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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hopes and Disappointment

Brock Milstein states he is dedicated to returning Northfield Park back to a top class racetrack now that the Rocksino (partnered with Hard Rock) has opened.  According to the article of the The Cleveland Plains Dealer, Milstein is working on a 'master plan' for harness racing.

Those of us who have watched the development of racinos have every right to be cynical as most tracks immediately sell out racing for the more profitable forms of alternative gaming.  That said, Milstein owns 80% of the stock in the operation so a racetrack operator controls the vast majority of the stock in the company.  Signs of commitment to racing are the fact there is a vibrant backstretch community, something lacking at most tracks these days; a strong simulcast audience; a state that still loves its harness racing.

Here is hoping that Brock Milstein is sincere, not another person who says one thing and then lets us down.

Which brings us to Monticello Raceway.  Remember the new racetrack that was going to be built at the new facility being built?  Well,  forget about it.  Last week Empire Resorts, the developer presented plans for the new entertainment complex and lo and behold, what was thought to be where the racetrack was going to be constructed is now a planned waterpark.  You say this is due to the dispute between raceway management and the MHHA?  Think again, if we are to believe Empire Resorts claims they have been working on the existing plans for at least two years.

Empire Resorts claims racing will continue at the old facility; the one where racing fans are taken back to the not so magical 1960's.  Even if the VLTs were to remain at the raceway, how many people would abandon the VLTs for a full functioning casino, leaving the casisno a ghost town.  In this case, the track may be helped by the 2013 contribution rate as the horsemen would be guaranteed that much of a subsidy.  However, the lack of a racetrack makes Empire Resorts just another bidder.  Failure to receive the gaming license would likely put Empire Resorts as well as the racetrack out of business, costing horsemen a place to race.

Somehow we take little comfort from the statement made by Empire Resorts, "We have been operating harness racing since 1958, and in any scenario remain committed to improving, supporting and operating harness racing, either at our new location if we are a successful bidder, or at the current Monticello Raceway."  Anyone who has attended the races at Monticello since the racino opened can  tell you how committed Empire Resorts has been (zilch).

Scarborough Downs has received the proverbial kick in the groin as the state Senate refused to pass the bill which would have allowed them to open a casino if approval was given in the town, negating the need to have a state-wide referendum.  If the threats of track management come to fruition, 2014 may be the final year of racing at Scarborough.

On the thoroughbred side of racing, it seems PETA had trainer Steve Asmussen in their cross-hairs and they hit gold as they have him on tape admitting he has had a jockey use a 'buzzer' on his horses to administer electric shocks, a practice not permitted in racing.  It should be noted this was not alleged to be done during actually racing.  PETA also has Asmussen and others admitting they had run a horse into the ground.  The horse died a year later, allegedly from colic.  

What does this mean, other than another black eye for racing?  It is hard to say being the video was edited so the argument could be made PETA made things look worse than they are.  However, admitting a horse was run into the ground and a buzzer was used on a horse is kind of hard to explain away, even if you use the editing argument.

The problem with this revelation is harness racing will get thrown into the same boat as the runners and criticized for it.  Other than that, it will be interesting to see if racing does anything to penalize Asmussen.

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