For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ontarians, What Are You Doing Friday Night?

Let The Battle Be Joined

Other than weather, nothing has been able to defeat Sebastian K this year.  According to a press release from the Hambletonian Society, it looks like the competition will be coming from Europe as Commander Crowe has officially accepted an invitation to the Breeders Crown.

The connections of Swedish star Commander Crowe have officially accepted an invitation to the $500,000 Breeders Crown Trot for the third time and the chestnut champion will make his first star on U.S. soil this fall.

Commander Crowe raced in the Breeders Crown Trot in 2011-2012 at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, finishing third to San Pail and third to Chapter Seven in his respective events.

Since moving to the stable of French trainer Fabrice Souloy in 2010, Commander Crowe, now 11, is still going strong. He earned a Breeders Crown invitation by winning the Aby Stora Pris, a Grade 1 event in Gothenburg, Sweden, in August. Owned by Snogarps Gard AB (Barbro Wihlborg, Ulf Wihlborg & Joakim Wihlborg) the gelded son of Juliano Star-Somack-Mack Lobell has won 60 races in 103 starts, for earnings of $4.7 million.
“We are delighted to accept your kind invitation for our horse Commander Crowe in order to participate in this years Breeders Crown for older trotters,” said Joakim Wihlborg via emial.
”We are fully aware of the conditions and we are looking forward to be a part of the big event.”
The last invited foreign horse to win the Breeders Crown Trot was Italian sensation Varenne, who captured the trophy with a then-world-record 1:51.1 at the Meadowlands.

Trainer Fabrice Souloy reports that Commander Crowe will arrive in the U.S. in mid-October.

The $500,000 Breeders Crown Trot is one of 12 championship events worth a total of $5.6 million to be raced at The Meadowlands over the weekend of Friday, Nov.21 and Saturday, Nov. 22.

Of course, the battle may be joined earlier as it is reported that Commander Crowe will be racing in the Yonkers International on October 25, as Sebastian K has already accepted an invitation to the race.

Thanks to the foreign invaders, this will be a terrific end to the stakes portion of the racing calendar.  If only a proposition bet was allowed, it would be interesting to be able to bet on who will finish the best in summary in their match up, adding in a few American horses.  All I can say is may the better horse win.  

Opinion: A Horsewoman's Plea

Today I came across this plea from a respected horsewoman, who when not taking care of the family racing stable and family, spends a lot of her time working to improve the lot of retired race horses as well as aid in bringing attention to horses in danger, those who attempt to profit at the expense of these off-the-track standardbreds, and reconnect horses with their previous owners or others connected to them.  In addition to helping raise attention to the plight of these horses, she has her collection of rescues on her farm which she takes care of without any outside support.  Clearly she has reached a point of frustration when she wrote this opinion piece which is important for the industry to see.  

I really wish that the industry would spend some time putting effort into creating a set of guidelines and regulations when it comes to the welfare of standardbreds. 

Horsemen who actually care about the fate of these animals are getting hit from all sides. First we have to deal with the phone calls that tell us that a horse that we once owned or trained (even if it was years ago) are standing in a kill pen and we must come up with hundreds of dollars to "free" them (or else!). Then we have to deal with people who sell horses to the Amish and worry about dealing with those people to get them back (or else!). 

Now the new thing is, the THREAT of Amishing a horse...."pay me $3,000 more than the horse is worth or I'm selling him to the Amish." I'm telling you, the market for extortion in this business is going up and up and up. All you have to do is claim a horse for $4,000, keep it for a few months (making no money with it) until it is unsound mentally and physically (because you had no business buying it to begin with) and then tell the previous owners to give you three times what the horse is worth or "I'm Amishing it."
The people who do these things have no business being in the horse business, especially if we are to protect racing for the future. The rest of the horse world is sick of seeing the headlines with yet another one of our horses ending up in a kill pen...and if you Amish a horse that is where it is ultimately going to end up once it's used up and tossed away. 

We cannot claim ignorance anymore, "Oh I thought it was going to go live a good life in the country and live its life out in a lush pasture." That DOES NOT happen. 

Do you know how many of these horses would end up on meat trucks if the Amish were taken out of the equation? NOT MANY. Because the Amish are the pipeline. It's not race owners and trainers shipping them to these sales, it's the Amish and it's their agents who scoop them up and ship them there. But I must add that common decency among horseman has been degraded to the point that I am not surprised that the horses suffer in the end, because we can't even be fair and decent to one another.

Right now I have SIX (count it 6!) fellow horseman that are desperately attempting to locate, buy back or prevent their horses from going to the Amish. This is turning into a disease.

The question is, Is anyone listening?  I wonder.....

Monday, September 29, 2014

Gaining Acceptance in the Saddle, in the Sulky

The response regarding RUS racing has been very good for the most part, especially from the fans.
Unfortunately, as with anything new, there are those who object to it, perhaps they fear it will take racing opportunities from them though there is nothing to keep trainers from training their trotters for RUS.

But then, there are probably those who take objection to women being in the saddle; the same ones who object to women in the race bike.  Let's face it, while women have been accepted into the training ranks, there is still hesitation to have women participate in races.  In this respect, standardbred racing is probably 20-25 years behind thoroughbred racing, a period when jockeys like Julie Krone were considered a freak in the sport.  Sure there were female jockeys before her, but they were far and few between and there were plenty of racing participants (and horse players) who felt female jockeys couldn't handle a horse past six furlongs, being the 'fairer' sex.  Once Krone was accepted, a few other women got their chance and finally they were accepted.  Now at most running tracks, you will see women riders racing with some regularity.

Well in harness racing, despite the success of a few female drivers, women still have a hard time getting drives.  Unless they own or train a horse, the chance of a woman getting drives is highly unlikely and unusual at the major tracks.  If women aren't as good as male drivers, it is only because they don't get the chance to compete as often as their male counterparts.

The following is a 'draft' promotional video for RUS Ontario.  Take a look at this video, and tell me these women lack the physical strength to ride or drive horses in races.

(Video and pictures courtesy of Carrie Clarke Scott)

Clearly, there should be no question about the physical strength of these women.  You can be strong and good looking at the same time.  I only wish I could be as strong as these women and dare say they can hold themselves against their male counterparts whether driving or riding horses.

RUS is serious racing, not just an excuse for women to get on the track to race.  Yes, it may be a way to get women more involved in harness racing, out of the backstretch and onto the track.  Perhaps after some more races, those doubters in harness racing will realize women can more than hold their own on the track and not only will RUS be an accepted part of standardbred racing; it may finally be the key to giving women a chance in the sulky as well.

It's about time standardbred racing catches up with thoroughbred racing with regards to accepting female participation on the track.  Time to make RUS more than a curiosity and a regular form of racing with additional races in Canada and the approval of the USTA's proposed rules for RUS and introducing parimutuel wagering.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Grand Circuit Weekend Number One At The Red Mile

Focusing exclusively on the high dollar splits of the Bluegrass during the first four days of the Red Mile Grand Circuit meet, Jimmy Takter won a third of them—eight of the 24. He also had a pair of second place finishes and one third. We’re talking about a cool $600,000 in purse money. Takter himself, Scott Zeron, Ron Pierce and Yannick Gingras all won divisions for that barn. The latter won seven for Takter and others. Overall, David Miller was third with four and Scott Zeron won three.

Ron Burke followed Takter from a distance with three Bluegrass wins. Strangely enough, trainers 3-10 on the money list accounted for only two wins. Number three on that list, Erv Miller, doesn’t really play in that sandbox. Regardless, he had no board finishes. Tony Alagna had one win, with the freshman sensation Artspeak, while Julie Miller also had one. Casie Coleman, whose star McWicked is not staked to the Bluegrass or the Tattersalls Pace, had one second.

Ake Svanstedt’s first weekend at Lexington was a disappointment, as he failed to win a Bluegrass division and had to settle for a pair of seconds and a pair of thirds. He won a late closer with Opulent Yankee today, but he didn’t go down there for that.

Takter set himself up nicely for next week with convincing wins by his stars: Father Patrick, Nuncio, Shake It Cerry, Wild Honey and Uncle Lasse. Lifetime Pursuit just got caught in a world record mile.

Jolene Jolene, who won in a time three seconds faster than Wild Honey did, set up the Muscle Hill vs Cantab Hall brawl we’ve become accustomed to in 2014, but Donato Hanover also had an excellent meet. As a matter of fact, he was tops with four winners. And two of the Donato’s were colts—Uncle Lasse and The Bank.

Burke got a “prove it” win with his under the radar Art Major colt, Cartoon Daddy, who broke stride in the Sheppard but won the NYSS final. He was in and out this year and needed his Bluegrass win. Limelight Beach also proved his Jug win was no fluke. He and He’s Watching are not listed among the eligibles to the Tattersalls Pace, while Always B Miki, who went a sensational 1:47.4 mile, is staked to it. I believe the cost of supplementing is $60,000. The connections of Limelight and Watching may have already done that.  Wellwood winner Habitat also made another strong showing for Burke.

The Pine Chip stallion Enjoy Lavec is certainly the weekend’s most celebrated broodmare sire. World record producing Muscles Yankee filly, Cee Bee Yes, is out of an Enjoy Lavec mare, as is Father Patrick (Cantab Hall). Hot shot Billy Flynn (Cantab Hall), who made it 8 for 8 in his Bluegrass split, is also the product of an Enjoy Lavec mare. As are Pastor Stephen—Father Patrick’s brother—and Uncle Peter (Cantab Hall). Smilin Eli, like Cee Bee Yes, is by Muscles Yankee out of an Enjoy Lavec mare.

Tony Alagna’s Western Ideal colt Artspeak wowed us again, but a 25/1 shot named In The Arsenal won another split in 1:49.4 for Brian Sears. He’s by American ideal, who gave us hot shot freshman He’s Watching last year and Heston Blue Chip a couple back. In The Arsenal’s dam is 23-years-old. His brother Exquisite Art won a heat of the 2001 Jug for David Miller and his sister is the dam of another Bluegrass winner, Rollwithitharry.  

Joe FitzGerald

Looking at the Proposed Rule Changes for 2015

The USTA has published the proposals for changing the rules at the upcoming Directors' Meeting in 2015.  Other than the adoption of rules for RUS (currently, they are using recommendations), there are no big blockbuster rule changes on the docket.

As for the rules for RUS, these rules are needed because many states are treating RUS as a novelty due to the lack of official rules by the USTA.  With the USTA adopting rules, many states will treat the requirements for RUS racing seriously, and for those states who have their own rule book, they can adopt in whole or tweak the RUS rules to make them their own and approve the sport for wagering.

Another thing the USTA is doing this year in addition to voting at the district meetings, members have the ability to voice their opinions individually and anonymously to the USTA and its directors regarding proposals via an online survey.  This is a big move for while the district votes are important, in cases where the district leadership dictates the outcome or there is a fear of being different, USTA members will have the ability to make their opinions known.

Proposal 1 - Standardization of pylon heights and distances between them.  A no-brainer.  The proposal will mandate specifications for the size of pylons and the distances between them.  As the proposer of the rule indicates, a standard for pylons not only will bring consistency between tracks, but it will make it easier to enforce the 'inside the pylon' rules.  This proposal should be adopted.

Proposal 2 - Ban a driver from racing in a race where he owns/trains  or has a financial interest in more than one horse when they race uncoupled.  No need to explain where this proposal comes from and for that reason it is pretty evident the proposal should be approved.  After all, in a sport where perception is reality, the last thing we need is the appearance of a driver helping another of his horses in a race to the detriment of the horse he is driving.  The best thing is to have him in the paddock and not on the track for the particular race.

Proposal 3 - Adopting licensing standards for riders.  The first RUS-related rules.  The proposal sets the requirements for licensing.  I realize RUS racing is in its infancy, but  personally, I feel the qualifications of passing a written test and riding in two schooling or workout miles is really not sufficient.  With the limited number of riders at this time, the rule is adequate but down the road the rule should include qualifications for a provisional rider and a full rider, the difference based on the number of satisfactory races ridden in being the determining factor.  In addition, riders should have to race in a certain number of qualifying races to prove their ability to race.  Approve with modification.

Proposal 4 - A proposal to eliminate kicking.  Okay, the rule actually is written to require both feet in the stir-ups except when pulling ear plugs.  In addition to the requirement of both feet in the stir-ups, penalties are specified and get more severe with more violations.  Again, a no-brainer as far as I am concerned, but unfortunately, with states adopting their own rules when it comes to penalties, unless individual states get serious about penalizing repeat offenders, it will be for naught.  In favor for passage.

Proposal 5 - Identifies riding violations in RUS events.  Pretty complete with the exception of one item, the carrying of an electrical device in a race (aka, the buzzer).  Other than that, pretty complete.  Approve with modification to ban the use of an electrical prompt.

Proposal 6 - The weigh-out and weigh-in  of riders in a RUS race.  All riders will be required to race at a weight of 140 lbs (or more).  The rule provides for a disqualification if the rider and their equipment weighs less than 140 lbs after race .  Should be approved.

Proposal 7 - A rule allowing a trainer to add or remove hobbles without qualifying and allow hobble changes (on/off) between races in a multi-heat event.  The title pretty much describes it.  While trainers should have discretion, each horse should have to qualify the first time they race with or without hobbles and thereafter have the ability to change accordingly at the trainer's discretion.  The proposal should be rejected as is.

Proposal 8 - A rule defining what racing under saddle is as well as establish the general requirements such as age of horse, registration, equipment, qualifying standards.  Pretty straightforward. but misses an important situation; there is no adopted standard as to what the program must include therefore, who knows what the program page will look like?  Ideally, adopt with changes to address programs but failing that, adopt as is and revisit next year to standardize what needs to be shown on a program page.

Proposal 9 -  Bar the issuance of registration papers until a foal is permanently identified and parentage is genetically proven.  Should be approved.

Proposal 10 - Modify the fee schedule for non-extended pari-mutuel tracks.  Generally it makes if financially easier for a fair to host racing as the fee will be set at $80.  Yes, a few tracks may pay more but the majority will pay less.  If they can't afford $80, they shouldn't be in the business of conducting harness racing.  Approve.

Eventual outcome.  A pretty subdued set of proposals with little controversy.  That being said, out of the 10 proposals, I suspect proposal 2, 4, and 7 will raise some cackles and go down to defeat.  The other proposals should be adopted 'as is' or with some tweaking.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Briefs

The Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission has adopted rules requiring both hands to be on the reins during the entire race.  As a result, the amount of whipping will be restricted as well as where the whip will make contact.

As progressive as the rule may be, unless fines are sufficient, drivers will violate the rule when tit suits them and they will pay the typical $100-$200 fine and go on their merry way.  Unless the penalties are tough enough, there was no sense in passing this rule change.

Prediction:  As much as Plainridge Park says 'No Thank You', there will be thoroughbred racing at Plainridge within the next two years.  Like it or not, the thoroughbred industry has always had more muscle than the standardbred industry and if they want in at Plainridge, they will get in there.  Standardbred horsemen would be well advised to play defense, otherwise they will be racing in the winter or find themselves homeless.

Yes, the MGCB could have solved this problem by giving Mohegan Sun the license which would have kept the runners racing at Suffolk Downs for at least another 15 years, but truth be told if you saw a picture of where Suffolk Downs was surrounded by, you can't blame them for voting elsewhere.  After all, behind the grandstand is a fuel tank farm; not exactly a tourist draw.

The stakes races at The Red Mile on Thursday evening shows why dividing stakes races makes no sense anymore.  Even before the scratches and horses being barred from wagering, you were looking at seven horse fields, something bettors don't want to touch on the mile track.  It would be better if there were no more than 12 horses entered, you race with a second tier.  More than 12 horses but less than 18 horses? Have nine horses race on the wagering card and race the short field as a non-wagering event.  Tracks should only card close to full fields or better for their wagering program.

The Red Mile Grand Circuit meet never is known for its huge payoffs, with high class horses, short fields typically paying chalky prices.  Then of course, once you say that, comes that one horse, in this case 137-1  Ideal Nuggets who goes and wins a division of the Bluegrass last night, making a liar of me.  So you can a get a long shot, just don't hold you breath for it.

While talking about Kentucky, I couldn't help a trainer at Bluegrass Downs was fined $500 and got a 45 day suspension for a horse with a positive with caffeine (1st major penalty regarding medication overages).  In addition to that, the trainer had to return the $750 in first prize money won.  Couldn't help but notice other trainers at bigger tracks getting smaller overall fines and suspensions for positives.  Is there a disconnect here?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Kentucky Futurity

The Kentucky Futurity, which dates back 121 years, is the oldest race of any importance in the sport. By contrast, the Hambletonian only goes back 88 years. The Futurity has always been contested at The Red Mile, with the exception of a couple of editions in the 1930’s, after a fire destroyed the grandstand, and four years during World War II. The purse money has never matched that offered by the Hambletonian, which is double that of the Futurity, partly because the race has not been up for bid on a regular basis like the Hambletonian. The latter started in Syracuse, quickly relocated to Lexington, then moved on to Goshen, DuQuoin and finally New Jersey. Saratoga, Latonia, Washington Park and Liberty Bell were all angling for it in the mid-1970s. You can’t hold the Kentucky Futurity in New York or Pennsylvania. The race itself, surface of the track and geographical location comprise a unique package.

Fillies have enjoyed more success racing in the Futurity than they have in the Hambletonian; they won the former at a 30% rate, while taking only 15% of the latter. Five fillies won both, with the last being Emilys Pride in 1958. The last three fillies to win the Hambletonian, Kerry Way, Duenna and Continentalvictory, did not race in the Kentucky Futurity. Peace Corps, who was named TOY when she won the race in 1989, kicked off a stretch of three wins in four years for the distaff set in Lexington. The Nearly Perfect filly, Whiteland Janice, won two years later for Mike Lachance, when Tommy Haughton’s Somatic broke stride while on his way to victory. And the following year the Super Bowl filly, Armbro Keepsake, beat Baltic Striker and favorite Giant Force for John Campbell. The 1976 win by the great Speedy Scot filly, Classical Way, over Hambletonian winner Legend Hanover and Yonkers Trot champ, Chiola Hanover, was surely one of the best.

There have been large gaps between distaff wins in the Hambo, which you don’t find in the timeline of the Futurity: there was a 17 year stretch between wins by Kerry Way and Duenna, and it was another 13 before Continentalvictory got hers. Both races now feature filly divisions. The Oaks started in 1971 and the Filly Futurity in 1986.

Since the inaugural Hambletonian in 1926, 26 Kentucky Futurity winners have also won that race, ten in the 45 years since Nevele Pride won both in 1968. No rhyme or reason to it: no common winner in the last four; a common winner in the four before that; only two in the 34 years prior to that. During the thirty year stretch between Flirth’s Hambletonion win in 1973 and Amigo Hall’s win in 2003, Self Possessed, the sire of today’s premier stallion, Cantab Hall, was the only trotter to win both. On the pacing side, during the thirty year stretch between 1977 and 2007 there were five common winners between the Little Brown Jug and the Meadowlands Pace. Never as many as one might expect.

There have only been eight winners of the Trotting Triple Crown. The last was Glidemaster, eight years ago. He’s a failed stallion, and his predecessor, Windsong’s Legacy, who won two years earlier, passed two and a half years after completing his Triple Crown quest. Just as one must trace back 42 years to find a Triple Crown hero on the pacing side, one who left a powerful mark as a stallion—Most Happy Fella—one must go back almost that far—42 years—to find Super Bowl on the trotting side. 

The Kentucky Futurity is so steeped in tradition that the driving and training record of seven is still held by the late Ben White who drove his last winner 77 years ago. Now that’s tradition!  

From a family perspective, the Simpson’s have experienced the most success in the modern era. John Sr. completed the third Triple Crown when he won with 900 pound speed demon Ayres in 1964. This was after the mighty might somehow got out of his stall during the night and got into a tussle with a chain link fence that left him battered and bruised. Certainly the most bizarre story associated with the Futurity. Simpson had also won 13 years earlier with Ford Hanover. His son, John Jr., won four times, once with his father’s colt Timothy T—from the first crop of Ayres—and also with Clarence Gaines’ Waymaker and Classical Way and Norman Woolworth’s Bonefish filly, Filet Of Sole. And Jim Simpson trained 1986 winner Sugarcane Hanover, who upset division winner Royal Prestige, a winner of seven in a row after suffering a narrow loss to Nuclear Kosmos in the Hambletonian.

Bill Haughton, who drove five Jug winners and trained six, never drove one in the Futurity. It was the only significant stakes race he never won. He lost to son Peter and 2 for 17 Quick Pay in 1976 when he had Hambletonion winner Peter Lobell. Quick Pay had never won a race in 2:00. Peter also ruined the Triple Crown bid of Speedy Somolli in 1978 with the journeyman Speedster trotter, Doublemint. Younger son, Tommy, won the Futurity with Final Score when he was only 23 years old, and he got a training credit when Napolitano ruined Mack Lobell’s Triple Crown bid in 1987.

Stanley Dancer trained and drove two of the eight Triple Crown winners—Nevele Pride and Super Bowl. Maybe Nuncio will give John Campbell that record tying win number seven next week. Chuck Sylvester has trained six. Ralph Baldwin and Joe O’Brien had five winners each.

We’ve had five years of low key winners of the Kentucky Futurity, Creatine and My MVP won for Mike Lachance the last two years. Not since 2009, when HOY Muscle Hill scored an easy win for Brian Sears, has a star won it. Father Patrick faltered in the Hambletonian, but he’s in Lexington and staked to the Futurity. A world record performance that turns heads at The Red Mile would be nice about now.

Joe FitzGerald

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

As the Casino Lottery Turns

As we have seen with this week's announcement that Suffolk Downs will be closing since the decision of Massachusetts' gaming site selection committee to give the regions gaming license to a competitor, many tracks which don't have alternative gaming are holding on to the prospect of receiving a license to keep them open.  It also shows the commitment to horse racing in many cases is, well, zero.

Those tracks who have slots are not out of the woods either.  With New York State due to select casino sites within the next couple of months, it is conceivable the selection of a non-racetrack site could spell the eventual demise of several tracks as the competition potentially will take enough business away from the slot parlors to make these racinos collapse as a result of not being able to support their debt service and operating expenses.

Meanwhile, horsemen and racetracks elsewhere are enjoying the benefits of slots, looking behind their backs, wondering when the eventual assault to decouple racing from alternative gambling will begin.  They try not to think about it, but it's there in the back of their minds.  Other tracks in states without alternative gaming such as Illinois are praying their turn will come but realize the odds are long.

What do all these scenarios have in common?  A dependence on alternative gaming, be it hope or actuality.   This is not the way an industry should operate and one must wonder how racing got to this point.  The Boston Globe in an editorial says it best:

The track’s COO, Chip Tuttle, lashed out at the commission, blaming it for the closure. But the real culprit has been a long-term decline in the popularity of horse racing since its Depression heyday. The track hasn’t been profitable since 2006; other thoroughbred tracks across the United States have struggled to survive, too. Rather than reinvent their business to attract new customers, though, many tracks, including Suffolk Downs, have implored the government for a rescue, in the form of a casino license. 
Racetracks don’t have any more of a right to to a bailout than any other struggling business,...
It's easy to blame it on the state or track operators, but those rare times tracks have attempted to make changes, horsemen were the first ones to buck in opposition.  Be it odd distance races, in particular distance; adding additional horses via the second tier in harness racing, even the attempt in Maryland years ago not to announce post positions until after wagering closed (in an effort to increase odds), horsemen dug their heels into the ground refusing to enter those races.  Not every idea would have been a winner, but they were attempts.
So here we are, racetracks of all breeds playing the game, "As the Casino Lottery Turns".  We'll see who the next winners and losers are.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Bringing the Grand Circuit to the Masses

Sunday's Grand Circuit race was the Prix d'Ete which was being contested at Hippodrome 3r.  Good luck for many harness racing fans to bet the race, or failing that, watch the race live.  Many ADWs in the United State doesn't take Hippodrome 3r races as the industry is still being resuscitated in the province.  Not exactly a high demand for their product in the states most days.

So what about watching the race?  If you are resourceful enough to find the Hippodrome's website and track it back to the Ontario Jockey Club site there is a place to watch races live or in replay mode.  Failing that you put your arms up in frustration and move on to something else.

The problem is clear.  Due to contracts and other business decisions, not all ADWs are able or willing to carry all tracks racing.  While specifying races 'Grand Circuit' events may be good for on-track attendance and wagering, what good is it for off-track customers if they are unable to wager on a race or if so inclined to watch the race, need to hunt down a signal they can watch or need to wait for a story about the race and hope there is a video link tied to it?

If the Grand Circuit is truly dedicated to providing fans the opportunity to see the nation's best horses race in these events, clearly it is failing as the races are currently presented.  The question is how can the Grand Circuit present these races to the public in the most advantageous manner?  Especially as the industry is attempting to gain interest through social media?

Ideally, the racetracks holding Grand Circuit races would enter into a contract granting the Grand Circuit the right to bundle these races into a single package which can be sold to ADWs.  The ADWs would be able to get access to these races regardless of what ADW(s) have the right to the complete race card.  Of course, there may be some renegotiation necessary with ADWs to give up any exclusive rights they may have to Grand Circuit races.

Failing that, the Grand Circuit or industry should develop a Grand Circuit online channel where fans can watch the Grand Circuit races live regardless of which track is hosting the event.  The channel would not only include the race, but any live programming from the tracks surrounding the event (i.e., pre-race analysis and post-race interviews).

If all else fails, the Grand Circuit should establish its own channel on a video site such as YouTube where Grand Circuit races will be posted as soon as possible after the races completion.  Using social media, it can be made known that the races have been posted to the site for viewing.  By having a channel, the Grand Circuit may also decide to post important foreign races (and enter into an exchange agreement where other nation's racing authorities can use races posted on the Grand Circuit channel).  Races won't be seen live but at least it would make it easy for fans to know where to find the races without hunting and pecking.

Any of the above methods are better than the current method of fans hunting for the races or giving up, having these races raced for all practical purposes in isolation.

Johnson Park Memories

by Peter Lawrence, Contributor to VFTRG
For everyone's pleasure, here are a few shots of the Johnson Park racetrack in nearby Piscataway, N.J.
I've driven by the site, located on River Road, near Rutgers University, the city of New Brunswick, the giant Rutgers football stadium, and the Raritan River (hence, River Road) many times, most recently last Wednesday, when I stopped to snap these photos.
Harness racing veterans will probably remember when the New Jersey Sire Stakes used to race every summer on a "fair" circuit decades ago, which also included Herve Filion's Capitol (Capital?) Hill Farms, Stanley Dancer's Egyptian Acres, plus Flemington, Cowtown, the big-time Showplace and Gaitway training facilities, and five or six other places.
The late Bruce Stearns ran the sire stakes program back then - the story of me, Bruce and Liberty Bell Park is one I'll go into some other time - and if I recall correctly, his staff included Alice DiNolfi and Mary Pat Sulllivan (now Rhodes), both of whom are also here on Facebook.
Herve, Cat Manzi, Jack Moiseyev, Joe Schwind and others - plus two fresh-faced Swedish youths named Per Eriksson and Jimmy Takter (maybe you've heard of that Takter fella) - were regulars on the circuit.
Few of those locations hosted real fairs with the racing, which was generally conducted on Saturdays and Sundays, as I recall (Fridays, too?), with the exception of Stanley Dancer, who decreed no racing on Sundays at his place, if I remember correctly.
I think I covered the fair racing for *Harness Horse* magazine for a few years, and I know I co-owned a nice B.G.'s Bunny filly named Tri State's Baby, who won six or eight fair stakes, while trained by Fred Grant, and then by Bonnie Butler.
(Baby also won a few NJSS races at the big track, the Meadowlands, in rein to Bill O'Donnell, my biggest-ever thrills as an owner. Our syndicate leader was Rob Goldstein, a LONG-time friend. But I digress. )
Johnson Park isn't really the name of the racetrack pictured here. It's the name of the sprawling park in which the track is located. It also includes a little zoo, tennis courts and ballfields, most notably cricket courts, used mostly by the large nearby Indian population, Indians from India, that is. Namaste, y'all.
For the record, the Johnson Park overall track record,1:59-2/5, was set in 1982 by the doubly well-remembered Caramore and Catello Manzi.
The track surface still looks good at Johnson Park, and the grounds appear well-maintained. There's one horse barn standing, and you can see horses jogging by on the track if you happen along at the right time, which sometimes is in the middle of the afternoon.
It appears that the, presumably empty, shell of a teletiming sign is stilll standing near one turn.
Those were fun days. Fair racing in the afternoon, then off to Meadowlands, Yonkers (or Roosevelt? My timeline's cloudy here) at night.
Oh, for the simpler times of our collective youth.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Morrisville Sale 2014

Today’s Morrisville Sale featured overall numbers close to last year’s; five more yearlings were sold for a similar average of more than $10,000. Still, the number sold is down about 37% from 2011.

Last year the first crop sales of high profile New York stallions Rock N Roll Heaven and Lucky Chucky created some buzz, while this year it was 2011 sophomore division winner Roll With Joe who was experiencing his first auction. Only five by that stallion sold at Morrisville, for a very modest $8,700 average. Most of the initial action on RWJ will come at Lexington, where nine fillies and eight colts will be sold, and in Harrisburg, where nineteen fillies and eighteen colts will be hammered down.

Last year only six from Lucy Chucky’s first crop sold at Morrisville, for an encouraging $22,000 average—high for this sale. The $450,000 the Cancelliere brothers paid for a brother to Muscle Massive and Muscle Mass skewed the results at Lexington, but at Harrisburg 32 averaged more than $32,000. Overall, the Chuckys were well received.

Lucky Chucky ranked third behind Conway Hall and Crazed on the NYSS 2-year-old earnings list; Nunkeri, who finished second in the Championship Final, was his top filly and Gabe The Bear Dean and Mambo Blue Chip were two of the better colts. All in all Chucky was competitive in the program but hasn’t made his mark on the Grand Circuit. Granted, opportunities for the latter have been limited. Twice as many sold at Morrisville this year—13—and they averaged about half of what they did last year--$12,423. A dozen Lucky Chuckys will sell in Lexington and 17 will be available at Harrisburg.

Like Lucky Chucky, Rock N Roll Heaven keeps a low profile at the Morrisville Sale. Five sold for a $15,000 average last year while three averaged almost $13,000 today. What happened at Morrisville gave no clue about Heaven’s future sale prospects in 2013: 33 of them averaged a hefty $48,000 at Harrisburg. Twenty-five will be available there this year and 30 will sell at Lexington. Heaven ranked third in his division, behind Bettor’s Delight and Art Major, on the NYSS 2-year-old pacing money list. His daughters Sassa Hanover and Band Of Angels were dominant players in the division for Ron Burke, but in the Championship final at Yonkers, the leader in both age groups, Bettor’s Delight, stepped up for the win in the form of his daughter Mosquito Blue Chip. Heaven was a decidedly gyno-centric stallion; his colts were no factor. Prediction: nobody will be writing a $450,000 check for one this year.

RC Royalty stands at Morrisville and topped the sale in the number available, as 17 brought an average of more than $13,000. This was down 27% from last year when 20 sold on the wave of Royalty For Life’s division championship. RC Royalty ranked fourth on the 2-year-old money list and fifth on the 3-year-old list. The sophomore filly Avalicious and the freshman colt Royal Deceptor were probably his best. There were no budding Royalty For Life’s in the mix. He sells one at Lexington and none at Harrisburg. His brush with fame did not propel the eleven-year-old beyond his regional stallion status.

Cash Hall, the Self Possessed stallion who now stands in Ohio for $3,000, raised his profile markedly in the NYSS with his outstanding filly Market Rally and her paternal brother Buen Camino. The former crushed the opposition on the Night of Champions. Premium performers will always garner a stallion more love than healthy averages. Last year Cash Hall, who still has NYSS eligibility, had 13 sell at Morrisville for an $8,800 average. This year only four sold, but they averaged three times that. Cash Hall is in a no man’s land between New York and Ohio right now.

The young Credit Winner stallion, Crazed, is about to stand his third season at Hanover in Pennsylvania. His fee was dropped from $6,000 to $4,000 last year. Crazed, who still has NYSS eligibility, sold seven for $16,571 today, up from the 12 he sold for an average of $9,200 in 2013. He was second to Conway Hall among two and three-year-old trotters in the NYSS this year. Gural Hanover and Crazy Wow, both winners of their respective finals, were crazy good this year. Nineteen by Crazed sell at Harrisburg. The buyers haven’t been particularly receptive up until now, but we should see more enthusiasm for him this year.

Credit Winner, Art Major and Bettor’s Delight play a very limited role in this sale.  The latter, who now resides in Pennsylvania, has exhausted his two-year-old eligibility which will transfer to Ontario next year. He won’t be missed by the other stallions. We’ll find out at Lexington and Harrisburg whether or not the buyers consider his little brother, Roll With Joe, a suitable substitute. Conway Hall, leader of both the two and three-year-old divisions, and the most underrated stallion in the sport, sold seven for a $19,000 average, just like last year.

Joe FitzGerald

The Race Needs to be Run

Many of my friends were saying Sebastian K could not be defeated.  I responded I thought so as well, especially if the track was fast, but for my snug friends, I reminded them the race needs to be run first

Well, the track was listed as good and yes, when the race was over, Sebastian K was nowhere to be seen and the bridge jumpers were likely saying, "What happened?" for in the Centaur Trotting Classic at Hoosier Park, the Swedish invader put in his worst performance on North American shores and at the worst possible time; as the troops gather in Lexington for the Grand Circuit meet.  For this was a defeat which could not be singled out on the excuse of the off-track, he clearly was not the same horse he has been all year; it was a clunker.

Perhaps the first sign came when he was off the gate at the start.  Maybe it was when he didn't get to the lead in his usual first few strides but instead cleared just past the quarter.  Maybe it was the seemingly pedestrian pace, but you knew he was in trouble when his patented burst of speed heading into the stretch petered out, merely a weak resemblance of the usual move as the field quickly swarmed over the champ and passed him in the stretch as if he had nothing left to fight back with, finishing an disappointing seventh in the field of ten.

Providing Sebastian's handlers determine it was just one of those days most horses typically go through, expect Sebastian K to bounce back in his next race.  In the meanwhile, those gamblers who got burnt last night have learned a new adage.  "The Race Need to be Run and the track condition needs to be checked,", at least with Sebastian K.

Here's hoping for fast tracks the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, after being disrespected at Mohawk, parimutuel wagering on RUS events resumed last night at Flamboro Downs as a field of eight horses took to the track in a $2,700 event.  The winner was Lexus Hawkeye, who crossed the wire first after being third at the top of the stretch in 2:04.4.

The overall handle on the race was $13,055, which was 10.7% of the total handle for the night.  Clearly the public is accepting of RUS events, why veteran horsemen at WEG tracks are raising such a stink regarding RUS is beyond me,

No, I am still here.  Thanks to those who expressed concern regarding my absence from the blog.  Family matters took precedence last week which minimized my online time.  I hope to be rereportingith more regularity this point forward.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Former Harness Racing Venue Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts is Closing

by Pete Lawrence

Former harness racing venue Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts apparently is closing up shop for good, says this report.

Better-known as a thoroughbred track dating back to the 1930s, Suffolk, located in the Boston area, played host to such running-horse stars as Seabiscuit, Whirlaway, Stymie, Riva Ridge, Dixieland Band, Skip Trial, Waquoit, Lost Code, Private Terms, Cigar and Skip Away, and jockeys like Eddie Arcaro, Jean Cruget, Eddie Maple, Ron Turcotte, Don MacBeth, Chris McCarron, Angel Cordero, Jacinto Vasquez, Jean-Luc Samyn, Craig Perret, Kent Desormeaux, Jerry Baily, John Velazquez, Gary Stevens and Edgar Prado.

Most of these luminaries appeared at Suffolk by way of its marquee race, the Massachusetts Handicap, which, by harness standards, was a free-for-all, a big one, during most of its existence.

Suffolk Downs also hosted harness racing from 1959-70, though I know a great deal less about the standardbred era there. Seems to me I do recall that Ted Wing, Jim Doherty and Bill O'Donnell - as well as the usual New England regulars like John Hogan, Art Nason, Bert Beckwith and Ken Heeney - raced there.

Joe O'Brien raced in New England when he first ventured down to the United States from his native Canada - as did Doherty and O'Donnell later - but that may have occurred before 1959. Seems to me Joe raced at Foxboro (aka, Bay State Raceway), another defunct Massachusetts harness track.

The Beatles played a concert at Suffolk Downs, as did Elvis Costello, Aerosmith and others.

Bill Veeck, the well-known (you might call him legendary) sports entrepreneur, was Suffolk Downs' president in 1969-70. By my math, that means he ran the place for at least one harness meet,. Those years were before my time in the sport, though not by much.

Veeck wrote a book about that experience - which I read a long time ago, though I don't remember much of what was in it - called "Thirty Tons a Day." It did stick with me that the title referred to the amount of horse manure which had to be removed every day from the barn area.

(That's probably one small reason - or maybe not so small - why fewer and fewer racetracks have stable areas anymore.)

Anyway, if this report is accurate, and Suffolk does cease to exist, you can add its name to the long list of former harness tracks I won't enumerate here, but the latest members of which include Windsor Raceway and Hollywood Park.

If I've misstated or missed anything important here - or if anyone wants to add any remembrances of Suffolk Downs - feel free to do so.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

We Have Met the Enemy and it is Ourselves

THe original plans for Canadian Trotting Classic night had the $15,000 RUS event being a wagering event.  So you can imagine when some fans saw the RUS event go as a non-wagering contest.  Were they mistaken?  Apparently not.  Turns out members of the old-guard had objections to this new fangled way of racing so the kabosh was put on wagering despite the fact RUS events in the province have basically made up 8-10% of the daily handle where wagering was permitted.

The public wants RUS, progressive members of the standardbred community want it, but those with years in the sport either can't look through the forest to see the trees and recognize RUS is a new entree to get new participants and fans for the sport or fear the loss of racing opportunities for their racing stock despite RUS supporters hoping to get initially one race on a daily racing card.  What is ironic about the fear of losing racing opportunities is there is nothing keeping them from training their trotting stock to race under saddle.

It is this parochial thinking which helps keep standardbred racing back.  But then if these people had their way, we still wouldn't be racing with hopples.  The time has come for the old guard to give way to those willing to give the sport a change to survive.

Meanwhile, while the old guard digs their heels in, those involved with RUS are doing their best to promote standardbred racing.  Maybe the old guard should think again who their real enemies are, it is not those involved with RUS.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sunday's Canadian Yearling Sale

Two years ago, under the pall of the announced end of the SARP program, sale averages at the first day of the Canadian Yearling Sale were off a full 50% from the first day in 2011. Last year the second day was eliminated as 47 fewer yearlings hit the sales ring, and buyers and sellers alike approached the venue with an air of trepidation. But, alas, the average was up $1,830 or 18%. And the OSS program has been very successful this year, so many who rejected the pessimism have been rewarded for their faith. A 22% bump at Sunday’s 2014 edition of this bell-wether sale should bode well for the leaner and meaner auctions that will follow in Canada and the US.

The sample is small and drawing too many conclusions from it would be foolhardy. That being said, there is always something to be learned from the way stallions are received at the CYS.

Last year a Sportswriter colt sold for $65,000 at Harrisburg and a filly sold for $62,000 at Lexington; the top colt went for $20,000 at the CYS and the top filly sold for $23,000. Only five sold on Sunday, for an average of $41,000, up from an average of almost $12,000 last year. And Sports Cowboy, a colt out of millionaire Moving Pictures, stretched the field for the mega-star of this year’s OSS program by commanding a $100,000 price.

Kadabra stands for a $15,000 stud fee that is surpassed only by Cantab Hall and Muscle Hill, yet unlike that pair, and all the other stallions in his general price range, he maintains a very low profile on the Grand Circuit. Bee A Magician is an outlier. Yet, Kadabra is second in the overall OSS standings, behind Muscle Mass. In 2011 nineteen Kadabras averaged almost $30,000 at the CYS; 12 averaged $12,800 in 2012; and five averaged $10,800 last year. Do we have a trend? This year the Kadabras were down to two at a $12,000 average. 

Muscle Mass, who is the leading trotting stallion in the OSS program, and maintains eligibility through 2017 in the sophomore class, despite having been relocated to New York for the 2014 season, didn’t have any blockbuster sales, but six colts and four fillies brought a solid average of more than $17,000. This was off last year’s average of $23,000 for thirteen. Ten from that lot were colts and that surely accounts for some of the drop.

Bettor’s Delight, who led all pacing stallions in the NYSS for two and three-year-olds, will have his only Ontario crop hit the track next year. He’ll give Sportswriter a run for his money, but only two sold on Sunday, a colt and a filly for $13,000 each.

The new Western Ideal stallion, Big Jim, who won his division at two in the US and Canada,  received a courteous reception: six fillies and two colts averaged a shade over $13,000, with a colt selling for a high of $29,000 and a filly for $17,000. Future auctions will tell the tale on him.

First year trotting stallion, the fast but unpredictable Manofmanymissions, who won the Breeders Crown, Kentucky Futurity and Stanley Dancer, also received a cordial reception. Nine fillies and four colts averaged $12,500. He sold a $27,000 colt and a $26,000 filly.

Harper Blue Chip has helped raise the profile of 11-year-old Majestic Son. He only sent three through the sale, two colts and a filly, but they averaged almost $27,000.

Shadow Play was another high profile stallion with a slim offering at the CYS. In 2012, nine members of his first crop averaged $11,600, while last year there were only six, but they averaged almost $26,000. There were only two on Sunday, and one of those sold for $4,200. The other one, a filly, brought $22,000.

While the sale was short across the board on the offspring of the better OSS stallions, there was an overabundance of sale average killing colts and fillies by the Astreos stallion, Astronomical. Fifteen of these beauties—ten colts and five fillies—averaged a whopping $2,780. Twelve of them sold for $3,000 or less.

Holiday Road, the full brother to Ken Warkentin, who has exceeded expectations with his first crop, only sold two, a colt for $10,000 and a filly for $7,000.

Old reliable, fifteen-year-old Mach Three, who ranks third behind young upstarts Sportswriter and Shadow Play in the OSS standings, held his own. Last year ten averaged $17,000 while Sunday 11 fillies and four colts averaged about the same. St Lads Moonwalk, a half-brother to Jan It Jackson, brought $47,000.

Another in the old reliable category is 27-year-old Camluck, by far the oldest stallion of either gait still generating top-dollar bids. Rothwell, a full-brother to Mystician, sold for $61,000, the second highest priced yearling at the sale. He is out of the 22-year-old mare, Mystic Mistress. Talk about old blood. Last year Camluck’s top dog at this sale brought $36,000. In 2013 eight of them averaged almost $16,000. Sunday five averaged close to $24,000, courtesy of Mr. Rothwell.

The eight-year-old Western Ideal double millionaire Vintage Master was relocated to New Jersey for the 2014 season, but he had his coming out party at the CYS. Two colts and three fillies averaged $8,900.

Eighteen-year-old Angus Hall, who went from a $29,000 average at this sale in 2011 to a less than $7,000 average the following year, and rebounded to better than $11,000 for 14 last year, held on to his gains. Productive fillies like White Becomes Her and Margie have given him a boost, to the point where he slots third behind Muscle Mass and Kadabra on the OSS leaderboard. Eleven colts and two fillies averaged about $12,700.

North American Cup winner, Up The Credit, a six-year-old dual-duty stallion, sent the initial offering of his first crop to the Canadian Yearling Sale. Four of them—two and two—sold for an average of almost $13,000.

Last year the Badlands Hanover fillies averaged less than $7,000, while the colts averaged almost $18,000. Déjà vu all over again as six fillies and two colts averaged less than $7,500 on Sunday.

Nine sons and daughters of Federal Flex averaged less than $4,200 in 2013; this year three averaged $5,600.

Mister Big, who has given no indication that he’s the next Western Hanover, only had one $4,000 colt go through the sale.

Nine-year-old Windsong Espoir, who stands for $3,500 and plays the middle in the OSS, went from five for a $5,700 average to six for a $9,000 average. Walnut Hall controls him.

Joe FitzGerald

Revisiting the Gural Rule

Jay Bergman argues for the end of the rule which requires 4yo horses to return to the track in order for Father Patrick, the trotting Niatross, to head to the breeding shed after this season.  While the so-called 'Gural Rule' making the off-spring of four year old stallions ineligible to the major stakes is meant to get the sophomore stars to return for at least one more season is to be reviewed this year, Bergman indicates it is necessary to get Father Patrick in the breeding shed in order for him to continue the Cantab Hall line.

Make no mistake, the returning three year old stars for the most part have been disappointing on the track, perhaps not surprisingly as it takes time for horses to get acclimated to racing against the best (look at Sweet Lou).  My personal feeling is the Gural Rule needs to be modified, not scrapped as we need to get older horses to remain on the track.  My proposal would have the rule involve four and five year olds.  As Bergman mentioned, what fans and horsemen are are talking about are the veterans Sebastian K and Commander Crowe, not other horses.  This is not surprising since in the trotting ranks, the older horses have historically been the ones which do the best.

There is one problem with Bergman's idea to scrap the Gural Rule.  If the stars are allowed to retire after their sophomore campaign, you aren't going to get those older horses.  We can't expect Europe to send over their top horses annually; this year is a fluke.  We need to depend on our own domestic horses to become stars and they can't become stars if they are residing in the breeding shed.  Rather than scraping the rule, it needs to be modified and there needs to be more racing opportunities for the four and five year olds so it pays to keep them racing.

With regards to racing, I propose we redefine Junior Free for All (JFA) to represent the top four and five year olds racing, where FFAs would be for the top horses regardless of age.  Overnight  and stake races can be created for the JFA so there are racing opportunities for them.  If we can not provide sufficient racing opportunities to make it financially attractive for these horses to race as four and five year olds, then the rule needs to be scrapped.

At the same time, we need is to encourage horses to breed and race, not do one or the other.  For example, at the end of this season, Sebsastian K will be heading for the breeding shed prior to returning for his nine year old campaign.  Why not allow the four and five year olds to breed and race at the same time without penalty?  This way, syndicates can recover part of their investment by racing and breeding, as we keep the stars racing at the same time.

The first argument regarding the current and future (if adopted) rule is owners should be able to do what they want with their horses.  Normally I would agree, but these horses have been purchased knowing the Gural Rule is in effect so they are aware of the 'restrictions' prior to purchasing.  

Some would argue having these horses race past their three year old careers put their value at risk.   Perhaps it is true, especially when you look at this year's class of four year olds but maybe the problem is not the fact the horses are still racing, but these horses may have been precocious when racing against their own age, but quite ordinary when racing against unrestricted company.  However, being necessary to race as five year olds, they will have the opportunity to show it was just a case of having to catch up to the older horses ala Sweet Lou.

Captaintreacherous will not be appearing at Delaware this year after all.  Earlier plans had the Captain racing in the Winbak Pace but it is clear something is not right with the Captain and that is confirmed with news that trainer Tony Alagna is still running blood tests in an effort to see what is wrong with the champion horse. When dealing with horses, sometimes the best laid plans will go awry.

Jug 2014 is not in the books but you can win a VIP experience to 2015's LBJ courtesy of Jug sponsor Fazoli's by entering Pick the Jug Winner .  The contest involves picking the ultimate Jug winner as well as earning the most money based on your fictional selections in race 9-18.

While there was no thoroughbred racing this year, the 2015 standardbred meet begins this Wednesday at Colonial Downs for a stand which ends on October 26.  With the meet starting on Jugette Day, one must wonder why the New Kent, Virginia track is not offering a promotion cross-tying the fist two days with the Delaware County Fair, such as alternating races and promoting the Jugette and Jug.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Morning Review

You know fall is in the air when Tioga Downs closes for the season, the Canadian Trotting Classic is contested, and Jug week is upon us.

The Canadian Trotting Classic was won by Father Patrick, the horse who will be the 3yo trotter of the year.  I would like to say the race was contested but let's face it, Father Patrick is heads above the others in his crop.  There is only two ways Father Patrick gets defeated; he defeats himself with a costly break as he did in the Hambletonian or sickness takes hold of him.  Neither is very likely.  At the betting window, the CTC shows me it is foolish to bet against him at the windows (and I tried last night playing second place finisher E L Titan).  If I ran the racetracks he will still compete at this year, I would bar Patrick from wagering so there would be better options (and payoffs) for the gambler.

Meanwhile at Delaware, a field of 23 fillies dropped in the box for the Jugette, resulting in three elimination races while 16 colts dropped in the box for the Little Brown Jug resulting in two tilts in the first elimination.  For those who desire a little early action, off-track there is the second Jug future wager while at Delaware, there is an additional future wager which consists of a Jugette-Jug Daily Double (Race 3 is the Jug future wager program page).

Can Mcwicked have it any easier, drawing the rail in the second heat of the first elimination of the Little Brown Jug?  It's not a slam-dunk as He's Watching is versatile and has the potential to make the race interesting, but the rail at Delaware certainly makes things easier for Mcwicked.

While Delaware is racing today, as usual there will be no simulcasting of the early cards of the Delaware meet.

Last night at Mohawk, in addition to the Canadian Trotting Classic was a non-wagering $15,000 RUS event.  While the original plans were for the race to have wagering, it ended up as a non-wagering event.  I must confess, the start was not good with a few horses far off the gate but the race had an exciting finish as Radical Dreamer (ridden by Marit Valstad) held off a stretch charge by Smarty Pants ridden by Riina Rekilia.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Skipper Rules the Jug

Fifty-four of the 68 winners of the Little Brown Jug go back to Hal Dale. Two of those, Keystoner and Good Time, were his sons, while all the rest are linked to either his son Adios or his grandson Meadow Skipper, neither of whom won the Jug. Adios, who was born in 1940, pre-dated the race, which started in 1946. Meadow Skipper did participate, but he was parked most of the mile in the 1963 final and finished third to Overtrick, who set an all-age world record of 1:57.1.

While Adios, who was twenty years older than Skipper, got a head start; eight sons and a grandson—Romeo Hanover—of Adios had won editions of the Jug before the principal of Skipper’s first crop, Most Happy Fella, won in 1970. Meadow Skipper certainly made up for lost time. Thirty-four of 43 Jugs since 1970 have been won by sons or other descendants of his—that’s about 80%. The only gap larger than one year during that run was the three year stretch at the beginning of the run, between 1971 and 1974, when Nansemond, Strike Out, Melvin’s Woe and Airliner were victorious. Between Hot Hitter’s win in 1979 and Abercrombie’s in 1993, there was a 13 year dry spell for Adios and any other progenitor not named Meadow Skipper. The last Adios line colt to win the Jug was Real Desire in 2007.

Beyond his own failure to win the Little Brown Jug, Skipper’s prolific band of sons, grandsons and great grandsons, as successful as they have been at producing Jug winners,  have a spotty record when it comes to winning the race. Yes, Most Happy Fella, Niatross and Bettor’s Delight won, but the list of Skipper’s descendants who produced winners but didn’t win it themselves is much longer: Cam Fella, Western Hanover, Falcon Almahurst, Western Ideal, No Nukes, Cam’s Card Shark, Rocknroll Hanover, The Panderosa, Tyler B, French Chef, Oil Burner, Tyler’s Mark….

While Adios had nine sons win the Jug, Meadow Skipper only had four. The difference is that while Adios only got four from his greatest son Bret Hanover and three via his great grandson Abercrombie, Skipper got twenty from the Most Happy Fella branch, eleven of those from the Cam Fella artery, and seven through Albatross.  

Since the turn of the century only three Adios Line colts have won the Jug—Astreos, Mr Feelgood and Real Desire—and none of those victories have come in the last six years. The other dozen were won by Skipper line stallions.

This year’s Jug may prove to be a game changer, and there are a couple of ways that can happen. The field won’t be drawn until Saturday, but in his latest edition of Road to the Little Brown Jug, Delaware PR man Jay Wolf rates McWicked as the top contender. He, of course, is from the Adios line, being a son of McArdle, who has been keeping the Bret Hanover artery on life support in recent years. McArdle’s daddy, Falcon Seelster, wasn’t in the Jug, although he did set a world record of 1:51 at Delaware as a sophomore on Jug Day 1985. The call of that race by Roger Huston trumped the Jug itself, where Nihilator won in a time that was more than a second slower. A win by McWicked would prevent a seven race losing streak by Team Adios.

Another way in which the 2014 Jug could be a game changer would be a win by a son of Somebeachsomewhere. Jay lists four possibilities on his Top Ten list: Ron Burke’s Limelight Beach, who just finished second to McWicked in the $260,000 PASS Championship Final; Jimmy Takter’s Cane winner, Lyonssomewhere; Bob McIntosh’s gelding, Somewhere In LA, who finished third to McWicked in the PASS Final; or Brent MacGrath’s Melmerby Beach, who won a split of the Simcoe over the weekend. This would represent a dramatic change because no member of the line running from Volomite through Sampson Hanover has ever won the Little Brown Jug, and no top line descendant of Volomite has won in 38 years, since Stanley Dancer’s Keystone Ore beat Joe O’Brien’s Armbro Ranger in 1976. The other two winners going back to Volomite are Overtrick in 1963 and Rum Customer in 1968.

SBSW skipped the Jug, and last year Captaintreacherous, the star of his first crop, did the same. There may be no Jug winners on the branch he is now the figurehead for, coming down from his great, great, great grandsire Sampson Hanover, but that one was very handy on a half. In September, 1951, 4-year-old Sampson Hanover, who was converted from the trot as a three-year-old, became the first pacer or trotter to win a race in under two minutes on a half mile track. He accomplished that historic fete in the Almahurst Pace at Delaware, Ohio.

So, we have the inspiration of Sampson Hanover’s Delaware heroics for the sons of SBSW and for McWicked his granddaddy Falcon Seelster’s world record mile over that track and his great granddaddy Bret Hanover’s world record of 1:57 in the Jug. Either way, it’s time for a colt not tied to Meadow Skipper to step up and take the prize. He’s Watching is quick as a cat around those turns and his pilot Tim Tetrick is no slouch. It won’t be easy, but it’s about that time.

Joe FitzGerald



The Burke Invitational

This Monday, the Bobby Quillen Memorial Pace will be contested at Harrington Raceway.  The Quillen, as one person noted was named "... to celebrate the passing of one of the main legislators who pushed the slots through for the Delaware horsemen. In his honor they have 3 new Jersey horses, and 5 Pennsylvania horses from one trainer. Probably not his vision".

Most definitely not the vision Quillen had.  A total of three trainers have horses in the race.  The Burke stable has five horses in the race, Linda Toscano has two, and the lone wolf, Nick Surik starts one horse in the race.  Now to be perfectly fair, these trainers sent horses to race in the eliminations and they qualified for the final so you can certainly say they did nothing wrong, but if nothing else, races like the Quillen are indicative of a problem for harness racing, especially when 62.5% of the field comes from one trainer.

The question is what does one do about the situation?  The obvious thing to do would be limit the number of starters a trainer gets to start in the eliminations to ensure you don't get too many horses from one barn to start in the race.  Now realizing these super trainers get a lot of horses, so the rule can be modified to limit a trainer to no more than two horses from the same ownership group.  Trainers need to learn to pick and choose where their horses will start, not just flood the entry box with all their 'A' listers.

Of course, the problem with limiting the number of starters in a race may be a reduction in stakes payments for a race, resulting in reduced purses.

To tell you the truth, I don't know the answer to this problem.  What I do know is when five horses in a stakes race come from one barn, there is a problem; a problem which needs to be addressed.