For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Plainridge Lives On

Knowing the way things work in Massachusetts, the fact that Mass Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby, a political animal to the core, went out of his way during the last stage of the vetting process for the single slots license to portray the Leominster/Cordish bid in a positive light, while dismissing the Plainville/Penn National proposal as hard to grade, was very concerning. I believed all along that Plainridge had an edge since so many existing jobs were at stake, but Crosby’s approach to the summation told me the fix was in, and cynicism got the best of me. I lost my faith. The hero who restored it and saved the day for all of us was Commissioner Gayle Cameron, a one time member of the New Jersey State Police and the hearing officer who put the kibosh on Walter Case’s attempt to get his license back. Commissioner Cameron stated, “I value the ability to have racing continue in a full-time capacity.” Penn National had been forthright in stating that racing would end if the license went elsewhere. When she cast her vote Cameron made it clear that racing was the pivotal factor in her decision.

The final vote was 3-2 in favor of Plainville, with Commissioners Bruce Stebbins and Enrique Zuniga joining Cameron. This isn’t the end of it; there is no end to it in this state. Penn National must agree to a number of “administrative conditions” during the next 24 hours, and once that is out of the way the final vote will take place--tomorrow. The Plainridge web site already screams out “Coming Soon! Plainridge Park Casino! And beneath that there is a rendering of what the casino/track complex will look like at night. Since the racing side of things was contingent upon getting the license “Live racing returns in April” is all you get in that area.

Calling the Massachusetts Sire Stakes program modest is too kind, but there is one. The program is now built around resident broodmares. Last year a single trotting stallion—Futile Quest—while no pacing stallions stood in the state. This year the pacing stallion Armenian Warrior has been added to the mix. Forty-four mares, in foal to the likes of Chapter Seven, Credit Winner, RC Royalty and Rock N Roll Heaven, are registered with the program. Those mares are required to reside in the state from December 1, 2013 until foaling time in 2014. This relatively new approach to handing out sire stakes money, in tandem with the percentage of all casino revenue guaranteed to the horse racing industry, as well as the subsidy garnered from the slots money generated at Plainridge, “should” transform the track into a first class operation. Currently Maltese Artist, in reign to Bruce Ranger, owns the track record of 1:49.2 on the pacing side. That was set more than eight years ago. And Ringside Rocket set the trotting mark almost fourteen years ago for Walter Case Jr. Obviously racing at Plainridge needs to meet the modern world. Penn National has plenty of experience running racetracks, not always to favorable reviews, but there’s nowhere to go but up in this case.

As I stated earlier, it’s never really over in this state. Good government types are plentiful and the anti-casino folks have gathered enough signatures to place an appeal question on the ballot in November. Right now the Attorney General, Martha Coakley, who is running for Governor, is mulling over whether or not such an initiative is appropriate. Translation: she’s conducting a poll to see which ruling will net her the most votes. Informing Penn National that the whole thing was an April Fools joke, in November, after they’re up and running with the slots parlor, would be just too ridiculous, but we are talking about the Commonwealth, so stay tuned.

Judgement at Plainridge

The day has come.  Either today or tomorrow, Plainridge Racecourse and its horsemen will know the future of harness racing in Massachusetts as the committee deciding which of three proposals will be given the go ahead to open a slot parlor.  With the public hearings thus far, it appears it is between Penn National (Plainridge) and the Cordish Cos. as the Raynham Greyhound Park didn't win any categories.

With Raynham's proposal, which provided for 40 days of harness racing at a fairground likely dead, harness racing's survival depends on Plainridge winning the contest.  While the commission has recognized racing would continue should Plainridge win the license, there is no specific rule which requires the commissioners to take that into consideration; it falls under the category of economic development.

By the end of tomorrow, we will learn who the victor will be.  Will we be hearing cheers of victory or the cries of despair?  Time will tell.

UPDATE:  Plainridge Racecourse won the slot license by a vote of 3-2.  Further coverage of this will be forthcoming.

A Great Night and a Special Event; Why Not in North America?

The Pryde's EasiFeed Great Southern Star Trot being contested at Tabcorp Park Melton on March 22 is looking to be turning into a stellar affair as Corey Callahan will be heading to Australia to compete in the $400,000 trotting event, joining Chantal Sutherland-Krusse who will be riding in an Invitation Riders Monté race that evening as well.  Also on the card is the final of the Lyn McPherson Memorial 'Breed for Speed' Trotting Sprint Series (Gold, Silver, Bronze divisions) in addition to an Invitation Drivers FFA Trot.  All races will be at 1720 meters (approx 1 1/16 miles).  Other foreign drivers are expected to be invited to compete.

So what is the Great Southern Star Trot?  It is a race which will have two AU$50,000 eliminations that evening with the top three finishers of each division plus the remaining four fastest finishers from the two eliminations combined returning for the $300,000 final.  Berths in the eliminations are determined by winning one of the Australasian Master races or one of 12 additional Group 1 Australasian races contested in Australia or New Zealand.   The winner of this race has the option of racing on the European Grand Circuit.

As typical in other countries, the March 22nd meeting has been labeled as "Girls Night Out" with many events scheduled for the evening besides racing.

An advertisement promoting Girls' Night Out at Tabcorp Park Melton.
What I don't understand is why in North America we don't have themed nights to attract people to come to the track.  In this case, activities at the track are focused towards raising funds for Ovarian Cancer, something which may get people who normally would not attend the races to show up.  In addition to getting new people to the track, the tracks build good will with the local community.  If there is one thing tracks in the United States can use is good will in their communities.

Perhaps American tracks can learn something from Australian tracks.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Rebuttal from the NYGA

Back on February 14, Alan Schwartz, President of the MHHA, had offered an opinion where he indicated the New York Gaming Association (NYGA) was attempting to destroy horse racing in the state of New York.  You may read that statement here.  

Now admittedly, when you have a dispute, emotions get high and some hyperbole is used.  That being said, the NYGA has issued a statement by Erin Dennin, Director of Communications, responding to Schwartz's comments.  You may read her remarks here.

As far as I am concerned, I am not aware of any evidence of any track looking to end racing in the state at present.  Will there be a time down the road when racetracks decide to decouple their casino operations from racing?  No one can say but I wouldn't be surprised.  But I suspect it will be more the result of inertia by racing stakeholders than any secret plans.

As we have seen in Ontario and as John Campbell spoke about in Ohio, slots are not a divine right, they can be taken away at a moments notice.  The key is to take advantage of slots while you have them to revamp racing rather than just pocketing the money.  For sure, some steps have been taken, namely expanding the market for races abroad, but domestically, it is basically still an overproduction of the same old product. 

The key is for racing to use slot revenue to re-innovate the product than producing more of the same old same old.  We seem to be stuck in a rut which quite honestly, most seem content to be in.  I would suggest the biggest enemy to racing in New York and elsewhere is racing itself.

Dealing with the Devil

This is the state of harness racing; make a deal with the devil (slots) to survive and at the same time sign up for even greater irrelevance and if current trends continue, likely die in the long run (at least as a gambling sport).

So finds Scarborough Downs which finds itself at the mercy of LD 1111, which would allow the establishment of slot machines at harness tracks based solely on a local vote instead of a state-wide referendum.  If LD 1111 fails to pass or the people of Scarborough vote down slots, you can 'put a fork in' Scarborough Downs as it will likely close, joining other tracks which have been unable to survive due to the lack of alternative gaming.  Of course, the passage and approval of slot machines at Scarborough will likely result in minimizing the importance of racing as the importance of gamblers diminishes as handle will make up so little of the purse account.  Horsemen, and breeders will be happy but for how long?  For while decoupling is the hot word in Florida, it will be only a matter of time before decoupling becomes a buzz word through the rest of the nation, making racing stand on its own two feet; something it is woefully unprepared to do so as it is focused, no, obsessed with slots and only slots.  There realistically is no game plan in place to attract new gamblers.

Senator Dean Heller of Nevada is attempting to kill online gambling nationally, with the exception of poker, a game of skill.  No doubt this bill is being proposed to protect Las Vegas but if it were to pass, it could be the final nail in the coffin for Atlantic City' casinos.    Of course, there is no way to gauge at this time the support it would receive and it is possible as with sports wagering that existing online gaming may be grandfathered.

The situation at Monticello Raceway appears to have gotten worse as the track has allegedly informed horsemen stabled on the grounds that the main track will not be available for training on days there is no racing being conducted.  While such action is common at ship-in tracks, it is clearly retaliatory here.  The horsemen have asked the NYGC to get involved with regards to getting the track reopened.  Being the main issue of the dispute is the law limiting subsidies to 2013 levels, and will be an issue at other New York tracks as their contracts come up for renewal (Saratoga next?), I would hope the NYGC is providing a mediator to assist in negotiations.

Continuing with our coverage of the Inter-Dominion, here is a commercial which is running in Australaia.  No, it isn't a clever commercial like the ones for ATG, but it is nice to see a commercial which talks about the race without mention of a free giveaway.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Pride, Cannon Fodder, and Inter-Dominion

To the victors go the bragging rights and the drivers at Flamboro Downs showed their Canadian pride by all donning Team Canada hockey sweaters in honor of the team's gold medal victory at the Sochi Olympics for the first race last night.  Not only was a great tribute to Team Canada, it made a moment which could be shown on television in Canada.

Remember the outrage over the claim of Sydney Seelster?  A great feel-good story was published in the Hamilton Spectator which outlined the story of Pinky and Sydney Weaver from the claim heard around the Internet to the kind gesture of Guy Gagnon to make sure the horse was returned to Sydney.

Last night at the Dan Patch awards, Bee A Magician as expected won the Horse of the Year award.  In an award which was not certain, Captaintreacherous beat out Foiled Again for the Pacer of the Year award.  Some people may dispute the outcome but realistically, the better pacer, performance-wise, came out ahead.

Tbe latest condition sheet at Monticello shows another purse cut with the bottom class going for a purse of $1,100.  They way things are going, will next week be the week the condition sheet shows a purse south of the $1K mark?  Not only are purses getting cut, the raceway supposedly is scheduling 12 less races a week; racing only 10 races a day.

Smaller purses, fewer  races, an untenable position for trainers.  No doubt the raceway is hurting with the simulcast signal restricted to New York only but the raceway can hold on a lot longer than the horsemen can.  Now I am not privy to the MHHA's strategy but right now it looks like a losing one.

Just to make sure it is clear, I am neutral in this dispute.  My problem is at first blush it appears outsiders have managed to use the local horsemen as cannon fodder to fight their battle.  I wonder how many Monticello horsemen are going to be forced into financial ruin as a result of this dispute?

Post positions have been drawn for the 2014 Inter-Dominion Pace which will be contested at Tabcorp Park Menangle on Sunday afternoon, March 2.  A field of 14 will face the starter looking to win one of the most prestigious races in Australasia.  Here is the field for the race which will be contested at 3,009 meters (1.87 miles).  Note horses 11-14 race from the second row.

BarrierHorse (Australian Record) Best Mile Rate
1Im Victorious NZ (11-7-1-0) 1:53.3
2Livingontheinterest NZ (11-3-1-1) 1:54.9
3Seel N Print NZ (19-5-4-2) 1:50.2
4Keayang Cullen (8-1-3-1) 1:53,2
5Forever Gold (9-2-1-2) 1:54,5
6Mach Beauty (11-3-2-2) 1:51
7Wartime Sweetheart NZ (15-2-4-1) 1:56.5
8Smolda (2-1-1-0 NZ Starts only) 2:02.7
9Caribbean Blaster (11-2-2-4) 1:55.4
10The Gold Ace (9-3-1-2) 1:56.8
11Restrepo (12-4-2-0) 1:52.8
12Beautide (11-9-1-0) 1:50.2
13For A Reason (9-4-4-1) 1:49.4
14Terror To Love NZ (1-0-0-0) 1:57.2 (NZ)

My selection in this race is Beautide.  The form for this race may be found here.

Artificial Insemination (AI) an issue?  While standardbreds have been using artificial insemination has been used for years, thoroughbred racing still insists on natural cover.  A case in Australia is challenging the prohibition against AI in thoroughbred racing, challenging the ban which has been in place since 1947.  If the courts rule a ban on AI is restriction of trade and allows it to be used in Australia, it would seem almost inevitable that thoroughbreds around the world will join the standardbreds in using AI.

The divorce between the greyhound industry and the casinos in Iowa is advancing as a House committee has approved a bill allowing the casino industry to pay $70 million to the greyhound industry over a ten year period to allow breeders to transition.  If this becomes law, look at casinos in other states to attempt the same thing.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Briefs

Congratulations to Bob Marks and Kathy Parker on the nomination to the Communicators Corner at the Hall of Fame at Goshen,  Both well deserve their nominations and hopefully they will be elected this summer,

Tonight at the Dan Patch Awards dinner, expect Bee A Magician to be named horse of the year.

Will racing continue at Plainridge Raceway?  We should find out this week as those responsible for selecting the slot parlor licensee is expected to announce their decision this week.

Yonkers Raceway trumpets that last night, they hit a season high handle of  $1.024 million dollars for their race card.  Ho hum.  Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment reports their handle was $3.6 million.  So while Yonkers may be the king of racing purse-wise, gamblers clearly prefer the track in the 'swanp'.  While many complain about the purses at the Meadowlands, could you imagine what Tonkers would be racing for if there was no slot revenue?

The Monticello Raceway dispute continues on.  With the turning off of interstate simulcasting, purses so far have been cut 40%.  How united are the horsemen?  I suspect not as united as they would like people to think as some owners have taken horses away from Monticello-based trainers to race at other tracks as well as there being some trainers having problems paying their feed bills.  After all, before the purses were cut, some trainers were not exactly rolling in the dough, so racing for less money and losing horses (training bills), means financial difficulties for trainers.

Again, I am curious to know why the MHHA decided to take a principled stance whereas the SOA had the opportunity to do so but decided to punt on the issue as the hated legislation became law before their contract was agreed to.  It is a known fact there is no love lost between the SOA leadership and Jeff Gural.  Could the reason the SOA decided to punt on this issue have something to do with a cut of purses at Yonkers due to withholding the simulcasting signal would result in an exodus of horses to race at the Meadowlands?

Make no mistake, New York horsemen have a valid concern about the capping of subsidies at 2013 levels.  It is possible VLTs could be swapped out for traditional slot machines and cut subsidies to horsemen.  Some protection should be given horsemen to protect them from the effects of a track trying to swap machines out to avoid having to pay horsemen their commission.  If there is a cap on payments, there should be a floor on payments.  Yes, the tracks were involved in the crafting of this legislation but this battle needs to be fought in Albany, not at Monticello, Nichols, Saratoga Springs, Vernon, or Yonkers.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Different Type of Uncoupling

Time to learn a new definition of the term uncoupled.  While most of us know it as allowing horses with a common interest racing as different wagering interests, the new definition is separating the casino  from the raceing.  It is playing out right now in Florida.

Greyhound proponents are proposing the state change their law to allow for the uncoupling of casinos from racetracks; in particular greyhound facilities.  This decoupling would allow greyhound tracks with casino gambling to continue operating while allowing these tracks to shut down their greyhound operations.

While the anti-greyhound people are looking to decouple casino licenses from greyhound tracks, others are looking to allow decoupling at all racetracks, including harness racing tracks.  Needless to say if tracks were given the option to drop their racing meets yet continue to operate their racinos, how long do you think it would take for companies like Harrah's to drop racing?

So when drivers ask what is the big deal about kicking/nudging/booting or whipping they need to think of decoupling.  The bigger the perception that racing is cruel, not only is it more likely opponents of racing will work on decoupling casinos from racetracks, the more receptive legislators will be towards such legislation..

Horsemen in  various areas may be successfully fighting to maintain their subsidies now, but once these groups get racing in their cross-hairs look out.  All 'booting' and whipping is going to do is give them a larger bullseye to hit.

Jockey Chantal Sutherland-Krusse will be taking to the saddle again in monté competition, this time in Australia in the Aldebaran Park Monté Series taking place on March 22. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wednesday Morning Briefs

The IRB has rightly repudiated Balmoral Park by voting 9-0 against the Chicago track's request to drop the Wednesday nights for 2014.  A decision to race on Wednesdays needs to be determined as a result of negotiations rather than by management fiat.  With this decision coming down, the IHHA and racetrack management should sit down and come to an agreement.

USTA Director John Brennan lashes out at the USTA and Saratoga Raceway and rightfully so.  In Brennan's piece, he wonders why the USTA rejects membership to horsemen who are properly licensed by state racing commissions yet takes no sanctions against tracks when called for, in particular Saratoga Raceway which refuses to carry the mandated amounts in medical coverage for drivers injured in races.

At first blush, it would seem Brennan's argument is sound.  However, I am being told by some individuals that there is more to the insurance situation than Saratoga refusing to provide the coverage.  I will withhold judgement until more information comes forward.

In New Jersey's Quixotic quest to get sports betting, the State and the NJTHA have filed their briefs with the US Supreme Court to have them overturn the law which bans sports wagering.  The main argument is by allowing Nevada the right to have sports gambling and deny other states the right, the government is discriminating against other states.  My guess is the Supreme Court will deny the petition and the argument especially since New Jersey had the opportunity to offer sports wagering but refused to approve it when given the chance.  But of course, it isn't over till the Fat Lady sings.

And finally, a harness racing story.  Did you know in Europe, trotting is king with thoroughbreds second string?  Thoroughbred Racing Commentary talks about the recently completed Prix d'Amerique and the reasons why it makes harness racing the top dog.  North American trotting can learn something from what they do in France and other countries and would be wise to take their best practices and adopt them here.

Remember the Regis The Horse craze?  How did he do since he was renamed to Regis?  The new name and  racing in Delaware has apparently agreed to with him as the son of Shadow Play has a record of 7-4-1-1 with earnings of $19,995 and a lifetime mark of 1:55.3 at Harrington Raceway with his last race a victory in NW4 company.  The now three year old has yet to return to the races which is not surprising.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bootsgate Revisted

This past Friday night at the Meadowlands, Tim Tetrick was a guest on the pre-racing show where he once again defended his kicking (oops, nudging) of Captaintreacherous during the 2013 Grand Circuit  stop at Lexington along with fellow booter Brian Sears on Vegas Vacation.  You probably remember this race, especially when the judge says there was no kicking only to have the KHRC quickly retract and issue $500 fines for the kicking/booting.

As reported by Standardibred Canada, Tetrick comments on how he believes nudging the horses causes no pain to them, something I find hard to believe (think what happens to you if you back into someone's foot in the back of your knee when you walk).  Somewhat surprisingly, most comments on the Standardbred Canada website were not favorable towards Tetrrick's position.  One comment in particular stands out which explained an equine professional at a Canadian University weighed in on nudging and indicated their belief that a nudge is compounded by the speed which the hock is hitting the foot.  Their belief is any impact could cause significant amounts of pain and even damage.

Kicking, booting, or nudging, whatever you want to call it is illegal.  There is a reason why the rule was implemented before this event blew up.  Mr. Tetrick would best be served by trying to live by the rules and stop complaining about a position he can't win.  His words will only hurt racing in the long run.  He should also consider who the end consumer of racing is.

Speaking of controversial issues, Jay Bergman's column yesterday regarding the concentration of horses in certain stable was met either by approval or scorn.  One person in particular mentioned how dare you tell an owner who they can use as a trainer.

As with the booting question, the issue regarding the concentration of horses with a few trainers boils down to the question 'Who is the End Consumer of racing"?   If it is the customer, then how long do you think they will be wagering if you have races with two or three trainers with most of the horses in a race?  If you think racing is for the horse owner, then keep on doing what we are doing and soon you will be racing for blankets.

As one person noted, does it matter what the customer thinks when horse owners are racing for slot money?  How long do you think the slot money will keep pouring in if the customers we have abandon the sport.

I suggest racing really think about who the end customer is before they defend their actions or criticize the writings of any scribe.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday Must Reads

Let Our Purse Money Go says the IHHA.  In a letter to the industry, the Illinois horsemen are claiming Balmoral and Maywood Park are looking to stretch the purse account out for three years or so resulting in paltry purses whereas the horsemen rather take their chances and race at the current level (which isn't that great) and hope casino gaming comes to the racetracks soon.

So who controls the purse account?  While it is the horsemen's money, they traditionally get their say through a labor contract with the racetracks which is currently being negotiated.  The tracks, in an effort to say 'Okay, you want to race for $X a night, that's fine, we will save money by axing Wednesday nights' which in effect cuts the overall purses being paid out and gives horsemen less racing opportunities.

The tracks were wrong to go to the IRB to cut Wednesdays out of the schedule until contract negotiations were complete and one hopes the racing board will 86 the request.  Horsemen should be able to race for decent money but need to realize racetracks have money invested in the industry as well.  If the well runs dry, horsemen aren't going to say here is some money to keep things operating.

Both sides need to reach a compromise that both sides can live with (meaning they both will be unhappy somewhat), yet realize the possibility of alternative gaming in the Prarie State is a distinct, though not guaranteed, possibility.  It is time to stop the sabre rattling and get down to serious negotiations.

In an editorial by an Iowa State Representative, you can read how the casino industry is determined to kill off the greyhound industry by any means possible.  You may wonder why this commentary is important.  Let's look at the dynamics.

  1. Racinos are allowed at racetracks to promote and diversify the agricultural industry.
  2. Casinos come in promising to promote racing while they build the casinos.
  3. Casinos do nothing to promote racing.
  4. Casinos seek to get rid of racing, saying it is a dead industry.  Offer to pay $70 million (then upped to $100 million)  if state allows them to get rid of racing.  State tells them no; if they want to kill of racing, deal with the breeders directly.
  5. Casinos go to a couple of cities telling them they may close casinos and close off the revenue stream if they don't support getting rid of racing.
  6. Casinos give greyhound industry a take it or leave it $70 million offer to shut down greyhound racing.
  7. Greyhound industry objects and wonders about the promises made when casinos were allowed.  Casinos tell greyhound industry, they have the votes to get rid of racing; take the offer (we will see if this happens).

What is the importance of this?  Change the words greyhound racing to your favorite form of racing (harness in  my case) and can you see this happening in your state?    This should be getting you nervous.

And the rich get richer.  So Nuncio joins Father Patrick in the Takter stable.  Jay Bergman decries the stables which seem to get all the horses and talks about how bad it is for racing.  This year the Presidential series was cancelled because most of the horses entered were from the Burke Stable.  Yes, people have the right to choose the trainer of their choice but it is going to kill this industry.  The article is a must read article.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Winter of Discontent (It's Not Just the Snow)

The horsemen at Monticello have issued a statement as to why they have withheld their racing signal from out of state locations, the law which caps slot revenue to 2013 level.  Not only do they want the possibility of getting more revenue, there is a legitimate fear that racinos will switch out VLTs to traditional slot machines and get away without paying commission on that revenue.

As expected with the withholding of the simulcast signal, horsemen at Monticello have had purses cut.  The bottom purse has been reduced to $1,400 for non-winners of $200 per last six starts; $4,000 claimers now race for $1,600.  I wouldn't be surprised if these purses get cut further if the signal boycott continues.

I am not saying the horsemen are right or wrong at Monticello, but to this observer it is funny how with this problem of VLT revenue cap hitting all tracks, it was at Monticello, a track where horsemen scrape by the stand by horsemen is made.  Why not at Yonkers?  After all, they signed a contract just in December, didn't they know about the 2013 VLT cap then?  I can't help but think the Catskill horsemen are being used as pawns while the horsemen at Yonkers can keep earning their big purses.  Sure, many of the horsemen race at both tracks but the Monticello-based horsemen have far and few Yonkers horses to help keep the bills getting paid.

Meanwhile in Chi-town, what had been amicable negotiations appears to have taken a turn for the worse as track management has gone to the IRB asking to cancel Wednesday night racing for the entire year.  As a result, negotiations have gone on hold until the IRB issues a decision on Tuesday as the horsemen don't know how many days they will be racing and how it will impact their decision.

Personally, I suspect this request to cancel Wednesday nights is just a poke at the IHHA because until a contract is negotiated, I don't think the IRB will grant the request.  After all, usually to get days taken off the racing calendar the track needs to show either a shortage of horses or unsound financial condition.  Obviously, they can't claim a horse shortage and to claim an unsound financial condition prior to securing a contract is premature.

Where horsemen could be hurt is if the tracks decide to close their backstretches if no agreement is reached within a certain time period.  If that happens, then things can get really nasty as horsemen at tracks outside of Illinois can withhold their signal for simulcasting,  What once seemed like a minor spat has the potential of becoming a real donnybrook.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Will Super Bowl And Stars Pride Endure On The Top Line In NA?

The key question regarding the trotting breed in North America, as I see it, is whether or not the line emanating from Stars Pride endures. It appears to be on shaky ground. Viking Kronos, sire of European sensation Maharajah, as well as Order By Fax, Going Kronos and Thai Thanic, has sustained it in Europe. He was born in Italy to the Bonefish mare, Conch, who won the Oaks in 1985. So Viking Kronos is a Yankee through and through, but he’s in Sweden. He relocated there from Italy in 2007. He’s two years older than the NA patriarch of this line, his paternal brother Credit Winner, who is also by the smooth and refined American Winner, who has served as the extender for Stars Pride’s greatest siring son, Super Bowl. Credit Winner seems to have a lot in common with his Blue Chip stablemate on the pacing side, Art Major: He’s very successful in both the restricted and open realms and popular with breeders and buyers, but like Art Major, he hasn’t turned the trick when it comes to a line-extender.

Credit Winner is seventeen-years-old and his eleventh crop hits the track this year. More often than not successful sires produce an heir early. Credit Winner’s first crop consisted of plenty of good trotters but no potential extenders in NA. Chocolatier, who was not considered a notable stallion and was sold Swedish interests in 2011, was from Credit Winner’s second crop. RC Royalty, the sire of Royalty For Life and Here Comes Herbie, the half to Donato who sired Mister Herbie, were also from that crop. All have attractive qualities but none of them give us the impression they will carry Stars Pride into the future. Other possibilities are Crazed, who has been moved from New York to Pennsylvania and continues to struggle; Dejarmbro, who is just getting started in Ohio; and Archangel, who is standing in New York.

The fifteen-year-old Ontario stallion Kadabra, the sire of Bee A Magician, also goes back to Stars Pride, via Nevele Pride. His best son, Daylon Magician—there’s a big problem right there—has tried and failed as a stallion a couple of times and is now back racing. Windsong Espoir is now standing in Ontario. Knows Nothing has been sold to European interests, and Prestidigitator is in the Witness Protection Program. Four-year-old Flanagan Memory, winner of a divisional O’Brien for 2013, is a recent plus on the male side.  Credit Winner’s son, Jurgen Hanover, was off to a very promising start last year when his campaign was cut short by injury. Perhaps he’ll go on. All in all, things are looking sketchy for the great Stars Pride.

And Malabar Man, who passed in 2011, went back to Stars Pride on top, but he never produced a top line extender. He was born in 1994, the year his sire, Supergill, was sent off to Italy. Supergill, a $500,000 yearling by Super Bowl and out of the world champion Bonefish mare, Winky’s Gill, was very successful in Europe, siring the likes of Toss Out and Promising Catch. Many bemoaned the fact that he was exported after standing at Castleton for six years. As is the case with Viking Kronos, Supergill represents another missed opportunity to extend Super Bowl and Stars Pride in the Americas.

The Volomite line, as is often the case, has not been extended from the expected source—Noble Gesture. Balanced Image and Mystic Park have petered out on top. It appeared that all was safe with ABC Freight’s son Garland Lobell and his potent trio, Andover, Angus and Conway, but that’s no sure thing. Donato looked like a cinch to extend but he’s better at fillies than he is at colts. With four racing crops behind him there’s no likely heir in sight. Big Rigs is standing in Ohio and a lot of folks like him, but he’s an unlikely line-extender. And eighteen-year-old Angus is not a good bet to get it done with Majestic Son, Cincinnati Kid or Winning Mister. It’s the little, older brother, Conway Hall, who appears to be the best bet to carry the line forward via his grandsons Lucky Chucky and Chapter Seven. Regardless, Bob Marks has always privileged the Hall trio’s mama, Amour Angus, over Garland Lobell, because Garland has thrown nothing faintly resembling a stallion in NA without Amour Angus. That further complicates things for this line.

The brilliant Self Possessed, a grandson of Valley Victory, is the modern day key to the line running through Speedy Scot and Speedy Crown. Trainer Ron Gurfein said he was the fastest standardbred—trotter or pacer—he had ever seen. Thirteen-year-old Cantab Hall looks to be a snap to carry on this Line. His son Father Patrick was outstanding last year. Then again, another son Wheeling N Dealin was also unbeatable as a freshman. Eight-year-old Explosive Matter has met with some success in Pennsylvania and Pastor Stephen has been retired to stud in Sweden. Dewey can’t get out of his own way, however, while Muscle Hill has hardly been the diagonally gaited answer to SBSW, he may keep Muscles Yankee going. Mr Muscleman, from Muscles Yankee’s first crop, is still his richest son. Losing him as a stallion prospect has been very unfortunate. Still, nine-year-old Muscle Mass, who was very successful in the ONSS, has been relocated to Blue Chip in New York and his little brother, Muscle Massive, is at Hanover. And Yankee Glide has lots of promising young sons, like MOMM, Holiday Road, Guccio, Aperfectyankee and All Laid Out.

Perretti brought over Revenue S a decade ago and he hooked up with the Yankee Glide mare Classical Flirt to give us the 2012 and 2013 division champion Market Share. Obviously he will open new vistas for breeders when he is retired to stud. Revenue’s seven-year-old son Break The Bank, a BC winner in 2010, is already standing in Ohio.

Again, what about Stars Pride and Super Bowl in NA? I can’t say I’m optimistic about them having an extended run from this point forward, but it only takes one special son to turn the tide in this game.


The Sidneys are Reunited.

Call me sentimental, but it is great to see that Sidney Seelster is back with Sidney Weaver.  Yes, claiming horses is an every day occurrence, but it is nice to see what could have been a truly heart breaking experience has turned into a feel good story.  Here is hoping the two Sydneys have a long time together.

For the first time since the Meadowlands opened, the Presidential FFA Series has been cancelled due to lack of entries.  While 12 horses were nominated, most came from the Ron Burke stable making it unfeasible to contest this year.  To tell you the truth, with one round of eliminations and the final, it is just as well as it wasn't the Presidential Series of years past.

On this Valentine's Day, for those who have not seen last year's Valentine's Day trailer for "I Am, A Harness Racing Horse", allow me to re-present it.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Look At The Upcoming Season

It looks like the $100,000 Meadowlands Maturity Trot will move ahead five weeks to the middle of June. Last year the Maturity was raced on May 4, and while most of the better male members of the four-year-old class showed up, there were a couple of notable absences: Market Share wasn’t ready and didn’t make his first start until four weeks later, and Intimidate’s connections elected to keep the BC winner in Quebec, where he opened his season a week after the Maturity. Googoo Gaagaa started in the race but was no factor. Modern Family came late to win for Tim Tetrick and Daryl Bier.

And another plus for the four-year-old trotters will be a revival of the Hambletonion Maturity, a month before the Hambletonion Open, at a distance of a mile and an eighth. It will consist of a single dash; if 16 trotters declare there will be six trailers. Everyone will get paid, as 1% of the purse will go to finishers six through last. And unlike the Hambletonion Open and the Oaks, supplemental entries will be accepted. The going rate for that will be $50,000.

In 1966 Noble Victory trotted the fastest competitive mile in the history of the sport—1:55.3—in the Hambletonion Maturity for Stanley Dancer. The first edition was won by the Rodney mare, Spry Rodney, in 1963 and the following year Prix de France winner Elma, the dam of Texas, won the race. Since Herb Liverman said the other night at the O’Brien’s that his mare, Bee A Magician, would have entered and won the Hambletonion if she didn’t have a sore foot, I assume we’ll see her taking on the boys in this year’s Maturity. That will certainly add a lot of pizzazz to the race.

The Progress Pace will be held Sunday December 7, five days before the Cleveland Classic. Last season there was a two-week gap between those races. The Cleveland Classic had a short field of six, with three of them having raced in the Progress….The TVG finals will be held on the last Saturday in November, just like last year, but the Final Four will be absent from that card in 2014. The Governor’s Cup, Three Diamonds, Valley Victory and Goldsmith Maid will be held a month earlier on October 25 at Woodbine. This will work out much better as those races were missing many top tier colts and fillies because those stakes were held so late in the season….The Nadia Lobell, which was held at Garden State during the first eleven years of its existence, has become something of a nomad. POAS beat Dancinwiththestarz in :49.4 at The Meadows in 2010 and the following years Idyllic won at the Meadows when Peelers lost her way. The Meadowlands cancelled it in 2012 and last year Shebestingin outclassed a field that was missing Nitelife as the odds on choice at the Meadowlands. This year the Nadia joins the Monument Circle and the Hoosier Park Pacing Derby on Friday October 31. That will be six days after the repositioned Lady Maud. The Yonkers trot and Hudson Filly will move ahead three months and join the Messenger and Lady Maud on October 25.

Last season the first Breeders Crown eliminations were held five days after the Kentucky Futurity and the Allerage stakes at the Red Mile; this year there’s a five week gap. That will create some breathing room—maybe too much…..The Moni Maker, which was pretty much a walkover for Bee at 1/9 on the last day of November at the Meadowlands last year, joins up with the Erskine (Oliver) five weeks earlier, on a Friday at Hoosier Park…..

The first leg of the Miss Versatility will be held Monday May 19 at Woodbine. Maven made her four-year-old debut in this race last year, winning as the 1/5 choice. Five of the seven mares entered in that race were four-year-olds. With Bee A Magician being WEG based, it’s a safe assumption that she’ll kick off her season in that race before a hometown crowd. There will be another leg of this series five weeks later at Mohawk…..WEG has repositioned some of their stakes races. For instance, last year the Roses Are Red was held July 20. Anndrovette stared down Drop The Ball in that one. It has been moved back to June 14, the same night as the NA Cup. And the Elegantimage, which was held on Cup night, has been jumped ahead three months to September 13, the night of the Canadian Trotting Classic, Wellwood, Peaceful Way and the Milton. And a month later the Final Four will be held at Woodbine. Also, the Casual Breeze, for three-year-old filly trotters, which was held May 31 last season has been jumped ahead almost three months to Friday August 22, the day before the elimination round for the Metro, Great Lady and CPD. The new date for the Roses Are Red will place the top pacing mares at Mohawk on Cup night. Moving the Casual Breeze and Elegantimage to late August and mid-September will draw a more seasoned group of trotting fillies.


The Need to Nationalize

Forbes had an opinion piece regarding the proposed legislation by Rep. Todd Stephens to divert money from the Pennsylvania Racehorse Development Fund to schools so as the article says cynically, "Johnny and Janey can learn how to read the tote board".  This piece by David Brunori is nothing new in substance; the question is why is the state pumping money into a dying industry where it could be using these funds for the public good, in this case educating the state's children?

While the article if erroneous in talking about how the rich track owners are getting the revenue, neglecting to mention how the funds are eventually put into circulation to promote breeding and paying the not so rich grooms, blacksmiths, and farmers, you can't dismiss the ultimate question.  Why should 'the state' (because this is not  just Pennsylvania), spend needed funds on a special interest area with limited upside potential when those funds can be used for the perceived general good?

Let's face it, if you weren't involved in the industry as a fan or insider, you would have a hard time making a case to support horse racing.  You can cite all the economic benefit of keeping those involved in the industry employed, but when you are dealing with a product with little existing and declining demand, that argument falls short.  After all, we all love keeping people working, but in this high tech world, would you want to have the government direct funds to keep the typewriter industry going?  Probably not.

The key is the industry (all breeds) needs a dramatic reset to become a bigger part of the American fabric.  The current model of states controlling the racing calendar and setting up race dates and rules is outdated at best, and realistically, counter productive for the industry's survival.  With 18 states having harness racing, we basically have 18 different groups running around like chickens with their heads cut off, each going their own way; thus there is no cohesion between the various tracks and breeding programs and little if any marketing going on.  If we nationalized racing (through compacts) be it through a commissioner or other regulatory body, we could have the whole industry marching in lockstep in one direction, allowing a stronger product to be developed and marked.  It is only through nationalized groups such as PMU or ATG, that racing could become a stronger sport and one which can appeal to a national market.

Odds are there would be fewer race dates (which being there is a shortage of yearlings, is not a bad thing), and admittedly fewer trainers and drivers needed as the industry re-sizes but let's not kid ourselves, what good is it to keep everyone at the current product levels if everyone heads for unemployment?

The truth is less is more but as long as we hold on to home rule, we will constantly be under attack in the state legislatures with the industry eventually being swamped.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Will Artsplace And Cam Fella Survive On The Top Line?

SBSW has become the top line elephant in the room on the pacing side of the ledger. Time to take a look at how this is likely to play out in 2014 and beyond. The Adios line is on its way to top line extinction if the current trend continues. McArdle will dead-end Bret and Artsplace, who gave us the last of his sons in 2008, needs Sportswriter to step up and dominate with his first crop to allay our fears. It would seem that 15-year-old Art Major, who is very successful inside and out of the New York program, is a lock to keep Adios well clear of taking a top line genetic dirt nap, but that isn’t the way it’s playing out. Bob Marks points out that, “The key with siring sons is that the son must either be better than sire or possess an ingredient the sire didn’t have.” Art Major’s most successful son, Art Official, has been exiled to Ohio, and his fee has been trimmed in half since he started his siring career. Santana Blue Chip and Hypnotic Blue Chip were so successful and well received in the breeding realm that they’re both back on the racetrack. He’s Gorgeous? Whosurboy? What about Artiscape or Life Sign’s son Real Desire, or that one’s son Tell All as extenders of this line? How about Real Artist and his sons Dali and Fred And Ginger? Fool Me Once? Plenty of possibilities, but how much faith do they inspire? Art Major may yet turn the trick, but it appears Sportswriter will be the key figure as this drama plays out. At one time Adios, Tar Heel and Good Time were the big three. The latter two are gone on top and the big guy may be on a slow but steady path to joining them in top line Heaven.

Albatross is dead and the Meadow Skipper branch running through Most Happy Fella appears on its way to losing the vein passing through Tyler B, Dragon’s Lair and Dragon Again. The latter is 19-years-old and now resides in sirepalooza—Ohio. The hard hitting raceway warriors like Foiled, Atochia, Aracache, Custard and friends notwithstanding, Dragon Again has never produced anything resembling an extender, unless you think Roddy Bags Again or Dovuto Hanover will save the day for him. So it comes down to Western Hanover and Cam Fella, both of whom have benefited mightily from the line breeding between the descendants of Most Happy Fella that has kept this line on top of the mountain for so long. During the 43 years from 1970 on, 75% of the Jugs have been won by colts, and one filly, that trace back to Skipper on the top line. In addition, eight of the first ten editions of the Meadowlands Pace were won by sons or grandsons of Meadow Skipper.


In the case of Cam Fella, his fate seems to be in the hands of his grandsons Bettor’s Delight and Roll With Joe. The former, along with Rocknroll Hanover, has been a top tier volume producer of successful raceway stock and Grand Circuit money makers. Cam’s bravest son, Cam’s Card Shark, has extended him via tough guy Bettor’s Delight. Betterthancheddar and Bettor Sweet have been superior FFA pacers, Peelers and Shebestingin were brilliant fillies and Vegas Vacation (G) just won an O’Brien. But 16-year-old Bettor’s Delight has not wowed us with his siring sons. Kenneth J didn’t exactly take our breath away last year and this, and Cheddar is just getting started. While his late cohort at the top of the overall money list, Rocknroll, burst out of the gate with the dazzling Rocknroll Heaven, Bettor’s Delight has done no such thing. His little brother, Roll With Joe, sells his first crop this year.

Cam Fella was a ridgling. He was operated on for testicular cancer in 1995 and eventually died of that disease at age 22. He only produced ten crops. Cambest, Cam’s Card Shark, No Pan Intended, Presidential Ball, Allamerican Native, Lis Mara, Riverboat King, Village Jolt, Village Jove as well as those mentioned above all go back to him on top. He took a mark of 1:53.1 and was known more for his grit than his speed; Cam Fella won 68 of his 80 starts. In this case Marks’ “ingredient that the sire didn’t have” would be extreme speed. Cam, whose first crop appeared in 1987, has 13 sub 1:50 credits, with all but Eternal Camnation being males. Many outstanding pacers have emerged from his family group but they come up short on line-extenders. Maybe Bettor’s Delight will put it all together if they leave him in one place for a stretch. Marks notes that, “Bettor’s Delight has yet to give us a son better than he was.” Maybe Roll With Joe will be a world beater. Maybe Cam will go the way of Tyler B.

There’s a much better chance that Meadow Skipper lives on through Western Hanover than there is that Cam Fella does the honors. The loss of Western Hanover’s grandson Rocknroll Hanover at such an early age is a devastating blow to the breed; let’s hope his first crop son Rocknroll Heaven carries on for him. What Most Happy Fella was to Meadow Skipper Western Ideal is to Western Hanover. Aside from Rocknroll and grandson Heaven there is American Ideal. One could say Jewel is his best thus far, but He’s Watching is a freak. Pet Rock and ARNRD both begin their stallion careers this year. Big Jim, another son of Western Ideal, sells his first crop this year. Western Hanover’s son Well Said is off to a very good start in PA; another son, Big Bad John, sells his first crop in 2014; and another son, We Will See, is also standing in Ohio. Grandson Shadow Play threw an impressive first crop in Ontario and another grandson—Always A Virgin—has shown signs of being more than a successful regional stallion in Indiana. Grandson Ponder has a very high success rate for a small output. Badlands Hanover, If I Can Dream and Jereme’s Jet are other sons of Western Hanover. While the Cam Fella branch may bite the dust, this one should endure.

And then there’s SBSW, savior of the Volomite line on the pacing side. Bye Bye Byrd couldn’t do it, nor his son Armbro Nesbit. Overtrick didn’t get it done. The trotting bred pacer Sampson Hanover is the one who carried the line. After all the flak SBSW got for skipping the Jug, it’s ironic that Sampson Hanover became the first standardbred to win over a half-mile track in under two minutes, and he did that at Delaware, Ohio—1:59.3. And that win was his 16th in a row—no slouch he. His son, the speedy Sampson Direct, who was standing at Walnut Hall Farm for $1,500 in 1973, produced the outstanding FFA pacer, Direct Scooter, who was out of a Noble Victory mare and half to the dam of 2003 Jugette and Nadia winner, Numeric Hanover. Direct Scooter in turn gave us Matt’s Scooter, who was the sport’s fastest three-year-old pacer for more than a decade, as well as In The Pocket, the fastest three-year-old pacer of 1990. The latter produced Christian Cullen and Courage Under Fire Down Under, while Matt’s Scooter threw Mach Three, the sire of SBSW, over here. It’s not a case of The Captain and all the rest, but Captain T stands alone in the first two crops; none of the other colts are close to being as good as he is. That being said, SBSW, by every metric, is a very successful stallion and stands above all others in desirability and perception.  

Maybe it won’t be long before we have, on the top line, a single Hal Dale line running through Western Hanover and the Volomite line dominated by SBSW—in North America, anyway. The Adios line will have dried up, along with the Cam Fella and Tyler B branches of the Meadow Skipper line. Good Time and Tar Heel disappeared from the top faster than anyone would have imagined it could happen. The ubiquitous Albatross also left the top at an alarming pace; we turned around and he was a marginal sire of sires, then he was gone.


Time to Get Rid of Claiming Races? Introducing Aged Classified Racing

One thing we learned from the Sydney Seelster claim, which happily is being resolved to the benefit of all involved, is the unspoken rule regarding claiming races.  From the comments on social media, we learned the following things.

First of all, especially at the smaller tracks harness racing is a tight-knit family.  As such, here are some rules regarding horses racing in claimers.

  1. Thou shalt not claim a horse which is basically a pet.
  2. You don't claim a horse from someone who is in financial difficulty.
  3. You never claim the last horse a trainer has.
  4. While not as hard set in the rules, you give the person you are claiming from the courtesy of letting them know you are thinking of claiming their horse if it remains in for the same price.  This gives the original owner the opportunity to move the horse up if they want to keep it.
It is admirable that harness racing is tight-knot and while some of the comments regarding the two Sydneys were over the top, it was nice to see social media light up over this.  Let's face it, it  is a rare day where horse racing people get so passionate about something.  That being said, one has to wonder if these are the 'unspoken' rules of claiming races, why do we even bother with claiming races?

For example, these rules provide an unfair advantage to those who qualify for special treatment.  A trainer is supposed to place a horse at a proper level where the horse may be competitive.  Well, if you know no one is going to claim your horse off of you, a horse can dominate a class for a while without worrying about being claimed whereas someone who falls outside of these unspoken rules need to adjust the claiming price of the horse to keep it which means they may not be cashing a check for a few weeks.  The result is the horse player may be dealing with more odds-on favorites than they should have to. 

So what is the answer to these type of situations which would be fair to all involved.  Get rid of claiming races and replace them with classified races.  I know many horsemen don't care for classified racing; preferring conditioned racing.  Well, they can have it both ways.  You could have conditioned races for your younger horses but for horses six and up who would typically be forced into claiming races, classified races could be introduced.

The advantage of classified racing, would be those horses which would have raced in claiming races would be classified according to their current form.  With the racing secretary deciding the class each horse will race in, no trainer would have an unfair advantage over another.  

So how would these classified conditions work?.  First of all horses, which still can compete against younger horses, would continue to race in the existing classified or condition structure.  Those who don't fit the bill would be in races restricted to 6 year olds and up.  As with classifying horses, you would use a similar grading system but classify those horses relative to other horses 6 year olds and over (meaning a regular C-2 class race is not the same as an Aged C-2).  You would differentiate them in the program by specifying the race is for aged horses versus younger (i.e., Aged C-2).  

Yes, having Aged Classes puts the power of placing horses in their proper class on the race secretary.  If done right, the races become more competitive and make them worth wagering on.  Those who argue grouping older horses in classified racing would cheapen the product, we are seeing it is competitive full fields gamblers want, not races with odds-on favorites.  Perhaps more importantly,you won't see someones family favorite going to a new home.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Claim Which Shook Facebook and Twitter

The Internet was abuzz last night due to the claim of a $5,000 horse at Flamboro Downs last night.  What could have caused such anger?  The horse is Sydney Seelster, a horse which is partially owned by Sydney Weaver, a young lady with cerebral palsy, thanks to the generosity of the pre-claim owner.  Through Sydney Seelster, this girl has been able to be part of the harness racing community.  To say the horse has provided Sydney Weaver great joy is an understatement.

There is a grass roots movement to get Sydney Seelster back to her original owners so Weaver is reunited with her horse.  It is being claimed by some that the successful claimant didn't know the Sydney Seelster story; let's assume that is correct.  The good news is there have been offers to donate additional funds if it is necessary to claim Sydney Seelster back at a higher claiming tag.  If you ignore some of the anger-fueled threats, it seems the racing community is coming behind the two Sydneys and that is a nice story; showing harness racing does have a heart.

Now let it be said, being aware of the connection between the two Sydneys, I would never have claimed the horse.  However, let's play Devils Advocate for a moment.  Sydney Seelster has been racing at Flamboro in the $5,000 claiming ranks for the longest time.  Prior to last night's fourth place finish, Sydney Seelster had 4-1-0 record in her last five starts.  Does the fact the horse is owned partially by someone who has cerebral palsy give the trainer the right to race in the same class with impunity?  Perhaps some of the blame for the horse being claimed lies with the trainer for not moving the horse up in class thinking the horse was untouchable.

That being said, here is hoping Sydney Weaver is reunited with Sydney Seelster as soon as possible.  After all, who doesn't love a happy ending?

Update:  Sydney Seelster is in to go on Wednesday in a $7,500 claimer. As previously mentioned, the claimant didn't know the story.  While he wants the horse to go back to Sydney, ORC rules don't allow this to happen as easily.  It is reported he has asked the Sydney's team to claim the horse back at the higher price and they will be reimbursed for the difference in price to get the horse back.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Remembering Silk Stockings

One of my favorite horses in the beginning of my association with harness racing was Silk Stockings who was trained and driven by Preston Burris Jr.  One of the things I  remember is the owners of Silk Stockings were operators of a school for Autistic children in Delaware and every victory brought excitement to the students at the Delaware school.

Silk Stockings trained and driven by Preston Burris Jr.  Photo credit: Bruce Johnson
But Silk Stockings was more than a mascot to the children at Au Clair, she was part of a magical 1975 season, a season which found her to the be the fastest 3 yo of both sexes and gaits and at the time was the richest seasonal winner of all gaits with winnings in excess of $336,999.

During that magical season, Silk Stockings won 15 of 24 starts including a 12 race winning streak, winning up and down the Northeast corridor being based out of Brandywine Raceway.  The daughter of Most Happy Fella raced successfully both on the NYSS circuit and against open company but her most important wins of the season may have been the NYC OTB Classic where the filly took on and beat the boys at Monticello Raceway where she beat the ill-fated Tarport Hap and was the winner of the Jugette in straight heats.  Another big win was in the Betsy Ross at Brandywine.

Lifetime, the champion mare was a winner of 30 out of 57 starts with lifetime winnings of $694,894 and a lifetime mark of 1:55.2 at the Meadowlands at the age of 3.  Watching her race was a treat.

By the time Silk Stockings died at the age of 31, she had given birth to ten horses, her best one likely being the first foal, the very good horse Temujin (1:54.3;$633,824).

For a more complete history on Silk Stockings start year, you can check out this web posting..

Trivia Fans, here is a new tidbit for you.  The winner of the first wagering race at Miami Valley Racing is Lookout Macatoo, driven by reinsman Randy Tharps who won the first race in 1:55,1  Unlike the original opening night, this evening went off without the drama of the first night when racing was cancelled due to power fluctuations from Duke Energy.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Only Sure Thing in New Jersey is There is No Sure Thing

Everyone assumes casino gambling is eventually coming to North Jersey and most people claim it will come to the Meadowlands for the benefit of racing there and Monmouth Park (and probably Freehold).  Back in January of 2011, I said don't be so sure about that; specifically there are cities with a lot of power in the legislature who could make arguments for a racino.  Most people who read that column probably said 'Pshaw'.

In a meeting with the editorial board of the Asbury Park Press, Senate President Stephen Sweeney pleaded for people to give the Atlantic City Tourism District its full five years before deciding whether or not the saving of Atlantic City is a success (unlikely) or a failure (most likely).  That being said, the Senate President indicated when the time comes he may be open to allowing casinos in distressed cities like Camden, Newark, and even Jersey City.  Not on the list of potential casino sites mentioned are the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park.

Needless to say a casino in Newark(or Jersey City) would keep one likely out of the Meadowlands due to the proximity of the two locations; resulting in Jeff Gural handing the keys to the Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment back to the state and having them reimburse him and his partners for the construction of the new grandstand.

Gural wants harness racing to succeed at the Meadowlands and nationally.  However, to make the track profitable under the current model of simulcasting, a racino is needed.  Otherwise, more live customers will be siphoned off to a Newark casino and the track would likely bleed red ink.  While Gural does his best for racing, it can't be expected for him and his partners to throw good money after bad forever.

This is not to say a casino won't come to the Meadowlands, but it certainly is not a done deal.  The horsemen in this state, both thoroughbred and standardbred, better start educating legislators on the need for an eventual casino in East Rutherford, otherwise those assemblymen and state senators from the urban centers will once again put a knife in horse racing, especially when casino companies who operate in Atlantic City (with campaign donations to spend) would be more than happy to operate casinos instead of them being operated by companies who will share a percentage with horse racing.

Ohio Hijinx

Miami Valley Racing's grand opening night was killed by a power failure.  They didn't have the confidence in the emergency generators working so racing was cancelled and new grand opening is tonight with the opening night's card being moved to Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the former owners of Lebanon Raceway, which was replaced by Miami Valley are in court contesting the decision of the Ohio Racing Commission to transfer the license of Raceway Park to Dayton Raceway, seeking to stop the construction and opening of Dayton Raceway and its Hollywood Casino.  It seems Ohio law forbids the opening of another racetrack within a 50 mile radius of an existing raceway and since Dayton Raceway would be well within the 50 mile radius the lawsuit was initiated.  However, Ohio's legislature gave the racing commission a two year period to permit the moving of racetracks as a result of the legalization of racinos.  My guess is this case will eventually be defeated as it will come down to legislative intent.

Of course, this lawsuit is a smokescreen.  Does anyone really think the issue is the two racetracks will be within 50 miles of each other, especially since Miami Valley is racing a whole 60 days a year?  It is all about the casinos being so close to each other.  As in other states, racetracks are a means to gambling and nothing more.

That being said, one could wonder why the Ohio Racing Commission, which has been doing a great job of protecting racing when it comes to the construction of racetracks and ensuring live tellers are hired could have granted the movement of racetracks into the same markets.  It doesn't make good business sense for the success of racetracks with simulcasting and it certainly doesn't make good sense with casinos poaching each other's potential customers.

Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering Thumbs its Nose at Authority

A Florida Appeals Court ruling has affirmed the Administrative Judge ruling that the approval of Barrel Racing as a legitimate parimutuel form of wagering was improper as it in effect changed the rules without going through the required rule change proposals process.  As a result, Gretna Entertainment should have been denied a license and it should have been shut down.  Expect this case to go back to the courts as the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering decided after the Administrative Judge's ruling to approve drop flag racing as a form of horse racing to get around the ruling.  Well, if approving pari-mutuel barrel racing was a violation of the rules, how is drop flag racing any different?

Unfortunately, this nonsense will continue for a while more.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Who Are They Fighting?

The Monticello Raceway contract continues.  As reported by the DRF, the main issue is legislation which caps horsemen's share of racino profits to 2013 levels meaning if a full casino comes to Monticelo Raceway, horsemen may lose out on revenue as wagering at the racino can increase.

The fact this issue has come up is not surprising being SOA of NY President Joe Faraldo is representing the MHHA in contract negotiations (as he does with many of the horsemen groups).  This is an issue which rankles him as the head of the Yonkers horsmen association as he fears his horsemen at Yonkers getting short changed when slots are replaced by table games.

What amazes me is they are fighting over an issue which is set by law.  Why tie things up when the law expressively forbids Monticello to pay more?  A more prudent position would be to sign a one year contract and work on the legislature to change the law; then at least you are fighting over something real instead of something the law forbids in the first place.  That is unless you like racing for a third of what you were racing for because you have restricted simulcast wagering..

In the meanwhile horsemen and the track continue to suffer from the lack of revenue.  Everyone suffers in the long run as a result of this ego move.

Meanwhile, Chicago horsemen are idle for another weekend over the issue of recapture which allows tracks to recover loses through recapture  Make no mistake, this is a biggie as recapture is a legal right the tracks have under current law.  Once again, perhaps getting the law changed would make more sense than asking the tracks to give up rights conferred up them  by the Illinois legislature.

Miami Valley opens tonight, replacing the old Lebanon Raceway and a lot of the top horsemen in the Midwest will be visiting or setting up shop at the new 5/8th mile oval.  For those planning on playing Miami Valley, the passing lane is a thing of the past.  It should be interesting to see if/how strategy changes without this crutch.  Instead of being the garden spot, the two hole can be a heartbreaking position.  

In today's HRU, Dean Towers wonders if harness racing would be in a better shape if it remained the summer time county fair sport instead of going big time.  I wonder that the Meadowlands has been both a blessing and a curse.  It brought harness racing in to the big time but at the same time it made race horses a widget instead of a member of a stable.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

News for an Icy Day

After an imposed break in the action due to the Super Bowl, the Meadowlands reopens tomorrow night.  Free program pages for their Pick-5 and late Pick-4 races are available here.

The contract between horsemen at Monticello Raceway and track management has expired and as a result, horsemen are barring the export of their simulcast signal out of state.  The horsemen are within their right to withhold their signal and realistically it is one of the few tools at their disposal being horsemen groups are actually trade associations and are unable to legally call for a boycott of the entry box..  Unfortunately, if prior experiences hold true, if the simulcast ban remains in effect horsemen may expect the purses on the next condition sheet to be slashed severely.

Meanwhile, racing in Illinois is still on hold as the IHHA is still working on a contract with Balmoral and Maywood Park with a focus no doubt on recapture as horsemen were facing a 17% purse cut..

Recently, had a story about the declining ownership ranks in  harness racing and its impact on breeding.  As the story correctly indicates, this decline is a big problem in that less owners means the need for fewer horses.  Where the story goes wrong is its assertion that the USTA is doing nothing about the loss of owners.  They are well aware of the problem and are making attempts to get new owners interested in the sport.  The article is correct in there is a need to have graded stakes.  Owners want to say their horse is a Grade 1 winner; something they can't do now.  Unfortunately, racetracks are very protective of their stakes and don't want to see them graded low; hence we have inaction on this issue.

Getting racing partnerships is a good way to introduce more people to horse ownership.  Unfortunately, the recent high profile attempt at partnership involved horses who have yet to race.  Partnerships for new comers requires a ready to made horse; maybe not stakes caliber, but a horse already racing.

Meanwhile, over on the running side, NYRA and Churchill Downs is having a fight over the price to be paid for NYRA's signal.  NYRA has been able to implement a modest increase in their simulcast fee for their signal except for Churchill  Downs which operates  Unless an agreement is reached soon, those who use Twinspires will be denied access to NYRA's signal resulting in losses to both sides.

To me, the whole distribution fee issue is a result of a broken model.  Yet, the ones who suffer the most are the fans.  There needs to be a better way for distribution fees to be set in a fair method; one which allows all ADWs access to a track's signal and ensures a fair and reasonable fee is paid so both sides can make a profit while horsemen get their fair share of the pie (I know there would be a disagreement as to what is fair).

In France, an interesting experiment is being tried at Cagnes su mer where there will be a joint trotting and running program.  It will be interesting to see how this experiment works.  Of course, you can do this in France where the government controls racing.  In North America, it is highly unlikely it would occur as thoroughbred and standardbred horsemen have a dog/cat relationship.

West Virginia racing interests (thoroughbred and greyhound) are not happy with a bill which cuts lottery allocations by 15% to most groups which get funds from the slots.  This is not a racing only bill, but impacts counties and other groups.  It may be hard to fight this one since it doesn't single out racing.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Wittstruck Speaks; A Few Holes in His Argument

Chris Wittstruck Esq., attorney and USTA director pens a piece on the USTA website regarding the attempt of the current New York City mayor to outlaw the carriage horse industry in Manhattan.  Wittstruck goes on to say if carriage horses are outlawed due to a few bad episodes by animal rights individuals, what is to keep these animal rights people from aiming at harness racing?

I have a problem where the good attorney talks about animal testing for cosmetics, namely because he neglects to mention some of the tests being done on animals have alternative means of being performed without live animals, yet due to cost, companies continue to, as the writer puts it, 'torture' animals for the benefit of humans.  But this is a small point of his article and is best left out of the conversation.  However, all in all, Wittstruck talks how people have rights and animals don't but while animals don't have rights, humans have obligations to treat animals humanely..

This may surprise some people but I agree with Mr. Wittstruck.  Animals don't have the rights humans do.  Humans have an obligation to treat animals humanely.  Where we no doubt disagree is what is considered humane.  The other place where Wittstruck's argument falls apart is the enforcement of such laws regarding  humane treatment. For example, within the racing industry, are the fines for whipping a horse excessively that it has welts severe enough?  There have been cases of people responsible for the death of a horse thru abuse who are permitted after a period of time to return to the industry.  Individuals charged with animal cruelty being reinstated because the abuse didn't involve horses.  Does the industry ever refer cases of abuse to civil authorities?  What about the treatment of retired horses?  Who is watching to protect the horse after their racing days are over when they are sent to slaughter houses and subjected to abuse?

Animals are not humans, that is true.  The risk to racing is not the fact horses are being raced, it is the industry does not adequately protect horses from inhumane treatment.  If racing performed and enforced strictly rules on humane treatment, the animal rights people would not be able to credibly attack racing.  It is when an industry pays face service to these rules, that is when there is a problem.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Maybe the Florida Standardbred Industry Likes Playing the Victim

The following is a press release from the group known as the United Florida Horsemen.  Make sure to read the comments at the end.

Florida Horse Racing Officials to Join International Researcher For Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse Economic Impact Presentation to Senate Gaming Committee Today

Officials from Florida's Thoroughbred and accredited Quarter Horse racing industries will join analyst and researcher Will Cummings, who will present his findings on the statewide economic impact of horse racing to the Florida Senate Committee on Gaming today, February 3, 2014.

Cummings' presentation is scheduled first on the two-hour Committee agenda, which begins at 1 p.m. (ET).  Live Webcast coverage will be available on

A specialist in the research and analysis of the economics, management, operations, taxation, and regulation of legal gambling industries, including casinos, race tracks, race track slot machine facilities, off-track betting, account wagering, state lotteries, charitable gaming, and Native American gaming, Cummings has analyzed these industries throughout the United States, Canada, and Caribbean.  A Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, he has testified before the United States Congress, state legislatures, local government bodies, and many regulatory agencies.  He has also appeared as a featured speaker before a variety of academic and industry organizations, including the International Conference on Gambling and Risk-Taking, the Association of Racing Commissioners International, Racetracks of Canada, and the World Greyhound Federation.

Cummings will be joined in person by officials of United Florida Horsemen, which comprises the following Florida horse racing industry organizations that collectively represent nearly 10,000 business owners and members statewide:

Kent Stirling, Executive Director--Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA)
Phil Combest, President--Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association
Lonny Powell, CEO and Executive Vice President--Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association
Dr. Steve Fisch, D.V.M., President--Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, Florida Quarter Horse Breeders' and Owners' Association
Tom Ventura, President--Ocala Breeders' Sales

“There’s a reason Ocala is known as the ‘Horse Capital of the World’ and South Florida is hailed as the road to the Kentucky Derby," FHBPA's Stirling said.

One has to wonder where is the representation of the Florida Standardbred Industry?  This group is fighting against fake racing that is going on in Gretna and working on revamping the Florida Pari-mutuel code to avoid such farces in the future.  Yes, harness racing is the little kid on the block but not being part of this group allows them to worry about themselves and not harness racing and it may result in a new set of rules which work against harness racing.  Having harness representation on the group may allow for fairer treatment of the standardbred industry.  

But this shouldn't be surprising.  Nor should it be if and when the standardbred industry bemoans any new rules adopted which works against it.  Sometimes I think we just like being the victim. 

Note: In the past I reached out to the FSBOA about this issue and got no response.  There is no reason to assume I would get a response from them this time.