For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Accepting Women Drivers; Meet Broken-Hearted Gino.

Meet Hannah McCabe, a junior driver in New Zealand.  Hannah is trying to make it in harness racing and has been given the support of some of the best in harness racing, including Dexter Dunn, the leading driver in New Zealand.  The profile story regarding Hannah talks about what she has gone through to get to the point she's at.  Unfortunately, you won't see many stories in North America about women drivers being given opportunities to drive.  Granted, Australasia has a junior driver handicap which makes it beneficial to get grooms in the sulky which tend to be women but North America harness racing is in the stone age when compared to the runners who welcome women riders.

Not encouraging women drivers in given up not only marketing opportunities, but is so old school. Standardbred racing needs to find a way to not only get in the sulky, but accept them as well.    

Live in Tornado Alley?  Here's an article about building a safe room for your horse(s).

Finally, if there is anything I am a sucker for besides horses, is dogs.  Meet Gino, a cute, loving, pitt mix pup who is being cared for by Brooklyn Animal Action (yes, they rescued him).  As you can see from the picture, Gino has quite a personality.  They were all set to place Gino in a new forever home when it was discovered that Gino has a congenital heart condition which will keep him from living a full life.

Brooklyn Animal Action is in the process of fundraising for the surgery and care Gino will need to treat his condition and they are more than half way towards their goal.  If you have the means and desire to make a donation of any size, please consider making a donation by visiting this site.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Churchill Downs Has Done It

Who would have thought a story in the thoroughbred world not involving the Kentucky Derby would be worth mentioning this week?  Well, I found one.

Thanks to the greed of Churchill Downs Inc., horse players are ticked off to the point a good number of them are planning to boycott not only Churchill Downs for increasing their takeout rates, but other Churchill Downs properties, including race tracks, Twin Spires ADW, and Brisnet, a past performance provider.  A website, has been established   The Horesplayers Association of North America after surveying its members is endorsing the boycott and is putting together a list of ADWs and who provides past performance information for them so their members and others may make an informed decision if they decide to boycott Twin Spires.

Fortunately, I am not aware of any harness tracks that would do something as stupid as raise takeout rates (well, maybe those Pennsylvania tracks would) because the horse player has become too sophisticated when it comes to their gaming dollars; after all, they have choices where to spend the money.

Of course, the question is does Churchill Downs care?  I suspect not.

Lessons from California

Reading how Fairplex Park (Pomona) is moving their thoroughbred meet over to Los Alamitos brought back memories of when the trotters raced at Pomona.  Right now harness racing in California is restricted to Cal Expo except for the summer when they clear the track for the runners competing in the California State Fair meet.  Wouldn't it be great (though unlikely) if harness racing could return to Pomona for the Summer and re-introduce the Los Angeles area  to harness racing? 

Someone responded to my post by saying the following:

 "When I still owned horses out in CA about 15 years ago, I was pushing for a year-round circuit of Los Al in the winter, CalX in the spring/fall and either Bay Meadows or Golden Gate in the summer (when both closed for the fairs). My efforts left me with the distinct impression that the majority of the trainers and drivers did not want to leave Sacramento at all. I thought that was a mistake to give up 2 huge metro areas in LA and SF. They went from having a $300k stake to racing nearly exclusive $3k claimers. And they are on operator #4 at CalX. A case study in what not to do."
It should be noted that harness racing did have a stay at Pomona and for whatever reason, that didn't last.  It is quite possible the fair board there would not want to see the trotters back.

I checked with another friend still active in the California racing scene and they concurred that horsemen want to stay at CalExpo instead of going on the road so now, instead of racing elsewhere in California, they are forced to go on the road to states like Minnesota or elsewhere in the Midwest to find racing opportunities during the summer.

There is no saying going statewide would have harness racing in better shape in California; there are antiquated regulatory rules; casino gaming controlled by native Americans; a limit on simulcasting, all rules which makes operating a harness meet  (or any meet for that matter) challenging, but when you keep your sport out of the major metropolitan areas, you have it that much harder to build a following, especially in theses days of simulcasting.

What I will say is complacency is the bane of any industry.  Being satisfied with your current situation means you tend to enjoy the status quo and rest on your laurels.  Then, when someone throws you a curve ball, you are left scrambling to find your footing, hoping you aren't standing on quick sand.  If you are lucky, you survive; otherwise, you suffer.

Ontario horsemen were complacent when SARP was cancelled.  Horsemen in racino states are basically complacent; give them their racing days and they are happy.  So we don't have many fans in the stands, does it matter?

It may be too late to make California a  major harness destination, but if nothing else can be derived from the California experience is complacency is the ruination of racing.  Maybe this lesson won't be lost on horsemen.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Memorable Moments In Harness Racing Part 2

Sept 27, 2006: Pampered Princess becomes the sport’s first sub-1:55 2-year-old trotter with a 1:54.4 win at Lexington.

Oct 7, 1966: Bret Hanover became the first standardbred to break 1:54 with a 1:53.4 mile at the Red Mile.

Feb 22, 1965: One bettor hit the 7-7-4-3 Twin Double at Yonkers Raceway for 127, 552.70. He took it all in cash.

Aug 23, 1969: Une De Mai beat Nevele Pride in the Roosevelt International.

Sept 7, 1965: Bret Hanover paced the fastest mile ever by a 3-year-old—1:55—in the first heat of the Horseman Futurity at Indianapolis. Adios Vic won the second heat in 1:56.3.

Nov 29, 1974: Little Brown Jug winner Melvin’s Woe (Bret Hanover) was stolen from his stall at Bonnie Brae Farm in Wellington, Ohio. The horse was to have embarked on his stud career in two weeks, having been booked to 100 mares. Farm owner William Murray received a phone call at 6 A.M. in which a man told him he’d never see the horse again. Owner Thurman Downing told the horsenappers to keep him. Melvin’s Woe was recovered and went on to a forgettable career as a stallion.

Aug 14, 1948: First million dollar handle at Roosevelt Raceway.

August 7, 1999: The Meadowlands handle of $7,218,518 was the highest ever in the sport.

Nov 22, 1961: Adios Butler made the last start of his career a winning effort as he took the National Pacing Derby at Roosevelt.

Oct 1, 1971: Four-year-old Steady Star broke Bret Hanover’s 1:53.3 record when he time trialed in 1:52 at Lexington for Joe O’Brien. The fractions were 28.2 54.3 and 1:23. The Steady Beau stallion had established a new mark of 1:54 for three-year-olds the previous year at the Red Mile.

July 12, 2006: Dave Palone won number 11,000 at Pocono.

Oct 2, 1958: Merrie Annabelle, the fastest two-year-old trotting filly ever, and the winner of eight in a row on the Grand Circuit, fell on her way to the track and suffered a fractured vertebra. Her owners, the Kuths of Chesterfield, Ohio, had recently refused an offer of $100,000 for her.

June 26, 1977: Warm Breeze won in a world record 1:53.1 for Dick Farrington at Golden Bear in Sacramento.

Aug 29, 1955: LB Sheppard announced that he had purchased Adios for 500K.

Dec 3, 1972: Albatross was retired at Dover Downs as John Simpson Sr took him on a final parade jog.

Oct 2, 1958: Emily’s Pride won the Kentucky Futurity for Flick Nipe, setting a world record of 1:59.2 for three-year-old fillies in the second heat.

July 4, 1986: Falcon Seelster won in 1:51.3 at The Meadows—fastest race mile ever on a 5/8 track.

Sept 28, 1973: Rob Ron Ritzer became the fastest Canadian bred pacer of all-time when he won in 1:57 for Keith Waples at the Red Mile.

Dec 1983: Most Happy Fella died at 17.

Sept 2, 1989: Peace Corps won in a world record 1:52.4 at DuQuoin.

May 15, 1984: Dave Dolezal took over as president, CEO and editor-in-chief of Harness Horse/Hub Rail.

Nov 15, 1980: Niatross won a leg of the Classic at Hollywood Park in 1:52.1—fastest race mile ever.

July 2, 1975: Silk Stockings established a track record, regardless of sex or gait, at Goshen as she won in 1:58. The previous record holder was her daddy.

May 23, 1968: Bill Haughton declared Romulus Hanover to be the greatest horse he had ever driven.

Oct 2, 1979: The 21 voting members of the Hambletonion Society decided the race would be moved to the Meadowlands beginning in 1981.

Sept 29, 1978: Falcon Almahurst TT in 1:52.2 for Bill Haughton at the Red Mile, making him the fastest 3-year-old ever. The only faster mile was Steady Star’s TT, which he completed as a 4-year-old.

Oct 4, 1968: On a cold and windy day Nevele Pride took the Triple Crown with a straight heat victory in the Kentucky Futurity.

Aug 22, 1964: 46,614 watched Speedy Scot win the Roosevelt International.

June 17, 1995: She’s A Great Lady sets a world record 1:51.2 over a half at Maywood.

Oct 7, 1966; Tarport Lib became the fastest filly ever in a competitive race when she won in 1:56.2 for Howard Beissinger at the Red Mile. The record had held since Her Ladyship set it in 1938.

Oct 15, 1966: Bret Hanover overcame a stiff head wind and set a track record of 1:59 at Blue Bonnets, hence breaking Dan Patch’s record for the most two-minute miles (30), which had stood for fifty-seven years.

June 20, 1992: Artsplace won a leg of the Driscoll at the Meadowlands in a world record 1:49.2.

Oct 1, 2005: American Ideal went the fastest mile ever by a 3-year-old pacer in the first split of the Bluegrass—1:47.3—for Mark MacDonald.

Aug 7, 2004: Rainbow Blue suffered her only loss at three when she has a problem at the start of the Mistletoe Shalee.

Oct 22, 1972: Fresh Yankee, Harness Horse of the Year in 1970, was retired from racing. The winner of 89 of 191 starts and almost $1.3 million entered the broodmare ranks under the supervision of the Armstrong Brothers ABC Farm in Brampton, Ontario.

July 7, 1978: Grand Circuit racing ended at Historic Track in Goshen.

Aug 24, 1903: Lou Dillon became the first two minute trotter—Readville, Ma.

Oct 29, 1966: Adios Vic beat Bret Hanover for the fourth time when he won the $20,000 Preview Pace at Hollywood Park for Jim Dennis. The margin of victory was two and a half lengths and the time was a relatively slow 1:59.3. More than 23,000 fans bet a record 1.7 million.

Aug 18, 1985: Liberty Bell Racetrack closed its doors.

Dec 5, 1950: Proximity was the first mare to be named Horse of the Year by the Trotting Horse Club of America.

Oct 29, 1966: Romeo Hanover joined Bret Hanover and Adios Butler as winners of the Triple Crown when he won the $170,000 Messenger Stakes at Roosevelt Raceway. The temperature was a chilly 46 degrees and the wind was gusting to 45 MPH.

July 5, 1980: Niatross went over the rail at Saratoga, leaving the spoils to Trenton Time and Bill Haughton.

Aug 5, 2006. Holborn Hanover went the fastest race mile ever in the sport—1:46.4—in the USPC.

Sept 23, 1960: Duke Rodney won the first edition of the Westbury Futurity for Eddy Wheeler and paid $98.90.

Oct 30, 1973: Starlark Hanover, the amazing two-year-old Hickory Smoke filly, beat the boys from the thirteen post in the $52,000 Harriman Trot at Yonkers Raceway. Management, fearing a minus pool, made it a non-betting contest. It was Starlark’s twenty-first win in twenty-two starts. The $7,000 yearling, who preferred pacing to trotting, trounced the field by five and a half lengths for trainer-driver David Wade.

Aug 21, 1987: Mack Lobell trotted the fastest mile ever in a heat of the Review Futurity at Springfield, Ill—1:52.1.

Sept 27, 1963: Three-year-old Speedy Scot trotted the fastest mile ever in a race—1:56.4—at the Lexington Trots, in a prep for the Kentucky Futurity. Ralph Baldwin drove the Castleton colt who led throughout, hitting the quarter in 25.4. Stars Pride held the old record of 1:57.1, which he set at DuQuoin

Aug 31, 1969: Less than a month before Nevele Pride would win his last race, he broke Greyhound’s almost 32-year-old mile mark at Indianapolis, setting a new world record of 1:54.4 before 12,000 on a warm Sunday afternoon. :27.3 :55.4 1:25.1.

Sep 13, 1963: More than 24,000 fans applauded Meadow Skipper’s track record tying performance in the Cane Pace as he beat the favored Overtrick in 1:58.4, from the seven post for sixty-nine-year-old Earle Avery, paying $5.70.

Aug 5, 1988: In the first major race without a hub rail, Mack Lobell won the Breeders Crown Open in 1:56.

Oct 2, 2007: Snow White became the first 2-year-old trotter to go a sub-1:53 mile—1:52.4—in a split of the ISS at the Red Mile for John Campbell.

Sept 14, 1968: A crowd of 11,000 fans watched Cardigan Bay become the first standardbred millionaire as he won a $15,000 pace at Freehold Raceway in 2:01 over Robin Dundee in his last competitive start.
Joe FitzGerald

A Historical Look Back in NJ

Readers of this blog know I love the history of racing in the old days; in particular of tracks long gone.  Well, today, is running a feature on the history of the State Animal of New Jersey (the horse).  While it covers other forms of equine activity, trotting is well represented in this group of photos.

If interested in old racetracks, you may find this feature interesting as well.  Go take a look if you like.

You still have a chance to win $2,500 in Harnesslink's Name the Foal contest.  Time is running out.

A Moment of Pride and a Question

To say I am very proud of what the rank and file of harness racing is doing as they continue to pledge money to get harness racing on television, despite the fact funding has been secured for the Little Brown Jug would be an understatement.  Large trainers and small are contributing $500, or if unable to, contributing whatever they can towards this effort.  It goes to show you some people in standardbred racing are not willing to roll over and watch racing die.

However, it raises a question.  With all these people pledging, it seems to me there is a disconnect between the rank and file and their leadership.  Maybe the leadership is privy to certain issues which those not in leadership roles are unaware of.  On the other hand, maybe those pledging don't care and just want to see something done to save the sport.  However, one can't help but wonder if we have some individuals in leadership roles (starting at the local level) who have been in power too long that they have forget who they are working for and develop a 'Boss Tweed' mentality, loosing sight of what is right for the industry on the whole and instead focused on their personal agendas and defeating those who dare oppose their views?  

Speaking to horsemen, do you have leadership in your horseman association which seems to have been there as long as you can remember?  Do they treat your association as if it was their personal fiefdom, unwilling to listen to new ideas or resent those who dare challenge their views?  If so, it may be time to remove them at the ballot box.  Remember, the leadership of a horseman association's responsibility is to represent the horsemen they represent.  When they stop representing you and instead represent their own interests, it it is time to replace them. Perhaps term limits are the way.

However, it would be a mistake to focus solely on the horseman side of the equation.  The same can be said for leadership of racetracks and breeders.  It is no longer the 1960's.  Those who think or continue to act as if this is the case need to be replaced with those who have a modern view of racing and a willingness to adapt.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why NY Won't Uncouple Entries - A Case Study

Foiled Again finished third in last nights George Morton Levy Memorial, but that is not the big news.  The news was made by George Brennan, driving stablemate Bettor's Edge/  To quote HRU, "...stablemate
Bettor's Edge and driver George Brennan were doing their part to get the sport's richest pacer to the winner's circle.Brennan pulled with Bettor's Edge and then put on the brakes".  Despite the blocking move, PH Supercam was the victor in 1:52.3 over the sloppy oval.

And we wonder why New York State still requires entries to be coupled?  Do we think if after seeing this race, they will allow horses to race uncoupled?  Probably not.  But forget about the fact the horses were coupled.  If you move to the outside, you should be required to attempt to make a move.  If you are not going to make a move to advance, you should be required to stay in, not play 'Traffic Cop', as described by Frank Drucker in the race coverage.

But the Levy Final shows the race needs to be raced.  Most experts were ready to give Foiled Again the trophy before the race was contested.  Whether it was too many races in a short period of time or the off-track, Foiled Again's victory was not to be.

While lost somewhat in all the hype of the Levy Final, Somewhereovrarainbow was the victor in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Final, winning in 1:52.3.  I think people tend to ignore the distaff FFA class.  It seems to be one of the strongest divisions they have had in a while.  It's a shame there aren't as many high-value stakes races during the racing season for these girls.

While the Little Brown Jug is assured of being televised this year, Jack Darling has $36,000 in pledges by individuals who want the Jug to be televised.  It will be interesting to see if these funds are used for getting another race televised.

The results for the first round of the 2014 HANA Harness Handicapping Challenge have come in and Brnadon Volo stakes his claim to the lead with a net profit of $365 for the night followed right behind by Rusty Nash. with a profit of $343.00.  It promises to be an exciting contest the whole way through.

Dean Towers writes an excellent edition of Brush & Crush in HRU (page 8) this week, comparing harness raicng to the fox and the hedgehog.  Racing is like the fox, living for today while the hedgehog looks long term.  A perfect example regarding purses:  Name five major industry-wide policy decisions that were achieved by harness racing the last twenty years to increase purses through betting? How about three? What about one?  There lies the problem, racing lives for now, not the future. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Blue Chip and Levy Selections

Well, it is time for me to come up with my selections for the George Morton Levy Memorial Pace and Blue Chip Matchmaker Pacing Series finals being contested tonight at Yonkers Raceway.  Of course, the big question will be can Foiled Again be beaten?  The answer is of course he can, but the question is if anyone is going to be the sacrificial lamb to take it to him early?

With these series and their respective consolations, we see how coupled entries can take good races and kill them for bettors, especially with the big stables seemingly flooding the entry box for these stakes races.  It is time for the NYGCB to join other states and allow for the uncoupling in major stakes races.

So who do I like?  Let's take a look:

9th Pace - $371,400 - Blue Chip Matchmaker Pacing Series Final - F&M FFA
1  Rocklamation (pp. 3, Gingras, 5-1) - Nipped at the wire last week after winging it.  Must be close to the action to have a chance.
1A  Summertime Lea (pp. 8, Kakaley, 8-1) - Showed powerful kick from this post last week in moderate fractions.  This race should go faster.  Tough spot.
2  Anrovette (pp 4, Tetrick, 3-1) - Certainly looks to be a lock in the money.  Must play in exotics.
2A  Krispy Apple (pp 5, Bartlett, 3-1) - Will need a rail trip to be a factor.  Don't see.
3  Somewheroverarainbow (pp 1, Sears, 9-5) - Draws the favorited rail position and will use it to her advantage.  Threat.
4  Yagonnakissmeorwhat (pp 2, Dube, 8-5) - Winner of last three in this series.  The question is who can stop her?  Not sure there is one.
5  Feeling You (pp 6, Buter, 10-1) - Not likely from out here.  A toss.
6  Angels Delight (pp 7, Brennan, 15-1) - Best efforts are from the outside.  Don't rule out.  Live longshot.
Selections: The logical play is Yagonnakissmeorwhat but at 8-5 in a race like this, I rather try to beat her.  I will go with Angels Delight who at 15-1 is worth a look.  Don't see her really winning but with money on the line, something silly can occur.  Will box the 4-6 exacta and play #6 to win if stays above 12-1.  Looking for Androvette to complete the triple.

11th Pace - $567,000 - George Morton Levy Memorial Series - FFA
1  PH Supercam (pp 2, Bartlett, 5-1) - Winner last week from post 6.  Hasn't raced the best from inside posts.  Consider in exotics, but not a likely winner.
1A  Mach It So (pp 8, Tetrick, 5-1) - Winner of 3 legs and seems to race well from outside,  Chance if pressure applied against favorite.
2  Foiled Again (pp 3, Gingras, 3-5) - Toss last start.  If he gets front unchallenged, the race is over.  Likely a question of victory by how much.
2A Bettor's Edge (pp 6, Brennan, 3-5) - Has the ability to go with leader but don't think he will challenge.  Will pick up the pieces after #2.
3  Sapphire City (pp 1, Carlson, 15-1) - Close a couple of times but rail not his strong point.  Pass.
4  Texican N (pp  4, Sears, 20-1) - Lacks closing kick.  Destined to be an also ran.  Pass.
5  Apprentice Hanover (pp 5, Jamieson, 8-1) - Good showing thus far in series; better than looks.  Reasonable upset chance if unexpected happens.
6  Dancin Yankee (pp 7, Pierce, 5-1) - Winner from this post but will have to out gun Foiled Again for the lead.  Not too likely.  May get chewed up.  Use with risk.
Selections: Well, Foiled Again is the likely winner but at 3-5 ML, what's the sense.  If you think he can be beat, who do you feel has the best chance?  I like Apprentice Hanover.  I will likely play a little on Apprentice Hanover.  Will look at Foiled Again, Apprentice Hanover and PH Supercam for the triple; likely a key.

Of course, there are other ideas as well.  You can check out the selections of the 15 Handicappers in the Grand Circuit Shoot Out for more selections.

Friday, April 25, 2014

See What A Little Cooperation (and pressure?) Can Accomplish

The Little Brown Jug will be on television along with the Meadowlands Pace after all.  The USTA and the Little Brown Jug reached an agreement along with the main sponsor Fazoli to put together an event which meets the USTA's Board of Director's concerns.  The LBJ broadcast will tie into the USTA's social media platform making it a win-win for everyone.

Of course, it didn't hurt that there was an outcry from racing participants about not televising the Jug.  Jack Darling, on a Standardbred Canada's blog got pledges just under $20,000 to contribute towards the broadcast and the Grand Circuit stepped up to the plate to help fund the broadcast as well.  Hence, the USTA's contribution, which no doubt is still significant is not as great as it originally would have been.

It goes to show you when racing wants to cooperate, things get done.  Congratulations to all who managed to pull this together.

The Big Dosconnect

With regards to televising racing, Jack Darling wrote a blog entry on Standardbred Canada where he has asked for people to pledge money to fund the television package the USTA has turned down.  While it would be nice to say the $75,000 was raised, it was nice to see people pledging money towards this package.  Amounts were large and small, but the fact is people pledged; thirty-nine so far and approximately $19,000.  I may add a lot of this was done by Ontario horsemen who are suffering from the loss of SARP.  Will they get to $75,000?  Who knows, but the fact is they are speaking with their pledges.

It seems to me there is a disconnect between the individual horsemen and their representatives.

I am looking forward to watching Cal Expo's races as TVG's Frank Mirahmadi will be calling his first harness races as a substitute.  Mirahmadi calls races at Oaklawn Park and on the Northern California Fair Circuit.  On TVG, he used to call races which TVG didn't have the rights to televise and he was spot on.  It should be interesting to see how he handles the trotters.

Tom Luchento has an Op-Ed piece in the Asbury Park Press.

Caesars is one of the casinos fighting a Meadowlands casino claiming it would poach their business.  Well, here they go proposing a casino just 20 miles away from Bergen County, NJ.  

In case anyone was think Monticello and Tioga Downs were slam dunk winners in the upcoming bidding for casino licenses in New York, think again.  Approximately 20 applications along with the necessary fees have been paid to get those licenses. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Other Friday News

The Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Memorial kicks off the 2014 Grand Circuit Shoot Out Handicapping Contest sponsored by the Hambletonian Society, DRF Harness, Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment, Northfield Park, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs.  This year the handicapping contest has been altered to allow handicappers to bet between $150 and $250 per day on the contest stakes races and consolations.  The handicappers may bet one race or all the races on the contest slate for the day.  With the new rules, handicappers will be free to play to their strengths.

There were a couple of pre-season rounds for handicappers to get their feet wet and let me tell you, there were some good hits during the two days.  Whether novices or experienced, handicappers would do well to check out the contest site the morning of the contest dates to see what the fifteen handicappers have selected for their play.  You may wish to bookmark the contest website to make it easier to follow the contest.

In Manitoba, the province and thoroughbred interests have reached an agreement which allows racing to continue at Assiniboia Downs with the help of VLTs.  While the province has agreed to a 12 year VLT agreement, it features a tapering off scale where by years 11 and 12, the only revenue the MJC will get is through a standard siteholder agreement.  Personally, this is the way all VLT agreements should be; supplement purses while giving stakeholders a chance to get their house in order.  If racing succeeds, great.  If it fails, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Time for a Marketing Divorce

With all the disagreements of late, the question needs to be asked is if the USTA, as currently structured is able to promote harness racing?  Clearly, the answer is a resounding 'No'.  It seems directors are split in their opinions.  It appears there is a group of directors who still think it is 1960 in they think racetracks should be responsible for everything including promoting the sport while horsemen are responsible for putting on the show.  A second group would, from the outside, appear others take the attitude of keeping on racing until the slot money taps out and then turn off the lights.  These two groups seem to outnumber  those who feel marketing is a joint effort between horsemen and tracks and desire to get racing on television and other venues.

Don't get me wrong, these directors are trying their best on other matters such as attempting to level the playing field by fighting the non-stop battle against medication cheats, representing the industry when it comes to issues faced in common with other racing breeds and issues where they stand opposed, and increasing wagering through efforts such as the Strategic Wagering program.  It is just where it comes to the issue of getting the sport face time, the divide seems irreparable.

So with barriers which seem to be insurmountable, what can be done to properly market the sport?  It is time for a divorce.  Let the USTA do what they do best, act as a breed registry; promote ownership of standardbreds as a racing, competitive, and pleasure breed; represent its members in legislative matters; promulgate rules and act as a clearinghouse when it comes to record keeping.  Where do things change?  Spin off Harness Racing Communications or establish a new marketing arm for the sport to be responsible for promoting harness racing in local and national markets for member tracks, horsemen groups, and breeders.

Now when I say member tracks and horsemen groups, I am not talking about all members of the USTA for it is clear not all groups would desire to participate in this marketing effort.  Those tracks operated by gaming companies which have no interest in harness racing's long-term success won't become members of this group.  Horsemen groups stuck in the belief the pre-racino model of tracks marketing and horsemen put on the show won't want to participate.  However, there are those groups who still wish to promote the sport; it is for those this new organization will exist and operate.

This new marketing company will produce programming and seek to place their material in traditional and new media outlets be it cable television or online.  In addition to programming, they will establish promotions (contests) and marketing campaigns.  In addition, they may develop joint simulcasting agreements where their signals may be marketed jointly as an alliance.  The only restriction is programming and resultant advertising will exclude non-member tracks or organizations.  Funding from member tracks and horsemen groups would be based on a metric such as handle while funding from breeders would be based on gross sales of their stock at auctions.

By splitting off marketing, those who believe in marketing will be able to participate and those who wish to run out the clock or live in the 1960's will be able to do so.  We will then see who remains standing 10 years from now.

Bob Marks opines on television coverage and coupled entries on  Reading a column by Marks is always a joy.  Make sure you check it out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fresh Yankee: The Best Very Old Trotting Mare Of The Modern Era

Over the course of the last half-century there have been several aged trotting mares with North American roots who dominated their peer group, and in some cases their male counterparts, for an extended period. They are Moni Maker, Peace Corps, Delmonica Hanover, Fresh Yankee, Grades Singing, Scenic Regal and Buck I St Pat. Une de Mai and Roquepine were great mares, and both experienced success on this side of the Atlantic, but they were European. Fresh Yankee was the first of these mares to grace our presence, and she also lasted the longest, racing until age nine and winning 89 of 191 starts—an astonishing 47%.

The story of Sanders Russell plucking Fresh Yankee from the 1964 Harrisburg yearling sale for $900 is familiar to most, but her journey from obscurity to stardom is less well known. She won four times, earning less than $8,000, at two; stepping up to eleven wins and earnings of almost $47,000 during her sophomore campaign, the highlight of which was a win over TOY and Hambletonion winner Kerry Way at the Red Mile.

It was in her aged form that the Hickory Pride mare made her mark, but success didn’t come easily: she only beat the Metropolitan New York open trotters once at four, and for the only time in her career speed was privileged over her ability to win races and money. A 1:57.1 time trial mark at Lexington for Ralph Baldwin established her as a world champion.

It was during the next five years, from age five to nine, that the great mare proved her greatness. Joe O’Brien had taken over training and driving duties and at five and six she won 23 races, including the Elitlopp, Challenge Match, American Trotting Classic, Pacific and Gotham—she was an Amazon from coast to coast. Fresh Yankee was awarded CTA Aged Trotter of the Year status in 1968 and was voted HOY in 1970, at age seven, accruing more than twice as many votes as POY Most Happy Fella. She won 20 of 31 starts and finished second in the other nine.

In the spring of that year O’Brien took Duncan MacDonald’s mare to Munich where she won the Grand Prix of Bavaria over expatriates Dart Hanover and Lindy’s Pride. And before returning to the states the mare took a heat of the Elitlopp. That summer she beat the formidable Euro Tidalium Pelo in the $125,000 Roosevelt International, and rocked his world again the following week in the $30,000 Roquepine Trot. The ten-year-old gelding Earl Laird was third for Jimmy Cruise. In September the mare was sent away as the 4/5 favorite in the $50,000 Gotham Trot at Yonkers but came up a half-length short to Dayan. Une de Mai was third. And in October Fresh Yankee beat the geriatric tandem Grandpa Jim and Earl Laird in the Galophone at Yonkers. It was her seventeenth win of the year and she had not finished back of second in 26 starts. The mare had won races in four different countries and was voted HOY.

In 1971, as an eight-year-old, Fresh Yankee beat Dayan in the Star’s Pride at Yonkers in June, tying the track record in the process. At that point she had finished first or second in 51 consecutive races and trailed only Une de Mai, Roquepine, Cardigan Bay and Bret Hanover in earnings. Still, the brilliant but unpredictable Dayan was to Fresh Yankee what Adios Vic was to Bret or the Tar Heel brothers, Nansemond and Isle Of Wight, were to Albatross. He was the same sort of pest Songcan was to Super Bowl. The week after the Star’s Pride, Dayan scratched lame out of the Volomite and more than 25,000 watched the mare cruise to victory, paying a miserly $2.40. Dayan broke in the Speedy Rodney Trot at Yonkers a few weeks later and the mare won for the ninth time in thirteen starts, paying a generous $4.20. She was favored to repeat in the International but Une de Mai prevailed by a nose, after being parked the mile out of the eight post.  All was not lost, as runner up Fresh Yankee did pass the million dollar mark.

In the fall the mare set a world record for a mile and a quarter in Brandywine’s Star’s Pride Trot and went on to win a PASS race before losing to Cathy Lee—three years her junior—in the Trader Horn at Yonkers. Fresh Yankee, who had won five in a row, was sent off at 2/5 from the eight post and dispatched almost $82,000 of the people’s money down a black hole. And the following week, when Dayan beat her in the Porterhouse, $86,000 was lost, as the eight-year-old was sent away at 2/5 once more. She finished the season by trading wins with Marlu Pride at Hollywood Park. He took the $50,000 Pacific Trot but the mare won the big one—the $100,000 American Trotting Classic.

At nine Fresh Yankee won 12 times. Her owner questioned Joe O’Brien’s driving tactics in the International and decided to drive her himself the following week in the $150,000 Challenge Match against Speedy Crown and Une de Mai. Howard Beissinger sat back and allowed MacDonald to do himself in as he took his mare to the mile much too fast, allowing Speedy Crown to blow by her in the last quarter. Fresh Yankee was retired at the end of October, second only to Une de Mai in earnings. She is a HOF Immortal and a member of the Canadian HOF.  Beissinger stated that Speedy Crown’s greatness was couched in the fact that he was unfailingly consistent at a very high level, and never made a break training or racing. One could say the same about Fresh Yankee.

Peace Corps won more than forty stakes races and was HOY twice in Sweden in her aged form; Moni Maker earned well over five million dollars and was HOY twice in the U.S.; Delmonica Hanover won her division four times, was a two-time winner of the Roosevelt International and the first American owned winner of the Prix d’Amerique; but no US bred and North American based trotting mare of the last half-century has performed to the level of Fresh Yankee through age nine. Her 89 wins, most of them against the best of the boys, on all size tracks, don’t place her above the others but they do set her apart.

Joe FitzGerald



About That Law.....

Joe Faraldo has been railing about the law which caps slot revenue for racing at 2013 levels.  Well, he may want to think twice about that because the very same law may be a lifeline for Saratoga Raceway horsemen.

Saratoga Raceway has conceeded to local demands not to pursue expanded gaming at the Raceway, leaving it as a slot only track.  In the meanwhile, management is seeking to build a couple of casinos elsewhere, one in the Capital region, the other in Orange County.  If someone else wins the franchise to open a casino in the Capital Region, it is expected the slots at Saratoga will lose about 50% of their revenue.

Fortunately, the bill which caps slot proceeds at 2013 levels also requires non-racino casinos in the region of a racetrack to make up the shortfall at the racino to keep contributions to the purse account constant with the 2013 level.  If Saratoga is unable to win a license in a different location, this hated bill may keep purses constant at Saratoga instead of potentially cut by roughly 50%.

Be careful when you trash this law, you could be biting horsemen in the butt.

You normally don't see me promoting the runners, but this week starts a brief 6 day turf meet at Atlantic City Race Course.  If you have the ability to go, you want to experience this micro-meet.  Otherwise, there will be simulcasting available.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Not Feeling the Love

Based on what I am reading on the web from respected individuals in racing, odds are you don't feel the love for the USTA.  If you are in the minority and are happy with the 13-1 decision not to fund Jeff Gural's plan on getting the Meadowlands Pace and the Little Brown Jug on television, odds are you are probably feeling pretty smug right now because you are enjoying the fact Gural has been 'put in his place'.  All I can say is people better hope the Meadowlands wins the right to have slots come 2016 because if a casino plan falls to the wayside, the Meadowlands is going to get handed back to the State of New Jersey and closed, meaning the revenue tracks earned on taking in the Meadowlands signal disappears, thus making operating racing an even bigger losing proposition to casino companies.  Watch how quick those racinos attempt to 'de-couple' racing from slots.

Pretty darn ironic if you ask me.  Two years ago Jeff Gural was saluted as the man who saved harness racing.  This year, let's just say he is not feeling the love.

Feel smug that you can keep states from decoupling racing from their casino games?  Want to go up against a casino industry lobbying effort?  Good luck.

I'll be perfectly honest, I am not sure putting the Meadowlands Pace and Little Brown Jug on television is going to do a hill of beans for harness racing though it certainly couldn't have hurt.  I'm not surprised the USTA turned down this request because last year when the idea of putting big races on television was discussed at the annual meeting, a director from the New York delegation inquired if it was to give the Meadowlands free publicity.  It is apparent, based on the reason given on turning it down this year (i.e., "it would benefit only two tracks"), that argument held sway.  Now, to be fair, the USTA is spending money on a social media program which is necessary in the 21st century.

So with the USTA saying no, my question to the industry is if the standardbred that bankrupt it is unable to find $75,000 (without going to the usual cast of characters)?  Let's accept the fact at present some states don't allow for the diversion of purse account funds for efforts like this.  How could this money be raised?

  • A combination of 15 of the highest earning drivers/trainers donate $5,000 each.
  • A combination of 75 drivers and trainers donate $1,000 each  (the amount they earn by winning 2 races with a $10,000 purse).
  • 150 drivers and trainers donate $500 each.
My guess is you won't see any of these scenarios happen.  The fact $75,000 can't be raised without attempting to hit up the same people each time is pretty embarrassing.  Hopefully, those in the industry recognize it..  

Dr. Harry M Zweig

With the New York Sire Stakes program standing as a model for others, it should be noted that today is the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Harry M Zweig, the man most responsible for insuring that the program would have the funding required to succeed. In 1965 Dr. Zweig, a veterinarian, was the driving force behind the Laverne Law which dedicated a portion of the racing handle to funding and administering the NYSS program. He is honored by the Zweig Memorial Trot, which has been won in recent years by Royalty For Life, Market Share and Check Me Out. Dr. Zweig also served as the inspiration for the Harry M Zweig Memorial Fund for Equine Research at Cornell.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Impossible Dream: Loosening the Purse Strings

By now you have head the USTA has decided not to fund any television time for the Meadowlands Pace and the Little Brown Jug, citing the funding would support two tracks.  Personally, I think that is short-sighted thinking.  First of all, the funding for the Meadowlands Pace would be a partnership, the USTA not payingfor the whole package.  Secondly, other than the Hambletonian, the Meadowlands Pace is probably the biggest harness racing in the United States; it would not be a case of promoting the Meadowlands but the best in harness racing.  Fortunately, the Meadowlands Pace will likely still be televised.

As for the Little Brown Jug, the last thing they need is promoting the track.  They do very well without any additional publicity.  Showing the Jug on TV would be presenting an American Classic, a bit of Americana to the American public.  Even better, while not popular with 'veteran' gamblers, televising the Jug would allow those not familiar with harness racing to watch a race from a track with a configuration most friendly to attract newcomers; being able to see the whole race with possible bold moves being made down the back stretch.

The USTA will form a committee to consider funding television broadcasts for 2015.  I suspect they will decide against it which will be a shame but understandable as I suspect the USTA is not exactly rolling in the money.  As Dean Towers wrote in Harness Racing Update, the shame is the industry can't come up with the $75,000 to televise the Jug.  Horsemen and tracks don't seem to be in a hurry to part with slot revenue giving people the view they are out to milk the slot machine revenue until the government cuts them off cold turkey.

Update:  Phil Langley, President of the USTA, addresses the controversy resulting from the USTA to decide not to fund the program.

Foiled Again lost last night in the final leg of the Levy.  Will he win next week in the final?  Who knows?  What I do know is he will give a better account of himself; a half million dollars will do that.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Super Hi-5 Time (If Not Now, When?)

Tonight at Woodbine, the Super Hi-5 features a carry over of $287,500.  Now, I will be the first to admit I don't go for such wagers, being there are 151,200 possible combinations (all things being equal), but there comes a point where even someone like me will toss my hat into the pool (modestly, I will add).  Admit it, when Powerball gets to a certain amount, most of us tend to throw a few bucks at it and the odds of hitting that (with 196,249,054 possible combinations)  are far worse than hitting the Super Hi-5.  At least you can handicap a harness race; you can't do that with the lottery.  Besides, while your odds of hitting the Super Hi-5 are remote, you have no chance of taking down the pool if you don't play it.

So as a service to my readers, here are my thoughts on the 11th race at Woodbine tonight.  I'll leave you to construct your own tickets.  Remember, the base price for the Super Hi-5 is $.20.

11th Race Woodbine - $11,000; NW $4,500 Last 5 or NW $9,000 Last 10
1  Click K (Drury, 8-1) - Tried the engine last week only to be nipped at the end.  Steps up of that sharp effort and draws inside.  Needs a trip to win but can land on the ticket.

2  Ideal Race (Davis,  6-1) - Drops enough money of his card to return to his competitive class.  Should make a good account of himself here.  Note he was the beaten favorite in his last two starts at this level.

3  Up The Credit (A. Macdonald, 4-1) - Beaten favorite in lower class last week in parked out trip, closing slightly.  Was competitive in higher company, should give a good account of self tonight.  Competes for top spot?

4  Rock Me Amastreos (MacDonell, 8-1) - Took advantage of inside rail to shock them in lower company in last, not likely to have it this easy this week.  Would consider only if going deep on ticket.

5  Lennon Blue Chip (Filion, 12-1) - Raced well with a tag last week but should note he closed five lengths off a :29.1 third quarter.  Expect no such luck this week; will need to be up close to the action this week.  Your call.

6  Pouvoir Duharas (J. Macdonald, 8-1) - Won last time in this class before scratched sick.  Obviously needed return.  How will he be this week.  Don't like 10-1-0-0 record..  Use with caution.

7  Secretsoftheknight (McNair, 10-1) - Prepped in Florida; fair effort in first start back locally.  Must consider for ticket.

8  Manchester (Oliver, 12-1) - Impossible trip vs. C-1s at Meadowlands in last; toss that race.  Suspect better than he looks on paper.  Consider.

9  Classic Gent (Waples, 9-2) - Continues his descent in class.  Not finishing when racing up front.  Look for a change in tactics this week.  Can't play them all; will toss and hope.

10 Cool Rock (Christoforou, 3-1) - Now down to what should be a winnable level but will likely gun it for the front.  If doesn't clear, it can be a long night.

Selections: 3-10-1-8-7  

Good luck to all those playing tonight.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Five Memorable Events in Harness Racing

Joe FitzPatrick has an excellent list of memorable events in harness racing; so good I won't even try to replicate it (he has a memory of a steel trap).  That being said, I have a few memorable events in harness racing which I would like to share.  Would they make your list or the top 100?  Most likely not, but they are memorable (sometimes for the wrong reason) to me, which is all that matters.

  1. Niatross Finishes Fourth in the Meadowlands Pace Elimination - The elimination was contested a week after the famous 'fall' in the Battle of Saratoga.  Niatross, to whom I still say is the greatest standardbred (not talking about breeding), got to the front only to be hooked up in a suicide speed duel by Safe Arrival, driven by Herve Filion.  While Filion may have had his reasons, the fractions were so wicked, it seemed Safe Arrival's mission was to take down the great colt.  Sure enough, Niatross went on a nasty break which relegated him to the back of the field or darn near it.  The fact he finished fourth was probably the greatest effort I have ever seen by a race horse of any type. 
  2. Le Baron Rouge Finishes in a Dead Heat to Win with Big Towner - Let me preface this by saying this was my most disappointing win.  Le Baron Rouge, driven by Robert Samson drew post 8 at Yonkers Raceway against Big Towner in the weekly Open.  Big Towner was a monster on the half mile and as far as I knew, up to that race, he never lost in downstate New York.  I was sitting in the lower left hand corner of the glass enclosed clubhouse touting Le Baron Rouge, telling people he was going to defeat Big Towner.  Needless to say the response from my fellow horseplayers ranged from telling me I was nuts, or moving a seat further away from me.  Le Baron Rouge goes off at 45-1 and at the wire, the two finish in a dead heat.  How much of a favorite was Big Towner?  45-1 Le Baron Rouge paid less than $3.00 to win.  While I felt vindicated, to say I was crushed would be an understatement.
  3. Sugarcane Hanover Wins the March of Dimes Trot - Despite funding problems, the greatest field of trotters gathered at Garden State Park to compete in the only March of Dimes Trot ever to be contested.  Sugarcane came out on top.  To see the race, click here.  
  4. Stupidest Handicapper Ever Seen Appears at Monticello Raceway - Handicapper had all three trifectas picked (first two in a box, last straight) and all were IRS numbers.  Why is this guy stupid?  It is because I decided a week earlier that I wasn't going to play triples anymore.  Not that I had a bad day; I came home $300 up but it sure felt like I lost..
  5. The Panderosa Stomp Debuted -  Highly promoted the Panderosa was the darling of  the 3yo pacing class that year but he missed a start the week before the Meadowlands Pace elims (again, if memory serves me correctly).  I decided the Panderosa was likely sick so while the bridge jumpers pounced on the Panderosa, I bet every horse to show, hoping for triple digit show prices.  Well, in the race as soon as the field straightened out in the backstretch, sure enough the Panderosa jumped off.  I began to jump up and down like a crazy person, while gyrating like an idiot in front of my friends and countless others.  While it paid well, betting all the horses to show in the race for $2 a piece didn't pay triple digit amounts as they did when CR Kay Suzie jumped in the Hambletonian which took place a year or two beforehand.  While I probably looked like a fool performing the Panderosa Stomp, the only regret I had is my back was never the same after that.  Needless to say, it was the first and only performance of the Panderosa Stomp.

Harness Tracks of America (HTA) has announced they are relocating from Phoenix, Arizona and moving their offices to Northfield Park.  What makes this newsworthy?  It shows Northfield Park, one of the latest tracks to become a racino is serious in maintaining their racing program and is not just running the horses for the sake of having slots.  Do you think a track such as Harrah's would have made space available for the HTA?  Not in a million years.

While it makes perfect sense to move the HTA to the east, poor Cal Expo must feel even further isolated from the rest of American harness racing as the closest office of any parimutuel-related harness racing in the United States is Running Aces in Minnesota.  However, California horsemen have shown, if not anything else, they are a resilient bunch.

While Illinois horsemen and tracks desperately want casino gaming, they are joint in their objection to the current bill which reduces the number of machines each track can have.  I hope I am wrong, but I fear no bill will be approved by the legislature in this term,  I am not saying horsemen should take whatever they can, but it seems amendments to keep one track from getting slots and other changse proposed may be enough tor the Governor to whip out his veto pen once again.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Memorable Moments In Harness Racing Part 1

The Harness Racing Fan Zone is running a 100 Memorable Moments promotion. Dean Hoffman penned a definitive list of the sport’s most significant moments in a recent edition of HRU, and while many of these probably wouldn’t make the cut for that list, they are still noteworthy.

Oct 4, 1960: Adios Butler went the fastest mile ever with a 1:54.3 TT for owner Paige West at the Red Mile.

Dec 10, 1983: Cam Fella passed Rambling Willie as the sport’s all-time money leader, winning his final start—number 28 in a row—at Greenwood Raceway.

Nov 10, 1958: Dancer Hanover, by Adios out of The Old Maid, sold to Stanley Dancer for a record $105,000 at Harrisburg. It was the highest price ever paid for a yearling—standardbred or thoroughbred—in the United States.  

Aug 26, 1973: Armbro Nadir paced the fastest mile ever in Canada in the richest race ever held in that country when he won the $130,000 Prix d’Ete in 1:56.1 at Blue Bonnets. He topped the 1:56.3 mile Albatross recorded at Windsor.

Aug 4, 2012: Check Me Out and Maven both jumped on the last turn leaving 55/1 shot Personal Style to win the Oaks in 1:53.1 for David Miller.

Dec 1, 1978: Savoir retired as the richest standardbred ever.

Sept 18, 1971: Roger White was killed in a plane crash in Pennsylvania while traveling to Harrisburg for a yearling sale.

June 17, 1972: Romalie Hanover became the first filly or mare to break 2:00 at Pocono Downs—1:59.4.

Aug 31, 1985: Prakas became the fastest trotter ever when he won the World Trotting Derby for 24-year-old Per Eriksson in 1:53.2.

Sept 27, 1985: Glen Garnsey died in an automobile crash after leaving a horse sale in Lexington with his wife.

Aug 16, 1984: Nihilator won the two million dollar Wilson—richest purse ever—in a world record 1:52.4 for Bill O’Donnell, who drove him for the first time. O’Donnell earned a record 1.4 million in purse money that day.

Sept 18, 1974 Handle With Care equaled the world record of 1:57.4 in the first heat of the Jugette.

June 27, 2009: Well Said crushed the opposition in the North American Cup, setting a Canadian, stakes and track record of 1:48.1 for Ron Pierce.

June 6, 1941: The Daily Double was introduced at Roosevelt Raceway.

Sept 1, 2007: SBSW became the fastest 2-year-old ever with a 1:49.3 win in the Metro.

Oct 10, 1969: Lindy’s Pride completed a sweep of the “Big Five” as he won the $173,000 Dexter Cup at Roosevelt Raceway.

Oct 7, 1964: 2-year-old Noble Victory matched Scott Frost’s 2:00 trot mark at the Red Mile for Stanley Dancer. That record had been set ten years earlier.

May 14, 1960: Countess Adios won the Messenger for Del Miller.

Sept 23, 1988: Matt’s Scooter became the fastest standardbred ever when he TT in 1:48.2 at the Red Mile.

Aug 21, 2009: Lucky Jim made it 14 in a row with a comfortable win over Arch Madness in the BC Open at the Meadowlands. The 1/9 favorite completed the mile in 1:52.1 for Andy Miller.

Sept 26, 1970: The single shaft sulky made its debut at Monticello.

Nov 16, 1987: Mack Lobell became the first horse to hold world records on all three size tracks when he won the $442,000 Breeders Crown Trot at Pompano Park by 13 lengths over Napolitano for John Campbell. The 1:54.1 mile was the fastest ever on a 5/8 track, eclipsing Express Ride’s 1:55 standard.

July 16, 1955: Adios Harry matched Billy Direct’s 1:55 world record at Vernon Downs.

Oct 2, 1982: Fan Hanover TT in 1:50.4 at the Red Mile—fastest ever by a mare and second only to Niatross.

Nov 6, 1963: A bartender from Connecticut won a record $79,660.30 Twin Double payoff at Roosevelt Raceway.

Aug 10, 1973: Sir Dalrae matched the Roosevelt track record of 1:57.4 (BBB & Adios Butler) when he won a leg of the HTA USPC for Jim Dennis.

Oct 1, 1994: Pine Chip became the fastest trotter ever with a 1:51 TT at the Red Mile.

Nov 16, 1968: Nighttime harness racing made its California debut at Hollywood Park.

Sept 8, 2005: Stanley Dancer died.

Sept 19, 1996: Stand Forever set an all-age record of 1:49.2 at Delaware, Ohio for John Campbell.

July 22, 1972: Four-year-old Albatross failed to make the board for the first time in his career as he was upset by Nansemond in the Adios Harry at Brandywine. Track Record 1:56.1.

Oct 3, 2003: Silk Stockings died in New Jersey at 31.

Nov 19, 1971: More than $165,000 was bet on the first televised superfecta race from Monticello Raceway. The payoff for a $3.00 wager was a modest $1,097.

Aug 17, 2008: SBSW set a world record of 1:49.2 for a sophomore on a half when he won the Confederation Cup.

Nov 22, 1974: Delmonica Hanover, who ranked seventh all-time in wins with 46, was sold at Tattersalls in Lexington for $300,000, more than three times the record auction price for a trotting broodmare. She went on to produce Park Avenue Joe and Delmegan.

Aug 26, 1972: Albatross broke Bret Hanover’s two minute mile record as he notched his 32nd in the Canadian Pacing Derby at Greenwood—1:58.4.

Sept 16, 1978: Try Scotch paced the second fastest mile ever at Hollywood Park when he won the Nansemond Pace in 1:55 for Joe Lighthill.

Nov 29, 2007: Delinquent Account was euthanized when unable to adapt to the loss of her sight.

Aug 19, 1998: Albatross died at 30.

Aug 19, 1996: Delvin Miller died at 83.

May 8, 2008: Cat Manzi became the all-time leader in races driven—82,182.

Nov 22, 1961: There was a retirement ceremony at Roosevelt Raceway for the world’s greatest pacer, Adios Butler. Eddie Cobb drove the world record holder on one mile and half mile tracks to the finish line where groom Sylvanus Henry stripped his gear off, all but his shoes which he refused to give up.

Oct 1, 1980: Niatross eclipsed Steady Star’s nine-year-old 1:52 world record with a 1:49.1 TT.

July 27, 1975: Silk Stockings set an all-age world record of 1:57.3 on a half in the OTB Classic at Monticello for Preston Burris Jr. It was the richest stakes race ever.

Sept 30, 1995: Jenna’s Beach Boy won in a world record 1:48.4 at the Red Mile.

March 25, 1972: Isle Of Wight beat Albatross for the third time in three weeks as he won the Clark at Liberty Bell.

Oct 29, 1966: Romeo Hanover completed the Triple Crown as he won the richest harness race ever—Messenger—in 2:01 for George Sholty.

March 5, 1965: Stanley Dancer declared Speedy Scot to be the greatest trotter that ever lived.

Oct 25, 1967: After winning the Westbury Futurity with his prize two-year-old trotter, Nevele Pride, Stanley Dancer declared him to be the greatest trotter he’d ever seen.

Nov 30, 1985: Nihilator ended his racing career on a winning note by capturing the Breeders Crown for Bill O’Donnell in 1:53, paying $2.20 and $2.10. Of the $391,136 in the place pool, $386, 117 was bet on the winner. The Niatross colt retired as the richest pacer in the history of the sport, having earned $3,225,653, easily surpassing the $2.8 million earned by On The Road Again. Nihilator won 35 of 38 starts and was syndicated for $19.2 million, the highest syndication price in the history of the sport.
Aug 24, 1980: Niatross went the fastest mile ever in Canada when he won the Prix d’Ete at Blue Bonnets.
Joe FitzGerald

A Back Handed Story

An article in the Rome Observer about opening night at Vernon Downs indicates "Hundreds turn out to celebrate Vernon Downs opening night".  Hundreds?  If nothing shows you how poorly racing is doing to attract on-track customers, this headline should say it all.  Granted, this is not a major metropolitan area, but to attract attendance in the hundreds for opening night in the old days would have been cause to close up shop and go home.  After all, how many people do they draw on a regular night if opening night was in the hundreds?  Of course, slot machines support the track so racing continues.

Look, racing has allowed the on-track customer to disappear and it will take a long time and a new way of doing things to get them back so I don't expect to see "Thousands turn out to celebrate Vernon Downs...", next year.  This is not a Vernon Downs problem, I dare say most tracks could have similar headlines written about their opening nights; that is if you could even get the interest of a local news outlet to cover the opening.  However, with tracks having ceded ADW wagering to third parties, it is essential they get a core group of horseplayers to show up at the track as they are more lucrative to the track than the ADWs are.  Headlines like the one in the Observer show the right mix has yet to be found.

Reading about the impasse between the Virginia HBPA and Colonial Downs had me wondering, besides the recent problems in Chicago, when was the last time a standardbred track was hit by a boycott at the entry box?  You have the current dispute between the ill-advised MHHA and Raceway management, but that is not stopping racing; just simulcasting wagering.

Then it hit me.  At most racinos, purses have never been better so as long as the purses stay where they are, it would take a real effort for management to tick off the horsemen.  At non-racino tracks, a horsemen boycott could very well be all it takes for management to throw the towel in on racing so horsemen are very cautious to use the weapon of boycotting the entry box.  It's like a tale of two cities; the horsemen at racinos enjoying the 'good' life while those at the non-racino tracks living in fear of sneezing the wrong way.

While not impacting standardbred racing directly, the latest amendment to a proposed Illinois Gaming Bill would allow slots at all racetracks but one, Fairmount Park.  At one point Fairmount Park held standardbred racing but it has been quite a while since the trotters and pacers graced the track there.

To be perfectly honest, other than an issue of fairness, I don't overly get concerned about the demise of a thoroughbred track.  Competition with a casino nearby claims their business will be cannibalized.  Well, truth be told everyime a casino is opened, business is cannibalized.  However, a casino at Maywood Park would cannibalize another casino as well, the same way a casino at Arlington Park would.  You can't single out one racetrack from offering machines if you allow the rest to do it without compensating it.   It would be one thing if a percentage of slot revenue was redirected to Fairmount by the tracks to compensate them for skipping the one-armed (In the old days) bandits.  But to just say, you are cut out is plain wrong.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday Briefs

Hot Shot Blue Chip has been retired.  This 8 year old trotter was certainly well known during his racing career for his inconsistency.  As  a youngster, racing could have made a fortune accepting bets as to whether or not this speedy youngster was going to stay flat or jump off-stride.  Everyone knew he had the ability; he just seemed to have a mind of his own and he would do what he would do.  Despite all this, HSBC managed to earn over $1 million in his career.  

HSBC is heading for retirement at trainer Jonas Czerynson's farm. I wish HSBC the best in retirement. 

Plainridge Racecourse opens their 2014 meet tomorrow and I must admit, I will be passing for a week or two until sometime of form develops.  Talking about a local circuit, 28 horses in the 10 races on tap are making their first pari-mutuel start.  Maybe these races provide good value opportunities, but it is not my cup of tea.  That being said, one good sign is out of the ten races, seven have full fields; a change from last year where short fields was the order of business.

Kentucky has decided starting August 1 to tax winnings through ADWs at a rate of 1/2%   Really?  While not particularly onerous, what's the sense.of taxing those betting off-track versus those wagering on-track.  Rather than use the stick, why not use the carrot and pay a bonus to those who wager on-track?

Meanwhile, Churchill Downs is in a battle with horsemen at the Fairgrounds in Louisiana, regarding the condition of the facility.  Horsemen feel CDI has done little capital spending there, allowing the backstretch and video screen fall into disrepair.  CDI's response, horsemen need to understand the shift in wagering to off-track with declining attendance.  Perhaps that is the case, but if you are still allowing customers to come to the track, shouldn't the video screen be working?

The importance of the Fairgrounds story?  This is a story you are going to hear at harness tracks all around the country.  Why fix customer sections of the plant up if so few people are going to show up>

Monday, April 14, 2014

Turf Racing

Where do some of France's trotters who can't compete at the top levels go?  Some hit the grass, but not in retirement.  There is a circuit of grass tracks which continue to race in France and they have developed a circuit in order to preserve racing on the grass in the country.

Many of you remember the race at the Meadowlands a few years back where the starting car was bouncing up and down as it was clear the track was not fit for harness racing.  However, in the following video, see how a properly laid out turf track can be used successfully for racing.

I am not suggesting we start racing over grass with any regularity; just to show it can be done.  However, what is interesting to note is how minimalist this track is; nothing fancy and a low cost facility.  Could tracks like this (even with a regular track) be the key to racing's growth?  After all with many fans betting off-track, this may be the way many tracks will survive.

Wagering is down 5.32% on a per race level thus far this year nationwide on harness races.  However, one track which seems to be doing better is Saratoga Raceway where the average handle thus far this year is $325,000, not significant when compared to the metropolitan tracks, but when you consider for the past few years, average handle was $200,000 you have to wonder what has happened?  The answer is Saratoga Bets, Saratoga's own ADW system.  Like ofther ADW systems, Saratoga Bets takes wagers on other harness and thoroughbred tracks but naturally encourages wagering on the local product.  Saratoga Bets is operated by a third party on behalf of the raceway.  Any track which doesn't have their own wagering system should be looking to do so lest they allow handle flow away from their handle.

Foiled Again has been tearing up the track at Yonkers in the Levy, but he has yet to be challenged by the real competition he will face during the main point of the season.  It may be controversial, but if I had to pick older geldings, I would pick Rambling Willie as the top aged pacer.  That being said I would be happy to own Foiled Again.

Where about 10 days away from HANA's latest harness racing handicapping challenge.  Some new additions to the handicapper roster has been made and the format has changed.  Handicappers will be able to bet $150 to $250 a day on Grand Circuit races.  By being able to select which races to play, their selections should have more meaning to the casual handicapper.  Visit the contest website and see whose handicapping and the rules.