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Thursday, July 31, 2014

It's the Most Happiest Time of the Year

If you are a harness racing fan, this is the happiest time of the year as the excitement towards Hambleotnian Day builds to a crescendo on Saturday when the field of 11 horses go for the dash for the cash. But in addition to the question as to whether Father Patrick can score from post 10 (champions can), another Takter charge wins in a minor upset, or some upstart shocks the harness racing community there are other questions to be asked...

  • Can Shake It Cerry become the queen of trotting in the Oaks from post position 11? 
  • Will we see a new all-time trotting record from Sebastian K in the Cashman Memorial or does the new record holder on the mile track Archangel pull off the upset.  What about Mister Herbie?  Does he get a jump on Sebastian K.  Let's face it Sebastian K is the best aged trotter right now in racing but he races with a target on Ake Svenstadt's back.
  • Does Androvette bounce back and win after getting back into the Lady Liberty thanks to the 'scratch' of his stablemate Krispy Apple?
  • Who wins the Peter Haughton Memorial and automatically become the favorite for the 2015 Hambletonian?
  • Does Sweet Lou continue his mastery and win his 8th straight start in the US Pacing Championship?  Does Captaintreacherous figure out how to beat the older horses at the right time?  What about State Treasurer who has been prepping in Canada?  Does the veteran Foiled Again show some Meadowlands Magic?   Do we see a new record on the pacing side?
Then on the non-racing side there are questions such as how many fans will be showing up at the new Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment  for the first Hambletonian to be raced at the new facility and how will track management handle the anticipated crowds?  What will the betting handle be this year now that European money will be co-mingled for the first time with Meadowlands pools?

If you haven't experienced the Hambletonian in person, it is a 'bucket list' event like the Little Brown Jug.  You need to make plans to attend, soon.

There is of  course some other tidbits of news not related to the Hambletonian worth mentioning.

News Item: Saratoga Harness Racing Inc. Partners with the Evil Empire (to some) - This week it was announced Saratoga Harness Racing Inc. has sold 25% of the company's equity to Churchill Downs Inc. and signed a management agreement with CHDN which will have Churchill Downs manage Saratoga Casino and Raceway, Saratoga Casino Blackhawk, and any new casino the partners may win in New York.  In addition, the deal gives Churchill Downs a small piece of interest in Ellis Park.  We can only wonder how long it will be before SHR is taken over completely by CHDN.

News Item: John Campbell Looking Ahead?  Well not that far ahead, but Monday when Campbell heads to Grand River Raceway to win one stakes race he never has; the Battle of Waterloo.  How serious is he about trying to win the Battle?  He's not showing up for a seat in the final, he qualified a horse for the final this past Monday.  Here's wishing Campbell much success on Monday as on Saturday as he tries to win one of those races he never has.  But forget a moment about Campbell going to win the Battle of Waterloo, this is as much a story about one of the sport's greatest ambassadors paying a visit to a minor league track and hopefully stirring up more interest for their big day of racing.

A Cheers Moment from the Land of Oz - In some ways you have to admire the Aussies for their sense of camaraderie.  On August 9, at the Mackay Beach Horse Racing Festival, a new race has been introduced, the Great Northern Beer Pub Challenge where pubs are securing jockeys and horses to represent them.  As to the purse, who cares?  The important thing is besides bragging rights, the winning pub gets awarded a keg of beer.  It may be a running race, but it is one I would love to see.

Take a Look at Horseplayer Monthly - A Publication of Horseplayers Association of North America, it is primarily a thoroughbred-oriented publication but there are columns which can be used for harness racing, including a harness racing column.  One interesting article discusses how thoroughbred racing needs to learn from harness racing.  Thumb through this free publication, it's worth a look.  



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Some Pleasant Surprises And Unanticipated Disappointments In 2014

Dancin Yankee, a six-year-old son of Yankee Cruiser, has been a pleasant surprise this year. He has 14 wins in 21 starts; he established a world record of 1:47.2 on a 5/8 track; and at the half-way point, he has already earned 45% more money than he banked during all of last year. If he doesn’t cross the million dollar threshold this year, it will be next—and that’s with no open stakes wins, ever. He’s a poor man’s Foiled Again.

Sweet Lou and Yankee Bounty notwithstanding, Yankee Cruiser hasn’t turned the breed on its ear as a stallion; he generally needs a lot of help from mama. In the case of Sweet Lou, his dam Sweet Future also produced the rugged and productive FFA pacer Bettor Sweet. And Dancin Yankee’s dam, Dancinwiththebest, gave us Doc’s Yankee, Marty Party and The Lunch Pail.

Some horses race over their heads and fortify their bankroll with third and fourth place checks. The wins are few and far between but the money is good. The Dancin Man is not of that ilk. He didn’t start in the Haughton and you won’t see him in Saturday’s USPC. He isn’t even staked to the Breeders Crown. As a matter of fact, Dancin Yankee has only faced division kingpin Sweet Lou twice this year; they both flopped in a Levy elimination split, and our boy beat Sweet Lou in the Van Rose Invitational at Pocono.  

His trainer Josh Green is serving a lengthy suspension so Dancin Yankee has been under the care of Amber Buter for his last four starts. There was some speculation that this change would lead to a precipitous drop in performance. To the contrary, he has been better than ever, winning all his races under Buter in dominating fashion.

Bee A Magician was lauded far and wide for her perfect 17 for 17 performance last year as a sophomore. So much so that the most anticipated division race of 2014 was the showdown between Queen Bee and the 2013 Queen of the aged trotting mares, Maven, who was no slouch herself with 10 wins in 14 starts and more than a half million in earnings. And while the road to disappointment for the pair has been unique, we can sum up their campains by saying both have underachieved woefully. In a surprise occurrence, not uncommon in this game, the Classic Photo four-year-old Classic Martine, who was a player in the PA Sire Stakes last year but no competition for Bee in the open realm, has stolen the division from them.

Bee, who finished a weak second to the favored Classic Martine in Friday’s second leg of the Ima Lula, has only one win in six 2014 starts—that being in a leg of the Ms Versatility. Her most impressive performance was a second against the boys in the Hambletonion Maturity, almost a month ago.

Like Bee, Maven is racing like a shell of herself. The premier offspring of Glidemaster, and the only one to actually amount to anything, looks even worse than Bee does. She appears to be mimicking her old rival Check Me Out, who fell off the table last year. Maven’s only win came in the Miami Valley Distaff, prior to her trip to Sweden. That taxing journey may have hijacked her season. We’re not in a position to divine the reason for her downfall, but it is real.

Sandbetweenurtoes, a SBSW 3-year-old filly who didn’t race at two and was purchased by Bradley Grant from Tony Alagna’s connections after she beat NW2 at the Meadowlands in May, has moved to the top of her peer group and currently occupies the nine slot in the Top Ten Poll. Her Artsplace dam, Al’s Girl, won the Eternal Camnation as well as splits of the Bluegrass and ISS. Grant employed the same strategy with Apprentice Hanover, also by SBSW, buying him from Jack Darling early in his freshman season. Apprentice disappointed at three due to physical issues, but the now 4-year-old has managed to bank almost $600,000.

Sandbetweenurtoes, who is trained by Larry Remmen and driven by Brett Miller, recently won the Mistletoe Shalee at the Meadowlands and followed that up with a win in the $70,000 Romola Hanover at The Meadows. She’s 7 for 7 and circled the Meadowlands in 1:49. The division belongs to her at this point. While Somwherovrarainbow faltered on the Grand Circuit at three and retreated to the PASS, this filly appears ready to take on the challenge.

Cooler Schooner is more famous than she is successful. She’s the Norman Greenbaum or Weird Al Yankovic of harness racing—a one hit wonder. It was a Steady Star moment when she broke Snow White’s freshman world record with a 1:51.3 mile in a split of the PASS at Pocono last summer. And coincidentally, she and Steady Star share the same number of open stakes wins—zero. She’s winless in four 2014 starts. Cooler Schooner scratched out of Saturday’s Oaks Prep and broke the time before that, but she is slotted to leave from the nine for David Miller in Saturday’s Oaks.

Her older sister, Broadway Schooner, didn’t go nearly as fast and may not be as famous, but she won the Oaks, as well as the Breeders Crown, and she was Queen of her division at three. Those Broadway Hall mares have extreme speed; Broadway Socks, Frau Blucher and Action Broadway are a few more examples. But all of the above have learned to govern their speed enough to make money with it. Cooler Schooner has less than $17,000 in the bank this year. Still, a number of Hambo Day bettors will be drawn in by her quickness and potential, it’s like crack cocaine to bettors, whether it comes from a Manofmanymissions or a Cooler Schooner. You can bet on that.

Joe FitzGerald



The Dash for the Cash; :Licensing Horses?

So the entry box was opened this morning and eleven 3yo trotters had dropped into the 89th Hambletonian (post positions will be drawn at a press conference at 4pm this afternoon).  With only eleven horses dropping in, the Hambletonian, and Hambletonian Oaks both turn into a Dash for the Cash.

Readers of my blog know I love the tradition of heat racing, but on the other hand, racing as a single dash eliminates one of my pet peeves which is the winners get to choose their post position while everyone else goes into a draw.  Now, it is the luck of the draw which will determine if a horse draws post position 1, 4, 10 or 11.  Yes, there will be those who will complain about paying in and not starting on the gate but especially in a field of 11, is it that much of a problem or is it everyone psyche themselves out.  If more than one horse drew into the second tier you must start from the assigned post but if you are the lone horse in the back, you basically start from whichever position you wish in the back row, conceivably allowing you to line up behind the perceived speed and get a decent starting position.

For those fans of guaranteed pools, the lack of eliminations give them extra time to make their selections for these races.  On the 15 race card, there are several such pools.  The first race kicks off with a $50,000 guarantee the Pick-5 with a 50 cent base price; third race kicks of a fifty thousand guarantee for the 50 cent early Pick-4; the 9th race features a 50 cent Pick-5 with a $75,000 guarantee and finally, the 12th race has a $100,000 for the final Pick-4.

Meanwhile, the RCI has announced consideration of a rule where not only people involved in racing would require licensing, but horses would also require to be licensed.  The proposal for licensing individual horses would be predicated  upon authorizing commissions' access to licensed horses and give the racing commission access to perform treatment audits and/or or out-of-competition testing as desired.  With such a rule, the racing commissions would finally have the ability to suspend or ban horses that are treated as part of an attempt to cheat. The adoption of such rules could conceivably be what is necessary to stop those stables who train using the vet too much.and benefit those who race by the rules.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Next California Threat

Legislation has been proposed to allow online poker in the Golden State.  As with anything to do with gaming in California, there are two bills proposed which would allow online poker rooms for Indian tribes, barring racetracks from participating

Why not put a stake through the hearts of quarter horse, standardbred, and thoroughbred tracks and get it over with once and for all?

I understand currently the deal in California allows only casinos run by Indian tribes, leaving horse racing at a complete disadvantage when it comes to providing sources of alternative revenue to keep their operations going.  The tracks recognize it will be a cold day in hell before they will be allowed to operate a slot machine which would benefit racing.  They deal with screwed up laws that limit the number of races they may import while ADWs are allowed unlimited simulcasting.  The harness horsemen accept the fact they have to pay fees for encroaching on Los Alamitos territory despite the fact the two tracks are 400 miles apart.  But there is no reason to allow the Indian tribes another form of alternative gaming and keep racetracks from participating in it.

I am not sure how much California tracks would benefit from online gaming, it's not the point.  The fact is should online poker come to California tracks, the Indian casinos will still have an advantage over the tracks as they offer traditional casino games and I imagine should this bill or a future bill propose online casino games besides poker, it would be restricted to the Indian operations.  How much pain and inequity should California racetracks of all breeds have to suffer due to deals the state of California made with the Indian Nations?

The time has come to give racetracks some assistance.  Online poker is not a magic bullet for what ails racing, but it will help steady the divide between the casinos and horse racing.  If horse racing is not given the option of operating online poker rooms, then the casinos should not be allowed it.

Meanwhile in New Jersey, horsemen through out the state are getting giddy in that Senate President John Sweeney and Governor Christie are finally talking about a casino in North Jersey, assuming logically it would come to the Meadowlands sports complex under the operation of Jeff Gural.  Hold on.  While I am certain a casino will come to North Jersey, there are plenty of players interested in operating a casino and while logically, connecting a casino with the Meadowlands makes sense, this is New Jersey, where logic doesn't always hold; typically political dealings and campaign cash rules.  In today's article,   John Brennan lists the players within the Sports Complex footprint who may be interested in operating a casino.

Yes, if the state gives the casino license to someone else, the state would be on the hook for $100 million to reimburse Jeff Gural for the construction of the new grandstand.  While $100 million is not pocket change, when considering what the state would make in revenue, it may be money well spent by the state, especially if those with deep pockets have their say.  Horse racing interests in New Jersey must remain vigilant and not fall asleep at the wheel because that nap could result in someone else grabbing the license.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

You Be The Judge

The second parimutuel race for RUS was conducted at Hanover Raceway last night and was won by Radical Dreamer in 2:03 for rider Marit Valstad in the first leg of the Norway vs. Canada RUS series.  Once again the race was well-contested (due to video quality issues, I am not posting it but you can find it here).  Wagering was once again robust with a combined handle (WPS, Exactor and Triactor) of $2,726, the highest individual race handle of the evening, even exceeding the eliminations for the Dream of Glory stakes which were contested last night.

You Be the Judge
This edition of You Be the Judge uses the second elimination of the John Cashman Jr. Memorial last night at the Meadowlands and involves Sebastian K, in particular driver Ake Svandstedt's drive.

You can watch the entire race or if you prefer you can go to the 49 second mark and pick it up from there.  If you start at the :49 point, You will have see Creatine, after setting a :26 first quarter apply the brakes in an effort to get a breather.  Then you see Svanstedt look over at Mister Herbie once, then twice before deciding to make a move.  Well, you take a look.

After the second look, Svanstedt moves Sebastian K to the outside when Mister Herbie is already up to Svandstedt's helmet.  At first glance, it certainly looked too close to comfort.  The judges decided no place was required.  What do you think?

After watching the replay several times I noticed Tim Tetrick having applied the whip before Sebastian K made his move, had stopped the whip and re-applied it after Sebastian K was clear.  However, as the horse made his move, Tetrick didn't do anything to take up his horse.  Some people would say the fact Tetrick stopped using the whip should indicate interference.  However, at this point in the race, a driver should not be constantly using the whip so the lack of whip usage doesn't indicate taking Mister Herbie up.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Improving RUS

Last night's final preliminary leg for the Hambletonian RUS late closer was contested and whereas there were two division last week, a single field of seven trotters met the starting gate this week.  What we saw was arguably the best RUS event of the year thus far as Stephanie Werder, in from Norway to prepare for next week's $28,000 final showed patience and composure as she waited to split horses late to gain a victory for O U Gus in 1:59.4.

Something I noticed this year is the riders are being much more patient and rating the horses better.  Last year, it was all out in the beginning and the trotters would slow up in the final half of the race.  This week's race was typical of this year's events, quarters of :29.1, :31.1. :30.2 and :29.  These riders have been working hard in improving their skills and it shows.

I can't wait for next week's final which will be occuring on Friday night, August 1; a day prior to the Hambletonian.  In the meanwhile, Hanover Raceway's 3rd race tonight is another RUS event with wagering.  A field of 7 are competing in the tilt.   For those of you able to wager on Hanover Raceway via your ADW or on track, here is a link to their program.  My selections for the race are: 6 - Dayplanner (Amundsen, 2-1), 1 - Callie Magoo (Berg, 7-1), 2 - Radical Dreamer (Valstad, 9-5).  If you are unable to wager on the race, the race will be shown live on Hanover Raceway's website.  My guess is we will see parimutuel wagering on RUS in the United States come 2015.

Kiss the match up of Hambletonian winners of Royalty For Life and Market Share good bye as Harness Racing Update reports Royalty For Life most likely suffering a career ending injury.  The official call has not been made, but right now Royalty For Life has been scratched from his elimination of the John Cashman Jr.

At Monmouth Park, the Haskell is being contested tomorrow.  Why do I mention this race?  This is the second year the Haskell and Hambletonian have been decoupled, previously being raced two days in a row.  While the intentions may have been well-intentioned, the races do better as stand alone events; having their own weekends of attention in the media.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Great Teaming Debate Comes to an End

So the Great Teaming Debate which plagued the Delvin Miller Memorial has come to an end as the NJRC judges at the Meadowlands found driver Jimmy Takter guilty of interference, not of an unsatisfactory drive in the race where it was alleged he used his horse to benefit an uncoupled stablemate.  As a result, Takter has been given a 3 day driving suspension. for putting a wheel under Designed To Be.

Some people may contend an accommodation was reached to dispatch this incident as quick and painless as possible, and let's face it when it comes to racing, such speculation is virtually guaranteed.  Without proof of such a 'deal' being made, we must assume the judges handled the case properly.  Regardless, expect Takter in the sulky come Hambletonian Day for first, there is a possibility of an appeal which Takter has 48 hours from Friday to lodge which will put the suspension in abeyance.  However, the judges typically set the suspension to be within two weeks of the finding of guilt.  Even if suspended for the Hambletonian weekend and Takter decides not to appeal, expect him in the bike as a suspended driver may drive in paid-in races if he accepts an additional day on his suspension.

If an appeal is made and later upheld, when would the suspension take place?  With the Meadowlands closing next weekend, the next date the suspension could occur would be August 28 when Freehold Raceway resumes racing, but some judges prefer the dates be served at the track where the infraction took place which  means the suspension wouldn't take place until November when the Meadowlands resumes racing.

Update: The suspension is scheduled to begin August 31.

Adios Preview

With Hambletonian week beginning this weekend, the majority of the harness racing world will be looking towards East Rutherford, NJ for the first Hambletonian week at the new facility.  In a way it is a shame as the Adios and Adioo Volo will be contested at the Meadows once again.

In the Adios, on paper it would like an easy race for McWicked, the 7/5 morning line favorite starting from post 2.  Granted on paper McWicked looks to be the best of the field, especially with his ability to uncork fast final quarters, but for me the question is who has a chance to upset the favorite.  With this in mind, here are my top four horses in the race:

12th Race - Adios Final - The Meadows (Saturday)
1 - Cammikey (Zendt, 8-1) - Make no mistake, the horse is stepping up but a winner of 8 out of 10 starts this year, the horse deserves a chance to take top honors in a minor upset.
4 - Beat The Drum (Pierce, 20-1) - Admittedly at first doesn't much help at this level, but he raced well in the NJSS and was credible in his had excuses in the Meadowlands Pace and North America Up.  Can he win?  Not likely, but with a trip, he may land part.
2 - McWicked (D Miller, 7/5) - The king of the race and a victory wouldn't shock anyone.  Will likely leave and try to wire the field.  Question is will he be able to control the pace?
5 - Somewhere in L A (B Miller, 5-1) - Elimination winner is undervalued at 5-1.  Did win his elimination so may improve his rating.  Depends on a trip to get up there.  Must race close.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reporting Lines

Give RUS-Ontario credit for advertising on a low budget as they put out a promotional video showing Norway against Canada in two upcoming RUS (wagering) events.

Of course a more important question is being horses which compete in RUS events will tend to race with a sulky as well, how does one report program lines?   So far, there seems to be two methodologies.

In the United States, the USTA is treating RUS racing as if it was the same as a horse changing gaits (i.e., from trot to pace); it is as if the horse never raced other than at that day's gait.  True, the conditions a horse will race in is determined by their performance at that gait or in the RUS world, racing style.  Of course, the problem is a horse may look like it hadn't raced in six months when it may have raced three days earlier nor is there any indication of class.

In Canada, Standardbred Canada is showing RUS lines interspersed with their regular race lines.  This is more accurate and gives gamblers a more complete picture; just as the DRF will show steeplechase or hunt meet lines along with regular races on the flat.

Were I to have a say, the program pages would show both sulky and RUS starts in the program for each horse.  In addition, depending on the type of race, the record for the past two years would reflect the style of racing in the day's event; a RUS event would show RUS records; a sulky race sulky records.  The lifetime summary would reflect a combination of all starts regardless of style of racing.

Why should the program show both type of lines together?  First of all, it will show a horse has been racing recently instead of looking like it hasn't raced in a while.  The two sets of lines will show the class of horse you are dealing with.  If you were dealing with a maiden event for RUS participants, wouldn't you want to know the horse last raced in A-2 company versus C-2 when using a sulky?  Neither has a record to speak of under saddle so it make sense a higher class horse would have an advantage.  Wouldn't you want to know if the horse raced under saddle in 1:57 versus 2:02?

The bottom line is the horseplayer is entitled to as much information as possible when making their wagers.  As long as the gait is the same, there is no problem with showing races of different styles in the program.

And Now For Something Completely Different

You know I believe racing has to try innovative things and this past weekend, Canterbury Park tried something different.  A twenty horse race spanned over the turf and dirt course.  Twenty horses in one race with 12 starting on the turf and 8 on the main track.  There was a slight difference in distance to accomodate a perceived advantage of turf horses.  Well, here it is.

Certainly not my cup of tea, but give them credit for trying.  No charts are available of this twin race so I can't tell how well received it was.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Early Peek At First Crop Trotting Stallions

Three trotters from the sophomore class of 2010 have come online with their initial crops this year; Muscle Massive is standing at Hanover, Lucky Chucky at Winbak in New York and Holiday Road in Ontario. Pilgrim’s Taj is a fourth, but he only spent one year in Canada, after which he was relocated to Ohio and ultimately exported to Finland. That being the case, we’ll look at the first three. To this point restricted races have provided the only basis for judging them, but the open portion of the season commences this week with elimination rounds for the Peter Haughton and Merrie Annabelle at the Meadowlands as well as several splits of the Arden at The Meadows.

Much of the focus has been on Muscle Massive and Lucky Chucky, beneficiaries of generous state bred programs who finished one-two in the Hambletonion. The former was a $450,000 yearling who was lightly raced at two but managed to win the Hambletonion as well as the Dancer at three, while Chucky was a precocious freshman, showing wins in the Valley Victory, Matron, ISS and Bluegrass. He was the 3/2 favorite in the Hambletonion and appeared on his way to victory when 6/1 Muscle Massive, piloted by Ron Pierce, ruined his day. Regardless, Chucky did win the Canadian Trotting Classic and Colonial at three, and he earned more money than Muscle Massive both years.

Both sold close to seventy yearlings last year, with Chucky’s brood averaging quite a bit more. Both have seen their stud fees fluctuate before their first crops hit the track. Muscle Massive started at $10,000, only to have his fee cut to $7,500 and $6,000 in successive years. Cantab Hall, Donato Hanover, Andover Hall and Explosive Matter all command higher fees than their younger stablemate at Hanover. Chucky, on the other hand, started at $7,500 in New York, was dropped to $5,000 during a year spent in Pennsylvania, and came back up to $7,500 when he returned to Winbak, where nineteen-year-old Muscles Yankee stands for $2,500 more. Muscle Massive has benefited from the success of his older brother, Muscle Mass, sire of O’Brien winner Riveting Rosie and the successful OSS colt Muscle Matters.

Thus far Muscle Massive has given us some outstanding fillies. Gatka Hanover, a big rugged gal out of the Conway Hall mare Girlie Tough, from the Ron Burke barn, has left many wondering where her ceiling is. Gatka rolled through a couple of baby races and has now chalked up three wins in the PA Sire Stakes, one each at The Meadows, Pocono and Harrah’s. Matt Kakaley steered her to an effortless four length win in 1:57 in her latest. She leaves from the five for Matt K in Friday’s first Merrie Annabelle elimination. Gatka takes on Lucky Chucky’s daughter, Lock Down Lindy, who drew plenty of attention with a very strong first over win in a Merrie Annabelle Prep at the Meadowlands Friday for Scott Zeron and Tony Alagna.

Another Muscle Massive star in the making is Jimmy Takter’s Speak To Me, an $80,000 Harness Breeders purchase by Myron Bell. She is also three-for three in the PA Sire Stakes and has trotted in 1:55. Last time out, in a $57,000 sire stakes division at Harrah’s, Speak To Me gapped the field by ten on her way to an easy win at a stingy 1/5 price. Unfortunately this filly was not staked to the Merrie Annabelle and will be missing from the fray on Friday night.

Blessings Counted is another talented filly by Muscle Massive. She was second to Speak To Me in a PASS race at The Meadows a couple of weeks ago and won a $57,000 race at Harrah’s in her latest start. She is not eligible to the Merrie Annabelle but is entered in a split of the Arden at The Meadows on Friday. Missive and Youth Gone Wild, both winners in the Stallion Series, will also race in the Arden. Jersey Strong, a talented filly with a win in the PA All Stars and a second in the PASS, isn’t entered at The Meadowlands or The Meadows on Friday.

The top colt by Muscle Massive is Ake Svanstedt’s Lima Pride, who beat Jimmy Takter’s 1/9 favorite The Bank in a split of the Hickory Pride when The Bank went on a run at the three-quarters. Lima Pride, a $25,000 yearling purchase, was not nominated to the Peter Haughton.

The priciest freshman trotter by any first crop stallion is Mr Lucky Luke, a $450,000 Lucky Chucky half- brother to Muscle Massive, Muscle Mass and 2010 Merrie Annabelle winner, Thatsnotmyname. The Cancelliere brothers, of Detour Hanover fame, purchased him at Lexington in the fall. He has yet to make a pari-mutuel start; let’s hope he generates a better ROI than Detour has.

As for the Lucky Chucky colts and fillies that have raced, there is no eye popping Gatka Hanover out there, but there are plenty of good ones. I already mentioned Merrie Annabelle candidate Lock Down Lindy, who possesses the same rugged demeanor as Gatka. She is a half-sister to 2006 HOY in Canada, Majestic Son. He has sired Harper Blue Chip, Murmur Hanover and Charmed Life.

Ray Schnittker has Gabe The Bear Dean, a $105,000 Harness Breeders buy, who has an impressive wire-to wire five length win in the NYSS at Buffalo.

Jonas Czernyson has a few Lucky Chucky youngsters in his barn and he’s high on all of them. At the end of June Hot Start, a half-sister to Religulous, won a $27,000 NYSS split at Vernon Downs for Corey Callahan. Next time out, at Tioga, she cut most of the mile from the outside post only to lose to paternal sister My Twisted Sister, from the Paul Kelley barn. Hot Start is entered in the second Merrie Annabelle elimination on Friday.

Nunkeri is another very promising Lucky Chucky filly from the Czernyson barn. She finished second to the Muscle Hill filly Josie’s Joy at the Meadowlands the other night, race timed in 1:57.2 as the second choice. Nunkeri won her start previous to that one, a $28,000 NYSS division at Tioga. George Ducharme’s sharp looking Conway Hall filly, Concentration, pressured her all the way home in a 1:59.3 mile.

On the male side Mal and Janet Burroughs’ Mambo Blue Chip, a $40,000 Harness Breeders buy, won a $28,000 split of the NYSS in 1:57.2 at Tioga last time out.

Holiday Road, a $115,000 yearling who is a full brother to Ken Warkentin, was lightly raced, making only ten lifetime stars. While staying on the track was an issue, speed wasn’t; he won the Peter Haughton at two and a split of the Dancer at three. He opened his stallion career for $4,500 at Seelster Farms and now stands for $3,500.

This week the Holiday Roads started to turn heads and earn respect at Mohawk as they performed admirably on the various OSS platforms. John Bax’s Hemi Seelster was long and tough winning a Grassroots division in 1:58.4 at 2/1. It was noteworthy that the gelding engaged in a head to head battle the length of the stretch with Pilgrim’s Joy, a son of first crop stallion Pilgrim’s Taj.

Tony Alagna’s filly Gee O’Keeffe logged a very strong second in a $53,000 OSS Gold leg at Mohawk for Jody Jamieson, losing a length to the highly regarded Kadabra filly Juanita’s Fury. And Keith Jones’ gelding, It’s Huw You Know, was an upset Grassroots winner in 2:00.3 on Monday at 75/1, paying $159.60. And Ontheroad De Vie made a very impressive brush on the back as he came from the 10 post to finish second for Rick Zeron in a Grassroots leg. The Holiday Roads are looking good.

Rock N Roll Heaven and Sportswriter are lighting it up in the freshman pacing division, but it’s expected that the trotters will take a little longer to get their bearings and hit their stride. Muscle Massive, Lucky Chucky and Holiday Road will all be prospering when they do.

Joe FitzGerald

You Got to be in it to Win it

The Hambletonian Oaks drew eleven entries this year, meaning there will be no eliminations; all eleven horses will meet the starter next Saturday.  With the dominance of the Takter trio, there is talk not enough horses will enter the Hambletonian next week, meaning the Hambletonian could be a one race dash for the cash.  Some will attribute the lack of entries on the dominance of Takter's stable but there was a time when owners practically died to have a horse to enter in the Hambletonian, if nothing else to be part of the experience.  If there was even a chance of picking up a check, they showed up in the entry box.  I suspect if we don't have eliminations, it is more likely due to the feeling you can't beat the big boys.

Granted, the Takter trio of Father Patrick, Nunzio, and Trixton looks very tough with Father Patrick being the pre-race favorite but there have been upsets in the past, perhaps the most famous was in an elimination when Delvin G Hanover lit up the tote board at $126 for the win in the 1984 classic.  Let's not forget Shiaway St Pat, the Michigan bred gelding who had his moment in the rain-soaked 1981 Hambletonian; the debut of the classic at the Meadowlands.  The point is if you go to the gate you have a shot; staying in the stall doesn't.

Ironically, the biggest threat to the Takter trio may be the fact they will scare away competition, but not enough.  If 11 to 14 horses drop in the box, the second tier comes into play and with no choosing of post positions, the possibility of drawing into the second tier could be a nightmare to whomever gets the backseat. .

Meanwhile, in the John Cashman Jr., Intimidate, the Maple Leaf  Trot winner is racing in the first elimination while Sebastian K will be racing in the second elimination.  If both advance to the final, we may be seeing a rematch of the Maple Leaf Trot combatants on the first Saturday in August.

This Friday, Cat Manzi is being honored at the Meadowlands.  Granted, it has been a while since  Manzi was a factor at the East Rutherford oval, but in the Meadowlands prime, Manzi was one of the prominent drivers there and afterwards he was the successor to Herve Filion at Freehold.  Here's hoping he gets a proper send-off.

A theme of late is the question of stables starting multiple horses in a single race so you can imagine a chuckle I got when I see the thoroughbreds are having a problem in Mauritius.  It would appear they are having lots of problems regarding integrity there.  What had me chuckling was an edict from the Prime Minister, including this gem:

Any stable will now no more be allowed to have more than two horses lined up together for one race.

One could imagine why this decision was made.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When is Someone Going to Step Up and Do Something?

Friday night's second race is the elimination for the Peter Haughton Memorial and a field of ten trotters will be going to post.  Three byes were handed out meaning seven of the ten contesting the tilt will advance.  Okay, you may not like byes, but it sure beats six and seven horse fields which make elimination races unattractive to gamblers.

Of course, this ten horse field will be pretty unattractive wagering-wise.  For while ten horses are scheduled to contest the race, there will be only five betting interests as Jimmy Takter and Brittany Fams sends four horses coupled into the race while Ake Svandstedt and Courant AB sends out a three horse entry, meaning only three horses will race solo.

Yes, the fact owners are forming partnerships to manage risk has reduced the number of separate ownership units and fewer trainers get quality horses, resulting in these mega-entries.  As a result, these eliminations have become problematic.  While people are aware of the problems these entries cause wagering-wise, no one seems to want to take the initiative to do anything about it.

First let me address the issues of byes.  While it would be best if every horse entered to race in a contest  went the elimination route and not get a free pass, I understand the logic; to avoid having six and seven horse fields competing (though having the three highest earning 2yos in July is kind of ridiculous).  Being the industry has such an aversion with a second tier, if only 13 horses enter and betting will take place, they the bye process makes sense.  Not that the bye process is without risk.  A horse who wins their elimination typically gets to pick their post in the final.  Availing yourself of a bye opens you up to the open draw meaning you may be starting from the dreaded 10 hole.

With eliminations, assuming the state allows it, you may have all the horses race uncoupled but that leave us open to the possibility of an assist being given to a stable/entrymate.  Does the industry really want to endorse a method which may present an invitation to suspicion?

Perhaps the best way to handle this situation would be to card these eliminations as non-wagering events to be presented during the evening race card.would be the best way to go.  No need for byes; the 13 horses would race in two elimination races presented between the regular races.  Everyone starts, no one gets a bye.  These races would go during  the regular wagering card and those astute gamblers will watch these as any other race while those less interested will look ahead to the next wagering race.  Yes, purse money would be spent on these non-wagering events, but don't tracks already put those races they find 'below standards' on their non-wagering card?  This assumes the racetrack may replace the elimination with another race, something which may be hard to do at those tracks lower on the feeding chain.

Someone needs to take this issue and own it.  This person needs to organize a meeting with race secretaries and come up with a standard which best serves the interest of racetracks, horsemen, and gamblers alike.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Morning Briefs - Starting to Wrap Things Up

Not to take anything away from Intimidate's victory in the MLT this past Saturday, but European sources suggest if Sebastian K does have an Achilles heel, it his ability to navigate the off going such as the one a experienced Saturday evening.  That being said, Intimidate had to negotiate the same surface but I expect a return to his dominating ways coming his next start, assuming a dry surface.

It will be interesting to see how the voting in this week's Hambletonian/Breeders Crown Standardbred Poll to see how many defections there will be from Sebastian K.  Last week, Sebastian K had all 35 first place votes, I expect to see a few of those votes to peel away, but he should easily remain number one.

Hard to believe but there are only four more days of racing remaining in the 2014 Championship Meet at the Meadowlands with the Hambletonian only two weeks away.  This weekend is elimination weekend with elims for the Merrie Annabelle and Peter Haughton Memorial on Friday evening while Saturday brings us the Hambletonian Oaks, US Pacing Championship, Lady Liberty and John Cashman Jr. Memorial eliminations to the docket.

I don't know if you were watching the non-wagering events this past Saturday at the Meadowlands where the first legs of the Hambletonian RUS Late Closing event took place.  With eleven horses entered, there were two divisions and if one thing can be said, the racing is much improved over the previous year as the fields were more competitive, not being spread out as much in the past.  Just watching the starts show you how much improved the product is.  Last year the riders were all over the track on the approach to the start; this year they were lined up on the gate.

The first division was won by Flowing James who was trained and ridden to victory in 2:00 flat by Tara Hynes.

The second division was won by Take My Picture who was trained by Nikolas Drennan and ridden by Therese Lindgren in a sparkling 1:58.1.

The second leg of the series is the Friday evening with the final being contested on August 1, the night before the Hambletonian.  With the product continuing to improve, fans should not be hesitating to wager on these races.

Famed thoroughbred announcer Larry Collmus was visiting at the Meadowlands this past Friday and called a race on the card.  It goes to show a great announcer can call any type of race; he sounded like he has been calling standardbred races for quite a while.

If you have been missing your Monticello Raceway simulcasting, and yes there are those that do, rejoice, for the signal is back on as the horsemen and track have apparently reached an agreement.  Both sides are not talking about it until the 'I's are dotted and the 'T's are crossed, but it is a foregone conclusion the deal will be done.  With 10 of 13 races today restricted to NY-sired horses, I'll pass until there are more overnights available.  I know the horsemen love being able to ship all their horses within a division who are participating in the three levels of sires stakes events, but this fan doesn't like it.  Too many of these races are simply not attractive wagering propositions.

Enjoy your Monday and have a great week.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Yes, THAT famous coupled entry ...

by Peter Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor

Courtesy of FB friend William K., here are (much of) the two on-track
program pages from the 1985 Meadowlands Pace.

People still talk about this five-way coupled entry - Nihilator, Handsome Sum, Chairmanoftheboard, Pershing Square and Primus - to this day. Nihilator won, of course, though I don't remember right now what the remaining order of finish was.

He probably paid about $2.20 straight, as the strongest part of the entry, and while Nihilator wasn't beaten by any of his coupled mates in here on this night, it conceivably could've happened. They were all "graded" stakes-winners, and wacky things do sometimes occur in horse racing.

Cut to today, and the simmering controversy about coupled - and uncoupled - entries, courtesy of Jimmy Takter's driving tactics in last Saturday's Del Miller Memorial 3YO filly trot. [Ed - This column was written before Jimmy Takter went public and recognized how things looked to the bettor and is considering to no longer drive long shot stablemates.]

We're all familiar with statements on the program pages saying "XYZ Hanover and LMN Yankee race uncoupled, per state racing commission approval," where there are obvious, or not so obvious, overlaps in trainer and/or ownership.

Track managements everywhere seem to dislike coupled entries, apparently preferring as many betting interests in all races as possible - conventional wisdom says more separate numbers on the tote board, more money is bet - and racing commissions seem to always give in.

Do they ever deny such requests?

Would the Big Five from the '85 Meadowlands Pace race as separate interests these days? I suspect they would. What if, under those circumstances, Pershing Square, for instance, had nosed Nihilator out at the wire - it could have happened - and paid $27.00 to win? Would garbage cans on the track apron have been set on fire by disgruntled bettors who'd backed Nihilator?

Interestingly, two other famous Bill Haughton trainees from another era - favored Armbro Omaha and 6-to-1 (or so) Handle With Care - faced off in a Hollywood Park FFA pace one night around 1975. Handle With Care won the race. But I don't think it resulted in any fires, looting or mayhem. It was just one of those wacky things.

I guess coupled entries are meant to protect the betting public. I don't think most trainers or owners care much, one way or the other, if their horses are coupled with others or not.

I also guess stablemates, coupled or not, have been helping each other on the racetrack since horse racing began ... be they Bill Haughton-trained, Lou Guida-owned (or the modern equivalent, Ron Burke-trained, Weaver-Bruscemi-owned, or what not).

Geez Louise, in big thoroughbred races, they sometimes come right out and tell everyone that some no-chance nobody horse is in there to be the "rabbit" for a more famous stablemate, and no one seems to think anything of it.

I really don't know what to think anymore.

The above column is the last column which will discuss the events which may or may not have occurred in the Dancer (unless a ruling comes out worth discussing) and represents the opinion of Pete Lawrence and does not necessarily represent the opinions of VFTRG or its other contributors.  I felt the column was worth publishing because the decision to uncouple entries in the best of circumstances is a double-edged sword.  Couple them and you have fewer betting interests.  Don't couple them and (forget what may have happened in the Stanley Dancer Memorial) what do people think when a 16-1 stablemate comes in and the 3-5 shot runs out of the money for no apparent reason?  I can tell you first hand, they are not happy. 

A Very Brief Recap

Due to circumstances beyond my control, my blog posting will be very brief today......

Sebastian K is Mortal - Yes, Sebastian K is mortal after all in finishing second in the 2014 Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk.  Who knows if it was due to the off-track or just a tad off his usual self, what we learn is horses are not machines and they can be beat if the right circumstances arise.  If you haven't seen the race, here it is

Farewell to Modern Family - My sympathies to the Modern Family team and their connections on the loss of their horse.  As you know Modern Family passed in the race paddock immediately after the MLT.  No reason as of now has been given.  It is a tough game racing as the horses are living, breathing animals.  Just as we occasionally hear about the healthy human athlete who drops dead suddenly, our equine athletes are no different.  The Gods of Racing can be smiling at you or they can be cruel and crush you.  Hopefully as time goes on, the memories will become sweet.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rest in Peace, Skip Lewis ...

by Peter Lawrence, Contributor VFTRG
From Facebook friend Ronnie Gurfein comes news that trainer Samuel "Skip" Lewis has passed away. Not much other detail at this point. It occurred in Florida where Skip moved to. A specialist in New York Sire Stake and Grand Circuit colts and fillies, Skip will probably be best remembered for winning the 1984 Hambletonian with trotter Historic Freight [Editor - Video of Historic Freight winning Hambletonian Final may be found here]
Historic Freight driven by Ben Webster, Trained by Skip Lewis (Hambletonian Society Photo)

He also won big races with 1981's champion 3YO pacing colt, Seahawk Hanover [Ed.- A video of Seahawk Hanover's victory in the Messenger Final and an interview with Skip Lewis may be found here], and, in addition, he trained Chairmanoftheboard, one of the colts that was part of the famous Guida/Nihilator five-way entry in 1985's Meadowlands Pace. Skip seemed old school, in a good way, and he looked more like a teacher, or a business guy, to me. You'd usually find him wearing a button-down shirt, with a pen or two in the pocket, and he also wore big eyeglasses. He seemed a bit superstitious, and was funny about he or his horses being photographed before big races. Frankly, he wouldn't allow it. I seem to remember that his horses were stabled right by the Historic Track homestretch, near the grandstand, during Grand Circuit week in Goshen, N.Y., and I also used to visit him at the former Ben White Raceway in Orlando. The barns at Ben White were a funky collection of all shapes and sizes, built during different eras, and Skip's was an "inside-stall" building with high ceilings. But wherever he was stabled, you'd see the neat rows of his yellow and brown trunks and stall plaques. Oh well, yet another link to harness racing's golden era has passed away. Goodbye, Skip.

Friday, July 18, 2014

House Rules

The controversy regarding Jimmy Takter's drive in last Saturday's Del Miller stake should be resolved this evening when Takter meets with the judges at the Meadowlands.  My expectation is he will be cleared from all charges at that time regarding the race.

While I am a firm believer of if you move to the outside you go on, what Takter did wasn't improper.  Part of the issue is the track rule which says you keep holes closed and don't open a spot for someone to tuck in..  That rule, may have contributed to what happened is a good rule, but note it was adopted at the start of the race meet.  Now, Jeff Gural is talking about possibly adopting a rule which would ban drivers from a race if they own a share of more than one horse in the race.

From the point of public perception, this proposal makes good sense and quite honestly, I can see why it may be adopted; before the next meet, not mid-meet.  If the NJRC feels the rules need to be changed, let them change the rule through the normal rule-making process.  If the Meadowlands (Gural) feels a new house rule needs to be adopted, all the power to them but it should be done after careful deliberation, not a snap decision made as a result of an outcry from social media or possibly one or two heavy hitters upset because they lost a bet.

I understand the Meadowlands and other non-slot tracks are highly dependent on handle which is driven by the perceived sense of integrity.  Social media is great in it gives everyone a voice.  However, as persuasive as social media can be it doesn't mean it is correct.  This is why house rules should be thought out before implementing, not based pon a particular whim of a certain group.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A View In Favor of Jimmy Takter

As you may recall, I mentioned some individuals think Jimmy Takter is being unfairly blamed for his drive in the Dancer Memorial this past Saturday.

Here is a view from a racing insider which I want to share.  mind you,  this is their opinion, not mine.

I have watched the race a few times now. If a track has a no holes policy, which the Meadowlands does at Gural’s request, what was wrong with the race?

First, you have a breaking horse inside that causes some confusion. Brian could have let Jimmy in but he quickly shut that hole off. But Brian could have easily stayed outside, which his pretty much what every driver in the Meadowlands Pace did.

Takter is driving a 102-1 shot, so what he is now supposed to do? Burn up his horse trying for the lead? I don’t think so. The only thing he could possibly do is to rate the horse on the outside in the best spot he could, and that’s what he did. Even if he moved up forward, Yannick is right behind and Brian doesn’t get out anyway.

This is much ado about nothing and I hope there are no sanctions.

If you remember, the New Jersey Commission tried to invoke that rule where a trainer can’t drive in a race where he has another horse, and Smedshammer and Schnittker, who were the ones involved, went nuts and the commission backed off. Pennsylvania had that rule at one time and it has since been rescinded, from what I’ve learned.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An Early Look At The Two-Year-Olds

At this point many two-year-olds have a couple of starts in them, so it’s time to marry personal observations with wild speculation and project which ones will be stepping up to win the Cup, Jug and Hambletonion next year. This is by no means a definitive list of the best of the best; as a matter of fact I’m going out of my way to include some by off-brand stallions. That being said, here are a few early standouts.

Artspeak is a Western ideal colt out of the Artsplace mare, The Art Museum. The Western Ideals have fallen on hard times at the sales of late, relatively speaking, but Brittany threw $100,000 at this guy, which matched the top price for any of his paternal brothers in North America. He has won both of his NJSS starts for Scott Zeron and trainer Tony Alagna, in dominant fashion. On Pace Day he came first over to win in 1:52.3 at odds of 3/5 at the Meadowlands. Western Ideal has given us the outstanding performers and game changing sires Rocknroll Hanover and American Ideal, as well as Always A Virgin and Big Jim. His 2013 crop moves on to the slugfest that is the PASS next year.

Stacia Hanover, the winner of the $100,000 NJSS final for freshman pacing fillies, is also by Western Ideal. The $35,000 Harness Breeders purchase is trained by veteran Steve Elliott and, like Artspeak, driven by Scott Zeron. She has two other wins in the restricted class, aside from the high-dollar final which she won in 1:53.4 at odds of 3/5.

Yankee Bounty is a two-year-old gelding by the enigmatic Artiscape stallion, Yankee Cruiser. His dam is the Allamerican Native mare Yankee Bootleg. This isn’t a combination that screams early speed. Yes, Yankee Cruiser did give is the current king of the pacing ranks, Sweet Lou, who held world records at two and three, as well as the rejuvenated speed demon Dancin Yankee, but for the most part this stallion was up against it in Pennsylvania. Yankee Bounty, a $21,000 Harness Breeders purchase, has won both of his starts in impressive fashion. He won splits of the Pennsylvania All Stars and the Albatross for Corey Callahan and trainer Kevin Lane. Yankee Cruiser stands his first year in Ohio in 2014.

Bob Ben And John is one of the wave of impressive colts from the first crop of 2009 two-year-old division champ Sportswriter. Casie Coleman, who trained the son of Artsplace, and has been the leading cheerleader for his initial offering, plucked him from the Lexington sale for a modest $17,000. His dam is the Cambest mare, My Best Girl. This colt made his first pari-mutuel start last week in a $70,000 OSS-Gold leg at Mohawk. He was an easy winner by three in 1:53 at odds of 2/1 for Chris Christoforou. Sportswriter is absolutely killing it in the freshman pacing division of the Ontario Sire Stakes; he’s taking all the air; none of the others are on the same planet. SBSW shook the Pennsylvania program to its foundation with his first crop, but what’s happening with Sportswriter in his restricted program may be more dramatic. Shadow Play impressed us last year with his first crop, but he hasn’t gone on to be a factor in the open realm with his sophomores. We’ll wait and see if Sporty, a key player from the stressed Adios line, makes his presence felt outside of Ontario.

Sassa Hanover is a filly from the first crop of Rock N Roll Heaven. Ron Burke bought her at Lexington for $50,000. Sassa’s dam, Sayo Hanover, is half to the very fast Shadyshark Hanover. Jim Morrill drover her to an easy two length win in a NYSS race at Monticello on the July 4. She won in 1:56.3 with plenty to spare. And two of her paternal sisters—She’s Heavenly and Band Of Angels—also won top dollar splits of the sire stakes that day. Heaven was held in high esteem at the sales, and thus far he is fulfilling his promise.  

Dragon Eddy is a two-year-old gelding—aren’t they all—by Dragon Again, a stallion known more for throwing rugged long lasting types like Foiled Again, Atochia and Aracache Hanover than he is as a sire of early speed. My Little Dragon won her division at two, but she was an exception. Well, Eddy is something of an outlier himself. He brought $42,000 at Lexington, which is on the pricey side for Dragon Again, who now stands in Ohio. John Buttenschoen trains and Mike Simons drives. At the end of June Eddy won a split of the Pennsylvania All Starts in 1:54.3 at Pocono, and he went on to win a division of the Albatross in an eye opening 1:52.4 at odds of 2/5 at the Meadows on July 8.

Mission Brief is a brown Muscle Hill filly who opened a lot of eyes when she took her $100,000 final of the NJSS by 13 lengths in 1:53.3 for Yanick Gingras and Ron Burke. This was an improvement on her previous start, where she only won by ten. Her dam Southwind Serena is by the great trotter Varenne. Mission Brief was a $150,000 Lexington purchase. Look out!

The Bank is a Donato Hanover colt out of 2008 three-year-old division winner, Lantern Kronos. He won a split of the Pennsylvania All Stars for Jimmy Takter on July 4th and broke stride while leading on the last turn as the 1/9 favorite in a division of the Hickory Pride at The Meadows this week. Again, Takter drove.

Uncle Lasse, a full brother to Shake It Cerry and Solvato, is another very promising Donato colt in the Takter Barn. He also won on July 4. Yesterday he was beaten in a quick 1:56.3 split of the Hickory Pride by the Cantab Hall colt Billy Flynn, driven to perfection by Brett Miller. Possess The Will and Your So Vain notwithstanding, Donato has pretty much been all filly no colt to this point. If this pair is turned over to Gingras or Pierce they could change that in a hurry.

Honor And Serve, a Donato colt out of 2008 freshman division winner and world record holder Honorable Daughter, is another who might turn the tide. He just took a split of the Hickory Pride for Dave Palone and Jim Campbell.

Royal Deceptor is one of numerous offspring of the New York stallion RC Royalty that sold at the Morrisville sale. The success of last year’s Hambletonion winner, Royalty For Life, inspired many to look favorably upon the eleven-year-old siring son of Credit Winner. Cheryl and Michael McGivern took this brown colt home for $11,000. Royal Deceptor won all three of his qualifiers, then went out and won a split of the NYSS in a track record 1:59.3 at Buffalo Raceway for Michael McGivern.

Gatka is a big, rugged filly from the first crop of seven-year-old Hambletonion winner Muscle Massive, whose big brother Muscle Mass met with success in Ontario and has since been relocated to New York. Gatka is a sister to Ake Svanstedt’s Muscle Hill filly Heaven’s Door, who won the $100,000 NJSS sophomore final and finished second behind Shake It Cerry in the Del Miller. She won a division of the PA All Stars at The Meadows in 1:56 at 2/5 and last week she took a split of the Meadow Gladys with ease in 1:57.1 at 1/5. 

Billy Flynn, a $120,000 Lexington purchase by Steffan Lind, is by Cantab Hall, arguably the best trotting stallion in North America. Another brown colt—there seems to be a run on them—he is out of the Enjoy Lavec mare Zeta Jones and was bred by Brittany farms. Billy took a split of the PA All Stars by six lengths in 1:57.2 at Pocono earlier this month and he beat the highly regarded Centurion ATM and Uncle Lasse in a division of the Hickory Pride. Brett Miller drives.

Wild Honey is proving to be a $35,000 bargain for Jimmy Takter. The daughter of Cantab Hall was a close second to Gatka Hanover in that one’s first start and, like Gatka, won a split of the Meadow Gladys at The Meadows, for Yanick Gingras.

Joe FitzGerald


Here We Go Again....

Just when we accept the fact horses will be uncoupled in stakes races, and in some states, overnights, what happens?

There are allegations that trainer/driver Jimmy Takter raced his 102-1 shot on the outside to cause his version of Chris Christie's re-election campaign's traffic jam on the GWB, except his was in the running of the Del Miller Memorial Trot at the Meadowlands.  For his efforts, it appears Takter will be meeting with the judges at the Meadowlands on Friday.  While many are ready to convict Takter of deliberately attempting to mess the race up for others,  it should be said there are those who feel  Takter did nothing wrong.  I will leave it to the judges to decide.

Assuming a penalty of any severity is handed down, those wishing for severe judgement should relax.  If the judges hit Takter with a penalty of any signifigance, it will likely be appealed and dragged out until after the last major stakes race of the year when Takter will change his mind and accept the penalty and enjoy his winter in Florida while suspended.

This means it may be up to Jeff Gural to take care of discipline in a way he can.  He has already indicated consideration of a new house rule which will forbid anyone who has an ownership interest in any other horse in a race from participating.  It is a good start though as some have suggested, what is to keep him from instructing another driver to do the dirty deed for him?  While not perfect, I suggest the Gural approach may be the best way to solve the problem.  This way there are more bettering interests, something which will be more important as the number of horses available for racing will continue to decline.

So the debate continues, "To couple or not couple?", that is the question.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

History is Made

One day, the name Radical Dreamer will be an answer to the trivia question "Name the horse which won the first parimutuel RUS event in North America"?  If you really want to impress your friends, you will add the fact Radical Dreamer won in 2:04.4 at Clinton Raceway and the winning rider was Sarah E. Town.

Yes, the first parimutuel RUS event is in the books and Radical Dreamer won gate to wire, but barely, withstanding a last minute charge by Dayplanner to win by a fast fading nose.

If you watched the whole video, you saw the win pool was $492 and you are probably thinking people want nothing to do with RUS.  Well, while the amount wagered is low for most tracks, truth is it was the largest win pool on the day's card.  The total handle on the race was $1,505.  Again, not much but if you disregard trifecta pools (the race only had five starters so there was no trifecta wagering), the race had one of the highest handles, if not the highest for the day.

Of course the question is did people bet due to the 'newness' of RUS, or is it the fans were truly taken with the new style of standardbred racing?  In  reality, we won't know off this initial race.  We will need to see how these races are received at the windows throughout the season as the RUS tour travels through Ontario to get an idea.  Still, organizers must be pleased with the results of the first day.

Yes, I know last night was Meadowlands Pace night.  Due to circumstances out of my control, I was unable to attend or watch the races live.  Rather than watch the races after the fact when knowing the winners ahead of time would bias my viewing of the races, I will let others comment on the races.  One blog you will want to visit is PTP's as he offers his take on the evening.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sebastian K Trains; Another One Bites the Dust

Another race, another victory for Sebastian K in his elimination of the Maple Leaf Trot, winning in a 1:52.2 training mile.  Archangel did come to him at the three-quarters but then he pulled away to win by four lengths.

Next week's final promises to be a little more challenging and while we expect him to go a perfect 6-6 in North America next week, it should be a more exciting race with a possible assault at the all-time trotting record he set last week at Pocono Downs.

Another casino in Atlantic City bites the dust as news comes out that Trump Plaza will be closing September 16, making it the fourth casino to close this year (assuming the Revel doesn't get a buyer at an auction in bankruptcy court in early August).  This will be another step in right-sizing Atlantic City to face the reality of the commoditization of gaming.

No doubt there will be those who will argue it shows Atlantic City will be unable to withstand the opening of casinos in Northern New Jersey.  Hogwash.  The fact is with fewer casinos, the money flowing into Atlantic City casinos will be divvied up between fewer casinos making the survivors stronger.  True, not like the days when one opened a casino and they basically got to print their own money, but stronger to survive the opening of casino(s) in Northern New Jersey, especially since they will get subsidized by the North Jersey operations.

While I still think a casino will end up at the Meadowlands, the talk about a possible casino in Jersey City is somewhat unsettling to me.  Of course a casino in Jersey City would likely make a Meadowlands casino less profitable (how couldn't it?), but that is not my concern.  My fear is of certain politicians throwing the Meadowlands under the bus in order to please politicos from the big cities in the North such as Jersey City and Newark.

Remember the rodeo race at the Meadowlands back on June 14?  It is now reported that driver Joe Bongiorno was given a $500 fine and a five day driving suspension for his part in the race.

Lord knows I am a supporter of RUS racing, but there is a need to make it harder to get a license to ride.  Right now it is pass a written test and one successful qualifying race and your in.  Unfortunately, things happen in RUS races like regular races and you are not going to encounter all these mishaps in one race.  I realize it is still an exhibition sport in the United States, but you need to show you can handle these horses in these situations before you get your license, otherwise someone is going to find themselves seriously hurt or worse.  It's not a question of protecting the public, it's a matter of protecting the other riders in the race.

A sad mystery has developed at the Mecosta County Fair in Big Rapids, Michigan as for two nights in a row, a standardbred collapsed and died after their race.  State investigators have pulled blood in an attempt to determine a cause.  Being standardbreds are so hardy, an investigation is certainly mandated.  Perhaps it is a coincidence, but this is a case due diligence is required.

Remember, Meadowlands Pace night starts at 6:30 in an effort to avoid the concert going crowd which will be heading to the stadium.  The Pace is tentatively scheduled for 9:39.  If you can't make it, TVG is carrying the entire card.  In addition, there will be a one hour show on CBS Sportsnet between 9-10pm tonight.  For what it is worth, my analysis is available here while the HANA Harness handicappers make their selections for the handicapping contest..

Friday, July 11, 2014

Another Person's Thoughts on RUS and Large Fields

The following column was originally appeared on the DRF website Wednesday, July 9, 2014.  Permission for reprinting the column here comes from both Bob Marks and DRF Harness.

Derick Giwner
The Meadowlands hosts a race for under saddle trotters on Friday, August 1.
Of late there has been an increasing phenomenon known as RUS (Racing Under Saddle) in which standardbreds—strictly trotters thus far—are raced with jockeys under saddle as opposed to the conventional style with sulkies and drivers.  While this is kind of new in North America, it has been practiced in Europe for quite some time under the heading of Monte Racing.
Actually, some major European superstars like Ourasi, Revenue, and Bellino II have won Monte-style events. One horse in particular—Jag de Bellouet—won not only the Prix de Cornulier, considered the premier Monte event in Europe, but also the coveted Prix D Amerique (2005) in conventional style with a driver and sulky.
Among the better Monte horses in Norway these days is an American bred Angus Hall trotter named Bullchip. He recently won the Biri All Around, a two-heat affair in which he was under saddle one heat and pulled a sulky the second heat. Here the rules stipulated that the same person performed as rider and driver for Bullchip.
Already in North America there is a series of exhibitions for RUS horses at various tracks which will culminate in the $25,000 RUS final on August 1.  Last year, long time harness trainer-driver Ray Schnittker won that $32,800 event aboard his own Flex The Muscle.
Derick Giwner   Ray Schnittker aboard Flex The Muscle.
Sooner or later somebody will get the idea to put these racing under saddle exhibitions on the betting programs at the various racetracks. Actually it has been approved in Canada.  They key factor here is when this actually occurs it should present some unique handicapping challenges, especially in terms of trip handicapping.
As we all know, a huge differential between conventional harness handicapping and thoroughbred handicapping is the impact of cover.  This has been known to throw thoroughbred players out of whack since the uncovered and covered harness horse are essentially going the same distance of ground while one is getting a good second-over trip and the other is laboring first-over.
Now this applies to conventional harness racing in which the horses are pulling sulkies and drivers in which the wind and/or lack of it can play a major role in determining who has the most energy for the stretch drive.
In thoroughbred racing, cover plays a much more minor role. It’s the covering of additional ground by being wide on turns and speed bias that gets primarily factored into the equation.
Now here we’re heading into unchartered waters.  It remains to be seen if harness horses (trotters) being ridden will act more like their thoroughbred counterparts under saddle or will still require that comfortable cover when moving up on the outside as they would when pulling sulkies.
I personally have not seen enough of these RUS events to formulate a conclusion but my inclination is that trotters under saddle will act more like thoroughbreds under saddle in terms of not overly benefitting from being “covered”.
Then of course will be the question of jockey weights, for in adherence to our thoroughbred cousins, it is well known that weight will indeed stop a freight train. At present there are 60 licensed RUS riders on these shores.  Undoubtedly the weights will be listed should an RUS event be on the betting program.
 I can remember the likes of Kelso and Forego toting 136 or more pounds in handicap events often spotting 15 or even 20 pounds to less accomplished rivals.
Therefore, one has to wonder what the eventual significance of rider weight will turn out to be.
We’ll leave the actual handicapping nuances that racing under saddle will present to esteemed DRF colleagues Derick Giwiner,  Bob Pandolfo and Jay Bergman, though I’d imagine when these RUS events are programmed alongside of conventional races, the probabilities will be fascinating.

Good of the whole

It’s long been debated whether individual dictates are more important than what appears to be those of an entire group. 
From what we hear, the participants in that 14-horse mile and one eighth Hambletonian Maturity were not overly thrilled with the pure bulkiness of the field.
However, it does appear that the event was very well received by the constituents or spectators as the race produced a huge betting handle—far more than is customary for that number race on a Saturday night.
All of a sudden thoughts about what’s good for the whole supersede what may be good for the individual when one considers how major sports are actually contested.
To a man, one would imagine that no professional football player prefers to play in Green Bay on a January evening when obviously conditions might be more palatable at one in the afternoon. At that time there’s a chance the sun could temper the cold to some degree.
However, television dictates that these things occur in prime time when the viewership is at its optimum so for the good of the whole that’s what happens.
It’s the same in every sport where spectator accommodation takes precedence over participant preferences.
Consequently if fuller fields and added distance prove more appealing to the betting public then it would appear that for the good of the whole, that’s what needs to occur.