For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Monday, June 30, 2014

The World Cup, Harness Racing, The Millenial

Have you been watching the World Cup this year?  If you are a Millenial, there is an excellent possibility you have been watching the games especially the ones with the United States National Team.  In fact, viewership is up so much the 'experts' are saying soccer has finally arrived in the United States.

Having heard soccer 'has arrived' in the United States before (typically, during each World Cup since it was played in the United States), I am skeptical of this claim (and I am a soccer fan), but I must admit this time, the experts make a compelling argument and with it, there is something the standardbred industry needs to pay attention to and in many ways emulate.

First let's manage expectations.  When they say soccer has arrived, no one is saying it has reached the level of the NFL, far from it.  What they are saying is it certainly belongs in the category of the NHL and even the NBA; meaning the Big Four sports should now be called the Big Five.  Reality is this is what standardbred racing should be striving for, to be a niche sport.  Granted, we want it to be a big niche sport but it never will catch up with thoroughbred racing and possibly not quarter horse racing when it comes to wagering.  With the proper re-tooling there is no reason why the sport can't enjoy a spurt of growth to both increase 'audience' participation and handle.

So why is soccer 'here' this time?  The younger generation likes it.  First of all, they have been exposed to it at the recreation and school level as participants or friends of those who played the game.  The rules of the game are relatively simple, making it easier to understand.

Most importantly, the game fits into the Millennials' schedule.  Game starts and is over in two hours (and that includes intermission).  Despite all the jokes about low scoring games, the game is continuous.  No timeouts for commercial breaks except during halftime.  Millenials, with all the entertainment options and commitments they have, don't have time for a dragged out activity.

Then there is technology.  Not at your local watering hole or home to watch the game?  Pull out your laptop, tablet, or smartphone and log on to your 'TO GO' app and watch the game of your choice wherever you are (don't let your boss catch you).  Like many sports, soccer has learned to take advantage of the available technology to make the games more accessible.

So how does this relate to harness racing?  Millenials don't have the attention span or time to spend three hours or more to attend or watch a sporting event.  Clearly, harness racing needs to compress the time it takes to get their day's slate of races over in two hours or so.  Where are you going to get the time back to shrink the window for the races to take place?  The time between races.  You don't need fifteen to twenty-five minutes between races anymore.  Let's face it, with the exception of three to five days a year in the entire standardbred racing calendar, the number of people at the track doesn't call for more than five or ten minutes  to get their bet in and for those wagering at home, the line is pretty short for getting their wagers in.  There is no reason why a race can't go off every 10 minutes, meaning 12 races can be completed in two hours. 

Which brings us to post times.  If Millenials don't have the attention span to spend more than two hours on a recreational activity, we better learn one thing.  Post time is when the race is scheduled to and will go off.  Post time is not five or ten minutes after the listed time.  If a race is scheduled to go off at 7:15, it needs to go off at 7:15 because if you play with post times, those Millenials will be walking out the door or turning off their tablets.

The really knowledgeable soccer fan knows their rules inside out and can explain to you what a 3-4-3 is.  The casual fan could care less and are satisfied with knowing the aim of the game is to get the white ball past the goal keeper into the goal.  To be successful in harness racing, you need to learn how to read the program, watch replays, make trip notes, learn money management skills, etc. Where is harness racing's entry point for the beginner? "Pick a number between 1 and 10 and play it" doesn't cut it.  The USTA has developed a beginner's program which would be helpful but the only track I am aware of which makes it available is Tioga Downs and it is not available at all to those who are inclined to watch/wager from home via their ADW.

Which brings us to making programs available to the masses, for free.  I am not suggesting we make advanced programs like Trackmaster or the DRF's Harness Eye programs free but there should be a 'basic' program available on each track's website available for no charge to the consumer; certainly the introductory program the USTA has developed should be available on the web at no charge.  If  you want the Millenial to get involved in racing, you can't expect them to bet without any information and they are not going to want to pay to bet, especially as they start out.

Lastly, let's talk about making racing available using modern technology.  Racing is available at many track's websites and at ADWs (assuming they have a contract with the track which is another issue).  We need to get more of racing's events on cable and online but just as important, we need to get better camera views of the racing action.  Soccer has better views this time around to improve the viewing experience, and while I am not an expert on television production, rest assured the traditional view from the top of the grandstand is not going to cut it.

Soccer has arrived.  Let's learn from soccer's acceptance in America and grow so one day we can say "Harness racing has returned".

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sebastian K is King of the Trotting World

Considering the value of all the races on the Pocono Downs race card, the $100,000 Sun Invitational for rrotters was a nice-to-have race on the undercard.  By the end of the night, the Sun Invitational was the race of the night and Sebastian K, with his 1:49 mile, became King of the trotting world.

Not only was this the fastest trotting mile ever in the history of harness racing, eliminating the asterisk-marked 1:49.3 mile by Enough Talk on the one-turn Colonial Downs oval, it was the way he did it.  The Swedish invader, in winning his fourth consecutive start in North America (out of four starts), dominated the field at Pocono, leaving from post seven to get to the front early.  After cutting through fractions of :26.2 and :55.3, Ake Svendstadt hit the switch, going a :26.1 third quarter to pass the three-quarter mark in 1:21.4.  Surprisingly, Archangel kept up with the leader to the 3/4 where he finally said 'no mas' and went off-stride, leaving Sebastian K all alone.  With a final quarter of :27.1, the eight-year old stopped the teletimer in the world record of 1:49, winning by seven lengths with only urging from his trainer/driver.  No whip, no horse to push him home.  All on his own.

While Sebastian K was one of a group of elite trotters in Europe last year, it appears there is no North American trotter able to keep up with him.  Sebastian Ks competition in 2014 is the clock.  How much faster can Sebastian K go?  While Pocono Downs is known as an ultra-fast oval (three world records set last night on the card) and people questioning if the track's races are actually contested at the standard mile distance (yes they were), it appears the son of Korean has not reached bottom so we can expect another world record or two with the right conditions.

How does a very good European trotter become a world beater in the United States?  I would argue the European aged trotter overall is better than the North American trotter.  Yes, other European horses have come to our shores in the past and some have been successful, but many have not thanks to the quarantine requirements the government demands which keep horses from their normal routines.  On the other hand, when Ake Svendstadt and Sebastian K decided to become ex-pats, they hit American shores with sufficient time to get acclimated and ready for this campaign.

With North American blood in the European trotter, this doesn't mean the superiority is in breeding, but the way trainers get their horses ready for the races and with the emphasis on racing their horses longer, the top trotters tend to stay on top for a longer period of time overall.  

You can read about all the other winners of the Sun Stakes elsewhere, so I am going to focus on resurgence and perceived disappointments.

In the Ben Franklin FFA, Sweet Lou continues his renaissance, winning his fifth race in a row, stopping the teletimer in 1:47.  It was reported a change in training routine to Lou is the key to his success this year.  The five year old jogs between starts and races are spread out a bit more; being trained more like a thoroughbred.  Right now, if not for a certain trotter, Sweet Lou would be the story of the year thus far.

Don't write off Foiled Again yet.  Yes, he is ten years old and may have lost a step, relying more on trips but his performance last night wasn't bad as he was locked in but still managed to pick up a sizable check.  The days of making his own luck may be over, but as the season goes on and the weather gets cooler, I expect the gelding to be able to benefit from some trips.  Will it be as good as last year?  Probably not, but all things considering, it will be a satisfying season for him and those surrounding him.

Similarly, while Captaintreacherous has been disappointing to many, especially those spoiled by last year's  thirteen win season, what we are seeing thus far from him is the difference typically seen when a horse moves in with the aged horses; it's a whole new game.  The Captain did win his first start from post position ten when racing against fellow four year olds,   True, he finished second in his Ben Franklin elimination last week (to a five year old) and being stuck with post position eight this week expectations for him deserved to be muted and he didn't disappoint, ending up third over stuck behind a wall of horses; there was just no way he was going to get there but managed a fifth place showing.  As the season goes on and The Captain is more conditioned racing against older horses and gets some post position luck, we will be seeing him in the winners circle.

The FFA trotting division may be somewhat ho-hum this year due to the dominance of Sebastian K, but the FFA pacers should more than make up for the lack of competition with the trotters.  .

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Political Hack's View on Atlantic City's Problems

Another blog, Views of a Moderate takes on Republican Assemblyman Frank Lobiondo in New Jersey for his comments blaming President Obama for Atlantic City woes.  We understand partisanship, but really? One wonders how these politicians can spew such B.S. without cracking a smile.  One wonders what they teach in Political Science classes which allows them to say such things.  Partisan Lying 101?

You can debate who is responsible for an anemic economy but in the case of Atlantic City, that is near the bottom of the blame game list.  Blaming a bad economy for Atlantic City's woes is akin to blaming the discovery of electricity for an electrical fire in a house.  Sure it may be a factor, but it really isn't the cause.  With respect to Atlantic City's woes, the blog entry lists those which are on the top of the list.

The bottom line is the Golden Age of Atlantic City has come and gone.  Just like racing, it failed to innovate when it had the time.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Meanwhile as Atlantic City Melts

The dog days of summer have not even hit, yet Atlantic City continues to melt.  Last week Revel Casino, the casino which was going to change the fortunes of Atlantic City, filed for bankruptcy for the second time in two years and an auction of their property is tentatively scheduled for August 6.  Today, the Showboat is expected to announce its closing despite the fact it does show a profit; a victim of too many casinos in Atlantic City.  Caesers, which owns the Showboat and three other casinos, wants to close Showboat to reduce its exposure in Atlantic City, and let's not kid ourselves, if they can get those customers to visit one of their three other properties, will  help improve their bottom lines.  This follows the closing earlier this year of The Atlantic Club which was jointly purchased by two other casino companies and closed.

On-lime gaming, the last savior of Atlantic City has been disappointing, to the point the revenue to NJ tax coffers is missing its (re-revised) target, meaning the state has a larger deficit it must close and less revenue for the next state budget. This assumes the federal government doesn't make it illegal.

Sports betting, the latest promised savior?  Don't count on it.  The state's plan to thread their way towards offering sports gambling likely will be declared illegal, but even if it passes muster, do you seriously think it is going to be a draw for Atlantic City?  If the state does manage to get a law through the legal roadblocks, how soon do you think it will be before other states pass similar laws and introduce their own form of sports wagering?

To be fair, there was too much capacity in Atlantic City so some casinos were bound to be close and others will follow suit in due time.  This will make the surviving casinos profitable but not back to the levels they once were.  It will no longer be the employment engine it once was.

Hence the argument, too many jobs would be at risk if casino gaming came to New Jersey racetracks would become a moot point.  Atlantic City will be right-sized

The time has come to allow slot machines at racetracks in New Jersey.  Not just, the Meadowlands, but Freehold and Monmouth.  It is clear the five year window Christie implemented will result in failure for Atlantic City.  Why not work now towards allowing slot machines at racetracks in 2016?  Pass the necessary referendum, pass the rules, allow the tracks to get their financing so they may begin construction so come the end of the five year window of exlusitivity, racinos will be able to open on January 1, 2016.  It is called responsible planning for the future.

RUS, Drugs, Sports Wagering End Around, and Stakes Preview

RUS is getting ready for its grand debut in North America as a parimutuel sport on July 13 at Clinton Raceway with a 'dress rehearsal' on Canada Day (July 1) at Mohawk Raceway where a non-wagering event will be held as a benefit for the Canadian Cancer Society; a dress rehearsal of sorts.

As a new sport in North America, RUS Ontario is proceeding wisely.  Having the first wagering event at a smaller venue is probably a wise thing  as it will allow by the time they arrive at Mohawk Racetrack for their wagering events on August 29 and September 13, a track record for the gambling public.  In a clever marketing move, there will be a couple of international events which will draw attention to the races and give people a chance to see what this sport will develop into.

In  the States, things move a little bit slower with it once again being a season of non-wagering events.  At 2015's annual meeting, the USTA's guidelines for RUS racing are expected to become formal rules, allowing the various states to have guidelines to incorporate into their regulations.  Perhaps then, we will see the debut of RUS as a parimutuel sport in the United States.

Interesting to note that Arapahoe Park in Aurora, CO, is offering a $1,000 bonus per win to trainers start a horse in a race forgoing the use of race day medication which means no furomeside, phenylbutazone, flunixin, and ketoprofen.  It will be interesting to see how many trainers choose to give up treating their horses with these permitted drugs and more importantly, how do their horses do?    You also have to wonder, given the chance, how many standardbred trainers would all of a sudden be racing at least some of their horses without race day medication?

In case you are wondering, earlier this month the legislative session ended in Illinois with, you know it, no legislation to expand casinos to racetracks even getting voted on.  How much longer can Illinois horsemen and tracks, hold on? 

Meanwhile in NJ, both houses of the legislature have approved a reivsed sports betting bill which exempts racetracks and casinos from New Jersey's ban on sports wagering.   This means tracks and casinos will be able to set their own rules for accepting sports bets including being allowed to take wagers on NJ college games and sporting events in New Jersey.  Once the bill gets to Governor Christie, he has 45 days to approve the legislation or let it become law without his signature.

Besides the fact this law is bad law because it allows tracks and casinos to set their own rules and has no government oversight, there are other reasons why you shouldn't get ready to place your wagers yet.  Several legal experts indicate for this bill to have success, New Jersey would have to repeal the prohibition on sports betting for all, including Bookmaker Louie.  By carving out an exemption for just the racetracks and casinos, these experts feel the law will not pass muster as this carve out is de facto government sponsoring of sports betting.  One thing for sure, if the Governor signs this bill, it will be back to the courts .  The question will be if a temporary injunction is issued this time around.

As for the windfall for New Jersey, if anything it will be short lived.  If New Jersey is successful in their end around the prohibition of sports gaming, how long do you think it will take other states to follow the New Jersey model and introduced sports wagering in their states.  It will be another case of gambling becoming a commodity.

Saturday is Super Stakes night at Pocono Downs.  For those who wish to do battle with the high takeout rates for these stakes races plus the two Invitational race, here are my selections in brief:

Race 7 - $100,000 Pace - USTA Invitational - #4 Beach Memories (20-1), #3 Meirs Hanover (4-1), #6 Thinking Out Loud (9-2) , #8 Dancin Yankee (8-1)
Race 8 - $100,000 Trot - Sun Invitational  - #7 Sebastian K (2-1), #6 Modern Family (3-1), #2 Sevruga (5-1), #3 Market Share (7-2)
Race 9 - $300,000 Pace - James M Lynch Memorial - #1 Uffizi Hanover (5-2), #5 Southwind Silence (10-1), #7 Galliebythebeach (12-1), #6 Cinamony (6-1)
Race 10 - $500,000 Pace -  Max C Hempt Memorial -  #4 Sometimes Said (4-1), #3 McWicked (5-2), #8 All Bets Off (3-1), #1 Cammikey (6-1)
Race 11 - $500,000 Pace - Ben Franklin FFA - #4 Sweet Lou (5-2), #6 Bolt The Duer (5-1), #8 Captaintreacherous (3-1), #9 Sunshine Beach (6-1)
Race 12 - $500,000 Trot - Earl Beal Jr. Memorial - #2 Nuncio (3-1), #3 Harper Blue Chip (5-1), #8  Father Patrick (5-2), #7 Datsyuk (6-1)  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Do We Need To Revive The Time Trial?

It’s beginning to look like Ake Svanstedt’s trotter Sebastian is so superior to the competition that he’s racing against the clock. There was a time when time was privileged over purse money in the pursuit of assessing a stallion or mare’s suitability for the breeding ranks, but those days are long gone. Bob Marks never had much use for them, although he says he did “use them occasionally to get marks on horses that could never accomplish much in actual races.” Flip through the latest edition of the Breeder’s Book and you’ll find a couple of pacers with time trial marks—Jereme’s Jet and 26-year-old Cambest—and the Indiana stallion Jailhouse Jesse on the diagonal side. How sweet it would be to see Sebastian take to the track during the Red Mile meet with a pair of t-breds or pacers behind him and a jacked-up crowd cheering him home. He’d surely rid us of the 1:50 burden as well as Enough Said and his Colonial Downs asterisk.

Fifty years ago just about every premium stallion and mare was measured against the clock at some point. Rodney, Fancy Crown, Most Happy Fella, Scotland, Yankee Lass, Bullet Hanover, Bye Bye Byrd, Dancer Hanover, Cheer Honey, Dayan, Hickory Pride, Elma, Isle Of Wight, Steady Beau and Sampson Direct all carry time trial marks. Some drivers specialized in handling the time trialing horses, while others were good with the prompters. When Adios Butler knocked two ticks off Billy Direct’s 22-year-old mark, which was set the day before Greyhound’s at The Red Mile on October 4, 1960, owner Paige West drove the 4-year-old while Del Miller and trainer/driver Eddie Cobb drove the t-bred prompters. When 4-year-old Cash Hall went after Pine Chip’s 1:54 world record at Delaware in 2006, John Campbell drove the son of Self Possessed while Dave Palone chased after him with the Real Artist mare, Valentine. Cash Hall annihilated the mark with a 1:51.1 mile.

On the trotting side, Greyhound’s TT1:55 ¼ mark, set on September 29, 1938 for Sep Palin, held fast for 31 years, until Nevele Pride dropped it to TT1:54.4 for Stanley Dancer at Indianapolis on Sunday August 31, 1969. Twelve thousand enthusiastic fans were in attendance that day. Coincidentally enough, a longstanding pacing mark of 1:55 was also set at that same Lexington meet in 1938: Billy Direct time trialed free-legged in 1:55 for Vic Fleming on September 28, 1938. That mark remained untouched during the 1940s.

Frank Ervin put a 1:57.1 mark on 5-year-old Adios in a time trial when he was offered $500 to break the track record, and four years later another great progenitor, Gene Abbe, time trialed in 2:00.3, also at age five. But it took a race mark of 1:55 from Adios Harry in the American Pacing Derby at Vernon Downs on July 16, 1955, with the owner’s son Luther Lyons in the bike, to match Billy Direct’s mark. Adios Butler undercut the 1:55 standard five years later in the time trial referenced above. That 1:55 barrier was finally shattered.

The great Speedy Crown didn’t break any records when he time trialed in 2:01.2 as a freshman in 1970, but after winning just four of eight starts and earning a paltry $2,000, he did prove that good things were on the way. Actually the first significant time trial for trotters in the 1970s came from Arnie Almahurst, a crazy fast son of Speedy Scot, who pretty much won every start he didn’t break in. He had little in common with his paternal brother, Speedy Crown, who never broke stride—not ever. Arnie time trialed in 1:57.2 at The Red Mile for Joe O’Brien and became the sixth fastest trotter behind Super Bowl, Nevele Pride, Ayres, Speedy Scot and Speedy Crown. Nine years later his 3-year-old son Arndon trotted the fastest mile ever by a trotter when he hit the wire in TT1:54 for Del Miller at The Red Mile. And twelve years after that Arndon’s 4-year-old son Pine Chip became the world record holder when he time trialed in 1:51 for John Campbell at Lexington. Arndon and his dad both retired as the fastest ever.

Another important trotting time trial in the ‘70s was ABC Freight’s TT1:57.1 as a 2-year-old for Joe O’Brien at Hollywood Park in 1976. The sire of Garland Lobell topped Nevele Pride’s 1:58.2 freshman mark and became the fastest 2-year-old trotter ever. ABC set his lifetime mark of 1:56.3 the following year in a time trial. The market for blockbuster trotting time trials pretty much dried up after that, although Cash Hall did crush the half-mile mark with that 1:51.1 mile for John Campbell at Delaware in 2006 that was referenced above.

The time trial involving Standardbred trotters under saddle has been less prevalent, nonetheless it has played as prominent role due to the horses and people involved. In 1940 Greyhound ended his racing career under saddle at Lexington. Frances Dodge rode him to a world record of 2:01 ¾. The mark stood for 54-years, until Preferential and Brooke Nickells broke it in 1994 with a 1:58.2 mile. And six years later the mighty Moni Maker, like Greyhound, ended her career under saddle at The Red Mile. Jockey Julie Krone, with Jimmy Takter and Wally Hennessey following with prompters, trotted in an incredible 1:54.1.

In the pacing camp it was up to Bret Hanover to continue the assault on the longstanding 1:55 standard that his paternal brother, Adios Butler, had begun. In early September of 1966, 4-year-old Bret, who was within a few months of being retired, time trialed in 1:54 at Vernon Downs for Frank Ervin with a single prompter chasing him. Five weeks later in Lexington Ervin put the TT1:53.3 mark on the big guy that would serve as his lifetime mark.

Dancer preferred to put race marks on Albatross so there are no flashy time trials on Super Bird’s resume. He did become the fastest ever in a race when he won both heats of the Tattersalls Pace at The Red Mile in 1:54.4, topping Adios Harry’s race mark, which Bret had matched. He also won in 1:55.3 at Delaware, matching Adios Butler’s time trial mark and eclipsing Bret’s 1:57 half-mile track race mark. Steady Star, a free-legged son of Steady Beau  who was a year older than Albatross, cornered the time trial market in that era. At three he circled The Red Mile in 1:54 for Joe O’Brien and the following year, on October 1, 1971, he time trialed in a head turning 1:52.

Later on, in 1976, 4-year-old Nero time trialed in 1:55.1 and the following year Warm Breeze was race timed in 1:53.1 at Golden Bear in Sacramento. Two years later Meadow Skipper’s son Falcon Almahurst became the fastest 3-year-old pacer ever with a 1:52.2 time trial at Lexington for Bill Haughton. Only Steady Star had gone faster.

Then came the game changer: 3-year-old Niatross’s TT1:49.1 at The Red Mile on Oct 1, 1980. It was the sport’s first sub-1:50 mile and, while it parallels Adios Butler’s breach of the 1:55 point, it was so much more. The closest thing to it was Steady Star going 1:52, but the sleek son of Steady Beau didn’t win a single open stakes race during his career—not so Niatross. His son Nihilator was later positioned to outdo dad in a time trial at Springfield but the weather didn’t cooperate and he was unable to lower his 1:49.3 race mark in a time trial at DuQuoin.  Matt’s Scooter went after the 1:49.1 mark at The Red Mile in 1988 and knocked four ticks off of it. His 1:48.2 time trial for Mike Lachance established a new world record.

Matt’s Scooter beat Niatross’s mark but 5-year-old Cambest blew it out of the water with his 1:46.1 time trial at Springfield. The problem was that he wasn’t tested afterwards and not long after that his 1:52.1 win in the Senior Jug was disqualified due to elevated bicarbonate levels. Cambest was slated to stand at Hanover but in light of the controversial final chapter of his career they passed.

So stick Jimmy Takter and Bernie Noren behind a couple of fast pacers and let’s see if Ake can wheel Sebastian around The Red Mile in a time that will cause the crowd to gasp the way they did for Steady Star’s 1:52 mile and Niatross’s 1:49.1. Speed has always sold in this game; time to pump it up via the time trial.

Joe FitzGerald




Meadowlands Makes it a Little More Lucrative to Have a NJ-Sired Horse

In a similar vein to my column of this morning regarding baby racing, the Meadowlands and SBOANJ have agreed to a program offering added money for NJ-sired horses starting on December 5, 2014.   A 60% bonus will be offered in their NW1 thru NW4 classes as such:

                Non-Winners of 1:           $10,000 (Plus $6,000 for NJ-Sired horses) 
                Non-Winners of 2:           $12,500 (Plus $7,500 for NJ-Sired horses) 
                Non-Winners of 3:           $15,000 (Plus $9,000 for NJ-Sired horses) 
                Non-Winners of 4:           $17,500 (Plus $10,500 for NJ-Sired horses) 

Let's say a NY-sired horse decided to race at the Meadowlands this winter and ran through the classes, winning each race; they would earn $27,500.  Now let's say a NJ-sired horse ran through the classes; they would earn $44,000 ($15,500 more).  With the purses enhanced for NJ-sired horses, it makes a NJ-sired horse more valuable as it will be easier to win back all or a greater portion of what the owner invested on the horse.  This should stimulate the interest in NJ stallions.

This is an idea a long time coming and purchasers of yearlings will consider this come this fall.

Where are the Baby Purses?

One of the biggest complaints which come from those concerned with the declining yearling crops is the cost and rewards of owning a yearling is out of wack.  Purses are too low for the beginner classes (maiden thru nw4) compared to what overnight horses, in particular cheap claiming and conditioned classes, go for.

While this idea will not make owning yearlings a bargain, why do we ask our 2yos to race for no purses in baby races?  For example, at the Meadowlands, it has been over a decade since baby race had a $1,000-$1,500 purse.  Other tracks such as the Meadows and Buffalo Raceway used to promote their 'Learn and Earn Races' where horses would earn money as they learn how to race.

I understand why the non-racino tracks don't offer baby races with purses, but the racino tracks certainly can afford to put purses on their baby races.  Why not have 2yo qualifiers to prove a horse meets the qualifying standards for the track and then offer 2yo non-wagering baby races with a $2,000 purse for horses who meet the qualifying standards?  No, no one will get rich on these purses, but a couple thousand dollars earned in these races will make a dent in the owner's expenses.

Some news regarding the Meadowlands which doesn't include Jeff Gural or Brian Sears; the opening of 'The Backyard'.  A description of the new dining options in the outside area appears in The Record.

Dresden Raceway in Ontario opens on Canada Day (July 1) with the entire operation being run by General Manager Greg Blanchard who is the Raceway Manager at Western Fair District (WFD).  The Dresden Agricultural Society has taken over the track from the owner of the now defunct Windsor Raceway.  This season will b abbreviated with 11 racing cards, primarily on Sunday afternoons.  With WFD closed for the season, much of their team will be working at Dresden.  It will be interesting if they are able to work their magic and draw more people to the races.

In Massachusetts, the sunshine over Plainridge Racecourse is turning partly cloudy thanks to the State's Supreme Court's ordering a referendum to repeal casino gambling in the state to appear on the November ballot.  This means, all the efforts to open a casino at Plainridge, allowing it to survive; may have been for naught.

With casino gambling being approved this past November, there is a good chance this referendum will go down to defeat, but the fact they are even allowed to offer a reversal referendum on the issue the following year is plain wrong; it's as if they are keeping to push the same issue until they get the decision they want.  This creates needless uncertainty for the casino industry, racing industry, and the general public.  The only one getting rich on this are the professional campaign people who will run the campaigns for both sides.

Despite the lack of a thoroughbred meet this year, Colonial Downs has announced their standardbred season begins on September 17 with the barn area opening on September 10.  As long as their license is not pulled,  harness racing is a go.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sears Cleared to Drive; New Director of Racing at Cal Expo

The great driver exclusion is now over.  In a joint statement, it appears Brian Sears and Jeff Gural cleared the air and as a result, the exclusion of Sears at the three tracks operated by Gural has been lifted.

Most will claim Sears won this skirmish.  I am not prepared to say it is the case though clearly public opinion sided with the talented driver.  I rather focus on the positive that Gural and Sears were able to work this out between them.

I still believe as an individual with private property rights, Gural has the right to exclude whomever he feels it is necessary to do so in the interest of  racing at the Meadowlands.  Drivers, as independent contractors, do what they feel is in their best interest so why shouldn't a track operator be able to do the same?  That being said, since a person who is typically excluded gets a scarlet 'C' attached to their name, exclusion should never be used for retaliation (not saying it was this time).  With the power of exclusion comes great responsibility.

In other news, Trainer Robin Schadt has decided to move to the administrative side of racing by becoming the new Director of Racing at Cal Expo.

A Final Word

Update:  Okay, it is not my final word after all.  See next post.

A final word from me, now that the OHHA and others are taking their pot shots at Jeff Gural.  Admittedly, some of the criticism is well-deserved for rather than excluding Sears right away, one last attempt at reaching a compromise with Sears to drive at the Meadowlands should have been attempted; to see if they could get him live mounts during the period he was to race here (though Sears not wanting the Meadowlands to tell trainers he would be there contributed to the lack of drives).

Now, this is not a defense of Jeff Gural.  Gural is more than capable of defending himself.  Plus, while I believe excluding Sears from driving at the three tracks is his right, I don't think it was an appropriate move as any future exclusions which up to now have been accepted will now be questioned under because of the Sears exclusion.

But I give him a pass.  Why you may ask?

I constantly hear people say Gural doesn't have any significant amount of money involved in the Meadowlands, it is all his partners' money.  Well, why I don't know how much of Gural's own money is invested in the Meadowlands, as the lead partner, he has a fiduciary responsibility to treat any investor's money as if it was his own invested so that argument doesn't hold sway.

People talk how he only bought the Meadowlands for the slots which are bound to show up; that he is an opportunist.  Well, if it was such a sweet deal, why didn't anyone else try to take over the track?  First of all, this is New Jersey; there are no guarantees of anything in New Jersey except political scandals.  While slots makes logical sense for the Meadowlands, there is no guarantee; for all we know, slots may end up in another part of the state, if at all.  Secondly, these people act as if Gural is some Johnny Come Lately to the sport.  Gural owns and owned horses before he bought the Meadowlands.  Gural operates a major breeding farm and has done so before he purchased the rights to operate the Meadowlands.  Gural has a real interest in the sustainability of harness racing.

People complain about the fact the Meadowlands for the most part is racing twice a week; as if that is not enough days.  Well, how many days should the Meadowlands  race?  Sure they could race four to five days a week; that is if purses of $4,000 for $6,000 claimers is acceptable.  Is that what people want to see?  There is no slot revenue coming into the track to supplement purses and significant amount of simulcasting dollars wagered at the Meadowlands goes to thoroughbred interests at Monmouth Park.

From my observations, let's look at what Gural has experienced  since he took over the Meadowlands.  #1 - The realization the only way things get done in harness racing is if someone grabs the bull  by the horn and even then, you have to do battle with those who feel the status quo is fine.  #2 - Many of those people who praised him when he took over the Meadowlands, decided after the deal closed to look out for number one, as if they were saying "Good Luck" on their way out the door.  #3 - Tracks which benefit from the Meadowlands via simulcasting seemingly take steps which hurt the Meadowlands.  #4 - Interference from external horsemen groups.  If all this was happening to you, I dare say occasionally, you may make an unpopular decision or even one you wish you didn't make.

I have one request for those taking their shots at Gural.  Do you think if someone gives their word to you and they renege it, they should be allowed to get away with impunity?  If you answered that question with a 'No', then I suggest blame can be shared.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Supreme Court Kills Appeal of NJ Sports Betting Law

Maybe I should have been a lawyer.  When the State of New Jersey first talked about passing a  law authorizing sports betting in New Jersey, I mentioned the State was going to lose the case and the odds were the Supreme Court would never hear the case, having refused to hear an appeal from the State of Delaware which merely wanted to add a single game wagering to their already legal parlay wagering for the NFL.  This was back in 2009 (Hey, you got to be right once in a while even if you are not a lawyer).

Well today, the Supreme Court refused to hear the states's appeal of the circuit court ruling which declared the State's sports betting law illegal as it conflicted with the Federal PAPSA statute.  As a result, State Senator Lesniak wants to change the law in the state which would free racetracks and casinos into offering sports wagering unregulated as the belief is it is illegal to offer state sanctioned sports gaming.  The bombastic Governor, Chris Christie should throw the flag and say 'enough'.

Update:  Here is the legislation now being proposed by Senator Lesniak as reported in John Brennan's North Jersey Blog.:

AN ACT concerning statutory prohibitions against sports wagering and supplementing Title 5 of the Revised Statutes.
Eliminates statutory prohibitions against sports wagering at racetracks and casinos in New Jersey.
BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:
1. Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, including, but not limited to, chapter 37 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes, sports wagering conducted at a racetrack or a casino under procedures developed solely by the racetrack or casino shall not be considered unlawful gambling and a person shall not be subject to criminal or civil liability under the laws of this State for participating in, or conducting, sports wagering at a racetrack or a casino as herein provided.
2. This act shall take effect immediately.

Because odds are any attempt would a) be bad state policy and b) end up in court and c) be declared illegal.

First of all, to pass a law which allowed racetracks and casinos to offer unregulated sports wagering would be bad policy because the tracks and casinos would be free to set their own rules and payoffs.  They would also be free to offer betting on NJ colleges and games contested in state, something the now dead law prohibited.  One could argue this would be free market, but it would allow the bookmakers (for lack of a better word) free reign to do what they wanted and not offer the public any protection; including maintaining a self-exclusion list.  Secondly, if the legislation would limit unregulated sports gambling to the designated bookmakers yet keep it illegal to your bookie, couldn't one still argue the state has approved and sanctioned sports betting?  The NCAA and professional sports leagues would be back in court suing the same cast of individuals once again.  The courts would then rule the state attempted an end around PAPSA.

But let's assume the courts wouldn't intervene in the case.  You will see the professional leagues then attempt to enforce their copyrights and trademarks to keep the bookmakers from broadcasting the games at their sports betting parlors.  In addition, they would likely seek a commission for using the leagues' product which would delay, at a minimum, any sports gaming or they could price their sports so high that it would be cost prohibitive for the bookmakers.

Instead of wasting time on trying to run an end-around PAPSA to get the state necessary funds for its treasury, the one thing it could do now is to pass a bill authorizing a referendum to allow racetracks to offer casino gaming with perhaps a specified percentage going to the existing casinos.

Time to end this silliness and do the people's business.

Monday Briefs

In Canada, parimutuel wagering on RUS racing begins July 1 at Mohawk Raceway and concludes October 1, at Western Fair District for an initial run of 10 dates,  Whether wagering on those races will be allowed in the United States likely depends on the rules of individual states as to whether those races may be wagered on.  I personally are looking forward to it.

The State Auditor of Pennsylvania has warned that horse racing in the state could be hit with a 'catastrophic shutdown' as the state's Department of Agriculture has been billing the race fund for unrelated items; using the race fund as the department's piggy bank.  Coupled with state-mandated diversions to plug other budget short-falls, the fund is a lot less than it should be.  Hopefully, the audit will keep the department from raiding the fund for their own short-falls, but when you are the government, you tend to ignore slaps on the hand.

It will be a sad weekend for Michigan statndardbred interests as Hazel Park Race(way) opens up their first rhoroughbred meet in decades, ending a stream of harness seasons.  No doubt standardbred horsemen are looking at the Michigan Gaming Control Board with bitterness for allowing a change in breeds this year after the initial race dates were set for this year, but in an letter to the industry issued back in January, the executive director of the MGCG puts the blame directly on the MHHA for not having written the number of days of racing in their contract with the race tracks.

Monday, the VARC is due to meet over the ongoing dispute between Colonial Downs and the thoroughbred horsemen.  The only reason I mention this story is the standardbred meet could end up being cancelled if Colonial Downs surrenders its license.

The Cameltonian was a popular event at the Meadowlands this past weekend as were the trottingbreds at Hanover,  One has to wonder if tracks formed a league (as suggested in an earlier edition of Trot Magazine) not only would youngsters become fans of racing, they would}

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sebastian K Again; The Other Mess's Conclusion

Sebastian K dominated the field once again at the Meadowlands Friday night in the TVG FFA Series, this time showing gate speed to get quickly to the front before going on cruise control.  This year's Horse of the Year is now 3 for 3 this year.

Yes, you heard me right.  If Sebastian K stays healthy this year, there is not a trotter in North America who can beat him; thus Horse of the Year will be his.

As for the Great Gural-Sears Dust Up it appears the problem was that Sears may have reneged on a gentlemen's agreement to race at the Meadowlands till the end of the meet with the two driving Millers on the disabled list.  With the banning, Gural has sent a message of 'Don't Screw with Me".  Some may call it being petty, but if you give your word, you should honor it.  Anyway, with Gural putting the screws on Sears this past weekend, I suspect the two of them will come to an understanding and Sears will be at the baby races this week.  I suggest you read other thoughts on this in Harness Racing Update.

With regards to the alleged posting attributed to Joe Faraldo on Facebook (I didn't get to see it), all I can say is it must be nice to benefit from slot legislation enacted because of 9-11 and being a casino just north of New York City for that would be a situation hard to screw up.  That being said, do you remember the days you were racing $4,000 claimers for $2,500 purses and the track was up for sale at the Old Hilltop?  It must have been a lot of fun back then.

Well the Meadowlands has no slot money to use so they race 82 days.  Personally, I would like to see at least three-four days a week of racing at the Meadowlands as much as anyone, but then, they would be racing $6,000 claimers as they would have to spread their purse account thinner.

Since Joe Faraldo is such a champion of great racing at Yonkers.  I challenge him the next time the SOA contract comes up for renewal he offers more of the purse account to offer a stakes program like the Meadowlands has to benefit the industry nationally.  How many times have has Yonkers bid on the Breeders Crown, and the SOA offered money from their purse account to pay for it?  All these things reduce the purse account at the Meadowlands which means they can't compete with Yonkers purse-wise..

I'll take Faraldo's alleged statement that Tioga and Vernon Downs have some of the lowest handles in New York State.  I guess they can race more days there if horsemen want to race for $1,500 purses.  Despite the low handles, they have stakes races of national importance.

Would Jeff Gural have purchased Tioga and Vernon were it not for the VLT bill?  Of course not, one would have been an idiot to by racing properties that went bankrupt in the past without a way of covering the losses.  However, one should remember the Rooneys, who I respect a lot, would have unloaded Yonkers if the VLT bill didn't come along.

Does everything Jeff Gural do is correct?  Of course not, but his intentions are good as I assume Faraldo's are; the problem is the two of them have very different views on how racing should look in the future.  I just wish instead of criticizing how the Meadowlands is run, that Faraldo would take over as President of a horseman's group in a state without slots and see how it is when the shoe is on the other foot; I suspect his tone would change.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fallout Regarding Sears

Continuing on yesterday afternoon's blockbuster about Sears being banned from the Meadowlands, I would like to follow up on some of the issues raised by readers of the blog on other sites.

Needless to say, most comments are in support of Brian Sears from racing participants and many horse players.  This doesn't surprise me, after all if Sears was banned because he races at Yonkers, it is a major change in the way drivers operate.

I will answer some of the issues raised to me in a question and answer format.

Q: I can't believe Sears was banned due to not racing at the Meadowlands.
A: Well, that was the reason.  Sears was asked to help out when Andy and Dave Miller went down with injuries and apparently he reneged on an arrangement.  My guess is this conflict will be rectified shortly and Sears will be allowed to drive.

Q:  If it is because Sears is racing at Yonkers, why is he being excluded?.  After all drivers are free agents.
A:  You need to remember, it isn't a case of a driver heading off to Harrah's or Pocono Downs.  Yonkers is a direct competitor to the Meadowlands being less than 15 miles away.  If you align yourself with a direct competitor, why should you expect to be warmly welcomed when you show up at the competitors track?  In addition, being the Meadowlands has Grand Circuit drivers on their current roster, by eliminating Sears, you are giving the other drivers an incentive as they may pick up the Grand Circuit drives Sears may lose.

Q:  There must be something more to it.  Notice how Sears called off his four drives at Yonkers last night?
A:  Hold off there buckeroo.  Don't read anything into Sears calling out.  It can simply be the emotional drain of the story breaking yesterday and not wanting to deal with it.  Don't insinuate anything from Brian's absence yesterday.

Q:  Who is Gural to deny owners the right of choosing a properly licensed driver?
A:  The owner/operator of the track, that's who.  Despite the comments made by some, there are many capable drivers at the Meadowlands to choose a different driver from.

Q:  Drivers always have gone where the money is.  Why now is this a problem?  
A:  Traditionally, they shift to tracks which are more distant.  Not 15 miles apart.  

Q:  Why is this a good business decision by Gural?  What does he have to gain from it?
A:  I never said it was a good business decision.  I said as operator, he has the right to make the decision.  As for what he has to gain from it, that is above my pay grade.  Time will tell.

Q:  Drivers are free agents and free to drive where they want.
A:  As independent contractors, they are free to race where they want.  However the owner of a track has the right to tell an independent contractor they are not welcome, just as in any other business.   

Feel free to ask more questions and I will try to answer them.

Prelude to a court case?  This morning Sears showed up and attempted to qualify a horse and was stopped.  One has to wonder if this was done on advice of counsel to show damages, after alal he must have known he would be stopped.  Of course, one has to wonder why someone declared persona non-grata was even allowed on the grounds of the Meadowlands.  I

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sears Banned from Meadowlands, Tioga, and Vernon Downs

Harnesslink has confirmed that driver Brian Sears has been banned from racing at the three tracks operated by Jeff Gural in overnight and qualifying races. Sears will be able to continue driving horses in stakes races at the three tracks (at least until it is seen if he can be banned from those races).  Of course, if you can't qualify or drive a horse in an overnight event, it is much harder to pick up the drive on that Grand Circuit horse as someone else is going to get first shot with those horses; so not being able to ban a driver from a stakes race may be a moot point.

Needless to say, this has caused an uproar with those who think drivers should be able to race wherever they are licensed to race.  Some people are saying Gural is being petty by barring Sears because he has made a choice to race at Yonkers (of course, this assumes it is the reason for the exclusion).

I disagree.

As far as I am concerned, it was a business decision made, a decision which Gural had the right to make (provided he is willing to deal with any downside which could come from the decision).

Brian Sears made a business decision to race at Yonkers Raceway full time and to race at the Meadowlands only when the big money is on the line in stakes races.  Jeff Gural appears on the surface to have made a business decision if Sears can't find the time to race two nights a week at the Meadowlands (allowing him three nights to race at Yonkers and their slot-infused purses), then he doesn't want him racing at his tracks at all.  Basically, it is a question of Gural saying 'You can't have it both ways'.

And what is wrong with that?  You have drivers racing at the Meadowlands out of sense of loyalty to the track, or admittedly at different points (on the way up or on the way down) in their careers, forsaking larger purses to race at the Meadowlands.  Why should these drivers have someone cherry-picking when they will race at the Meadowlands by waltzing in, taking potential drives (and purse money) away from them while the regular drivers are out there day in, day out, in the depths of winter or heat of summer?

As for those horseplayers who think this is unfair, how would your current employer feel if he knew you were working certain days for the competition?  I suspect they would not be happy.  Try working for two real estate companies (realtors are licensed) at the same time; odds are you would be told to choose on over the other (assuming you weren't sacked).

For those horse people who feel a driver should be able to race wherever he wants to, how do you feel about your track's preference rules for getting a horse in to race?  Are you complaining when the preferences are written so the only way a horse bred and sired in a different state by an out of state owner is if the track can't get a full field of eight horses after going five preferences down?  If you meet those preferences you probably think it is the greatest thing in the world; if you are hurt by those preferences, probably not.  Why are those preferences there?  To protect the interests of those who support the local racing and breeding program.  Remember, those owners who have horses that don't fit the preferences can always invest in a horse that would qualify to race at the track; they made a business decision not to.

The bottom line is Brian Sears made a business decision to race at Yonkers while Gural made a business decision to say 'stay there'.  They both have the right to make their own decisions on how to run their own businesses.  Part of running a business is having to deal with the consequences of your decisions (this applies to both).

You don't always get your cake and eat it too.

TVG Series Preview

The biggest race of the weekend is not the battle of Foiled Again and Captaintreacherous, it is the 11th race on Friday evening at the Meadowlands, the TVG FFA Series for trotters.  Can someone beat Sebastian K? Let's take a look at the field.

11th Meadowlands Trot - $50,000; TVG FFA Series
1 DW's NY Yank (Miller, 20-1) - Last two efforts weren't that bad but he showed bad form when racing against Sebastain K.  Pass here.
2 Archangel (Gingras, 5-1) - Has improved dramatically since last race at Meadowlands.  Suspect he's an improved horse and deserves consideration in exotics.
3 Market Share (Tetrick, 5-2) - A puzzle at age four.  One week good, then horrible next.  Not off current form
4 Arch Madness (Shmedhammer,12-1) -  Has lost a step at age 10,  Until he turns things around I would pass.
5 Sebastian K S (Svenstadt, 4-5) - Hard to ignore him..  Layoff reported to be no problem.  May be a race of beat the clock.
6 Creatine (LaChance, 10-1) - Finished 3rd in first wagering start.  Figures to improve.  Use under the fave for the exacta.
7 Sevruga (Pierce, 8-1) - Unable to hold on in Maxie Lee.  Better drive lands him in the money.
Selections: 5-6-7-2

Saturday night at Pocono Downs, Captaintreacherous hooks up against Foiled again to battle in the first elimination of the Ben Franklin   Quite honestly, while I think Foiled Again is starting to get long in the teeth, I would have to pick Foiled Again over the Captain thanks to his second place finish in the Mohawk Gold Cup Invitational .  Captaintreacherous was impressive in his first start of the season in the Meadowlands Maturity but the race was limited to 4yos.  Racing against older horses may be tougher for the Captain.

In other news:

Jody Jamieson plans to return to the sulky as soon as his suspension for using cocaine is over.  I think it is great.  Rest assured, the ORC will be keeping an eye out for him to make sure this was a one-off event as he claims.  Will Jamieson return to all his drives he had before?  Probably not as some owners will either be satisfied with the driver for their horse who filled in during the two weeks he was on the sidelines; owners who just don't want to trust someone with this kind of violation.  If this is the case, it is all good as there are consequences for our actions.  However, the best thing for Jamieson is to return to what he knows; driving horses.

The Maryland Racing Commission was given an update regarding Ocean Downs's planned RUS meeting.  Rather than endorsing the event, they took no action regarding the event. Endorsement by the MRC would have been nice, but since it is an exhibition race with no money coming from the purse account, the race will still take place without the MRC's blessing. Being they fear insurance issues and the possibility of riders falling off (they should watch a thoroughbred race), the horsemen and track should invite the judges to the track.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Meadowlands Rodeo

As reported by Insider Access (a publication of Harnessslink) there was a case of true hardball at the Meadowlands in the 10th race on Saturday night between Jack Baggitt Jr. and Joe Bongiorno.  Apparently Baggitt, annoyed at Bongiorno for not letting him duck in after being parked out in a speed duel, almost locking wheels which resulted in Bongiorno leaving the course.  Once out of the race, Bongiorno backed up in the field looking for Baggitt to tell him who was 'number one' (well, you know what I mean).

You can watch the race here:

Insider Access (here is a link to subscribe) criticizes both drivers for not taking the dispute into the backstretch where they could duke it out and I guess the author was correct.  However, it is important for young drivers to stand their ground to show they won't be intimidated by others, especially since the public doesn't want to see someone take up their horse to give someone a tuck ahead of them so I don't hold Bongiorno at fault for the initial hanging out of the favorite.   However, what is inexcusable is the fact Bongiorno didn't worry about the race after that initial run in and instead of driving through to the wire        , he was more concerned with getting close to Baggitt so he could give him the bird.

As for Baggitt, he was definitely at fault.  He got caught in a speed duel and there was no hole for him to take.  Instead of trying to bully his way to the rail, he should have taken the medicine one gets when you are parked outside with nowhere to go.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see if the judges took any action regarding the cowboy moves in the race from these two drivers.  One thing for certain, it must have been interesting in the back paddock after the race.

The Racetrack Killer?

Looming over the future of Monticello Raceway is the success of Empire Resort's (the parent company) bid for a casino in Sullivan County.  Even without the raceway moving if their bid is successful, the track should be able to continue at existing purse levels; failure of Empire Resorts to secure a bid may result in Empire Resorts throwing in the towel, taking Monticello along with it or putting it up on the market for sale.  After all, even as a racino, Monticello Raceway is not exactly rolling in the profits and the introduction of a casino elsewhere is bound to draw business away from the raceway.

On the plus side, Foxwoods has pulled out of the bidding for a casino in Sullivan County, leaving only two bidders remaining in the Sullivan County contest of which Empire Resorts has one project.  On the down side, Foxwoods had announced theit reason for pulling out of the contest is its inability to secure financing due to the possibility a casino license may come to adjacent Orange County.  The banks' fear?  Most of those customers expected to come to Sullivan County may be 'hijacked' by a casino in Orange County; resulting in any Sullivan County project being unable to hit its projections, quickly becoming a failure.

To give you an idea of what Empire Resorts may be going up against, here is a press release fromThe Cordish Companies and  Penn National Gaming which are jointly proposing an Orange County casino.  Should they receive a license, will those coming from the Hudson Valley and Northern New Jersey go past this project and head over to the former Concord Resort?

I am as big a Sebastian K fan as there is, but am I the only one that is slightly uncomfortable with a horse making only two starts this season being on top of the Hambletonian/Breeders Crown Standardbred Poll?  Now I will be the first one to tell you I wouldn't be surprised to see Sebastian K on top by the end of the year, but there seems to be something wrong with being there after two starts; it seems hype has trumped performance.  There should be a rule that a horse must start a specified number of starts before being allowed on the list.  Despite her loss last week, I would have voted for Perfect Alliance to be on the top of the poll.

It may be only elimination night at Pocono Downs on Saturday, but the 10th race may as well be a championship fight as Captaintreacherous and Foiled Again start next to each other in the first elimination of the Ben Franklin early closer.  Yes, Captaintreacherous failed last year against the older horses in the TVG FFA Series Final, but after the winter off, the Captain should be able to give a better account of himself, especially after his victory in the Meadowlands Maturity.   This is one race I want to watch.

Jackson Raceway lives.  The Jackson County Board of Freeholders has offered a 2 year lease of their fairgrounds to Jackson Raceway LLC with the lease possibly being extended to 5 years.  The board now goes to the MCBG to get back it's license to conduct racing while Jackson Raceway must obtain a meet license.  Whether a license will be issued for 2014 is questionable, but I see no reason racing won't resume come 2015.  If this is the case, standardbreds will once again have a home in Michigan.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Help Keep the Slaughterhouses Closed

I know there are those who don't care for the ASPCA, but right now, they are running a campaign to continue the ban of federal money from being used to regulate the slaughter of horses for human consumption in FY2015.  Both houses of congress has passed this ban, but there will be attempts to revoke these bans via an amendment prior to passage.

If you believe horses should not be slaughtered for human consumption, you can join the ASPCA advocacy campaign by calling and/or sending letters to your representatives in the Senate and House urging them to fight off any attempts to revoke the ban (at the end the ASPCA will ask for a donation but you can just cancel out at that point if you prefer not to make a donation).  The advantage of using the ASPCA site to contact your elected officials in Washington, is they will identify your officials and send the emails to them for you.

Of course, this legislation is a one year stop-gap act.  In order to prevent horse slaughter on an ongoing basis and to ban the exporting of horses to other countries for slaughter, it is necessary to pass the SAFE Act which unfortunately seems to have stalled.  Please contact your representatives asking them to support S. 541/H.R. 1094.

It doesn't take long to act, so if you are passionate about these issues, take a moment and let your voice be heard.

The HANA Harness Grand Circuit Shoot-Out Handicapping contest is really exciting this year with at least one handicapper seemingly scoring big each contest leg.  This past Friday, it was Mark McKelvie who scored on a $100 exacta box in the Meadowlands Maturity which earned him a cool $1,200 profit on the one bet and as a result, he surged to the head of the pack.   Now I realize there are 15 handicappers in the contest so to bet them all would be foolish, but it is worth a stop to get some wagering ideas.  As Derick Giwner wrote in a column, you can tell how a handicapper feels about their picks if you watch how they typically bet.  There are no guarantees in life, but visiting the HANA Handicapping website may be worth the visit.

No doubt by now you have seen the press release regarding the Meadowlands Pace, Hambletonian, and Little Brown Jug being televised on CBS Sports Network.  This is occurring thanks to an effort by horsemen and the USTA (who came around) as well as others to finance the broadcasts.  They have assembled a fine quartet of personalities to work the broadcasts starting with Gary Siebel (currently the track announcer at Cal Expo) and Dave Brower (a veteran of several shows) to cover the racing action along with Justin Horowitz and Heather Vitale who will provide the color commentary.  While Vitale has been doing well with her two current shows, it will be nice to see her back on a nationally televised event.  Hopefully the broadcast will go well so CBS will want to carry even more harness racing next year and either offer a reduced price or pick up the production costs for the rights.

While there will be no baby races on Friday night's racing card at the Meadowlands, six other trotters have entered a leg of the TVG FFA series to do battle against Sebastian  K.  Once again, Market Share has entered the fray so we will get our match up which disappeared when Market Share ran coming into the first turn when they first met.   It has been a while since Sebastian K has raced ,but his trainer has indicated it shouldn't impact him.  We will see. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mid-June Survey

There are 30 pacers eligible to the Ben Franklin, which should commence with an elimination round on Saturday. Seven of the nine that raced in Saturday’s Molson Gold Cup are staked to it; winner Evenin Of Pleasure and fourth place finisher State Treasurer are not. Warrawee Needy, who scratched, is eligible. More important, Captaintreacherous, who won the Maturity the other night, is eligible, and apparently being pointed to the race. Sweet Lou, Bolt The Duer, Bettor’s Edge, Clear Vision and Apprentice Hanover are also paid up to the Franklin. The fact that The Captain will take on his elders for the first time as a four-year-old should serve as a serious draw.

Last year this race set the stage for the late season coronation of Foiled Again as King of the World and division champ. He set a world record of 1:48 for a gelding on a 5/8 track in the elimination round, then passed the five million dollar earnings threshold in the final. He also made it 70 wins for his career. Presently he’s on a four race losing streak, tasting nothing but defeat since early April. That notwithstanding, the Franklin is about Captain T vs Sweet Lou, who has won three in a row. Burke has five staked to the Franklin—17% of the nominees are his—so Lou and Foiled probably won’t be lonesome.

Trixton has been very impressive, and the discussion has entered a Father Patrick or Trixton phase. While the latter has plenty of experience beating up on quality competition, Trixton has been feasting on the Little Sisters of the Poor. That Goodtimes field was one of the worst ever assembled for what is supposed to be a top tier stakes race—grade three is more like it. The eliminations for the Beal are Saturday and we can assume the good Father and traveling companion Nuncio will be entered.  Trixton isn’t staked to the Beal. And while Father Patrick is eligible to the Yonkers Trot, the oversized Trixton is not. The Beal final is June 28, and the next important start for that group will be the Stanley Dancer on July 12. That will probably mean four weeks off for Trixton, which may or may not enhance his chances of winning the Hambletonion with jimmy Takter sitting behind him.

The third leg of the TVG trotting series was cancelled due to lack of interest; the fourth is Friday. And while the supposed big guns in the division—Sebastian and Market Share—are entered, there are only five others. Modern Family, who recently beat Market Share in the Charlie Hill, is not. Creatine is the only four-year-old; Royalty For Life and Spider Blue Chip have qualified but they aren’t in the mix yet. The next leg of the TVG will be raced July 12. If an elimination round is necessary for the Maple Leaf Trot it will take place on the 11th—an obvious conflict. However, eliminations weren’t necessary in 2012 or 2013. The way things are going for the TVG an elimination night will probably be called for this year.

Bee is staked to the TVG, but off what we saw Saturday there’s no way that happens. And Maven, another nominee, has a Ms. Versatility leg to race in the day before the July 12th TVG leg; she needs to make up for the points she missed during her Elitlopp quest. Corky, Smilin Eli and Uncle Peter have all been racing in Europe. The latter may be back for the July leg. Intimidate and Mister Herbie are racing in the Mohawk preferred on Thursday instead of the TVG, while Daylon Magician and Undercover Strike go at Yonkers Friday. The Levy allocates 50 points to the winner of a leg and 25 to any horse that starts, regardless of where they finish. The TVG allocates 35 points to the winner of a leg and only four for seventh, two for eighth and 1 for others. A healthy allotment of show up points might convince some to give it a shot against Sebastian and Market Share.

On the pacing side, the next leg consists of the William Haughton elimination and final on July 5 and 12. Four-year-olds like Captaintreacherous, Apprentice Hanover, Sunshine Beach and Lucan Hanover are staked to the Haughton a well as the series. State Treasurer and Dapper Dude are other nominees that have yet to race in the TVG.

Royalty For Life qualified Saturday at Vernon. I imagine he’ll qualify again and race in the Hambletonion Maturity at a mile and an eighth two weeks from Saturday. Can’t see Bee going in that one, just as I can’t see her in the TVG, but Perfect Alliance belongs to M1 management so she may be entered. And Classic Martine just won the Armbro Flight, so she may also take on the boys. The better four-year-old boys are late to the track and the ones currently racing are a weak bunch, while these mares have been racing very well. Why not take a shot.

Three of the top four finishers in the NA Cup—winner JK Endofanera as well as Tellitlikeitis and McWicked—are staked to the Hempt, which should be holding eliminations on Saturday. During the 24 years from 1977 to 2000, when the Hempt was called the William Miller Memorial, only three winners also won the Pace—Beach Towel, Presidential Ball and Can’s Card Shark. And there were no duplicate winners during the first 11 years under the Max Hempt Memorial title. However, ARNRD won both in 2012 and The Captain did the same last year. Only four of the 22 colts in the three Hempt elimination splits last year came from the NA Cup final, and only four are eligible this year.

Super mile by Anndrovette in the Roses Are Red. It looked like Rainbow had her, just as it looked like Drop The Ball had her last year after one that one’s patented rushes, but the one-off champ by Riverboat King told those younger mares: not yet. She did lose seven of her eight starts after the Roses Are Red in 2013. She’s never won the Golden Girls, which is on July 10, or the Lady Liberty, which is August 2. Rainbow, Stingin, Drop The Ball and Rocklamation are all staked to both, as is 2012 Golden Girls winner, Rebeka Bayama. We’ll see if Anndrovette can take charge of mid-summer.

Ron Pierce didn’t have a particularly successful Cup Night: Luck Be Withyou carried him to a 7th place finish at 22/1 in the Cup itself; he was 4th in the Roses Are Red with Yagonnakissmeornot from the rail; 4th in the Mohawk Gold Cup with State Treasurer; 5th in the Fan Hanover with Fancy Desire; and 2nd with 19/1 shot Il Sogno Dream in the Goodtimes. Pierce went into the night with a healthy lead in the dollars and cents driver standings, only to see it evaporate at the hungry hands of Tim Tetrick.

Joe FitzGerald (@JAF3Joe)