racing seriously as their other partner would be more than happy to push you out the door.

It is reported in New South Wales, Australia that handle has moved from the traditional TAB (OTB) to other forms of gambling.  For the recent Miracle Mile card, under $501,000 was bet on all the races when in the past, over $500,000 would have been bet on the Miracle Mile alone.  Yet $5.6 million was bet over all on the Miracle Mile program.  Where did the money go?  Fans found fixed odds wagering offered by TAB attractive with 30% of all money wagered through TAB now going to fixed odds wagering instead of the regular pools.  In addition fans were attracted to Exchange Wagering and bookmakers which are legal in Australia.

While bookmaking is not legal in North America, this report show gamblers all over are seeking ways to maximize the value they receive on their wagers.  Racing in North America would be wise to embrace exchange wagering as soon as possible and investigate whether or not they can offer fixed wagering.  Of course, racing needs to get a reasonable share of the profits to fund purses as long as it is done reasonable.