For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sweet Lou Stumbles, Sebastian K Continues On

In this week's Top 10 Poll, a little more daylight should open up between Sebastian K and Sweet Lou as Lou stumbled in last night's Canadian Pacing Derby, defeated by Modern Legend who tied  the stake and Canadian record of 1:47.2

For the record, Sweet Lou, one of four entries from the Ron Burke Stable was not exactly helped by his stablemates as Sweet Lou got to the three-quarters in 1:20.1 which allowed for the field to come flying late, passing the leader by.  Modern Legend was the beneficiary of a good trip and managed to score the 60-1 upset, defeating the ageless wonder Foiled Again by three lengths.

There is a good chance we will be seeing Sweet Lou in the winner's circle again, but a loss in a high profile stake will cost him votes when this week's poll comes out.  It is just a question of how many.

Meanwhile, on Friday night at Vernon Downs, Sebastian K scored another convincing, albeit  workman-like victory in the Crawford Farms in a pedestrian 1:53 mile (ties the track record for aged trotting horses).  What is amazing about Sebastian is the way he fires out once the gate opens.  I don't recall seeing a horse shoot out like he does, as if a bullet shot out of gun.  At the top of the stretch, Market Share closed in and for a moment you may have thought Sebastian K may suffer a defeat but the Swedish wonder kicked into another gear to separate himself from the field with little if any urging.

Sebastian K is a beast, clearly the best aged trotter I have ever seen.  What is really scary is while he was always a top-tier horse in Europe, he was beatable.  Could you imagine what would happen if more European aged trotters came over to North America to race regularly?  There would be some unhappy owners of North American trotters.  Barring an off-track, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sebastian K running the table the rest of the year.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Blaming the Right People - Wednesday Briefs

I've been involved in a discussion with individuals who were talking about horse racing 's failure to detect doping cheats, many clearly throwing the gauntlet of responsibility to racing itself.  I need to disagree.  As I said in response to their comments the following.

I think in some way blame is being assigned to the wrong individuals.  The industry is constantly being blamed for the cheating but the problem people tend to forget is the detection of said doping is up to the regulators AKA state government agencies (i.e., the State Racing Commission); the same people who have their budgets cut, operating on a shoestring,   In other cases, these are people who are political appointees who don’t want rock the boat. 

Maybe it is because racing is marginally making a contribution to the states’ revenue stream or is actually a net loser for the state other than it supports the state’s agricultural business.  The drive to improve doping detection is just not there.  If the regulators lack the will to invest in better or new methodologies to identify doping such as biological passports, the best plan in the world will go nowhere..  Rest assured if racing was contributing a significant amount directly to state budgets, the racing commissions would be partners in developing the best testing procedures possible..

Hence, if there is any hope of improving blood doping testing, It lies with Federal oversight through the USADA.

I often thought the casino industry shouldn't be able to get rid of gamblers who are too successful such as card counters as they are doing nothing wrong despite the industry labeling them cheaters.  This is one of the reasons why I prefer race horses.  Well, I guess it is a good thing I don't live in new Zealand where TAB, the only legal wagering firm off-track.  According to Harness Racing Insider, Graham Beirne is being limited by TAB in his wagering as he is winning 6% more than he was last year.  I  understand 6% is a karge amount, but as long a he isn't cheating, he should be allowed to make his wagers.  Hopefully TAB will be able to reach an accommodation.

Congratulations to those who organized the first standardbred show at the Maryland Sate Fair this week.  Not only do those who show standardbreds deserve an opportunity to shine, it gives those who may be looking for a horse of their own an opportunity to be exposed to standardbreds and mak them think these horses have a career outside of pulling a wagon for the Amish.

Big time gamblers will be looking at Saturday's Hi-5 wager at Mohawk Raceway where the guaranteed pool starts at $647,331.72.  Being this is the end of the Mohawk meet, there is a mandatory pay-out.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Horses That Have Exceeded Expectations

A couple of days ago I looked at some of the horses that disappointed in 2014; here are a few that have been pleasant surprises of late, exceeding the expectations of most.

Lifetime Pursuit, a Cantab Hall filly out of a sister to The Chancellor and Beer Summit, was a solid PASS filly at two, winning six of eleven starts and earning $270,000. But stablemate Shake It Cerry was top filly in the Takter barn. Lifetime finished a close second to that one in last year’s Breeders Crown elimination but broke in the final. This year started off the same, with Lifetime Pursuit going the sire stakes route while Cerry handled the GC. And Cerry beat her stablemate in the Del Miller and the Oaks Prep, but Lifetime Pursuit upset Cerry at 10-1 in the Oaks. She then won a $100,000 PASS race by 11 lengths; and Friday night Lifetime Pursuit won a $101,000 split of the Casual Breeze, first up and dominant. She set a track and Canadian record of 1:52.1. Shake It Cerry is scrambling for traction at this point.

Trixton has elbowed stablemates Father Patrick, Nuncio, Lifetime Pursuit and Shake It Cerry out of the way and captured the hearts of fans all over the world. The hulking son of Muscle Hill and 1994 HOY in Canada Emile Cas El, is the only trotter to remain standing in a PR battle with FFA king Sebastian. Takter brought him along slowly at two. He did try the Bluegrass and ISS, and Trixton finished second, a neck back of EL Titan, in the latter. He also had it pretty easy for most of this year’s campaign, winning the Simpson, a leg and the final of the NJSS and his elimination and the final of the Goodtimes. He was third behind Patrick and Nuncio in the Dancer and won the Reynolds. This was followed up with his 1:50.3 win in the Hambletonion at odds of 4-1. Not a particularly challenging itinerary, but it’s the way he ripped through it that makes him a fan favorite. He’ll be racing in the Simcoe at Mohawk Saturday.

Classic Martine was a very productive filly the past two years in the PASS and the Weiss series but she has really come into her own in her aged form. Prior to the season most would be shocked if heading into September neither Bee nor Maven sat atop the aged trotting mare division, but lo and behold, it is Chris Oakes’ Classic Photo mare who rules the roost off wins in the Armbro Flight and Ima Lula. In the latter she equaled the world record for a trotting mare on a mile track—1:51.1. Not her only record setting performance, as she won a preferred at Pocono in May in a world record 1:51.2 (4YOTM on a 5/8). And last week she beat the boys, including Uncle Peter and Spider Blue Chip, in a track record 1:52 at Harrah’s. Classic Martine should be facing off against Maven Monday in the penultimate leg of the Miss Versatility at Tioga. Bee is doing the boys in the Crawford Friday night at Vernon.

Gural Hanover, a three-year-old Crazed gelding, is a NYSS creation, having won seven in a row in that program. He set all age track records at Buffalo and Saratoga and generally wins his races for Jim Morrill Jr and Ron Burke by four or five lengths. He’s banked $275,000 on eight wins and trails only Trixton, Father Patrick, Nuncio and OSS hotshot Harper Blue Chip money wise in his division. He’s not staked to much so we may not see him transition to the open ranks after the NYSS championship, but there’s no reason he can’t find his niche and be productive when the sire stakes gravy train runs dry.

Market Rally is the top point getter in her NYSS three-year-old filly division. She was a bargain $7,500 yearling purchase at the Morrisville sale and earned $282,000 for her connections in the NYSS last year. But this year under Ron Burke, who acquired her in December, about the same time he got her paternal sister Cowgirl Hall, she has terrorized her division. She won seven of her last eight in the program, earning almost $550,000. Market Rally broke in that one loss, falling back to last, then looping the field to finish second. She won a $111,500 split of the Goldstein at Yonkers by seven lengths in 1:55.4. Prior to that Market Rally broke the track record for three-year-old trotting fillies at Saratoga with a 1:55.4 mile over a good track in a $91,000 split of the NYSS. Like Gural Hanover, she isn’t staked to much, so we’ll have to wait and see where she slots at four.

Datsyuk, an Explosive Matter gelding, didn’t race at two, but he’s earned almost $240,000 on five wins and nine board finishes in ten starts in 2014. He has a couple of wins in the PASS but has spent most of the season chasing Father Patrick and Nuncio around the track. Until August 17, that is. On that Sunday his trainer-driver Charlie Norris sat back as Yanick Gingras cut a leisurely pace in a split of the Tompkins, only to pounce on that one when they hit the stretch and pull off an upset, at a generous $52.00 price in 1:53.1. And he just followed up that upset win with another win, at 2-5 albeit, in a $100,000 split of the Hickory Smoke at The Meadows, this afternoon. He’s staked to the Kentucky Futurity, Bluegrass, Yonkers Trot and Breeders Crown, so we should be seeing him around.

All Bets Off, a sophomore Bettor’s Delight colt purchased by Ron Burke last summer, has been very successful in both the restricted and open realms. Most horses are pointed to one or the other due to the effort it takes to accumulate enough points to qualify for the lucrative finals in most states/provinces. He won his Rooney elimination, as well as the $300,000 final; his Hempt elimination, and finished third in the final; and most recently he upset McWicked in the $400,000 inaugural edition of the Milstein. And while he wasn’t busy with the opens he set a three-year-old track record in a $40,000 SS race at Batavia; finished second to Capital Account in a $74,000 SS split at Yonkers and just today was an easy winner of a $39,000 split at Monticello. So, All Bets Off will have enough points to make the lucrative NYSS final on September 13 at Yonkers. Folks keep asking Burke if the colt will be supplemented to the Jug, which is five days later. Hell no! He’ll be chalk to win that big pot of gold at Yonkers. This colt isn’t staked to the Bluegrass, Tattersalls Pace or Breeders Crown—you get the picture.

Sportswriter isn’t dominating the OSS to the ridiculous extent he was during the first couple of weeks, but he’s still way ahead of the rest. He also leads the NA sire standings. I’d be remiss if I left him out of a list of horses that have exceeded expectations in 2014.

Joe FitzGerald

Monday, August 25, 2014

Why Harness and not Thoroughbred?

People often ask me why I don't bother playing the thoroughbreds.  I mean we're talking about not playing or going to the thoroughbred tracks at all.  It has been many years.  When it comes to racing and individual preference, it tends to be the type of racing you start with is what you are comfortable with.  To a certain degree, I still agree with that statement but let the truth be told, I just don't have a stomach for the number of fatal breakdowns the runners experience.

For example, one day I went to Monmouth and while I am sure it was an exception, the first three horses I wagered on broke down.  It got to the point when horses seemingly looked over to me imploring me not to wager on them.  That was the last day I went to the runners.

But I am not the only person who feels this way.  There was an article this weekend regarding The 'Self Destruction of Del Mar ' which talked about a racetracker bringing three friends to the track only to witness fatal breakdown number fourteen at the renowned track, averaging two a week; a high number for most tracks.  The author accuses Del Mar officials of trying to press release their way out of a problem without actually doing anything about it.

Horsemen will note how they treat these horses with the best of care, but you can't explain all these breakdowns due to unsafe track conditions.  Whether trainers are pushing horses to make their next start or state veterinarians approving horses to run when they should have remained in their stalls, there is a reasonable chance some of these breakdowns could have been prevented.

Maybe breakdowns are an unfortunate part of the sport, but they can race without me.  I've seen one too many breakdowns with the runners, a lifetime of breakdowns.  I don't wish the runners any harm, but they will have to do it without me.

Yes, breakdowns can happen with harness racing, but much less likely than with the runners.  I can count the number of breakdowns I've seen at harness raceways on one hand (more likely, two fingers).  I'll stick with the trotters thank you very much..


Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Few That Have Disappointed Us In 2014

There’s no shortage of disappointing horses this year. Some, like Royalty For Life, Vegas Vacation, She’s Da Bomb and Arthur Blue Chip left us dissatisfied because, for one reason or another, they weren’t able to return and contribute to their class, while others have raced regularly in a fashion that doesn't come close to meeting our expectations. I’m going to take a look at a few of the latter.

Foiled Again won his division last year at the advanced age of nine on the basis of marquee wins in the Breeders Crown and the TVG. He was also the object of consideration, on the part of some, for Pacer of the Year honors. This year he started off like a champ, winning four preliminary legs of the Levy Series at Yonkers, but he was third in the final, and it’s been downhill from there. He’s the fifth richest aged male pacer for the year, with more than $340,000 in the bank, but he’s already started more than half as many times as he did last year, when he earned an eye-popping $1.4 million. Small track, undersubscribed races like the Molson and Battle of Lake Erie have always served as his bread and butter, but he doesn’t win those anymore. Summer has never been Foiled’s favorite season, but cool weather has prevailed this year. Ron Burke seems convinced that his veteran charge will turn it around in the fall. We’ll see. Foiled finished a solid second to Sweet Lou in his CPD elimination at Mohawk on Saturday, but that makes 12 consecutive losses.

Maven booted her old rival Check me Out aside and took control of the division last year, logging ten wins and earning more than a half million dollars. She set a world record of 1:51.4 when she won the Miss Versatility final at Delaware in front stepping fashion and set another world record for a four-year-old trotting mare at Pocono. And this year’s campaign started out fine with a handy win in the $60,000 Miami Valley Distaff. But a trip to Sweden and an unsuccessful attempt to win the Elitlopp led to a two month gap between races back at home. She finished out in her first three starts since returning to the states, two legs of the Miss Versatility and a hybrid open at The Meadowlands. However, Maven, the best horse in Glidemaster’s portfolio, beat a preferred field at Pocono Saturday. Classic Martine, who beat the boys at Harrah’s Thursday, stands atop the division Maven and Bee were supposed to be fighting over, with eight wins in ten starts and victories in the Armbro Flight and Ima Lula. The last preliminary leg of the Miss Versatility will be raced on Labor Day at Tioga. Maven needs to do well to have a shot at making the final, which is in Delaware a month from now. All three principals beat the boys last week. We’ll see if she really does have her mojo back.

Shebestingin won the Garnsey, Nadia, Matron and EBC, among others, last year, so it certainly isn’t fair to slot her with an all for not speedball like Hurrikane Kingcole. Still, as is the case with many burners, she doesn’t seem to get the most out of her big engine; something always gets in the way. The Bettor’s Delight mare has wowed us with eye opening performances throughout her career. They had to stop early with her at two due to injury, but last year she paced a faster race mile than any filly or mare ever has in a split of the Garnsey—1:47—and  she simply paced away from the field in the Tompkins-Geers. But this year, after starting out with a win in a mid-level F & M pace at the Meadowlands and another in the Chip Noble at Miami Valley, she’s one and six. Her last start was the Lady Liberty on Hambo Day, where she slowed to a crawl and finished last. We haven’t seen her in the three weeks since. Speed sells and ‘Stingin is missed in the same way Kingcole, Warrawee Needy and Googoo Gaagaa are.

Sunshine Beach made his reputation beating Captaintreacherous in a world record 1:47.4 in the Battle of Brandywine. He also won the Progress, as well as splits of the Bluegrass and SBSW. If I wanted, I could do this entire piece on disappointing four-year-old pacers—Captain T, Lucan Hanover, Sunfire Blue Chip—but I’ll stick to Sunshine. What complicates his situation is that Blue Chip bought a piece of him in the spring and Tom Grossman said in part that “there are several legitimate reasons to believe in genuine improvement from three to four.” The rhetoric about how difficult it is for a pacer to transition from three to four really doesn’t excuse the difficult campaigns The Captain, Sunfire Blue Chip, Lucan Hanover and Sunshine have experienced. Sunshine has been hopelessly mismatched in the FFA class and his only win in seven starts was over a preferred group at Mohawk. He finished last in his CPD elimination Saturday and will not make the final unless there’s a scratch. Sunfire Blue Chip has taken another route to respectability, winning a NW25 at Yonkers, an open at Saratoga and another open at Tioga. Sunshine may have to embrace that template, or cut his losses and report for stallion duty.

Muscle Network, who is a Muscle Hill brother to Mr Web Page, set a world record of 1:53.2 in a split of the International Stallion Stakes at the Red Mile last year. He also beat Nuncio in the Valley Victory at the end of November at the Meadowlands. All told he won twice in eight starts and earned more than any of his classmates with the exception of Father Patrick and Nuncio. His home life has been anything but stable as Tony O’Sullivan had him for most of 2013 with Jody Jamieson serving as his primary driver; Jonas Czernyson had him for the Valley Victory and up until June of this year, with David Miller onboard; and Ake Svanstedt has had him for the last three months, during which time he made one start, in the Stanley Dancer. In that race he was making a deliberate first over move on the leader entering the stretch when he jumped. Muscle Network was rated 5th in this year’s Hoof Beats Comprehensive Predictive Rankings, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to live up to their expectations.

Riveting Rosie helped put the young stallion Muscle Mass on the map, so much so that his connections relocated him to New York. She won the Peaceful Way as well as a split of the Champlain last year. Rosie also took a couple of Gold legs and the Super Gold final. All of which led to a Grand Circuit profile and expectations that she would be both a regional and open force this year. Hoof Beats ranked her number seven, five spots ahead of Lifetime Pursuit, who crushed her in the Casual Breeze Friday night. Rosie has one win in nine starts and five of those losses have come in races confined to Ontario breds. Her lone win was in a Gold leg at Grand River last week, but she failed to build on that in the Peaceful Way.

Market Share has always had a nose for a buck. He won the Hambletonion and CTC at three, garnering him $2 million dollars, and he picked up another million last year when he won the TVG, Maple Leaf and Breeders Crown. This year he’s earned $319,000 off of elimination wins in the Cutler and Maple Leaf and a world record performance in the Maxie Lee. He has seven losses. Sebastian, who looms over him like the Ebola Virus, won the Cutler and Cashman, while Intimidate took the Maple Leaf. There’s plenty of time left to turn things around; the Crawford Farm Trot is Friday, and chief nemesis Sebastian will be entered; then there is Lexington, the Breeders Crown and the TVG final.

Precocious Beauty, an Art Major sister to the hot young Artsplace sire Sportswriter, appeared to be in line to follow Put On A Show, Peelers, Jewel and Nitelife as another in a consecutive line of outstanding pacing fillies. And while last year she did earn $50,000 more than any of her male counterparts off of wins in the Eternal Camnation and She’s A Great Lady and splits of the Champlain, Bluegrass and ISS—setting a world record of 1:50.1 in the latter—the wheels started to wobble toward season’s end. Allstar Rating picked her up at the end of her BC elimination and that same filly carried her past the quarter in :25.3 in the final, as she left out of the eight post; she faded to eighth. Precious Beauty won her first start of 2014 in the NYSS at Vernon Downs, but lost the next four, including a weak performance in the Fan Hanover. She did win her elimination for the EBC for Brian Sears and the final for Greg Mcnair, but her latest was a third place finish to Katie Said and Rockingcam Park in the Geers. Undefeated Sandbetweenurtoes, who wasn’t around last year, is the queen of the division. Precocious Beauty will have to step back into the open ring and give a better account of herself when the NYSS season ends in a few weeks.
Joe FitzGerald

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Briefs

Harness Racing Update has reported that someone(s) had broken into the area where blood samples, ready to be sent to labs is held and stole them.  While no one can say why the samples were taken, one has to wonder if someone was looking to destroy a sample which likely would have come up 'cloudy' (another term for a positive sample).  We don't know of the area where the samples were held, but obviously they need to be better secured and under video surveillance.  I would like to think other tracks would take note of this situation and upgrade their security procedures, but unfortunately where cost is involved, it isn't likely.

Earlier this week, I discussed the latest parimutuel RUS race which was conducted at Georgian Downs.  Video was not available at the time but is now available on Youtube.  For your convenience, the video has been embedded in this posting.

A reader of my last blog entry used the lack of more than eight horses dropping in to race the Cane Pace, as proof the race doesn't belong in the triple crown.  Maybe the race doesn't belong in the triple crown any more, maybe it does; that's not the case.  You would think a race going for $435,000+ would draw more than eight entries.  Even if it went for $330,000 without the three supplemental entries, it is a nice amount of change too; enough money to draw the attention of horse owners.

Lastly, another proposal for a casino at the Meadowlands has risen.  I try not to talk about these proposals because tehre are going to be a bunch of them and quite honestly, it is premature as a referendum to add gambling outside of Atlantic City is no slam dunk for passage by the electorate.  However, if you want to read about it, you may find it here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Those Ho-Hum Stakes Races

No doubt you have seen many races this year where there have been multiple entries from the Alagna, Burke, and Takter stables (and to a lessor degree other stables).  Now let me make it perfectly clear, these stables have done nothing wrong in acquiring patrons or dropping these horses into the various stakes races; it is just a factor of not enough owners willing to take ownership of horses individually or in partnership with another individual.  Instead, the big players in the industry are treating these horses as stock (as it were) and applying the rule of diversification to an extreme and the majority owners seem to head to the same trainers.  Of course, these trainers would be foolish to turn away these high quality horses.

While I appreciate watching good horses racing (especially trotters), I must confess seeing the same trainers (and owners)  appearing to win everything in sight, there are times my interest in these stakes races has been ho-hum.  Ho-hum to the point where as far as I am concerned, those races should be carded as non-wagering events and the tracks should race good old fashioned diversified overnights in their stead.

While my opinion is a minority one as a bettor, if I feel this way, I am sure those who may be able to put their toes (read money) into the waters of high-class yearlings are feeling a lot like me.  It may not matter if I feel this way but it certainly matters with regards to potential owners who are saying 'Thank you very much but oh no, not me', staying on the sidelines, meaning this problem grows.

What the industry can or should do to get horse ownership and training diversified is beyond me but I know this problem hurts the industry starting with breeders as these partnerships are keeping sales prices down, forcing breeders out of business and decreasing future fall crops.  All I know is I hope the industry comes up with a solution before the only ones attending these national awards ceremonies are connected to the big three stables.

Meanwhile, elsewhere....

Some harness racing royalty visits Yonkers Raceway on Friday night as both Bee A Magician and Arch Madness do battle on the half mile oval.  The two of them will face a field of six others in the Hilltop's Open  Handicap Trot.

Freehold Raceway says 'Good Bye' to classified racing as they return to conditioned racing this upcoming meet.  While there was some success with classified racing, the seasonal fluctuations in the supply of horses available made the system impractical.  Since Freehold is partially owned by Penn National, the track will open their meet using the automated morning line system developed by Trackmaster.

Only eight horses dropped in the box for the Cane Pace to be contested at Tioga Downs on September 1.  I am no fan of elimination races but the fact it took the addition of three horses via the supplemental entry path make you wonder why there weren't more horses entering via the traditional route is sad.  After all, the Cane is not contested at a half mile oval; the fear of outside posts is not any worse than on a mile oval.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wednesday Afternoon Briefs

Martin Panza, SVP for Racing Operations at NYRA spoke this past weekend to an industry conclave in Saratoga Springs about what NYRA has done to improve the racing product.  While his comments are made in the context of thoroughbred racing, they apply to standardbred racing as well.  For those who are in a rush and don't have the time to read the article, here is a very brief summary.  Too many racing dates; too many races each day at the track; increase field size; racing is spending too much time on creating customers that they forget to fix the product.

Sebastian K continues to amaze; this time merely by announcing he will be tackling the half mile oval at Yonkers Raceway on October 25 in the inaugural Yonkers Invitational Trot.  No, this trotter has never raced on the half mile oval before but his connections are giving it a try in an effort to hopefully get some more foreign horses to race in the Invitational.  Now if we can get some top American horses to accept invitations we could be in for some humdinger of a race.

The experiment at Desert Park in British Columbia where there were two standardbred non-wagering events went off successfully, so much that they are talking about bringing back the trotters for 2015.  Of course, next time there will be wagering.  Expect track officials to seek racing dates next year.

When was the last time you saw harness racing on your evening news?  Thanks to Racing Under Saddle, CTV in Barrie had a story on RUS racing on their news program.  You can see the clip here. I',m sure this story raised the curiosity of some to check out the racing.    The winner of last night's event was Radical Dreamer, ridden by Marit Valstad in 2:00.4, who went wire to wire, defeating Hetties Honey by a head.  Radical Dreamer, the also eligible who drew in paid $16.10 for the win.  Wagering on the RUS event was respectable with a combined handle of $9,540.  Certainly not the highest race handle of the night, but more than $2,000 higher than the third race a week earlier which was a traditional harness race.

No, we haven't gone back in time but today, Mack Lobell and John Campbell were reunited at Solvalla, Sweden.  Mack looks as good as ever.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Look At Rock N Roll Heaven The Stallion

Due to the premature death of Rocknroll Hanover, in March of 2013 at age 11, Rock N Roll Heaven is a significant stallion. The latter, a member of his sire’s first class, is his premier offspring, having been voted HOY at three and earning more money than any other son or daughter of the accomplished sire. He went a second faster than his daddy, although the old man did maintain a $5,000 edge in career earnings.

Due to his relative youth when he passed, Rocknroll Hanover doesn’t have much of a track record as a sire of sires. Pet Rock and A Rocknroll Dance are standing their first season in Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively. Breeders Crown winner Rockin Amadeus is also starting out in Ohio, although he is currently back on the track. And that one’s brother, Rockin Image, as well as World Of Rocknroll currently have their first crops racing. Unlike Heaven, whose charges must regularly negotiate half mile tracks, almost all of Rockin Image’s progeny ply their trade within the Indiana Sires Stakes program at roomy Hoosier Park. Freaky Feet Pete, who is out of a Pilgrims Punch mare, has three wins in that program and has earned almost $70,000. And several others, including Heyhey Mahanah, Camturo Rock, Glitter Rocks and Rockin Good have either one or two sire stakes wins. Seventeen of the Rockin Image colts and fillies have earned $10,000 or more.

That being the case, one would expect much better results from the richly supported Rocknroll Heaven, and he is producing outstanding fillies. Heaven stood his first season at Blue Chip Farms in New York in 2011 at a fee of $12,000. That fee remained in place in 2012 but was subsequently reduced by 15% to $8,500 last year and this. His pedigree is as solid as his on track resume, being a brother to FFA mainstay Clear Vision, who is a mere $12,000 short of double millionaire status and currently slots as the third richest son or daughter of Western Hanover, with only Well Said and We Will See heading him. The one knock on Heaven was his smallish size, but that has apparently not been an issue.

Heaven’s first NA crop topped 100 foals, which is 34% smaller than the first crop of rival Sportswriter, but a healthy size, nonetheless. He currently ranks sixth on the two-year-old list, among all pacing sires, and is second behind Bettor’s Delight, who left New York after the 2011 season, among the New York Sire Stakes crew, with $600,000 in earnings. Heaven is a very popular shuttle stallion in Australia but his performance there is not reflected in the numbers cited herein.

Aside from that lofty second place slot on the two-year-old money chart, above Art Major and American Ideal, Heaven also produced the top two fillies in the program—Band Of Angels and Sassa Hanover. You won’t necessarily find flashy speed marks attached to these two, or any of Heaven’s other progeny for that matter, since much of the NYSS business is conducted on small tracks. Rockin Image’s son Freaky Feet Pete sports a sub-1:51 mark, taken at Hoosier Downs, but none of the Rock N Roll Heavens have breached the 1:52 line.

Band Of Angels, a $100,000 Lexington purchase, who is a half-sister to Romantic Moment, is a perfect four for four with earnings in excess of $133,000 in the sire stakes program for Ron Burke and owner William Donovan. She matched the track record for her class in winning a leg at Saratoga. Sassa Hanover, another Burke charge, has won four of five and earned more than $100,000. Bin N Heaven won a sire stakes leg at Buffalo and She’s Heavenly won one at Monticello. Zip Code Envy, Heavenly Bride, Heaven On Earth and two time Excelsior winner Rock Me Gently are other promising fillies.

The colts are way behind their sisters to this point. One is always on the lookout for that first crop extender; Heaven himself, as well as Captaintreacherous, may fall into that category. Heaven’s sons Rockntouch and K-Rock each won NYSS splits at Saratoga, but there isn’t much on the male side to get excited about. There are three high dollar NYSS splits for freshman pacers at Yonkers tonight, and the Rock N Roll Heaven contingent is less than inspiring. Time will tell whether or not the colts eventually step up

Bob Marks, who knows Rocknroll Hanover better than anyone, sees no cause for concern. He believes that Heaven should be to Rocknroll what Jate Lobell was to No Nukes, and that this is exactly what is playing out. Both Heaven and Jate were first crop stars, born when their sires were five-years-old. Jate took a back seat to paternal brother Western Hanover in the breeding game, but he was a very productive stallion, nonetheless. Marks cites Most Happy Fella, who produced the all-time great filly duo Silk Stockings and Tarport Hap in his first small crop of 53 foals, but was slow to come up with top shelf sons. Yes, Oil Burner, the sire of No Nukes, was from his second crop, but he’s more famous for that than he is for his prowess on the track. Tyler B didn’t appear until Happy’s sixth crop, and Cam Fella was a product of his eighth crop.

The Rock N Roll Heaven offspring will be afforded every opportunity to succeed on the Grand Circuit; 42 of them are staked to the Breeders Crown and 22 to the Matron. Contrast this with Sportswriter, who has a much larger first crop, and only has 17 staked to the BC and three to the Matron. Rockin Image has four Breeders Cup eligible colts and one staked to the Matron. Only one of Heaven’s daughters raced in the Eternal Camnation on Saturday and one colt started in the Nassagaweya. There are two sire stakes legs left for each sex (one of them Tuesday, Aug 19) prior to the final on September 13 at Yonkers. After that date participation in the open realm should markedly increase.

Joe FitzGerald

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Genesis of Race Day Medicating?

The subject of race day doping of horses is one of the major topics in racing these days but one must wonder where does the problem begin?  According to a guest editorial by Carlo Vaccarezza, a horse owner and trainer of thoroughbreds in Horse Racing Insider, the problem begins with 'sales ring doping', where yearlings are bulked up to hide injuries or physical inferiorities.  Vaccarezza claims bleeding and breakdowns start with this type of behavior in the sales ring.

The case is made that trainers are forced to use illicit drugs to keep these horses, purchased often at a high price due to the use of steroids, racing once they deflate and the trainers finally get to see what their owners actually purchased in an effort to recover their investment.

Amazingly, some of the major sales companies allow these drugs to be used on the horses going through the sales ring and they objected when an effort was made to ban the use of these medications on horses within 45 days of their sale.  Why do the sales companies object?  A bulked up horse brings more money, hence larger commissions.

While this article deals with thoroughbreds, one must wonder if this type of 'sales ring doping' occurs in the standardbred industry?  Being standardbreds tend to bring lower sales prices, I tend to doubt it happens as often in harness racing, but if it happens at all and people have been burnt buying drugged up yearlings, is there any surprise why there are fewer owners in harness racing and more interest in ready-made horses?

Sales companies should band the use of steroids to close to sales time and there should be testing done to make sure these horses are 'clean'.  Failure to ensure this may mean bigger profits in the short run but in the long run an industry so decimated that there will be no profits to be made at all. 

There were plenty of surprises this weekend in racing action but nothing was as surprising as the defeat of Father Patrick in the $36,036 Arthur Tompkins Memorial at Tioga Downs yesterday, being defeated by Datsyuk in a mile of 1:53.1 track record.

You could argue that Father Patrick needed the race, this being his first start after the Hambletonian but these days racing two weeks between starts is nothing.  Clearly this race was supposed to be an easier tightener with a purse but it turned into a disappointing effort. 

Yes, Datsyuk was not a patsy, having finished 2nd to Trixton in the Reynolds (by 6 lengths) at the Meadowlands and being in the money against Nuncio and Father Patrick in the Beal at Pocono.  However, until yesterday, his only wins have come in Pennsylvania Sires Stakes events; not a horse you expect to defeat Father Patrick if he was 100%.  Time will tell if illness, being short, or the campaign has caught up with the son of Cantab Hall.

Let's have a race!  In Sweden, they love their trotters, so much that this past week at their Culture Festival, a race course on the streets of Göteborg and the trotters went at it.  What a great way to bring the sport to the people.  If the people won't go to the track, we'll bring the track to the people.  Wouldn't it be great if someone was able to do that here.  You may see the video of the day's activity here (unfortunately, it is in Swedish, so the video will have to tell the story).  What we can show you is the final heat of the day.

Part of the race can be seen on the video screen on the right side of the picture.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Boutique vs Extended Meets

An acquaintance of mine decided to visit Saratoga Racecourse before heading over to the harness track.  One thing they noticed is the attendance at the track.  In the following photo you can see what they saw.

The crow at Saratoga Racecourse

Not quite what you are used to at your local harness track is it?  I think the last time I saw a crowd similar to this at a harness track was back in the early to mid 1970s at Yonkers Raceway and most likely when the Meadowlands first opened back in my 'youth'.  Now you are more likely to see a crowd like the following picture from Saratoga Raceway at your local harness track?

Saratoga Raceway and Casino.  

Well, if something good is to be said about the attendance at the Raceway, it is you can stretch out and you can find your friends without much trouble.

All kidding aside, where did all the gamblers go after the day at the runners?  For sure, some went bust during the afternoon and decided to call it a day.  Others decided to avail themselves of some of the other entertainment options in the region while others did go over to the harness track but never found their way from the slot machines to the track side of the facility.  Then there are those who will decide to just go another night because they trotters are 'always there'.

Would you believe at one point harness racing was the more popular sport of the two forms of horse racing?  No one disputes the runners are the more popular form of horse racing in 2014 so barring extremely rare occasions such as the Little Brown Jug, you'll never see a grandstand packed to the rafters at your local raceway.  Make no mistake, the scandals which have hit harness racing in the past has had 'legs', the consequences of real or perceived acts of malfeasance has spanned generations.  The number of odds-on favorites and low priced exotics when compared to the runners has also made it harder for a gambler to come out ahead playing the trots.

Some of these factors we can't do anything about but there is one factor which can be controlled; limiting the length of race meets but horsemen could care less; their adage is the 'more the better'.  The race meet at Saratoga Racecourse runs this year from July 18 through September 1; a total of six weeks.  The race meet at Saratoga Harness runs from mid-March through mid-December; a total of nine months; closing only during the coldest and snowiest time of the year.  The thoroughbred track benefits from being a boutique meet, people make a point of getting out to the track because if you miss it, you have to wait a year before you get another chance.  As for the harness track, it's basically there all the time so there is no impetus to get to the track because it is always available (in the grand scheme of things).

Clearly there is no demand for those many racing days for while the running fans have a pent-up demand, the standardbred fan is more likely suffering from exhaustion, leaving too much product product for the amount of demand there is.  Even in the old Yonkers/Roosevelt days, while there was a year-round circuit, it was a case of tracks alternating between being open/dark on a three month.  Of course, as mentioned earlier, horsemen want to race all year, creating too much product than the sport can naturally support but with the band-aid called slots, horsemen can get away with it.

What should happen is tracks should go back to seasons so racing becomes an event again and instead of spending the purse account as money flows in from simulcasting, build up the purse accounts during the dark period and spend it during the live racing meet for bigger purses.  Unfortunately, with slot revenue, economic logic can and does get thrown out.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Saluting Bluestone Farms; Support RUS in Your State

We often hear about the problem of unwanted horses and horse slaughter, often discussed here in fact, but admittedly little attention is given to the 'good' ones.  Well, today we salute one of the good ones, Bluestone Farm.  In case you didn't read the article on the USTA website, let me direct your attention to this article which highlights the special care given to the late broodmare Swiss Queen who finally succumbed to her illness of the last fifteen years, giving her fifteen years of quality where others would have euthanized her when the problem first started.  Thanks to Bluestone Farms, Swiss Queen got a good 20 years of life.

Thank you Bluestone Farms for all you do for your horses.  May you be rewarded for your compassion.

I had shown you in an early blog entry the final of the Hambletonian RUS late closer, but here is another view of the race with the use of a helmet cam.

While Canada has embraced parimutuel wagering on RUS events, it is important that the barriers to parimutuel wagering in the United States be broken through as you can only depend on donations so long to keep fund purses; access to purse accounts is necessary.  It is expected that the USTA will approve at the next annual meeting rules to formalize RUS racing, but it is important to get the individual states to approve RUS racing so it can flourish.  If you like what you have seen this year of RUS thus far, petition your local racing commission to adopt rules for RUS racing (I'm sure a copy of the draft rules of the USTA can be obtained) and let your local racetrack and horsemen groups know you want to see RUS at their track.  

With the introduction of RUS, we are getting riders from other disciplines joining the standardbred world, purchasing their own horses for the RUS racing, introducing their followers to the sport, and adding an exciting new demographic to harness racing's fan base.

Overall, the response to this year's series has been favorable. But with over fifteen states to get approval from, it will take a group effort to get RUS approved; it can't be done all by one small group.  Don't leave it to someone else to voice their support.  Do your part.

Drug Free in 2015:  Kudos to Gulfstream Park which has decided there will be drug-free racing in 2015 for two year olds, including banning Salix.  This is the first track in the United States of any breed declaring drug-free racing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Following Up with Share the Delight - The Two Year Olds

We have been following up with former US pacer Share the Delight who was purchased for breeding in Wales.  In today's segment, we check on his first two year old crop, how they are doing thus far.

Thanks to Ms. Sarah Thomas for providing an update.

As of today's date there are 18 registered two year olds;  one of these has raced this season and two have run in qualifiers.

KENTUCKY ROCKET (out of Kentucky Heat by White Heat) has raced 5 times, with a lifetime mark of 2.06.00 and has picked up minor stake race place money.

BRYWINS MAYHEM - qualified at York Harness Raceway last weekend (2nd August).

REAL DELIGHT - has run in qualifiers but not yet raced.

Since last speaking, Share The Delight has been shipped over to Co Offaly, Ireland, to stand the 2014 season at Oakwood Stud with James and Derek Delaney. The brothers were responsible for the Vincent Delaney Memorial Weekend at Portmarnock (Dublin) which was held over the weekend. I understand that Heather Vitale has written about the weekend, which was attended by Roger Huston and Wally Hennessy. No Share The Delight two year olds raced in the Vincent Delaney 2YO heats and final. The stallion will be returning to Wales to stand for the 2015 season.

Sorry I can't offer you any further information at this time.



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kudos to NY, Biting the Dust, Gold Cup and Saucer Field Set

Jay Bergman reports on big changes coming to Yonkers Raceway to accommodate patrons of PMU, the agency which handles wagering in France.  Sunday racing will be returning to the Old Hilltop for the first time in decades to accommodate the French market with the first five races being contested European-style.  Over-sized fields, and extra distance races will be on tap and it looks like the old International Trot will be returning in 2015 with a major stakes race for North American horses occurring on Yonkers Trot night to gauge 'local' support.

Lord knows I have criticized the SOA of NY and Yonkers for allowing the status quo to remain intact.  It is only appropriate to give credit to the very same people for being willing to make changes which they may normally feel painful.  Here's hoping come November 9, Yonkers and their horsemen reap the rewards for making changes.

Another One Bites the Dust:  Revel Casino, the last new casino to open, thanks to state tax credits and infrastructure assistance by the state, has announced they will be closing as of September 10 as no qualified bidders have arisen for the property.  This will be the fourth casino to close this year.  Two other casinos are due to close by the end of September.  Revel, according to the Governor was supposed to be a game changer in Atlantic City.  Well, in the two years of existence and two bankruptcies the Revel went through clearly the game didn't change.

Gold Cup and Saucer Field Set:  With the final trial of the Gold Cup and Saucer in the books, the eight horses competing in the $75,000 final have been determined.  From the first trial, winner Aracache Hanover (1:51.4) leads the quartet followed by Bigtown Hero, Shock It To Em, and Island Jet.  From the second trial, winner Mickey Hanover (1:50.4) leads Take it Back Terry, Scott Rocks, and Wazzup Wazzup.  Post positions remain to be drawn for the final which will be raced on Saturday night as race 12.  If your ADW carries the race, make sure to watch and wager.  This is not only the biggest racing event in the Canadian Maritimes, it is one of those races which Canadian trainers and owners want to win.


A Potpourri of Racing

British Columbia harness horsemen are looking forward to Saturday's races at Desert Park with anticipation as the standardbreds join quarter horses and thoroughbreds on the same race card, albeit as exhibition races.  This should be interesting for while standardbreds have raced over rolled over thoroughbred surfaces, this will be one of the few times standardbreds will be racing over a full loom track.

How these races will go over remains to be seen.  No doubt we will be seeing slow times as the horses will race over deeper surfaces and how the horses will come out of each race will remain to be seen as the conditioning of the horses may need to change, but one thing is for sure, something needs to happen and if there is a racetrack willing to experiment, standardbred horsemen would be foolish not to try.

After all, racing in British Columbia has been curtailed as there is only one extended meet track, Fraiser Downs.  With Fraiser cutting back on dates, there is a huge gap in the racing calendar, a gap which needs to be filled to make the British Columbia standardbred industry stronger.  This experiment may work, it may not; the fact is the horsemen are looking outside of the box to strengthen their product.

Of course, it requires the willingness of other horsemen groups to allow experiments like this happen.  With the traditional adversarial roles when dealing with each other, could you see most thoroughbred groups allowing standardbreds to be on their wagering card (the reverse is true)?

What good is HANA (Horseplayers Association of North America)?  They represent horseplayers when dealing with tracks and in cases where tracks are totally blind to the need of horseplayers, they attempt to influence the tracks through gentle persuasion and when that fails, has called for boycotts which have been successful.  Andrew Beyer writes about this in the DRF.  While the examples cited are thoroughbred related, standardbred tracks watch what is happening elsewhere and HANA has gotten involved with standardbred tracks.   If you have never joined HANA, why not now?  The cost is right (free).  Click here to sign-up.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

As Goes the Jockey Club, So Goes Harness Racing?

At the Jockey Club's annual round table, Chairman Ogden Mills Phipps announced the Jockey Club will be seeking federal regulation of thoroughbred racing in an effort to restore integrity and improve the perception of thoroughbred racing.  As Phipps stated, “We need the National Uniform Medication Program to be implemented in every racing state. We need uniformity of rules and greatly improved lab standards. We need a penalty structure that is strong enough to be a meaningful deterrent —  not one that would allow a trainer to amass literally dozens of violations over the course of his career and continue training. And, we need to eliminate the use of all drugs on race day".

I know of no racing fan which would dispute the goals of the Jockey Club; in fact I dare say almost all fans would be in support of such legislation.  However, make no mistake, if the Jockey Club is successful in its goals for federal regulation, it is fair to assume standardbred and quarter horse racing will be dragged along like it or not.  Let's face it, compared finances and influence, standardbred racing would be considered a poor cousin to the thoroughbred industry.  Plus, when it comes to which segment of the racing industry has the 'moral highground', thoroughbred racing has the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance to lay claim to whereas the standardbred industry lacks a similar program.  Partner with the quarter horse industry if they oppose the Jockey Clubs' effort, do you think joining forces with a group which openly supports horse slaughter is going to win standardbred racing any friends?

Quite honestly, if the standardbred industry was dragged along, it wouldn't be such a bad thing (assuming Uniform Medication Rules were breed-specific).  Let's face, racing has failed miserably in ridding itself of cheats, and detecting the latest designer drug being used on race horses of which blame falls just as much if not more on the individual states which under fund testing and lack the will to hit those pharmaceutical trainers hard with penalties, whether it be financial or time constraints which factor into the equation.  

Not that federal intervention would be such a bad thing.  My only concern would be whether or not uniform drug guidelines would be breed-specific or the one size fits all.  Many would be concerned about race day administration of Lasix, and (in those states which allow) bute becoming a thing of the past.  This may force breeders to look to expand the bloodlines to get more of an influence from non-bleeders.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Scathing Commentary

In one of the most eloquently written columns, Dean Tower's "Crush and Brush" in Harness Racing Update (page 4) is a scathing commentary regarding the state of standardbred racing (I suspect our quarter horse and thoroughbred brethren have similar issues) and the reason why the number of foals born every year has been dropping.  Yes, we have people buying into each other's horses as a form of diversification to ensure a constant cash flow, which while troubling, is perfectly legal.  As Towers mentions, the loss of people willing to buy horses has more to do with the inability to get a fair chance more so than making money.

Yes, there are people who race horses to make money, but as I can personally attest to, there are those who buy horses for the excitement, ego, love of horses,and fun.  However, like those people who stop betting, many people who own horses get out of the game because owning horses is no longer fun when it seems like you are constantly hitting your head against the wall because the game is seemingly stacked against you.

What is the solution?  Quite honestly, I don't know the answer.  However, if the sport can't clean itself up, Federal regulation may be the last best hope.  In the interim, in an effort to get more people to buy horses, it may behoove the industry to pay a 15-25% premium in overnight and stakes races to those horses who continue to be owned by those who bred or purchased the horse at a yearling sale.

The Year of the FFA Horse

What can you say about Sweet Lou after last night's performance at Hoosier Park where he set a new track record in 1:47.2?  Phenomenal is the word I would use right now.  Unbeatable is a pretty good word to describe him as well.  Take a look and see what I mean.

Sebastian K, you have some competition for Horse of the Year.  All of a sudden, this is the year of the FFA horse on both gaits.  Both Sebastian K and Sweet Lou have been thrilling race fans wherever they race this year and quite honestly, there is nothing to suggest things will be different. the rest of the year.

Bob Marks wrote a column for DRF Harness regarding the 'Gural' rule which penalizes horses which go to stud at four by making their off-spring ineligible for many of the major races.  As you can imagine, the connections of Captaintreacherous can't be thrilled with the rule as he has not had an inspiring season racing against older horses.  The fact is being required to race against older horses is a true test of a horse's ability (assuming they have not been hampered with injuries) as it shows the horse's ability when they are mature going against mature horses, not just racing against horses of their own age.

While I like the fact we have horses racing past three instead of rushing to the stallion shed, I rather the decision be made willingly instead of by force.  There should be an incentive for a horse to race past three instead of a penalty for stopping,  Perhaps we can have added money events where horses who are four race for a 25-50% premium over the rest of the horses in the race or even have an additional sustaining payment to stakes races for those horses which are off-spring of a four year old stallion.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sports Betting in NJ is Dead (for Now)

Tonight Governor Christie unconditionally vetoed the bill which would have attempted to legalize sports betting at New Jersey casinos and racetracks.  As a result, both industries are left wanting for alternative sources of income.

As much as this hurts racetracks, the Governor made the right decision.  This bill, rushed through three days after the United States Supreme Court refused to hear NJ's appeal of multiple decisions finding federal law trumps NJ's state law with regards to sports betting was a bad bill.  The legislation, championed by Senator Lesniak, took a statement by the Fed's lawyer as a loophole the state could take to have legal gambling despite the fact many legal scholars felt the law proposed would also fail muster.  The Governor saw this attempt as a lost cause and indicated the court's decision must be respected; for now.

The Governor informed the legislature that he is willing to consider another law legalizing sports betting after careful review of the court's decision.  Whether or not there is a run around the ban on wagering on college and professional sports remains to be seen, but considering the costs of attempting to defend legislation all the way through to the Supreme Court, it is prudent to take the time to study and craft legislation rather than whipping something out of thin air as was done.

How to Substantiate Fees and Better the Bottom Line

As a result of the Meadowlands pricing scheme on Hambletonian Day, the old argument whether gamblers should be paying to get into the track to gamble has arose again.  As everyone knows, you can walk into any casino and gamble without having to pay a dime yet some racetracks still charge admission, you have to buy a program, and in some instances such as the Hambletonian, pay for a reserved seat.

For those who  go to the Meadowlands this past Saturday, there was a $5 admission fee (normally there is none) and the outdoor seats in the grandstand cost $10 while inside seats cost $15 (in the past the seats went for $5 on Hambo Day). Certainly more expensive than in the past, but reasonable in my eyes. 

First of all, considering the the size of the crowd, additional staffing was required; staffing which needs to be paid for .  For the $5 charge, you also got a premium item (which I realize most consider a freebie).  Seats were more expensive than in the past but the fact is there simply aren't as many seats available as in the past.  So considering the demand for those seats available went up, the increase in cost was certainly reasonable and logical.  It should be noted compared to the thoroughbred triple crown races, the Hambletonian is a bargain. 

The funny thing is no one complains when professional sports teams raise ticket prices as they advance through the playoffs.  Yes, there is a difference between a day at the races versus a baseball game as baseball is not a gambling sport (legally, that is).  The question asked by some is why should a regular attendee of the races have to pay to spend their money gambling?

Because Hambletonian Day is not a typical day at the races; it is an event.  Personally, I have no problem paying to go to the track as for me, a night at the track is an event, something special even if there are no stake races on the program.  This is where racing needs to aim for.  It needs to make a day/night at the track an event, not just a night at the track where you can make your wagers.  After all, if all you want to do is make a bet, you can just as easily log on to your computer and make your bets.

Let's not kid ourselves, those who look at racing solely as a gambling sport are likely watching the races from their laptop, playing the races via their ADW where the sending tracks and horsemen split a whopping 3% of the handle; money which isn't exactly rolling in and making anyone rich..  The majority of those who want to go to the track are looking to experience an event; from special events on and off the track.  Many of them are not exactly betting high volumes of money but they don't really object to paying admission and other charges; charges which help offset the expenses of the day and improve the bottom line.  

And this is where racing needs to go.  It needs to make every racing day special; a day which those people looking for something special to do and are willing to pay to see want to attend.  While there will always be wagering on track, betting alone isn't going to cover the expenses.  Racing needs to add the pageantry back into the sport.  In Japan at JRA tracks, you find live music between races; ceremonies when awards are presented to winning jockeys and trainers. In other words, racing needs to be entertainment as much as gambling. The key is to make going to the races fun again with alternative activities in addition to racing, make it a social event.  While the largest bettors are likely lost to the ADWs, the more lucrative on-track handle should increase and be bolstered by the ancillary fees and food charges. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Here's an Easy Way to Become a RUS Supporter

As you know, in the United States RUS events are non-wagering races where purses are funded via donations.  As a result, it means supporters must seek out individuals and groups willing to take on a sponsorship role.  In some cases, the very people racing, including riders, are making donations to fund the purses even though the riders are not taking a riding fee.

Currently, there is a Gofundme campaign underway to raise money for purses to introduce RUS to new tracks with the initial goal to fund a modest purse for a race at Rosecroft Raceway.  Any excess funds raised will be used towards RUS purses at Freehold, The Red Mile, and wherever else needed.

Of course, once parimutuel wagering is offered, there will be no need to raise funds this way as the races will be funded from purse accounts but if you enjoy watching RUS and want the ability to wager on it in the future, you may wish to donate to this campaign whether you donate $5, $10 or whatever you wish to contribute; any amount donated will be appreciated.  Please note any contributions are NOT tax deductible.

The Championship Battle

Right now, the biggest race in the standardbred world is between Sebastian K and Sweet Lou in the Hambletonian/Breeders Crown Standardbred Poll.  While Sebastian K has a commanding lead when it comes to first place votes, 31 to 4, total point-wise the Swedish invader leads 344 to 307.  With his miscue in the Hambletonian, Father Patrick falls one spot from second to third.

While I still believe Horse of the Year is Sebastian K's to lose, make no mistake, we have a real horse race here.  Sweet Lou has become rejuvenated in his career, now reeling off victories with ease, including his last seven races at the Meadowlands.  He heads out to Hoosier Park for the Dan Patch Invitational
 on Friday night and should make it eight in the row.

The Norse wonder now has a month off scheduled after racing four weeks straight, something unusual for him in his native Sweden.  The aged trotter should come back stronger than ever and make an assault on his own world record at Lexington.  Right now, baring poor weather, there doesn't seem to be a trotter able to challenge him.

This contest may come down to the Breeders Crown but assuming all remain healthy and sound, it may be a question of which horse blinks first.  The second half of stakes season promises to be thrilling.

Remember exchnage wagering?   The NJRC has proposed rules for exchange wagering and the commission is accepting comments from the public through August 15.  Details on the proposal and how to comment are available here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The French Invade Ireland

Well, 'invading' is too strong a word to be honest, but the French trotter has landed on the shores of Ireland with more coming.  As part of an agreement reached with Le Trot, French trotters are coming to the Irish shores in an effort to boost the Irish product.  The Irish Harness Racing Club reached an agreement to import French trotters and to write a series which restricts access to those races to French horses.  Additional horses remain to be purchased at a fixed cost.  As a result of this deal, the IHRC will recieve financial aid and support to promote the sport in Ireland.

An additional benefit of this agreement is French trotters which are bred in Ireland will get access to French meets which will allow those horses to race in Europe.  In addition, the Irish product will be offered on PMU for wagering in France.

The IHRC realizes it can no longer just remain a small operation; the need is for it to grow and become a better product which will gain access to more mainstream punters on the Island.  It is hoped this deal with French authorities will be a good push in the effort.

Campbell Wins the 'Big One'

Well 'Big One' may be an exageration, but Congratulations to John Campbell on winning one race which has alluded him, the $217,140 Battle of Waterloo at Grand River Raceway.  Campbell won with Go Daddy Go in 1:55 and it seems appropriate that he won for trainer and owner Robert McIntosh who he has combined for many victories in his storied career.

As Campbell's career slowly winds down, it is nice to see Campbell check off these stakes which have alluded him.

Also on the Industry Day card, Grand River sponsored another RUS event with wagering.  This was not the cleanest start as a horse went off-stride well before the start of the race but fortunately, Ontario has the fair start rule.  A total of $12,359 was wagered on the race; not the greatest handle on a card filled with stakes races but still a respectable number.

As has been pointed out by some of our astute readers, there are not enough horses to sustain a prolonged period of RUS racing in a season; you can't have the same 20 horses being used all the time.  Of course this is true but as time goes on and more wagering opportunities arise which allow purses to be generated from purse accounts instead of depending on donations, the horses shall come.

Next stop for RUS Ontario is August 19 at Georgian Downs.

Meadowlands Casino - No sure bet.  There is no reason to panic at this time but while everyone assumes once they get Governor Christie and Senate President Sweeney on board with a casino in Northern New Jersey (Meadowlands), it is all but a done deal.

Well, it turns out not so fast.  While they may get the politicos in favor of a Northern New Jersey casino, there is still work to be done in convincing the New Jersey electorate.  Polls show the public is not fully convinced about the expansion of gambling in the state.  Depending on the poll and the wording, expansion is barely approved thanks to the opinions of voters who tend not to be that diligent in voting or the vote comes out against expansion.  There is plenty of time to launch a marketing campaign to win over the public and explain to them the benefits outweigh the risks, but to just assume the public will vote for the referendum is a mistake, one that could cost the NJ racing industry as well as NJ taxpayers.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Early Returns On Sportswriter

The fillies from Sportswriter’s first crop have earned $133,000 more in the Ontario Sire Stakes program than the freshman daughters of the next 17 OSS sires combined. The results for the colts are similar. The seven-year-old son of Artsplace has hijacked the program, marginalizing last year’s first crop star Shadow Play in the process. While some, like Sportswriter’s former trainer Casie Coleman, have evidenced an unwavering faith in his potential as a stallion—she bought nine of them at the sales—the murky climate for racing in Ontario hasn’t exactly provided a steady wave for Sporty to ride. He stood his first two seasons at Tara Hills for a $6,000 fee. That was reduced to $5,000 in 2013, when the marriage of gaming and racing was put in jeopardy by the Liberal Government. And his fee was reduced once more to $4,000 this year. These cuts were all introduced  prior to his first issue hitting the track.

While Sportswriter’s daddy, Artsplace, fought the good fight on the track against Die Laughing, Precious Bunny and numerous others that came down from Meadow Skipper and struggled against Skipper’s multi-pronged breeding machine throughout his siring career, he also benefited in a big way from the mares in that family. Art Major, Steinam’s Place, Astreos, Dream Away, Armbro Amoretto, Modern Art, Artiscape and Armbro Amimate are just a few of the Artsplace sons and daughters out of Meadow Skipper line mares. The same good fortune has come Sportswriter’s way; almost all of his freshman winners result from this cross. Sportswriter sired half the fillies in the Battle of the Belles final and half the colts in the Battle of Waterloo—all ten are out of Skipper’s mares. And when all those SBSW ladies get a little older and are looking for an appropriate partner, Sporty may be their man.

Sportswriter took 7 of 8 at two and won his division on both sides of the border. He logged wins in the Metro, Nassagaweya and Champlain, and that propensity for early speed seems to have been passed on to his offspring. Yes, his NA Cup victory tops the list, but he had problems with his feet that year and had to be retired early. So, while he did race in the Meadowlands Pace—under duress due to an inability to cope with the hot weather—he didn’t have much of an opportunity to showcase himself in the States. That left Rock N Roll Heaven with the field pretty much to himself, with the incomplete One More Laugh serving as the opposition.

The Cup was Sportswriter’s only win at three; it put him over the million dollar mark in career earnings. However, like fellow Ontario stallion Big Jim, who also had his sophomore season cut short due to injury, Sporty did not have momentum working for him when he embarked on his career as a stallion. Heaven may have lost the Cup and the Pace, but in the fall he won the Jug, Tattersalls Pace, Messenger and Breeders Crown, greasing the skids for a very positive transition into the second phase of his career.

Sportswriter’s coming out party was Monday, July 7, when his colts swept the three $70,000 OSS-Gold legs at Mohawk. Bob Ben And John, a $17,000 Lexington purchase by Casie Coleman, won by four; another Coleman colt, Rollwiththepunches, was placed first after a disqualification; and Jody Jamieson won with his dad’s colt, Sporting The Look. All three out of Skipper line mares. Nine days later at Grand River Bob, Ben And John and Rollwiththepunches repeated while The Sporting Life broke on the last turn at 1/5 for JJ. No problem, Casie’s Southwind Indy, a Sportswriter out of the Rocknroll daughter of Armbro Wallflower, It’s Only Rocknroll, stepped in and took the winners share of the $70,000 purse. Six up and six down for the colts in the Gold Series.

The fillies got their shot on Tuesday, July 11 at Mohawk, and they swept their three OSS-Gold splits. Southwind Mischief, out of the Western Hanover mare, Mondiane Hanover, won the first for Chris Christoforou and Coleman. And Code One Hanover—another one—was second, followed by her paternal sister, pacesetter Lady Hill.  Jamieson won the second split with the highly regarded Sports Chic, a half-sister to Rainbow Blue, and Coleman’s Sportswriter filly, Business As Usual, was second. Pop Writer took the third division for Doug McNair and Tony Alagna. As was the case with the colts, all of the above are out of Skipper line mares.

The following week at Grand River Sports Chic took another Gold split; Code One Hanover, a $75,000 yearling purchase at Lexington by Jack Darling, who was a good second the previous week, won another; and Yves Filion won the third with a $45,000 buy out of the very good Western ideal mare, Casino Nights. So the first twelve Gold splits all went to members of Sporty’s brood.

In Monday’s Battle of the Belles, five Sportswriter fillies made it into the final, and Win The Gold took the largest share of the $138,000 purse. She paid a generous $43.60. The top four finishers were all by you know who. And although five Sportswriter colts also made it to the final of the $217,140 Battle of Waterloo, Hall Of Famer John Campbell pulled off an upset with 7/1 Go Daddy Go, a son of Ponder. Sporting The Look was second and Bob Ben And John third.

Still, our enthusiasm for Sportswriter’s early domination of the Ontario program must be tempered by the fact that no pacing sire in that region is a player of any consequence on the Grand Circuit. Mach Three may be the sire of SBSW, but his get rarely stray from the OSS during their first two seasons of racing. Twenty-seven-year-old Camluck sired Little Brown Jug winner Michael’s Power, but he was an anomaly. As is the case with Mach Three, he doesn’t produce open stakes types. And the same can be said of new kid on the block, Shadow Play.

Sportswriter’s second freshman class will get a taste of what it’s like in the more competitive programs next year when Bettor’s Delight’s only Canadian crop competes in the OSS. Sporty is obviously for real, but we can’t pass over the fact that there’s no equivalency between the OSS and the PASS or the NYSS.

Staking will also come into play. As one would expect, most of his better sons were nominated to the Metro, but fewer than half of his performing sons and daughters were staked to the Breeders Crown and few have been nominated to next year’s Meadowlands Pace. Bob Ben And John, who may be the best, was not staked to the Metro, BC or Pace. His early success should trigger a correction. If not, he can’t move beyond regional stallion status. We’ve watched Always B Miki’s futile attempt to expand the playing field for Always A Virgin, but he isn’t staked to much and neither are most of his paternal brothers and sisters. Sports Bettor is staked to the Metro Pace, Breeders Crown and Meadowlands Pace, but it takes lots of those to create a reputation in the open realm.

Joe FitzGerald





Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sebastian K Steals The Show

On Saturday, when the three year old trotters were the stars of the show, an eight year old Swedish trotter named Sebastian K stole the show with his world record-tying effort over a mile track, equaling a 1:50 set by his supposed challenger Archangel in last week's eliminations.

Yes, the three year olds raced for more money, $1 million compared to a 'paltry' $300,000 for the FFAllers who decided to do battle in the Cashman, and the Hambletonian is an important feather in the hat for owners looking to cash in on their horses looking for lucrative stallion careers once their four year old season has concluded, so being money makes the world go round, the Hambletonian and the Oaks gets all the press but the real story of Hambletonian Day 2014 was Sebastian K.

We know from his European record that Sebastian K can be beat but on this side of the pond it seems so far the only thing which can defeat this son of Korean and Gabriella K are the weather gods, as he is somewhat vulnerable over an off track.  After hearing all week how they were going to take it to the Swedish import (which Archangel did), the results were once again all to familiar to those who have been watching this horse since he made his first North American start.  Sit and when ready to make a move, go and if the leader resists, grind him out and then leave them in your dust.  Yesterday, Archangel attempted to defeat the stallion and while he had the upper hand for the first three quarter of the mile but once again he turned out to be no match for the winner, yet his connections could take solace in the fact he was able to finish a respectable third with Market Share securing the place spot.

This is the year of Sebastian K and  as I predicted soon after his first victory in North America, the race for Horse of the Year is all but wrapped up at this time.  This horse is going to make American breeders think twice about the strength of the American trotter in the global stage.  In the meanwhile, the only advice I can offer his opponents is to pray for rain on race day.

We would be remiss not to discuss the Hambletonian,  No, it didn't turn into a Takter trifecta, but all the talk about Father Patrick quickly went up in smoke (along with money) thanks to drawing the outside post resulted in an effort to get to the lead early by Father Patrick which resulted in the stallion jumping off heading into the first turn, turning the race for Hambo glory turning into a workout session.   As a result of Father Patrick's miscue, the talented though less heralded stablemate Trixon won the 89th Hambletonian in 1:50.3, finishing a head in front of fellow stablemate Nuncio, giving team Takter the Hambletonian exacta.

While Trixton reigned supreme yesterday in the Hambo, rest assured we will be seeing a lot more of Father Patrick this year in the winner's circle.  While we may not have had to deal with any eliminations this year, those who were hoping to drraw posts were left to deal with fate; the way racing ought to be.  Regardless, it does seem the three year old trotting picture does belong to team Takter (who also took the Hambletonian Oaks with Lifetime Pursuit).

No doubt the weather impacted on attendance at the Hambletonian as it seemed most of the day was under a threat of rain.  Despite the rain, a robust 20,764 people attended the event live while a total of $8.5 million was bet in the North America, France, and Sweden.  Additional wagering was conducted elsewhere but even without those figures included, this Hambletonian Day card had the third highest handle ever, a minimum of a 11% increase over last year's event..