Vernon Downs opens their 2014 harness meet tonight with a reduced $.50 base price on trifectas, Pick-3s, and Pick-4 wagers. I know some people don't like the reduced cost of the tickets as it makes it harder to get a big score, but I rather hit more often than being severely restricted as to how many combinations I am able to play and rarely hitting.
In addition, Vernon offers excellent handicapping information and once the trotters and pacers make their first starts of the new year at Vernon, they will be offering trip notes for every horse racing which should be an invaluable tool. Admittedly, pools are not deep at Vernon but with all this handicapping information available, it may be worth giving them a try. I know I will.
We would be remiss to once again recall legendary track announcer Jim Moran, the announcer for the past 50 years retires after tonight's 1st race which will be his last race he calls. We wish him well in a well-deserved retirement.
Another track I like, Cal Expo switches Saturday night to a 6:15 (Pacific) post time for the balance of the meet.
Tone Deaf in Kentucky: As the rest of the industry recognizes high takeout rates are a detriment to racing (even if they feel they can't lower them), one track has decided to buck the trend and increase their takeout rates to keep their purses up and maintain their stakes schedule. Churchill Downs is raising their takeout rates for straight wagers by 1.5% with exotic wagers having their takeout rates raised by 3%. Being Churchill own their own ADW, they can make a deal to keep offering rebates at the current level but those wagering elsewhere will probably find their rebates cut or eliminated. As what happened in California, it would be nice if gamblers schooled Churchill Downs with regards to what gamblers do when takeout rates are increased.
Dave Briggs in this week's HarnessRacing Weekend Preview talks about some of the trainers Jeff Gural has banished from his three tracks. There was one part of a quote from Gural which hurts:
You would think if a trainer told his owner that they were no longer allowed to race at the Meadowlands, they might be curious as to why. Maybe they know. I think they probably know and it doesn’t bother them.
The sad truth is Gural is probably right. Remember, purses are basically even between the Eastern Pennsylvania and Meadowlands. Last year I would have argued they didn't care because they rather be racing in Pennsylvania. This year, it may not be the case.
The industry says it needs to attract new owners and they are right. Well, at Emerald Downs they came up with a novel way to introduce people to horse ownership, by forming the Emerald Downs Racing Club. You can't make money in this group, any profits you donate to charity but for $500 you get to experience horse ownership. It would be worthwhile for tracks to consider emulating this progrma.
Another harness racing participant I remember seeing race has passed on. Writer Andrew Cohen writes an appreciation of Duncan MacTavish, another person who raced at Yonkers/Roosevelt in the late 1970's.